They Lob Chutzpah Bombs Too

A funny little essay in a local newspaper came to my attention this morning. During an email discussion over the events and motives in the Gaza crisis, a friend of mine forwarded part of an op-ed piece that appeared in this week’s Sun Sentinel, a daily newspaper in Fort Lauderdale. I immediately thought it sounded a little too familiar. Sure, Israeli officials and other apologists are serving the same talking points across all the television networks and in print media, but this sounded like more than just simple rehash, so I plugged the quote into a search engine. Jackpot!

There was the piece, but it was on a shared website for a pair of central New Jersey papers that I normally don’t read either. It was longer, and, oh, the author was different too. With my curiosity now piqued, I could not help but search some more. I found a nearly identical one written by David A. Harris, executive director of American Jewish Committee, over at The Dallas Morning News. Hmm, the other two “authors” also identified themselves as AJC directors. Eventually, I located Harris over at the Jerusalem Post where he had contributed not only this same piece but many others as well. My guess is that I probably read the piece there a few days back.

Clearly, this is just a press release created by the American Jewish Committee and being passed off by its members as their heartfelt and original opinions. Another local newspaper, The Palm Beach Post, even published the same piece a day after its competitor ran it. Thankfully in this case though, it was “authored” by the same South Floridian. I wonder how many other newspapers fell for it.

I’m sure the members all do genuinely feel that way, but did they really need to fake homegrown gravitas to ensure publication in as many local opinion pages as possible? Probably. You don’t engage in large-scale propaganda – excuse me, “a public relations campaign” – unless you feel like you got caught with your hand in the cookie jar. From the look of the essay, it seems that the pro-Israel crowd is going for the “but they did it first” tactic favored by young children for time immemorial. Occasionally that might work with one’s peers, but it’s a piss poor way to convince the rest of the world that they have the moral high ground – or maybe they are really just trying to convince themselves.

A ‘Day’ of Intel

One of my duties at is to find news links for our readers. As you can imagine, it can get pretty tedious reading the same basic story across the different news agencies, but occasionally I am rewarded with a real gem for my troubles. Yesterday, tucked away deep inside an article in The Jerusalem Post was a tiny mention that an estimated one-third of the dead in yesterday’s IAF air strikes were civilians.

Although I imagined there had to be great “collateral damage” during the assault, there were two things that struck me about the mention. First, it was in an article lauding the “year of intel” that went into the operation. Second, it was in The Jerusalem Post. Here was an article — in an Israeli newspaper — admitting there were great civilian losses during an operation that took a year to plan! I couldn’t believe the juxtaposition.

I made mention of it to a couple of co-workers and then changed our link headline to stress that information. It was so odd that I thought it must have just snuck past an editor during yesterday’s chaotic reporting. So on a whim this morning I decide to see if an editor had gotten around to “fixing” it. Sure enough, now the civilian casualties are down to only “15” deaths in the article. Thankfully, The Mercury News saw fit to quote Palestinian Health Ministry official, Moaiya Hassanain, on that same estimate and hasn’t “fixed” their article. At least, not yet.

Extrude Mahmoud

In an interview in Der Spiegel, former Mossad agent and current cabinet minister, Rafi Eitan suggested that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad might find himself in front of an International Criminal Court in The Hague if he doesn’t watch himself. Anyone with even modest knowledge of the 81-year-old Eiten’s activities, in particular his role in Adolf Eichmann’s capture, can’t rule this out as idle speculation, but as my friend Tom wondered, “why would Eitan say this publicly?”

Sure, Ahmadinejad must already figure he is one of the top picks on Mossad’s hit list, so this simply can’t be a clumsy message to the yappy Iranian leader. Besides, Mossad gets off on well-planned and highly secretive operations anyway. Why would Eitan blow the surprise for his former bosses if high profile abductions were still high on their docket? Hmm….

I might’ve glossed over this morning’s story as politics as usual if it were not for last week’s revelation, also by Eitan, that Mossad allowed Nazi witch doctor Josef Mengele get away when agents in Buenos Aires had the opportunity to nab him. Of course, that wasn’t a botched effort: Mossad had to let Mengele escape so they could be assured of completing the more important Eichmann abduction.

