Tuesday, June 30, 2015

30-Jun-15: We need to be calling them what they are: human bombs

Aftermath of today's suicide bomb [Image Source]
People died today following a blast on a Japanese bullet train. This is how one major news outlet is reporting it:
Two people were feared dead and two others seriously injured after a man apparently set himself on fire aboard a moving shinkansen bullet train in Japan on Tuesday (Jun 30)... The Yomiuri Shimbun daily said a blast was heard from a toilet stall... Media reported that the driver of the train found the still-burning body of a man after the emergency stop. Kanagawa police have confirmed that the man who set himself on fire has died. The train - a super-fast Nozomi bullet train - was travelling from Tokyo towards Osaka, reportedly with around 1,000 passengers on board, when the fire broke out near Odawara, southwest of Tokyo.
A blast, a suicide, bad outcomes for innocent people. This person is a suicide bomber.

Aftermath of a human bomb attack, 2001 [Image Source]
The death of the killer is incidental to him or her, a matter of indifference.
Those many, many acts of jihadist homicide perpetrated by people described as suicide bombers are something entirely different. Whatever the intentions of those who do them, who engineer them, who plan them and who encourage them, attacks in the nature of 9/11, 7/7, 11-M, the massacre by a Saudi inside a Kuwaiti mosque this past Friday, are never about suicide. They are acts of murder.

The intention is to kill. The person doing the killing is indifferent to the personal outcome for himself or herself, for reasons that are worth understanding but come down to this: the killing is the reason and the death of the killer is an incidental outcome about which the perpetrators (and those who facilitated the killing) are indifferent.

This has significance. Though "suicide bomber" is used constantly in the mainstream media almost always inaccurately and usually misleadingly, what they are in reality describing is a human bomb and a human bomb attack.

To the extent suicide is perceived as connoting (to whatever extent) something selfless, we ought to reject its use to describe highly motivated killers. They are bombs. Civilized societies that are aware a bomb is heading towards them have ways of defending themselves and dealing with the threat.

What we call them matters.

Monday, June 29, 2015

29-Jun-15: Drive-by shooting attack near Shvut Rachel tonight [UPDATE]

It's a little after 11 on Monday night here in Jerusalem and Israel's news channels are suddenly crackling with reports of a drive-by shooting attack near Shvut Rachel, with indications that three people inside a single car are injured. Our post earlier today ["29-Jun-15: Fresh reasons today to appreciate Jerusalem's alert security personnel"] described additional terrorist attacks in the Jerusalem area. This time of year has a certain sickening attraction for the many in our area who have terrorism on their minds.

Via Israel National News, we understand that three people are seriously injured including one who is unconscious. They are being treated by paramedics at the scene, and currently awaiting the arrival of an evacuation helicopter to airlift them to a hospital.

Wikipedia's entry for Shvut Rachel absurdly calls the little village of about 110 families "a city". The Rachel part of its name honours Rachela Druk of the nearby community of Shilo, a mother of 7 who was murdered in a Palestinian Arab terror attack  on the civilian bus on which she was traveling in November 1991. The prolific Yisrael Medad blogged some helpful background in 2012 about Shvut Rachel and how it has been developing.

UPDATE Tuesday morning June 30, 2015: There were, it is now clear, four Israeli victims in the shooting last night. Ynet says the injuries of one are defined as serious, and those of the three others as moderate. All four are in their twenties, and all were struck by bullets in both upper and lower parts of their bodies. Two are hospitalized at Hadassah Ein Karem, and two at Shaarei Zedek Medical Center. The IDF has thrown up roadblocks and checkpoints throughout the area and large forces, including from the elite Special Forces Duvdevan Unit, are scouring the area for leads. Though we called it a drive-by shooting last night, it appears it might have been an ambush in which the shooters available themselves of an escape vehicle.

29-Jun-15: Fresh reasons today to appreciate Jerusalem's alert security personnel

The source caption reads: "The Shuafat Refugee Camp from the
Jewish neighborhood of Pisgat Ze’ev, in northeast Jerusalem.
(Miriam Alster/Flash90 )
" [Image Source]
For some background to the Arab violence of yesterday and today here in Jerusalem, see "22-Jun-15: Deconstructing the Ramadan stabbings and shootings".

Today (Monday):

Times of Israel says Border Police officers at a Jerusalem-periphery checkpoint on the edge of Shuafat intercepted a Palestinian Arab youth of 15 very early this morning. They found him to be armed with an assault weapon concealed under his clothes, and attempting to get through the Israeli checkpoint in order to fulfill his destiny.
The Border Police officer who was manning a metal detector at the checkpoint asked the teen to pass through the security check a second time, after the detector indicated the presence of a metallic object on his person. When a second inspection also showed the presence of a metal object, the officer asked the youth to remove his shirt, revealing a sub-machine gun. The youth was taken into police custody for investigation. [Times of Israel, today]
The IDF furnished this image of the Carl Gustav
gun forcibly separated from a social-climbing Arab 15 year old
this morning [Image Source]
Shuafat is a neighbourhood on Jerusalem's north side with a large and thriving "refugee camp". Those are typical Shuafat refugee shanties in the photo above.

Israel National News ["Gun-Toting Arab Teen Terrorist Arrested Entering Jerusalem"] adds that the quick-thinking young service-man, on realizing what the Arab youngster had in mind, promptly closed off the inspection area's revolving door and secured the site while calling to his commander. The two then "worked together to neutralize the teen and separate him from the weapon, a light-weight automatic Carl Gustav." It's not difficult to imagine a scenario where, to avoid unnecessary risks in the dark hours of the early morning, a terror-minded young man with a serious weapon might have been more permanently neutralized by heavy-handed security personnel unwilling to take chances. That is not what happened there today, and we can all - especially the kid with jihad fever - be glad of that.

This is how we remember ancient Rachel's Tomb
as it looked in the 1980's and 1990's [Image Source]
Separately, there was an unprovoked stabbing this morning in southern Jerusalem, close to Rachel's Tomb, an ancient place of pilgrimage for faithful Jews for, oh, about 1,700 years. According to Ynet [Palestinian woman stabs female IDF soldier | June 29, 2015], the attacker - a Palestinian Arab woman, evidently with terror on her mind as well - stabbed a young woman serving in the Border Guard during a security check at about 11 this morning. The soldier, about 20, suffered serious knife wounds to her neck. According to Times of Israel, she was conscious when taken to Hadassah Medical Center for emergency medical care. The attacker was arrested unharmed, and found to be in possession of two additional knives.

Tragically, Rachel's Tomb needs far more protection
now [Image Source]
Israel National News points out that
Rachel's Tomb, where the Jewish Biblical matriarch Rachel is buried, has been a target for terror attacks since the outbreak of the Second Intifada or Oslo War in 2000, and as a result the compound has been heavily fortified. The IDF told Knesset Members in mid-2013 that about 200 firebombs and 90 improvised explosive devices (IEDs) had been thrown at the compound since November 2012's Pillar of Defense counter-terror operation in Gaza, indicating an average of almost two bombs a day. The military said that the nine-meter (almost 30-feet) high walls that have been constructed around the Tomb compound have not sufficed to provide security, with suggestions raised at the time to build a roof to protect the site from attacks from all angles.
A February 2015 rock-hurling attack directed at children living
in Maale Hazeitim [Image Source]
Also this morning: a school bus bringing young children to their school in central Jerusalem from their homes in Jerusalem's Ma'ale Hazeitim neighborhood of in Jerusalem came under rock attack during the morning rush hour. The heroes hurling the rocks were masked, according to Israel National News. Some of them might have been in this February attack depicted in the snapshot on the right. No reports of injuries so far.

