28 August 2014

Things You Might Not Know About ISIS

The Islamic State (IS) or as I like to call them, the band of idiots formerly known as ISIS, is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.

Although they burst into our collective consciousness a very short time ago, media outlets refer to them as if they have been around forever. And ISIS manages to grab headlines by committing increasingly grisly acts of terror, preferably on camera. In the span of a few months, they managed to eclipse Al Qaeda and became the face of the Salafist movement. And it is an ugly face. Unfortunately for Muslims, now, it is also the face of Islam in the West.

But what do we know about them and how do we explain their success?

There is no doubt that, at the rank and file level, they have bloodthirsty idiots who are willing to do anything to belong. A lot of them are second generation Muslims who live in Western societies.
There are estimated to be about 3,000 citizens from Western countries currently fighting for IS in Iraq and Syria, the London-based Royal United Service Institute (Rusi) says. 
According to Rusi, the majority are believed to be from the UK, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, France and the Nordic nations. 
The UK government says up to 400 British nationals are fighting alongside militant groups.
There are even some converts from very unlikely places. The rest is composed of unhappy Jihadis from Saudi Arabia, North Africa and the Gulf region.

Unhappy Jihadis and misfits from all over the place is nothing new, you might say. That covers just about all Jihadi terrorist organization. True that.

But when you look beyond the idiots who commit atrocities on camera, you see an organization unlike any other in the Salafist terror universe.
At the top the organization is the self-declared leader of all Muslims, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a radical chief executive officer of sorts, who handpicked many of his deputies from among the men he met while a prisoner in American custody at the Camp Bucca detention center a decade ago. 
He had a preference for military men, and so his leadership team includes many officers from Saddam Hussein’s long-disbanded army. 
They include former Iraqi officers like Fadel al-Hayali, the top deputy for Iraq, who once served Mr. Hussein as a lieutenant colonel, and Adnan al-Sweidawi, a former lieutenant colonel who now heads the group’s military council.
Note the management and corporate terminology..

But the New York Times piece that implies that al-Baghdadi recruits former Saddam generals to work for him is based on the claims of a single individual. What is more accurate is that ISIS and former Baath Party senior leaders are in an alliance. And the latter are in senior management positions. This is from Foreign Policy.
U.S. officials have been closely tracking the Islamist-Baathist alliance for months. Almost as soon as Mosul fell, on June 10, it was obvious that JRTN forces had been waiting for their arrival. Reports from the scene said ISIS fighters quickly disappeared and were replaced with armed men loyal to the Baathists and former generals. The group already held sway in key Iraqi cities, including in Tikrit, which fell on June 11. But Mosul was the real prize, and a key strategic point because it's a historic seat of power for the ruling Sunni elites who want Maliki gone. 

After taking the city, the Islamic State, then known as ISIS, installed a Baathist and former Iraqi army general, Azhar al-Obeidi, as the new governor. And another former general, Ahmed Abdul Rashid, was named governor of Tikrit, where he has been credited with leading an ISIS-Baathist defense against the Iraqi Army, analysts said. ISIS's new allies were an ideal political face for their occupation. JRTN's leaders "have a long history of running Iraq, so it just feels right and natural to the people that they should be in charge," said Kenneth Pollack, a senior fellow at the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. 
I already mentioned how Mosul was a military joint venture. We now know that governance was also left to senior Baath Party folks.

I want you to appreciate this fully.

Islam is a religion based on orthopraxy as opposed to orthodoxy. The term was coined by Karen Armstrong in her excellent book on Islam. It means purity of practice is more important that purity of doctrine.

Accordingly, the Salafist movement is about returning to the origins of Islam (i.e. to the first Muslims) and emulate their actions and behavior to recover their purity of practice. (Salaf means predecessor in Arabic, just as khilaf, from which Caliph (khalifa) is derived, means successor).

ISIS claims to be the purest, the most authentic of Salafist groups, i.e. the one closest to the actions of early Muslims.

Yet, not only does ISIS work in very close cooperation with former Saddam officials, it is also a hypermodern organization that operates like a multinational marketing and media company. It employs a large group of highly skilled media and computer professionals to conduct a media-savvy marketing campaign.

Let's start with the movie business.

