Middle East Policy

The Fist in a Velvet Glove: Hardened Humanitarianism

By David Crane

(Re-published from Jurist | April 21, 2017) The cornerstone to the UN paradigm is to settle disputes peacefully, using force only as a last resort. Yet, restoring international peace and security sometimes requires a hardened approach to ensure that peace and security.

“This hardened approach must be done under law or we weaken our international norms, yet it must be done. Enough is enough in Syria.”

There are decades of international treaties, custom, and precedent that support what I call hardened humanitarianism. When we have to deal with a tyrant, thug, dictator, or rogue head of state who turns on his own citizens, the international community or a member state of that community should step forward with a clear and firm position—stop it or force will be used.

A tyrant only understands one thing—power. When he feels the sting of consequence for his actions that tyrant begins to focus on that use of force against him. The use of this more hardened approach in using force to stop a tyrant’s actions will cause that tyrant to pause, to consider his next steps.

Appeasement in the face of tyranny never works. History is replete with anecdotal evidence of this from the Armenian genocide to the Sudetenland. A hardened policy of seeking a peaceful dialog with the assurance of a forceful resolution, should that dialog fail, makes for a more meaningful discourse.

Our international legal and policy system has drawn lines related to protecting civilians in a conflict and banning certain type of weapons systems per se. Most, if not all, states parties have signed onto these norms. We don’t have to be histrionic when a tyrant ignores these clear lines beating our chests with empty words. When that tyrant steps over a line hit them hard, use force, show the world there are consequences!

US action against Al Qaeda after they attacked the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania are examples of facing down the lawless elements of our society under the international legal concept of reprisal. In 2005 the world came together to create a doctrine that laid down a marker that declared that the international community has a right to step in to block a tyrant or head of state who is turning against his own citizens committing war crimes and crimes against humanity. Called the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), the doctrine was a clarion call to arms should there be alleged violations of international law.

Unfortunately, R2P has fallen short of the ideal based on the political perception that it is a doctrine that can be easily used by various powers against weaker nation states for alleged violations. Despite this the principle idea of this responsibility to protect citizens from their own leaders remains.

The long and tragic kaleidoscopic conflict that is Syria has now gone beyond peaceful resolution. A hardened sense of humanity calls for continued cruise missiles strikes and other military action every time Assad crosses the lines laid out under international norms. Kaleidoscopic conflict is fast becoming a new concept in the dirty little wars of the 21st century. Old doctrines for war fighting and the legal set of rules that surround warfare that have been tested over time are being challenged at all levels. Just when planners think there is a viable course of action developing related to a conflict, such as in Syria, one thing changes and everything changes, hence the term kaleidoscopic. This impacts on what is called the deliberate planning cycle in modern parlance throwing out how international and domestic organizations plan for and deal with conflict on a day to day basis.

At the end of the day we are beginning to face situations where there is no solution under current policy and doctrine. This gives us pause as to how to advise world leaders in dealing with any given conflict. This pause can allow a tragedy, such as in Syria, to go on and on without any foreseeable ending.

These dirty little wars have a direct impact on how parties to a conflict deal with civilians found in and around the battlefield. One of the key cornerstone concepts of the international humanitarian law is that civilians are to be protected and that the intentional targeting of a civilian is a war crime plain and simple. We see around the globe today parties to a conflict flagrantly ignoring this key legal concept. With no apparent repercussion to these attacks on civilians, actors move about the battlefield with impunity. Again this is the conflict in Syria, but can be seen also in the fighting in South Sudan. This is why a more hardened approach to our humanitarian principle of using force where legally appropriate will cause actors to pause and reconsider wholesale destruction in any given conflict.

This hardened approach must be done under law or we weaken our international norms, yet it must be done. Enough is enough in Syria. States parties who for whatever reason give that tyrant support should also be dealt with for their aiding and abetting of international crimes with legal sanctions …

To read the full article, click here.


A Return to Deterrence? Corri Zoli Discusses Trump’s Counterterrorism Policy with Newsday

Donald Trump signals shift in foreign policy, counterterrorism

(Newsday | Jan. 16, 2016) President-elect Donald Trump has vowed to employ a national security strategy of “peace through strength” as the nation’s next commander-in-chief — proposing to boost military spending while re-evaluating the country’s longstanding international alliances.

