Why didn’t the CIA know about the October 7 attack by Gazans in advance?

Today is the anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, an intelligence failure so spectacular that it has spawned what the righteous fondly refer to as “conspiracy theories,” e.g., that Roosevelt actually knew about the attack in advance. Certainly the U.S. did have enough warning to have launched fighter planes and manned antiaircraft guns (see “The Three Missed Tactical Warnings That Could Have Made a Difference at Pearl Harbor”), but radar alerts were ignored.

One parallel between Pearl Harbor and recent events is that the Japanese did not expect the U.S. to wage total war in response to the attack. There was supposed to be a negotiation, after which the Japanese government would remain in power and in a stronger position than before. One theory is that the Islamic Resistance Movement (“Hamas”) set up October 7 as a way to take Israeli soldiers hostage and then exchange them for Palestinians who had been convicted of stabbings, car bombings, shootings, etc. and sentenced to prison. However, ordinary civilian Gazans followed Hamas into Israel and, lacking the discipline of Hamas soldiers, proceeded to rape, maim, and kill as well as take civilians as hostages. As a result of the unplanned orgy of violence, Israel chose the unexpected (by Hamas) path of partial war (nothing like the brutality of what the U.S. did to the Japanese) with the goal of removing Hamas from its position as the legitimately elected government of Gaza.

Let’s go back to the intelligence failure aspect, however. The Central Intelligence Agency has over 21,000 employees (that Wikipedia knows about). The fighting after the October 7 attack motivated the U.S. to move an aircraft carrier to the Mediterranean. Thus, even if the October 7 attack couldn’t have been stopped, it would have been valuable for the U.S. to know about it in advance. We pay about $100 billion per year for intelligence, central and otherwise. Why didn’t we have some agents and/or informants in Gaza who could have told CIA Langley (“George Bush Center for Intelligence”!) about the attack in advance?

From The Puzzler (2022, A.J. Jacobs):

In 1988, the CIA commissioned a Maryland-based artist named Jim Sanborn to create a sculpture for its expanding headquarters. The agency wanted to install some art that would be relevant to its mission of cracking secrets. Sanborn’s sculpture, Kryptos (Greek for “hidden”), was unveiled in 1990, located in a courtyard abutting the CIA cafeteria. Kryptos is a wavy wall of copper about twenty feet long and twelve feet high. Into the copper, Sanborn has carved about eighteen hundred seemingly random letters and four question marks. It’s a code, a secret message. No one knows the solution except Sanborn and possibly the former director of the CIA (Sanborn has hinted he didn’t tell the director everything). Thirty years later, the code has not been fully cracked—even by the CIA itself.

I ask Sanborn what it was like to create Kryptos. It wasn’t easy, he says. He had to get lessons in cryptology from a retiring CIA agent. And as for the sculpting itself, “I went through fifteen different assistants, nine hundred jigsaw blades, and twelve Bosch jigsaws over two and a half years,” Sanborn says.

From the CIA’s page:

Loosely related… “U.S. Navy Rescues Ship From Pirate Attack in Gulf of Aden” (New York Times):

The U.S. Navy intervened to stop the hijacking of a commercial cargo ship by pirates in the Gulf of Aden near Somalia on Sunday, after which two ballistic missiles were fired from Yemen toward the Navy destroyer that responded to the incident, the U.S. military said.

The ballistic missiles were fired from the part of Yemen controlled by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, according to a statement released by U.S. Central Command, which oversees American military operations in the region. If the missiles were meant to hit the U.S.S. Mason, a Navy destroyer, they fell well short of the mark: They landed in the Gulf of Aden 10 nautical miles from the American ship.

From CNN… “Missiles fired from Yemen toward US warship that responded to attack on commercial tanker”:

Two ballistic missiles were fired from Houthi rebel-controlled Yemen toward a US warship in the Gulf of Aden, after the US Navy responded to a distress call from a commercial tanker that had been seized by armed individuals, the US military said Sunday. … The incident comes after Iran-backed Houthi forces launched numerous attacks against US interests in the region… Last week, the USS Thomas Hudner shot down multiple one-way attack drones launched from Yemen while it was patrolling in the Red Sea. On November 15, the Hudner also shot down a drone believed to have been heading toward the ship.

The “Houthi rebels” are the de facto government of Yemen right now, ruling over 80 percent of the population and controlling the capital city. We pay about $250 billion per year to keep the Navy and Marines going. Why aren’t the Houthis afraid that there will be some consequence to firing missiles at U.S. Navy ships? (For that matter, I guess, why didn’t the Islamic Resistance Movement (“Hamas”) immediately release all American hostages that it grabbed on October 7, 2023 for fear of being attacked by the U.S. Navy?)