Did you know that ISIS has been making feature length movies?

ISIS Film Studio

I am not referring to their gory YouTube stuff. I am talking about Hollywood style epics like The Clanging of the Swords IV (no link from me to those idiots, besides it is no longer on YouTube).

And yes, the IV is a node to the Hollywood tradition to sequels. This one is the fourth in the series, apparently. The film contains scenes that are a hat tip (homage?) to Hollywood action blockbusters.

The shot on the left is from Zero Dark Thirty. You know, the termination of Bin Laden with extreme prejudice. The one on the right is from the ISIS studios.

And there is this one.

Not too shabby, right?

If it was not marked clearly on each image, would you have guessed ISIS frame correctly?

I wouldn't.
Swords IV was made by professional film-makers, al-Janabi also claims – and independent observers think he might be right. "The official Isis operation released photos of them filming – and it's all on equipment that we use at Vice," says Vice journalist Aris Roussinos, who reports extensively on both jihadists and their online activity. "It's high-quality equipment that they're actually very technically skilled at using, in a way that the other rebels aren't. They're also really good at Photoshop."
ISIS Marketing and Advertising Department

Take a look at this recruitment poster. Have you seen anything like this from any other Jihadi organization?

Or this.

This is far removed from the crude 72 virgins marketing.

They know their market (disaffected youth in the West and the East desperate to belong) and they offer them a purpose in this world and salvation in the next.

They are offering a redemption.

And as it befits their target market, their visuals emulate video games and action movies, as you can see in that picture.

There is more.

Do you remember the speed with which they achieved name recognition?

They came out of nowhere with their terrifying videos and within weeks they were the best known terror syndicate in the world, rivaling even the mother of all terror syndicates, the Al Qaeda.

And then, they swiftly changed their brand name to IS and now every news organization dutifully uses this to report on them. This is one of the most successful re-branding operations I can think of.

Developing Special Apps and Working Twitter

Vice is Montreal-based news organization with an unorthodox approach. They send fearless young reporters to scary regions to do in depth interviews with locals. The format is more short documentaries than straight news.

A couple of months ago they reported that ISIS made its debut on Twitter and made a huge splash very quickly. They had 67,000 tweets on their first week and soon they began reaching a much larger group.

Right away, they developed an Android application called The Dawn of Glad Tidings, which allows them to be very prolific on Twitter.
In April 2014, the group developed a free internet application called The Dawn of Glad Tidings, which automatically posts tweets - approved by Isis media managers - to the accounts of the application's subscribed users. 
The posts include hashtags, links, images, videos and other content. Almost 40,000 tweets were posted in a single day during the recent clashes in Iraq. 
40,000 tweets by the ISIS idiots in one day. Just this figure tells you how media-savvy these bloodthirsty terrorists are.

Moreover, the Dawn of Glad Tidings is designed to use third party Twitter accounts to make blocking their message next to impossible. The tweets are automatically picked up and re-tweeted.

Twitter has been trying very hard to get rid of ISIS propaganda material and so far their success was limited. There are many young idiots in Saudi Arabia or in the Gulf region wha were eager to install this app to allow ISIS spread its message of terror.

Moreover, when YouTube and FaceBook started removing offensive materials, ISIS management channeled their marketing effort to a decentralized network called Diaspora. I knew of Diaspora because I read up on IT stuff everyday. But most people have never heard of this completely decentralized social network. It was created just a couple of years ago by four students in New York using crowd-funding from KickStarter. As a decentralized network with no central server, it is simply impossible to stop ISIS from spreading its marketing material.

(ISIS and Diaspora, yes, I am aware of the irony. And it is multifaceted.)

This nimble shift and in-depth knowledge of social media and high technology shows that ISIS is in a whole different league.
[A]nalysts reckon no other group has as sophisticated a grasp of social media as Isis. Members of one of Isis's main Sunni rivals in Iraq – the Ba'ath party-linked Naqshbandi – are more likely to upload their leaders' speeches to YouTube, "and I don't think anybody pays any attention to that stuff", says Zaid al-Ali, the author. Over the border in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra has a more nuanced approach, and may even have similar numbers of online supporters. But when JM Berger analysed their respective performances in February, he discovered that Isis-linked hashtags received up to four times as many mentions as those promoting Jabhat al-Nusra. 
"Jabhat al-Nusra have been outclassed and outcompeted by Isis on every level – on the battlefield, and in the battle of media operations," concludes Vice's Aris Roussinos. "Either they've got fewer resources – or they're less in tune with the modern world in a way that Isis doesn't seem to be."
Which, once again, begs the following question.

