come and go. They are short term
solutions to the limited objectives of ending destruction and death. While this is an important issue, the longer
term solution to the conflict between Israel and the political/terrorist
organization Hamas in Gaza, cannot be ignored.
Indeed, extended cease fire agreements will in all probability actually
extend the conflict by allowing Hamas to reorganize and rearm, while enjoying
the glow of victimhood spread by many in the international community and media,
over the disproportionate levels of
destruction and casualties which the Palestinian residents of Gaza have
endured. Of course the sympathizers in
Europe and the Middle East choose to ignore the fact that Hamas, who governs
Gaza, has imposed the violence on its own citizens by continuing its pointless
attacks on the state of Israel and its civilian population through terrorist
attacks and barrages of thousands of rockets.
attacks are nothing new. Israel
voluntarily ended its occupation of Gaza in 2005. In 2007 Hamas won political control , militarily
ousted the Palestinian Authority’s governing party Fatah, and escalated a sustained assault on Israel territory with
rockets and terrorist attacks. In 2008 Israel responded with a ground invasion
of Gaza in an attempt to neutralize Hama’s military capability. The invasion ended with a cease fire
agreement, the problem did not.
In 2012, another
Israeli operation was carried out in response to Hamas attacks. After eight
days a ceasefire was declared. Hamas rearmed.
Now in 2014,
international pressure is being applied to Israel to once again agree to a
cease fire which the proponents say, could lead to renewed negotiations for a
broader peace settlement. Some in the
Israeli government argue correctly that such a cease fire without the
demilitarization of Hamas would simply produce the same outcome as the earlier
cease fire agreements which was the rearming of Hamas and the rebuilding of its
infrastructure, including cross border tunnels, in preparation for a new round of rocket and
In essence, cease
fires are attempts to treat the symptoms of the immediate problem of armed
conflict and resultant civilian casualties but as recent history shows, the
underlying obstacle to peace negotiations remains in place. That is the existence of a militant and
militarily capable force which rejects the whole concept of a peace settlement
based on a two state solution.
Here are relevant excerpts from the founding Charter of
Hamas (a.k.a the Islamic Resistance.)
“The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that “the
land of Palestine” has been an Islamic Waqf “(an Islamic endowment of property to be held in trust and
used for a charitable or religious purpose.) “throughout
the generations and until the Day of
Resurrection, no one can renounce it or part of it, or abandon it or part of
it.” “The time will not come until
Muslims will fight the Jews (and kill them)”;
“Peace initiatives, the so-called peaceful solutions,
and the international conferences to resolve the Palestinian problem, are all
contrary to the beliefs of the Islamic Resistance Movement. For renouncing any
part of Palestine means renouncing part of the religion; nationalism of the
Islamic Resistance Movement is part of its faith, the movement educates its
members to adhere to its principles and to raise the banner of Allah over their
homeland as they fight their Jihad: "
“ There is no solution to
the Palestinian problem except by Jihad. The initiatives, proposals and
International Conferences are but a waste of time, an exercise in futility.”
Thus, as is widely
recognized, Hamas does not recognize Israel’s right to exist and is committed
to Israel’s destruction. Neither does
Hamas recognize the legitimacy of international diplomacy as a process to reach
the only final settlement possible and the one accepted by the Palestinian
Authority in the West Bank which is a two state solution.
Cease fires as “time outs”
in never ending episodes of armed attacks on the state of Israel by Hamas and
its equally intransigent and hostile client, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and its
military wing, the al-Quds Brigade will lead no where.
The existence of Hamas as
the controlling political authority in Gaza with its 1.8 million residents, has
undermined long term peace negotiations for years. Israel found it impossible to accept
commitments from a Palestinian government that was divided into two opposing
entities, one committed to Israel’s destruction. On April 23, 2014 the Fatah led Palestinian Authority in the West Bank
territory signed an agreement with the Hamas government in Gaza to form a unity
government. Israel then terminated peace
negotiations led by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, saying that agreements
with a government which included a terrorist entity would not be possible. Nonetheless, on June 2, 2014 the Palestinian
Authority did form a unity government which included five ministers from
The U.S. and the European
Union both stated that they would continue to work with the new Palestinian
Authority government, a position harshly condemned by the government of Israel.