Yesterday (Sunday):

A Palestinian Arab woman was arrested Sunday afternoon attempting to cross into Israel from Kalkilya, a Palestinian Arab settlement, with a concealed shotgun. Israel's Channel 2 reported last night that she confessed under interrogation that she had been despatched by Hamas to carry out an attack against Israelis. [Source: Times of Israel] Though it's right in the middle of the areas currently controlled by the Fatah/PLO regime of Mahmoud Abbas, Kalkliya has long been dominated by the Islamists of Hamas. A YMCA to serve the town's tiny Christian population was burned to the ground by local activists and militants in 2006.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

28-Jun-15: Terror: now you see it, now you don't

The aftermath of the terrorist massacre in the Kuwaiti mosque [Image Source]
A killer, motivated by ideological passions, enters a house of worship and launches a frenzied attack that results in a great deal of spilled blood, numerous deaths of the faithful, and devastated families.

It's terrorism, right? Well, that depends on who's doing the editing.

Terror attacks in Kuwait, France and Tunisia echo Isis methods | The Guardian, June 26, 2015
Headline says it all.
Five Israelis killed in deadly attack on Jerusalem synagogue | The Guardian, November 18, 2014
The murders of unarmed Jewish worshipers are described as a "frenzied assault", the most lethal incident in the city (Jerusalem) in years. But the word 'terror' appears only when it's part of a direct quotation from comments made by two people: an eye-witness and the US Secretary of State.

Headline says it all
Israel Shaken by 5 Deaths in Synagogue Assault | New York Times, June 26, 2015
Terrorism not mentioned. The attackers are termed "assailants", the massacre is an "attack" and an "assault". The savagery is framed as part of "the rising religious dimension of the spate of violence, which has been attributed mainly to a struggle over the very site the victims were praying toward". Does the reporter see the victims as part of that "spate"? Were the men at prayer involved in a "struggle"? Are any Israelis to be considered outside that struggle? 

Headline says it all
Two "assailants" attacked worshipers (knives, axes, pistol) in a Jerusalem synagogue. "Spokeswoman Luba Samri described the incident as a "terrorist attack."" But other than as part of a quote from the police, terror goes unmentioned... except in the URL of the article itself, which suggests someone with more brains than political correctness realized what the massacre in Jerusalem actually stood for, but was then editorially over-ruled.

"A bloody assault in Tunisia, a decapitation in France and a suicide bombing in Kuwait are part of the horrifying new normal of terrorism"
Fears of Religious Conflict After Synagogue Killings | Time Magazine, November 18, 2014
Ilene Prusher/Jerusalem @ileneprusher  Updated: Nov. 18, 2014 5:34 PM
Terrorism is never mentioned other than as part of someone's quoted words. "Tuesday’s attack in a crowded synagogue where worshippers has just begun their morning prayers is the most serious attack in recent weeks. Both Israelis and Palestinians noted the choice of target and the skyrocketing tensions over Jerusalem’s holy sites – the Temple Mount or Noble Sanctuary houses the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and has the Western Wall at its base. Many expressed concerns that this may be morphing into a religious war more than a struggle over land."
And finally for a sense of the rhetorical acrobatics that this issue brings out in people, a commentary published by Reuters last week in the wake of a massacre at a South Carolina house of worship:
Was the massacre of nine people at the Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina an act of terrorism? Almost certainly, yes. Does this mean we should be calling the suspect... a terrorist, and prosecuting him as one? Probably not…
True to Reuters policy, its editors manage to tell the story of Friday's massacre in the Kuwait mosque as well as the November 2014 massacre in the Jerusalem synagogue with no mention of terror in either case. So does this mean we are closer to a solution? Are we better off this way? Is there anything we can learn from this? Stay tuned.
The aftermath of the terrorist massacre in the Jerusalem synagogue [Image Source]

28-Jun-15: Israeli ambulance comes under 'activist' gunfire; news reporting industry yawns

Image Source: i24news
Israel National News reports that an Arab gunman, perhaps more than one, fired on an Israeli civilian ambulance traveling the road adjacent to Beit El in Samaria's Binyamin region:
At least three direct hits from the bullets were located on the ambulance, but fortunately no one was wounded in the incident. A resident of the region told Arutz Sheva that security forces began a wide search in the region. 
A bullet through the windshield (see the photo above) testifies to the lethal intentions of the attacker/s. It's unlikely they wanted this to end with no casualties.

The first article of the first Geneva Convention, in effect since August 22, 1864, declares
Ambulances and military hospitals shall be recognized as neutral, and as such, protected and respected by the belligerents as long as they accommodate wounded and sick.
A shooter who attacked an ambulance in Fort Wayne, Indiana, was sentenced in 2013 to 60 years imprisonment. The charges he faced were attempted murder, criminal recklessness and battery by means of a deadly weapon.

As of now, Sunday morning, the attack on an Israeli civilian ambulance has been reported in non-Israeli news channels, as far as we can tell, about zero times.

Friday, June 26, 2015

26-Jun-15: A month of disasters for the infidels on at least three continents and that's just today

The Liquid Air plant in south-east France, the target of today's explosive
and barbaric attack by "suspected" "alleged" terrorists [Image Source]
For adherents of one of the world's great religions, it's a special time of year [see "22-Jun-15: Deconstructing the Ramadan stabbings and shootings"]. Here is a taste of the drama unfolding today, as reported just now by New York Times, in a story datelined rather oddly Beirut:
Terrorists attacked sites in France, Tunisia and Kuwait on Friday, leaving a bloody toll on three continents and prompting new concerns about the spreading influence of jihadists.
In France, attackers stormed an American-owned industrial chemical plant near Lyon, decapitated one person and tried unsuccessfully to blow up the factory, in what French authorities said was a terrorist attack.
In Tunisia, gunmen opened fire at a beach resort, killing at least 27 people, officials said. At least one of the attackers was killed by security forces.
And the Islamic State claimed responsibility for an explosion at a Shiite mosque in Kuwait City. Local news reports said at least eight people had been wounded.
There was no immediate indication that the attacks were coordinated. But the three strikes came at roughly the same time, and just days after the Islamic State, the militant group also known as ISIS or ISIL, called for such operations during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan... “It appears to be an effort to launch and inspire a wave of attacks across three continents, reminiscent of Al Qaeda’s simultaneous multiple attacks of the past,” said Bruce O Riedel, a former C.I.A. officer who is a counterterrorism expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “The Kuwait operation is especially dangerous, as this is ISIS’ first operation in a gulf state,” Mr. Riedel said in an email. “The others will be deeply alarmed.”
...[T]he quick succession of the attacks raised the possibility that the Islamic State, which has seized control of territory in Iraq and Syria, has successfully inspired sympathizers to plan and carry out attacks in their own countries.
“Muslims, embark and hasten toward jihad,” said the Islamic State’s spokesman, Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, in an audio message released this week. “O mujahedeen everywhere, rush and go to make Ramadan a month of disasters for the infidels.” [Source: "Terrorist Attacks in France, Tunisia and Kuwait Kill Dozens", Ben Hubbardine | New York Times | June 26, 2015]
The Tunisian shooters are still at large, says Sky News. whose editors manage to detail the facts as they are currently known without once mentioning the word "terror".

