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Extreme Makeover

Obama’s Middle East policy may soon shift away from moderates in favor of extremists

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Barack Obama stepping off Air Force One shortly before his June 4, 2009 speech in Cairo. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

President Barack Obama’s point-man for his latest approach to the Muslim world is John Brennan, the White House’s counterterrorism czar, recently described by the Washington Post as one of the president’s most trusted advisers. Two weeks ago Brennan explained to a Washington audience that “we need to try to build up the more moderate elements” within Hezbollah, Lebanon’s Shia militia. The State Department rushed in to explain that there was no change in U.S. policy toward a group it has designated a terrorist organization—however, this was the second time Brennan had spoken of reaching out to Hezbollah “moderates” (and the second time he was corrected by the State Department), which means he has the president’s approval.

In reality, there is no such thing as Hezbollah moderates. The party itself claims there is no difference between what the British incorrectly describe as Hezbollah’s political and military wing. And so identifying Hezbollah “moderates” is just political cover for the real work, which as Brennan, a longtime CIA hand, surely knows, is speaking to the hard men, the extremists, since they are the only people worth speaking to.

This is news: Moderate Muslims, the darlings of the George W. Bush Administration’s foreign policy, don’t matter, or so Obama has concluded. Ever since he was on the campaign trail Obama has promised to reach out to Iran and Syria, state sponsors of terror and Hezbollah’s patrons, and now the reason why is clear: because he believes that it’s Middle East extremists who call the shots. Someday soon, the Obama Administration is going to reach out to Hezbollah, as well as other terrorist organizations, in Afghanistan, Gaza, and elsewhere in the Muslim world.

Indeed, the Middle East’s savviest rulers have already read the writing on the wall. Look at Turkey. The Bush Administration believed that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP government represented the model of a moderate and democratic Islamic state that would influence its neighbors, especially Iraq. Now, under the Obama Administration, Turkey will still serve its traditional role as a bridge to the Muslim world—not to the moderates but to the extremists. As if to polish up his résumé for this new direction, Erdogan stacked the Mavi Marmara with activists from the IHH, as if to prove that he has relationships with Hamas. Now, when Washington wants something from the armed gang that runs Gaza, they can use Ankara as a mediator.

Obama, it seems, doesn’t care about moderate Muslims for the same reason that he doesn’t make much noise about human rights and democracy promotion in the Middle East: For all his talk of hope and change, he takes a much more pessimistic—and more realistic—view of the region’s political culture than the Bush Administration did.

And the truth is that the Bush White House was never entirely serious about backing up its talk about moderate Muslims with action. Sure, the White House rode Cairo and Riyadh hard for their human-rights abuses, but it still wound up describing Egypt and Saudi Arabia as “moderate” Arab states—meaning that they were less bad than Iran. Worse yet, the Bush Administration committed the cardinal sin of Middle East politics: failing to protect its (moderate) allies and punish (extremist) enemies. Take the case of the late former Prime Minister of Lebanon, Rafiq Hariri, an exemplary moderate Muslim politician, whose foundation provided tens of thousands of scholarships to students from all confessions while Hezbollah’s culture of resistance turned the Shia community into a death cult. And yet five and a half years later, after Hariri was killed in a car-bomb explosion in Beirut, there’s not even an indictment in his murder. The message is clear: There’s not much use for Middle East moderates since, like Hariri and Anwar Sadat before him, their moderation only gets them killed by extremists.

President Obama has keyed in on Muslim extremists because his own history shows that it’s the strategically sound choice. The lesson that extremism is the foundation of political legitimacy in politically charismatic communities was driven home to the president, Sunday after Sunday, as he sat in Jeremiah Wright’s church for 20 years. Obama, a half-white community organizer from Hawaii by way of Harvard Law School, did not seek to establish his bona fides in Chicago’s black community by attending the church of some middle-class black pastor who would speak about the glories of mowing the lawn every Sunday. The politically ambitious Obama chose to sit in the church of a man who spouted lunatic conspiracy theories about how the CIA was killing black babies not because he believed it, but because he knew back then that extremists confer legitimacy—especially when you are an outsider hoping to curry favor with the locals, as he is now with the Muslim world.