Both the positions of the U.S. and
EU were based on the acceptance of
assurances by Palestinian Authority President Abbas that that the deal did not contradict their commitment to
peace with Israel on the basis of a two-state solution and[that the unity government would recognize
Israel, be non-violent, and be bound to previous PLO agreements.
srael ridiculed the U.S acceptance of these “assurances” as naïve. Events which soon followed support the
Israeli position. In mid-June three
Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and murdered by Palestinians from Gaza. The Israeli response was swift and resulted
in the deaths of several Palestinians. Hamas’ military wing commenced a rocket
barrage and later declared that “all Israelis were legitimate targets”.
To underscore the meaninglessness of President Abbas’s assurances regarding
the continuing goal of a two state solution by the new “unity government”, on July
27, 2014 the leader of Hamas, Khaled Meshaad appeared on NBC’s Face the Nation
and said that he would not recognize Israel’s right to exist. Separately, a spokesman for Hama’s
military wing, the Qassam Brigades, rejected the idea of a cease fire.
Thus it is becoming clear that the
Israeli prior conditions on a solution to the Gaza crisis and long term peace
negotiations is a basic truth; Hamas and
its affiliated terrorist organizations, must be disarmed and Hamas’ political
organization must accept the Israeli state as a permanent entity as has the
larger Palestinian Authority under President Abbas. This position received
significant support on July 22 when the twenty-eight foreign ministers of the
European Union called for
the “disarmament of Hamas and other militant groups in the Gaza Strip. The statement, which was issued at the end of the monthly meeting of
the Council of the European Union, included a strong condemnation of Hamas for
its rocket fire and for using the civilian population as human shields.”
and unlike the EU foreign ministers, Obama fails to see the importance of this simple fact to both the on going
crisis in Gaza and the restarting of comprehensive peace talks between the
Palestinian Authority and Israel. His
stated position on July, 28, 2014 was
that the “disarming of Gaza terrorist groups would only take place within the
context of a formal overall Israeli-Palestinian agreement.”
Hamas and the other terrorist groups residing in Gaza are disarmed, Israel will
continue to be attacked, will continue to respond, civilians on both sides will
continue to be killed and there will be
no negotiations for a “formal overall” agreement.
As Americans watched the World Cup soccer games, the
Wimbledon tennis tournament and the interesting but less exciting nomination
battles leading up to the 2014 congressional elections, there was a strange
lack of serious discussion about yet another significant regional political and
military crisis. The breakdown of
political order in the Middle East which initiated the “Arab Spring” overthrew the old order of authoritarian
governments in Tunisia Egypt, Libya, and Egypt and falsely heralded, as the
media inspired label implies, a new Middle Eastern paradigm of representative
government and nascent democracy. But
the reality of tribal and sectarian conflict killed democracy in its crib and
naïve Western visions of new national unity in these states vaporized in as the
internal conflicts became more violent.
Nowhere was historic reality more ignored than in Iraq and Afghanistan
where the wartime strategies of the U.S. and an array of allies, morphed into a
hopeless belief in “nation building”.
The failure of the “elected” government in Iraq to
address the severe sectarian divide in terms of political inclusion and the
benefits which flow from the central authority, left the state in a tinder box
condition. In simple terms, the Shi’ite
majority felt no responsibility towards the Sunni minority which had enjoyed
power and privilege for decades under the reign of Saddam Hussein.