The Kuwaiti outrage - on a house of worship, and with at least 10 dead (something the NY Times people did not mention) - is reported by BBC News without once mentioning the word "terror", as well.

The beheading and attempted explosion at Liquid Air's plant in France, and the identification of the man arrested at the scene ["The suspect has been named as Yassin Salhi, 35" which leaves us wondering whether he's the racist thug of the same name in this 2012 news item] are reported by Independent UK without once mentioning the word "terror", or the word Islamic, Islamist, Moslem, Muslim or any other word connoting any religion, great or small.

Very well done, chaps. Does being non-judgmental in your precious manner mean we're winning this war?

26-Jun-15: Spring of hope and revenge

The spring at Ein Bubin - today [Image Source]
It's a delightful Friday - blue sky, bright sunshine, temperature in the mid-twenties (Celsius, of course), a light breeze.

The photograph above was snapped today and features prominently on the Israel National News site. It was snapped at the natural springs pool in the Binyamin district just north of Jerusalem where Danny Gonen spent last Friday, and close to where he and his companion, driving away from what must have been a lovely interlude, were flagged down by an Arab. He appeared to need help and had something he wanted to ask them.

But he didn't in fact need help, and shot Danny Gonen at point blank range, murdering him. The companion, Netanel Hadad, was injured.

Whether informally or by arrangement (we don't know), a revenge scenario was hatched by people living in the vicinity. Evidence of their act of vengeance can be seen above - converging as families on the pool and demonstratively enjoying themselves at this very moment, Friday afternoon.

The first signs of the extremist scheme were articulated at the funeral a few days ago when the mayor of Lod, a city on the south side of Tel Aviv and adjoining Ben Gurion airport, and home to the two victims, swore beside the open grave that scholarship awards would be created in the murdered man's name:
"Instead of dealing with unnecessary culture wars, we should be united against our enemies who rise up to destroy us, some of them have only one culture - that of murder and violence." ...Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel said, "Vengeance belongs to God Almighty. We say to you, the Gonen family, Lod, the nation of Israel: We will continue to build Lod, Dolev and Ma'aleh Adumim, where Danny studied. We will build our country spiritually and materially. The Ein Bubin spring will from now be named after Danny. We shall visit there, we shall plant and take root there and in all of the Land of Israel." [Ynet, June 21, 2015]
A fiendish plot: more scholarships, more education, more progress, more achievement, more swimming.

How are the vast numbers of Palestinian Arabs who align themselves with the strategy of shooting to kill Israelis when it's possible to do so [see "56% support return to an armed intifada", Palestinian Public Opinion Poll No. 54, December 2014], going to cope with that?

Actually, we fear that we do actually know.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

23-Jun-15: Rocket sirens are heard across southern Israel tonight... and almost nowhere else

Haaretz ran this photo at the height of last summer's Gazan rocket
barrages on Israel. Seeking cover in the stairwell of an
Israeli apartment building is often the only thing you can do when
those Gazan rockets come flying in, seeking Israeli victims [Image Source]
Yet another Gazan rocket was despatched in the customary Palestinian Arab manner in the past hour. Meaning it was fired off entirely indiscriminately in the general direction of anything Israeli, Did it crash into a school bus? A cow shed? A busy shopping mall? Did it drop short and explode on top of a Gazan Arab home and the children living inside?

The men who did the firing certainly don't care. Nor do the vast majority of the reporters who cover the Middle East conflict beat. A story that focuses on the malevolence of the fighting forces under the Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad banner? Not worth an editor's time. And anyway, news consumers long ago learned to assume the Arab side are capable of any outrage so why bother getting worked up about it?

So who does care? Israelis. It's our side that holds its collective breath as the Tzeva Adom (Color Red) incoming rocket alert system's warning siren is heard. It's our side that has created well-functioning communities, farms, towns, cities, roads, schools, malls, hospitals, homes - and the shelters that are inseparable part of all of them. Because on our side, every injury, every death (Heaven forbid), every disruption to normal, constructive lives counts, matters, has a measurable impact.

From Ynet, posted at 10:40 tonight (Tuesday):
Rocket launched from Gaza explodes near moshav greenhouse
Alarm heard in south shortly after 10 PM; IDF says rocket was launched, but that it was unclear whether it had fallen in Israeli territory.
A rocket launched from the northern Gaza Strip towards Hof Ashkelon shortly after 10 PM on Tuesday, exploding near a greenhouse in a moshav. A Red Alert siren sounded in the area during the incident.
From Israel National News:
The IDF confirmed that a rocket launch from Gaza was identified. Reports indicate that a succession of explosions was heard. Just before 10:30 p.m. a rocket was found in the Hof Ashkelon region, having fallen in an open area and caused no damage.
Haaretz reminds readers that the same area, Hof Ashkelon, last came under rocket fire from Gaza a whole ten days ago:
The IDF's Gaza Division said it believes the rocket was launched by Salafi groups, like in the previous incidents over recent months, but that it was still not clear what launched the militants to fire. No group has claimed responsibility for Tuesday's fire yet. The chairman of the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council, Yair Farjun, said: "It doesn't matter to us who fired the rocket. Hamas is responsible and we won't let them set our daily schedule."
Times of Israel adds
The rocket landed in an open area near the Yad Mordechai Kibbutz just north of the Gaza Strip, the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement. “Forces are currently searching the area,” the army said. There were no reports of injuries or damage directly after the alarms, which sounded in the communities of Zikim, Karmia, Netiv Ha’asara and Yad Mordechai just after 10 p.m., the IDF said. Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, a former foreign minister, called on the government to take action to end the sporadic rocket fire. “”Whoever is prepared to accept a drizzle — will at the end of the day get a torrential downpour,” he wrote on Facebook. “This situation is insufferable, unfathomable and must be brought to an end.” Israeli planes have attacked targets in Gaza in the past following rocket attacks. Israel considers Hamas responsible for all rocket fire emanating from the Strip. The alarms come a day after the United Nations Human Rights Council issued a report accusing both Israel and Palestinian armed groups of possible war crimes over heavy fighting last summer.
Foreign news coverage will happen, if at all, only when Israel does something military to silence the rockets. Till then, tonight's attack will almost certainly fail to reach the threshold of reportable news.

It's a blessed relief to know that no damage or physical harm was caused tonight, as far as we can know at this hour. But that, of course, was never the intention of the men with the rockets. For them, it's a numbers game. Just keep firing. Some will Fall Short as hundreds have in the past few years, and may kill or injure Gazan Arabs. From an Arab perspective that's a minor issue, with plenty of theological cover and political justification: no terrorist ever lost his job in the Palestinian Arab world for inflicting harm on his own side. Most of those rockets will fall in uninhabited parts of Israel's territory where the explosion will be so minor as to require a search party. But occasionally, (and given the numbers, this happens regularly) there will be a hit, and some injured or dead on the Israeli side, along with significant property damage. And then the rocket men are hailed as heroes. some headlines are published along with some Hamas insiders being interviewed, their bogus "resistance" is back in the news and it's all worth it.