What Obama knows about extremists and moderates was not lost on our founding fathers, who understood that the great and vast moderate majority anywhere are a bunch of saps who will gladly follow the knave who knows how to play on their grievances and lusts. The moderate majority is the hash you get when you have made a virtue of human nature by balancing off competing prejudices, fantasies, fears, and vanities; and if you want to deal with this moderate majority you must go to their leaders, the men of fierce purpose who nurture the worst in mankind.

It is typically assumed that the president’s history, his family background, and the time he has spent in the Muslim world have made him deeply sympathetic to the Muslim masses. Another possibility is that it has left him wary of what he has seen and heard. As someone with a Muslim father who grew up partly in a Muslim country, and who embraced radical political tropes, it is notable that Obama chose to become a Christian and reject his father’s religious faith. Both his critics and defenders are quick to argue that his choice must have been motivated by naked political expediency. But what if it was a conscious decision to distance himself from a Muslim world he found distasteful?

In any case, Obama sees, correctly, that the real choice isn’t between moderates and extremists, but between cutting a deal with the extremists or making war against them. The fact is that a war against all the extremists in the Muslim world—Sunni and Shia, from the Persian Gulf to Western North Africa—is effectively a war against Islam. And a decades-long war of civilizations is not a war that an economically damaged United States can afford to wage. We have neither the money, nor the manpower, nor the will. A total war of the kind that appears to be on offer would change U.S. society in ways that are unimaginable and would make the Bush years look like an idyllic holiday. Our few remaining allies—with the exception of Israel—would no longer wish to fight beside us and would make deals of their own, if they already haven’t.

So, instead, we’re going to bargain with the actors who have the final say over war and peace: the extremists.

The present moment is not the first time the United States has had to choose between war with Muslim extremists and appeasing them. As Israel’s ambassador to the United States Michael Oren detailed in his 2007 book Faith, Power and Fantasy: America in the Middle East: 1776 to the Present, America’s first policymakers considered paying off the Barbary Coast pirates and the local sultans on whose behalf they took captives and booty, as the French and British did. After a public outcry, they decided to make war. Taxes were then levied to establish the U.S. Navy, tasked to defend American commerce on the high seas and take the fight to the enemy.

Looking back to the origins of the United States’ blue-water navy is a reminder that the founding fathers judged that fighting, rather than paying tribute, was what best suited the character of the American people. And there’s little doubt that U.S. citizens will again rebel against policymakers who have chosen appeasement, especially since the extremists will negotiate by killing more of us, in the streets of U.S. cities as well as in Afghanistan and Iraq. It is unclear whether the political damage that the incumbent will suffer because his countrymen are dying is sufficient to change his thinking, which is that it is more cost efficient for a weakened United States to buy off extremists than it is to run the rest of the world at the end of a gun.

But negotiating with extremists will look like war, just that only one side will be fighting while the other side—the United States—tries to stop the bloodshed by petitioning the extremists to accept more ransom. The way Obama sees it, the upside is that it will not be a war without end, like the war on terror. All the extremists in the Muslim world want is money and the power that will flow their way as the consequence of the U.S. withdrawal from the Persian Gulf. The faster the United States leaves, the cheaper the cost. This is why the Jewish state is isolated today and why Washington stands with her only reluctantly: Distancing ourselves from Israel is part of the deal we are preparing to strike.

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Martin says:

Pres. Obama should read “Faust” by Goethe. It seems like he, too, is preparing to make a deal with the Devil, which he will surely lose.

Bob Miller says:

Obama does things to hurt Israel because he is fundamentally against Israel. Journalistic pussyfooting around this fact will get us nowhere.

Plucking the moderate threads out of the extremist weave will blur the design of the rug.Left with the fringe we will never be able to see or understand what it was that caused our downfall.

What President Obama does not realize – or realises but pushes his knowledge under the carpet as far as the Public is concerned – is that the more you give in to the demands of extremists the more demands they will make of you (he probably doesn’t mind because of where his personal sympathies lie). Israel is right to plan its self-defence with a view that Obama will let them down. The hope is that they can sit out the rest of Obama’s term and hope he will not win a second term, being replaced by a president who has the real interests of a real democracy at heart

Dismuke says:

The United States military has the technology and the ability to totally ANNIHILATE the barbarians. Iran is the head of this monster – cut it off and the rest will shrivel away. Taking out Iran doesn’t need to mean putting it back together afterward and spending years and American lives and treasure nation building. It means taking out the regime’s ability to harm anyone beyond its borders and letting those who are left behind and tolerated the regime in the first place pay the full cost of rebuilding. Our only role afterward is to nip any potential reemerging threats to the outside world in the bud.

