Let’s stop being surprised by “sophisticated” terrorists

The three-stage attack at Ataturk Airport in Istanbul was well planned, sending a message that security measures alone won’t stop the terrorists. I talked about the issue a few minutes ago with host P.J. Maloney on KQV News Radio in Pittsburgh.

What’s puzzling is why I still see headlines and analysts expressing amazement that the terrorist groups can plan and carry out something “sophisticated” like this. We need to get the image of primitive savages running around the desert on camels out of our heads. ISIS, for example, is “sophisticated” enough to use social media to spread its message. Well, so do I, and so do tens of millions of children.

We live in an age when terror attacks are part of our lives. It’s a sad fact. We need to relate to it realistically. Among the things we need to do are handle this logically and intelligently without trampling all over the rights we’ve come to cherish here in the West. That’s a classic “the terrorists win” situation, and that’s what we’re doing.

We need to fund short-term intelligence programs to infiltrate these groups, and long-term aid programs to win hearts and minds. There’s a target group of hearts, minds and bodies to be helped by Western aid and good will right now–millions of refugees fleeing from conflicts here in the Middle East. What we don’t need to do is step up military measures. They are counter-productive.

And one more word about security. My wife and I flew through Ataturk Airport on our way to Rome a couple of weeks ago. What’s notable here is not that airport, which looked to me like any other airport from the inside–but Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport, from where we departed.


Just a few security steps to go

Driving in, you get stopped briefly by a security guard who takes a good look at you through your open car window. Then you park and walk into the terminal, past another security guard who takes a good look at you. Inside the terminal, unobtrusively, other security guards keep an eye on people. As you stand in line for another security check that amounts to more questions and a close look, security guards make their presence known, asking questions.

The next stage a passport scan and boarding pass check before the usual X-ray scanning of hand luggage, then passport control, scanning an exit slip, and you’re on your way to your gate. Despite all these separate steps, it all goes smoothly and easily–in stark contrast to the scenes in US airports with long lines, TSA agents hollering instructions over and over, everybody practically stripping to the waist and getting full body scans.

groping_or_non-groping-morin1The difference is that word “everybody.” In Israel, everyone gets examined, but not everyone is treated like a suspect. Israel unabashedly uses profiling to single out potential terrorists. It’s not “racial profiling,” as some idiot US official called it a few days ago–it’s terrorist profiling.

Most of the people pulled aside for additional examination are, indeed, Arabs, though others are also questioned.  Israel has decided that for the sake of the rights of 95 percent of airline passengers, a certain small number might have to be inconvenienced. That’s instead of inconveniencing 100 percent of the people with mind-numbing procedures that, because they involve everyone all the time, are ineffective. Some Israeli Arabs have complained about the practice of profiling, understandably, but it’s not going to change–because it works. That’s not to say there will never be another attack on Israel’s airport or a plane taking off from here. No system is perfect, but what I’ve described is just the visible system. There’s more, trust me.

I know that profiling is so politically incorrect that Western countries could never, ever do it. The attack at Ataturk Airport underlines the assessment of an Israeli security expert, who told me that inevitably, Western nations will have to adopt Israel’s method–they’ll just call it something else.


Brexit and the Mideast–Russia wins: Mark on the radio

Britain’s exit from the European Union is a boost for Russia in the Mideast. That’s one conclusion I discussed with host Bruce Sakalik on KQV News Radio in Pittsburgh a few minutes ago.

Weakening Europe as an economic and political player in the region, and everyone assumes the British exit would weaken Europe, benefits its enemies. The main enemy of Europe these days is Russia, and the place where that plays out on the ground immediately is Syria.

Russia is backing the hated regime of President Bashar Assad, providing military support and airstrikes ostensibly aimed at ISIS but actually hitting all of Assad’s opponents. To the extent that Europe’s power–economic and political more than military–is reduced, Russia may harden its position, and not only in Syria.