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The War in Gaza and the O.J. Simpson Bronco Chase

It has been two months since the Islamic Resistance Movement (“Hamas”), Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and various Gazan civilians invaded Israel. Ever since that October 7 attack, the Israeli military (“IDF”) has been pursuing the freedom fighters around Gaza without any dramatic successes. I wonder if this can be compared to the O.J. Simpson Bronco chase.

Unlike most countries, including the U.S., when Israel finds something or someone that it wants to destroy inside a building, it warns the people inside to get out. The result is that Israel blows up a lot of empty buildings. Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and non-combatants who don’t want to be martrys are all gone by the time the bomb falls or the missile strikes. Maybe the next day, Israel finds out where Hamas’s soldiers are and the process is repeated without a single Hamas soldier being killed or taken prisoner. This leads to the question “What is the military value of destroying an empty building?”

Here are some possible answers:

  • the building contained important military equipment that would have taken more than a few hours to move
  • the building was on top of a tunnel entrance and collapsing it keeps the tunnel from being used
  • the building is next to a planned infantry/tank approach to another target and destroying it prevents freedom fighters from using the building as cover

I would love it if someone could explain which of the above is correct or if there is some other explanation.

This is not to say that I agree with Palestinians polled who believe that their victory over Israel is assured. I think it is possible that two months of small successes could eventually lead to an ultimate big success.

Separately, can someone explain this IDF video of a fight against Hamas/Islamic Jihad soldiers who were inside a couple of schools?

(As noted previously here, I disagree with the video’s reference to “terrorists” to refer to men who carry guns on behalf of the freely elected government of Gaza, even those men kill civilians whenever possible.)

All of the civilians moved out of this area weeks earlier, according to the video, so that’s what the soldiers believed. If you were on the ground and taking fire from a nearby building, wouldn’t you call in an airstrike or artillery strike against the building rather than risk your opponent having some successful shots? Why risk your life to save US/EU taxpayers from having to buy the Palestinians a new school? I don’t think that there is an argument that children would be disadvantaged by the destruction of an empty school building. There is no limit to the UNRWA aid guarantee and, therefore, a new building would be built in short order. Maybe the argument is that Israel doesn’t want to destroy UNRWA assets so as to maintain good relations with UNRWA, but to judge by Twitter the UNRWA folks already hate Israel and already say that Israel blows up their schools and other stuff “indiscriminately”. If there ever was a time for indiscriminately blowing up a building, when better than as the enemy is shooting at you from that building?

In yesterday’s New York Times:

The explanation for the fighting, as opposed to just bombing, doesn’t seem to apply to the school situation:

Hamas fighters are embedded in the strip’s densely packed buildings and hidden in an expansive network of underground tunnels, making close-quarters fighting unavoidable, Israeli officials said.

I still can’t figure out why the tunnels weren’t all located with ground-penetrating radar and then destroyed weeks ago (see Will the Gaza tunnel network prove to be Hamas’s Maginot Line?).

The Wall Street Journal implies that the O.J. chase will come to an end shortly.

Israeli forces closed in on southern Gaza’s largest city in what is becoming a decisive battle of the two-month-old war with Hamas.

Israeli forces moving into the militants’ stronghold of Khan Younis are entering a battleground of narrow streets packed with displaced Palestinians. In close-quarters combat, Hamas fighters there are defending their last major bastion in Gaza, home to its leader, Yahya Sinwar, and the location where Israel believes the group’s other leaders are hiding and holding hostages.

An Israeli victory in Khan Younis would likely corner remaining Hamas fighters in small areas in central Gaza and close to the Egyptian border, surrounded by Israeli troops. And it could heighten intense international pressure on Israel to end the war and seek a settlement that frees more than 100 hostages and ends Hamas’s rule in Gaza.

I don’t see why the fighters couldn’t go back to the north, but maybe the IDF has already spoiled the tunnels up there.

In favor of the WSJ’s theory that doom is at hand for Hamas is the intensified tweetstorm from Hamas allies calling for ceasefires. Doctors without Borders (MSF) is posting almost hourly (they have multiple accounts, one from each affiliate country) demands for Israel to surrender (i.e., a “ceasefire” in which Hamas remains in control of Gaza). My favorite MSF tweet is one in which they complain that the cars they left parked on the street were trashed when an Israeli tank column came through. They separately claimed that innocent children are being killed everywhere in Gaza, but their primary concern is for their own cars.

