April 17, 2014

Middle East Media Sampler for March 13, 2012


1) Comparative analysis – Gaza

Yesterday, Dr. Jonathan Spyer wrote Islamic Jihad attacks, Hamas’s dilemmas for PJ Media and Isabel Kershner and Fares Akram wrote As Rockets Fly, New Conditions Shape Fight in Gaza for the New York Times. Both analyses cover similar elements. It would be interesting to compare the way each covers the recent escalation by Islamic Jihad (PIJ) against Israel.

New York Times:

Hamas has been involved in a delicate balancing act, allowing the smaller militant groups like Islamic Jihad to avenge the deaths of their comrades in Israeli airstrikes but at the same time urging a restoration of calm.

Islamic Jihad, the group firing most of the rockets in this round of violence, is challenging Hamas in Gaza. The chief of Islamic Jihad, which is backed by Iran, has remained in Syria. The Hamas leadership recently abandoned its base there and expressed its support for the Syrian people in their struggle against President Bashar al-Assad.

Mkhaimar Abusada, a political science professor at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, said that Hamas, as the ruling power in Gaza, feels it has more responsibility than other groups and knows that any confrontation with Israel would cost it dearly. Islamic Jihad, he added, wants to demonstrate that it is not switching sides and abandoning Syria.

Jonathan Spyer:

From Hamas’ standpoint the escalation comes at an unwelcome time. The movement is in the midst of a tricky political process whereby it is seeking to extricate itself from the regional bloc led by Iran and to realign with the Sunni rulers of Egypt and Qatar. This move comes as a result of both problems and opportunities opened up by political upheavals in the Arab world — especially the largely Islamist revolution in Egypt — and by Iran’s backing for the Syrian government’s assault on the largely Sunni Arab population in the civil war there.

Consequently, if Gaza’s rulers continue to let Islamic Jihad and the PRC escalate the situation, at a certain point an Israeli ground incursion will become inevitable.

This will then potentially place the survival of the Hamas regime in jeopardy at a time when the Gaza rulers perceive a historic opportunity to achieve dominance within their movement, including control over the West Bank. Moreover, Hamas would also prefer to wait until a time when the Muslim Brotherhood has more control over Egypt and can offer it stronger backing.

However, if Hamas appears too eager to secure a renewed ceasefire with Israel, Gaza’s leaders risk being presented by their rivals as a client regime of America and Israel in exactly the same way that Hamas has historically used to excoriate the PA. Islamic Jihad, once a marginal group, is now emerging as a major force in Gaza. This movement, unlike Hamas, has no problem working with Iran and getting money, guns, and orders from Tehran.

New York Times:

For Israel, the success of its recently deployed Iron Dome antirocket missile system has had an impact. Since the hostilities began on Friday, the missile batteries have managed to intercept 54 of the nearly 70 Palestinian rockets that were aimed at the major cities of the south, the Israeli military said.

The prevention of mass casualties and damage has reduced pressure on the country’s leaders to embark on a major military operation in Gaza and given them more time to weigh their options, according to Israeli officials and experts.

Jonathan Spyer:

The dilemma from Hamas’ point of view is as follows: until now, the impressive performance of Israel’s Iron Dome system has minimized Israeli casualties and thus enabled Israel to calibrate its response accordingly. But if Israeli civilians are killed, the government may well opt for a significant ground invasion.

New York Times:

Israeli officials confirmed that Hamas had sent messages via Egypt asking to restore the informal cease-fire that had largely been in effect since the last round of fighting.

Israel said it would continue to act in Gaza as long as necessary. A spokesman for Islamic Jihad implicitly criticized Hamas for running from conflict after a lull, telling reporters in Gaza on Monday that from now on, “the resistance would impose conditions for any truce.”

Jonathan Spyer:

Hamas spokesman Taher al-Nunu stated March 10 that “all Palestinian factions” wanted a renewed truce but that Israel must stop firing first. Hamas is also currently insisting that Israel commit to avoid targeted killings in Gaza in the future — a condition entirely unacceptable to Jerusalem. Islamic Jihad spokesman Daud Shihab, however,

denied that the organization was involved in any contacts to end the clashes.

The political game in which each group tries to claim the mantle of greater militancy against Israel is once again in play. But the words of the Hamas spokesman suggested that the stage of bargaining had begun. So this round is likely to end in the coming days — barring unforeseen developments — with a return to an uneasy de facto ceasefire.

Overall both articles cover similar ground. The difference would be one of emphasis. The New York Times emphasizes Israel's concerns more. For example:

Since the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, a close ally of Israel, and the rise of Islamic political parties there, Israel has been aware that there is less tolerance in Cairo for a major Israeli offensive in Gaza. The Israel-Egypt peace treaty is already under strain.