“I think we’re going to see a significant return to that default mode of deterrence under Trump.”

Foreign policy and counterterrorism experts say the real estate mogul, who during the campaign proclaimed he knew more about the Islamic State terrorist group than “the generals do,” will soon be confronted with the reality that change is deliberately slow-moving in the deeply methodical worlds of military planning, intelligence gathering and diplomacy …

… Corri Zoli, director of research for the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism at Syracuse University, said Trump’s tweets and public comments signal at the United States returning to the military posture of “deterrence.”

“Our traditional posture has been one of deterrence making sure that our military and our institutions and all of our instruments of national power were so strong … ,” Zoli said. “This last administration has really backed off deterrence. Some people describe that strategy, that the Obama administration has used, and to certain degrees the Clinton administration as well, as leading from behind. This idea that you can sort of step back a little bit, promote engagement with the world, instead of showing people a hard face … this is shifting now, I think we’re going to see a significant return to that default mode of deterrence under Trump” …

… Zoli, of Syracuse University, said she believes Trump’s choice of Kelly and retired Marine Gen. James Mattis for Secretary of Defense, two battle-tested generals who are willing to oppose his controversial positions, indicates some level of willingness to seek guidance from two figures widely respected in national security circles. Mattis is often referred as the “Warrior Monk,” because he is a well-read scholar and someone who prefers diplomacy over combat to resolve major conflicts.

During his Senate confirmation hearing last week, Mattis told the panel, “We have to deliver a very hard blow against ISIS in the Middle East so there is no sense of invulnerability or invincibility there” …

To read the whole article, click here.


Obama, Kerry, & Israeli-Palestinian Realities

By Louis Kriesberg

(Re-published from Foreign Policy in Focus | Jan. 10, 2017) President Barack Obama’s decision that the US abstain on the vote at the UN Security Council regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Secretary of State John Kerry’s talk on the Israeli Palestinian conflict have been attacked too often with willful mischaracterizations. Such attacks demonstrate again how Americans are suffering from uncivil, nasty discourse, which is harmful to all parties.

“With Donald Trump’s electoral victory, another opportunity arose for Obama and Kerry to take some actions relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Obama and then Kerry worked very hard to bring about serious negotiations to reach a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians that would benefit both sides. Most people in Israel and most Jews in the US believe that would be desirable. Obama and Kerry failed due to conditions they could not control. Those many conditions are well known, and Kerry listed many of them in his speech.

Even before the US election, there was serious discussion in the Administration about publicly setting forth the parameters for a two-state solution, which had emerged from prior negotiations and mediation. That statement could have served as a platform for possible renewed negotiations early in President Hillary Clinton’s administration. With Donald Trump’s electoral victory, another opportunity arose for Obama and Kerry to take some actions relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Obama and Kerry carefully explained their actions. The US UNSCR vote was an abstention, not an affirmative vote. The vote on the resolution had no negative votes, with Russia, China, England, France and all other members voting yes. By abstaining, the US revealed the isolation that the Israeli government had created for itself with its policies regarding the Palestinians. It made clear too, that the US has other concerns and interests in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world, in addition to those of the Israeli government.

Furthermore, Benjamin Netanyahu warranted no personal favors from Obama and Kerry following his extraordinary partisan actions to fight against and subvert the work of the US and the other permanent members of the Security Council to negotiate the ending of the Iranian nuclear weapons program. Netanyahu’s acceptance of the Republican invitation to address the US Congress and deliver a fear-mongering, partisan speech was shocking.

Kerry, in his comprehensive talk at the Department of State, analyzed the obstacles to successful negotiations arising from both the Israeli and Palestinian sides, indicating what changes were needed …

Read the full article below:

Obama, Kerry, and Israeli-Palestinian Realities

INSCT Affiliated Faculty Member Louis Kriesberg is Maxwell Professor Emeritus of Social Conflict Studies at Syracuse University and the author of Realizing Peace (Oxford University Press, 2015); Louis Kriesberg: Pioneer in Peace and Constructive Conflict Resolution Studies (Springer, 2016); and co-author with Bruce Dayton of the fifth edition of Constructive Conflicts (Rowman & Littlefield, 2017).