Meanwhile, a metaphysical question: if a rocket was fired into Israel and no one was hurt, and no news channel outside Israel reported it, what are the ways in which Israel brought this upon itself? And how ought the Israeli side to be condemned for whatever response the IDF now carries out?

Monday, June 22, 2015

22-Jun-15: Deconstructing the Ramadan stabbings and shootings

Funeral of Danny Gonen, victim of Friday's shooting attack [Image Source]
Here in Jerusalem, it's difficult to escape awareness of the current state of elevated tension.

Yesterday (Sunday) at one of the most traveled entrances to the Old City, a young Arab from Sa’ir, a town in the West Bank near Hebron, executed a frenzied stabbing attack on a Mishmar Hagvul (Border Guard) service man around 10:00 am. [See "21-Jun-15: Sunday morning Jerusalem stabbing"] His victim, aged 20, has multiple stab wounds to the neck and chest, including one near his heart and underwent emergency surgery yesterday evening. Today's reports say he is "showing signs of improvement" at Shaarei Zedek Medical Center.

The knife-man's name is Yasser Yassin Tarwa. He too is hospitalized with "life-threatening injuries" after his victim managed to shoot him. And he too is getting the best medical care Israeli hospitals can offer, in his case at the world-renowned Hadassah Medical Center Ein Karem, Jerusalem. This morning, he was said to be in critical condition, sedated and on a respirator. Video clips of Arabs wailing and praising as the blood seeps from his wounds [here for instance] leave little doubt that, dead or alive, he has been ushered into the Palestinian Arab pantheon of "resistance" "heroes". It's far less likely that the medical team at the Israeli hospital where his life now hangs in the balance will get similar respect.

A Hamas website has been running this
photo of Tarwa, the perpetrator of Sunday
morning's knife attack. Those are Hamas regalia
draped around his neck [Image Source]
Times of Israel reports today that
Hamas praised Sunday’s attack, though it did not take credit for it, as photos published online indicated the assailant was a member or sympathizer of the Islamist movement. The Facebook page of Hamas website al-Resalah.net posted two photos of 18-year-old Tarwa from the town of Sa’ir near Hebron. In one, Tarwa is seen wearing a Hamas scarf and headband, and camouflage pants,,, 
Last night (Sunday) in another Jerusalem-area act of Palestinian Arab terrorism, an Israeli civilian bus traveling between the Israeli community of Adam, on Jerusalem's northern edge, and the Arab village of Hizma along Highway 437 came under rock and firebomb attack. The windshield was shattered and the driver was injured, but kept driving to ensure his passengers were spared further injury, damage and apprehension. He was rushed by a rescue team the Jerusalem's other Hadassah hospital, on Mount Scopus. The rescue vehicle came under rock and fire-bomb attack too.

And as we noted on Friday ["19-Jun-15: Reports of sniper attack on Israelis north of Jerusalem"], two young Israeli men came under fire from a Palestinian Arab shooter Friday afternoon. One of the two, Danny Gonen, 25, an electrical engineering student from the central Israeli city of Lod, died of his injuries at Tel Hashomer Hospital after being rushed there by IDF helicopter . The second victim was moderately hurt in the attack and is being treated at Tel Hashomer. The two had been traveling in their car after visiting a natural spring in the hills near Dolev, when a Palestinian Arab flagged them down, asking for assistance. Without warning, he "fearlessly" brandished a gun from a bag he was carrying and opened fire at his unarmed victims from point-blank range. A wide search is underway at this moment but he has not yet been apprehended.

Ron Ben Yishai, a respected veteran Israeli journalist, war correspondent and analyst, has some insightful observations in an article published last night. His argument (see "Not exactly a 'lone wolf' attack[Ron Ben-Yishai | Ynet | June 21, 2015is that while the term "lone wolf" tends to be used a great deal when an Arab stabs or stones or uses his car or bulldozer to run down and injure or kill civilian Israelis, the words deceive. What's really going on is more complex than that simple descriptor .

The security authorities are doing what they can. In Ben Yishai's words, the police are
flooding the targeted areas (mostly in East Jerusalem) with thousands of policemen whose very presence deters and prevents attacks. Unfortunately, not all of these police officers are patrolling the streets with bullet-proof vests and vigilance, and so on occasion a Border Police officer or a soldier falls prey to a lone terrorist.
Such attacks, he says, come against a background which includes several predictable, repeating themes.

The first and most important of them is what he calls the "religious fervor among the Muslims on the holy month of Ramadan" (Ramadan - literally "scorching heat" or "dryness", and referring to a 29-30 day period of "spiritual reflection, improvement and increased devotion and worship", began this past Thursday and continues for a month).
It is not just a matter of the sermons they hear, or of their religious inclinations, but also the lengthy fast, the extreme changes to daily lives and maintaining their day-to-day routine while not sleeping at night - all of these create a situation in which the Muslim street all over the world, including in the Palestinian Authority, sensitivity and anger run high. This psychological analysis is important because it explains a significant amount of attacks that seemingly reveal no rational reason for the murderer to choose to risk his life and his surroundings.
Next, the copy-cat phenomenon: one act of murder or terror begets another, mainly among those "already feeling anger or religious fervor, or wanted to prove something to those around them".

Then there is the inspiration channeled at them from the established Islamist terror organizations: Hamas and Islamic Jihad in particular. Though he does not explicitly say so, their messages broadcast encouragement for acts of anti-Jewish and anti-Israel violence round the clock, round the year. They provide the essential infrastructure without which the other elements would have smaller impact.

He describes his fourth factor as "the wave of Islamist zeal currently spreading over the entire Middle East." It's a zeal which evidently does not pause to observe Ramadan as this handful of headline reports from the past few days indicates:

Sunday, June 21, 2015

21-Jun-15: Sunday morning Jerusalem stabbing

Israel National News, Sunday at 10:45 am
A border policeman has been left seriously wounded after being stabbed by an Arab terrorist in Jerusalem, close to the Old City's Damascus Gate. Security forces and paramedics are already at the scene. Initial reports suggest the victim is in critical condition, and paramedics are currently attempting to resuscitate him. Reports also suggest the terrorist has been "neutralized," although it is unclear at this point whether he was killed, wounded or arrested.
The Jerusalem Post adds (just before 11 this morning) that the attacker, an 18-year-old from somewhere in the West Bank, was shot at the scene and was in critical condition. The victim, about 20 years old, received emergency treatment at the scene of the stabbing and was rushed from there to Jerusalem's Shaarei Zedek Medical Center.

21-Jun-15: State Department's report on terror: Questions, and questions not asked

Ambassador Kaidanow
[This post, like a number of others before it, has been translated to Polish ("Raport Departamentu Stanu o terrorze") by courtesy of Malgorzata Koraszewska over on the listy z naszego sadu website. Our sincere thanks to her, and great appreciation to readers of this blog in Poland.]

Tina S. Kaidanow is the United States of America's Ambassador-at-Large and Coordinator for Counterterrorism. This past Friday was one of the big days in her year. It's when she presented the State Department's annual Country Reports on Terrorism report for 2014. The latest report itself is online here. (And the reports for years going back to 2004 are here.)

