Al Jazeera English: New General Kim Likely to replace father

Kim Jong-il, North Korea’s reclusive leader, has promoted his son, Kim Jong-un, to the rank of general in the powerful military, just hours before a key meeting to determine the country’s leadership, state media reports. Analysts believe the promotion makes Jong-un the likely heir apparent for his father, who is reported to be in ill health. Jong-un, thought to be born in 1983 or 1984 and partially educated in Switzerland, is the youngest of Kim’s three known sons, none of whom had ever been mentioned in the secretive North’s official media.

Also promoted to general was Kim Kyong-hui, the ailing leader’s sister, KCNA news agency reported on Monday. The ruling Workers’ Party of Korea convened a rare meeting on Tuesday in a move analysts expected to kick off the succession process of the leader’s son. Al Jazeera’s Tony Birtley reporting from Seoul said it was important for Kim to gain as much as support as possible for his son so that there will be less opposition later.

“Very strange things have been happening in the last 18 months. Possible opponents to these appointments have died in mysterious circumstances. “The army which carries a lot of weight in North Korea must have endorsed [Jong-un’s] promotion to a four-star general, so they are moving in the right direction.”

Our correspondent said the question however remains as to whether there will be any instability or power struggle in North Korea when Kim dies.

Power transfer

The widely anticipated meeting will be the party’s first major gathering since a landmark congress in 1980 where then 38-year-old Jong-il made his political debut. That appearance confirmed he was in line to succeed his father, Kim il Sung, the founder of North Korea. Jong-il came to power when his father died of heart failure in 1994, setting in motion the communist world’s first hereditary transfer of power.

Jong-un has been elected to attend the party conference as a delegate of the Korean People’s Army, South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported on Monday, citing a source in North Korea it did not identify. After Jong-un was elected as a delegate, the party central committee put out an internal propaganda proclaiming him to be Jong-il’s sole successor, the report said, citing the unnamed North Korean.

Andrei Lankov, a professor of Korean Studies at Seoul’s Kookmin University, told Al Jazeera it appeared that North Korea was making serious preparations for the succession plan. “Jong-un is well-positioned to run the country or at least to be the supreme leader, formally and technically a figurehead. He is very young, very inexperienced… and in all probability will be controlled by his uncle and his aunt,” he said.

Lankov said that Jong-un was also the best candidate, precisely because of his age and inexperience, as a leader the old guard felt was the least likely to introduce any major change or wield much power.


Foreign Policy Mag: War by Other Means

Bob Woodward’s new book, Obama’s Wars, quotes the president expressing concern about the domestic political implications of military strategy in Afghanistan: “I can’t lose the whole Democratic Party,” he tells Sen. Lindsey Graham in defending his decision to announce July 2011 as the date for the beginning of U.S. troop withdrawals. Some have denounced this as evidence that the president is endangering the nation by putting politics ahead of military necessity. Former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, for example, described the president’s quote as “some of the most cold-blooded, cynical, grotesquely political manipulation of national security that I think we’ve ever seen.”

Like most of Washington, I haven’t read the book yet. So I don’t know the full context of the quote. But I do know that it’s no sin for a president to consider the domestic politics of military strategy. On the contrary, he has to. It’s a central part of his job as commander in chief.

Waging war requires resources — money, troops, and equipment — and in a democracy, resources require public support. In the United States, the people’s representatives in Congress control public spending. If a majority of lawmakers vote against the war, it will be defunded, and this means failure every bit as much as if U.S. soldiers were outfought on the battlefield. A necessary part of any sound strategy is thus its ability to sustain the political majority needed to keep it funded, and it’s the president’s job to ensure that any strategy the country adopts can meet this requirement. Of course, war should not be used to advance partisan aims at the expense of the national interest; the role of politics in strategy is not unlimited. But a military strategy that cannot succeed at home will fail abroad, and this means that politics and strategy have to be connected by the commander in chief.

This does not simply mean cheerleading for whatever plan looks best on narrow military grounds. Yes, presidents must work to promote public support for their policy. But strategy is the art of the possible. If a military plan cannot be made palatable to a working majority of lawmakers, it will lose and has to be changed to one that can — and it’s the president’s job to do so. This requires that any sound strategy must be shaped with domestic politics in mind — anything else would be malpractice.

