Israel Destroys Hamas Tunnel Following Rocket Fire

The tunnel struck by Israel’s Air Force inside Gaza is the second destroyed in two days.

By: Anna Ahronheim; jpost.com

A general view of the interior of a cross-border attack tunnel dug from Gaza to Israel, near Kissufi
A general view of the interior of a cross-border attack tunnel dug from Gaza to Israel, near Kissufim, seen on January 18, 2018. (photo credit: REUTERS/JACK GUEZ)

The Israel Air Force struck an underground network of terrorist tunnels in the Gaza Strip overnight on Sunday, after a rocket launched from the Hamas-run enclave struck southern Israel, the IDF announced.

It was the second Hamas tunnel in Gaza to be struck in as many days, and the sixth tunnel destroyed since late October.
“Hamas is responsible for everything that happens in the Gaza Strip, above and below ground,” the statement read. “The army will continue to act to ensure security for the citizens of Israel using all means at its disposal.”

Earlier on Sunday, incoming rocket sirens were activated in communities in the Sha’ar Hanegev region bordering the northern Gaza Strip. A rocket fell in open territory near the city of Sderot causing no damage or injuries.

According to Palestinian reports, jets fired some 10 missiles towards the Hamas tunnel. The tunnel was located in an agricultural area near the destroyed Dahiniye airport, east of Rafah in the southern part of the Strip close to the Israeli border. No casualties were reported.

The previous night, a home in the Sha’ar Hanegev community of Or Haner was directly hit by a rocket causing damage but no injuries to the family inside.

The rocket was launched several hours after four IDF soldiers were wounded – two seriously, including a combat engineer officer, and two moderately – after an improvised explosive device detonated against their military jeep as they patrolled the border fence south of the Gaza Strip on Saturday afternoon.

The IDF later confirmed that it had carried out large-scale strikes against 18 terrorist targets belonging to Hamas, including an attack tunnel in the Zeitun neighborhood of Gaza City that was dug toward Israeli territory.

“Harming IDF soldiers constitutes a grave terrorist [attack],” Maj.-Gen. Eyal Zamir, the head of the southern command, said Sunday afternoon at a military ceremony. “We will not abide by this reality of using the land around the fence for terrorism.”

“Anyone seeking to undermine Israel’s security will be met with a determined response. We have considerable power and will not hesitate to exercise it as needed, despite our desire to maintain stability and avoid escalation.”

While the security establishment does not believe that Hamas currently seeks another war, the situation is fragile, especially given the worsening conditions in the Strip. Gazans have been demonstrating on the border fence with Israel each Friday throughout recent months and the army believes that Hamas is using these weekly demonstrations as a cover to carry out terrorist attacks.

The explosive device that detonated on Saturday had been hidden inside a Palestinian flag and placed near the fence during last Friday’s demonstrations.

“This is further proof of the utilization of disturbances near the fence by Hamas and other terrorist groups as cover for terrorism. Anyone seeking to undermine Israel’s security will meet a determined response based on intelligence and aerial, land and naval capabilities,” Zamir warned.

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman vowed to eliminate those responsible for the attack, which he said was carried out by the Popular Resistance Committees organization, a group comprising several terrorist groups.

“Until we eliminate them, the score remains unsettled,” he said. “It will take two days, a week, or two weeks. We’ll eliminate anyone behind the attack’s execution.”

 

The IRS Campaign Against Israel—and Us

It took seven years for Z Street to learn the truth about why our tax-exempt status was delayed.

By: Lori Lowenthal Marcus; Wall Street Journal – wsj.com

ILLUSTRATION: BARBARA KELLEY

The first IRS viewpoint discrimination case to be filed, Z Street v. IRS,has been settled, with disturbing revelations about how the Internal Revenue Service treated pro-Israel organizations applying for tax-exempt status.

I founded Z Street in 2009 to educate Americans about the Middle East and Israel’s defense against terror. We applied for tax-exempt status under Section 501(c)(3) of the tax code in December 2009—a process that usually takes three to six months.

Instead, the application languished. In late July 2010, an IRS agent truthfully responded to our lawyer’s query about why processing was taking so long: Z Street’s application was getting special scrutiny, the agent said, because it was related to Israel. Some applications for tax-exempt status were being sent to a special office in Washington for review of whether the applicants’ policy positions conflicted with those of the Obama administration.

So in August 2010 we sued the IRS for violating Z Street’s constitutional rights, including the First Amendment right to be free from viewpoint discrimination—government treatment that differs depending on one’s political position.

Now we know the truth, and it’s exactly as bad as we thought. IRS documents—those they didn’t “lose” or otherwise fail to produce—reveal the following:

• Our application was flagged because Z Street’s mission related to Israel, a country with terrorism. Therefore, an IRS manager in our case said in sworn testimony, the IRS needed to investigate whether Z Street was funding terror.

• Some applications for tax-exempt status were indeed being sent to IRS headquarters in Washington for more intense scrutiny. They were selected because of the applicants’ viewpoint.

• In August 2010, three other Jewish organizations applying for tax-exempt status were asked by the IRS to “explain their religious beliefs about the Land of Israel.”