The Sunni minority expressed their opposition to the
Shi’ite government by almost daily bomb attacks on government facilities,
police and civilian Shi’ite populations after the American withdrawal , but the
tinder box was lit by the civil war which broke out in neighboring Syria in
2011 after peaceful protests similar to the Arab Spring revolts were put down
by military force. The resulting
militarization of the conflict resulted in the fragmentation of the forces
opposed to Bashar Assad’s government.
Once again the conflict is based on sectarian divisions. The Assad regime is a minority Alawite government which represents only 12% of the Syrian
population. The rest are predominately Sunni’s.
Alawites are a sect with theological connections to Shi’ism and thus
Assad found support from Shi’ite Iran.
The Sunni based opposition forces attracted militant
extremists from across the Middle East who formed separate and competing armed
Thus the Syrian conundrum faced by President Obama
was whether to supply military aid to the insurgency which might then fall into
the hands of extremists groups who would then represent a threat to regional
stability, or to stand by and let the Assad regime continue its brutal
suppression of the insurgency and the civilian population. Obama’s indecisiveness and ineptness in the
early stages of the revolt when “moderate” Sunni forces were leading the effort,
no doubt contributed to the escalation of the violence and the radicalization
of the opposition forces. Obama’s famous
“red line” threat and retreat in the face of Assad’s use of chemical weapons on
the civilian population turned the conflict first into a stalemate and then
into the government’s advantage. This
early equivocation allowed Russia’s President Putin to score a diplomatic coup
by negotiating a phased removal of Assad’s chemical stock pile. It thus encouraged the regionalization of the
war by bringing in radical Islamist elements and energizing the domestic
Now the most radical Sunni militias whose extremism
exceeds the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, have coalesced into a
quasi-military force which has gained control of important sections of northern
Sysria and have spread across the western border of Iraq. It has declared itself a modern version of
the 7th Century Islamic caliphate which swept across the Middle
As preposterous as this sounds, the underlying facts
of such an extremist group gaining control
of large sections of Syria and Iraq presents serious problems for other
states in the region and for the expansion of international terrorism.
The magnified threat this group poses is based on
the differences between it and its former affiliation with the terrorist Al-Qaeda
network which has evolved into loosely affiliated separate terrorist groups
like al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI),
which now has become The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) then the
Islamic State of Syria and the Levant (ISIL); and which now has taken the name of
simply The Islamic State. Unlike AQI, the Islamic State has defined
itself as a regional political entity.
It seeks control of trans-national territory and has had significant
success in northern Syria and most dramatically in Iraq.
chronology of its success is striking:
March, 2013 it occupied the Syrian provincial capital of Raqqa.
January 2014 it took over the Iraqi city of Fallujah.
then it has partially occupied the Iraqi provincial capital of Ramadi.
June 10, 2014, Iraq’s third largest city Mosul fell to ISIS.
the forces of the Islamic State are within 50 miles of the capital of Baghdad.
failure of the current Shi’ite government in Iraq and the occupation of large
portions of the nation by the Islamic State would produce a multi-party civil
war between the radical Islamists, the Shi’ite majority, tribal based Sunnis
and the Kurds who currently control the Northeast portion of Iraq.
is the medium term bad news. In the
longer term, a successful consolidation of the Islamic State in northern Syria
and Iraq would present the Western world with another terrorist state with
significant oil based wealth. The
inherent regional instability this would cause would stimulate irregular energy
markets including higher prices as well as security threats. The Islamic State’s publicly announced
regional territorial ambitions should be taken seriously. After consolidation
in Syria and Iraq it should be expected that the more moderate and Western
oriented governments of Syria’s border states Lebanon and Jordan would be at
Islamic State’s military is not exceptionally large but it is well equipped
with weapons, captured from Syria and U.S. weapons provided to and captured
from, the Iraqi military. While assistance to the current government in
Iraq is problematic the fundamental issue is one of supporting the lessor
evil. It is widely recognized that the
vulnerability of Iraq is partially due to the unwillingness of the Maliki government to extend participation and equity
to the large but minority Sunni population.