My response:

UNRWA tweets have gone from maximum hysteria to double secret maximum hysteria, each one yielding responses from Twitter users reminding them that one hostage says he was imprisoned by a UNRWA teacher. Example:

My assumption is that Hamas will just melt into the civilian population that overwhelmingly supports it and the war will fizzle out, but I’m usually wrong so maybe the WSJ is correct that there will be a dramatic event soon.

Update, December 7:

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Californians: assorted humans with nothing in common

Readers will be familiar with repeated questions of how our asylum-based immigration system is supposed to work. People are invited to become U.S. residents and then citizens based on a fear of violence in their country of birth. Thus, immigrants to the U.S. may have no affinity for the U.S. and nothing in common with other immigrants or natives other than a desire to avoid being killed.

Let’s see how this is playing out in California, the U.S. leader in diversity via immigration (stats below). A native-born Jew disagreed with a Muslim immigrant and the Jew ended up dead (Wikipedia).

Paul Kessler was an instrument-rated Private pilot. I couldn’t find much else that was authoritative about him.

Loay Alnaji (from a memory-holed web page at Ventura County Community College; pulled from the Google cache):

Note that “surahmeaning.com”, listed as part of his personal contact info, may relate to chapters in the Koran (“Surah“).

Are these the only two Californians who’ve been fighting recently? Let’s check this ironic headline from ABC:

Some detail on the event from the Paper of the Deplorables… “Gal Gadot’s screening [in Los Angeles] of Hamas terror attack film ends in mass brawls between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian protesters” (New York Post, November 9, 2023):

Police officers were already out in force around the ironically named Museum of Tolerance for the “Wonder Woman” actress’s screening of “Bearing Witness to the October 7th Massacre,” which uses Israel Defense Forces footage.

Even so, wild videos posted online showed people waving Israeli flags and brawling in the streets with pro-Palestinian protesters — kicking and punching one another.

Police formed a skirmish line in an effort to control the unruly crowd — and ultimately used pepper spray, according to ABC 7.

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass decried the violence in the aftermath.

“We’re not antisemitic, we’re anti-Zionist,” the unidentified protester told Rolling Stone.


At a decolonization rally in Los Angeles: the crowd chants “we are all Palestinians” and promises to “globalize the intifada”. Nobody wants to go to Gaza (via Egypt/tunnels) or the West Bank (easy) and fight on the side of virtue (see Why won’t the people who say that Israel is committing genocide go to Gaza and fight?). So “globalize the intifada” has to mean something that can be done in the U.S. and, likely, in California. Is it fighting with Jews in the streets? Fighting against Jewish-owned businesses? Fighting against fellow residents of California who support continued ties with Israel? Preventing fellow Californians from using the Bay Bridge (cost $6.5 billion in pre-Biden money to repair earthquake damage, up from an original budget of $250 million)?

A well-coordinated group of hundreds of Pro-Palestine protesters shut down the Bay Bridge on Thursday morning, tying up traffic during rush hour and calling out to world leaders to end the war in Gaza during the APEC summit.

The four-hour chaotic event, which started around 7:45 a.m., ended with at least 70 arrests and 29 towed cars. All lanes finally reopened just before noon, but not after at least 200 protesters had chained themselves together and purposefully tossed their car keys into the bay, stalling efforts to reopen the span to frustrated drivers.

Is it fair to say that the conflict in and around Gaza has exposed the fact that Californias have little or nothing in common?

And on the other coast… “Two women arrested in NYC attack on Jewish victim who confronted them for tearing down hostage posters: cops” (New York Post):

Mehwish Omer, 26, surrendered to police Monday morning and was charged with assault and criminal mischief — both as hate crimes — in connection to the attack on the 41-year-old woman at the corner of Riverside Drive and West 82nd Street just before 10 p.m. Nov. 9, authorities said.

Her alleged accomplice, Stephanie Gonzalez, 25, was cuffed a week earlier and also faces a hate crime assault rap, as well as an attempted robbery charge, cops said.

The duo allegedly assaulted the victim — ripping off her Star of David necklace and knocking a cellphone out of her hand — after she challenged them for ripping the “Missing Persons” posters from a light pole at the intersection, according to police.

“Mehwish” is an Islamic first name, according to The Google. “Gonzalez” suggests a Latinx individual. The victim was, presumably, Jewish. Diversity was supposed to be New York’s strength, but these three did not have enough shared values to avoid a physical fight.