Our own investigation disclosed that between 2009 and 2016, while Z Street’s application was stalled, the IRS needed no special scrutiny to grant numerous applications for tax-exempt status that explicitly proclaimed donations would be spent in Gaza—a territory formally under the jurisdiction of Hamas, which the U.S. State Department designates as a terror organization.

While claiming to be investigating Z Street’s funding of terror, the IRS never asked how or where Z Street spent its money. The IRS ultimately granted Z Street’s application, in October 2016, without asking anything about terror, or money, or anything else it hadn’t known in 2010.

As the IRS knew within six weeks of our case being filed, Z Street was sent for special scrutiny by an IRS employee using an outdated list of countries affected by terror. The new list didn’t include Israel. The IRS didn’t resume processing our application after it discovered this error, and it didn’t disclose the error for six years. Because we sued, the IRS froze Z Street’s application. It stayed on ice until August 2016, when a court held the IRS couldn’t get our case thrown out until it processed our application. Two months later we got our exemption.

The “terror” error turns out to have been a pretext. Within weeks of President Obama’s inauguration, IRS and State Department officials began considering whether they could deny or revoke tax-exempt status for organizations that provided material support to Jews living across the Green Line—the nonborder that delineates pre-1967 Israel from the territories Israel acquired in the Six Day War. The theory was that a Jewish presence in those areas is inconsistent with U.S. policy. The IRS drew up lists of such organizations based on information from anti-Israel websites such as Electronic Intifada and MondoWeiss.

The New York Times and the Washington Post ran articles that advanced the policy espoused by the Obama administration and its nonprofit ally, J Street. Unnamed “senior State Department officials” were quoted as saying that Jewish activity over the Green Line isn’t “helpful” to peace efforts.

While no formal policy was released barring U.S. tax-exempt entities from supporting Jewish activity over the Green Line, Obama IRS officials tried three times between 2009 and 2012 to create such a policy, and IRS employees made sure the effort wasn’t documented. One emailed her supervisor saying that she would answer his questions about IRS policy relating to Israeli settlements only orally. “Not doing email on this,” she explained.

Even if the IRS could legitimately institute such a policy, it should not have applied to Z Street. We believe Jews should be allowed to live beyond the Green Line, but we have never spent a penny outside the U.S.

To learn the truth, we fought in the courts for seven lonely years—defeating IRS arguments that it didn’t have to obey the First Amendment, that it was immune from the suit, and that it wasn’t obliged to produce in discovery any documents revealing why its employees did what they did. During the seven years Z Street’s application was frozen, it couldn’t raise funds. If my husband and I weren’t lawyers, able to pursue justice without getting paid, there’s no way we could have succeeded.

When Z Street’s creation was announced, thousands sought to join. Then the IRS attempted to kill us. No lawsuit can remedy that assault, as the IRS knew. The settlement gives us the truth, but we can’t get back our seven years.

 

5 Reasons Why Israel is Ready for War with Hezbollah in Lebanon

By: JTA/Ron Kampeas; jpost.com

12 years ago, Hezbollah and Israel were left gutted by a summer war that was costly for both sides.

Israeli soldiers hold an Israeli flag as they leave Lebanese territory during a second day of ceasefire during the Second Lebanon War, near the town of Menara August 15, 2006.. (photo credit: REUTERS)5 reasons why Israel is ready for war with Hezbollah in Lebanon

WASHINGTON — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had a simple, straightforward message this week when he toured Israel’s border with Syria and Lebanon with top security officials.

“Our face is turned toward peace, we are ready for any eventuality, and I don’t suggest anyone test us,” he said Tuesday in a video message he posted on Twitter, the sound of helicopter blades whirring in the background.

The mixed message signaled Israel’s ambivalence about taking on the terrorist group Hezbollah 12 years after Lebanon and Israel were left gutted by a summer war.

The 2006 war was costly for both sides: Hezbollah, the preeminent militia in Lebanon, lost political capital for inviting a devastating response to its provocations along Israel’s border. Israel’s military and political class at the time paid a price for not decisively winning a war that precipitated a mass internal movement of civilians southward.

Yet the sides are making increasingly belligerent noises. Here are five factors contributing to increasing tensions along the border.

Syria may be winding down, and Iran is winding up.

The Assad regime, along with its allies Russia, Iran and Hezbollah — Iran’s proxy in the region — have the opposition in Syria’s civil war on the run. Iran and Hezbollah are striking while the iron is hot, establishing preeminence in the region. Iranian brass recently toured southern Lebanon and Tehran, according to Israeli reports, and Iran is financing a military factory in Lebanon.

Israeli officials reject a permanent Iranian presence on its border — a message that Netanyahu delivered to Russian President Vladimir Putin when they met last month in Moscow.

“I told him that Israel views two developments with utmost gravity: First is Iran’s efforts to establish a military presence in Syria, and second is Iran’s attempt to manufacture – in Lebanon – precision weapons against the State of Israel,” he said after the meeting. “I made it clear to him that we will not agree to either one of these developments and will act according to need.”

A U.S. leadership vacuum is creating anxiety.