How Salafist Can You Be on Twitter?

Others wondered about this as well.
Isis want the people living in the lands they now control to return to the ultraconservative traditions that – they claim – the earliest Muslims lived by. Yet this regressive goal is accompanied by a hypermodern propaganda machine that sees Isis's sadistic attacks promoted by a slick social media operation, a specially designed app – and well-made videos like The Clanging of the Swords IV.
My take is that the presumed cognitive dissonance is not real.

An Australian ad executive once suggested that marketing and religion overlap almost entirely. She offered eleven point: Grandeur, Vision, Enemy, Storytelling, Mystery, Belonging, Evangelism, Rituals, Symbols and Sensory appeals.

Which means that the senior management knows what they are doing and the rank and file idiots eat it up. In fact, the message is directed not only to them but to all the disaffected second generation Muslims around the world.

And sadly, it is working.

A Word on ISIS Material

As you know I am not a moralist. But if you are as repulsed by the atrocities of ISIS foot soldiers as I am, you should not look at their clips, or better yet, you should not share them with your friends. Doing so helps their marketing machine.

I was quite sickened by the fact that the Foley beheading video went viral within hours. Several friends of mine sent me links and I could see that the video was popping up everywhere. My friends meant well as they were horrified and they wanted me to see how horrible "those people" are. But watching the video would be like collaborating with the band of idiots formerly known as ISIS, since this is exactly what they want us to do.

Finally, if you want to know the issues surrounding Jim Foley's capture (along with another American journalist by the name of Austin Tice), read this very informative piece.

15 August 2014

Why Is the US Back in Iraq?

As my regular reader will remember, recently, I suggested that the actions of the band of idiots formerly known as ISIS appear ludicrous unless they are seen through the prism of Pipelinistan and the partitioning of Syria and Iraq to create a Sunni country out of the ashes of the Sykes Picot maps.

Good friends of mine disagreed with me.

Some felt that my analysis was too cynical and I was attributing "deep state" motives to the US whereas, as we know, all they ever wanted was to bring democracy to the region.

Others felt that my analysis provided cover and even justification to the unspeakable acts of terrorism of a bunch of barbarians, a.k.a. Muslims, when I should have known that the whole thing really reeked of Huntington's Clash of Civilizations.

As I was mulling over various answers to explain my points, karma intervened. Events took place to explain how certain choices that are made have little connection to the stated objectives.

Allow me to elaborate.

In the last little while, we heard a lot of horror stories coming out of Iraq. There was the shocking Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) claim whereby the band of idiots formerly known as ISIS allegedly demanded the circumcision of all women in the region they control. While the story was subsequently marked as a hoax, this was barely reported and the rest of the world was properly disgusted.

There was also the expulsion of Iraqi Christians, one of the oldest Christian communities in the world. This one was no hoax and was widely condemned. It even a triggered a strong plea from Pope Francis.

Then there was the ethnic cleansing of Yazidis, one of the most misunderstood religious minorities anywhere. They left their towns and villages and took refuge in nearby mountains. A major humanitarian crisis ensued as they had no food and water and they were encircled by ISIS fighters.

So we have three terrible stories of human plight, including Christian minorities, and what did the US and NATO and the West do? Absolutely nothing.

You know when they decided to act?

When ISIS fighters decided to move north towards Erbil, the capital of Kurdish Regional Government. Within hours, President Obama announced that the US was not going to stand idly by and he promptly authorized air strikes against ISIS positions. And within hours, US fighter jets bombarded mortar positions and armored ISIS vehicles.

Here is a map to show you what positions were hit.

Interestingly, again within hours, Kurdish peshmerga were able to reclaim two towns recently overtaken by ISIS soldiers. This is on top of the Kirkuk oil fields they acquired recently.

The next day, France announced that they would arm KRG peshmergas. The US followed suit. And interestingly, the job was given to the CIA, not the Department of Defense. The UK is considering it as well. And the European Union.

