The Mideast news you might have missed
The George Zimmerman trial was the giant sucking sound in the media for the past two weeks. Last week, it sucked up virtually all the air time on the cable news shows and a good percentage of the print, broadcast, and social media. But there was other news and commentary that barely got attention. Some of these stories were about Israel.
Were you aware that there was an Israeli airstrike in Syria? While the United States is going bonkers about security problems created by Edward Snowden’s leaks, the administration pulled a Snowden on Israel this week when it announced Israel carried out an air attack in Syria on July 5 that targeted advanced anti-ship cruise missiles sold by Russia to Syria.
The officials, who declined to be identified because they were discussing intelligence reports (at least Snowden identified himself), said the attack occurred near Syria’s principal port of Latakia. The target was the Yakhont missile, which represents a threat to Israel’s naval forces. There was additional concern that the missile might be provided to Hizbullah.
The missile, however, also concerned the Pentagon because it could be used against Western ships that might transport supplies to Syrian rebels, enforce a shipping embargo, or support a no-flight zone.
The strike was the fourth known Israeli air attack against targets in Syria this year. Israel has a policy of silence on pre-emptive military strikes and thus did not comment on the U.S. announcement.
CNN first reported the raid on Latakia. Syrian rebels denied they were responsible. Why did the administration feel compelled to point the finger at Israel, using anonymous spokespersons relying on intelligence reports?
Yuval Steinitz, a senior Israeli minister close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said on Israeli radio that “intelligence leaks are bad, whether they come from there or from here.” Uzi Landau, another government minister, added, “The less they talk, the better it is for everyone.”
While on the topic of U.S. policy toward Syria, The Wall Street Journal is reporting a string of cautionary opinions from administration lawyers over the last two years that sheds new light on President Obama’s erratic policies toward military support for Syrian rebels. Members of the so-called Lawyers Group of top administration legal advisers argued that Obama risked violating international law by providing military support, giving Syrian President Bashar al-Assad the legal grounds — and motivation — to retaliate against American interests.
Administration lawyers recently determined that providing such aid was allowed under U.S. domestic law, using the approach President Clinton took to justify the Kosovo bombing campaign. Both the actions in Kosovo and in Syria were not authorized by the UN Security Council.
While we now have some rationale for the administration’s dithering over action in Syria, is the same legal analysis being applied to military action against Iran’s nuclear program?
On Sunday, Netanyahu tried to ramp up the pressure on the administration to commit to a military option against the still progressing nuclear program. On CBS’s Face the Nation, he expressed concern that Iran was pursuing “alternate routes” to a nuclear weapons capability while stopping just short of the specific enriched-uranium levels he had set in a speech at the UN last year as a “red line” for military action.
Netanyahu complained about the administration’s lack of urgency, saying it must demonstrate “by action” to Iran’s newly elected president that “the military option which is on the table is truly on the table.”
The United States has said that it is willing to open direct talks with Iran’s president-elect, Hassan Rowhani, a former nuclear negotiator, because his tone suggested he was “going in a different direction.” Netanyahu is more suspicious of Rowhani, calling him a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” whose strategy is to “smile and build a bomb.”
While much of this Middle East news flies under the radar (sometimes literally), the Israeli-Palestinian peace process remains a favorite for coverage. Thus, in the middle of the turmoil in Syria and Egypt, Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson felt compelled to write about Secretary of State John Kerry’s obsession with Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. After going on for paragraphs about Israeli reluctance, he finally struck the core issue that has impeded negotiations:
“Several Palestinian leaders have sufficient strength to undermine each other. The question is whether any Palestinian leader is strong enough to deliver on a peace agreement. Hamas, meanwhile, seems content to retain control of Gaza and hold out for a return to Israel’s 1948 borders — meaning no Israel at all.”
Gerson believes that despite Kerry’s Middle East frequent-flyer program, “little is likely to change.”
Finally, there a story about New Jersey’s own Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States. On July 5, the same day as the Israeli raid on Latakia, Oren announced, on his Facebook page, that he would step down as ambassador in the fall. A former Netanyahu adviser, Miami-born Ron Dermer, will succeed him.
Despite the forced “in-depth” coverage of the Zimmerman trial, especially by cable news, there was other news going on in the world. The public would have benefited by being informed of it in a thorough and timely manner.