President Donald Trump ordered a missile strike on a Syrian missile base last year after it was revealed that Syria used chemical weapons against civilians, but otherwise the U.S. engagement with shaping the outcome of Syria’s civil war has been desultory. Russia is filling the vacuum, which is stoking Israeli anxieties. Despite generally good relations between the Netanyahu and Putin governments, Israel cannot rely on Russia to advance Israeli interests in the same way it has with the United States.

“As the shape of the Syrian war changes, Israel may find its working relations with Russia undermined by Moscow’s desire to exercise influence in Syria generally from afar, and by its shifting relations with Iran,” Shoshana Bryen, the senior director at the Jewish Policy Center, wrote this week in The Algemeiner.

Absent focused U.S. leadership, Israel may strike out on its own to prevent Hezbollah from becoming the preeminent force in the nations to its north.

There are signs that the Trump administration, albeit belatedly, is noticing what its absence has wrought: Last month, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said 2,000 U.S. troops currently in Syria to assist pro-Western rebels would remain stationed there to mitigate against a permanent Iranian presence in Syria.

New fences make restive neighbors.

Israel is building a wall on its northern border along a line demarcated by the United Nations in 2000, when Israel ended its 18-year occupation of southern Lebanon. Israel is building the wall in order to prevent the deadly Hezbollah incursions that spurred the 2006 war, which claimed 1,200 Lebanese lives and more than 60 Israeli lives.

But neither Lebanon nor Hezbollah accepted the demarcation as a permanent outcome, citing disputes over small patches of land that extended back to the 1949 armistice, and the Lebanese government and Hezbollah have threatened action.

Oil and gas

Lebanon last month approved a joint bid by Italian, French and Russian oil companies to explore seas off its coast. Israel claims a portion of the waters. Israeli leaders have called for a diplomatic solution to the dispute, but the competing claims are aggravating tensions between the countries.

Hezbollah, intermittently, has also threatened to attack Israeli platforms in the Mediterranean extracting natural gas.

Gaza

The Gaza Strip also is restive, with an increase in rocket attacks from Hamas and Israeli retaliatory strikes after Trump in December recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. An Israel distracted by an engagement with Hamas and other terrorist groups in the south could be seen by Hezbollah as an opening to strike in the north.

 

False Identity: The Jewish-Israeli Reporter Who Went Undercover as a Sheikh

By: Amy Spiro; jpost.com

Journalist Zvi Yehezkeli feared for his life, tells The Jerusalem Post his biggest revelations on the Muslim Brotherhood were in the US.

Zvi Yehezkeli undercover as Sheikh Abu Hamza. (photo credit: CHANNEL 10)

Zvi Yehezkeli is a fairly well known face around Israel. For more than 15 years, the journalist and religious father of five has appeared on Channel 10 News, reporting on the Arab world.

But for a couple months over the past two years, Yehezkeli became someone else entirely: Sheikh Abu Hamza. He used this identity – and a couple of others – to film an in-depth series on the role of the Muslim Brotherhood in the streets of Europe and the United States. The five-part series, titled “False Identity,” began airing last week on Channel 10.

In the first installment, Yehezkeli – or Abu Hamza, wired with secret cameras and microphones – explored the mosques, schools and bookstores of the Muslim community in Paris.

“The Western world isn’t always reporting on these things because they don’t understand their significance,” Yehezkeli said in a recent interview with The Jerusalem Post. “I think the job of a journalist is to report on the things we don’t understand.”

Yehezkeli set out to show the infrastructure and the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood in Paris.

“I think people should see their doublespeak, their approach to mosques and schools,” and attempts to control the Muslim community in France and elsewhere in Europe, he said.

The upcoming episodes, said Yehezkeli, will show additional footage from France as well as his journey posing as a Syrian refugee traveling from Turkey to Germany. The final two episodes, which the journalist said basically make up a free-standing documentary, focus on the United States.

“The biggest revelations in this series are in the United States,” said Yehezkeli. “It’s stronger than anything else in the program.”

To go undercover, Yehezkeli changed his look and dress, received lessons from locals on how to pose as a Muslim and bought fake documents with his new name and photo.

But even with his instruction and his fluent Arabic, there were moments Yehezkeli said he feared for his life while filming.

“You saw, in the first episode, that moment in the mosque in France,” he said. Yehezkeli said he thought that some people nearby had discovered his identity, “and I was given an order to get out of there.” In a future episode, Yehezkeli said, he was actually stopped and detained in Turkey along with his crew after arousing suspicion. He was eventually let go with a warning, but was left shaken.

While Yehezkeli’s family might be used to some of his more unusual and treacherous travels, this time around he was more tight-lipped.

“I would tell them at the end of each trip that everything is OK,” he said.

The journalist has received some criticism that the show serves just to fearmonger and portray everyday events as sinister.

Indeed, the fact that state-funded schools are teaching Islam and the Koran is far from alarming.

The popularity in stores of the books and recordings of Yusuf al-Qaradawi is a different story, however. An extremist cleric whose works are banned in Saudi Arabia, he has an arrest warrant out for him in Egypt and is not allowed to enter the US, UK or France.