Two things that prevent this from happening: One, a Politically Correct relativistic Western culture that is afraid to identify the barbarians for what they are: BARBARIANS.

Two, an American president who is an “extremist” himself who holds a profound ideological hostility towards Western culture and its ideals of individualism and liberty.

Israel is a shining island of civilization and freedom in a part of the world dominated by backwardness, brutality and barbarism. Outside of Israel, an individual’s life counts for NOTHING in the Mid-East – and any dissent against the dictates of the State or the inhuman demands of the religious dogma is brutally CRUSHED.

The American Left since the 1960s has become increasingly nihilistic. Obama and the Left hate Israel for its VIRTUES – just as Obama despises the United States for its VIRTUES and seeks to cut the country “down to size” both economically and on the world stage.

Israel has an ally in the majority of the American public. But it needs to recognize that both it and the American public share a profound and dangerous enemy bent on their destruction: The American Left with Obama, Jimmy Carter and Helen Thomas being but a symptom of a much wider problem.

Annette Smith says:

Where does this guy get his information? Why should we believe him about what goes on inside the Obama administration?

Joseph Somsel says:

Having just finished Mr. Smith’s book “Strong Horse” it seems he leaves somethings unsaid in this article.

There are many factions of “extremists” in the Middle East. The US can make multiple deals that will increase the intra-extremist competition. An enemy of my enemy can still be an enemy. Maybe, they will just go kill each other off! Remember the Hamas takeover of Gaza from the PLO? The net result is intended to further weaken militant Islam.

Kissinger used a similar tactic in not interposing the US in the Iran-Iraq war. The idea was, in spite of his quips, that both sides would lose relative to the rest of Middle East.

Obama is largely throwing away the gains Bush made in improving at least a portion of the political culture in the ME.

The good news for Israel is that Obama’s term only runs 2 and a half more years. The American people are pretty supportive of Israel and will elect someone more supportive in the this Fall’s midterm elections and in the 2012 presidential elections.

Hang on!

Sara says:

You should explain to your readers that your definition of “extremist” and “moderate” are based on neocon ideology.

Susan Heitler says:

Appeasement of enemies with a paranoid delusional system dedicated to your destruction (Nazism, Arab anti-Israelism, Islamic Jihadism) always looses. History in Europe vis a vis Hitler, as well as Israel’s appeasement of her Arab neighbors, has proven again and again that, rather than bringing peace, appeasement emboldens the enemy. Appeasement invites further attacks because conveys a message of weakness to enemies.

Obama is not stupid. Maybe therefore he is not seeking to appease Muslim extremism. Rather, he may be seeking to abet it, to facilitate the Jihadists’ agenda of forcing the world to submit to domination by Islam.

Crazy as it may sound, I am increasingly believing the evidence that Obama’s underlying political views may well be those of extremist Islam. Erdogan in Turkey, when first elected, claimed sympathy with secular Turks. Only as he consolidated his power did he begin to let his true colors show.

Obama may in fact be conning America–not to mention American Jews who express concerns about his apparent hostility to Israel. Maybe Obama has been lying to America, in traditional Islamic fashion. Maybe his professions of sympathy to democracy and liberal values are as disingenuous as his words of support for the Jewish state.

Connect the dots. Look at Obama’s response to the flotilla; he is undermining Abbas and aiding Hamas by encouraging Israel to decrease its blockade. Obama appoints advisors like Brennan and fraternizes with anti-Americans like Ayers who actively participated in organizing the flotilla. Obama sympathizes, aids and abets America’s terrorist enemies.

Why else would Obama send millions of tax-payer dollars to prop up the Hamas dictatorship in Gaza? Why else would he use delaying tactics like “negotiating” to buy time for Iran to build the nuclear weapons that Iran will be able to use to dominate not only Israel and the West but also secular Arab nations?

We are seeing the enemy, and it is our President.

Bob Miller says:

Obama is at the cusp between Muhammad and Marx.