The short version is that the twelve months since she presented the 2013 report have seen a stunningly dramatic increase in terrorism (but you won't see those words in the government report). We can see that by looking at such metrics as overall number of attacks, by people killed and kidnapped, and by number of "major" attacks in which 100 or more people were killed. It's a depressing litany.

How seriously should they be taken? In her remarks at the media briefing in which the report was launched [here], Ambassador Kaidanow seemed to suggest we ought to pause and think before we jump on top of the results:
While I cite these statistics, which are compiled by the University of Maryland and are not a U.S. ... Government product per se, I do want to stress again that in our view they don’t provide the full context. Aggregate totals or numbers of attacks are not really a particularly useful metric for measuring the aims of the extremist groups or of our progress in preventing or countering those activities. 
But the numbers she cites in a report with the State Department's name on the cover are worth absorbing. So is the slightly odd way she seems to walk away from any responsibility for them ("not a US Government product per se... their emphasis is a little different than ours..."):
  • Number of terrorist attacks up by 35% over previous year to 13,463
  • Number of deaths from terrorism up by 81% to 32,727. 
  • Number of people kidnapped or taken hostage in a terror attack "increased three-fold" from 3,137 in 2013 to 9,428 in 2014
  • No fewer than 20 attacks in which 100 or more people were killed. In 2013, there were 2 of them - a ten-fold increase.
If these incredible numbers and the trends they describe do not tell the whole story then, according to the Ambassador's way of seeing things, what is the story? That's not entirely clear from her remarks or the report itself. To us it actually seems that the numbers are sufficiently persuasive and articulate, moving in a clear direction, and describing a mortal threat that just keeps growing and spreading. Is there a fuller contact that would lead intelligent people to a different, less disturbing, view?

Without drilling down on this, one of the media questioners who spoke after the ambassador's presentation asked a couple of questions that seemed to get to the core of the issue. First this:
"Given the sharp rise in attacks, killings, and kidnappings, what does that say about this department and this Administration writ large, its effectiveness in fighting terror in 2014?
And then a few minutes later he moved on to this:
"Was the United States effective last year in fighting terrorism?
Then a few minutes after that, a pointed exchange from another reporter:
"Considering all of these objective metrics, how do you see a record of competence or success for this President in the area of counterterrorism? ...You keep talking about inputs and I’m asking about the outputs, the outcomes. 
AMBASSADOR KAIDANOW: Right, well, again, I’ve answered the question. If that’s not satisfactory, then we can have a conversation offline about other issues, but that’s what I would say.
And she moved on immediately to someone else's comment. But to us, those seem like precisely the kind of questions a report like this should be answering.

Iran comes in for some special attention. That's not at all surprising given the prominent role the Iranian regime takes in the field as a state sponsor of terrorism (on a vast scale), first designated as such by the State Department on January 19, 1984 and still on the list. (The others are Syria - an Iranian client - and Sudan.) Its impact comes via multiple channels,
mostly through its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force. Iran sponsors terrorist groups Hezbollah in Lebanon, several Iraqi Shia militant groups, Hamas and the Palestine Islamic Jihad... Kaidanow said the department's assessment of Iranian terrorist activity doesn't measure whether the country has increased or decreased its support, and the report also does not take into account any activity in 2015. "We continue to be very, very concerned about [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] activity as well as proxies that act on behalf of Iran," Kaidanow said. "[T]hey are continuing their pursuit of these activities … [W]hether it's expanding, not expanding – that's a little harder to judge, but the point is they're still doing it, we're still concerned." ...Reports that the Obama administration and its partners have whitewashed reports of Iranian sanctions violations to prevent derailing [nuclear talks that are supposed to end in two weeks] have also fueled skepticism negotiators can reach a deal without too many concessions, as well as skepticism Iran will comply with any such deal reached. [US News and World Report, June 19, 2015]
At the same time, the State Department report states, with no elaboration, that
Iran remains a state of proliferation concern. Despite multiple UNSCRs requiring Iran to suspend its sensitive nuclear proliferation activities, Iran continued to be in noncompliance with its international obligations regarding its nuclear program. Implementation of the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) between the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, coordinated by the EU), and Iran began on January 20, 2014. Iran has fulfilled the commitments that it made under the JPOA...
Screen shot from the State Department report [On-line here]
How accurate is that? The Obama administration has made repeated claims that Iran has halted progress on its nuclear program. But many analysts see it differently, including a New York Times report ["Iran’s Nuclear Stockpile Grows, Complicating Negotiations"] on June 1, 2015, just three weeks ago:
With only one month left before a deadline to complete a nuclear deal with Iran, international inspectors have reported that Tehran’s stockpile of nuclear fuel increased about 20 percent over the last 18 months of negotiations, partially undercutting the Obama administration’s contention that the Iranian program had been “frozen” during that period. But Western officials and experts cannot quite figure out why. [NYTimes]
How to understand that? Consider the views of an expert published three months earlier:
It is time for the Obama administration to more accurately describe the impact of the JPOA on Iran’s nuclear program... If Iran is in fact in violation of the JPOA, what steps does the administration plan to take to bring Iran into compliance? By continuing to ignore this apparent violation, the administration will be setting a bad precedent. If violations of the JPOA are ignored, what hope do we have that any violations of any follow-on nuclear agreement will be acknowledged and dealt with? Source: “In Iran, Distrust and Verify | Has the Iranian nuclear program violated the Joint Plan of Action?” [Gregory S. Jones, National Review, March 2, 2015]
Iran itself takes a robust view of such things which it has no hesitation trumpeting: 
Iran rejected Saturday US claims that it was a sponsor of global terror attacks, saying instead it is a victim of terrorism. On Friday, the US State Department said the Islamic Republic "continued to sponsor global terror" attacks last year and supplied arms to the Syrian regime even though it was engaged in talks to rein in its nuclear programme. But Iranian foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham said those accusations were "worthless." "For three decades, Iran has been the great victim of terrorism and considers international cooperation to combat terrorism a priority," she said, without elaborating. [AFP, June 20, 2015]
So whom are we to believe? Are the Iranians terrorists or victims of terror? Is the US comfortable with Iranian "compliance" with the Joint Plan of Action (and so we can all move forward to a June 30 agreement with Teheran)? Or is the US trying to sound better informed than in reality it is?

Ambassador Kaidanow's ailing boss, Secretary of State John Kerry, has very recently gone to energetic lengths to claim the US knows everything it needs to know about Iran. Michael Gordon from the New York Times asked him whether ongoing concerns about "suspected nuclear design work and testing of nuclear components" by the Iranian regime had to be "fully resolved before sanctions are eased or released or removed or suspended" and whether that was "a core principle" or negotiable:
SECRETARY KERRY: Michael, the possible military dimensions, frankly, gets distorted a little bit in some of the discussion, in that we’re not fixated on Iran specifically accounting for what they did at one point in time or another. We know what they did. We have no doubt. We have absolute knowledge with respect to the certain military activities they were engaged in. What we’re concerned about is going forward. It’s critical to us to know that going forward, those activities have been stopped, and that we can account for that in a legitimate way. That clearly is one of the requirements in our judgment for what has to be achieved in order to have a legitimate agreement. And in order to have an agreement to trigger any kind of material significant sanctions relief, we would have to have those answers. [Source: State Department Briefing, June 16, 2015]
If only. 