“Islam is a legitimate faith like any other faith in the world,” said Yehezkeli, “until the moment when its politics and organizations try to force an extremist version of Islam on other Muslims. This is one of the problems of the Muslim Brotherhood… There’s a reason they’ve been thrown out of Arab countries; there’s a reason they’re operating now in the West.”

 

Jihad’s new home

By: The Week Staff; theweek.com

With ISIS largely defeated in Iraq and Syria, the fight against Islamist terrorism is shifting to Africa.

Here’s everything you need to know:

Why Africa?
Widespread corruption, poor governance, and large numbers of impoverished young men disillusioned with society have made many parts of Africa fertile breeding grounds for jihadism. The al Qaeda affiliate al-Shabab has terrorized Somalia and neighboring Kenya for more than a decade; Boko Haram began trying to overthrow the Nigerian government and set up its own small Islamic state back in 2002. In recent years, the African terrorist groups have expanded and become more aggressive. IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre recorded 171 Islamist militant attacks in Africa in 2009, resulting in 541 fatalities; in 2015, 738 attacks left 4,600 dead. ISIS’s defeat in the Middle East last year exacerbated the problem, as thousands of African jihadists started returning home. Tunisia alone accounted for up to 6,500 of the Sunni terrorist group’s foreign fighters — more than any other nation in the world. “The more we succeed in the Middle East,” says Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), “the more we are going to see the snakes run to Africa.”

Where are ISIS militants going?
Their main stronghold is Libya, which remains embroiled in a chaotic civil war. The terror group seized the coastal city of Sirte in 2015 — its only major outpost outside Syria and Iraq. They were driven out the following year, by militias backed by U.S. airstrikes, but have since regrouped in remote rural areas. ISIS’s other North African hub is Egypt’s largely lawless Sinai Peninsula. An ISIS affiliate called Sinai Province has claimed credit for 800 attacks in the region since 2013 and was widely blamed for the massacre at a Sufi mosque in November, in which more than 300 worshippers were killed. Mokhtar Awad, a research fellow in George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, says ISIS is trying to inflame sectarian strife in Egypt in the hope it’ll lead to “the country’s unraveling.”

Is al Qaeda still a force?
Increasingly so. While the world’s attention has been on ISIS, al Qaeda has been seeking to make a comeback, and its leaders are grooming Osama bin Laden’s favorite son, Hamza, for a prominent role as an inspirational leader. The terror group’s most prominent African affiliate is al-Shabab, the former radical youth wing of the Islamist organization that used to control Somali’s capital, Mogadishu. Al-Shabab carried out the 2013 attack on Nairobi’s Westgate Mall and the 2015 massacre at Kenya’s Garissa University; it was also blamed for the truck bomb in Mogadishu last October that killed more than 350 people. The group, which enforces a strict Wahhabi version of Islam, no longer controls any major towns or cities — it was ousted from Mogadishu in 2011 by an African Union–led offensive — but still has a significant presence in southern rural areas. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which mainly operates in Algeria and Mali, is the group’s most profitable branch: Since 2003, it has made $100 million through kidnapping, drug smuggling, and extortion.

What is the U.S. doing?
The Pentagon has about 6,000 troops engaged in security and counterterrorism missions in Africa. Two-thirds are based in Djibouti, home of the continent’s only official U.S. military base; another 800 are in Niger, 400 more are in Somalia, and the rest are spread out across 47 other countries. These numbers have risen significantly in recent years. In 2008, U.S. troops carried out 172 missions, training exercises, or other activities in Africa; last year, they were involved in 3,500. At least 1,700 of the 6,000-strong deployment are special forces, whose official role is to “advise and assist” — train local soldiers and offer them battlefield guidance. But they take part in a broad range of missions, including retaking enemy territory and capturing terrorist leaders. The Pentagon is also increasing its use of drones for surveillance and for targeting individuals and training camps with airstrikes. The U.S. conducted at least 30 airstrikes in Somalia in 2017, compared with 34 over the previous eight years.

What’s the long-term strategy?
The Pentagon’s primary aim is to prevent an Islamist group from taking control of large swaths of territory, as ISIS did in Iraq and Syria. But this strategy carries risks. Local armies struggle to retain control of areas they recapture from militants. Drone strikes inevitably lead to civilian casualties, which can alienate local populations and serve as a recruiting tool for terrorist groups. Above all, there are fears on both sides of the Atlantic that the U.S. could become bogged down in yet another long-term foreign conflict. “African governments want a small U.S. footprint,” said Brig. Gen. Donald Bolduc, then head of U.S. Special Operations Command Africa, last year. “They watch what we’ve done in other places, and it scares the hell out of them. Quite frankly, it scares the hell out of me too. [You] end up in a much bigger fight than you’d prefer.”

