Gaza’s “Rockets” Flying Fireworks Without Explosives

Gaza’s ‘Long-Range Rockets’ Just Regular Rockets Without Explosives


Take Off the Warhead and the Empty Barrel Flies Further, Officials Note

by Jason Ditz, November 18, 2012

Much has been made of the “threat” posed by the seemingly longer-range rockets fired out of the Gaza Strip. Since the Israeli invasion the regular, barely explosive rockets that hit southern towns that even most Israelis aren’t that familiar with have been replaced by the menace of rockets hitting noteworthy places like Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Is this the smoking gun proving some nation is helping Gaza factions with rocket technology? Not at all, it turns out, as the rockets flying so much farther are the exact same metal tubes that tend to come out of the strip whenever Israel attacks, and the reason they are going further is that they took all the explosives and the warhead casing off.

“They’re pipes, basically,” one Israeli official noted. And while the flying chunks of cylindrical metal could conceivably clonk someone on the head, the menace posed by such devices is even more theoretical than the already marginal risk posed by Gaza’s usual retaliatory strikes.

Some Palestinian factions are denying this, insisting that it is all an Israeli plot to try to make their attacks seem less dangerous. Yet with the “long-range” fire seemingly not doing anything, the reports seem credible.


The Empire’s second attempt at building the arbitrary Mesopotamian state of ‘Iraq’ may fall apart more quickly than their first. In 1920 the Anglo-Americans carved up the Ottoman Empire to their liking, making a political, ethnic and cultural nightmare in the process.

Eventually the Empire found the ‘Iraq’ province too rebellious and starved, bombed, invaded and leveled the country. Now Iraq is testings its independence from the Empire, while at the same time an independent Kurdistan – ignored by both Empires – rises in the North.

Syria has long feared the collapse of an Iraqi regime and the spread of Kurdish radicals into the failed state. The USG may be building AlQaedistan in the Middle East.

Antiwar’s Nostradomous: Pepe Escobar in 2002

Bush vs Saddam: The empire strikes back
By Pepe Escobar
Asia Times Online March 6, 2002

PARIS – It may be a geopolitical “window of opportunity”. In Washington’s calculations, Saddam Hussein has to go. As soon as possible. The devil, as usual, is in the details.

Geopolitician Francois Lafargue, professor at the Paris Group School of Management, sheds some light on how Washington’s view of Iraq and its leader changed from Bush father to Bush son. “Since 1980, Washington has had only one objective –  to destroy the emerging powers of the region, Iran and Iraq. Beyond the theological squabbles between Sunnis and Shi’ites, the main political issue in the region is the role of Saudi Arabia. Shi’ites as a whole deny the legitimacy of the House of Saud – which considers itself to be the guardian of the sacred places of Islam. That’s why Saudi Arabia in the 1990s was one of the main advocates in favor of Saddam Hussein remaining in power.”

The main groups of the Iraqi population are 20 percent Sunnis, 55 percent Shi’ites and 25 percent Kurds. During a Kurd rebellion 11 years ago, the aim was to establish an independent state north of Iraq. An independent Kurdistan would be oil-rich, and thus capable of financing other Kurdish independent movements, especially  in Turkey.

This was the immediate post-Gulf War period in the early 1990s. Although George Bush senior had stigmatized Saddam Hussein as “the new Hitler”, the last thing that Washington had in mind at the time was a fragmentation of Iraq and the rise of an independent Kurdistan.

Washington privileged the territorial integrity of Turkey against  Kurdish aspirations. No wonder. Turkey is the leading army in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization after the US. It is an essential strategic ally. Turkey offers the US strategic bases such as Incirlik, listening posts that cover the whole Caucausus, and it also controls access to the Black Sea.

Lafargue points out that “a democratic Iraq would most probably imply a Shi’ite Arab in power [because they constitute the majority of the population]. This would be an untenable situation to the monarchies of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, because a Shi’ite power in Baghdad could find many common grounds with Iran, where two-thirds of the population is Shi’ite”.

This was the post-Gulf War scenario. In the post-Afghan War scenario, Washington’s Iraq approach is something completely different. It is a two-pronged strategy, as Asia Times Online has learned. The first part is already in place: it could be designated as the “diplomatic solution”.  It involves renewing United Nations  sanctions against Iraq, and demanding  total access all over Iraq to UN nuclear-weapons inspectors. European diplomats widely agree  that this “solution” will inevitably fail. The road in this case would be open to the much-preferred “military solution”.