This has caused an attitude of indifference or actual support among this
population for the Islamic State’s forces as they move south across Iraq. Prime Minister
Maliki is being pressured by the U.S. and elements of the international
community to form a more inclusive government or even to resign but so far has
resisted both efforts. However these are
medium term political efforts which will take time to produce any positive
effect. The military occupation of more
and more Iraqi territory won’t wait for difficult political solutions.
usual in international security crises, European nations are indecisive and
lack the initiative to take robust action, preferring to let the U.S. take the
lead. This allows them political cover
from any backlash by Islamic entities and domestic political cover from
potential casualties or large defense expenditures. Unfortunately, President Obama prefers to
“lead from behind”, an oxymoron which in this case translates into doing the
minimum and hoping for some unforeseen positive outcome. While nobody is
leading from the front, and the Islamic State advances on Baghdad, he has emphatically stated
that American ground troops will not be reintroduced into Iraq. This is typical Obama rhetoric since no
credible member of Congress has suggested such a response. Instead, Obama’s response is simply political
a recent news conference Obama outlined his “response” to the military crisis
I said last week, ISIL poses a threat to the Iraqi people, to the region, and
to U.S. interests. So today I wanted to provide you an update on how
we’re responding to the situation.’
First, we are working to
secure our embassy and personnel operating inside of Iraq.
Second, at my direction,
we have significantly increased our intelligence, surveillance, and
reconnaissance assets so that we’ve got a better picture of what’s taking place
inside of Iraq.
Third, the United States will continue to
increase our support to Iraqi security forces. We’re prepared to create
joint operation centers in Baghdad and northern Iraq to share intelligence and
coordinate planning to confront the terrorist threat of ISIL. Through our
new Counterterrorism Partnership Fund, we’re prepared to work with Congress to
provide additional equipment. We have had advisors in Iraq through our
embassy, and we’re prepared to send a small number of additional American
military advisors -- up to 300 -- to assess how we can best train, advise, and
support Iraqi security forces going forward.
Fourth, in recent days,
we’ve positioned additional U.S. military assets in the region. Because
of our increased intelligence resources, we’re developing more information
about potential targets associated with ISIL. And going forward, we will
be prepared to take targeted and precise military action, if and when we
determine that the situation on the ground requires it. If we do, I will
consult closely with Congress and leaders in Iraq and in the region.
I want to emphasize,
though, that the best and most effective response to a threat like ISIL will
ultimately involve partnerships where local forces, like Iraqis, take the
Finally, the United
States will lead a diplomatic effort to work with Iraqi leaders and the
countries in the region to support stability in Iraq.
summary, President Obama’s response to the creation of a radical Islamist state
in parts of Syria and Iraq is to; protect
the U.S. embassy; increase reconnaissance; send 300 “advisors” to “train and
support” the Iraqi army after eight years of training and equipping that very
army; send an additional aircraft carrier and two cruisers to the Persian Gulf
in what is essentially a “show the flag” exercise since it is highly doubtful
that Obama will commit manned aircraft to the conflict.
IS forces are highly mobile and moving quickly.
While it is true that it will be up to the recently ineffectual Iraqi
military to ultimately defeat the insurgency, the use of armed drones or U.S.
tactical aircraft would be a significant help and provide an important motivational
boost to the Iraqi forces who are struggling with a lack of commitment and poor leadership. Air support has once again been criticized as
too dangerous to civilians who may be intermingled with the IS forces. However, the IS forces must travel by road
between cities and regions where they are exposed. Civilian populations should not be expected
to sit by during battles in populated areas, intermingling with
combatants. Air controllers on the
ground and precision ordnance could be expected to minimize civilian casualties
while providing the one major advantage to government forces fighting the
for “diplomacy” as a strategy make little sense since the IS has nothing to
negotiate. They are successful
aggressors motivated by an intransigent religious ideology to accomplish a
single goal; an Islamic caliphate stretching across the Middle East.
