Actual facts about Israel and Gaza

“My mind is made up–don’t confuse me with facts.”

I know that’s the way antisocial media works, but it you’re interested in facts about the Israel-Gaza situation, read on. If not, well, you can also stop posting on my sites.

Here’s one that I haven’t seen anywhere except in my posts: The border between Israel and Gaza is an official, internationally recognized border. Part was determined in 1922, the rest in 1950, and Israel withdrew behind it in 2005 when it pulled out of Gaza.

Here’s another one: Israel ended its occupation of Gaza in 2005, evacuating 18 settlements and pulling its armed forces out. There are those who say that even so, Israel still occupies Gaza because it maintains a sea blockade and controls the border crossings between Israel and Gaza. That doesn’t stand up to objective scrutiny:

  • The UN has endorsed the legality of  the sea blockade because of the hostile Hamas regime in Gaza that uses every opportunity to launch attacks against Israel.
  • No nation in the world is required to keep its borders open under any circumstances, much less war. For example, the US even maintains closed borders with Mexico and Canada, allowing people in only when it chooses to (though many infiltrate illegally). Likewise, cargo crossings. Europe is an exception to this rule, but not really–the nations of the EU have ceded their right to total border control by choice. The demand that Israel open its borders to Gaza is totally unfounded in international law, and totally counter to logic on the one hand and practice on the other.
  • Gaza also has a border with Egypt, which opens and closes its crossings when it feels like it, and no one so much as peeps in dismay.

Israel has been dealing with Palestinian riots since 1987, when the first Palestinian uprising erupted. Israel has tried many methods to quell riots without killing people. Some are standard, like tear gas, water cannons, and rubber-coated bullets. Some are unprecedented, like dropping leaflets warning people to stay away from conflict areas, mass cell phone warning calls, and “knocking on the roof,” aiming low-lower mortar shells at buildings a few minutes before an actual attack–no other army in the world does these things, because they endanger its soldiers. Some are comical, like the gravel-spitting machine that was used for a while to try to break up riots.

What’s missing is an innovative method to break up huge riots like the ones in Gaza without killing dozens of people–because make no mistake: Hamas benefits from deaths of protesters, the more the better. It doesn’t matter if Israel says most of the dead were Hamas members. The numbers are the numbers, and they lead to the silly argument of proportionality, a concept that applies only to Israel. You can read about that here. The raw numbers lead to outsized diplomatic responses–recalling ambassadors, demanding UN inquiries, condemnations, calls for “restraint on both sides.” The fact that more people are killed every day in both Syria and Yemen is irrelevant to the people and politicians who see an opportunity to make some hay at the expense of Israel, whether it’s justified or not, whether they know that or not.

Yet that does not address the central issue–Israel plays into the hands of Hamas by killing Palestinians, even if Israel feels it can justify its actions. There’s an Israeli saying that translates, “Better to be smart than right.” That applies here. It is inconceivable that in the last 30 years, from the time Israel started dealing with Palestinian riots and suffering bad press and diplomatic sanctions from its handling of them, that no one has come up with a way to do this better. After all, Israel developed tankerand deployed an anti-rocket system, “Iron Dome,” to deal with rocket fire from Gaza and elsewhere. So why has this challenge been too hard to beat? Well, this is an article about  facts, so I won’t speculate about that. But I will offer the idea that if Israel used tanker planes that suck water up from the sea and drop it on forest fires–that would be a way to douse the flames of the burning tires and chase people away from the border with less damage and fewer casualties.

Next let’s look at the claim that all this is because of Israeli occupation, and if only Israel would agree to compromise a little bit, all this could be resolved peacefully. I’ve seen that argument several times. In fact, Israel has offered the Palestinians a state in the equivalent of all of the West Bank and Gaza, an unprecedented corridor between the two, and parts of Jerusalem TWICE, in 2000 and 2008, but the Palestinians turned them down. It doesn’t matter why Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas both responded to the offers by storming out of the room and slamming the door–those are the facts. Here’s why you might not have heard of the 2008 offer.

I spent many, many days in Gaza over the space of three decades, covering the conflict, the society, and the people. I haven’t been there since 2000, because I am an Israeli citizen, and we’re not allowed there, for obvious reasons. I can say as a fact that Gaza is and was a hellhole. There is genuine suffering, poverty, hopelessness.

factoryThere is a way to fix it. There are only 1.8 million people in Gaza, about the same as a medium-sized city anywhere else. Here’s the way: Instead of the politicized “aid” to “refugees” aimed at perpetuating the conflict–build one large factory. One car factory, for example. It could employ 10,000, maybe 20,000 people. The income from these factory jobs and the accompanying jobs they create would trickle down into every household in the territory. The factory would have to be heavily subsidized for a long time–but the price tag would be a fraction of what the UN is pouring into its perpetual “refugee” camps.