The UN Security Council meets in May to renew the already harsh sanctions against Iraq. But Washington does not want to wait until May. Already in mid-December 2001, the headquarters of the US 3rd Army was moved to Kuwait. And the target-planning activity in ultra-high-tech Prince Sultan airbase near  Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, has been nothing short of frenetic.

The White House and the Pentagon have been actively considering a “variety of options” – according to Secretary of State Colin Powell – to get rid of Saddam Hussein. Powell recently told the Senate that the US has no plans to start a war – at least for the moment – against two of the other “evils”, Iran and North Korea. But the breathing space allowed President Seyed Mohammad Khatami and Great Leader Kim Jong-il does not apply to Saddam Hussein.

Most of Washington is still in love with the “Afghan solution”: a quick and easy “victory” with practically no loss of American lives. The fact that this “victory” means that Osama bin Laden, all of the al-Qaeda leadership and all of the Taliban leadership are still alive, well and on the loose obviously is not taken into account.

Applied to Iraq, the “Afghan model” – Northern Alliance “freedom fighters” supported by US Special Forces and overwhelming aerial supremacy – has led the Pentagon to build the ideal scenario of an Iraqi nationalist – and Kurdish – uprising against Saddam, supported by the US agents who have been roaming northern Iraq gauging possible Kurdish support for this American-incited revolt.

A key player in the uprising will be the Iraqi National Congress (INC) – the opposition in exile. But the INC remains extremely disorganized, and is essentially controlled by a bunch of gangsters. The INC has been receiving a lot of attention in Washington lately, but still no promise of military training.

According to one particular Pentagon scenario, Kurds, Iraqi Shi’ites and at least 100,000 US troops would be involved in an also two-pronged invasion of Iraq. Half of the US troops would invade from the mini-Kurdistan area set up in northern Iraq, and the other half would invade from Kuwait – everybody of course supported by hellish aerial firepower.

The idea, though, is not exactly feasible. The US 3rd Army  commander, Lieutenant-General Paul Mikolashek, has already said he would need between 150,000 and 200,000 combat troops, plus another 200,000 for support and logistic operations. Military analysts agree the whole operation would need close to 500,000 troops – roughly the equivalent used during the Gulf War. The “street” in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan – not to mention Syria, Lebanon and everywhere else in the Middle East – would certainly go mad.

It took the greatest armada ever almost two weeks to establish “aerial supremacy” over a bunch of bearded mullahs with walkie-talkies. Saddam Hussein’s is no ragtag medieval army. According to the latest data, it may have 350,000 combat troops, 2,700 tanks, 90 fighter jets and 100 helicopters. Most of the troops, though, are no more prepared than fleeing Taliban.

The cream of the crop are 50,000 soldiers in seven Republican Guard divisions, and 26,000 Special Guards – tribals recruited by Saddam Hussein in his native Tikrit. These people hold 1,200 Russian T-52 tanks, and actually get paid: four times the salary of a regular soldier.  They also can lay their hands on 300 mobile anti-aircraft missile launchers – recently paid for with oil money: sanctions or no sanctions, smuggling remains an extremely prosperous industry between Iraq and neighbors Turkey, Syria and Jordan.

Saddam Hussein is not just sitting and waiting to be on the receiving end of American wrath. Lafargue says that in 2002, Iraq will export 560 million barrels of oil – two-thirds of its production in 1990. “Some of the revenue is deposited into accounts managed by the UN, but the war machine is back in place thanks to smuggling. And the international embargo was ineffective.”

Iraq, little by little, is coming back from isolation. Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri will meet UN Secretary General Kofi Annan next week in New York. Contemplating the perspective of American strikes, Iraq is now apparently interested in renewing dialogue with the UN.
Meanwhile, US Vice President Dick Cheney will personally advance the  groundwork for the military solution. This month he will visit three key Iraqi neighbors – Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Jordan – plus Britain, Egypt, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman. Cheney’s targets: to muster political support and occasional access to airbases, essential for the whole operation.