In another twist, Iraq's embattled PM Nouri al-Maliki was forced to step down and a new PM was appointed.  His name is Haider al-Abadi and his work is cut out for him.

Tellingly, the two countries that convince Maliki that he cannot stay in power were the US and, wait for it, Iran. Supposedly sworn enemies, acting in concert.

My main point was that ISIS was not just a bunch of misguided thugs trying to create an Islamic State, as their new name indicates. They are foreign fighters who are partitioning Iraq and Syria and carving out a Sunni country. Local Sunni forces are behind them. And they will eventually take over. And I have always maintained that one of the main results of this complicated chess game is going to be a Kurdish state.

You may not believe me but just yesterday, Guardian concurred. This is their headline: "Arming Kurds may help break up Iraq." I think the recent events showed that it is a feature not a bug.

In short, nothing is what it seems in that region and if you really want to understand what is going on it is best to avoid simplistic "terrible Muslims" narratives.



Kurdish forces 'break IS hold on Mosul dam'

Ground forces supported by US air strikes launched the operation to take Mosul dam on Sunday morning.
Kurdish sources said they were still trying to clear mines and booby traps from the area round the dam, a process which could take several hours.

Also, there is this. And this.

04 August 2014

Where Is Netanyahu Taking Israel? Part 3

Just as I don't hold Netanyahu in high esteem, I don't have much respect for Mahmoud Abbas, the President of Palestinian Authority (or the State of Palestine). For one thing, his family got too rich for me to entertain any notion that he is an honorable politician. For another, his 1984 book, The Other Side: The Secret Relationship Between Nazism and Zionism is essentially an effort to deny the Holocaust.

So, in case you are wondering, I have no illusions about him.

But I have to admit that, in the last three years, he earned my grudging admiration by outmaneuvering Netanyahu at almost every turn. Abu Mazen, as he is popularly known, proved that he was a wily adversary, crazy like a fox.

Mahmoud Abbas, the Reasonable Statesman

What Abbas did was to elevate the chess game to a new platform. Instead of dealing with a broken process and trying to govern an impoverished and desperate population, he took the fight to international institutions. What is even more remarkable, he did so not to win any concessions from the ruling conservative forces in Israel, as he knew they were immutable, but to isolate Israel internationally by branding it as a builder of an apartheid regime.

In their nationalistic folly, the conservative politicians of Israel helped him every step of the way.

The starting point, at least for this narrative, is the dark days after Hamas decided that Abbas was no longer the legitimate President of the unrecognized State of Palestine. The most realistic peace prospect pushed by Ehud Olmert had also fallen victim to the Hamas-Fatah split.

In 2011, Abbas first declared that the rejection of 1947 United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine was a mistake and he wanted to correct it. This was a clear recognition of a two-state solution and the right to exist for the state of Israel.

In November 2011, he surprised everyone (including this blogger) by applying for membership to UNESCO. Astonishingly, it got through. In and of itself UNESCO membership does not bring much to the Palestinian Authority. But it opens up the way to automatic membership to a dozen of other international organizations, among which were WIPO and IAEA. Since both the US and Israel were legally obligated to stop paying their dues to these agencies, it could have created a very difficult situation for them.

Curiously, Abbas refrained from applying.

For a full year, he baited Netanyahu with the prospect of membership application to the United Nations. While all Netanyahu could muster was more bluster, in November 2012, Abbas applied for it and Palestine was granted the "non-member observer state" status by the General Assembly.

Besides allowing Abbas to rebrand Palestinian Authority the State of Palestine, this status enables the Palestinians to apply to other UN agency and especially to the International Criminal Court (ICC). ICC is a permanent tribunal that handles acts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Although Israel (along with the US and Sudan) declared that they do not intend to become states party to the founding treaty, a Palestinian membership worries the Israeli government deeply.

Finally, on 1 April 2014 Abbas declared that he was applying to join 15 international treaties. 13 of which are UN treaties.

This one is an intriguing move. Abbas had promised not to apply to these treaties until 29 April. He said that he did it a month early because Israel failed to release a batch of Palestinian prisoners at the end of March, as agreed.