Here's what the people from the International Atomic Energy Agency, who have been carrying out a frustrating program of site inspections in Iran for years, now say - and it tells a very different story. This is Yukiya Amano, director general of IAEA
[W]hat we don’t know whether they have undeclared activities or something else. We don’t know what they did in the past. So, we know a part of their activities, but we cannot tell we know all their activities. And that is why we cannot say that all the activities in Iran is in peaceful purposes... And our information indicates that Iran engaged in activities relevant to the development of nuclear explosive devices. We do not draw conclusions. But we are requesting Iran to clarify these issues... I think it is very important that Iran engage with us to clarify these issues. [From a PBS interview with Amano on March 23, 2015]
And here, as the deadline for an agreement rapidly approaches, Amano is again, saying that the IAEA:
is not in a position to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities... [Statement to the IAEA Board of Governors, June 8, 2015]
So the man with the on-the-ground inspectors says he doesn't know. But the State Department says it has "absolute knowledge"?

Smarter people than we have pointed out that what the US and the world don't know about Iran's nuclear activity makes for a serious list. For instance:
  • There's persuasive evidence that North Korea helped jump-start Iran’s nuclear-weapons program. How long that partnership been in place, and what is its status today? [Washington Post, March 29, 2015]
  • How far has Iran gotten with testing nuclear detonators [note]
  • When the Iranians paved over their Parchin complex, which IAEA said was a possible location for testing explosive triggers for a nuclear blast, what did they hide? [Fox, August 22, 2013]
Do we have the full context? And if the Administration keeps saying what it's saying about Iran's compliance, including as a part of this terrorism report, does say something meaningful about the rest of the report? It's not as if these issues don't matter. Being wrong on terrorism has huge consequences.

21-Jun-15: Some rare insights into what the Saudis have been up to

All over the global media today - the Saudi
Cables [Image Source]
What the Saudis say about themselves tends to be filled with platitudes and self-praise, as we pointed out just a couple of days ago ["18-Jun-15: Saudi advice on showing love and compassion and dealing with others nicely"]. Its current ruler, His Highness Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, provided an illuminating instance of how that works just this past Wednesday when he extolled what he called Saudi "humanitarian activities":
We are happy to serve Muslims all over the world... Islam works for goodness and reform and promotes constructive activities. It follows moderation, backs dialogue and brings people together... Muslims should do their duties in the best form and deal with others nicely.
Thousands of documents released via Wikileaks this weekend (61,195 of them now freshly uploaded as of tonight, and a Wikileaks promise of half a million more to appear in the coming weeks) give a starkly different view of Saudi activities. The fugitive WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange (who on Friday 'celebrated' the third anniversary of taking up residence inside the Ecuadorean embassy in London) introduces them this way:
"The Saudi Cables lift the lid on an increasingly erratic and secretive dictatorship that has not only celebrated its 100th beheading this year, but which has also become a menace to its neighbours and itself," 
We have not reviewed any of them ourselves. But the Wikileaks page asserts that they are made up of "extensive correspondence" between Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its embassy in Canberra, Australia revealing
sustained Saudi efforts to influence political and religious opinion within Australia's Arabic and Islamic communities [and] bribing and co-opting key individuals and institutions...
Website of Australian Federation of Islamic Councils
Some highlights from a report published today in Australia's Sydney Morning Herald suggests deep Saudi penetration of Australia's Arab communities, as well as the buying of influence and tracking of dissenting Saudi voices:
  • WikiLeaks has revealed secret Saudi Arabian influence in Arabic media and Islamic religious groups in Australia... 
  • The documents include instructions from the Saudi government to its embassy relating to the payment of large subsidies from the Saudi Ministry of Culture and Information to prominent Arabic newspapers and media organisations in Australia...
  • The Saudi embassy is also revealed to pay close attention to the political and religious beliefs of Saudi university students studying in Australia with reports sent to the Mabahith, the General Investigation Directorate of the Saudi Ministry of Interior, the Kingdom's brutal secret police that deals with domestic security and counter-intelligence. 
  • [And] Saudi government funding for building mosques and supporting Islamic community activities in Australia.
  • [Also evidence of Saudi pre-occupation with Iranian] Shiite Islamic leaders to engage with the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils 
  • [T]he kingdom's funding of visits to Australia by Sunni Islamic clerics to counter Shiite influence.
  • [E]xtensive Saudi efforts to influence and neutralise critical opinion in foreign media, including widespread use of monetary contributions and subsidies.
Saudi Arabia's own media have so far been careful to ignore what the rest of the world is seeing today. Although these can be accessed from wherever people can get connected to the Internet, that's not what the Saudi government is recommending its subjects do - quite the opposite.
Saudi Arabia on Saturday urged its citizens not to distribute "documents that might be faked" in an apparent response to WikiLeaks' publication on Friday of more than 60,000 documents it says are secret Saudi diplomatic communications. The statement, made by the Foreign Ministry on its Twitter account, did not directly deny the documents' authenticity... The world's top oil exporter, an absolute monarchy, is highly sensitive to public criticism and has imprisoned activists for publishing attacks on the ruling Al Saud dynasty and senior clerics. It maintains tight control over local media... [Reuters, June 20, 2015]
Saudis, and anyone else interested in a rare glimpse into what the Saudi power elite get up to when they think people are not watching, have plenty of material to sort through. For instance, an incident from Geneva, 2009, given global prominence via an AP report of the leaked papers, concerns the well-connected wife of a Saudi insider who used to serve as deputy minister of defense and aviation:
"Princess Maha Al Ibrahim... the wife of senior Saudi royal Abdul-Rahman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud... skipped town after failing to pay a first installment of 1.5 million Swiss francs owed to [a limousine] company and her hotel. When the bill was brought to her attention, "she declared that the amount was too high" and asked diplomats to handle the negotiations over its payment..." "When reached by phone on Saturday, Louis Roulet, the administrator of the limousine service, confirmed the document's authenticity and said he remembered the incident well. The total bill was "far more" than 1.5 million Swiss francs, he said, adding that it was eventually paid in full. "We don't work with this family anymore, for the obvious reasons," Roulet said. Still, the Algerian-born Roulet was unfazed, saying these kinds of disputes were typical of the Arab customers he dealt with. "I find this totally normal," he said. [Associated Press, June 20, 2015]
How normal? A glossy report that appeared in Vanity Fair two months ago fleshes it out somewhat. See "The Saudi Princess and the Multi-Million Dollar Shopping Spree" [Vanity Fair, April 2015]. But the anxieties stemming from the covert workings of Saudi influence extend far beyond a propensity for skipping town ahead of unpaid suppliers.

Friday, June 19, 2015

19-Jun-15: Reports of sniper attack on Israelis north of Jerusalem [UPDATED]

The scene of this afternoon's attack: first responders try to
save the shooting victims' lives
At this stage all we know is this, via Israel National News:
Two people have been wounded, one of them critically, in a shooting attack close to the town of Dolev in the Binyamin region, north of Jerusalem. Paramedics and a large team of IDF security forces are at the scene - including at least one military helicopter - after responding to reports that terrorists had opened fire on an Israeli vehicle at 4:15 p.m. Friday afternoon. It is believed an Arab sniper targeted the victims; one is in critical condition, while the other it described in light-to-moderate condition.
Haaretz says the two Israelis are in their twenties and live in "central Israel" which is Haaretz-speak for the greater Tel-Aviv area.