A deadly ambush in Niger
The U.S. military’s growing presence in Africa was thrust into the spotlight in October, when four special forces soldiers died in an ambush in Niger. Their 12-man team, which was accompanying 30 Nigerien soldiers on a reconnaissance mission, came under heavy attack from about 50 ISIS-affiliated militants armed with rocket-propelled grenades, mortars, and heavy machine guns. The American soldiers fought back for an hour before calling in air support; French jets and helicopters arrived an hour after that. The bodies of three of the fallen soldiers were recovered that day. But Sgt. La David Johnson’s corpse wasn’t found until 48 hours later, reportedly a mile from the ambush site; more of his remains were discovered a month after that. One villager said his hands were bound and that he had a large impact wound on the back of his head, suggesting he’d been captured, beaten, and executed. A Pentagon investigation due to be released this month, however, reportedly will conclude that Johnson died in a hail of gunfire. The investigation will also examine why U.S. troops were caught unawares by the terrorists, with little available support.

 

Majority of Knesset Backs Bill Accusing Poland of Holocaust Denial

By: Lahav Harkov; jpost.com

“The historic truth of the Jewish People is not for sale,” MK Shmuly says; Nazi hunter Zuroff: Post-communist countries have a Holocaust distortion problem.

The Knesset in session: The legislature is going to be working overtime.. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post

New legislation cosponsored by 61 members of Knesset would make a Polish bill to outlaw talk of Poles’ complicity in the Nazis’ crimes a form of illegal Holocaust denial.

The bill, formulated by MKs from the coalition and the opposition – Itzik Shmuly (Zionist Union), Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid), Robert Ilatov (Yisrael Beytenu), Nurit Koren (Likud) and Bezalel Smotrich (Bayit Yehudi) – seeks to amend the Law for Defense Against Holocaust Denial to state that denying or minimizing the involvement of the Nazi’s helpers and collaborators will also be a crime.

In addition, the amended law would provide legal aid to any Holocaust survivors and educators taking students to death camps who face foreign lawsuits because they recounted what happened in the Holocaust.

The 1986 Law for Defense Against Holocaust Denial states that anyone who publishes denial and minimization of the Holocaust or other crimes against the Jewish people can get five years of jail time.

The Polish Senate was expected Wednesday to approve a bill that would make using the phrase “Polish death camps” or saying the Polish people were in any way culpable for the Nazis’ crimes against humanity an offense that carries a three-year prison sentence. The vote was set to take place even though the Polish and Israeli governments plan to negotiate a version of the bill that would be agreeable to both sides.

Shmuly said: “The Poles, and others who may want to copy them, should know that the historical truth of the Jewish people is not for sale.”

“Many Poles, and many others, heard, knew about and helped the Nazi extermination machine,” Shmuly added. “The Polish attempt to rewrite history and to shut Holocaust survivors’ mouths is audacious, shocking and despicable. We will not allow the collaborators to hide behind the Nazis and deny their historic responsibility.”

Lapid said the Polish attempt to avoid responsibility “only emphasizes the need to take action against these voices. We must use all the means we have, including the Knesset, against Holocaust denial.

“We won’t let anyone forget the Nazis or those who cooperated with them. That is our responsibility to the memory of the millions killed.

The world must know the Jews are not afraid and are not willing to be silent anymore, and are not afraid anymore,” Lapid said.

Ilatov said that the number of living Holocaust survivors is dwindling, and therefore, “Israel has the moral responsibility to commemorate their bravery and promise that no one will try to hide, whitewash or cover up those who tell the stories of the horrible crimes and the shocking testimony about the crimes committed against the Jewish people. We won’t let anyone rewrite history.”

Dr. Efraim Zuroff, Nazi-hunter and director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Jerusalem office, said that “Holocaust distortion” has been a problem for over 25 years, and until now Israel has done little to combat it.

Eastern European countries, Zuroff said, “have invested in trying to convince the world the Holocaust was only the work of Germany and maybe a few degenerates.

“Since the Soviet Union crumbled, people have been trying to say communism is the same as Nazism… They want communism to be considered genocide and [some countries] criminalized denying it. And then, if communism is genocide, and there were Jewish communists, then Jews committed genocide. This is their way of undermining the Shoah and their participation in it,” Zuroff explained.

The issue of Holocaust distortion exists “in practically every country in post-communist Eastern Europe,” he said. “Their new heroes are people who fought communists, some of whom killed Jews in the Shoah.

They name streets and schools after them.”

Still, Zuroff said he did not think that legislation is the right way for Israel to deal with the problem. Rather, Israel should use its influence in post-Soviet countries, many of which have defense ties with Israel, to convince the governments that “their behavior is unacceptable.”

“They love Israel, but hate the Jews,” Zuroff said.

 

Turkey: No Longer a Friend but Not a Foe

By: Amir Taheri; gatestoneinstitute.org

In May 1994, during a trip to Istanbul to address a conference of Turkish women, I asked colleagues whether there were any rising stars in the then obscure firmament of Turkish politics. Their almost unanimous answer was: Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a 40-year-old politician who had won the mayoralty of Istanbul, the nation’s most populous city, against all odds.

However, their recommendation came with a caveat: Erdogan had a history of activism within several Islamist associations and political parties, a fact that, Turkish friends believed at the time, limited his prospects in a system founded on a peculiar understanding of secularism.

But, a few days later when we met Erdogan in his office, we found ourselves in the presence of an energetic reformer more interested in pragmatic concepts than ideological shibboleths.