Harold Tobin says:

I hope all the USA jews who voted for this man are happy with their choice.The saying turkeys voting for Thanks Giving comes to mind. Unfortunatly we will have the same problems with the coalition parliamt in the UK

lamicofritz says:

Wow, it seems that this forum is going way over board! Let’s summon : ” Obama is at the cusp between Muhammad and Marx”, “…we are seeing the enemy and it is our President…!” the US military has the potential to completely ANNIHILATE the BARBARIANS…”! Great and insightful analysis, congrats to all of you ! Folks, what is wrong with you?

David Star says:

Poor PC Sara is one more reason for the delicately educated Jewish liberal to develop some life experience. Come on over bubbie and walk through the muslim or christian quarters of Jerusalem without an escort and let this old neo-con, former left liberal know how is feels to be molested and called a Jew bitch whore.
The last time it happened to my daughter visiting from the US, she was walking about 20 feet before my wife and I. After she spat in his face he was enraged until I arrived. Before I showed him my police ID he thought he was cussing out an old man. Afterward he pleaded with me while I checked his ID. I turned my back when my daughter punched him in the face and then kicked him in the groin as she had been taught.
I am sure that that Arab SOB will be happy to sing “Kumbayah” with you when you get here Sara.

rick says:

He already promised during his campaign that he would talk to anyone without preconditions. If you have no conditions (e.g. renouncing terrorism, acknowledging Israel’s right to exist, etc.), then we should not find such behavior surprising.

I have been trying for years (unsuccessfully) to wrap my mind around the notion that the people who proclaim to care the most about liberty / tolerance / moderation / peacefulness when it comes to the West are those most likely to accept third world and Islamic extremist brutality and warmongering, as if to shrug and say, “Well, gosh, you know….that’s just their way, those crazy folks.”

This pervasive condescending thesis – that behavior we would never accept in ourselves is OK for another kind of people – is, intentionally or not, destroying the faith (humanitarian) humanity has in itself by undermining its central philosophy of self-reliance and culpability. If all people are created equal, why do we demand responsibility from some and not from others? But this question, like so many others, is taken as a lack of empathy, as closed mindedness, instead of what it really is: truly egalitarian thinking.

This pandering to primitive despots also strikes me as the ultimate racism, and defeatist resignation, from this man, Obama, who ran on a platform of equality and hopeful, can-do activism – and who views himself as an example of rising above circumstances. Does he think the Muslim world is hopeless, incapable of rising above its circumstances in a positive, forward moving way? Racist.

Sara says:

@David Star, perhaps if you would step out of your own bubble and travel to other places in the Middle East, you would realize that the world does not revolve around Jerusalem, and that many American Jews are sick and tired of footing an endless bill with our tax dollars for an Israeli government that repeatedly treats its own Arab citizens like dirt and flouts international law. I can see you’ve learned to raise your own children in the manner the Israelis treat the Arabs- react to offensive words with violence.
Ta to you, and Shalom.

Perhaps you should learn more about Israel and Arabs Sara.

And i am not Jewish.

David44 says:

“Appeasement of enemies with a paranoid delusional system dedicated to your destruction (Nazism, Arab anti-Israelism, Islamic Jihadism) always looses. History in Europe vis a vis Hitler, as well as Israel’s appeasement of her Arab neighbors, has proven again and again that, rather than bringing peace, appeasement emboldens the enemy. Appeasement invites further attacks because conveys a message of weakness to enemies.”

Really? Kennedy’s concessions to Kruschchev in order to resolve the Cuban missile crisis? Reagan’s outreach and concessions to Gorbachev? Note that both of these were roundly denounced as “appeasement” by the conservative armchair warriors of their day, and Soviet communism was as paranoid and delusional as any system that has ever existed. But they seem to have worked out rather well. Not only did they not lead to further war, they reduced the risks of nuclear war, and ultimately (in the case of Reagan) led to the liberalisation of the Soviet Union and the breakup of the Communist state.

Perhaps if some Americans knew any history _apart_ from a vague memory of Chamberlain and Nazi Germany, they would be less willing to leap to military force as the solution to every problem.

Ittai says:

Seems to me that part of the sounding out process underway is to sanity check: a) how it plays; and, b) what has been overlooked by all the experts and usual suspects.