But he did not have to move right away: He knew that Naftali Bennett had just threatened to quit government if these prisoners were released and Netanyahu was in no position to do it. He could have waited till the end of the month and expose the Israeli government's inability to deliver on its promises. Instead, by moving immediately, he gave Netanyahu cover, allowing him to claim that if Abbas waited till the end of the month everything could have been fine. Even though, as everyone knew, it just wouldn't be.

It was as if he was asked by a very convincing third party (who feigned surprise later on) to provide cover to Netanyahu.

Is that possible? Well, think of it this way: the list of treaties and agencies Abbas applied to did not include the ICC. In that sense, it was a carefully crafted gesture: Large number of fairly obscure treaties registered his disappointment but not including the most feared agencies showed his reasonableness.

He was in a position for force a coalition crisis or start a new Netanyahu - Obama confrontation. And he simply did not do it.

There is more. What would you do if your interlocutor argues that in a two-state solution Israel's security might be permanently jeopardized? Why, you'd offer a demilitarized vision for the future State of Palestine with NATO forces patrolling the territory.
Six months into peace talks dominated by discussion about security, President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority has proposed to Secretary of State John Kerry that an American-led NATO force patrol a future Palestinian state indefinitely, with troops positioned throughout the territory, at all crossings, and within Jerusalem.
Mr. Abbas said in an interview with The New York Times at his headquarters here over the weekend that Israeli soldiers could remain in the West Bank for up to five years — not three, as he previously stated — and that Jewish settlements should be phased out of the new Palestinian state along a similar timetable. Palestine, he said, would not have its own army, only a police force, so the NATO mission would be responsible for preventing the weapons smuggling and terrorism that Israel fears.
When you add up all these moves, you become aware that Abbas has been astutely branding himself and his side as reasonable people, willing to do anything for a two-state solution.

The flip side of this skillfully constructed image is the portrait of an unreasonable man, using any pretext to make a two-state solution impossible. This is also a man who tarnishes Israel's image by forming unsavory regional alliances and by ignoring the growing international backlash against the Jewish state.

Netanyahu's Shortsighted Alliances and Choices

While the hapless Turkish PM was completely out of his depth when he suggested that Israel was behind the coup in Egypt, there is no question that the Netanyahu government became uncontrollably giddy when the Egyptian army removed President Mursi from power.

The simple equation is that Mursi was supportive of Hamas and his quiet stance was making Israel nervous about dragging its feet at the negotiating table. Without Mursi as President, Netanyahu thought they would go back to status quo ante, that is, the passive aggressive silence of the Mubarak era.

The bonus, this time around, was the fact that the top military commander General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi hated Hamas with a passion and one of the first things he did was to destroy the tunnels between Gaza and Egypt. So, what's not to like for Israel, you might ask.

There are quite a few things to dislike actually. Since the coup was more or less sponsored by Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies, Israel found itself aligned with the Kingdom, one of the most ruthless regimes in the world and one of Israel's most implacable enemies. And it was not an accidental or ad hoc situation. The New York Times reported that, in the aftermath of the Arab Spring:
Once viewed as a potential threat by Jerusalem, the government in Saudi Arabia is increasingly viewed as a guarantor of stability in a region in upheaval, as revolutionary fervor sweeps through the Middle East.
The idea of viewing the Saudis "as a guarantor of stability" tells me that there is a policy in place, however misguided such a thing might be. To support this assumption, I can cite a couple of interesting events.

There is the secret meeting that took place in Israel between senior intelligence officials.
Saudi Deputy Defense Minister Salman bin-Sultan and two other officers are said to have paid a “secret visit” to Israel, where they “met Israeli security leaders”, according to confidential sources of the Palestinian news agency, al-Manar and Israeli radio.

"The Saudi delegation," the sources said, "met Israeli security leaders and Bin-Sultan visited one of the military Israeli bases accompanied by a senior member of the Israeli staff board."