Erdogan’s clean shaven face, apart from the almost mandatory Turkish moustache he sported, his well-cut suit and Cerruti necktie depicted him more like a European-style politician than an aspirant to sultandom in the ancient oriental tradition.

His diagnosis of what ailed Turkey had nothing to do with ideology.

He insisted that Turkey had to put its economy in order by taming inflation, and restore public faith in the government by uprooting the corruption that afflicted all parts of the system. More interestingly, Erdogan wanted to kick-start negotiations to join the European Union, ending the lethargic approach of Prime Ministers such as Tansu Ciller and Mesut Yilmaz.

Even more intriguing was Erdogan’s admission that Turkey would have to tackle its “Kurdish problem” with courage and realism rather than denial and repression.

At the time the cynic that lodges in every journalist’s brain murmured that Erdogan was sounding reasonable only to achieve enough power that would allow him to be unreasonable.

For the next decade or so, as Erdogan went on to win two general elections and serve as prime minister, however, the naughty little cynic proved wrong.

Much to our surprise, he did what he had said he would if he had the power.

His reforms, though at times brutal, did rescue the Turkish economy form the inflationary spiral, putting it back on the path of sustained growth for the first time since the 1950s. At the end of Erdogan’s first decade Turkey was the world’s 14th largest economy, 30% bigger than neighboring Iran with the same population and plenty of oil and gas.

On the issue of joining the European Union, too, Erdogan achieved significant progress in 20 of the 22 main topics on the so-called mise-a-jour agenda.

On fighting corruption, Erdogan’s performance was impressive, propelling Turkey away from the top of the list of the global index of corruption established by Transparency International.

By all standards, Erdogan was also a model of success in foreign policy; by the early years of the new century, Turkey was the only Middle Eastern nation without active enemies.

Erdogan’s realism in dealing with the thorny issue of Cyprus made it hard even for the most fanatical pan-Hellenists to nurse the ancient “hate the Turk” flames.

Even more astonishing was the patience and moderation with which Erdogan tackled the complex issue of Kurdish aspirations, a task made easier by the fact that his Justice and Development Party (AKP), owed part of its electoral success to support from constituencies where ethnic Kurds formed a majority.

Sadly, history is full of “and then-what” which put the narrative on a new, even opposite, trajectory.

It is difficult to know for sure when and how Erdogan’s “and then-what” came about. However, by around 2010 the moderate, pragmatic and reformist politician, about to be elevated to the status of statesman, had morphed into an intolerant, ideology-stricken, conservative politico devoid of vision and anxious about consolidation of his power.

What we see today is a rewinding of the film “The Decade of Success” under Erdogan.

The Turkish economy is back in the doldrums with inflation and unemployment again in double digits and direct foreign investment at its lowest since the early 2000s.

The gangrene of corruption is also back, gnawing at the bones of the state and, if a torrent of accusations is to be believed, affecting even the inner circles of power.

The historic reconciliation with the Kurdish minority is also at an end, as even elected members of parliament are punished for being Kurds.

The prospect of Turkey joining the European Union is all but abandoned by both sides as Erdogan adopts an anti-West posture while the EU flatters its resurrected populist demons.

Erdogan has achieved something else that is unique: leading Turkey into a war in which it finds itself fighting the side that is supported by its NATO allies, especially the United States and France.

That, in turn, has led to a bizarre situation in which Turkey is seen as part of a triangle with Russia and Iran, in a scheme to carve out what is left of war-torn Syria.

(Image source: kremlin.ru)

In just a decade Erdogan acquired the wherewithal to transform Turkey into a prosperous democracy. But when it came to assemble the parts into a coherent whole he lacked the vade mecum and/or the skill to do so.

In what seems to be a prolonged fit of anger with himself, with erstwhile Islamist allies, and even elements within his own party, Erdogan decided to break one by one the parts so patiently acquired, insisting that he alone must have the final word.

There is no doubt that under Erdogan, Turkey at first took the right turn but now is taking the wrong turn. The little cynic in a journalist’s head shakes its index finger with an “I-told-you-so” sneer. But the optimist who lodges in a journalist’s heart claims that Erdogan’s pyrotechnical rush to disaster will stop once he wins a second term as president next year with a massive election victory.

In the meantime, counting on Turkey as ally would be imprudent while treating it as foe would be foolish.

Amir Taheri, formerly editor of Iran’s premier newspaper, Kayhan, before the Iranian revolution of 1979, is a prominent author based on Europe. He is the Chairman of Gatestone Europe.

This article first appeared in Asharq Al Awsat and is reprinted here with the kind permission of the author.

 

Palestinian President Shows the World Who He Really Is

That wild speech is indeed a product of recent events. But it also fits a telling pattern.

By: Eli Lake; bloomberg.com

Photographer: Kevin Hagen/Getty Images

There are two ways to understand the two-and-a-half hour rant Sunday from the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, in which he called for discarding past agreements with Israel.

The first way is straightforward: He means it. As Maya Angelou famously said, “when someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” In the case of Abbas, he has been showing us who he is for a while now.