The “Afghan General”, Tommy Franks,  head of the US Central Command and most certainly the man in charge in the case of an attack against Iraq, said that the Pentagon has not opted for a military plan – yet. Sources in Brussels assure Asia Times Online that the Pentagon would need at least a few months to wrap up the New Afghan War and start the New Iraqi War. There are insistent rumors in diplomatic circles that a strike against Iraq could happen as early as May. In this case, it will follow the  Taliban spring guerrilla incursions against the Hamid Karzai regime in Kabul. The US is already bombing eastern Afghanistan in an effort to prevent a buildup of opposition forces there.

George W Bush and the Pentagon may be itching to reduce one-third of the axis of evil to rubbish. But first they must consider three crucial issues. 1) A mad-as-hell Saddam Hussein may decide to unleash his fabled “weapons of mass destruction” against Americans – and Israelis – if he is attacked at home. 2) No one can tell for sure how many American ground forces are needed: the figure of almost 500,000 is considered exorbitant, and it would take months to assemble. 3) Turkey, the key US ally, is terribly worried about the possibility of an independent Kurdistan rising from the ashes of the Saddam Hussein regime and destabilizing the whole region.

To top it all: everybody and his neighbor cannot begin to imagine the fallout from a huge US military operation right “at home”. But this is peanuts when you’re sitting on top of an unlimited military budget, and you’re on a mission of Good against Evil.

America’s Inevitable Retreat From the Middle East

Published: September 23, 2012 NYT Op-Ed

THE murder of four Americans in Libya and mob assaults on the United States’ embassies across the Muslim world this month have reminded many of 1979, when radical Islamists seized the American mission in Tehran. There, too, extremists running wild after the fall of a pro-American tyrant had found a cheap way of empowering themselves.

But the obsession with radical Islam misses a more meaningful analogy for the current state of siege in the Middle East and Afghanistan: the helicopters hovering above the roof of the American Embassy in Saigon in 1975 as North Vietnamese tanks rolled into the city.

That hasty departure ended America’s long and costly involvement in Indochina, which, like the Middle East today, the United States had inherited from defunct European empires. Of course, Southeast Asia had no natural resources to tempt the United States and no ally like Israel to defend. But it appeared to be at the front line of the worldwide battle against Communism, and American policy makers had unsuccessfully tried both proxy despots and military firepower to make the locals advance their strategic interests.

The violent protests provoked by the film “Innocence of Muslims” will soon subside, and American embassies will return to normal business. But the symbolic import of the violence, which included a Taliban assault on one of the most highly secured American bases in Afghanistan, is unmistakable. The drama of waning American power is being re-enacted in the Middle East and South Asia after two futile wars and the collapse or weakening of pro-American regimes.

In Afghanistan, local soldiers and policemen have killed their Western trainers, and demonstrations have erupted there and in Pakistan against American drone strikes and reported desecrations of the Koran. Amazingly, this surge in historically rooted hatred and distrust of powerful Western invaders, meddlers and remote controllers has come yet again as a shock to many American policy makers and commentators, who have promptly retreated into a lazy “they hate our freedoms” narrative.

It is as though the United States, lulled by such ideological foils as Nazism and Communism into an exalted notion of its moral power and mission, missed the central event of the 20th century: the steady, and often violent, political awakening of peoples who had been exposed for decades to the sharp edges of Western power. This strange oversight explains why American policy makers kept missing their chances for peaceful post-imperial settlements in Asia.

As early as 1919, Ho Chi Minh, dressed in a morning suit and armed with quotations from the Declaration of Independence, had tried to petition President Woodrow Wilson for an end to French rule over Indochina. Ho did not get anywhere with Wilson. Indian, Egyptian, Iranian and Turkish nationalists hoping for the liberal internationalist president to promulgate a new “morality” in global affairs were similarly disappointed.

None of these anti-imperialists would have bothered if they had known that Wilson, a Southerner fond of jokes about “darkies,” believed in maintaining “white civilization and its domination over the world.” Franklin D. Roosevelt was only slightly more conciliatory when, in 1940, he proposed mollifying dispossessed Palestinian Arabs with a “little baksheesh.”

Roosevelt changed his mind after meeting the Saudi leader Ibn Saud and learning of oil’s importance to the postwar American economy. But the cold war, and America’s obsession with the chimera of monolithic Communism, again obscured the unstoppable momentum of decolonization, which was fueled by an intense desire among humiliated peoples for equality and dignity in a world controlled by a small minority of white men.