This shouldn’t be news. Good strategy has always been influenced by domestic politics. In World War II, for example, U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. George C. Marshall concluded that the right military strategy was to focus on Germany first, merely holding the line against Japan until the bigger threat was defeated in Europe; only after Germany was out of the way should the country swing forces east and deal with the Japanese. President Franklin D. Roosevelt opted instead for parallel offensives against both Germany and Japan at the same time — in fact, under Roosevelt’s policy the United States actually acted against Japan before it began its first attacks on German troops. Why? Among the more important reasons is that Roosevelt was worried that he would lose domestic political support for the war if he ignored the country that attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor, fighting Germans instead. Most people today think the U.S. strategy in World War II was pretty successful. But if so, it was certainly not because it somehow isolated military planning from domestic politics. On the contrary, U.S. grand strategy in World War II was powerfully shaped by the president’s need to sustain popular support at home.

In Obama’s case, some concession to anti-war sentiment in the Democratic Party was necessary to prevent the base from splintering and undermining the president’s majority for the war. His earlier decision to reinforce troop levels in Afghanistan in response to Gen. David McKiernan’s request was already unpopular with many Democrats; had he simply rubber-stamped yet another military request for escalation just a few months later, progressives in his own party would have been furious. Some sort of compromise was needed. The president opted for a time limit, albeit one with plenty of ambiguity in its details.

One can disagree with this choice. Personally, I would have preferred a deeper cut in the second troop request, by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, in exchange for more time. But it is one thing to debate how to marry military strategy and domestic politics — it is another to debate whether to do it. The need for the latter is clear: Good strategy is politically sustainable strategy. Anything else is unrealistic and self-defeating. And any president who did not worry about the domestic politics of his strategy would be a very poor commander in chief indeed.

Foreign Policy Magazine: For better or worst, White House bets on Pakistan’s civilian government

The Obama administration has always been clear that the path to winning the war in Afghanistan goes through Pakistan. But if Bob Woodward‘s new book is accurate, the White House considers its war effort much more dependent on the success and survival of Pakistan’s civilian government than was previously known.

Woodward’s “Obama’s Wars,” which hit bookstores Monday, sheds new light on the Obama administration’s vast outreach to the Pakistani civilian government led by President Asif Ali Zardari. It paints a picture of an administration working hard to court the Pakistanis while remaining somewhat confused about Pakistani thinking on a range of issues .

Obama himself was confused about the nature of Pakistani intentions during two crucial decision points in his administration’s Afghan policy — the March 2009 strategy rollout and the deliberations in November 2009, which resulted in a troop surge and a huge expansion of covert operations in Pakistan. However, based on advice from the majority of his key advisers, he nonetheless tried to entice Pakistan to commit to a deep and long-term partnership with the United States by offering the Zardari government incentive after incentive, with relatively few pressures.

According to Woodward’s account, the centrality of Pakistan was championed early on by Bruce Riedel, the Brookings scholar who was brought on as a key figure in the Obama administration’s March 2009 Afghanistan strategy review.

Riedel, who referred to Islamist extremists in Pakistan as the “real, central threat” to U.S. national security, personally convinced Obama, only two months after he took office, that Pakistan needed to be the centerpiece of his new strategy. Riedel’s plan involved arming the Pakistani military for counterinsurgency and increasing economic and other forms of aid to the civilian government. This marked the beginning of the term “Af-Pak,” which drove the administration’s belief that stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan were inextricably linked.

Riedel’s Pakistan focus was not due to his confidence that the civilian government could control the military and intelligence services. In fact, he referred to Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani as a “liar” with regards to the activities of the secretive Inter Services Intelligence agency (ISI), which is widely suspected of aiding the Taliban insurgency. Then Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair reportedly echoed Riedel’s views on this matter.

Inside the administration, Blair argued that Obama was approaching Pakistan with too many carrots and not enough sticks. He at one point advocated bombing inside Pakistan and conducting raids there without the Pakistani government’s approval. “I think Pakistan would be completely, completely pissed off and they would probably take actions against us … but they would probably adjust,” he once told Obama.