Hezbollah is an interesting case study because they are part of the Lebanese government (albeit by holding it at gunpoint).

It seems to me there are 3 factors that will sway Obama’s decision making: 1) can this be controlled such that it does not blow up Abbas/Fayed and the PA (which I doubt); 2) will Joe Public in the US forget or forgive Hezbollah attacks on American forces; and, c) the Turkey wildcard.

Sara, you should take a look at how any of the Arab nations – Egypt, Syria, Jordan etc. – treat their minorities. Maybe then you would praise the way Israel treats its Arab citizens, even while it is in an ongoing war with the Palestinians and Arabs – with whom most Israeli Arabs side.

If you are opposed to a Jewish state, say so. Do not hide behind complaints about your tax dollar.

Jeff Hochman says:


Please tell me specifically what laws Israel has violated? I don’t mean, ” They boarded a ship in international waters”. I mean what code of Law. Whose law, what Governing body? PS I am in my 40s and did 14 months in Iraq in 2008/2009 and I live in Israel, and my wife is a commander in the IDF. And actually, the world does revolve around Jerusalem if you look at it the way Muslims do and almost every other religion.

Jeff Hochman says:

poking around in international laws, I found this: Chapter VII, Article 39 of the United Nations Charter gives the Security Council authority to determine the “existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression.” Articles 41 and 42 of the U.N. Charter give the Security Council broad discretionary powers in which it may impede economic trade….

UNSCR 1874 is exceptionally strong with regards to the RIGHT OF SEIZURE of prohibited items. Paragraph 14 authorizes “all Member States to, and that all MEMBER States shall, seize and dispose of items the supply, sale, transfer, or export of which is prohibited” by the resolution and other treaties such as the Non Proliferation Treaty, and other relevant treaties and Security Council resolutions such as UNSCR 1540.

Jeff Hochman says:

Not that anybody cares about the Helsinki Principles on the Law of Maritime Neutrality

Hello friends,

The current International situation , which befell the State of Israel following the takeover of ships rally “aid” to Gaza, requires each of us to join together in an array of information for the State of Israel.

The whole world is alarmed and excited against Israel’s action, the turbulence of riots, harsh denunciations against Israel and who and what represents us abroad. Seems like logic had gone silent.

Of course that in this difficult situation Israelis and supporters all over must raise their hands to push this entire onslaught, moreover, to take all necessary steps to ward off another attempt to perform such a flotilla again and again rally us to the same difficult situation, which its consequences are easily imaginable.

It seems to me that as things are, all must recognize and mention the principles of international law, in order to fend off legally first and foremost, the current wave of hatred approaching us from every direction.

The question that arises, therefore, is whether there is an international treaty that allows the actions of the State of Israel in the event had just happened? Well, friends, There is a positive answer to that: the existing international rules – governing this kind of situation, and these are found in Helsinki Principles on the Law of Maritime Neutrality.

The principles are defined in English. (non-relevant sections have been omitted:; the full text of the Helsinki principles can be read here )

Jeff Hochman says:

Helsinki Principles on the Law of Maritime Neutrality

5.1.2(3) Merchant ships flying the flag of a neutral State may be attacked if they are believed on reasonable grounds to be carrying contraband or breaching a blockade, and after prior warning they intentionally and clearly refuse to stop, or intentionally and clearly resist visit, search, capture or diversion.

5.1.2(4) Merchant ships flying the flag of a neutral State may be attacked if they:

(a) engage in belligerent acts on behalf of the enemy;

(c) are incorporated into or assist the enemy’s intelligence system;

(e) otherwise make an effective contribution to the enemy’s military action, e.g., by carrying military materials, and it is not feasible for the attacking forces to first place passengers and crew in a place of safety. Unless circumstances do not permit, they are to be given a warning, so that they can re-route, off-load, or take other precautions.

Jeff Hochman says:

5.2.1 Visit and search

As an exception to Principle 5.1.2 paragraph 1 and in accordance with Principle 1.3 (2nd sentence), belligerent warships have a right to visit and search vis-à-vis neutral commercial ships in order to ascertain the character and destination of their cargo. If a ship tries to evade this control or offers resistance, measures of coercion necessary to exercise this right are permissible. This includes the right to divert a ship where visit and search at the place where the ship is encountered are not practical.