Ho Chi Minh’s post-World War II appeals for assistance to another American president — Harry S. Truman — again went unanswered; and Ho, who had worked with American intelligence agents during the war, was ostracized as a dangerous Communist. But many people in Asia saw that it was only a matter of time before the Vietnamese ended foreign domination of their country.

For the world had entered a new “revolutionary age,” as the American critic Irving Howe wrote in 1954, in which the intense longing for change among millions of politicized people in Asia was the dominant force. “Whoever gains control of them,” Howe warned, “whether in legitimate or distorted forms, will triumph.” This mass longing for political transformation was repressed longer by cold war despotism in the Arab world; it has now exploded, profoundly damaging America’s ability to dictate events there.

Given its long history of complicity with dictators in the region, from the shah of Iran to Saddam Hussein and Hosni Mubarak, the United States faces a huge deficit of trust. The belief that this deep-seated suspicion can be overcome by a few soothing presidential speeches betrays only more condescending ignorance of the so-called Arab mind, which until recently was believed to be receptive only to brute force.

It is not just extremist Salafis who think Americans always have malevolent intentions: the Egyptian anti-Islamist demonstrators who pelted Hillary Rodham Clinton’s motorcade in Alexandria with rotten eggs in July were convinced that America was making shady deals with the Muslim Brotherhood. And few people in the Muslim world have missed the Israeli prime minister’s blatant manipulation of American politics for the sake of a pre-emptive assault on Iran.

There is little doubt that years of disorder lie ahead in the Middle East as different factions try to gain control. The murder of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens in Libya, the one American success story of the Arab Spring, is an early sign of the chaos to come; it also points to the unpredictable consequences likely to follow any Western intervention in Syria — or Iran.

As in Southeast Asia in 1975, the limits of both American firepower and diplomacy have been exposed. Financial leverage, or baksheesh, can work only up to a point with leaders struggling to control the bewilderingly diverse and ferocious energies unleashed by the Arab Spring.

Although it’s politically unpalatable to mention it during an election campaign, the case for a strategic American retreat from the Middle East and Afghanistan has rarely been more compelling. It’s especially strong as growing energy independence reduces America’s burden for policing the region, and its supposed ally, Israel, shows alarming signs of turning into a loose cannon.

All will not be lost if America scales back its politically volatile presence in the Muslim world. It could one day return, as it has with its former enemy, Vietnam, to a relationship of mutually assured dignity. (Although the recent military buildup in the Pacific — part of the Obama administration’s “pivot to Asia” — hints at fresh overestimations of American power in that region.)

Republicans calling for President Obama to “grow” a “big stick” seem to think they live in the world of Teddy Roosevelt. Liberal internationalists arguing for even deeper American engagement with the Middle East inhabit a similar time warp; and both have an exaggerated idea of America’s financial clout after the biggest economic crisis since the 1930s.

It is the world’s newly ascendant nations and awakened peoples that will increasingly shape events in the post-Western era. America’s retrenchment is inevitable. The only question is whether it will be as protracted and violent as Europe’s mid-20th century retreat from a newly assertive Asia and Africa.

 Pankaj Mishra is the author of “From the Ruins of Empire: The Intellectuals Who Remade Asia.”

An Epistulae to America: Responsible Conservatism or Jacobin Imperialism?

Where in the World Are We Going?

By Claes G. Ryn

The legacy of the Cold War and the need to resist communism can only partially explain why so many American so-called conservatives have foreign policy attitudes that are not conservative in any meaningful historical or philosophical sense. They assume that to be conservative is to be always hawkish and prone to intervention. America, many “conservatives” assert, is an “exceptional nation” called to promote “American values” in the world, by military means whenever needed. But such thinking is characteristic not of conservatism but of radical ideological movements for which the French Jacobins are a prototype. According to the militant ideologies, the world should be made to conform to the dictates of Righteous Power. At the 2006 national meeting of the Philadelphia Society, Claes Ryn, a former president of the Society, discussed the anomaly that the term “conservatism” should be attached to a militant ideological spirit or to a primitive nationalistic desire to “kick butt.” Ryn’s 2006 remarks are republished here because they are relevant to sorting out what is what in current public debate and addressing the larger moral and political principles involved. Most generally, the article sketches the contrast between a conservative and an ideological temperament. Recent opinion surveys indicate that a majority of Americans, now including approximately half of Republican voters, are disinclined to foreign policy interventionism.