The US Embassy in Israel: Next Year in Jerusalem?

By Miriam Elman 

(Re-published from Legal Insurrection | Nov. 13, 2016) President-elect Donald Trump campaigned on a promise that the United States would officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital city of the Jewish state.

He also vowed that when he became president he’d relocate the U.S. embassy from its current beachside location in Tel Aviv to the Holy City.

“Presidents have been relying on a national security waiver built into a 1995 law, which gets used at regular six month intervals and gives them an opportunity to suspend the embassy move.”

Now, some are saying that once he’s in the Oval Office, Trump will go back on his word.

In his outspoken reaction to the U.S. election results, PLO Executive Committee member Tayseer Khaled called Trump a liar, predicting that contrary to his promises, he wouldn’t transfer the embassy.

Even one of Trump’s own advisors is reportedly skeptical that the move will happen anytime soon. In an interview for BBC radio which was also publicized by CNN last Thursday, Walid Phares added a “caveat” to Trump’s campaign pledge: he would relocate the embassy, but only after a “consensus” had been reached.

So will Trump do what he said he’d do?

As I discuss further below, there’s a very good chance that among the Trump administration’s first moves will be to follow through on a campaign promise that his predecessors have reneged on for the last two decades.

Stalling on the Will of the American People

As we noted in an earlier post, moving the embassy would break with over two decades of bipartisan White House policy to circumvent the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, a law that passed by wide margins (93-5 in the Senate and 374-37 in the House). It calls for Jerusalem to remain an “undivided city” and for the U.S. to recognize it as Israel’s capital.

It also stipulated that the embassy be moved no later than May 31, 1999.

For years presidential hopefuls have been vowing to move the embassy as required by law. But then, once in office, they invariably fail to honor the commitment made on the campaign trail.

The campaign promises keep getting broken because successive administrations have been reluctant to formalize the relocation, continually citing concerns that the move would upset the prospects for a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

Basically, as explained in the prior post, presidents have been relying on a national security waiver built into a 1995 law, which gets used at regular six month intervals and gives them an opportunity to suspend the embassy move.

Here’s a copy of the standard text that’s been sent like clockwork to the Secretary of State:


SUBJECT: Suspension of Limitations under the Jerusalem Embassy Act

Pursuant to the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, including section 7(a) of the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 (Public Law 104-45) (the ‘Act’), I hereby determine that it is necessary, in order to protect the national security interests of the United States, to suspend for a period of 6 months the limitations set forth in sections 3(b) and 7(b) of the Act.

You are authorized and directed to transmit this determination to the Congress, accompanied by a report in accordance with section 7(a) of the Act, and to publish the determination in the Federal Register.

This Suspension shall take effect after the transmission of this determination and report to the Congress.


So Bill Clinton, George Bush, and Barack Obama have routinely blocked the relocation of the embassy while saying that the U.S. is still committed to doing it.

Meanwhile, Congress continues to periodically call for the move (see here and here).

Trump Promises to Move the US Embassy in Israel

Back in March, at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference in Washington, D.C., one of the biggest applause lines in Trump’s remarks was his promise to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem:

“We will move the American embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem” …

To read the full blog, click here.

INSCT Faculty Member Miriam F. Elman is an Associate Professor of Political Science in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University.

The Al-Qaeda Franchise: The Expansion of Al-Qaeda & Its Consequences

By Isaac Kfir

Review of The Al-Qaeda Franchise: The Expansion of Al-Qaeda & Its Consequences by Barak Mendelsohn (Oxford, 2016)

In The Al-Qaeda Franchise, Barak Mendelsohn offers an interesting view of al-Qaeda’s strategy over the last decade, specifically what he describes as its franchising strategy. The book, with a rather ambitious thesis, assesses how this franchising strategy impacted the organization and in doing so makes some suggestions to policymakers as to how they should devise a counterterrorism strategy. In making this argument, Mendelsohn seeks to show that the franchising strategy has not made al-Qaeda more dangerous nor stronger, but rather has weakened it, as it has had to adapt to local conditions and demands.

“Mendelsohn’s argument is that although in 2003 and 2004 when policymakers looked at al-Qaeda’s operation in Saudi Arabia and Iraq and saw an organization they thought was strong, in fact it was far from that. “

The book has two principal sections. The first, which is far more interesting, lays out the theoretical framework, whereas the second part, chapters 6 to 9, provides case studies to support Mendelsohn’s theoretical exposition.