“Arab Spring” has died. The region is in
chaos in Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Syria, Iraq and Sub-Saharan Africa only being
the most obvious cases. Iran continues
to meddle in the Syrian and Iraq conflicts while it stalls serious negotiations
on it’s nuclear weapons program. (Obama has just granted another in a series of
extensions for the resumption of negotiations, taking the process well into the
Fall of 2014.) Another terrorist state in the region, even one without well
defined borders would be disastrous for regional and world security. Special envoy to the Middle East and former
British Prime Minister Tony Blair explained the situation quite clearly:
“It is in our interests for this jihadist extremist
group to be stopped in its tracks. I understand entirely why people say ‘it is
nothing to do with us and I don’t want to hear about it’.”
But he said the
Jihadis “are not simply fighting Iraqis and they are also willing to fight us
and they will if we don’t stop them”.
“It is vitally
important that we realize what is at stake here and act. We are going to have
to engage with it or the consequences will come back on us as we see in Syria
“The best policy for
us to realize that whatever form of intervention we choose is going to be
difficult but it’s better than the alternative. You do not need to engage as we
did in Afghanistan or Iraq, but we do have interests in this.”
should take a strong position on the situation and show some leadership without
worrying about purely political consequences.
awaited verdict on the Hobby Lobby religious freedom vs. ObamaCare birth
control coverage is in. As expected there
has been much ideological and partisan based spin on the 5-4 verdict in favor
of Hobby Lobby. Conservatives have
hailed the decision as an affirmation of religious freedom and liberals and
feminists have condemned the verdict in any means they could think of. It has been described as an assault on
women’s rights, health, and personal freedom of choice. Others have described the decision as one
made by “an all male majority”, as if this were unusual on a court comprised of
six men and three women. The implication
is that the male justices are somehow ineligible to vote in cases involving
female citizens as a group. It is clear
however, that the vote broke down along the familiar conservative-liberal
most of the “analysts”/pundits ignored the basic facts of the case. This was not a constitutional case involving
first amendment rights. It was not
primarily a birth control case involving women’s access to birth control
products. The case was a statutory case
decided by the justices on their interpretation of the 1993 Religious Freedom
Restitution Act. The legislation was
passed by 97-3 in a Senate controlled by the Democrats and by voice vote in the
House also controlled by the Democrats and then signed by President Bill
provision of the Act states that: ““Government
shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the
burden results from a rule of general applicability.” “The law provided an exception if two conditions are
both met. First, the burden must be necessary for the “furtherance of a
compelling government interest.” “Under strict scrutiny, a government interest is
compelling when it is more than routine and does more than simply improve
government efficiency. A compelling interest relates directly with core
constitutional issues. The second condition is that the rule must be the least
restrictive way in which to further the government interest.”
Thus the Court’s majority found that Hobby Lobby’s
owners, who claimed that being forced to provide certain birth control products
which prevented a fertilized human egg from implanting in the uterus was the
equivalent of abortion and was an infringement on their religious principles as
protected by the 1993 Act. This
interpretation of the law thus did not address any direct impact on the female
employees, let alone the post-verdict exaggerated claims made by various
women’s advocates about a wholesale attack on women’s rights and health.
Essentially, the majority found that the ownership of closely
held, for profit corporations are entitled to the protections of the 1993
statute and that the facts of the case showed an insufficient “compelling
government interest” in imposing the birth control insurance requirement via
ObamaCare. They also cited the belief
that the requirement and the harsh penalties which applied for non-compliance
did not represent “the least restrictive way in which to further the government
interest.”These interpretations could certainly be debated and most likely were
the subject of discussions by the Court in their private deliberations.