Within the so-called American conservative movement intellectual and political confusion are today rampant. Hence the following attempt to sort out what is what.

First of all, a conservative is acutely aware of the flawed nature of man. The capacity of human reason is limited. Our existence is ultimately a great mystery. Conservatives recognize that for these reasons we need the best of the human heritage to help guide us.

The Jacobin suffers from no such humility. Who needs history when there are universal principles that are also self-evident? It’s all so clear. Traditions are but historical accidents, props for old elites that should be replaced by the enlightened and virtuous, people like him. Leo Strauss and his disciples have taught us to disdain “the ancestral” and heed only principles of reason.

Conservatives and Jacobins differ profoundly on what ultimately commands our loyalty. Conservatives stand in awe of a higher power. The ancient Greeks spoke of it as the good, the true and the beautiful. Others refer to it as the will of God. This higher reality is, in any case, not some ideological blueprint. To feel obligated to look for and to do the right thing is not the same as to know just what it is in particular circumstances. The complexity and unpredictability of life disincline the conservatives to sweeping, categorical assertions.

The Jacobin is a true believer. He has access to universal principles, you see, and they demand “moral clarity.” You are either for his principles, which makes you virtuous, or you are against them, which makes you evil. It’s all so clear.

To have unquestioning faith in one’s own moral superiority is for Christians the cardinal sin. Only a profoundly conceited person could think that for another to oppose him is by definition morally perverse.

But the Jacobin assumes a right to have his way. Behind his moralism hides a desire to dominate. The hesitation or trepidation that may trouble men of conscience do not deter him. The will to power silences all doubt.

For the conservative, the universal imperative that binds human beings does not announce its purpose in simple, declaratory statements. How, then, does one discern its demands? Sometimes only with difficulty.

Only through effort can the good or true or beautiful be discovered, and they must be realized differently in different historical circumstances. The same universal values have diverse manifestations. Some of the concrete instantiations of universality take us by surprise.

Because there is no simple roadmap to good, human beings need freedom and imagination to find it. Universality has nothing to do with uniformity.

For the Jacobins, ahistorical, ideological precepts define universality, and these demand conformity. Comply with them, or else.

The conservative is attracted to both universality and diversity, because the two do, in a sense, need each other. He does not cherish diversity for its own sake, for much of the diversity in the world offends all higher values, but diversity of another type is how universality comes alive in the infinite variety of individuals and circumstances.

Because universality manifests itself variously, the conservative is no narrow-minded nationalist. He is a cosmopolitan. This does not mean that he is a free floater, at home everywhere and nowhere. That describes the Jacobin ideologue.

The conservative is a patriot, deeply rooted in the best of his own heritage. It is because he is so attached to what is most admirable in his own culture that he can understand and appreciate corresponding achievements in other cultures. He is able to find in different places variations on a common human theme. The culturally distinctive contributions of other peoples deepen and enrich his awareness of goodness, truth and beauty.

The Jacobin is not interested in diversity, only in imposing his blueprint. What history happens to have thrown up is just an obstacle to what ought to be. Only what is “simply right” deserves respect. It’s all so obvious.

Conservatives see in Jacobin principles a hair-raising obliviousness of life’s complexity. To implement such principles may devastate a society. A society may be wholly unsuited or unprepared for changes demanded of it. So what, say America’s neo-Jacobins. We need moral clarity. What was there before does not matter. “Democracy” must take its place. One model fits all. To ensure a democratic world, America must establish armed and uncontested world supremacy.

The will to power is here bursting at the seams. What argument could be better for placing enormous power in the hands of the neo-Jacobins than a grandiose scheme for remaking the world? At lunch yesterday we got to hear [from Max Boot] the pure, undiluted neo-Jacobin message.

All Jacobins warn of the Enemy with a capital “E.” The Enemy is the embodiment of evil, a force with which no compromise is possible. For the American neo-Jacobins the Enemy is Terrorism with a capital “T.” Though the only superpower, America must be in a permanent state of emergency, be armed to the teeth and relentlessly pursue the Enemy.