The author’s theoretical framework is effectively a typology of formal organizational expansion, where he distinguishes between absorption, branching out, unification, and umbrella groups (each is given its own chapter later on in the book, though the main focus of the book is with the branching out strategy). These approaches to expansion are distinct, and although there may be some overlap, by his focusing on the type of expansion, insight emerges as to the objective of the organization and the threat they pose. Such an approach could be enormously useful for policymakers as they struggle with various counterterrorism policies.

In discussing the various expansion strategies, Mendelsohn correctly asserts that organizational expansion operates at a higher level than operational adaptation in that the former demands a willingness to accept structural changes, whereas the latter focuses mainly on tactics. In laying out this basic premise, Mendelsohn provides support to those who argue that al-Qaeda’s ideology is not merely theological, emphasizing a need for strict adherence, but rather is flexible. Put differently, instead of seeing al-Qaeda as an uncompromising, dogmatic terror group, Mendelsohn sees it as a rational actor, committed to expanding its influence even if it is at the cost of its theological cohesion.

To understand the expansion strategy, particularly when it comes to branching out, there is a need to consider what Mendelsohn calls the actors-based perspective and the arena-based perspective. The former essentially refers to psychological elements that impact upon the group and its leaders. The latter has three considerations. First, ideational values. This means that an arena becomes attractive to a group not only because of religious or historical aspects, but also for ideological reasons. Thus, Saudi Arabia, Iraq or Palestine, for instance, are attractive to a group such as al-Qaeda, as each combines all three elements: religion, history and ideology. That is, these locals have religious, historical and ideological values for existing and having potential recruits.

The second consideration is a strategic value, which is when an organization identifies certain fronts as being vital for its overall mission success. In the case of al-Qaeda, its strategic area of choice was the Middle East, as noted by al-Zawahiri in 2001 when he called for the organization to establish a base in the Middle East. Oddly enough though, al-Qaeda has not been very successful in this region; as seen for example with its failure to establish a base in Saudi Arabia or Palestine. The third consideration is internal characteristics, because when one introduces new actors into a group, the group naturally changes.

The next chapters analyze the franchising strategy. The first attempt was in Saudi Arabia, with the founding of an al-Qaeda branch in the Kingdom (al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) and the merger with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s group, Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad (TWJ, Organization of Monotheism and Jihad), which operated in Iraq following the US invasion.

Mendelsohn’s argument is that although in 2003 and 2004 when policymakers looked at al-Qaeda’s operation in Saudi Arabia and Iraq and saw an organization they thought was strong, in fact it was far from that. The al-Qaeda branch in Saudi Arabia had suffered devastating losses mainly because of the counteroffensive policies of the Saudi regime. This not only claimed the lives of al-Qaeda recruits, but forced the regime to take a proactive stance against the organization …

To read the whole review, click here.

Isaac Kfir, Associate Professor at Tokyo International University, is an INSCT Research and Practice Associate.

Running for Cover: Syrian Conflict Will Be the Subject of Media, Law, & Politics Dialog

running-for-cover-syrian-conflictAccountability in the Syrian conflict will be the focus of a daylong event hosted by the Newhouse Center for Global Engagement in Syracuse University’s  S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications next month. “Running for Cover: Politics, Justice and Media in the Syrian Conflict” will take place Oct. 6, 2016, beginning at 9 a.m. in the Joyce Hergenhan Auditorium, Newhouse 3. The event will be streamed live at http://newhouseglobal.syr.edu. Follow on Twitter at #SUSyria.

The event will analyze the international community’s response to the Syrian conflict and its effects, as well as the challenges to reporting the war, developing political solutions, and seeking justice for victims. The interactive event is designed as a “fishbowl” conversation among academics, policymakers, human rights advocates, journalists, and the audience. Participants will explore how the international community captures news and images from the conflict, investigates alleged war crimes and human rights violations, and protects refugees. They also will discuss lessons learned from this conflict that might inform the response to future conflicts.