On the dissent
side, which included all three of the Court’s female justices and the reliably
liberal voter, Justice Stephen Bryer, the focus of the minority opinion written
by Justice Ruth Ginsburg was largely about outcomes rather than the
applicability of the 1993 statute. This
is a typical orientation of the liberal bloc.
They want to interpret or reject laws to create outcomes which fit their
ideology based views of a just society.
Thus the emphasis was on the alleged negative impact on women’s health
which she mentioned forty-three times.
“. . . Women’s reproductive well-being is vital to both
their personal prospects and the country’s fortunes.”
While this generality is no doubt true, it is too overly
broad to rise to the level of a “compelling government interest”. There are many methods of birth control but
the most common is “the pill”, which became available in 1960. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care
Act which made health insurance coverage for birth control products mandatory
didn’t come into existence until March of 2010.
Was there an epidemic of female health issues related to the absence of
free birth control in the previous sixty years?
Indeed for throughout those six decades millions of women provided their
own birth control without widespread hardship or much controversy. Today, a variety of birth control pills are
available for around nine dollars per month.
The issue of insurance coverage has taken on symbolic/political
importance to feminist groups which outweigh its practical effects, as the
temptation for political pandering in the run up to the 2014 congressional
elections demonstrates. Here is Harry
Reid, Democrat Senate Majority Leader looking for votes sufficient to keep his
job as Majority Leader which is at risk.
“If the Supreme Court
will not protect women’s access to health care, then Democrats will,” Reid said
in a statement. “We will continue to fight to preserve women’s access to
contraceptive coverage and keep bosses out of the examination room.”
Despite all the hyperbole, Justice Ginsburg
did include one argument in her dissent that exposes the key flaw in the
. . A decision of startling breadth and it allows companies to opt out of any
law they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.”
While not precisely accurate since the
conditions imposed by the 1993 statute would still have to be met, this
decision certainly opens the door to an unlimited variety of such claims with
regard not too just ObamaCare but as Justice Ginsburg points out, “any law”
found objectionable on religious grounds by the owners of closely held
corporations and other types of businesses.
Supporters of Hobby Lobby were focused on the beliefs of parts of the
nation’s dominant Christian faith, but the Courts ruling applies to also to all
established belief systems and will no doubt be tested by smaller groups well
out of the mainstream of American religious practice.
With regard to this particular case, it seems
to defy credulity that the owners of Hobby Lobby being required to pay for
birth control methods as part of much larger health insurance plan ,that
neither they nor any of their employees were required to use, constituted a
“substantial burden” to the owners “exercise of religion.” Surely the Green family’s (the Hobby Lobby
owners) exercise of their Christian faith encompassed far more in terms of
belief and practice than this narrow issue whose application by their employees
might never have been used and which they, as owners, would never be aware,
much less be directly responsible.
The celebration by the political “Right” has emphasized the issue of
“religious freedom” but it is likely that there is considerable overlap over
satisfaction for what appears to be another crack in the foundation of
ObamaCare. While ObamaCare has never
enjoyed majority support and is seriously flawed, this case was not about ObamaCare. Nor, as stated earlier was it about women’s
rights. It was a narrowly decided case
about the eligibility of closely held, for profit corporations to make claims
under the 1993 Religious Freedom Restitution Act. The Court had already found in the Citizens
United vs. Federal Election Commission 2010 opinion that corporations had First
Amendment rights similar to individuals, or put another way, that individuals
acting under a corporate identity retained their individual First Amendment
rights. So it came down to the applicability
of the 1993 Acts standards of a “substantial burden” to religious exercise, the
“compelling government interest”, and the availability of “less restrictive”
way to further that interest.
The Court defined the substantial burden on the Green family in an overly
broad fashion. It diminished the importance of the compelling government
interest which depends on equal accountability of all persons and corporate
entities under the law, instead opening the door to what may be “observance of
the law by the willing” under the guise of religious freedom.
With regard to the facts and the law, the dissenting Justices were only
partially right. The majority opinion
was simply wrong.