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What's REALLY Happening in the Middle East Today

By Barry Rubin

A few hours ago I wrote that the Egyptian military government reportedly told Israel that a major Israeli offensive into the Gaza Strip might create an out-of-control situation in Egypt. The Egyptian generals weren't being threatening or hostile, they were saying that they could either not control a wave of violence that would result or perhaps be unable to resist demands for strong action. For this and other reasons, Israel has not retaliated.

One reason for the generals' lack of desire to confront Israel now--aside from knowing they would be defeated and lose U.S. aid--is that they may be aware of three things. First, the Egyptian government has acknowledged that three Egyptian citizens participated in the terror attack on Israel. The story is covered here.

Second, as was made clear by his comrades at the funeral, Egyptian soldiers killed an Israeli soldier in an unprovoked shooting as the Israelis were packing up to leave the border area.

Third, the Egyptian government knows that three Egyptian soldiers were not killed by Israel on purpose but were spotted by an Israeli helicopter hunting the terrorists, who were wearing Egyptian army uniforms, and fired two missiles and machine guns at them.

Remember, by the way, that the Mubarak-era commanders are still in control of the army. Within a year, these people will be gone, possibly to be replaced by hotter-headed subordinates appointed by a radical nationalist president presiding over a largely Islamist-radical left parliament.

But as i have written since January, Hamas well understands this situation and apparently wants to provoke a confrontation. The pattern is clear: a ceasefire is announced by Hamas, the world media reports a ceasefire is in place, and then more rockets rain down on Israel fired by Islamic Jihad, Hamas's ally, obviously with Hamas's permission.

Before the terror attack, there were serious negotiations about a prisoner exchange to free Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who is 25 years old today. While they probably would not have succeeded, people familiar with the situation thought they came closer than many previous tries.

But back to the strategic situation. A lot of rockets are being fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel to provoke an Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip in order to set off a massive crisis. On Wednesday, August 24, alone more than 20 rockets were fired into Israel. What should Israel do? There is no easy answer. Israel is targeting specific rocket and terrorist sites in the Gaza Strip, especially those of Islamic Jihad, a Hamas ally, but refrained from a bigger attack.

If you don't think this strategy works for the terrorists, read for example the Washington Post, which reports that Israel broke the ceasefire by attacking Gaza, not mentioning that rockets had been continually fired from the Gaza Strip against Israel. In other words, terrorist groups know how to play the Western media like a fiddle. Readers of the Washington Post, and no doubt other newspapers, are being told that those nice Hamas people wanted a ceasefire but Israel acted as the aggressor, a wonderful case study of how media coverage helps recruit sympathy for terrorists. Here's an ongoing count of rocket attacks on Israel.

And where are all the weapons coming from for terrorists in Sinai and Gaza? From Libya. Amid the celebrations of the apparent downfall of the dictatorship, a lot of money is being made by selling and smuggling arms to terrorists. And the Palestinian Authority, always described in the Western media as "moderate" endorsed the cross-border attack from Egypt.

Meanwhile, every day the Turkish regime is arresting officers and dissidents on the most ridiculous charges of conspiring to murder people and overthrow the regime. The Western media largely ignores these stories and even continues to praise the regime. In fact, this very Islamist regime is being used by the Obama Administration to mediate the future of Syria!

Finally, the allegedly moderate Muslim Brotherhood is gaining confidence and increasing its demands. Media Line reports that the Brotherhood's political party is now demanding the Ministry of Tourism institute a dress code for tourists and starting to push for the ban of alcohol sales in Egypt.

Here's the quote of the day, from Professor Hani Henry of the American University in Cairo,:

“This is how things began in Iran. The moderate youth wanted to implement changes, but the mullahs hijacked the revolution. The same thing is now happening here in Egypt with the Muslim Brotherhood. It makes me sick to my stomach."

Me, too. Here's a sensible analysis from a former British ambassador to Syria of prospects for Syria and Libya.

And speaking of acid reflux, consider this from the great Media Sampler (featured daily here)

David Bernstein at the Volokh Conspiracy writes about a video of Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch discussing the Arab world in 2009.' He singles out the following part of her talk:

"The weirdest moment in the talk, though, is when Whitson points out that no Arab country allows freedom of speech, the cornerstone of a free society. What one example, of all possible examples, does she use to illustrate the lack of freedom of speech? That Arab governments tried to prevent their populations from protesting Israel’s actions in Gaza in the war against Hamas in late 2008/early 2009. Just, WOW!"

In other words, the key leader of one of the world's main "human rights" groups--a woman who previously was trying to fundraise for Human Rights Watch in Saudi Arabia by bragging about how they bashed Israel--argues that the most important use of freedom of speech is to attack Israel. Yes (sarcasm used), that's been the main right Arabs have been denied for decades. Of course, the Islamists, radical nationalists, and many of the "moderates" agree with her. No doubt, the number-two item is attacking the United States.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, and Middle East editor and featured columnist at PajamasMedia http://pjmedia.com/barryrubin/. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). GLORIA Center site is http://www.gloria-center.org. His articles published originally outside of PajamasMedia are here