“Our aim is to critique the failures of the international response to the Syrian conflict and introduce ways in which we can collectively achieve positive change,” says Ken Harper, director of the Newhouse Center for Global Engagement and chief organizer of the event. “We are crafting the event to be less of a ‘sage on the stage’ and more of a ‘guide on the side’ experience. We hope it’s a useful event that speaks to the seriousness of the situation and honors those suffering with an honest conversation.”

A series of five panel discussions will cover a range of topics. An empty chair will allow audience members to join and rotate through each panel. Syrian activists on the ground and around the world will be invited to participate anonymously via social media.


Opening Remarks

Newhouse Dean Lorraine Branham and Ken Harper

The Geopolitical Situation in Syria

Panelists will address the historical context of the conflict and offer a critique of the political, military, and humanitarian responses of the international community, including an assessment of where we stand now.  

Facilitator: Sherine Tadros, Representative and Head of New York (UN) Office, Amnesty International.

Panelists: Lamis Abdelaaty, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Maxwell School; Bassam al-Ahmad, Executive Director, Syrians for Truth and Justice; Consultant, International Federation for Human Rights; and former Spokesperson, Violations Documentation Center in Syria; William Banks, Founding Director, Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism, Syracuse University; and Mehrzad Boroujerdi, Chair of Political Science, Maxwell School.

Accountability for Atrocity

This panel will explore the various justice options available to the people of Syria and the surrounding region who are victims of the atrocities committed during the Syrian conflict, and the likelihood of those options being utilized by the international community.

Facilitator: David Crane, Founding Director, Syrian Accountability Project, SU College of Law.

Panelists: Bill Wiley, Head of Operations, Commission for International Justice and Accountability and Radwan Ziadeh, senior analyst, Arab Center Washington DC, and founder and director, Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies.

The Media’s Role

A once well-funded international press corps has been depleted to the point where accurate reporting on one of the most complex conflicts of the 21st century is almost impossible. This panel will look at how the conflict has been reported and how reportage can be improved.

Facilitator: Hub Brown, Associate Dean for Research, Creativity, International Initiatives, and Diversity, Newhouse School.

Panelists: Roy Gutman, former Foreign Editor, McClatchy and Newsday; Ned Parker, Enterprise Reporter, Reuters; Reza, Photojournalist, National Geographic, and Founder, Reza Visual Academy; and Ben Taub, Contributing Writer, newyorker.com; Sherine Tadros, Representative and Head of New York (UN) Office, Amnesty International.

Social Media in Reporting War

Social media has forever changed the way we report on and bear witness to conflict and atrocities. This panel will explore the intersection of social justice and oppression. Is social media aiding transparency and accountability in Syria or is it a tool of oppression?

Facilitator: Jennifer Grygiel, Assistant Professor of Communications, Newhouse School.

Panelists: Ammar Abdulhamid, President, Tharwa Foundation; Andrew Beiter, Education Director, I Am Syria; and Fadi Hussein, Co-Founder, Instant Reporting Team.

Next Steps

Now what? This panel will discuss current and new initiatives from NGOs, media, governments, and the academic community that address the complex challenges of the Syrian conflict and outline action items for moving forward. 

Facilitator: Ken Harper

Panelists: Beiter; Gutman; Wiley; and Elijah Shama, Founder, Reporters Without Borders SU Chapter.

Closing Remarks

David Crane

PLUS … An exhibit featuring photos of those directly affected by the Syrian conflict will be on display inside and at the entrance to the Joyce Hergenhan Auditorium. Images are provided by Pictures of the Year International and Ed Kashi of VII Photo Agency and Talking Eyes, as well as from the special gallery “Exile Voices,” which comprises images taken by children at Kawergosk Refugee Camp in northern Iraq as part of the Reza Visual Academy.

For more information, visit http://newhouseglobal.syr.edu/event/syria.

The conference is co-sponsored by the International Relations and Middle Eastern Studies programs in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism Carol Becker Middle East Security Speaker Series. Additional support comes from Impunity Watch and the Syrian Accountability Project (SU College of Law) and the Alexia Foundation.  

INSCT Middle East Icon-mwedit050616-01

National Security for Israel in an Unstable Middle East: Prospects for a Two-State Reality, with Gilead Sher

Date: Thursday, Sept. 29, 2016

Time: 2 p.m. – 3 p.m.