He defends Palestinian Authority payments for terrorists. He called murderers “heroic brothers” when they were released by Israel in 2013 as a condition for restarting peace talks. In December he urged the Organization of the Islamic Conference to reconsider its recognition of Israel.

So when Abbas gives a Castro-esque speech laced with fake history about Israel being a colonial project of Europeans, it fits a pattern.

The second way of understanding his rant requires some creative accounting. Abbas doesn’t really mean it. Abbas has been a patient peace partner now for 15 years, but along comes President Donald Trump, who recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and asks Saudi Arabia to pressure Abbas to take a deal. What do you expect?

This is the interpretation of J-Street, the Soros-family-funded advocacy group that touts itself as pro-peace and pro-Israel. A J-Street statement on the Abbas speech began with this throat clearing: “Sunday’s speech by President Abbas no doubt reflected his own and the Palestinian people’s deep despair at the ever-deepening occupation and the lack of diplomatic progress toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

J-Street was careful to stipulate that this despair was “no excuse for calling into question either the Jewish connection to, or Palestinian recognition of, the state of Israel.” But let’s not lose the plot. This group asserts that Abbas would not have delivered his rant “if it were not for President Trump’s inept and disastrous missteps regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

J-Street here is succumbing to a fallacy of international relations. Call it the prime-mover theory of geopolitics: There is always something America can or shouldn’t do that determines the behavior of its adversaries and allies. We see this misunderstanding all the time. People say that had George W. Bush not invaded Iraq, there would be no Islamic State. Had Barack Obama not withdrawn prematurely from Iraq, there would be no Islamic State. You get the picture.

But foreign affairs are never so simple as one cause having one effect. And this brings us back to Abbas. The 82-year-old Palestinian leader certainly had reason to be disappointed with Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. He didn’t like Trump’s threats to cut off funding for the Palestinian Authority. But none of that quite explains a speech that wishes for the U.S. president’s house to come to ruin, accuses Israel of importing drugs, and threatens to blacklist companies that do business in the occupied territory and report their names to Interpol for bribery.

To explain this vitriol as purely a reaction to despair or hopelessness is to ignore recent history. Abbas was elevated to his position after George W. Bush asked the Palestinian people to elect leaders not tainted by terror. Recall the Iranian shipment of arms coordinated by Abbas’s predecessor Yasser Arafat in 2002, during the final months of the second intifada. Abbas on the other hand had distinguished himself in this period by delivering a brave speech calling for nonviolent resistance to occupation, when Arafat was praising the suicide bombers.

The current Palestinian leader has been dining out on that speech now for 15 years, while consistently rejecting peace offers and later negotiations. In 2005, Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza and four settlements in the northern West Bank. This could have been the basis for new negotiations, but nothing happened.

Under Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Abbas was offered an independent state in 2008. Olmert recalled in a 2015 interview that he told Abbas: “Remember my words, it will be 50 years before there will be another Israeli prime minister that will offer you what I am offering you now. Don’t miss this opportunity.” Abbas didn’t take the offer. Instead he asked to study the maps.

After Israelis elected Benjamin Netanyahu, he succumbed to pressure from the U.S. president, Barack Obama, to freeze some settlement activity as a condition for peace talks. Abbas didn’t even deign to negotiate. In Obama’s second term, Netanyahu released violent prisoners as a condition for restarting the talks. Again, Abbas didn’t budge.

To be sure, the Israelis too have continued to expand the population in existing settlement blocs. The world is less focused on the plight of Palestinians as the Middle East has moved on with the Arab Spring and civil wars that followed. But Abbas remains stuck today as he was in 2005 when he won his only election to be the Palestinian president. He is a prisoner of a dysfunctional liberation movement.

The Abbas we saw on Sunday was not a leader inviting his people to embrace dark conspiracies and hopeless struggle. Rather, Abbas was meeting many Palestinians where they already are. He was reflecting a movement that equates Palestinian nationalism with the negation of the Jewish state.

Eventually Abbas will die. His legacy will be that of a weak man who was unwilling and unable to challenge deep flaws in his people’s liberation movement. If there is ever to be peace or Palestine, the Palestinians need a leader who will challenge a liberation myth that Abbas has never relinquished.

 

‘America Stands with Israel,’ Proclaims Vice President

By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence this week told the people of Israel he came to their nation with one simple message: “America stands with Israel.” In a speech before the Israeli Knesset, the Vice President said:

We stand with Israel because your cause is our cause, your values are our values, and your fight is our fight. We stand with Israel because we believe in right over wrong, in good over evil, and in liberty over tyranny. We stand with Israel because that’s what Americans have always done…

In his address celebrating the bond between Israel and the United States, Pence highlighted the power of the upcoming 70th anniversary of modern Israel and he recounted some common causes, such as opposition to terrorism and Iran’s current oppressive regime.

Pence also reiterated America’s commitment to honoring its ally by moving its embassy to its rightful place in Jerusalem, a move NRB has advocated and welcomes. “Jerusalem is Israel’s capital,” he declared simply, and later added, “By finally recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the United States has chosen fact over fiction. And fact is the only true foundation for a just and lasting peace.”

