With the release of an audio recording of pro-Russian separatists in the Ukraine, little doubt remains as to who shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. There’s even less doubt about Israel’s invasion of Gaza. (More)

The Guns of July

Yesterday U.S. officials confirmed that Flight 17 was shot down by a surface-to-air missile:

A radar system saw a surface-to-air missile system turn on and track an aircraft right before the plane went down, the senior U.S. official said. A second system saw a heat signature at the time the airliner was hit, the official said. The United States is analyzing the trajectory of the missile to try to learn where the attack came from, the official said.

Accusations and counter-accusations flew almost as fast as the missile itself:

Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko called the crash “a terrorist act” and insisted that “the Ukraine armed forces did not fire at any targets in the sky.” Meanwhile, the official Russian news organization RIA Novosti quoted the head of Russia’s Federal Air Transport Agency as saying that “the responsibility [for flight safety] falls on the Ukrainian side.” (Bracketed insertion RIA Novosti’s.) Alexander Boordai, the leader of the Donetsk People’s Republic, the self-declared breakaway region in Eastern Ukraine, made a more explicit accusation: “It was either Ukrainian aviation or anti-missile defense” that downed the plane. Ukraine’s rebel militias, he said, simply didn’t have the capability to take down a civilian airliner flying at MH17’s altitude.

“They were carrying spies. [Expletive] them.”

But then the New York Times released a recording of a telephone conversations after the incident:

The first call is between pro-Russian separatist Igor Betzler and a Russian military intelligence officer named Vasily Geranin:

Igor Betzler – We have just shot down a plane. Group Minerva. It fell down beyond Yenakievo. They are going … pilots … where are the pilots … going to search for and photograph the plane. It’s smoking.

Vasily Geranin – How many minutes ago?

Igor Betzler – About 30 minutes ago.

The second call is between separatists, code-named ‘Major’ and ‘Greek’:

‘Major’ – These are Chernukhino folks who shot down the plane.

‘Greek’ – Who shot it down?

‘Major’ – From the Chernukhino checkpoint. Those Cossacks who are based near Chernukhino. The plane fell apart in the air. In the area of the Petropavlovskaya mine. We have found the first “200.” Yes, a civilian. Yes, Sasha?

‘Greek’ – What do you have there?

‘Major’ – In short, it was definitely a civilian aircraft.

‘Greek’ – I see. Were there many people?

‘Major’ – Holy [expletive]. The debris fell right into the yards. That’s it.

‘Greek’ – What kind of aircraft?

‘Major’ – I haven’t figured it out yet. I haven’t been to the main site. I am only surveying the scene where the first bodies fell. There are the remains of internal brackets, seats and bodies.

‘Greek’ – I see. Any weapons there?

‘Major’ – Absolutely nothing. Civilian items, medical stuff, towels, and toilet paper.

‘Greek’ – Are there documents?

‘Major’ – Yes, of one Indonesian student, from a university in Thompson.

The third call is between an unidentified separatist and Cossack commander Nikolay Kozitsin:

Separatist – Regarding the plane shot down in the area of Snizhne-Torez. It’s a civilian one. Fell near Grabove. There are lots of corpses of women and children. The Cossacks are out there looking at all this. They say on TV it’s AN-26, a Ukrainian transport [plane]. But it has a Malaysia Airlines logo on it, they say. What was it doing in Ukraine’s territory?

Kozitsin – That means they were carrying spies. [Expletive] them. Got it?

Separatist – Yes.

Kozitsin – They shouldn’t be [expletive] flying. There’s a war going on.

Separatist – Got it.

In fact, an estimated 100 of the passengers were medical researchers heading to Melbourne, Australia for an international conference on AIDS.

“To ensure summer vacation”

Meanwhile, Israeli troops invaded Gaza yesterday:

Troops and tanks were sent into Gaza to deal “a significant blow to Hamas”, Israel said.

A Hamas spokesman said Israel would “pay a high price” for its actions.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the invasion after days of intensive rocket fire and air strikes between the two sides.

Gaza’s health ministry said 24 Palestinians had been killed and 200 injured since the ground offensive began on Thursday night.

Israeli and Hamas forces have traded rocket and artillery fire since late June as tension boiled over after both Israeli and Palestinian teens were murdered:

In the West Bank city of Hebron, the families of the three men that the Israeli authorities have said are the prime suspects in the June 12 abduction and subsequent murder of three Israeli teenagers — a crime that Israel blamed on Hamas and that began the escalation that led to the war in Gaza — received notices that their homes would be demolished at 10 a.m. Friday. Israeli forces damaged the homes weeks ago.

On Thursday, three ultra-Orthodox Israeli Jews, a 29-year-old with a history of psychiatric problems and two of his teenage relatives, were indicted on charges of kidnapping and killing a 16-year-old Palestinian boy in Jerusalem on July 2 in an apparent revenge attack the morning after the three Israeli teenagers’ funerals.

But the stated reason for the invasion of Gaza raised many eyebrows:

Mr. Netanyahu has been fending off demands for a ground operation from some members of his cabinet and party. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who has been at turns partner and rival to the prime minister, reiterated his call for a more substantial campaign against Hamas on Wednesday, as did Yuval Steinitz, the minister of strategic affairs, who has been a Netanyahu stalwart and frequent mouthpiece.

“It is not possible to ensure summer vacation, a normal summer for our kids, without a ground operation in Gaza,” Mr. Lieberman said during a visit to Ashkelon.

“We don’t need to rule Gaza or build settlements in Gaza,” he added. “We need to ensure that all Hamas terrorists run away, are imprisoned or die.”

Expect the Sunday morning talk shows to be filled with Republicans blaming President Obama for the conflicts in the Ukraine and Gaza. But that excuses the leaders in both regions. A century ago this month, European powers rushed to take sides after a terrorist attack in Sarajevo. That result left 16 million people dead and set off a century of violence in the Middle East.

We’ll soon see if we’ve learned….

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Happy Friday!