So in the space of one little article, here are two solutions: Tanker planes to break up Gaza’s riots, and a factory to rescue Gaza’s people. It’s really not that hard. All that’s needed is the will to do it.

So you canceled the deal–now what?

The celebrations have begun–the horrible Iran deal is no more. The Internet is flooded with hip-hip-hoorays next to screeds proving that Iranians are not nice guys, as if anyone ever said they were.

This wasn’t particularly hard, but it’s playing out exactly as I said it would. Here’s my pre-announcement article on a leading Canadian website.

So you canceled the deal. Now what?

What’s your next step? How do you follow this up?

First, let’s consider the consequences. Here’s one: Is there any reason why a foreign government would sign an agreement with the US now, knowing full well that in a very short time, the US might well cancel the agreement on its own?

Think about the implications. This administration already set off a trade war with Asia by pulling out of the regional trade accord overnight and then imposing tariffs on Chinese goods–again, unilaterally. Now there are rumblings that the US wants back into the Pacific trade mechanism. If I were an Asian leader, would I even consider that? I mean, what if President Trump changes his mind again?

Oh, sure, the US is big and strong and can dictate its terms to everyone out there. Except it can’t. Maybe 50 years ago it could, but now it can’t–not because of the machinations of the Muslim-loving, America-hating traitor Obama, but because the world is changing. Gunboat diplomacy is a term of the 19th century. This is the 21st century, and it doesn’t work anymore.

Where Obama went wrong was not with his policies, but with his inability to explain them and sell them to his people, even to his party. That doesn’t make him a Muslim-loving, America-hating traitor. It makes him a bad leader. Big, big difference.

I can and have explained his Iran deal, but as one of my friends wrote with tongue firmly in cheek (I hope), “You’re just a former important journalist. You’re not a famous actor. I don’t care about your opinion.”

So here’s the beginning of a 2015 article I wrote while the debate over the Iran agreement was in full force. Nothing has changed.

Here are four facts that turn the whole Iran debate on its head:

  • If Iran wants to build a nuclear weapon, it will.
  • Sanctions have accomplished all they can accomplish, and maintaining them or strengthening them would be counterproductive.
  • Iran has an educated middle class that already pulled off a near-successful revolt and is the key to Iran’s future.
  • What Iran does is more important than what Iran says.

Here’s a link to the rest of the article.

Now I find myself responding to serious-minded people who bought into the anti-Iran tsunami that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been flooding his people with for years, and supported the joint Netanyahu-Trump effort to scuttle the Iran nuclear deal. I repeat myself here and there, but that’s not because I’ve stopped thinking. It’s because the arguments are still valid:

–If it weren’t for the deal, Iran would already have nuclear weapons.

–You make deals because you don’t trust the other side, not because you do. Then you find ways to make it in their interest to keep the deal. Egypt-Israel is the best example I can think of.

–There’s no such thing as a military solution in the 21st century. Military action leads to new problems, not solutions. Iraq and Syria are the examples, again.

–In the end, Iran has bigger problems than Israel. It’s using Israel as a ploy, the way the Arab world has been doing to decades. This time, though, it isn’t working–Iran’s people really don’t give a crap about Israel one way or the other. As in Egypt, their focus is economic.

–Iran’s leaders also know full well what will happen to them if they attack Israel. It’s calledimages second-strike capability. So we can take a back seat and just watch, while protecting our interests, if that’s what we want to do. But after the show-and-tell we watched on TV, it’s clear that Bibi wants to keep the Iran-Israel spat up front, for his own political reasons, and that is, indeed, his fault.

So again, what’s your solution?

And that remains the question. I’ve seen some people saying the sanctions should be reinstated and tightened in order to bring the Iranian economy down, foment unrest, and set off a revolution. Well, how did that turn out in Egypt, Syria, and Libya? Chaos at best, dictatorship at worst. Why do people assume that the good guys are going to come out on top? Historically, economic chaos and privation has led to despotic rule, not democracy. The West has been disastrously inept at regime change, because regime change can’t be imposed from outside.

So now what? Does the US clamp sanctions on European companies and banks that continue to uphold the agreement their governments signed and do business with Iran? What does that accomplish, besides breaking the world’s sturdiest and most important alliance since World War II?

There are those who are clamoring for military action, attacks on Iran aimed at destroying its nuclear facilities. It is totally beyond me why people clamor for wars. I’ve served in a couple (in the rear) and covered several more. What emerges in this century is that unlike the 1967 Mideast war, for example, military confrontations no longer lead to solutions, even temporary solutions. They just lead to more military actions. Examples are Libya, Yemen, Iraq, and, of course, Syria. Attacking Iran would “only” set off a region-wide war, involving Israel just because it’s here–the result of which would be thousands of dead, widespread destruction–and no change in the political reality, except for hardening positions across the board and ensuring that as quickly as possible, Iran–and probably others–would race to acquire nuclear weapons as “self defense.” They don’t have to be built from scratch, you know. There are nuclear weapons, probably unstable ones by now, available in the former Soviet Union.