Location: 341 Eggers Hall (Moynihan Institute Large Conference Room)

Part of the Carol Becker Middle East Security Speaker Series

Gilead_Sher_NewGilead Sher heads the Center for Applied Negotiations (CAN) and is a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) at Tel Aviv University.

Sher was the Head of Bureau and Policy Coordinator of Israel’s former Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Ehud Barak. He served as Chief and co-Chief negotiator in 1999-2001 at the Camp David summit and the Taba talks, as well as in extensive rounds of covert negotiations. He served under Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin as delegate to the 1994-1995 Interim Agreement negotiations with the Palestinians. Sher holds the rank of colonel (reserve), and he is a former brigade commander and deputy division commander in the Armored Corps of the IDF, as well as a military judge.

Sher is an attorney and senior partner in Gilead Sher & Co., Law Offices. His practice areas include corporate law; project finance; international business ventures, investments and transactions; constitutional law; and dispute resolution. Sher’s professional career combines the practice of law, policy planning and implementation, academic research, and involvement in civil society organizations. He is involved in various frameworks that deal with the future of Israel and the Middle East, preparations for regional conflict resolutions, and dialogue with official and non-official interlocutors in Israel and abroad.

As author, opinion leader and researcher Sher publishes books, articles, op-eds, studies and research in national and international media. His book The Israeli-Palestinian Peace Negotiations, 1999-2001: Within Reach was published in Hebrew (Yedioth Aharonot), Arabic (Darjalil), and English (Routledge, 2006). He recently co-edited Negotiating in Times of Conflict, an edited volume published by the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) comprising 15 chapters by 20 international contributors. His book The Battle for Home was published by Yedioth Aharonot in April 2016. His upcoming book as co-editor is Spoilers and Coping with Spoilers in Israeli Peacemaking forthcoming in 2017.

Sher was a visiting professor on Conflict Resolution and Negotiations at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania (2001-2011) and taught at the Tel Aviv University’s Conflict Resolution and Mediation MA Program (2007-2013). He is the founding co-chairman of the non-partisan movement Blue White Future, which seeks to help resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and promote a two-state reality.

Sher serves as chairman of the executive board and the board of trustees of Sapir Academic College, the largest public college in Israel. He is a former board member at The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, a former president of Israel Shotokan Karate Association (Fifth Dan), a former chairman of the Sam Spiegel Film and Television School in Jerusalem and a member of the Council for Peace and Security.

Jewish Studies Program
Middle Eastern Studies (MES) program
Moynihan Institute of Global Affairs
Program for the Advancement of Research on Conflict and Collaboration (PARCC)


Are Hamas Rockets Terrorism? Hollywood Weighs in

By Lauren Mellinger (JD/MAIR ’10)

(Re-Published from Strife, June 30, 2016) On June 20, 2016, NBC Universal (Universal Cable Productions) filed a lawsuit in a California federal court against its insurer, Atlantic Specialty Insurance Company. At first glance the case appears to be a typical dispute over a contract—a Hollywood production company is suing its insurer for failure to pay the expenses incurred due to last minute decisions made by the production company in response to the last round of fighting between Hamas and Israel during the summer of 2014. Yet, at the centre of the case lies the question: Whether Hamas’s rocket attacks during that conflict should be classified as a war between sovereign nations, or as the militant acts of a terrorist group.

“The fact that Atlantic can even ask the court to entertain its argument is due to what has amounted over the past decade, if not longer, to an ‘accepted ambiguity’ in international law and policymaking regarding Hamas.”

Summer 2014: A Brief Overview of Operation Protective Edge

On June 12, 2014, three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and murdered in the West Bank. Hamas would later claim responsibility for the attack but in the ensuing weeks, Israel cracked down on Hamas operatives in the West Bank, and Hamas in Gaza responded with a barrage of rocket fire. On July 7, over 85 Hamas rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel, for which Hamas claimed responsibility. The next day, the Israel Defense Forces launched Operation Protective Edge. Neither Israel nor Hamas wanted the conflict to escalate – becoming the third in a series of rounds in a war of attrition that has existed between the two sides since Hamas took control of Gaza in June 2007. The operation lasted seven weeks, ending in a cease-fire on August 26.

