September 23, 2014

Middle East Media Sampler for June 7, 2012


1) Biden blaming Israel

In David Sanger's Obama ordered wave of cyberattacks against Iran, I was taken aback by this:

An error in the code, they said, had led it to spread to an engineer’s computer when it was hooked up to the centrifuges. When the engineer left Natanz and connected the computer to the Internet, the American- and Israeli-made bug failed to recognize that its environment had changed. It began replicating itself all around the world. Suddenly, the code was exposed, though its intent would not be clear, at least to ordinary computer users.

“We think there was a modification done by the Israelis,” one of the briefers told the president, “and we don’t know if we were part of that activity.”

Mr. Obama, according to officials in the room, asked a series of questions, fearful that the code could do damage outside the plant. The answers came back in hedged terms. Mr. Biden fumed. “It’s got to be the Israelis,” he said. “They went too far.”

While I'm sure there are many things that the Vice President knows, but I'm skeptical that he's much of a software expert.

In Leaking Cyberwar Secrets, Lee Smith argues that Biden's charge was likely untrue.

Applying the Biden thesis, it would seem that the Israelis are the incompetent partners, responsible for the Stuxnet leak.

If the Israelis are in fact incompetent at waging cyberwar, then that’s real news, since the Israelis have always been reputed to be the best in the business. “If Israel is incompetent then why was Stuxnet successful?” journalist Yossi Melman, co-author of the forthcoming book Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, responded when I asked him about Biden’s comment. “A thousand centrifuges were disabled, which makes it a very successful campaign.”

As some critics have noted, a cyber-attack that spread to thousands of computers unrelated to Iran’s nuclear program is at odds with the Obama Administration’s “International Strategy for Cyberspace,” a policy laid out a year ago. “The digital world,” reads the document, “is a place where the norms of responsible, just and peaceful conduct among states and peoples have begun to take hold.” So, perhaps the administration, and Biden in particular, is eager to shift the blame to avoid charges of hypocrisy: The Americans do the good stuff, it’s the Israelis who do the bad stuff.

2) More on the Kirk amendment

Daniel Pipes takes credit (along with Steven Rosen) for doing the work that led to the Kirk Amendment:

I am proud to report that, in part based on the work carried out by the Middle East Forum's Steven J. Rosen and myself over the past year, the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee on May 24 unanimously passed a limited but potentially momentous amendment to the $52.1 billion fiscal 2013 State Department and foreign operations appropriations bill.

The Kirk amendment does not call for eliminating or even reducing benefits to fake refugees. Despite its limited nature, Kirk calls the reporting requirement a "watershed." Indeed, it inspired what a senior Senate GOP aide called "enormous opposition" from the Jordanian government and UNRWA itself, bringing on what Foreign Policy magazine's Josh Rogin called a raging battle.

Why the rage? Because, were the State Department compelled to differentiate real Palestine refugees from fake ones, the U.S. and other Western governments (who, together, cover over 80 percent of UNRWA's budget) could eventually decide to cut out the fakes and thereby undermine their claim to a "right of return" to Israel.

Rogin, though, reports that the State Department is digging in (h/t In Context):

To experts and congressional officials following the issue, that declaration was remarkable because it was the first time the State Department had placed a number — 5 million — on the number of Palestinian refugees.

"The Nides letter could be considered a change in U.S. policy with consideration to refugees because it states clearly that 5 million people served by UNRWA are refugees," one senior GOP Senate aide told The Cable. "For the Obama administration to stake out a position emphatically endorsing the rights of 5 million Palestinian refugees is by itself prejudging the outcome of final- status issues."

Steve Rosen, a long time senior AIPAC official who now is the Washington director of the Middle East Forum, said that by calling all 5 million UNRWA aid recipients "refugees," the State Department is saying that all the Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, and the nearly 2 million who are citizens of Jordan have some claim to the "right of return" to Israel, even though Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama have all stated clearly that a two-state solution would mean that the bulk of the 5 million Palestinian "refugees" would end up living in the West Bank or Gaza, not Israel.

Rogin does a solid job of reporting here. However he does show that there are some other individual cases where refugee status extends to future generations extending past minor children as "exceptions." But the expansion of refugee status in the Palestinian case is unique as Asaf Romirowsky shows:

Publicly UNRWA defines a Palestinian refugee as anyone whose "normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948 and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict." In reality UNRWA has continually expanded the definition to include "the children or grandchildren of such refugees are eligible for agency assistance if they are (a) registered with UNRWA, (b) living in the area of UNRWA's operations, and (c) in need." The best estimates are that perhaps 700,000 Palestinians became refugees in 1948-1949. By UNRWA's accounting, however, virtually every Palestinian born since that time is also a refugee. That number now reaches into the millions.

This is unprecedented in the history of refugee crises. In no other situation has a group been extended specific status that has been continually expanded to include subsequent generations over a period of decades. The result of this 60 year long process is that incentives for the refugees to resettle in Arab countries and elsewhere are minimal, as are those for UNRWA itself to ever end its operations. Western taxpayers are expected to shell out indefinitely, or at least until the UN General Assembly declares the problem resolved.

Enter Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), who has introduced wording into legislation that would limit number of Palestinian refugees in the Middle East — a move that could result in a change of status for millions of Palestinians. The Kirk language sets out a more precise series of definitions for American aid to UNRWA, to be specified in the Memorandum of Understanding with the organization. The draft amendment states that "a Palestinian refugee is defined as a person whose place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, who was personally displaced as a result of the 1948 or 1967 Arab-Israeli conflicts, who currently does not reside in the West Bank or Gaza and who is not a citizen of any other state." Refugee status would therefore no longer be heritable, at least if UNRWA were to continue to receive American funding.

Peter Marquardt-Bigman sums up the problem of UNRWA:

Of course, this is exactly the point of Ayalon’s criticism: UNRWA isn’t there to find solutions for the Palestinian refugees; instead, the agency’s work allows the Arab states – whose war against Israel created the refugees – to dodge their responsibilities and maintain them as refugees for generations.

Plus an UNRWA related post by Elder of Ziyon.

3) Walters and Assad

Barbara Walters interceded to get a member of the Assad regime a job and into a graduate program.

Pesach Benson comments:

It’s not necessarily wrong for contacts in any industry to exchange favors. But Walters acknowledges that she crossed a line. The only winner from these professional courtesies was, uh, Bashar Assad.

Ira Stoll adds:

Lovely. One wonders how much more of this favor-trading and fawning by interview-seeking journalists goes on that doesn't get disclosed.

Robert Mackey writes a typically smug, self-righteous Barbara Walters Admits She Aided Assad’s Press Adviser. Of course Mackey's own paper, the New York Times, used to shill for the Qaddafi regime and, even now, downplays the threat posed by Islamists. Maybe he should shed some light on the operation of the Times.

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.