What about the next stop south on I-95? “Philadelphia Jewish Restaurant Targeted With ‘Genocide’ Chants” (Newsweek):

Philadelphia lawmakers and Jewish commentators have hit out at demonstrators who targeted a falafel restaurant in Philadelphia owned by an Israeli Jewish chef, chanting slogans accusing it of “genocide.”

On Sunday, footage emerged of a group of pro-Palestinian demonstrators gathering outside Goldie on midtown Sansom Street who were chanting “Goldie, Goldie you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide.”

According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, the march was organized by the Philly Palestine Coalition, which in October called for a boycott of “Zionist”-owned businesses in the city, including Goldie outlets and others owned by Michael Solomonov.

At the same time, other video footage of a demonstration near the University of Pennsylvania campus in Philadelphia showed protestors chanting “intifada revolution” and “long live the intifada,” though it is unclear if it is the same group that congregated outside Goldie.

Same question: How is diversity Philadelphia’s strength if the motley assemblage has nothing in common other than mutual animosity?

Circling back to California, it is the state with the highest percentage of immigrants, around 27 percent of the total population. How does that compare to the nation as a whole? “In October 2023, the Foreign-Born Share Was the Highest in History” (from the haters):

The Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS) shows that the total foreign-born or immigrant population (legal and illegal) was 49.5 million in October 2023 — a 4.5 million increase since President Biden took office and a new record high. At 15 percent, the foreign-born share of the U.S. population is also the highest ever recorded in American history. … The scale of immigration is so high that it appears to have made the new Census Bureau population projections, published on November 9 of this year, obsolete. The bureau projected that the foreign-born share was not supposed to hit 15 percent until 2033. … While a large share of the recent foreign-born growth is due to illegal immigration, legal immigrants still account for three-fourths of the total foreign-born population.

So… California shows us what the U.S. will be like if present trends continue. It wasn’t a great place for either Paul Kessler (now dead) or Loay Alnaji (the immigrant now embroiled in the criminal justice system; he couldn’t have killed a Jew if he’d hadn’t emigrated because Islamic countries have been almost entirely free of Jews since the late 1940s (900,000 Jews were forced out by Muslim neighbors or emigrated to Israel voluntarily)).

Previous posts regarding immigrants who did not enjoy diversity in the U.S.:

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Pussy Riot in Montreal

The Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art was ordered shut by Covidcrats in 2020 and allowed to reopen in February 2021. Just a couple of months later, the museum closed for a renovation that was supposed to be complete in 2024 but, according to the lady who sold me a ticket to the temporary exhibit space in a nearby underground mall, is now on track to be finished in 2028.

What’s in the temporary space? “Velvet Terrorism,” an exhibit on the decade-long protest by Pussy Riot against Vladimir Putin and Russia’s military operations in Ukraine.

From the brochure:

The first couple of rooms:

What was one of the punishments that a Pussy Riot member suffered? She was unbanked, exactly as the Canadian truckers who protested forced Covid-19 vaccination were unbanked by Justin Trudeau using “emergency powers” (NYT). (Separately, I met a Canadian who had gingerly approached some of the truckers at the time. “They were the nicest and most peaceful people you ever met,” he said. “I was afraid to stay too long, though, because I didn’t want to become a target myself.”)

Pussy Riot’s war under the sacred Rainbow Flag was covered:

(It is unclear to me how Putin can be considered responsible for “killings and kidnappings of gay, lesbian, transgender and queer people in Chechnya“. Russia has had tremendous difficulty in its attempts to control what happens in Chechnya, resulting in at least two full-scale wars.)

The public were invited to write down and post their thoughts in response to the exhibition. Most seemed to have been written by Anglophones. Almost nobody seemed to be thinking about Vladimir Putin, Ukraine, the lives of 2SLGBTQQIA+ Russians, or any of the other issues raised by Pussy Riot. Here are some of the notes that were off the main topic:

What were a plurality of the signs about? Here’s a sampling:

Although the Islamic Resistance Movement (“Hamas”), which is the elected and overwhelmingly popular government of the Palestinians, is not famous for celebrating Rainbow Flagism, there was the inevitable…

If Al-Shifa Hospital gets fixed up, the Montreal museum visitors are imagining gender affirming surgeries happening there:

Those who identify as feminists also want to see a corner of the world ruled by the guys who raped, maimed, and murdered women on October 7 (nearly all women who were born long after the events of 1948 that is the root of Arab grievance, so it is unclear how they can be blamed for the Nakba):

Ironically, after viewing an art show about criticism of Vladimir Putin, patrons were motivated to trumpet their alignment with Vladimir Putin’s position regarding Hamas (it is unclear that Putin supports “river to the sea liberation” (i.e., the elimination of Israel) but he is more supportive of Hamas than the typical national leader in Europe or North America).

