The old Virtue-Posturing Moment on the Middle East is disappearing in the rearview mirror. Stuff got real Sunday night, when reports emerged that there had been an attack on T4 airbase (Tiyas) in central Syria.
Such is the situation in Syria that no one knows yet where the attack came from. The base is used by Iran, as well as by Syrian forces; it could be some sort of retaliation for the apparent use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime on 7 April. The U.S. categorically denies being involved (which so far has been a reliable form of assurance. I.e., if we are involved, we say so).
Alternatively, it could be that Israel has attacked a newly-arrived weapon system, or shipment of weapons or weapon components, at the remote airbase. Such a shipment would have come from Iran. An Israeli attack could also have been a reprisal for Iran’s sponsorship of Hamas, and complicity in the Gazan surges against the border fence with Israel over the last week.
If one had to guess, one would say #Israel had made an early start ahead of whatever is coming from the Americans tomorrow.
— Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) April 9, 2018
-T4 base is where Iranian drone that entered Israel took off from.
– Israel's air force also carried out airstrikes overnight in Gaza against Hamas sites, Gaza reports say
— Dov Lieber (@DovLieber) April 9, 2018
UPDATE (4 AM EDT on 9 Apr): Russia says it was Israel. While there might be reasons to question this statement, Russia at least has the means to know this for certain.
BREAKING: Russia says that Israeli jets carried out attacks on Syrian airbase
— The Spectator Index (@spectatorindex) April 9, 2018
We don’t know. (I lean to the Israel theory.) And that reality – somebody’s dropping bombs in Syria, and the public can’t tell who – is emblematic of one of the two biggest reasons why it doesn’t resonate any longer, when the radical partisans of a mostly false “Palestinian” narrative, and their amen corner in the legacy media, deploy well-worn story lines and talking points about the latest trouble caused by the terror group Hamas.
Hamas, backed by Iran, is a source of deadly destabilization in the region, whereas Israel is a status quo power trying to stabilize things and keep radical Iran’s tentacles from expanding their reach. That expansion has been proceeding apace since 2011: Iran occupies Iraq and Syria with thousands of paramilitary troops, and sponsors the Houthi insurgency in Yemen, which continues its lethal attacks on Saudi Arabia. The armed Iranian expansion through Mesopotamia has been abetted by Russia, which is now more deeply entrenched in Syria than ever. An alarmed and radicalized Turkey has joined overtly in the cross-border fight, confirming Syria as Ground Zero in the struggle for the future of the entire region.
The geopolitical situation has thus changed too much for the reflexive political responses of a few years ago to still be the controlling narrative.
A narrative on life support
It probably doesn’t feel this way to the people trying to explain why Israel has to defend herself, but over the past week, since Hamas’ border fence “protests” from Gaza cranked up, there has been a distinctly tinny, perfunctory sound to the adverse media coverage and political shouting.
The West’s mainstream media have deployed all the usual memes and themes, of course. The UN Security Council wanted to condemn Israel and “investigate” her reaction to the Gaza provocation; the U.S. vetoed it. The usual NGOs have weighed in, with their usual censorious claims about Israel.
I’m not going to repeat those claims – any more than I joined CNN, MSNBC, and the New York Times in saying “Trump” and “sh**hole country” over and over again for 72 straight hours a few months back. (But feel free to run a Google search and find all the MSM coverage of the Gaza border-attack coverage for yourself. It’s all out there, and none of it has changed character in the last 25 years.)
I imagine Trump got a huge kick out of Sh**holegate, however accidental it may have been as a media dust-up. The words were crass, of course. But it’s not Trump who was made to look the fool in that episode.
I think most people intuitively understand that. They understand it for the same reason they understand the cheap insidiousness of repeating allegation-words and “Israel” in the same breath, over and over.
If they didn’t understand it a few years ago, their minds are more attuned to it now. In too many instances, the legacy media have embraced a propagandistic mode whose voluntary complicity Josef Stalin (or Goebbels) could only have dreamed of. Without apparent coercion or formal state control, the legacy media frame stories tendentiously, even to the extent of presenting events as the opposite of what they really are.
Our present moment is one in which CNN, for example, describes a former Pentagon inspector general’s tip to the FBI, about someone purporting to sell Hillary Clinton’s emails on the dark web, as a case of the “Trump campaign” being “mixed up in digging dirt.”
The former inspector general did exactly what he should have done: he forwarded a tip to the FBI. Yet CNN’s report took that and turned it on its head – did so with a perplexing obviousness – as if the blameless former civil servant’s actions demonstrated nefarious intent.
It’s no wonder the legacy media have suffered a near-catastrophic loss of credibility with their audience. They’re often not believed now, because they literally aren’t believable.
In 2018, these media still broker for the public the long-running theme that Israel is oppressing “Palestinians,” as if nothing has changed, and as if all the same old garbled, tendentious implications can be packaged in the same old ways and have the same impact.
This has led to some unintentional (if mordant) humor in the last couple of days. In one case, the New York Times used a photo of Gazans slinging rocks toward Israel, with a bank of burning tires sending waves of billowing black smoke toward the Israeli side of the security fence, to illustrate a meditation on whether Hamas could make headway with a “new” mode of “nonviolent” protest.
— yaacov lozowick (@yaacovlozowick) April 8, 2018
Inviting NYT to spend an afternoon experiencing such “nonviolence” right outside its doors is just one of the things that occur to a thoughtful reader.
Another piece of imagery has an impact that is harder to quantify. But the thought it provokes is something along the lines of, “Does this look compelling to the Haaretz editors? Is it supposed to awaken concern in the viewer, or the idea that these young Gazans are so dedicated they’re willing to engage in – what, faux-transgressive performance art? – to show the world their level of moral desperation?”