Now, I’m not a psychologist, nor do I generally play one on the Internet, but this paroxysm of Eitanmania is too juicy not to analyze. All fisherman great and small have a fish-that-got-away story, and the Mengele tale smells like Eitan’s. Could the Ahmadinejad story likewise be the ramblings of a famous fisherman, whose best days are long over but likes to make people believe he has live bait on his rusty but still sufficiently bent hook? Or is it possible that someday we’ll learn that Mossad did try to kidnap Ahmadinejad, and failed. I only hope we don’t have to wait 50 years for that fish story.

A tip of the pen to Tom Walls for the headline and this morning’s news story.

Deadly Shell Game: Picking Afghanistan’s Casualty Figures

A frenzy over the 500th U.S. servicemember to die in Afghanistan developed in the media this week. According to the Associated Press, the U.S. death toll in Afghanistan surpassed 500 GIs recently, or perhaps it will reach that milestone soon…or…did we actually cross that line long ago? While the AP admits that accurate casualty figures are hard to come by thanks to lags in Defense Department reports and the difficulty of independent confirmation in the region, the situation gets a little more complicated than that. Operation Enduring Freedom, often referred to as the Afghan War, actually spans several nations. The South Asian country is simply the main focal point of this “war on terror” that was formulated in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.

The AP specifically counted deaths in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Elsewhere, the New York Times came up with a slightly different set of numbers themselves, but their handy chart quickly reveals just how spread out the operation really is. U.S. servicemembers were also killed in countries as far from Afghanistan as are the Philippines, Mali, and even Cuba, so while the AP admirably tallied the deaths in and around Afghanistan, the worldwide U.S. toll for this military excursion is almost 15% higher. Perhaps AP cherry-picked these particular numbers because 500 is more of a “newsworthy milestone” than 562 deaths (Pentagon figures) or 569 deaths (, but whatever the reason behind it, keeping the deadliness of the “Afghan War” in the headlines is of utmost importance, especially during this campaign season.

Political asylum for fearful Iraqi watchdog

According to news source IraqSlogger, a high-level official from a watchdog group has been granted political asylum in the U.S. Although the tip hasn’t been confirmed as yet, IraqSlogger notes that it comes from a "well-placed source."

The controversial figure granted the asylum, says IraqSlogger, may be Judge Radhi Hamza al-Radhi, who heads the Iraqi Commission on Public Integrity. Judge al-Radhi and his family have received numerous threats already, and the fear of retaliation is great as many of al-Radhi’s colleagues and underlings have been murdered due to their work rooting out corruption in Iraq’s ministries.

Faction Rejects Mahdi Army Militia ‘Freeze’

In the wake of this week’s rioting in Karbala, Mahdi Army leader and radical Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadrordered his followers to suspend violent activity for the next six months. One of the focuses of the suspension is to eliminate "rogue elements" from the militia in an increasingly competitive southern Iraq. This tactic apparently has already borne fruit as a previously unknown group has come forward with an unverified statement that rejects the temporary truce and claims they are not covered by the order.

According to Iraq Slogger, they call themselves the "Free Sadr Brigades in All Iraq." In other circles, they are also known as the "Free Man’s Brigade." The group derives their name not from Muqtada al-Sadr but from his father, the late cleric Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr. While they respect the younger al-Sadr, they say that the "young [Shi’ite] cleric does not enjoy the authority to order the Mahdi Army to “freeze” its activity."

As well as rejecting the suspension order, Iraq Slogger is reporting that the Free Sadr Brigades also accuse Iran of interfering in Iraq and suggest that the recent clashing in Karbala is part of a pro-Iranian conspiracy. They complain that the shrine protection forces are suspiciously distinct from any Iraqi security forces and feel that the forces are under Iranian direction. The Free Sadr Brigades also note that the situation is reminiscent of a revolt following the 1991 Gulf War, in which many Shi’ites were ruthlessly killed by the Saddam regime. They would like the United Nations, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and human rights groups to step in and determine what actually is going on.