Salman is the brother of Saudi Arabia’s intelligence head, Prince Bandar bin-Sultan bin Abdulaziz.
This was also reported by the Sunday Times. According to the British paper, the collaboration between their respective intelligence agencies is much more extensive than previously known and in fact, the paper claimed that Saudis made it clear to their counterparts that Saudi Arabia would give airspace clearance to IDF planes attacking Iran.
As part of the growing co-operation, Riyadh is understood already to have given the go-ahead for Israeli planes to use its airspace in the event of an attack on Iran.
Both sides are now prepared to go much further. The Sunni kingdom is as alarmed as Israel by the nuclear ambitions of the Shi’ite-dominated Iran.
Uncharacteristically for intelligence matters, this was vehemently and categorically denied by the PMO.

Still, you can see a trend forming.
“Our relationship with Saudi Arabia is good, and we hope for more peaceful relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in December — a surprisingly strong statement given that the two countries do not have diplomatic ties. Such a public statement would have been unthinkable even weeks before.

In fact, as I noted in my previous post, these Sunni alliances got so cozy that Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Gulf Emirates now openly side with Israel in the latest Gaza conflict. In fact, it has been reported that Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have been in daily contact during the Gaza war.

If you ask me, aligning Israel with the House of Saud and Wahhab and an assortment of autocratic Arab rulers is a very shortsighted approach. It pushes Israel along a militaristic path and further isolates the country internationally.

Indeed, the New York Times recently suggested that the response of the Israeli government to the challenges ahead was to adopt a castle mentality.
[T]hey have embraced a castle mentality, hoping the moat they have dug — in the form of high-tech border fences, intensified military deployments and sophisticated intelligence — is broad enough at least to buy time. 
Mr. Amidror, a former major general in military intelligence, summed up the strategy as “Wait, and keep the castle.”
Part of this strategy is to continue to cultivate their back channel dialog with the autocratic leaders in their neighborhood.
“Historically, Israel has preferred to have strong leaders, even if they’re hostile to Israel,” said Jonathan Spyer, a senior research fellow at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, citing President Bashar al-Assad of Syria as an example. (..) 
 “Israel always likes to have an address. Assad we don’t like, but when something happens in Assad’s territory, we can bargain with him. 
In short, as Abbas is re-branding himself as a reasonable, peace seeking elder statesman, Netanyahu is trying to preserve the status quo through dubious alliances, to disrupt the Fatah - Hamas unity government and to avoid any negotiations towards a two-state solution.

I am of the opinion that his path is untenable. It is not possible to destroy Hamas through military means without in the process killing huge numbers of civilians. As I noted yesterday, since even those Palestinians who hate Hamas are willing to die to avoid going back to the pre-war situation, sooner or later Israel will be facing a huge international backlash and will be forced to relent.

So, what is next and will there be a peace process are the burning questions.

My answer is in the next and final installment of this series.

01 August 2014

Contrarian Notes on the Gaza Debacle

I was getting ready to post the rest of my Netanyahu series when the latest Gaza episode began. As I was about to embark on a brief tour de France, I postponed all postings and left.

When I returned, the Gaza situation had become too catastrophic to allow me to continue with the posts I had prepared earlier. So I decided to register my views on what is happening in Gaza before I return to my regularly scheduled programming.

In a nutshell, I think the responsibility of the grotesque humanitarian disaster falls in equal measure on all the regional players, namely, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, Israel and Turkey. If you have pro-Israeli views, you might wish to add Hamas to that list but I did not for reasons I will discuss in a minute.

First, let me explain why several Arab countries are topping my list.

With Friends Like These

At the core of the Gaza problem is a massive economic and social deprivation. Even before the 2007 Israeli siege, Gaza had always had a very high unemployment rate. In May 2014, it reached a five-year high of 41 percent. A month ago it rose to over 45 percent. If you remember Machiavelli's advice to the Prince about the dangers of depriving people of their livelihood ("because men more quickly forget the death of their father than the loss of their patrimony"), this is a situation that creates a lot of desperate, nothing-to-lose Palestinians.

You might argue that Israel and its suffocating blockade is the main culprit. While I am not denying Israel's large responsibility in all this (as I will outline shortly), I believe that its measures would not be nearly as crippling if its policies were not aided and abetted by the Arab states in the region.

To begin with, the siege is not just Israel's, it is also actively reinforced by Egypt's new rulers. General al-Sisi closed the tunnels and the Rafah port as soon as he toppled the Mursi government. If he wanted it, he could pretty much render the Israeli embargo ineffective.

Moreover, my argument goes beyond the negative effects of the Israeli and Egyptian embargo.