Obama, however, opted to pursue a less confrontational path. He concluded the central task would be convincing the Pakistani leadership to throw its lot in with the United States He said at the time of the initial strategy review in March 2009, “that we had to have a serious heart-to-heart with Pakistani civilian, military and intelligence leaders.”

Later that year, when making the decision to send an additional 30,000 “surge” troops to Afghanistan, Obama knew that his plans to also expand the U.S. military presence in Pakistan and widen drone strikes would be a hard sell to the Zardari government. In an attempt to sweeten the deal, Obama framed the policy as a new “strategic partnership” with Pakistan, even tying the success of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan to the survival of Zardari and the legacy of his deceased wife Benazir Bhutto.

“I know that I am speaking to you on a personal level when I say that my commitment to ending the ability of these groups to strike at our families is as much about my family’s security as it is about yours,” Obama wrote in a letter to Zardari delivered by National Security Advisor Jim Jones and counterterrorism advisor John Brennan.

Zardari’s response to that letter reinforced what many in the administration already suspected: Pakistan’s government was in the grips of an internal struggle over whether to embrace the United States. Zardari’s initial response focused heavily on India, though the Pakistani president only referred obliquely to his country’s strategic rival. Woodward reports that the White House believed the letter was written by the Pakistani military and the ISI. However, the Zardari government did end up accepting Obama’s offer.

Obama’s top advisors told the U.S. president that he would have to accept something short of complete success in convincing Pakistan to turn away from its longstanding obsession with the military threat it perceives from India.

When Obama had a meeting with Zardari in May 2009, he told the Pakistani president the he did not want U.S. taxpayers to be funding Pakistan’s military buildup against India “We are trying to change our world view,” Zardari told Obama, “but it’s not going to happen overnight.” At times, Obama was downright puzzled by his advisors’ advice regarding Pakistan. For example, intelligence reports confirmed that Pakistani officials were afraid that the United States would leave Afghanistan too early, as they believed had occurred after the end of the resistance to the Soviet regime in the 1980s. On the other hand, Pakistan worried that if the United States was too involved in Afghanistan, it might aid in the establishment of a larger Afghan army than Islamabad was comfortable with.

“What am I to believe?” Obama asked his senior staff. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Special Representative Richard Holbrooke, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates all told him these were the types of contradictions that were commonplace when dealing with Pakistan. For its part, the Pakistani government was just as confused and puzzled by the Obama administration. Woodward recounts one anecdote, in which Zardari tells the former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad that he believed the United States was involved in orchestrating attacks by the Pakistani Taliban against the Pakistani civilian government.

Pakistan’s Ambassador to Washington Husain Haqqani, a key go-between, tried several times to explain to the Obama administration how to court Pakistani leaders, comparing the dynamic to “a man who is trying to woo a woman.”

“We all know what he wants from her. Right?” Haqqani said in a meeting with Jones, Deputy National Security Advisor Tom Donilon and the NSC’s Gen. Doug Lute. “But she has other ideas. She wants to be taken to the theater. She wants that nice new bottle of perfume,” Haqqani told them. “If you get down on one knee and give the ring, that’s the big prize. And boy, you know, it works.”

Haqqani said the “ring” was official U.S. recognition of Pakistan’s nuclear program as legitimate. He also warned that the Pakistanis would always ask for the moon as a starting point in negotiations. He compared it to the salesmanship of rug merchants. “The guy starts at 10,000 and you settle for 1,200,” Haqqani told the Obama team. “So be reasonable, but never let the guy walk out of the shop without a sale.”

Although the Obama administration has had some success improving the relationship between the two governments, Pakistan’s civilian leadership still faces a series of difficulties in its goal of exerting control over its entire national security structure. Stability has also been threatened by the enormous pressures resulting from the war that it is waging inside its own borders, and political attacks leveled against it from the media and the courts. Zardari’s perceived sluggish response to the devastating flood crisis has cost him even more credibility among the Pakistani public.

