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Sunday Reads: Why the Middle East Still Demands Focus, Netanyahu’s Freedom, Fake Holocaust Memoirs

by Shmuel Rosner

May 18, 2014 | 4:12 am

Secretary of State John Kerry, Credit: Reuters/Stringer

US

According to Kenneth Pollack and Ray Takeyh, America has no way of ending its reluctant involvement with the Middle East without hurting its own interests–

After more than a decade of costly and unsatisfying wars, Americans are tired of foreign entanglements, and the endless fractiousness of the Middle East makes it the last place where Americans want to invest their country’s resources. But the problems of the Middle East remain too deeply intertwined with U.S. national security and the American economy to ignore. Those problems are forcing the Obama administration to take a greater interest in the Middle East than it would prefer; just as previous administrations have learned, the region has a tendency to pull the United States back in, even when it wants out.

Rosa Brooks takes a look at the US army’s curious new strategy –

To (Gen.) Odierno, the Army's future lies in "regionally aligned forces": Army units that will have long-term relationships with particular combatant commands. These regionally aligned forces -- or RAF, since the Army instinctively acronymizes everything -- will receive substantial region-specific linguistic and cultural training, making them more effective across what the military calls the "spectrum of conflict"… The idea underlying RAF (pronounced "raff") is that more culturally attuned soldiers will be better equipped to identify brewing conflicts before they get out of hand, enabling more timely and effective "shaping" -- that is, activities to make conditions favorable for U.S. military success.

Israel

According to Lee Smith, now that the peace process is hibernating, Netanyahu is free to focus on other matters that interest him more (like Iran) –

 This is a non-heroic moment in Israeli history—which is, in fact, a good thing for Israel. Many in the American pro-Israel community believe that Netanyahu has inherited a Churchillian mantle as defender of Western liberal democracy in the Middle East. But that’s not his job. It’s his job to protect Israeli citizens, which means trying his utmost to keep the country out of conflict while also enhancing its prosperity. This is the Bibi that Israelis like—not a white knight brandishing a bright sword, but a cautious and conflict-averse leader who can promise some modicum of Western-style stability and normalcy in a region where nothing is ever over.

Alan Dershowitz believes that there was a lot of unnecessary vengeance in the recent Olmert verdict –

I am neither an expert on Israeli sentencing law, nor am I intimately familiar with the underlying allegations in the criminal case against Olmert. But it seems wrong for a judge to consider a defendant’s long record of public service only as an aggravating matter in sentencing and not as a mitigator of a harsh sentence. The Supreme Court of Israel will ultimately decide whether the six-year sentence was justified as a matter of law, but it seems clear to me as an outside observer that it is excessive as a matter of justice.

Middle East

Noam Raydan and Adam Heffetz write an interesting piece about the attitude of members of the Druze minority in Israel and Lebanon to the peril their coreligionists are facing in Syria –

Nowadays, the Syrian crisis is causing that copper tray to ring once again. When the Lebanese discuss how the war is affecting them, they tend to focus on refugees, Hezbollah’s involvement, and the infiltration of foreign fighters. The Druze bring attention to yet another layer of interconnectedness that is rarely discussed: how the crisis is very likely to affect minority communities straddled between different countries.

Jeffrey Simpson describes a Canadian business man’s impressions of life in Iran –

Women are subject to certain dress restrictions, which they disregard at home and sometimes interpret creatively in public. Women work in almost all institutions. They drive cars and practise professions. Three women are ayatollahs. Is Iran heaven on earth for women? No. Is it like Saudi Arabia? No.

Jewish World

Chemi Shalev and Michael Salberg talk to Huffpost live about the disturbing findings of the ADL survey concerning the Holocaust (video) –

"I also think it’s important to understand why, not just from a self-interested Jewish historical and present-day perspective, why awareness of the Holocaust and its accuracy is important.... The fact is that genocide continues to be committed and so there are important lessons to be learned from this incredibly horrific history and a policy to an industrialized, mechanized approach to eliminating a people -- people who didn't have an army, who didn’t take up arms against the country that they lived in, who are identified for extermination simply because they were Jewish."

Adam Kirsch examines the disturbing history of fabricated Holocaust memoirs –

Where Holocaust fakes go wrong, then, is not necessarily by claiming the mantle of the victim; often enough, they deserve that title. Rather, what they are guilty of is a perverse form of gilding the lily—of making their experiences seem worse than they really were. And not just worse, but more conventionally evil—evil in ways that resemble, not the reality of the Holocaust, but other fictional genres, from fairy tales to Hollywood romances. In The Painted Bird, Kosinski suggested that wartime Poland was a zone not just of war and genocide, but of magic and primitivism. One of the trials he undergoes is being buried up to the neck so that crows can peck out his eyes: This is not the kind of thing that happened in Auschwitz, but it is the kind of thing we might expect to read in the Brothers Grimm. It is a suggestive metaphor that claims the authenticity of a true memory.

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