One current assumption about conservatives is nothing less than weird: that they are hawks, always looking for prey and always bullying. Conservatives are in reality normally doves, looking for ways to settle conflicts peacefully. They view war differently from neo-Jacobin desk-warriors. The suffering and destruction of war are frightful realities involving actual human beings. War is the very last resort.

Conservatives harbor no illusions about the international arena. Bad people behave badly. So conservatives want to be prepared to handle threats to their own society and civilization or to international peace. But their normal way of interacting with other peoples is to try to defuse conflict and to pursue a common human ground. This is the cosmopolitan way.

In domestic affairs, American conservatives have always feared unlimited power, partly because of their belief in original sin. Fallen creatures must be restrained by law. Government must be limited and decentralized, hence the separation of powers and federalism.

The sprit of constitutionalism forms the core of the American political tradition. Unchecked power is an invitation to tyranny. The framers even wanted the U.S. Congress, which was to be the preeminent body of the national government, to have divided powers. Needless to say they disdained democracy.

Jacobins see no need for restraints on virtuous power. Today American neo-Jacobins are promoting presidential ascendancy and great leeway for the executive. Old restraints and liberties must yield to the needs of the virtuous national security state.

Neo-Jacobins undermine American constitutionalism by radically redefining its meaning. They have little loyalty towards the culturally distinctive, historically evolved America. This country, neo-Jacobins assert, represents a sharp break with the past. They love to speak of the “Founding,” because that term suggests that America does not have historical origins but emerged afresh from enlightened minds. Harry Jaffa and others insist that to celebrate America is to celebrate radical innovation and revolution.

Conservatives cherish local autonomy and strong communities. As far as possible people should be able to shape their own lives, partly because the good life has to be lived differently in different circumstances. Jacobins resist anything that might interfere with ideological homogeneity. Individual and local autonomy could, they think, so easily get out of hand.

It should be obvious that, due in large part to barely masked neo-Jacobinism, American conservatism has in the last few decades been turned virtually inside out. In 1952 many conservatives regarded Dwight D. Eisenhower as too “liberal” because he was not willing to dismantle the New Deal. He would only prune it. Today, in all but rhetoric, people calling themselves conservatives accept a vastly larger and more intrusive central government. Under the current allegedly conservative president [George W. Bush] alone the federal government has expanded [as of 2006] by 25%. Yet representatives of the so-called conservative movement proceed as if nothing had happened and absurdly celebrate “triumphs of conservatism.”

Only a major intellectual or moral flaw in American conservatism could have made so many susceptible to the neo-Jacobin bug. Many who caught it were myopically preoccupied with practical politics and Republican partisanship. They lacked historical perspective and philosophical discernment. Others dimly recognized what was happening but went along to reap financial rewards and advance careers. They concealed almost from themselves that they had become hired guns advocating the positions expected of them. Both groups made alliances that will prove compromising. Historians will wonder how so many could have been so easily swayed and manipulated.

Today the utopianism, recklessness, cynicism and sheer incompetence of the neo-Jacobins are becoming obvious. Many of their fellow-travelers are trying to save what remains of their reputations by jumping ship. Intellectually challenged supernationalists just raise their voices and call critics unpatriotic. As for the neo-Jacobins themselves, they are blameless. It is those who implemented their policies who should be blamed. They didn’t do it right.

The neo-Jacobin virus should have been flushed out long ago.

Claes G. Ryn is professor of politics at the Catholic University of America, chairman of the National Humanities Institute, editor of Humanitas, and president of the Academy of Philosophy and Letters.

Killing People as ‘Mowing the Lawn’: How Israeli Hardliners and Official Washington Dehumanize the People of Palestine

Elizabeth Murray, Consortium News November 17th, 2012

Israeli hardliners joke about the periodic need to decimate each new generation of Palestinian militants as “mowing the grass,” a process underway again in new bombardments of Gaza.
November 17, 2012  |

Children walking next to the ruins of the Civil Department of the Ministry of Interior building, which was completely destroyed in the morning, in the neighborhood of Tal el Hawa, Gaza city, November 17, 2012.