We didn’t discuss the impact on Israel and the Palestinians, but the same pattern applies. Europe has been siding more and more with the Palestinians–Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas got a standing ovation there a few days ago after repeating the outrageous slander about Israeli doctors calling for poisoning Palestinian wells. Of course he retracted it later, but that doesn’t matter. If Europe is weakened politically, that could be perceived as a blow to the Palestinians, and that in turn could embolden the Israelis to harden their positions.

Anyway, nothing good is going to come out of this…

November lectures in US: How the Mideast will react to the election

Nov16 jpg

I’m scheduling a lecture tour in North America in November, timed to analyze the response of the various parties in the Mideast to the outcome of the US presidential election. That will lead naturally to other vital issues.

There’s plenty that Americans need to now now–how the Mideast will react, what the US should do, and more importantly, what the US shouldn’t do. My lectures are illustrated, informative, informal and even humorous. They depart from the beaten path, since I’m an old-fashioned journalist who determines the facts first, and then draws conclusions–not the fashionable other way around.

I have dates open. If you want to put together a sponsorship (I charge about 1/20 of what Alan Dershowitz gets, and he does not know or understand 20x what I do), or if you know someone who can–please send this flyer, or better yet, contact me. I’ll be based in Baltimore, and from there I’ll go wherever people want to hear my message.

State Dept dissenters, CIA head disagree about Mideast: Mark on the radio

The Mideast is a region, not as a collection of separate countries. If you don’t get that, you find yourself with internal contradictions. This applies to the US government.

Talking to host Bob Bartolomeo on KQV Radio in Pittsburgh a few minutes ago, I compared the dissent document by State Department officials who want the US to bomb targets related to the Assad regime in Syria, and an interview by CIA director John Brennan, who tells my friend Nancy Youssef and a Daily Beast colleague that the airstrike-centered war on ISIS is a failure. (I’ve had the pleasure of working with both reporters.)

I’m appealing for a long-view approach–getting out of the bombing business and using the same money to help the millions of refugees displaced by the conflicts sweeping the region. Then when they go home, and most of them do want to go home–perhaps they will have a positive view of the West, as opposed to the current perception of the West as a colonial oppressor that kills from the air.

A weakness of elected regimes is that inability to plan last the next election. This concept–helping the refugees instead of bombing perceived enemies and ensuring a backlash–is a policy that could last for many years. Even so, it would be cheaper than the pointless military campaigns–food and shelter are remarkably cheaper than planes and bombs–and it actually has a chance of a positive outcome, both in the short term (saving lives) and the long term (making friends and allies).

So let’s tell our representatives that this is what we want.


Reporters confirm they’re pro-Palestinian–Mark on TV

This interview is in Hebrew. Here are the main points.

I was asked to appear on Israel TV to analyze a survey by TPS, an Israeli news agency that provides video to news outlets around the world. The survey questioned foreign correspondents covering the Israel-Palestinian conflict. It showed that about half the respondents felt news from here is slanted against Israel and in favor of the Palestinians, and that the leading reason is ideological–news outlets are taking the side of the Palestinians in the conflict.

I used the broadcast-friendly Hebrew version of “no shit” in response, but explained that many reporters don’t see a problem with that. When I started in journalism back in the era of big, black typewriters, my job was to report the news and explain it. It’s all different now. Today’s journalists define their role as helping the downtrodden. Of course that means the Palestinians in this case. It’s good and evil, and little that falls outside that box gets in print or on the air. I told how The Associated Press banned me from writing about my discovery of Israel’s 2008 peace offer to the Palestinians–a story that, handled properly, would have been Pulitzer Prize material and could have changed the above equation. If you missed it, here’s my Tablet article about finally getting the story out just a few months ago.

There are many other examples of such flagrantly biased news judgment, to the extent that while there are groups that monitor the news media and complain when something is wrong–some of them genuinely interested in proper coverage, others interested in fomenting paranoia and raising money from it–the real problem is, how do we know what isn’t being reported? When I lecture in North America (get ready, I’m putting together my next tour for November), I dread being asked that question–because I don’t have an answer. The long-term solution would be to restore journalism to its former state–but that’s not going to happen. All we can do is continue to plug away, get the facts out there as much and as often as possible, and hope for a Grand Canyon effect over the course of time.