But while the end of Zardari regime has often been predicted, it appears that he will remain in place for the foreseeable future. The Obama administration, meanwhile, is aware of how crucial his cooperation remains for the success of the mission in Afghanistan.

When Woodward sat down for his interview with Obama earlier this year, he asked the president if the situation was still that Pakistan is the centerpiece of the U.S. strategy. “It continues to this day,” Obama replied.

NY Times: U.S. Wants to Make it Easier to tap the Internet

WASHINGTON — Federal law enforcement and national security officials are preparing to seek sweeping new regulations for the Internet, arguing that their ability to wiretap criminal and terrorism suspects is “going dark” as people increasingly communicate online instead of by telephone.

Essentially, officials want Congress to require all services that enable communications — including encrypted e-mail transmitters like BlackBerry, social networking Web sites like Facebook and software that allows direct “peer to peer” messaging like Skype — to be technically capable of complying if served with a wiretap order. The mandate would include being able to intercept and unscramble encrypted messages.

The bill, which the Obama administration plans to submit to lawmakers next year, raises fresh questions about how to balance security needs with protecting privacy and fostering innovation. And because security services around the world face the same problem, it could set an example that is copied globally.

James X. Dempsey, vice president of the Center for Democracy and Technology, an Internet policy group, said the proposal had “huge implications” and challenged “fundamental elements of the Internet revolution” — including its decentralized design. “They are really asking for the authority to redesign services that take advantage of the unique, and now pervasive, architecture of the Internet,” he said. “They basically want to turn back the clock and make Internet services function the way that the telephone system used to function.”

But law enforcement officials contend that imposing such a mandate is reasonable and necessary to prevent the erosion of their investigative powers. “We’re talking about lawfully authorized intercepts,” said Valerie E. Caproni, general counsel for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. “We’re not talking expanding authority. We’re talking about preserving our ability to execute our existing authority in order to protect the public safety and national security.”

Investigators have been concerned for years that changing communications technology could damage their ability to conduct surveillance. In recent months, officials from the F.B.I., the Justice Department, the National Security Agency, the White House and other agencies have been meeting to develop a proposed solution.

There is not yet agreement on important elements, like how to word statutory language defining who counts as a communications service provider, according to several officials familiar with the deliberations. But they want it to apply broadly, including to companies that operate from servers abroad, like Research in Motion, the Canadian maker of BlackBerry devices. In recent months, that company has come into conflict with the governments of Dubai and India over their inability to conduct surveillance of messages sent via its encrypted service.

In the United States, phone and broadband networks are already required to have interception capabilities, under a 1994 law called the Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act. It aimed to ensure that government surveillance abilities would remain intact during the evolution from a copper-wire phone system to digital networks and cellphones.

Often, investigators can intercept communications at a switch operated by the network company. But sometimes — like when the target uses a service that encrypts messages between his computer and its servers — they must instead serve the order on a service provider to get unscrambled versions.

Like phone companies, communication service providers are subject to wiretap orders. But the 1994 law does not apply to them. While some maintain interception capacities, others wait until they are served with orders to try to develop them.

The F.B.I.’s operational technologies division spent $9.75 million last year helping communication companies — including some subject to the 1994 law that had difficulties — do so. And its 2010 budget included $9 million for a “Going Dark Program” to bolster its electronic surveillance capabilities.

Beyond such costs, Ms. Caproni said, F.B.I. efforts to help retrofit services have a major shortcoming: the process can delay their ability to wiretap a suspect for months. Moreover, some services encrypt messages between users, so that even the provider cannot unscramble them. There is no public data about how often court-approved surveillance is frustrated because of a service’s technical design.

But as an example, one official said, an investigation into a drug cartel earlier this year was stymied because smugglers used peer-to-peer software, which is difficult to intercept because it is not routed through a central hub. Agents eventually installed surveillance equipment in a suspect’s office, but that tactic was “risky,” the official said, and the delay “prevented the interception of pertinent communications.”

Moreover, according to several other officials, after the failed Times Square bombing in May, investigators discovered that the suspect, Faisal Shahzad, had been communicating with a service that lacked prebuilt interception capacity. If he had aroused suspicion beforehand, there would have been a delay before he could have been wiretapped.