I ask this because seeing a man dressed like Tweety Bird, at the scene of a burning-tire battle he and his compadres started, mainly makes me think, “This guy wants to be visible in the smoke so he won’t get shot.”
Other stray thoughts intrude, like “Well, now we know Gaza isn’t a place where you can’t get hold of a Tweety Bird costume. Good data point.”
But someone at Haaretz decided to present this among a series of photos described as “staggering images” from the Gaza border.
Does this look “staggering” to Haaretz? Because to me, it looks like Gazan terror-hooligans doing punk stuff that puts their own people, and Israelis, in danger of their lives, for no constructive purpose. Do the editors of the major media really see the world so differently?
This is the second big reason the media-packaged narrative doesn’t resonate anymore. There are too many reasons to see the media who package it as out of touch. Indeed, to see them as strange, calculating, weirdly fatuous in all the wrong places.
Information’s out there – you just have to let it in
There’s other coverage, if you dig. Maybe, if you read the Daily Beast, you’d discover that for at least part of Friday, 6 April, the smoke from the burning tires was blowing back into Gaza, instead of toward Israel. The wind apparently shifted from its easterly direction in the morning hours (visible in the first videos, when the tire smoke was blowing briskly into Israel) to a westerly trend in the afternoon, as the “sharav” heat-wave pattern took over. (This is my reconstruction; the sharav shift was verified with a correspondent in Israel. Anyone who lives in southern California can tell you that’s an extremely common pattern in a “Mediterranean” climate. When it becomes sustained, it’s called a “Santa Ana wind” pattern here.)
Some early videos:
If you read Jewish Press, you’d know that the Israelis brought giant, industrial-strength fans and water cannons to the border to try and ward off the smoke from the burning tires – a hazard, incidentally, that the EPA deems extremely serious and difficult to deal with.
The IDF precaution would inform you, if you thought for just a second, that Israel hoped to contain the problem Hamas intended to create, with as little resort as possible to kinetic intervention, including deadly force.
If you took the trouble to look through the videos posted online, you’d see that hundreds of Gazans at a time were swarming the border fence under cover of the smoke – something the IDF warned about, and explained that it couldn’t simply turn a blind eye to (in part because of consequences like this).
— Israel Defense Forces (@IDF) April 6, 2018
Over the past hour, rioters have attempted to damage & cross the security fence under the cover of smoke from their burning tires. They also attempted to carry out terror attacks & hurl of explosive devices & firebombs pic.twitter.com/g8fk9N4vcT
— Israel Defense Forces (@IDF) April 6, 2018
In pondering the death of Yasser Murtaja, a Gazan man wearing a “Press” vest, a reasonable person would recognize the likelihood that he was in a swarm of Gazans, shrouded – from the IDF’s viewpoint – in smoke at the time he was shot. It is unreasonable to assume that he was being targeted, or that the IDF, which had to ensure the fence wasn’t breached, could infallibly have distinguished him from everyone else. (It’s also unreasonable to assume, without convincing evidence, that he had no connection with Hamas, considering that there is no such thing as an independent local press in Gaza.)
Is this whole situation a lousy one? Of course. Hamas could end it quickly by ceasing to attack Israel and to advocate for Israel’s destruction.
Hamas could also make a start by ceasing to send seven-year-old girls out ahead of its terrorists to get in the way of bullets.
Israel, meanwhile, cannot end it by yielding to any demand that she make herself more vulnerable to destruction. Letting Hamas operatives breach the fence with Gaza and scatter over southern Israel to attack Israelis is not an option.
The difference between now and a few years ago is that there is mostly a flat, exhausted silence surrounding the rote paroxysms from the legacy media and the West’s radical partisans of Hamas. The public mind has moved on.
It has done so for good reason. The “Palestinian” narrative was always manufactured: a great disservice to the Arabs in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza, because it was false and misleading, and never about constructing a future for them.
The narrative’s essentially worthless nature is thrown into stronger relief by the tectonic shifts of regional geopolitics. The Syrian civil war, with its growing Iranian menace and its recurring chemical weapon attacks, is only a few dozen miles away. Hamas bearing the brand of Iran, on the other side of Israel, is not a net positive for anyone but the radical mullahs of Qom.
Even some in the ranks of the Palestinian Authority seem to understand this. Reportedly, an aide to Mahmoud Abbas spoke disparagingly this weekend of Hamas’ pointlessly destructive activities – an uncharacteristic and informative development. The smoke signal (if you will) being sent would not be about friendship toward Israel. But it would be at least partly about marking off distance from Iran.
What do you know?
"Mahmoud Abbas' senior advisor has accused Hamas of intentionally sending Palestinians in Gaza to "go and die," for the sole purpose that Hamas will have stories of dead Palestinians to tell the media."https://t.co/3mqxiSKrK9
— ymedad (@ymedad) April 8, 2018
Perhaps a public statement like this indicates that Saudi Prince Mohammad bin Salman is beginning to have a real political effect. At this juncture, with relations between Ramallah and Washington at a low ebb, it probably wouldn’t be the U.S. prompting an Abbas aide, from behind the scenes, to repudiate Iran’s client in Gaza.
We can’t know for sure from out here. But we do know that in geopolitical terms, the moving finger has writ, and is moving on. The echo chamber for the “Palestinian” narrative is still being fed, to be sure. But the echo goes only about as far as Brussels now.
And in a world arming up, Brussels is curiously focused on compelling obedience from its own sub-national constituents. Whatever (armed) divisions it plans to have are not facing outward. That’s down the road in Mons – and the priorities there are blunted, a bit politically tentative, and very different.