Israel is not, and will not be, the underdog again, and if that means the world media will continue to beat up on us–that’s better than the alternative. We act today from a position of strength. Let’s behave that way.


Orlando and ISIS, the link: Mark on the radio

What’s the nature of the link between the massacre in Orlando and ISIS?

I discussed that vital question a few minutes ago with host P.J. Maloney on KQV Radio in Pittsburgh. My conclusion–it’s indirect, a matter of the violent Islamists influencing some Muslims to carry out attacks like this. Most of the influence is by way of social media. That makes it much harder to track, discover or prevent such attacks.

It’s also important to note that it’s just a few Muslims out of the millions in the US, where leading Muslim organizations have condemned the attack, as have most of the Arab regimes here in the Mideast.

Same conflict, new context: Imposing a solution on Israel and the Palestinians

The French and Egyptian peace proposals for Israel and the Palestinians are nothing new—but the Middle East is. If the peace initiatives are put in the context of post-Arab Spring regional realignment, there’s actually a chance for success after decades of failure.

France is proposing an international conference to work out a solution based on a state for the Palestinians living next to Israel in peace.

Egypt’s suggestion is less specific. It’s a call on Israel and the Palestinians to make the tough decisions that are needed to move toward peace. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi says the two sides can adopt any of a number of existing frameworks as a starting point.

We’ve been here so many times in the past that it’s tempting just to yawn and move on to the sports page. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to el-Sisi positively, saying he’d welcome peace talks—then wrenched his already hard-line government farther to the rejectionist side by virtually firing his defense minister—no dove himself—and moving to bring in mercurial tough guy Avigdor Lieberman to replace him.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas whined again about Israeli settlement construction, though it is clear to anyone who examines the situation that the settlement issue will be solved in the framework of a final peace map, because there won’t be any settlements in a Palestinian state. Abbas had his chance to sign on to just such a solution in 2008 but rejected it.

So been there, done that. But stifle that yawn–these are new times.

The 100th anniversary of the Sykes-Picot pact that led to drawing the borders of the Mideast mapmodern Middle East has evoked welcome reflection about the changes sweeping the region and the inherent instability of those borders—even if they have lasted for a century. Look at the map. With the exception of Egypt, anywhere you see a straight line, it’s an artificial border that has no relation to the ethnic or religious makeup of the people on either side of it. That’s just an example of a sand castle that is doomed to collapse in the heat of the desert.

We’re seeing that happen before our eyes, though Western governments are still trying to glue the sand castle back together—which is, of course, impossible.

Arab Spring was predicated on the assumption that countries within the 1916 borders could reform themselves into democratic entities that would serve all their various tribes, ethnic groups and religions peacefully and happily. That was an ambitious, idealistic goal, but it was not shared by a critical mass of those people anywhere, with the possible exception of tiny Tunisia. So it failed.

With the collapse of Arab Spring, the traditional forces in the Middle East are asserting their claims. Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds are trying to carve out areas under their exclusive control. Extremist forces like al-Qaida and ISIS are fighting practically everyone else.

Notably on the sidelines are Israel, the Palestinians and Egypt, though Egypt is involved in its own struggle against jihadis associated with ISIS.

The three are exempt for the same reasons: They are mostly homogeneous. Israel is 80 percent Jewish, the Palestinians are about 90 percent Sunni Muslim, and Egypt is about 85 percent Sunni. Also, the Sykes-Picot borders worked for Egypt because its society predated the map by 6,000 years, while Israeli and Palestinian borders could work because they were not drawn by Sykes and Picot. They resulted from a 1947 UN partition and a series of wars.

The main problem is that the borders between Israel and the Palestinians are not formal. They are based on a 1949 cease-fire line that is not recognized by Israel as a border—and the troublesome settlements are the result. Clearly the borders are only one of the issues confronting the two sides—security and refugees are just as important, and the refugee issue is the one that has torpedoed previous peace efforts.