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Ireland creates a mural for the Oakland, California schools

A tweet from a Northern Irish politician (my mole on the island says that she is “Sinn Fein IRA”):

We can zoom in on the scene of two Jews attacking a helpless Palestinian child with teddy bear via AH-64 Apache helicopter and Hellfire missile. (This fits with the media tendency to depict Palestinians as helpless victims, which is the opposite of how Palestinians see themselves.)

(I do find it interesting that a 31-year-old woman would say that she wants to “stand with Palestine” right after the Gazans (combination of Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and “civilian” males) went through the fence and did what they wanted to do with 31-year-old women (and other ages). Maybe she means “stand with Palestine, but not in or around Gaza”?)

How soon before we see poster versions of this mural in UNRWA and Oakland, California schools?

Separately, the Irish in Ireland (proper) seem to have managed to host plenty of violence recently without any helicopters or missiles. “34 arrested in Ireland riots after child is stabbed in Dublin” (Fox):

Police in Ireland arrested 34 people in relation to riots that swept through Dublin on Thursday, when cars and a bus were burned following a stabbing earlier in the day.

Around 500 people wreaked havoc on the streets, with about a dozen stores looted while rocks and bottles were thrown at crowd control officers equipped with helmets and shields. An empty tram train that had been left at a stop had its windows smashed and was also set on fire.

The violence began after rumors circulated that a foreign national was responsible for a stabbing outside a school on Thursday afternoon.

The suspect, who is understood to be of Algerian descent and is a naturalized Irish citizen, attacked three children with a knife outside an elementary school in the city center just after 1:30 p.m. A 5-year-old girl was seriously injured, while the two other children, a boy and a girl, suffered minor injuries.

Last month, Yousef Palani, who is of Iraqi descent, was convicted of murdering two men in an apparent anti-gay attack. One murder victim was decapitated with 43 stab wounds, and the second man was stabbed 25 times mainly to his head, neck and chest, according to court reports.

The Daily Mail has some more details:

The chief suspect in the multiple stabbing that left a five-year-old girl fighting for her life was arrested earlier this year for possession of a knife, the Irish Daily Mail has learned.

The man, originally from Algeria, has been living in Ireland for the past two decades. He took Irish citizenship more than a decade ago.

The man, who is in his late 40s, has come to Garda attention several times in the past year.

Sources have told this newspaper that the man was living in Dublin City Council hostel accommodation before he went on the rampage off Parnell Square on Thursday afternoon.

I think the “diversity is our strength” story here is that the guy arrived in his 20s, a prime age for working, but after 20 years was still living at taxpayer expense.

An elite Irish friend finds little to admire among the rioters. He sent me this:

Speaking of the elites, the unrest in Dublin yielded one of my more popular Twitter replies (to some sort of BBC TV personality):


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International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People (and a poll result)

It’s the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, established by the United Nations. The most recent scientific poll of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza was conducted by Arab World for Research and Development (AWRAD), a West Bank-based organization. The English-language version of the tables of results disappeared from the AWRAD web site, but I managed to find an archive copy and am making it available from this server.

If we’re going to have solidarity with the Palestinians, we might want to look at what they want and how they’re feeling. Western media tends to portray the Palestinians as helpless victims. They lack agency, know that they’re defeated, are cowering in fear, and feel “humiliated”. Example from the New York Times:

The Palestinians interviewed just as bombs were falling and artillery shells were exploding, however, tell a different story. First, 73 percent expect to win the current round of battles (or maybe the entire war that Arabs declared in 1948):

What’s the long-term goal? “A Palestinian state from the river to the sea” (say 75 percent):

They are overwhelmingly supportive of what the pollsters refer to as “the military operation” of October 7 (let’s put aside whether raping, maiming, killing, and kidnapping civilian women and children is “military”) as progress toward the above goal of river-to-the-sea liberation:

How are the current leaders of Gaza government and society viewed? The Islamic Resistance Movement (“Hamas”) and Palestinian Islamic Jihad have 75-85% positive ratings among Palestinian civilians:

What do the United Nations folks who created this day of solidarity offer? Here’s a tweet from the top executive:

His way of expressing solidarity with Palestinians is to propose a two-state solution when that is supported by only 17 percent (see above) of the Palestinians (75 percent want river-to-the-sea).