5.2.10 Blockade

Blockade, i.e. the interdiction of all or certain maritime traffic coming from or going to a port or coast of a belligerent, is a legitimate method of naval warfare. In order to be valid, the blockade must be declared, notified to belligerent and neutral States, effective and applied impartially to ships of all States. A blockade may not bar access to neutral ports or coasts. Neutral vessels believed on reasonable and probable grounds to be breaching a blockade may be stopped and captured. If they, after prior warning, clearly resist capture, they may be attacked.

Jeff Hochman says:

Now, in view of these international principles, it is easy to understand that Israel acted exactly in accordance with them:

§ All these vessels sail under flags of countries not party to the acts alleged hostility between Israel and Gaza (deliberately not calling them “neutral”).

§ The destination of all these vessels was stated to be the port of Gaza, as stated clearly and explicitly intended to break the blockade.

§ State of Israel had long declared the existence of the blockade on Gaza in light of the hostile acts by the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, and it is known to everyone that the State of Israel enforces it.

§ All of these vessels continued on their way to Gaza, despite early warnings and requests given to them to avoid it.

§ All these vessels have announced opposition to visit them to search them for war materials.

§ Nature of the cargo found in these vessels, the nature of cargo suspected to be there, the identity of some people found onboard and the cold (warm) weapons arsenal of which was stocked up for this cruise (as indeed was discovered after the fact) justified a visit, search and arrest.

Jeff Hochman says:

§ The resistance – and certainly as violent as it was – by cruise members to visit and search them, completely justified the attack and taking over by Israel, including dragging them to the port of Ashdod and detention of the passengers and crew.

§ An attempt to claim that these are not merchant ships is flawed at least for the following reasons:

· All were informed in advance that the purpose of these vessels journey is to carry cargo into Gaza.

· According to these principles, a merchant ship can carry passengers, the proof: The above section 5.1.2 (4) subsection (e).

§ Last on the list but first in importance: Helsinki principles do not set any conditions for the visit, the search and / or the takeover be carried out by military force, only when the subject vessel entered the or located in territorial waters of the state imposing and enforcing the blockade!

Jeff Hochman says:

I believe my last few post should settle the whole “Israel broke the Law” BS!

Jeff Hochman says:


I believe David Star is a Mishtara (INP) and I think he has traveled in the middle east. Me I have been all over the middle east. Ill put my little blue passport with the islamic stamps on it against yours anyday Sara.

Joe Hamilton says:

The author ends with “all the extremists want is money and the power that flows from it”. How absurd. Is this website run by J Street?
The muslim “extremists” and so-called moderate want the entire world be run by the caliphate i.e. the chief Muslim cleric in the world.

auramac says:

Bob, Sara… lay off the tea.

Ittai says:

So, back to the subject matter of the article: is Assad’s BBC interview ( “noise” or “signal” to John Brennan’s ears?

“Mr Assad denied that he was sending weapons to the Hezbollah movement in Lebanon.

Israel, the US and Britain are convinced not only that he is, but they say he is also sending bigger, better and more accurate ones than before.

He seems in no mood to respond to American attempts to woo him away from Syria’s long term strategic alliance with Iran.

He said he is happy to do business with the United States. But Iran would stay an ally.”

joseph says:

I enjoy Tablet, but can’t quite understand why these Newsmax type screeds are posted along all your other great cultural and political coverage.

This was a bit much for me, and I’m a Commentary Reader.

What exactly is Tablet’s political leaning?
Has Obama lost the Tablet crowd?

Josh R. says:

Lee Smith is making shit up and ruining Tablet.

David44 says:

Jeff Hochman:

You have been reading the wrong parts of international law. The reason that Israel’s blockade is illegal is twofold: first, whether Gaza is the sort of entity one can legally blockade at all, and second, even if it is, whether the scope of the blockade that Israel has instituted is permitted.


David44 says:

To follow up my last comment …

1. IS GAZA AN ENTITY ONE CAN LEGALLY BLOCKADE? There is a strong case to be made that Israel, despite her withdrawal from Gaza, is still legally occupying it, since she retains “effective control” – troops enter and leave it at will, and she strictly controls all land, sea, and air traffic, including (under an agreement with Egypt) traffic through the Rafah border with Egypt. If so, she is bound by the rules of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which ban (among other things) any actions which amount to collective punishment of the people of Gaza, which this blockade certainly is.