Now there’s a chance to break that mold, too—but it will require a rebooting of the world’s attitude toward the region as a whole.

Sometime in the future, the Middle East will look very different from the above map. The lines in the sand may remain for some time, even decades, but they will fade into insignificance as the forces in the region redraw the actual map on the ground. The Shiites will have their area, the Sunnis will control their regions, Kurds will form an entity crossing several current borders. There will be pockets of extremists exporting violence until the people themselves (not the West) decide they’ve had enough and silence them. “We can’t want it more than they do,” said a US official after an American soldier was killed recently while defending a front-line position already evacuated by the Iraqi army.

Then one fine day, when they are all fought out, the above factions and forces will convene their representatives, with or without the West and Russia, and everyone will hammer out a new map they can all live with. Not love, not embrace, not celebrate, but live with.

Israel and the Palestinians must be part of this process. Drawing a fixed border according to the concept of territorial realignment is almost a gimme, since the line is already

Olmert's offer

Israel’s 2008 peace offer

clear, and everyone knows what it is—Israel offered this in 2008:

It gives all of the Gaza Strip and nearly all of the West Bank to the Palestinians with some territorial exchanges and, crucially, a land link between the two Palestinian territories through Israel—something that has never existed before. It’s more or less the same map that’s been around since 2000, the first time Israel put it on the table.

Under the new regional arrangement, ideally backed by world powers, a form of this border would be imposed on the two sides. If all this is part of a regional realignment, Palestinian whining and Israeli foot-dragging would be of little significance.

In this framework of new borders, Israel could claim the strategically vital Golan Heights, golan-heights-map-2captured from Syria in 1967. With the realignment, Israel has as valid a claim to the Golan as others do to their territories, since the Golan Heights threaten Israel’s security but are not important to whatever replaces Syria.

It’s not peace, but an internationally recognized border is a major step toward stability. It bypasses pesky but less relevant issues like refugees—a pawn in the hands of generations of Palestinian rejectionists–and Israel’s demanding recognition as a Jewish state—a matter that is actually up to Israel alone to assert.

This progress by stages would apply to the whole region. Peace is a goal for the distant future. Under current circumstances, all anyone can really aim for is a proper realignment and resulting stability.

Do either France or Egypt see the Israel-Palestinian conflict in those terms? No. Or not yet. But they appear to be slowly weaning themselves away from the decades-old canard that resolving the Israel-Palestinian conflict is the key to peace in the Middle East. The above scenario shows it’s the opposite: Once the rest of the region realigns itself, the Israel-Palestinian situation can be resolved in that framework.

Unfortunately for the people on the ground here, nothing positive will happen until then, and that means the violence and hostility are likely to drag on. The old bilateral “peace process” reached its logical conclusion twice, in 2000 and 2008, when Israel offered the Palestinians a viable state, but the process did not bring peace. There is no point in reviving it yet again, just to invite the same result.

The main lesson of the collapse of Arab Spring is that the Mideast must be treated as a region, not as a collection of individual nations. That concept must include finally defusing the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

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Mark Lavie has covered the Mideast as a news correspondent since 1972. His book, Broken Spring, examines Arab Spring and life in the region.






Jordan attack shows need for Western help

A lone gunman killed three Jordanian security officers and two others Monday in a rare attack on an intelligence office in the largest Palestinian refugee camp in the Amman area.

That sentence evokes several important questions. I discussed those issues a few minutes ago with host P.J. Maloney on KQV Radio in Pittsburgh. First of all, the attack shows tensions between the regime and its Palestinian citizens, who make up at least half of Jordan’s people, as well as worrying influence of Islamist radicals in the usually peaceful kingdom.

Then there are the refugees, including more than a million from Syria, imposing a severe burden on Jordan’s economy.

P.J. asks why the US should be concerned, and what it should do…as always, the best and most relevant questions. I have specific answers here in this short radio clip.