To counter such problems, officials are coalescing around several of the proposal’s likely requirements:

¶ Communications services that encrypt messages must have a way to unscramble them.

¶ Foreign-based providers that do business inside the United States must install a domestic office capable of performing intercepts.

¶ Developers of software that enables peer-to-peer communication must redesign their service to allow interception.

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Foreign Policy: How Much Turf Does the Somali Goverment Really Control

Imagine if the U.S. government only controlled a few blocks on either side of the White House, or if French troops securing the Élysée Palace were afraid to march down the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. It’s a good bet your government is in trouble when it doesn’t even control the district where the presidential palace is located. Welcome to Somalia. In the capital city of Mogadishu, the government is literally fighting for its life.

We all know the story: Somalia is the world’s biggest no-go zone. The country’s internationally supported government wouldn’t last through the night were it not for a 7,000-strong African Union peacekeeping force that protects them, and civilian toll of the last two decades of conflict been catastrophic — a quarter of the population has been uprooted by violence. In recent months, the story has gotten even worse thanks to two main Islamist militia groups, al-Shabab and Hizbul al-Islam, which control much of the country. Al Shabab professes allegiance to al Qaeda and should not be taken lightly: The group claimed responsibility for bombing two Ugandan restaurants packed with spectators watching the World Cup this summer.

The two main insurgent groups are intent on taking the capital (and as a second priority, each other). A Ramadan offensive by al-Shabab left 31 members of parliament dead. Then, on Sept. 20, a suicide bomber tried to attack the presidential palace, though he killed only himself. Three days later, street battles in the city’s south (it’s unclear where, exactly) left two dozen dead as insurgents attempted to gain control of strategic roads. No wonder every article about Somalia these days likes to trumpet the supposed fact that government forces control no more than a few blocks of the capital city.

In fact, the government controls a bit more than a few blocks — 37.5 percent of Mogadishu, according to the United Nations. That’s six city districts, or approximately 8 square miles (for comparison, Washington, D.C., is 61.4 square miles). Insurgents control another 31.25 percent, or five districts, and a final 31.25 percent of Mogadishu is considered “disputed” territory.

The Somali government’s own figures of control, as of Sept. 22, offer an even more pessimistic view: they put the disputed districts at just four, one less than the U.N. says. The AMISOM map above, dated Aug. 26, shows seven disputed districts, highlighting just how fast things can go from bad to worse. Abdi Aziz, Shibis, and Daynille, areas indicated on the map as disputed, have now presumably fallen to insurgent control. Either way, there is some nuance here; several of these disputed zones are overrun with al-Shabab and Hizbul al-Islam fighters and merely host isolated enclaves of government-controlled buildings.

The Somali government says that most civilians live on its side of the battle lines (the green areas in the map above), though there is still free movement throughout the city. Regardless, no one is truly safe. The lines that demarcate the area of government “control” are, in fact, drawn between the locations of 11 positions that peacekeeping troops have managed to secure across the city. (These outposts are marked on the map with flags, either Ugandan or Burundian according to the peacekeepers’ nationalities. There are three further positions that have been gained since the map was produced.) “Secure” areas are hardly cordoned off or safe; AMISOM troops are simply present there, usually holed up in an abandoned building, fenced off with barbed wire. In recent months, peacekeepers have been criticized for indiscriminate shelling while trying to secure or defend various positions. Al Jazeera reported, for example, that 70 people were injured in the popular Bakara Market (located in disputed territory) when the area was shelled by AMISOM on Sept. 23.

What’s more important than how much land it controls, however, is what land the government controls. While the port and airport are in government hands, the presidential palace, Villa Somalia, is located in Wardhigley district — an area in dispute. (Villa Somalia is indicated by a black triangle with a green dot inside it, near “K-2,” on the map.) An entire peacekeeper battle group — which includes about 100 men and several tanks — is devoted to protecting the palace, making it unlikely that insurgents would be able to take it in a siege.