A statement by Magen David Adom, Israel's Red Cross, says one of the injured is unconscious and in a critical condition. The other one was lightly wounded after he was shot in the legs, the statement added. Israel's Channel 2 TV news says someone in a passing car opened fire at the Israelis who were in their car, visiting Ein Buvin spring, a popular destination on a glorious early summer day, which is what we are having now.

Dolev, a community of about 1,350 people, is located in the suburbs of northern Jerusalem.

UPDATE Friday June 19, 2015: Just as the sun is setting on a beautiful day and the Sabbath begins to make her way into our part of the world: Times of Israel delivers the bitter news that the more critically-injured of the two men shot by a Palestinian Arab gunman a few hours ago has died of his wounds:
The 25-year-old was shot in the upper body near the settlement of Dolev, northwest of Jerusalem. He was found unconscious and transferred to Tel Hashomer Hospital by IDF helicopter where he died over an hour after the attack. A second man was moderately hurt in the attack and was also being treated at Tel Hashomer. A large deployment of soldiers aided by Israel Police were currently searching for at least one shooter. The two men in their mid-20s were traveling in their car after visiting a spring near Dolev, when they were flagged down by a Palestinian man, seemingly asking them for help, and shot at point-blank range. [Times of Israel, today]
We see a report (via Twitter) just now that Hamas has extended its congratulations on the lethal attack this afternoon but stopped short of claiming credit.

19-Jun-15: Lone-wolf Islamist terror attack in NY: Four arrests so far

Mumuni [Image Source]
Here's a follow-up to the arrest in New York City of an alleged Islamist terrorist, a "lone wolf", about which we posted on Wednesday: "17-Jun-15: Just hanging around a bridge: They're pursuing terrorists in every one of the US states".

There have been four arrests so far.

The first is Munther Omar Saleh, a college student from Queens. The charges against him assert that he's a "fervent supporter" of Islamist "militants" (a word that conceals more than it reveals) and ISIS. He was arrested on Saturday.

A second male was also arrested in connection with the same offences. Reuters says he has not yet been publicly identified.

On Wednesday, Fareed Mumuni, 21, a student of social work at the College of Staten Island and a Ghana-born US citizen, was arrested and charged with attempted murder. Authorities came to his Mariners Harbor, Staten Island, home that morning with a search warrant relating to the same alleged attack on behalf of ISIS for which Saleh, the "lone wolf" had already been arrested. Ignoring their orders to sit down, he lunged at an FBI agent while brandishing a kitchen knife and attempted repeatedly to stab him. The agent, protected by body-armor, suffered minor injuries. In court, Mumuni appeared wearing "a religious robe and flip-flops". His court-appointed defense lawyer unexpectedly says Mumuni is a “quiet, soft-spoken, very bright young man” whose relatives are "surprised by the charges".

Topaz [Image Source]
Samuel Rahamin Topaz, 21, from Fort Lee, New Jersey, who had been in close contact with Saleh, was charged Thursday with conspiracy to provide material support to ISIS. The motivations to do this, according to material presented to the court yesterday, were that "they" promised him (a) $7,000 a week and (b) four wives, "possibly in Iraq". A 24-page affidavit filed by an FBI Special Agent says he is "vulnerable... impressed with the promise of money and multiple wives", His younger brother told NBC the suspect is "just any other person... just a calm, regular kid [who] does whatever anybody else would do... Everyone in my household believes in a different religion, so you can understand how ridiculous it is."
    We think the "lone wolf" notion - whether or not it's factually accurate - is unhelpful when people try to understand the spread of pro-Islamist terrorism sentiment outside the Arab and Moslem world. The growing number of arrests in this case, where the original suspect who made the first headlines seems not to have acted alone, shows how it works in reality.

    About eight months ago, a syndicated UPI news article quoted a warning
    released by the Army Threat Integration Center [based on] a Tweet from an Islamic State jihadist calling for individuals to use social media sites to track down and kill U.S. service members. The assessment was published Sept. 25 by ARTIC in collusion with the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command, and listed a variety of possible threats that IS forces pose to the homeland, including lone wolf attacks on service personnel... [UPI, October 5, 2014]
    The Army Threat Integration Center (ARTIC) exists to create and publish
    all-source threat information for commanders and force protection officials at all levels within the Army to provide shared situational awareness, enable effective risk-based decisions, and protect Army personnel, assets, and information worldwide [Source]
    An ARTIC bulletin, quoted by Fox News, refers to published information that
    Islamic State fighters have increased calls for "lone wolves" to attack U.S. soldiers in America in recent months, citing one tweet that called for jihadists to find service members' addresses online and then "show up and slaughter them,,," 
    If lone wolves exist, there seem to be many of them around, and as the New York arrests indicate, they move in packs.

    Thursday, June 18, 2015

    18-Jun-15: Saudi advice on showing love and compassion and dealing with others nicely

    The political figure bending forward from the waist
    (the White House is very definite that he was not bowing) before
    the Saudi Arabian king in 2009 is President Barack Obama [Image Source]
    What you think of Saudi Arabia – an entity that resembles a family business as much as it does a sovereign state - seems to depend, as with many things in life, on who you are and what you do in life.

    How its owners think of their property and the people living in it can be gauged from a somewhat bizarre article that appears in a news report published a few hours ago by Arab News [“Saudi Arabia's first English-language newspaper... the daily's website gets hundreds of thousands of hits every day from Web surfers worldwide…”]. It’s headed “Shun violence, terror! King reiterates rejection of sectarianism”:
    JEDDAH: Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman on Wednesday urged Saudis and other Muslims to uphold the values of tolerance, love, unity and mercifulness, and reject violence and terrorism. In a message on the occasion of Ramadan, he reiterated Saudi Arabia’s total rejection of sectarianism based on different schools of religious thought, saying sectarianism would weaken the country’s unity and solidarity. “We have unlimited confidence in Saudi citizens and we’ll not show any leniency toward those who try to weaken the unity of Saudis and undermine the Kingdom’s security,” he said. The message, which was read out on Saudi Television by Culture and Information Minister Adel Al-Toraifi, the king described Ramadan as a month of goodness and blessings when God forgives sins of believers and saves them from Hell. “Islam is a religion of love, compassion and tolerance, and its message was sent by the Almighty as a mercy to the whole humanity,” the king said… The king stressed that Saudi Arabia’s humanitarian activities were not aimed at achieving any mundane benefits but to win the pleasure and reward of God. “We are happy to serve Muslims all over the world.” The king added: “Islam works for goodness and reform and promotes constructive activities. It follows moderation, backs dialogue and brings people together.” King Salman continued, “The holy month generates in our minds the feelings of empathy and compassion toward the fellow human beings. It also teaches us great lessons.” He called upon Muslims to make use of the great blessings of Ramadan through fasting, prayers and righteous deeds. “Muslims should do their duties in the best form and deal with others nicely.”
    While those exhortations about moderation, goodness, reform, constructive activities, righteous deeds are still ringing in our ears:
    A man was beheaded in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, with the convicted murderer's execution becoming the 89th case this year, according to an AFP count. The death toll has already overtaken the total for all of 2014. [RT, May 27, 2015]
    For our part, we have written about Saudi Arabia here several times. We wonder whether Saudi Arabia’s actions exemplify (as its Custodian says above) Muslims dealing with each other nicely. We think not so much, but sometimes it’s better not to be judgmental. 

