March 22, 2010

A Mess Indeed: Security in the Middle East

I had lunch with Amos Harel of Ha'aretz a few months ago in Tel Aviv, and he floated the idea of starting a blog on security issues in the Middle East that would reach a larger audience than his normal posts for Israel's newspaper of record. (Or is that Yedioth Ahronoth these days? I honestly don't know.) I normally enjoy the reporting Amos does with Avi Issacharoff, so I am enjoying their new blog, even if it reads less as a blog and more as just another section of Ha'aretz. Both guys are excellent journalists who would (and probably did) make the late Ze'ev Schiff proud. (Avi, in particular, earned kudos for physically protecting Palestinian families from crazy religious-nationalist settlers two years back.) The one thing that bothers me, though, aside from the format, is how isolated the discussion is. I mean, it's all about Israel and the Palestinian Territories. And that's fine, as that's the beat walked by Harel and Issacharoff. But it's less "the Middle East" and more "a slice of the eastern Mediterranean."

On a serious note, you wonder whether or not Israel's isolation in the region has made the perspective of its reporters increasingly blinkered. If I were the editor of Ha'aretz, I would send talented guys like Amos and Avi off to report from Washington or London or Tokyo for a year to get a more global view of security before returning home to report on the IDF and the territories. Have them do a fellowship at CSIS or RUSI or something. One of the things I thought was cool about Schiff is how plugged in he was with the policy debates taking place in Washington and Europe.

Another thing I would like to see -- and this is by no means the responsibility of any one journalist or newspaper -- is a good blog on Middle East security issues written by reporters from all around the region, with bloggers from Cairo, Baghdad, Beirut, Tel Aviv, the Palestinian Territories, Yemen, etc. all joining in. Is that too much to ask for? Some newspapers have tried to do this, but with budgets shrinking, what you end up getting is two or three English-speaking journalists trying to cover an entire region with little coordination and too few resources.

That having been said, I think Amos and Avi have perhaps chanced upon the most appropriate name for a blog covering security in the Middle East. Middle East Security Survey. Or: MESS. I plan to be a regular reader and look forward to their future posts.

P.S. Speaking of Israel, followers of my Twitter feed will know I saw none other than Tzipi Livni wandering around 7th Street NW in Chinatown yesterday. Lady Muqawama spotted her first and made me walk into the Anne Taylor store to confirm. I walked in, started scanning the store, and was like, "Not famous ... not famous ... not famous ... woah, hey, it's Tzipi Livni!" The AIPAC conference, of course, is going on right now, which you can follow here if it interests you. (I'm personally not that interested, honestly, for pretty much the exact reasons Jeffrey Goldberg C'87 lists here.) Now if any of you want to leave comments below, by all means do so, and feel free to tell me whether or not I should have either given Livni a big hug and kiss or arrested her for war crimes. But let's keep the discussion free of ugly anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim or anti-Arab slurs, okay? Because those are not cool.