Where can Palestinians who want true solidarity turn, then? California, of course! “Anti-Israel protesters defend Hamas as Oakland city council meeting descends into chaos over cease-fire resolution” (New York Post):

The city council in Oakland, California, unanimously passed a resolution Monday calling for a permanent cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war — while spurning language that would have condemned the terrorist group for the Oct. 7 massacre following an uproar from anti-Israel protesters.

Councilman Dan Kalb’s amendment spotlighting Hamas’ role in the slaughter of an estimated 1,200 people across southern Israel was rejected 6-2.

The proposal was met by boos from demonstrators, who condemned the language as “anti-Arab” — with some going as far as to spread conspiracy theories that the Israel Defense Forces had slaughtered Jews to justify an invasion of Gaza.

“There have not been beheading of babies and rapings. Israel murdered their own people on Oct. 7,” one woman told the city council.

Another woman, who was eventually cut off from speaking, claimed: “The notion that this was a massacre of Jews is a fabricated narrative. Many of those killed on Oct. 7, including children, were killed by the IDF.”

“To hear [the Jews] complain about Hamas violence is like listening to a wife-beater complain when his wife finally stands up and fights back,” the man said.

UNRWA, which has provided the basics of life (food, health care, education, etc.) to Palestinians for 75 years (funded by US and EU taxpayers), thus enabling both one of the world’s highest rates of population growth and the ability by Palestinians to maintain a permanent wartime footing (up to 100 percent of GDP can be spent on military because UNRWA pays for the essentials) is also more supportive than the top UN guy: “It is a day to affirm our support for the full rights and national aspirations of Palestinians”. (“national aspirations”, as noted above, means river-to-the-sea for about 75 percent of Palestinians)

Feminists in India support the guys who broke through the fence on October 7 to interact with Israeli women and girls:

Readers: What are you doing today to follow the United Nations guidance for expressing solidarity with Palestinians?


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Elon Musk at war in Ukraine

Can a private citizen change the outcome of a foreign war? The answer is “Yes” for Citizen Musk. From Elon Musk, the book:

An hour before Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, it used a massive malware attack to disable the routers of the American satellite company Viasat that provided communications and internet to the country. The command system of the Ukrainian military was crippled, making it almost impossible to mount a defense. Top Ukrainian officials frantically appealed to Musk for help, and the vice prime minister, Mykhailo Fedorov, used Twitter to urge him to provide connectivity. “We ask you to provide Ukraine with Starlink stations,” he pleaded. Musk agreed. Two days later, five hundred terminals arrived in Ukraine. “We have the US military looking to help us with transport, State has offered humanitarian flights and some compensation,” Gwynne Shotwell emailed Musk. “Folks are rallying for sure!” “Cool,” Musk responded. “Sounds good.” He got on a Zoom call with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, discussed the logistics of a larger rollout, and promised to visit Ukraine when the war was over.

Every day that week, Musk held regular meetings with the Starlink engineers. Unlike every other company and even parts of the U.S. military, they were able to find ways to defeat Russian jamming. By Sunday, the company was providing voice connections for a Ukrainian special operations brigade. Starlink kits were also used to connect the Ukrainian military to the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command and to get Ukrainian television broadcasts back up. Within days, six thousand more terminals and dishes were shipped, and by July there were fifteen thousand Starlink terminals operating in Ukraine.

How much of a difference did this make?

“Without Starlink, we would have been losing the war,” one Ukrainian platoon commander told the [Wall Street Journal].

Musk is lucky that the Russians don’t currently have a space machine like Bird One (from You Only Live Twice) that can vacuum up the Starlink satellites!

Elon Musk ended up making decisions at least as consequential as any made in Kyiv, according to Isaacson:

“This could be a giant disaster,” Musk texted me. It was a Friday evening in September 2022, and Musk had gone into crisis-drama mode, this time with reason. A dangerous and knotty issue had arisen, and he believed that there was “a non-trivial possibility,” as he put it, that it could lead to a nuclear war, with Starlink partly responsible. The Ukrainian military was attempting a sneak attack on the Russian naval fleet based at Sevastopol in Crimea by sending six small drone submarines packed with explosives, and they were using Starlink to guide them to the target. Although he had readily supported Ukraine, his foreign policy instincts were those of a realist and student of European military history. He believed that it was reckless for Ukraine to launch an attack on Crimea, which Russia had annexed in 2014. The Russian ambassador had warned him, in a conversation a few weeks earlier, that attacking Crimea would be a red line and could lead to a nuclear response. Musk explained to me the details of Russian law and doctrine that decreed such a response. Throughout the evening and into the night, he personally took charge of the situation. Allowing the use of Starlink for the attack, he concluded, could be a disaster for the world. So he reaffirmed a secret policy that he had implemented, which the Ukrainians did not know about, to disable coverage within a hundred kilometers of the Crimean coast. As a result, when the Ukrainian drone subs got near the Russian fleet in Sevastopol, they lost connectivity and washed ashore harmlessly.