Now for the obvious question – Why is the operation suddenly being featured in The Hollywood Reporter?

Enter Hollywood

In the summer of 2015, USA network aired the miniseries Dig, the television show at the centre of this lawsuit. When production began the previous summer, the plan was for the mystery-conspiracy-thriller which is set in Jerusalem to film on location in Israel – the location shoot being integral to the creative process. Indeed at a panel at that summer’s annual Comic-Con, Dig’s creators boasted that “[s]hooting there [in Jerusalem] is paramount to the story in capturing the vividness and emphasizing the characters of the show.”

But when the violence broke out that June, only the pilot episode had been filmed. Following a week-long unplanned hiatus (an expensive undertaking for a production company, especially on an overseas location shoot), Universal opted to relocate filming to New Mexico and Croatia for the duration of production for that season. Due to the unanticipated relocation, Universal incurred $6.9 million in unforeseen costs. When Universal submitted a claim to its insurer, Atlantic, for reimbursement, the company denied the claim.

So far – a typical contractual dispute. But now for the added twist:

According to Universal Cable Productions, of which USA Network is a subsidiary, after the violence broke out, the U.S. State Department attributed the rocket attacks to Hamas. At that point, Universal argues, it submitted a claim to Atlantic, which then denied coverage.

In their complaint, Universal maintains that Atlantic’s rationale for failing to reimburse the production company contravenes the official policy of the U.S. government, which to date has not recognised Hamas as a sovereign government. Indeed according to the documents filed with the court, Universal argues that:

“[t]he United States government has officially designated Hamas as a terrorist organisation. Nevertheless, Atlantic has ignored the United States government position and applicable law. It claims Hamas is a sovereign or quasi-sovereign government over the Gaza Strip (even though Atlantic admits the Gaza Strip is not a recognized sovereign nation), in a self-serving attempt to invoke the war exclusion and avoid its coverage obligations.”

Atlantic maintains that the company denied Universal’s claim on the grounds that, per the terms of the contract, coverage is excluded for war or warlike actions. According to documents filed with the court, Atlantic stated that the company informed Universal in a letter dated July 28, 2014 that at the time “the terrorism coverage should not apply” to the events of July 2014, as Hamas’s actions did not target either the United States or its policies, and that “the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury has not certified the [Hamas/Israel] events as acts of terrorism.”

Barring any issue of justiciability per U.S. law, should the case proceed, the California federal court will be forced to confront an issue that has seemingly confounded policymakers and international jurists since January 2006: How to define Hamas.

The Challenge of Defining Hamas

While it is too early in the proceedings to state with certainty, the likelihood is that Atlantic is not taking a stand on political grounds. Rather, it is more likely that they saw the amount incurred by Universal when production was moved at the eleventh hour, and looked for a loophole that would allow them to avoid payment. The fact that Atlantic can even ask the court to entertain its argument is due to what has amounted over the past decade, if not longer, to an “accepted ambiguity” in international law and policymaking regarding Hamas …

To read the complete blog, click here.

INSCT alumna Lauren Mellinger (JD/MAIR ’10) is a doctoral candidate in War Studies at King’s College, London, and a senior editor of Strife’s blog and journal. Her research specializes in Israeli counterterrorism and foreign policy and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. You can follow her on Twitter @Lauren_M04.

David M. Crane, Syrian Accountability Project Profiled in Der Spiegel

Unimaginable Horrors: The War-Crimes Lawyer Hunting Bashar Assad

(Der Spiegel | June 6, 2016) Is it allowable to kill Bashar al-Assad? “It is,” says university professor David Crane, “under certain circumstances.” He asks the question to one of his students during a lecture, then answers it immediately himself, without any discernable emotion.

At such times, the friendly professor turns into a fierce lawyer, unafraid of travelling to the world’s more uncomfortable places.

Crane was once a chief prosecutor for the United Nations, but these days, he is a professor at Syracuse University’s College of Law in the state of New York. As a lawyer, when he sees Assad, he doesn’t see a monster, he sees a case. And it’s a case that he wants to bring before a court.

Syracuse is a city of 145,000 inhabitants in the so-called Rust Belt, an industrial region approximately four hours by car from New York City. The University of Syracuse has a good reputation, especially when it comes to law.