“The interim situation in Egypt is unclear,” Ehud Yaari, an Israel-based fellow of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said in an interview. “Israel has no interest in putting the Egyptians to the test.”

Dr. Spyer though emphasizes Israel's relatively secure position:

If this happens, the Israel defense establishment will be able to register an achievement. It will have showed it can act decisively to ensure the security of Israeli citizens, and then use sophisticated techniques to minimize the damage of the response from Gaza and force a return to quiet.

He also gave some emphasis to the competition between Egypt and Iran:

It is quite possible, though one doesn’t know for sure, that Iran is involved in some way in the Islamic Jihad decision to escalate. This would constitute a shrewd message to Hamas regarding the potential cost of leaving its patronage. And it could also be taken as an Iranian response to threats from Israel, and the United States as well, about attacking Iranian nuclear facilities. The message: Iran has resources for striking back against Israel.

One more element that is in the New York Times is:

In the meantime, there remained a risk that hostilities could escalate.

Coupled with a statement at the end of the article from Ban Ki Moon, escalation itself is presented as a bad thing; how Israel protects its citizens from terrorist – I mean, militant – attacks is not a concern. So the two articles are pretty similar, but it's hard to avoid the feeling that the New York Times sees Israel and Hamas as being equally responsible for the violence.

2) Comparative Analysis – Ramallah

Alexander Joffe and Asaf Romirowsky have written the New Palestinian Realism. Joffe and Romirowsky conclude:

To judge from discussions with Israeli officials and the media, Gaza, Hamas and the continuing low level of rocket fire are the immediate security preoccupations, along with general foreboding about the darkening Arab Spring. Fayyad's sense of isolation is very real; with nearly eight thousand civilians already killed in Syria, it is clear that world attention has shifted away from the Palestinians and that, in a sense, the conflict with Israel has assumed a more realistic proportion.

The Palestinians are unaccustomed to having to compete for attention, and threats to the security situation are a strong line of argument. Indeed, Fayyad stressed to us that he had made precisely the same points earlier that morning to the Swedish deputy foreign minister. As with many Palestinian warnings about violence, the danger is that there is an element of self-fulfilling prophecy at work, not from Fayyad himself in this case but from other Palestinian factions anxious to regain the spotlight by whatever means necessary.

First of all the observation that with everything else going on the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians "has assumed a more realistic proportion," is thought provoking. One factor in keeping the conflict going has been the disproportionate attention it has received. The sense that something had to be done has given the Palestinians the leverage to demand more instead of coming to an agreement with Israel. However Joffe and Romirowsky are saying that there are still elements among the Palestinians who, rather than reacting to this change rationally, seek instead to find their way back to center stage.

This article stands in sharp contrast to last week's Mideast Din Drowns Out Palestinians in the New York Times.

In the region, the Arab Spring may have increased popular attention to the Palestinian cause, freeing Egyptians and others to express anti-Israel sentiments. But that has actually made things harder on the Palestine Liberation Organization, which negotiated with Israel. Popular affection has shifted to the Islamists of Hamas. They too have difficulties, however, abandoning their political headquarters in Syria, facing reduced help from Iran and contending with their increased divisions.

The result is a serial splintering of the Palestinian movement, a loss of state sponsors and paralysis for those trying to build a state next to Israel. Just six months ago, there was a moment of optimism when the Palestinian Authority presented its case for recognition to the United Nations, and later when Hamas closed a deal to free hundreds of its prisoners in exchange for the release of an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit.

But now, as momentum for a peaceful two-state solution fades, and the effort at the United Nations remains stymied, no viable alternatives have emerged and attention has focused on other conflicts.

The New York Times portrays the marginalization of the Palestinian cause as a bad thing. The Palestinians are portrayed as victims of circumstances with no responsibility for their current predicament. Abbas's has been stubbornly refusing to negotiate with Netanyahu since the latter's election. If statehood were a priority, Abbas would try to come to an agreement. Instead he has attempted to bypass Netanyahu and while it has garnered him lots of adoring coverage, it has gained him nothing politically.

Since September, The New York Times has featured no fewer than three articles (one editorial and two news stories) underlining Israel's supposed "isolation." One was an AP report, Panetta Says Israel Is Risking Isolation:

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta warned on Sunday that Israel was becoming increasingly isolated in the Middle East, and said Israeli leaders must restart negotiations with the Palestinians and work to restore relations with Egypt and Turkey.

The quote from Panetta places the onus on Israel to ease its own isolation. But last week's article absolves the Palestinians of any responsibility for their current plight.

About Daniel Goldstein

Daniel Goldstein is a media critic and recovering blogger. He has been critiquing media bias against Israel since his first letter to the editor in 1987.