He also called the Russian ambassador to assure him that Starlink was being used for defensive purposes only. “I think if the Ukrainian attacks had succeeded in sinking the Russian fleet, it would have been like a mini Pearl Harbor and led to a major escalation,” Musk says. “We did not want to be a part of that.”

Isn’t this a bit like the United Nations in Gaza? For 75 years, they’ve been providing nearly everything that the Palestinians to raise the next generations of soldiers/martyrs and simultaneously claiming to be involved only in peace/defense. Musk strengthened Ukraine’s defensive capability, which gave them more resources to put into offense.

Like the UN, Musk tried his hand at diplomacy:

He took it upon himself to help find an end to the Ukrainian war, proposing a peace plan that included new referenda in the Donbas and other Russian-controlled regions, accepting that Crimea was a part of Russia, and assuring that Ukraine remained a “neutral” nation rather than becoming part of NATO. It provoked an uproar. “Fuck off is my very diplomatic reply to you,” tweeted Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany. President Zelenskyy was a bit more cautious. He posted a poll on Twitter asking, “Which Elon Musk do you like more?: One who supports Ukraine, or One who supports Russia.” Musk backed down a bit in subsequent tweets. “SpaceX’s out of pocket cost to enable and support Starlink in Ukraine is ~$80M so far,” he wrote in response to Zelenskyy’s question. “Our support for Russia is $0. Obviously, we are pro Ukraine.” But then he added, “Trying to retake Crimea will cause massive death, probably fail and risk nuclear war. This would be terrible for Ukraine and Earth.”

Eventually he ended up in a text message exchange with Ukraine’s Vice Prime Minister Fedorov:

Musk: “Russia will stop at nothing, nothing, to hold Crimea. This poses catastrophic risk to the world…. Seek peace while you have the upper hand….”

After his exchange with Fedorov, Musk felt frustrated. “How am I in this war?” he asked me during a late-night phone conversation. “Starlink was not meant to be involved in wars. It was so people can watch Netflix and chill and get online for school and do good peaceful things, not drone strikes.”

In a world of war profiteers, Starlink seems to have been the only involved company that didn’t get rich off the conflict:

[SpaceX President/COO Gwynne] Shotwell also felt strongly that SpaceX should stop subsidizing the Ukrainian military operation. Providing humanitarian help was fine, but private companies should not be financing a foreign country’s war. That should be left to the government, which is why the U.S. has a Foreign Military Sales program that puts a layer of protection between private companies and foreign governments. Other companies, including big and profitable defense contractors, were charging billions to supply weapons to Ukraine, so it seemed unfair that Starlink, which was not yet profitable, should do it for free. “We initially gave the Ukrainians free service for humanitarian and defense purposes, such as keeping up their hospitals and banking systems,” she says. “But then they started putting them on fucking drones trying to blow up Russian ships. I’m happy to donate services for ambulances and hospitals and mothers. That’s what companies and people should do. But it’s wrong to pay for military drone strikes.”


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What’s the military situation in Gaza right now?

There have been active battles since October 7, 2023 in and near Gaza (I wouldn’t call this a new “war” because these battles are still part of the war that Arabs declared on Israel in 1948). The Israeli counterattack seems to have started in earnest on October 28 (Wikipedia), though that was preceded by some bombing. So Israel’s campaign is about a month old.

If this were a battle between two conventional armies, that might be long enough for one side to win a decisive victory (see the 6-week Battle of France during World War II, for example). The continued existence of the Islamic Resistance Movement (“Hamas”), complete with plenty of rockets, ammo, and tunnel ventilation, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, could, in that case, be evidence of failure by the Israel Defense Forces.