Pence concluded his Knesset address:

The miracle of Israel is an inspiration to the world. And the United States of America is proud to stand with Israel and her people, as allies and cherished friends. And so we will “pray for the peace of Jerusalem,” that “those who love you be secure,” that “there be peace within your walls, and security in your citadels.” And we will work and strive for that brighter future where everyone who calls this ancient land their home shall sit “under their vine and fig tree, and none shall make them afraid.”

At NRB’s 2017 convention, the association’s Board of Directors unanimously approved a resolution expressing support for Israel. The Board called on NRB members to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem” and for the U.S. “to stand steadfastly by Israel, even as others malign, abandon, or attack her.” They also urged Christians to “reject and guard against the dangerous Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement.”

Next month, in anticipation of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the modern state of Israel, NRB will host a special session at Proclaim 18 in Nashville, Tennessee, that will feature Christian ministry leaders Kay Arthur and David Jeremiah; award-winning singer and songwriter Michael W. Smith; and others.

Proclaim 18, which will also feature a visit from Vice President Pence on its opening day, will be held at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Nashville February 27-March 2, 2018.

 

Pence Speech Rife with Biblical References Rocks the Knesset

By: Lahav Harkov; jpost.com

VP Pence’s Biblical speech to Knesset met with multiple standing ovations.

Pence speech rife with biblical references rocks the Knesset
US Vice President Mike Pence addresses the Knesset, Israeli Parliament, in Jerusalem January 22, 2018. (photo credit: REUTERS/ARIEL SCHALIT/POOL)

US Vice President Mike Pence was met with one standing ovation after another in the Knesset, during his speech rife with Biblical references and expressions of support for Israel and the Jewish people.

Under US President Donald Trump, Pence said, US-Israel ties are stronger than ever.

“We stand with Israel, because we believe in right over wrong, in good over evil, and in liberty over tyranny…The people of the US have always held a special affection and admiration for the People of the Book. In the story of the Jews, we’ve always seen the story of America. It is the story of Exodus, a journey from persecution to freedom, a story that shows the power of faith and the promise of hope,” he stated.

Pence, the first US Vice President to address the Knesset’s plenary, spoke to a packed room.

A devout Evangelical Christian, Pence paraphrased Psalms: “The USA is proud to stand with Israel and her people, as allies and cherished friends. And so we will pray for the peace of Jerusalem, that those who love you be secure, that there be peace within your walls and security in your citadels. And we will work and strive for that brighter future, so everyone who calls this ancient land home shall sit under their vine and fig tree, and none shall make them afraid.”

“We recognize that peace will require compromise, but you can be confident in this: The USA will never compromise on the safety and security of the State of Israel,” he stated.

“The US remains committed to peace,” Pence stated, saying that the US will support a two-state solution if both sides want it. That comment was met by a standing ovation from the opposition, while the coalition noticeably stayed in their seats.

The vice president announced that the US embassy will move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by the end of next year, emphasizing that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital.

He also spoke out against Iran, calling the nuclear deal a “disaster,” and saying Trump will not certify it again.

Pence rapped Iran as the world’s biggest state sponsor of terrorism, and used the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” several times, saying it “respects no creed, stealing the lives of Jews, Christians and especially Muslims.”

“Together with our allies we will continue to bring the full force of our might to drive radical Islamic terrorism from the face of the earth,” he said.

During his speech, Pence waxed poetic about Israel and Jewish history.

“As I stand in Abraham’s Promised Land, I believe that all who cherish freedom and seek a brighter future should cast their eyes here and marvel at what they behold…How unlikely is Israel’s birth; how more unlikely is her survival,” he said.

Pence said the Jewish people held on to the hope of returning to their homeland over a 2,000 year exile, “through the darkest and longest nights.”

“Tomorrow, when I stand with my wife Karen at Yad Vashem to honor the six million Jewish martyrs of the Holocaust, we will marvel at the faith and resilience of your people, who just three years after walking in the shadow of death, rose up from the ashes to resurrect yourselves, to reclaim a Jewish future and rebuild the Jewish State.”

Speaking on Israel’s upcoming 70th Independence Day, Pence said the Shehechiyanu (“who has granted us life”) blessing, said to thank God on momentous occasions.

Pence’s blessing was met with a standing ovation from nearly all of the MKs present, as were several other points in his speech.

At the start of the speech, Joint List MKs held up signs that said “Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine.” They were immediately ejected by ushers. Holding up signs or other props in the Knesset is prohibited in all plenary sessions, and when a foreign dignitary speaks, there is a zero-tolerance policy against heckling.

Pence took the interruption in stride, praising Israel’s “vibrant democracy.”

Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh tweeted that he was proud to lead his party in a “strong, legitimate protest, against the Trump-Netanyahu regime’s exaltation of racism and hatred, who speak of peace solely as lip service.”

Pence’s speech was otherwise extremely well-received from both the opposition and the coalition.

The vice president concluded his speech with “God bless the Jewish people, God bless Israel, and God bless the USA.” Likud MK Yehudah Glick shouted: “God bless you, Mr. Vice President!”

Transportation and Intelligence Minister Israel Katz called Pence’s speech “inspiring,” and Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett said “it will go down in the history books of both nations.”