It is here where Crane, shortly after the beginning of the Syrian civil war, established a kind of student public prosecutor’s office. Together with their professors, students are preparing for the day when Assad’s war crimes will hopefully be tried before an international court. They call it the Syrian Accountability Project.

Crane’s appearance is unremarkable, with a light-colored shirt, gray wool trousers and dark glasses. But he comes alive when he talks about what drives him: the opportunity to use legal powers to confront unimaginable horrors.

At such times, the friendly professor turns into a fierce lawyer, unafraid of travelling to the world’s more uncomfortable places. It was Crane who, in 2003, indicted one of Africa’s most powerful dictators, Charles Taylor, in Freetown, Sierra Leone. In 2012, Taylor was sentenced to 50 years in jail. Liberia’s former president is being held responsible for the death of over 100,000 people and is currently being kept in an English prison, which he will likely never leave.

Detailed Tally

Crane and his students hope that either the United Nations or post-war Syria decide one day to establish a special tribunal to prosecute the conflict’s war criminals. Indeed, they are collecting evidence as if such a court already existed, comparing sources from around the world, checking eyewitness reports and communicating with human rights organizations. They comb through government reports and media articles as completely and thoroughly as possible. They are keeping precise records of this war, documenting every day, thus creating the world’s most complete matrix of war crimes in Syria. It is an index of horrors, up-to-date versions of which Crane regularly sends to the UN and the International Criminal Court.

The young people staying up all night to do this are doctoral candidates, like Molly White, 24, from Michigan. Even as a child, she was fascinated by serial killers and the fragility of civilization. With the Syrian Accountability Project, she is motivated by the idea of working on something that “will change the world,” instead of ending up in the trash can …

To read the complete profile, click here.

Global Media Coverage

ISIS Genocide Declaration: David M. Crane Testifies at House Foreign Affairs Sub-Committee Hearing

Crane_Chris_Smith_House_Cttee-052616_1On May 26, 2016, INSCT Faculty Member David M. Crane testified before the US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations at the Rayburn building in Washington, DC. Sub-committee Chair Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) convened the hearing to discuss “The ISIS Genocide Declaration: What Next?

Crane, a Professor of Practice at the SU College of Law, was one of five witnesses (see below), invited by Rep. Smith. Crane brought to the hearing his experience as former Chief Prosecutor of the United Nations Special Court for Sierra Leone and his recent work on both the Caesar Report, which brought to light allegations of systematic torture and murder by the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and the Syrian Accountability Project, whose most recent white paper has documented sexual crimes by all sides during the Syrian Civil War.

During their testimony, expert witnesses voiced safety concerns and a need to identify an enduring resolution for displaced persons affected by the civil war. The chairman, a Republican, also criticized the “lack of action” by the Administration of President Barack Obama following its March 2016 declaration that Islamic State is committing acts of genocide against ethnic and religious groups, such as Christians and Yezidis. After listing concerns about the Administration repeating mistakes even after its genocide declaration, Smith emphasized that “there is no easy, single solution to the threats to religious and ethnic minorities, and other civilians, in Iraq and Syria [but] complexity must never be an excuse for indifference and inaction.” Click here to read Smith’s full statement.

Crane_Chris_Smith_House_Cttee-052616_3However, Crane emphasized that “we can take realistic steps to start an accountability mechanism for the region, particularly as it relates to ISIS atrocity. If we have the political will we can establish a truth commission, a domestic court or an internationalized domestic court, and a hybrid regional court.” He noted that in March 2016, the House overwhelmingly passed House Concurrent Resolution 121, authored by Smith, calling for “the establishment of a war crimes tribunal where these crimes could be addressed.” Click here to read Crane’s full statement.


Hearing Witnesses & Testimony

Carl A. Anderson
Supreme Knight
Knights of Columbus
[full text of statement]

Sarhang Hamasaeed
Senior Program Officer
Middle East and Africa Programs
U.S. Institute of Peace
[full text of statement]

Johnny Oram
Executive Director
Chaldean Assyrian Business Alliance
[full text of statement]

David M. Crane
Professor of Practice
Syracuse University College of Law
(Former Chief Prosecutor, United Nations Special Court for Sierra Leone)
[full text of statement]

Naomi Kikoler
Deputy Director
Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
[full text of statement]