Israel, however, seems to be treating these battles as a fight against insurgents. That description seems to fit Hamas to some extent. Hamas mostly attacks civilians, e.g., via launching rockets into cities or the October 7 attack. On the other hand, Hamas also exhibits many of the characteristics of a standard national government with army. Hamas won a free and fair election and should be the legitimate government of all Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. The West Bank was stolen from Hamas, but the majority of Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza continue to support Hamas. See a 2021 poll, for example, and a poll taken earlier this month:

A larger percentage of Palestinians support the October 7 attacks, in which civilians were raped, maimed, and killed, than strongly support Hamas. This might be accounted for by the fact that Palestinians overwhelmingly expect their side to “emerge victorious”:

Israel seems to have constructed a fictional world in which only 10 percent of Palestinians are in favor of eradicating Israel, via violent means if necessary. Thus, the IDF has been tasked with going into Gaza and sorting through the 2 million residents to find the 100,000 who either carry guns on behalf of Hamas, Palestinian Jihad, or a similar group, or who provide substantial administrative and logistical support for those who carry the guns. (And maybe it is more like 10,000 people that Israel is seeking, on the assumption that the ordinary soldiers won’t cause trouble once officers are captured and imprisoned.)

A few weeks ago, I asked how this project could possible work. From How can Israel’s encirclement of Gaza City work if Hamas fighters can simply head south via tunnel?:

What stops the Hamas fighters [encircled in the north] from simply evading the IDF by proceeding south via tunnel? Once in the southern zone, the fighters can melt into the population that elected Hamas and continues to support Hamas according to opinion polls

How long has it taken other militaries to accomplish similar goals? I.e., sift through a population to find the 1 in 20 or 1 in 100 who are insurgents when the general population supports the insurgency. We can look at Russia’s Second Chechen War, a decade-long operation. There was the 25-year civil war in Sri Lanka. There is the Syrian civil war, now in its 12th year.

“Military briefing: has Israel achieved its war aims in Gaza?” (Financial Times, November 23):

For all Israel’s military gains in northern Gaza, Israeli officials admit that if they are to achieve the aim of defeating Hamas, the next phase of the fighting will have to involve an advance into the south of the strip.

Israeli forces have already begun to prepare for such a move, and officials have begun warning residents of Khan Younis to flee towards what they have said will be a “safe zone” in Muwasi, a 14 sq km area in the south-west of the territory.

Aid groups have dismissed the idea of cramming hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom have already been displaced from the north of the strip, into such a tiny space as unworkable. But Israeli officials insist there is no other way to defeat Hamas, as its top leaders in Gaza, such as Yahya Sinwar and Mohammed Deif, are thought to be hiding there, and because Hamas has also redeployed numerous fighters from the north to the south.

“I’m quite sure that hundreds, if not thousands, of Hamas members who are originally from the northern part of Gaza are right now in the south,” said Michael Milstein, a former IDF intelligence official. “And of course, they also transferred their weapons and rockets to the south with them.”

What about the tunnels? I’m hesitant to quote either side in any war as an authoritative source, but here’s what Israel says:

Israel’s military said on Wednesday that its combat engineers had destroyed the shafts of some 400 tunnels. But officials concede this is only a limited dent in a system that is thought to be more than 500km in length.

“Once we [take all of Gaza] it will probably take almost a year to clear the whole Gaza Strip, and to explore all their underground infrastructures, and find all their rockets and missiles . . . The strip is one big bunker,” said [Amir Avivi, former deputy commander of the Gaza Division of Israel’s military]. “It’s full of booby traps, full of IEDs everywhere, bombs, munitions — it’s unbelievable what they built. So there’s going to be a lot of work.”

Is Israel actually on track to succeed in accomplishing what it has promised to accomplish, from a purely military point of view, in Gaza? (Obviously, Israel has already lost in the court of world popular opinion. This post is about the purely military aspects of the conflict, not whether progressives and/or Muslims are right to accuse Israel of war crimes, genocide, etc.)

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This year, I’m especially grateful that there is no war on U.S. soil. Regardless of which side in the Hamas-Israel fight one supports, nearly everyone will agree that war is hell and those who are insulated from war are fortunate. Since 1865, Americans have enjoyed better insulation than almost any other group of people, though, of course, quite a few Americans who identified as men have been sent off to fight.

Zooming all the way to the other end of the spectrum… I’m grateful that we can eat outdoors in nice weather in Florida without being besieged by yellowjackets, the wasps that ruin what would otherwise be great experiences in the Northeast U.S. I’ve enjoyed outdoor meals on both coasts and in Orlando and never been bothered. Florida is supposedly part of this insect’s range, so I have no explanation for why yellowjackets don’t swarm around restaurants and backyard barbecues.

For something in the middle… ChatGPT, which will be one year old on November 30, especially its ability to liberate programmers from the tedium of having to search for libraries and API calls (admittedly a tedium created by other programmers, drunk on the near-infinite memory capacity of modern computer systems). ChatGPT and similar have the potential to make programming an interesting job once again (see Is “data scientist” the new “programmer”?).

Readers: What are you grateful for this year?

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