But what the government does worry about is the road that connects Villa Somalia to friendly turf. Toward the end of August, insurgents shelled the presidential palace and made a daring attempt to cut off that main artery. “What they wanted was a psychological victory by cutting off AU and Somali government supply routes and drastically curtailing the Somali government’s movements,” according to a Sept. 3 AMISOM briefing document. After a brief setback in fighting the insurgents, however, the AMISOM troops quickly recovered control of the road.

Where are the Somali government troops in all this? Around, here and there presumably, but the truth is that no one seems to know. Some 9,000 troops have been trained and armed to help fortify the government, but desertion rates are astronomical. Perhaps no more than 1,000 soldiers — or fewer — remain. AMISOM peacekeepers, by contrast, number about 7,000.

Despite the ominous recent news, AMISOM says that the story is actually getting better, not worse, for the Somali government. And indeed, the August map above looks less bleak than the July map, which had far less area under government control. Since then, the African Union troops have gained control of a few strategic posts, including a former Coca-Cola factory and the parliament building. “AU forces have broadened their reach in multiple Mogadishu districts by establishing a series of new forward positions, effectively pushing insurgents back,” the Sept. 3 AMISOM briefing notes. “Unlike recent claims of success by insurgents, these gains are real and will continue as we fight to restore order in Mogadishu and eventually across the whole of Somalia.”

That’s the hope, at least — one that will surely depend on far more firepower for the peacekeepers. Another battalion of troops was promised to AMISOM this summer, but when they’ll be deployed is unclear. In the meantime, the current force will have to keep fighting. One block at a time.

Foreign Policy Mag: Life in a War-Zone

An Afghan boy walks past U.S. and Afghan soldiers in the village of Saidon Kalacheh in the Arghandab Valley on Sept. 11.
A U.S. Army soldier returns fire at Combat Outpost Nolen in the Arghandab Valley during a Taliban attack on Sept.11.

Afghans gather at the site of a bomb planted on a motorcycle in front of a government office in Kandahar on Sept. 1.

U.S. Marines help a father carry his young daughter, struck by shrapnel from a rocket-propelled grenade fired at Marines patrolling in her village, to a medevac helicopter on Sept. 18 .

Afghan villagers drive past a U.S. Army soldier on patrol in their village in Dand district of Kandahar province on July 19.

An Afghan boy rides past U.S. Marines searching vehicles for a missing U.S. Navy sailor at a checkpoint on the Kabul-Bagram road on July 28.

A U.S. Army medic inspects an Afghan villager’s knee during a patrol in Dand district of Kandahar Province on July 21.


Foreign Policy: Israel’s Conscience goes Global

Writer David Grossman  at anti-settlement rally protesting the expulsion of 30 Palestinian families from thier home.


The Israeli writer David Grossman’s new novel To the End of the Land, which was published in the United States this week, has generated the kind of buzz that publicists dream about. Paul Auster likened Grossman to Flaubert and Tolstoy and declared the book a work of “overwhelming power and intensity.”  It’s easy to snicker at the breathlessness of such praise (and many did), but it testifies to the reverence with which Grossman is regarded in liberal circles in America and Europe. 

Slate Group editor-in-chief Jacob Weisberg, writing recently in Newsweek, characteristically described Grossman (and his fellow novelist Amos Oz) as Israel’s “national consciences.” In June, Grossman won the prestigious German Book Trade Peace Prize for his efforts as an “active supporter of reconciliation between Palestinians and Israelis.”

This week, Grossman is the subject of a long, laudatory essay in the New Yorker by George Packer. The article, along with the publication of To the End of the Land, the story of a woman wandering across Israel to escape the possible news of her son’s death in combat, completed after Grossman’s own son Uri died in Lebanon in 2006, will likely only add to the Grossman mystique in America. And as fragile peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians threaten to collapse, Americans are looking to Grossman for a distillation of the Middle Eastern moment.

