Obama urges Gadhafi loyalists to lay down arms


President Barack Obama urged Muammar Gadhafi on Monday to end the bloodshed in Libya as pockets of his loyalist forces engaged in fierce fighting against advancing rebels.

Reminding the United States that Gadhafi had “murdered scores of American citizens,” Obama interrupted his vacation to herald Gadhafi’s fall and urged him to limit the killing.

“Although it is clear Gadhafi’s rule is over, he still has the opportunity to reduce bloodshed by explicitly relinquishing power to the people of Libya and calling for those forces that continue to fight to lay down their arms,” Obama said.

While rebels hunted for Gadhafi in Tripoli, some forces loyal to the autocratic leader were resisting.

“This is not over yet,” Obama warned in a statement from the farm where his family is vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard, an island off the coast of Massachusetts.

Vowing the United States would be a “friend and partner” to help the emergence of a democratic Libya, Obama also cautioned rebels against exacting revenge for Gadhafi’s brutal rule.

“True justice will not come from reprisals and violence. It will come from reconciliation and a Libya that allows its citizens to determine their own destiny,” Obama said.

Analysts see risks that Islamic militants with links to Al Qaeda may take advantage of instability after the crumbling of Gadhafi’s control over the country and gain a strong footing in the oil-producing nation.

Obama made plain that the United States would oppose any group within the loose coalition of rebels that has fought Gadhafi from imposing its power over other parts of Libyan society.

Libya: Gadhafi’s son killed in NATO airstrike on Tripoli compound


Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi escaped a NATO missile strike in Tripoli, but his youngest son and three grandchildren under the age of 12 were killed, a government spokesman said.

The strike, which came hours after Gadhafi called for a cease-fire and negotiations in what rebels called a publicity stunt, marked an escalation of international efforts to prevent the Libyan regime from regaining momentum.

Rebels honked horns and chanted “Allahu Akbar” or “God is great” while speeding through the western city of Misrata, which Gadhafi’s forces have besieged and subjected to random shelling for two months, killing hundreds. Fireworks were set off in front of the central Hikma hospital, causing a brief panic that the light would draw fire from Gadhafi’s forces.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Libya security forces on guard as anti-government protests break out in Tripoli


Several hundred opponents of Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi spilled out of a mosque in the capital after prayers on Friday and started chanting: “Gadhafi is the enemy of God!”

Initially there was no sign of any security presence at the protest but pro-Gadhafi militias armed with Kalashnikov rifles had set up checkpoints around the neighborhood, reinforced by armored personnel carriers.

However, later in the day 14 sports utility vehicles carrying Libyan security forces sped through a checkpoint heading into an area of the capital where the anti-government protest had broken out.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Zenga Zenga


On Sunday, I posted a blog about a video on YouTube that had captured the attention of the Libyan resistance movement and become the unofficial anthem of its youth.

“Zenga Zenga” takes Libyan crackpot Muammar el-Qaddafi’s bizarre Green Square speech of Feb. 26, puts it through Auto-Tune, re-edits it to a disco beat and fills out the frame with a gyrating go-go dancer. At the time I first wrote about it, the homemade music video had 500,000 YouTube hits. As of Tuesday, it has nearly 2 million.

What many Libyans didn’t know at first was that the video was created and posted by a 31-year-old Israeli Jew in Tel Aviv named Noy Alooshe.

As that fact became known, the comments section on Alooshe’s post became a founding document of the new Middle East, the history being refashioned each day before our eyes, the one very few policymakers, pundits and Jewish activists seem to get.

Plenty of comments attacked Alooshe for being Israeli, but more defended him and his video. Anyway, the majority of the Arab comments said, the point is that Qaddafi is a fool and a tyrant, and if “Zenga Zenga” can help bring him down, they’re all for it.

Something is happening here: The Internet’s astonishing power is breaking down borders and “flattening” the Middle East. Years ago, it took months of expensive long-distance phone calls, circuitous third-party interventions, and snail-mail letters to get Israelis and their Arab neighbors together. Now, with YouTube, Facebook and a quickly improving Google Translate, the connections are instantaneous. The implications of this force us to take a fresh look at what is possible in the region.

Consider what happened a  few days before the “Zenga Zenga” phenomenon, when Rabbi Donniel Hartman of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem posted online a “Letter to the Egyptian People.” The rabbi laid out his hopes for future understanding and cooperation with Egyptians.

“We don’t know, first and foremost, who you are,” Hartman wrote. “You see, for the last 30 years it seems, we never got a chance to talk. We spoke with your leaders, but as you so aptly proved, they don’t speak for you anymore, if they ever did.”

Hundreds of Egyptians wrote back.