    Here are some randomly selected slices of what we see when we look at the Saudis from our terror-centric standpoint:
    • 25-Jan-15: Summing up the life of an absolute monarch in the mainstream media“The Saudi political system, a blend of absolute monarchy and Islamic extremism, has one of the world's worst human rights records. There is no democracy and basic freedoms are limited… It punishes dissidents, including currently with multiple rounds of publicly lashing a blogger, amputates hands and legs for robbery, and enforces a system of gender restrictions that make women not just second-class citizens, but in many ways the property of men…”
    • 19-Oct-14: Saudi Arabia's sense of where it fits in the war against the terrorists: “…All in all, the notion that the Saudi government claims to be at the "forefront of combating terrorism" raises some questions about what the word forefront could possibly mean when they use it.”
    • 2-Apr-14: Charm, offense and antagonism-avoidance: “The country most closely identified with the 9/11 terrorists gets a flying visit from the world's most powerful political figure because America's policy makers see themselves in a charm offensive directed at a regime that calls its atheists terrorists. We're not sure about how much charm it generated. But offensive? Surely.”
    • 11-Mar-13: Know the neighbours: Saudi Arabia: “A recent report about the jailing of human rights activists in Saudi Arabia got us thinking about what sort of country it really is. So allow us to share some of what we found in a brief hunt on the web…”
    British prime minister David Cameron being invested with
    the Saudi Order of King Abdul Aziz from King Abdullah in 2012. It's given
    to foreigners for "meritorious service" to the Saudis [Image Source]
    Then there’s the matter of how Saudi Arabia looks to its powerful customers, competing with each other for Saudi business and especially for Saudi investment.

    The paragraphs below come from the official report of a debate in the UK Parliament’s House of Lords about the fate of (believe it or not) a blogger who has incurred the wrath of the Saudi insiders and may pay for this with his life. Lord Avebury, speaking last Thursday, asked
    Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have made to the government of Saudi Arabia about the confirmation of a sentence of 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison against Raif Badawi.
    And got this answer from the UK’s Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Baroness Anelay of St Johns:
    My Lords, we are extremely concerned about Raif Badawi’s case and have discussed it at the most senior levels in the Government of Saudi Arabia... The case is under active consideration and we will continue to watch it closely.
    Not so reassured, another peer, the Lord Bishop of St Albans, pressed on with a pretty sharp question:
    My Lords, your Lordships’ House will not be unaware of the discrepancy between the attitude to human rights displayed in Saudi Arabia’s public condemnation of the Charlie Hebdo atrocities and this case, where somebody is being punished on the basis of religion. Does the Minister agree that there is a considerable dissonance between the public image that Saudi Arabia is seeking to present and the country’s internal affairs?
    Not a bad enquiry.  But the reply from the Baroness is a stunner:
    My Lords, I think we have to recognise that the actions of the Saudi Government in these respects have the support of the vast majority of the Saudi population. Against that background blah blah blah
    HRH Prince Charles, the prince of Wales, in Saudi
    Arabia 2013 [Image Source]
    and on she droned. 

    Now think about her observation for a moment. One of the UK government’s most senior makers and executors of foreign policy says yes, we are watching, yes, we know as well as you what the Saudis do, but let’s not forget most Saudis support their leaders’ views.

    Really? How she, or anyone, can know this is a puzzle. We tend towards the view, exemplified in an article by someone who studies such matters at the Washington Institute: 
    What issues are of concern to ordinary Saudis? How does the average citizen view the state of the domestic economy? What are the prevailing public attitudes toward religious extremism? …Even in the short term, the Saudi government, while far from democratic, is no doubt sensitive to social crosscurrents and diverse reactions to its initiatives. As a result, understanding Saudi public opinion is an important part of gauging the country's likely future direction. Opinion polls, however, are almost unknown in the kingdom, and anecdotal or indirect measures of these very delicate subjects are notoriously unreliable.
    A British commentator, writing about this two days ago in The Independent UK, asks what every Brit ought to consider shouting into their TVs or at their MPs:
    How medieval does a regime have to be before ministers pause to consider the relationship? Three years ago today, Saudi Arabian police arrested Raif Badawi for the crime of running a website “that propagates liberal thought”. His blog had put the case for secularism in observations such as this: “States which are based on religion confine their people in the circle of faith and fear.” As if to prove his point, a Sharia court hauled Badawi back into the fearful circle, sentencing him to 600 lashes and seven years in jail for “going beyond the realm of obedience”. Last year, deciding that he had been let off too lightly, a judge upped the punishment to 1,000 lashes and 10 years’ imprisonment plus a fine of one million riyal (about £170,000). What does our government think of this? …No answer has yet been forthcoming. Perhaps the “vast majority” of Saudis are indeed fanatical sadists who rejoice to see liberal bloggers whipped. Or, then again, perhaps they aren’t. No one knows: this is an absolute monarchy, not a marginal in the West Midlands being polled by Lord Ashcroft. Even if you were a Saudi who deplored the flogging, you wouldn’t say so publicly… It’s almost as if the House of Saud is showing off to Isis, the new kid on the block: “Publicly beheading apostates? Pah. We were doing that when you were in nappies…” How medieval does a regime have to be before British ministers pause to consider whether it is one with which we can do business? So long as the regime in question remains our most lucrative export market for arms, the answer is: “My Lords, I think we have to recognise…”
    Now keep in mind what it means when Her Majesty's British government supports policies that have the support of the vast majority of this foreign population or another. For instance, more than 70% of Palestinian Arabs, according to scientific and respected Arab-run opinion polls, support Hamas' blood-drenched approach to violence against Israelis. And more concretely, fully 80% support (and 20% oppose) attempts by individual Palestinians to stab or run over Israelis in Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank as of December 2014. On any serious view, the Mahmoud Abbas PA regime honours those acts of terror and their perpetrators. So is Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office OK with those acts of murder-by-car too? 

    (We have had some recent personal experience of trying to extract a rational response to terror-related questions from the British foreign policy establishment. We want to write about this in the next few days.)

    Finally, a brief comment on how Saudi views are projected outside its own borders, in particular its views on terror. A senior figure at a serious-sounding Washington/London think-tank in a published January 2015 article sums that up for us:
    [F]or decades the Saudis have also lavishly financed its propagation abroad. Exact numbers are not known, but it is thought that more than $100 billion have been spent on exporting fanatical Wahhabism to various much poorer Muslim nations worldwide over the past three decades. It might well be twice that number. By comparison, the Soviets spent about $7 billion spreading communism worldwide in the 70 years from 1921 and 1991... [A] Wikileaks cable clearly quotes then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saying "donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide." ...Other cables released by Wikileaks outline how Saudi front companies are also used to fund terrorism abroad.
    Might be interesting to know Baroness Anelay of St Johns' view of that.