On August 12, 2006, a month into Israel’s campaign against Hezbollah in Lebanon, a missile struck Uri’s tank. He was 20 years old. News of Uri’s death came as Grossman was finishing up an early draft of To the End of the Land. The woman at the center of the plot, Ora, has a premonition that her soldier son, Ofer, will die in combat. Wracked by fear and despair, she succumbs to a fantastic thought: If the military can’t find her they can’t notify her, and if they can’t notify her then Ofer’s death hasn’t happened. Ora sets off on a hike across Israel, avoiding all sources of bad news and reflecting on Ofer’s life. By telling his story, maybe she can save him. “The point is to be in motion,” she thinks, “the point is to talk about Ofer.” Echoing his protagonist’s quest, Grossman wrote in an afterward to the Hebrew edition, “I had a hunch — or more precisely, a wish — that the book I was writing would protect [Uri].”

Grossman’s status, too, goes far beyond the ordinary literary realm. Born in Jerusalem in 1954, he stepped onto the international stage in 1987 when he wrote a long article about life in the West Bank that later became The Yellow Wind. Grossman, who is fluent in Arabic, made the then 20-year-old occupation less abstract, more human. When the first intifada began later that year, readers worldwide embraced The Yellow Wind as a blueprint for understanding the uprising. The Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish translated the book into Arabic. The New Yorker ran two lengthy excerpts.

But in Israel, not everyone was thrilled with Grossman’s work. In a later interview, Grossman described receiving threatening letters and phone calls and finding his car sabotaged. Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, he said, rebuked him for portraying the Palestinians as chafing under Israeli rule. The year after The Yellow Wind was published, Grossman was fired from his job as host of the morning news program on Israel Radio after a dispute with management over the network’s coverage of Yasir Arafat and the PLO.

Since then, Grossman — who believes in a two-state solution and has said that the basic inspiration for Zionism was a “noble idea” — has remained critical of Israeli policies. In 2003, he participated in the signing ceremony of the Geneva Accord, an unofficial Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement brokered by former negotiators. In 2006, a few months after Uri’s death, Grossman delivered a landmark speech to 100,000 Israelis in Tel Aviv. “Israel has, for many years now, criminally wasted not only the lives of its sons and daughters, but also the miracle that occurred here,” he declared, “the great and rare opportunity that history granted it, the opportunity to create an enlightened, properly functioning democratic state that would act in accordance with Jewish and universal values.”

Earlier this month, Grossman joined a boycott of a new cultural center in the West Bank city of Ariel, an action that has stoked the ire of many on the right. Ariel mayor Ron Nachman called the boycott “tantamount to incitement to rebellion.” A few weeks ago, a ministry of Education official complained to the newspaper Maariv that Grossman and other leading Israeli authors “express alienation to the point of automatic identification with Israel’s enemies in their writing.” It’s not the first time Grossman has been charged with undermining the Israeli project: Conservative academic and pundit Yoram Hazony writes in his 2000 book The Jewish State that Grossman teaches “Israelis that it is weakness that gives birth to virtue,” a lesson that threatens “to demolish the foundation on which the entire edifice of the Jewish state rests.”

In his recent fiction, Grossman has avoided politics. As he told the German magazine Der Spiegel last year, “Because so much of our energy goes into the conflict we don’t have energy to deal with the real existential things of life: being a father, being a mother, being a partner.” Grossman added that he preferred to write about those topics because for him “they are more important.” To the End of the Land marks a return to big political themes that Grossman addressed in earlier novels, such as The Smile of the Lamb and See Under: Love, which dealt with the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Holocaust.

Where To the End of the Land takes readers is into an Israel that feels feeble and teetering, a country full of uncertainty. A sense of looming disaster hangs heavy over the novel. In the opening pages, a teenaged Ora is quarantined in an abandoned hospital in Jerusalem during the 1967 Six-Day War. Egyptian radio broadcasts announce Israel’s defeat. Feverish, bathed in sweat, Ora drifts in and out of consciousness; she has nightmares about Arab soldiers pouring into Tel Aviv. At one point, she remarks about Israel, “I know that this country doesn’t have a chance at all.”

It is an anxiety that resonates powerfully in Israel today, says Nitza Ben-Dov, a professor of Hebrew literature at the University of Haifa. To the End of the Land is so relevant, she says, because it encapsulates the Israeli predicament: “We love this land, but we pay such a terrible price for this love.”