I read someplace that Walid bin Talal, one of the richest men in the world, made roughly $5 billion by simply buying Citi Bank shares at a deep discount after the 2008 financial meltdown.

That windfall is about the size of the Gaza strip's entire economy. In other words, if those oil-rich Arab countries really wanted to help Palestinians, they could simply provide them with generous economic assistance. It is pocket change for them. In fact, just one person, with the money he made from this one deal, could singlehandedly transform Gaza from being the land of the wretched to a prosperous and happy place.

Instead, Arab states are doing what they have always done since the creation of Israel. They keep Palestinians impoverished, desperate and angry and refuse to help them in any meaningful way. For decades they kept them in makeshift refugee camps and quietly worked to transform them from a highly educated liberal community into radical Islamists.

And now, in their all-consuming hatred of Iran and the Shia, they simply formed a silent alliance with Israel to make Palestinians suffer more. If you think this is an exaggerated statement take a look at a recent piece in the New York Times:
After the military ouster of the Islamist government in Cairo last year, Egypt has led a new coalition of Arab states — including Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — that has effectively lined up with Israel in its fight against Hamas, the Islamist movement that controls the Gaza Strip. That, in turn, may have contributed to the failure of the antagonists to reach a negotiated cease-fire even after more than three weeks of bloodshed.
In short, the reason Arab states are at the top of my "guilty list" is because, they refrain from helping Palestinians, preferring to maintain the status quo as a way to whip up antisemitic sentiments and rile up Muslim masses.

What About Israel?

Having said that, I am not letting Israel off the hook. I believe that what they have been doing to punish the population of Gaza is simply unconscionable. Just to take a few recent examples, they knocked down Gaza's only power plant, making an already miserable life unbearable. They attacked a UN-run school housing refugees killing scores of women and children. And they dropped a mortar on a crowded market killing 17 civilians and wounding hundreds.

If you look at the statistics, almost all Israeli casualties are military personnel and a very large percentage of Palestinian casualties are civilians.
Since Israel began its offensive in Gaza on 8 July, 1,422 Palestinians have been killed, most of them civilians, according to Gaza's health ministry. 
Fifty-six Israeli soldiers and two civilians have also died.
And in case you wonder, I am not a lone radical voice claiming all of that. Israel's closest ally has just made the same point.

Moreover, as we know from the dubious practice of "roof knocking," IDF is capable of pinpoint bombing. Consequently, these "oops" instances seems to have been deliberately set up to terrorize and demoralize the civilian population.

But I am not a moralist and, acknowledging the human suffering aside, to me, condemning a nation state for using violence is a little like criticizing a heavy metal band for being loud. That's who they are and what they do.

What is more enlightening from my perspective is the intricate and complex relationship between Hamas and the conservative forces in Israel. And how they continuously make each other possible.

Let's begin with a fact that everybody would like to forget. Israel helped spawn Hamas. I wrote this before and it shocked my friends. Israel did it to weaken the Fatah movement. Hamas was supposed to ingratiate themselves to Palestinians by providing humanitarian assistance. And they were to simultaneously attack Arafat's secular nationalism from an Islamist position.

It was kind of like the brilliant American idea of supporting political Islam to weaken the Soviet empire. And we all know how well these plans turned out.

More importantly, it is not just a question of miscalculated origins. Israel has no interest in getting rid of Hamas. As an Israeli journalist recently noted:
Paradoxically enough, Israel has no interest today in toppling Hamas. It knows that the vacuum that will be created will turn into a magnet for a more radical organization. And that's why, as a high-ranking Israeli diplomatic official told me this week, Israel pounds Hamas with one hand while helping it with the other. It continues to supply electricity, water, vital products, food, cash and medicine to Gaza.
Hamas is also important in providing Israeli government the strategic pretexts to stay away from the negotiating table. It can be used in many creative ways.

When Hamas took control of Gaza, leaving Fatah the West Bank and dividing the Palestinian Authority in half, Israel stated that it cannot negotiate with only one half of Palestinians since the other half might not agree to the resulting settlement. Conversely, when, in recent months, a reconciliation deal was worked out between Hamas and Fatah, Netanyahu said to Mahmoud Abbas that his government cannot negotiate with Palestinians if Hamas is part of the equation. Because, as we all know, Hamas is a terrorist organization.