This is the basis on which (for example) the International Committee of the Red Cross recently ruled that the blockade is illegal. Israel, it is true, disputes that she has “effective control” in legal terms, but her case is not widely supported outside Israel itself and her apologists in (mainly) the United States.

2. IS THE SCOPE LEGAL? Still, let’s assume that Israel is right, and that she is not occupying Gaza, and so can legally institute a blockade of it. The question then is whether she can legally institute so wide-ranging an economic blockade, and it is absolutely clear that she cannot. Under Paragraph 102 (b) of the San Remo Manual (which is the “go to” place for the rules of a maritime blockade”), a blockade is not legal if “the damage to the civilian population is, or may be expected to be, excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated from the blockade”. Israel could certainly blockade weapons, but an economic blockade of the extent she has instituted fits this description exactly: there is no military advantage at all in banning snack foods or spices, and little military advantage to banning building materials, compared with the vast damage that such bans inflict on the lives of the civilian population.

David Star says:

Sara- YOUR version of an American Jew is a perfect example of the term “Oxymoron

Fnord says:

Wow, now Tablet and Lee Smith embraces the “secret muslim” narrative. This whole piece rests on several assumptions so phony its hard to believe: That there are no moderate Hezb and Hamas politicans, that the President is a traitor and his international policies are driven by Jeremia Wright, that he doesnt care for “moderate muslims” and so on. None of this is verified by any source of evidence or even anonymous quotes. This text would have looked good in Pajamas Media or any other tea-party loonatic blog. In Tablet? Its a crying shame to see the idiocy-machine in full rumble.

Jeff Hochman says:


Lets agree to disagree because I believe and in fact know your incorrect. These are the laws that are applicable to Israel. After all my time working in the Military and US Government in foreign postings, I am well aware of what the UN is looking for and at. I hold a cat 4 geneva CAC card so I also know a little about the Geneva convention.

You are right on San Remo and I can promise you that Israel is only keeping items out that can be used in a military manner or a defensive military posture. It is not keeping food stuffs or other medicinal items from the populace.
The red cross/ crescent is not a governing or legal body/ institute.They hold no authority. As far as entering gaza at will the Military can Inspect the blockaded area at will to ensure that the blockade is in fact following its purpose and not harming the civilian populace. Once the IDF is in there and they get attacked, the ROE is what it is (ROE Rules Of Engagement).

Jeff Hochman says:


Jews love all religions, ask CUFI. You are welcome to visit me in Tel Aviv anytime.

Jeff Hochman says:

If anyone is really interested in real intelligence about the flotilla and Gaza please contact me off line with an email address that can receive 21 mb size emails. jeffreyhochman at aol dot com

The neocons brought this crap on as did the laissez faire economists like Greenspan. That is why Obama is in power. Jews are their own worst enemy.
BTY Hezb’allah needs a new marching song:
You’re in the Hezb’allah
You’re in the Hezb’allah
You’ll never get out by wearing a bra
You’re in the Hezb’allah
Private Mohammad present arms
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David44 says:

Jeff Hochman:

On Israel only keeping out items with military use, I am astonished that you can say this. It has been widely reported – and acknowledged by the Israeli government – that many things with no military use whatever have been habitually interdicted. After all, Israel officially LIFTED the ban on certain foodstuffs a few days ago (see ) – and in doing so agreed that there WAS such a ban in force at the time of the flotilla.

If you did not know this, then it suggests that you are rather less knowledgeable about the situation than you claim to be – or else that your reflex to defend Israel is so acute that you even deny things that the Israeli government itself has publicly admitted to.

As to the position of the Red Cross, your claim that it is not a legal body is simply wrong. The International Committee of the Red Cross is unique among NGOs as having a role laid down by treaty as the official guardian of the Geneva Conventions, and while it has no power to enforce those conventions directly, its private and public statements on the proper scope of those laws and seeking to ensure compliance with them have legal authority. This is explicitly stated in the statutes of the ICRC, and all states signatory to the Geneva Conventions (including Israel, of course) have ipso facto assented to those statutes and acknowledged the ICRC’s unique legal role.