In early 2010, one of Washington DC’s most prestigious think tanks was holding a seminar on the Middle East which included a discussion of Israel’s December 2008-January 2009 assault on Gaza which killed about 1,300 Palestinians. When the death toll was mentioned, one expert on the panel smiled enigmatically and intoned: “It’s unfortunate, but every once in a while you have to mow the lawn.”

The remark, which likened killing hundreds of men, women and children – many of them noncombatants – with trimming the grass, was greeted with a light tittering around the room, which was filled with some of Washington’s most elite, highly educated and well-paid Middle East experts. Not a single one objected to the panelist’s black humor.

On the contrary, several analysts and experts were grinning at the reference to Israel’s strategy of mounting periodic attacks on the Palestinians to cull each new generation of militants. Such is the nonchalance of Washington’s policy-advising cognoscenti toward the ongoing and systematic genocide of Gaza’s oppressed population.

The cavalier language is symptomatic of the policymaking community’s increasingly pervasive tendency to disregard and disparage the humanity of Palestinian victims of Israeli attacks, which are often waged by Israel’s high-tech drones and U.S.-supplied F-16’s. There is also a tendency to ignore or downplay Israeli war crimes.

This dangerously sociopathic attitude is prevalent whether cloaked in a cheap joke or reflected in the failure by the State Department spokesman to condemn or even acknowledge the criminality of Israel’s latest aerial and sea-based bombardment of Palestinian civilians, at least 18 of whom have been killed in the past 48 hours. Three Israelis also have died in retaliatory rocket fire.

After the latest attacks, the State Department’s statement justified Israel’s bombardment of Gaza as Israel’s “right to defend itself” against the launching of relatively primitive rockets, mostly by radical groups, from inside Gaza. Yet, while the State Department urged both sides to avoid civilian casualties, nowhere was there mention of the Palestinians’ right to defend themselves from various attacks by Israel. Apparently only one side is granted that privilege, according to the U.S. statement.

The relegation of Palestinians to a less-than-human status by Israel and the United States – especially the inhabitants of Gaza who are perpetually locked into an open-air prison and subject to an Israeli blockade – was noted by MIT professor Noam Chomsky after a visit to Gaza to attend an academic conference. In comments broadcast by “Democracy Now” on Nov. 14, Chomsky remarked:

“It’s kind of amazing … and inspiring to see people managing somehow to survive … as essentially caged animals subject to constant, random, sadistic punishment – only to humiliate them – no pretext. They [the Palestinians] would like to have dignified lives, but the standard Israeli position is that they shouldn’t raise their heads.”

Instead of a serious effort to reach a peace acceptable to both sides, Israel seems to prefer a state of endless conflict with the Palestinians. After all, the prospect of peace might require the Israeli government to treat their neighbors as equals and withdraw from territory occupied since 1967.

So, rather than making meaningful concessions, some Israeli hardliners simply promote the idea of periodically “mowing the grass,” i.e. killing the latest generation of Palestinian militants who sprout up from the injustice all around them. Perhaps that is why Israel broke an informal ceasefire on Wednesday by assassinating Hamas military commander Ahmed Jabari in an air strike.

Jabari was killed hours after he received the draft of a permanent truce agreement with Israel, which included mechanisms for maintaining the ceasefire, according to Israeli peace activist Gershon Baskin, who helped mediate talks between Israel and Hamas for the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

Jabari was a key Palestinian interlocutor in the release of Shalit, and an important intermediary for truce negotiations with groups such as the PFLP and Islamic Jihad. Such a relatively moderate figure may have been perceived as a threat to Israeli leaders who prefer to portray Hamas as rejectionist toward any peace.

These developments and the U.S. response to them are a chilling omen for those who had hoped for a change in U.S. Middle East policy after the U.S. presidential election – namely, increased pressure on Israel to halt its cruel oppression of Palestinians and obey international law.

There is still a window of opportunity for the U.S. to shift its approach before the violence spirals out of control. One also can hope that President Barack Obama is working the phones to rein in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But Obama’s eerie and reprehensible silence during the Israeli assault on Gaza in December 2008-January 2009 must not be repeated.

Elizabeth Murray served as Deputy National Intelligence Officer for the Near East in the National Intelligence Council before retiring after a 27-year career in the U.S. government, where she specialized in Middle Eastern political and media analysis.