Do we really want that?

So I am left where I started, and for now, uncharacteristically, I have no answer. I usually refrain from writing an article before I have something constructive to suggest. This time I’m stuck still asking.

Now what?






Cancelling the Iran deal: a dangerous “I told you so’

The US appears likely to cancel the Iran nuclear deal. The appointments of superhawks Mike Pompeo as the new US Secretary of State and John Bolton as national security adviser practically guarantee that. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, rolling out documentation of an Iranian nuclear weapons program that was no secret after it was stopped in 2006, is pushing for cancellation of the deal. He’s likely to get what he wants.

Then we’ll hear cheers, shouts of joy, celebrations, parties, a raucous song of victory.

The chorus of that pathetic ballad will be, “I told you so.” The price—missed opportunities and dangerous consequences.

On the day the deal is canceled, lists of Iranian crimes against humanity, the Mideast, Israel, everything that moves, and everything that doesn’t will be hauled out for everyone to ogle. Endless Facebook posts, gifs, tables, charts, graphs. A comprehensive, convincing, convicting case against bad guy Iran, justification for canceling the deal.

If the US manages to scuttle it—and that depends on how Europe, China, and Russia step in or don’t step in to replace the US role—then Iran will indeed resume its work toward nuclear weapons. Soon it will have a nuclear bomb, might even test it. Then the “I told you so” celebrations over the death of the Iran nuclear deal could produce a region-wide war.

They said it was a bad deal, they worked to prove it was a bad deal, and in the end, they torpedoed it—so it must have been a bad deal all along, right?


The Iran nuclear deal had to be a first step toward bringing Iran back into the family of nations, rebuilding its sanctions-decimated economy, weaving it into the international fabric—so that it would have no further incentive to build nuclear weapons, and have something to lose. But none of this was ever attempted.

Critics of the deal, the “failure cheerleaders,” led by Republicans and Netanyahu, rejected the accord even after it was signed. Netanyahu went so far as to address a joint session of the US Congress at that too-late stage, railing against the deal and its prime mover, US President Barack Obama, thereby placing Israel firmly in the Republican camp after decades of bipartisan support—but that’s another issue.

Despite what the critics say about “loopholes,” most of which don’t even exist, the deal is one of the most stringent, limiting, shackling, and downright insulting accords ever signed by a nation that wasn’t just crushingly defeated in a war.

Here is quote from the accord, from a detailed article I wrote just after it was signed:

“Iran reaffirms that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek, develop or acquire any nuclear weapons…

“For 15 years, Iran will not engage in producing or acquiring plutonium or uranium metals or their alloys, or conducting R&D on plutonium or uranium (or their alloys) metallurgy, or casting, forming, or machining plutonium or uranium metal.”

There are pages and pages of such restrictions.

The 10-year, 15-year, and 25-year expiration dates of the accord provide a clear example of two contradictory approaches. Critics say it just postpones Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons. Supporters say 10 years is an eternity in the Mideast these days, an opportunity to change Iran’s behavior by creating a different set of interests.

It’s not a dream. North and South Korea are ending their decades-long war. Few thought that would ever happen. So can Iran ever mend its relations with the US, and Israel? It’s not inconceivable, based on mutual interests, as they had in the ‘70s. Even now, the nuclear accord could still be a good starting point, if we use it correctly.

Am I saying that Iran is a babe in the woods, just waiting for a nice family to join? Of course not. Iran is a source of evil in the Mideast and has been for decades. It is extending its reach across the region, funding terror groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, threatening Israel.

So what do we do? Either we can encourage Iran’s leaders to replace violence and subterfuge with economic recovery and benefits for their people, recognizing that despite its rhetoric, Iran has a rational regime with an educated middle class. That’s the perspective you can get from actually living in the Mideast, and it’s shared by Israeli experts who cannot be quoted by name.

Or we can blame the accursed accord and Obama, threaten Iran, pick fights, and hope that they’ll do something stupid that can trigger a proper war to “solve the Iran problem once and for all.” That’s the policy in Washington, where Pompeo has openly advocated military action, and Bolton urged Israel to attack Iran.

But as we’ve seen time and again, military action in the Mideast leads only to more and harsher military action.

So that policy may well turn out to be the most dangerous self-fulfilling prophecy in human history. Yet even as the rubble smolders and the mushroom clouds rise, you’ll still be hearing that chorus:

“I told you so.”

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Journalist MARK LAVIE has been reporting on Israel and the Mideast since 1972, covering the Israel-Palestinian conflict from the front lines, and living in Cairo during Arab Spring. His second book, “Why Are We Still Afraid?” is ready for publication.