Typical of the many responses was this one from “Hisham — An Egyptian”: “I appreciate your wishes for us. Let’s keep in touch and work together to resolve our differences and build upon achievements of the past.” 

And yes, there were “flames” too:

“abdsalam, cairo” wrote: “WE DON`T NEED YOUR ADVICE , YOU ARE NOT FREIND YOU ARE JUST UNWANTED NEIBOUR.”

OK, the last place to go looking for kumbaya is the comments section following any blog. But the exchange shows the importance of beginning the process of winning hearts and minds.

I ran my theory by Yigal Palmor, a spokesman at Israel’s Foreign Ministry, the branch of government in charge of the country’s branding efforts. 

“Reaching out to the Arab world is particularly difficult in the case of Israel,” Palmor e-mailed me from Jerusalem, tossing wet hummus on my enthusiasm. “Anything Israeli is systematically distorted when reported in the Arab media, with painfully few exceptions.”

Palmor said the Ministry tries to connect to Arabs through official social media outlets — an Arabic-language Web site and a Facebook page. But he said that the results of these efforts have been negligible. 

“Fear of backlash from neighbors or government prevail,” he wrote. “We haven’t seen any signs so far that the widespread use of social media in the Arab world makes for a more open-minded approach to Israel.”

Palmor might want to recalibrate his pessimism slightly in view of the “Zenga Zenga” reality. What he said is true if the idea of connectivity is limited to state-sanctioned or pro-Israel activist Web sites. Those money pits of communal dollars don’t get traffic or interest from most Jews I know, much less Arabs.

Plenty of pessimists look at what’s happening in the streets of Cairo, Tripoli and elsewhere and point to failed revolutions past, from 1917 Russia to 1979 Iran, to make a point that after liberation comes just one election, then another tyrant. But what’s different this time is that two revolutions are going on simultaneously: real and digital. 

For most of human history, we knew people first by their place of origin. My own last name derives from Oshmyany—a town near Vilnius where my ancestors once rolled cigars and stole horses. On the Internet, countries still matter, but less than values and interests. It occurs to me as I glance over my list of Facebook friends and Twitter followers that I couldn’t tell you for certain what country many are from, much less what state or city.

As social networks improve and deepen, and if the Internet stays open in the Middle East, Arabs and Jews will identify first through interests, values and “Likes,” rather than through nationality. Some 24-year-old Libyan DJ will find he has more in common with Noy Alooshe in Tel Aviv than with the religious kook down the block. What I’m talking about is the unofficial, user-to-user connections, the social network, if you will. The Internet has overwhelmed the old model of “top-down-only” official contact with “all-at-once” unofficial, unfiltered contact.  

It is the frequency, intensity and quality of these connections that can break down barriers and help Israel finally integrate into the Middle East. If that happens, Mark Zuckerberg will take his place in Zionist history, right beside Theodor Herzl. Thanks to him, the free flow of information will open up the blind alleyways of hate.

Oh, the word for “alleyway” in Arabic? Zenga.

U.S.: “Gadhafi has lost the legitimacy to govern”


From Huffingtonpost.com:

International pressure on Moammar Gadhafi to end a crackdown on opponents escalated Monday as his loyalists fought rebels holding the two cities closest to the capital and his warplanes bombed an ammunition depot in the east. The U.S. moved naval and air forces closer to Libya and said all options were open, including patrols of the North African nation’s skies to protect its citizens from their ruler.

(SCROLL DOWN FOR LIVE UPDATES.)

France said it would fly aid to the opposition-controlled eastern half of the country. The European Union imposed an arms embargo and other sanctions, following the lead of the U.S. and the U.N. The EU was also considering the creation of a no-fly zone over Libya. And the U.S. and Europe were freezing billions in Libya’s foreign assets.

“Gadhafi has lost the legitimacy to govern, and it is time for him to go without further violence or delay,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said. “No option is off the table. That of course includes a no-fly zone,” she added. British Prime Minister David Cameron told lawmakers: “We do not in any way rule out the use of military assets” to deal with Gadhafi’s regime.

Read more at HuffingtonPost.com.

Arab unrest alters power balance in as yet unseen ways


They were the devils they knew.

Though Israel lives in a dangerous neighborhood, surrounded by countries whose leaders or people wish its destruction, over the years it had adjusted to the status quo, more or less figuring out how to get by while keeping an eye on gradual change.

But the sudden upheaval in the region that in a matter of weeks has toppled regimes in Tunisia and Egypt, and threatens autocrats in Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and elsewhere, is forcing Israel to grapple with how to recalibrate for dramatic change.

For the time being, as Israel sits and watches how things play out from Tripoli to Manama, Bahrain, it’s not clear exactly how the game will change.