That, in turn, strengthened the hand of Hamas' military wing. Most of its militants had agreed reluctantly to a national unity government because at the time, they assumed that they had no choice.
While Hamas' decision to join was driven by its isolation, it also indicated Hamas' readiness to consider a political path out of the impasse. 
With Hamas' consent, the national unity government upheld the three conditions the international community had set for engagement with Hamas: recognition of Israel, abidance by previous diplomatic agreements, and renunciation of violence. 
But Israel changed all that by first refusing to negotiate with Hamas despite these very significant concessions and then by collectively punishing the Gaza strip for the kidnapping and murder of three teenagers (which turned out to be unrelated to Hamas).

Hamas' military wing and the militants amongst its political leadership had serious misgivings about the national unity government and dissenting voices were evident.
But the fact that Hamas had formally agreed meant that there was enough support to make a start. 

Against this backdrop, Israel's and Fatah's clampdown on Hamas, so soon after the establishment of the national unity government, signalled the futility of a political route at this stage, thus strengthening those favouring a military response. 
That is what I mean by Hamas and the conservative forces in Israel are making each other possible. In that sense, Hamas represents the best hope of the settler movement in Israel. And that is why Netanyahu government wants to preserve the status quo whereby Gaza strip is barely surviving with just enough aid and supplies and money making it in, all fully controlled by Israel.

The problem is that, it is no longer possible to maintain that situation.

Netanyahu: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

This is what Netanyahu underestimated when he thought that some pinpoint bombing could demoralize the population and motivate them put pressure on Hamas. The previous conditions were so bad that, it seems, people in Gaza prefer to die in droves rather than going back to status quo ante.
While we do not know what levels of popular support Hamas has for continuing its fight, anecdotally, people seem to be resigned to more suffering because the status quo has become intolerable. 
As a reputable source wrote in a recent email from Gaza, "people are suffering in Gaza. People are very, very tired. But even those who hate Hamas do not want to return to the situation before the war. People want to change the situation."
This is why Hamas insists on the end of blockade as the sine qua non clause of any ceasefire agreement. They know that it is very popular with the people of Gaza.

In that context, Netanyahu is in a very serious bind.

While the latest Gaza war is highly popular at home, every passing day, images of civilian carnage and wounded children are creating a serious anti-Israeli sentiment in the world.

The UN and even the US are no longer mincing their words. Sooner or later the cost will become too steep for Israel.

In that sense, a prolonged ground war works for Hamas, especially if the civilian population in Gaza is willing to continue to die in large numbers. And apparently, they are.

Secondly, the threshold for death and suffering seems much higher among Palestinians. Whereas it is much lower in Israel, which is a reasonably affluent society with much higher and diverse expectations from life than its immediate neighbors. Fighting Hamas in a tight urban setting with thousands of tunnels and booby traps all over the place is likely to lead to a higher number of casualties. And at some point, they may become too much for the Israeli society. I get that this not Vietnam for them. But if there is no accompanying sense of winning the war, people will eventually balk.

A corollary to that is the importance of not leaving behind any soldiers for Israel. Remember Gilad Shalit? He became a huge issue that dogged successive Israeli Cabinets. And finally to free him, Netanyahu had to release 1000 Palestinians.

Early in the conflict, Hamas claimed that they captured a soldier and even though it turned out to be false, it highlighted Israel's vulnerability in that respect. And now Hamas has just announced that it captured another soldier, Hadar Goldin.

If it turns out to be accurate, Netanyahu will be in a very, very tough spot.

Thirdly, the Gaza operation signaled a major weakness in Israeli military strategies.

Because Netanyahu and his cabinet were so obsessed with Iran and the bogus nuclear threat it represented, they seemed to have failed to keep an eye on what Hamas was doing with its tunnels. They only realized the threat when 13 Hamas soldiers pop out of a tunnel near Kibbutz Sufa.

This is a huge blunder and Netanyahu must know that when things quiet down, there will be many questions and damning answers.

But this also means that he now has every reason to go all in.

Especially if Hadar Goldin is actually taken.

Both sides with nothing to lose, this is not going to end well.