March 29, 2011

Welcome to MST - Mideast Saving Time

Recent incidents in and around Israel have been driven primarily by local factors, but the sweeping drama elsewhere in the region has eclipsed what might otherwise have been sharp reactions in the West.

The barbaric attack on a Jewish family in the West Bank settlement of Itamar prompted Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to announce hundreds of new housing units over the pre-1967 Green Line. The attack could have been an effort to remind Israelis and the world that Palestinians are dangerous, even when Muammar Qaddafi seems to be hogging the title of Mideast menace, but more likely this was just the one successful terrorist mission of the many that Israeli forces thwart almost on a daily basis. The same set of factors can explain the latest Jerusalem bombing attack.

The fact that Washington and even the United Nations were distracted with the momentous jockeying over international Libyan intervention – and that U.S. President Barack Obama has accepted for now that Netanyahu is unwilling or incapable of acting more constructively than his Palestinian counterparts – meant that little notice was taken of the massacre or the Israeli response.

Rocket strikes from Hamas-ruled Gaza against civilian targets deep inside Israel may have been meant to test the new security regime between Israel and a still rudderless Egyptian regime, as well as showing that Gaza can be at least as dangerous as the West Bank – a headline grabber. If Netanyahu’s response to the Itamar attack was knee-jerk and politically calculated, the mobilization against Gaza was obvious and unavoidable. The State of Israel must be able to protect its citizens.

When my friends complain that the murder in Itamar of both parents and three of their young children got next to no coverage in the American press, they are mistaken. However, it was understandably overshadowed by Qaddafi’s campaign against thousands of Libyans, continuing protests and mass killings elsewhere in the Arab world… oh, and the Japanese earthquake-tsunami-nuclear trifecta (!!). Downplaying the deliberate butchering of a Jewish family is unseemly, and so is overstating its significance relative to other immediate crises near and far.

Had the Itamar murders taken place a few months earlier, they would have received far more press, and Netanyahu’s decision to build more West Bank housing would have attracted far more condemnation. When Israel launched Operation Cast Lead two years ago in Gaza, President Bush was preparing to conclude his White House tenure and Americans and the rest of the world were out on Christmas break. That timing definitely worked to Israel’s advantage, reducing the unavoidable negative publicity. It cuts both ways.

1 comment:

  1. If not for the explosion of democratic fibers stretching from Bahrain to Morocco, the murder of an Israeli family, the bombing of a Jerusalem bus and the increase in Gaza rocket attacks would have each grabbed international headlines. It's interesting how Qaddafi can steal the show from Hamas.