Ittai says:

Out of curiosity, Jeff. David, et al. why are you having the Flotilla debate here? Why not the World Cup while we’re at it?

David44 says:


If you read back, it is because Sara made a brief general claim that Israel violated international law (without mentioning what law or when – she might well have meant something completely different). Jeff assumed (I’m not sure why) that this was talking about the flotilla, and launched into a detailed legal defense of Israel’s actions there. I then responded to that.

I agree that it is completely off the topic of Lee Smith’s article, but given that Jeff did raise the issue, I felt I had to respond.

As for the World Cup, I’m pretty amazed by Gonzalo Higuain’s hat-trick against South Korea. Israel must be responsible somehow, though I’m not quite clear how …

Andre says:

I think history shows that the author is bang on.
If you look at what happened in Sri Lanka, the government decided to “deal” with the extremists by fighting them to the end. In Northern Ireland, the UK government decided to negotiate with the IRA instead.
In the case of Israel, same thing. Israel will have to decide what it wants to do with extremists such as Hamas and Hizbollah. In this case though, things are a bit different because both groups are trying to destroy Israel. In this case, there can be only one way to “deal” with these extremists: fight them to destroy them once and for all. Unfortunately, it is only a matter of time until Israel has to make
this difficult and painful choice.

Yehudit says:

“Come on over bubbie and walk through the muslim or christian quarters of Jerusalem without an escort and let this old neo-con, former left liberal know how is feels to be molested and called a Jew bitch whore….”

I’ve walked all over the Old City and most of the rest of Jerusalem alone and never had that experience, and I’m a 5 ft tall secular female who was wearing shorts and short sleeved shirt. However, I would not walk that way through Mea Sharim or any other haredi area, unless I wanted to have garbage flung at me. The rest of your comment, David, is just weird. Other than that I think you all have dealt fairly with Sara’s talking points.

“…I can see you’ve learned to raise your own children in the manner the Israelis treat the Arabs- react to offensive words with violence….”

No, Sara, that’s what Muslims do to everyone else. For example, the fatwa against Salman Rushdi and the riots following the Mohamed cartoons.

I am sick and tired of the one-sided view of the Gaza situation that solely blames Israel, but ignores the fact that Egypt shares a border with Gaza and keeps it closed. Furthermore, those that demand a return to the pre-1967 border should remember that it was then sealed and there were no crossing points from Israel. The Gaza strip was totally the responsibility of Egypt.

What we have here is failure to communicate. (Thanks, Strother Martin) We are at a crossroads that will affect this planet for the next thousand years. We are headed toward either a new dark age of dictatorships or the enlightenment of freedom.

For the Jew-haters of the world, especially those of the United States, we must start asking, “Would you rather live in a total dictatorship where you are told what to do, when and how to do it and have your head chopped off for disobeying a religious law or would you rather live in freedom and be and do what you want to do and when you want to do it and be free to tell the religious dictators to go to hell without worrying about losing your head?”

That is the difference between the world of Islam and the Western world. When mindless, ignorant students protest Israel’s right to defend itself and scream “Death to Israel and all Jews” they are supporting exactly what the dictators of Islam want them to do.

It is beyond time that we organize so we can scream louder than they do; if not, we will be lost.

Take a look at to see the ten biggest lies that are being tossed at Israel in 2010. You may be shocked.

samg says:

The idea that the U.S. under Obama or any other president will “withdraw from the Persian Gulf” is insane. There will be thousands of American troops in Iraq for years–none of whom were there ten years ago. Will we really give up the largest U.S. embassy in the world, the one in Baghdad? Or the airfields we still use in Saudi Arabia? Or the American soldiers in Kuwait? Lee Smith says Obama is going to leave the Persian Gulf, although the U.S. is still considering letting its Israeli ally bomb Iran. The Persian Gulf is where much of the world’s oil is, and will be for years. That the U.S. would withdraw from it is a bedtime story for adults.

Anybody who writes things like, “Obama sees, correctly, that the real choice isn’t…”, is a pompous windbag. How could he know what Obama sees or doesn’t see? And what reason is there to believe that Lee Smith has any way of knowing whether one view or the other is correct?

That isn’t analysis. That is just filling column-inches with print. It is empty persiflage to make the writer feel important and knowledgeable. Such stuff is a waste of the reader’s time.

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