“The best answer is we don’t know,” Ron Pundak, the director of the Peres Center for Peace in Herzliya said this week at the J Street conference in Washington.

“The biggest change since 1967 is this tsunami rolling across the region whose end results no one really can foresee,” said Samuel Lewis, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel who attended the conference. “Something new is happening in the Arab world.”

In some places, like Libya, the immediate effects on Israel are minimal. Libyan strongman Muammar Gadhafi’s state has had no ties to Israel, so the dictator’s demise—if it comes—wouldn’t change much for Israelis.

“The civil war raging in Libya poses no immediate cause for concern in Israel,” Israeli journalist Avi Issacharoff wrote in Haaretz.

However, the cumulative effects of the Middle East unrest are prompting shifts throughout the region that may require dramatic strategic rethinking in the Jewish state.

Every time a protest movement in the Middle East succeeds, protest movements elsewhere are emboldened, and that has put many regimes that for decades have not been hostile to Israel—including those of the Persian Gulf, Jordan and North Africa—on alert and at risk.

With Israel and the West engaged in a proxy war with Iran for regional hegemony, the fall of autocratic regimes allied with the West provides an opening for Iran to expand its power and sphere of influence.

And Iran is intent on doing so. It was no accident that just days after the fall of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, Tehran dispatched two warships to sail through the Suez Canal—something Iran had not dared to do since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The ships docked in Syria in what Iran’s Navy chief, Rear Adm. Habibollah Sayyari, described as “a routine and friendly visit” to “carry the message of peace and friendship to world countries.”

In truth, it was an exercise in saber rattling.

Iran is projecting “self-confidence and certain assertiveness in the region,” Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told CNN. Nevertheless, he said, “I don’t like it, but I don’t think that any one of us should be worried by it.”

When a pair of rockets fired from Gaza hit the Israeli city of Beersheba last week, some Israeli analysts saw it as another example of Iran’s saber rattling. Iran has sent weapons to Gaza and seeks more influence there, even though the strip’s Hamas rulers are Sunni Muslims, and Iran is a Shiite power.

“I do not recommend that anyone test Israel’s determination,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said after the rocket attack.

The great fear is that regimes friendly toward Israel (Egypt, Jordan), or friendly with Israel by proxy via the United States (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain), or not actively hostile (Libya, among others), will be co-opted by elements with greater animus toward the Jewish state.

That hostility could come from any one of a number of places. On the Egyptian front, the long-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, an ally of Hamas, stands to gain greater power. In the cases of Tunisa and Libya, there is fear that al-Qaeda could capitalize on a power vacuum and take root. In Bahrain, which is overwhelmingly Shiite but ruled by a Sunni king, the concern is that genuine democracy could throw the country the way of Iran.

“The regional balance of power is changing, and not necessarily in Israel’s favor,” Robert Serry, the U.N. secretary-general’s special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, said at the J Street conference.

But there could be some good news, too. The uprisings that have spread from North Africa to the Persian Gulf have been broad-based, loosely organized protest movements led by young people networking through the Internet and social media like Facebook. They have not been dominated by Islamists, and the protesters have not made Israel a focal point.

Whether these young people really will take hold of the levers of power, and how they will relate to Israel in the future, are open questions.

For those concerned with Israel, the unrest is being interpreted one of two ways, depending largely on political leanings. Those on the right point to the instability as a reason for Israel to be more wary of concessions in any peace agreements, since their peace partner could disappear at any time.

“Why should Israel expect that another agreement would not be overturned by some new revolution, change of mind or cynical long-term plan?” columnist Barry Rubin wrote in The Jerusalem Post.

Those on the left say that if Israel does not resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict quickly with a peace deal, the new generation of leaders emerging in the Arab world won’t be able to see Israel as anything other than an occupier and repressor of Palestinian rights. Arab commentators echo that thinking.

“The hatred of Israel will not end until you start treating Palestinians with freedom and dignity,” Egyptian journalist Mona Eltahawy said at the J Street conference. “This is the time for Israel to sit down and make concrete concessions.”

In Jerusalem, the government is still in the wait-and-see mode, albeit with as much handwringing as possible.

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, speaking Tuesday in Brussels, warned that the danger is that democracy movements in the Arab world will be “hijacked,” emulating the “model of Iran, the model of Hamas in Gaza, the model of Hezbollah in Lebanon,” according to the German news agency DPA.

Ayalon also said the unrest in the Arab world demonstrates that the notion of the Arab-Israel conflict being the region’s most serious issue is just not true.

“The real major problem of the Middle East, which is now so glaringly evident, is the dysfunctionality of the Arab societies,” Ayalon reportedly said, noting the absence of “rights of any kind.”