Sunday, December 31, 2006

Islam and you

In reaction to my article about "The limits of expression," in which I quoted Tom Lehrer's excellent "Vatican Rag," many of you have responded. Rising to my challenge, I have received some contributions that satirize Islam. Here is a modest example below, of which the author wishes to remain anonymous, for obvious reasons (although he is certainly a clever fellow).
So here goes (sung to a calypso beat):

Osama bin Laden
And the Taliban
Want you all to accept Islam
If you don’t then you’ll be dead
They’ll blow you up or cut off your head!

President Bush and Tony Blair
They really are such a funny pair
Since 9/11 they go on the air
Telling us all not to despair

All the ladies here they feel so free
But, under the Caliphate you’ll agree
That they should all be forced to wear
The veil or burka covering their hair

If you feel a little sad
Then you should go on the Hajj
Mecca will really set you right
And you’ll be praying day and night

The camel is a handy beast
You can ride it in the east
But don’t let it run away
When you have to pray five times a day

So prostrate yourself before Allah
And don’t be such a clever fellah
Do whatever Mohammed preached
Or there’ll be terrorists within your reach

The crusaders once tried to make
The Middle East into a Christian lake
But now we’ll all live to see
A mosque in Washington DC

Muslim and Christian mutual hate
Will be resolved in the Caliphate
But on one thing don’t be confused
That they still both hate the Jews

Osama bin Laden
And the Taliban
Want you all to accept Islam
If you don’t then you’ll be dead
They’ll blow you up or cut off your head!

Note to Osama: I won't reveal the author's name even under torture, so don't bother. Also, as we speak the IDF is putting a security fence around my house.
Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Saddam's execution

It is great that Saddam Hussein has been executed. He deserved more than that, he murdered approximately 200,000 Iraqis, mostly Kurds and Shia, and if you include the war he started on Iran, then he probably killed as many as 500,000. But, although the media are calling it a historic event, it is now merely a blip in the current insurrection in Iraq.
It has two aspects, first it shows again that dictators can be brought to justice, humbled and then killed for their crimes against humanity. Second, as a purely internal Arab case, it shows that dictatorial Arab regimes are not impervious to being overthrown, albeit with outside Western help.
There are four groups who have different responses to his execution:
1. The West, which regards it largely as a recompense for evil deeds.
2. The Shia, Kurds, Iranians and others who will celebrate his removal from the scene as a powerful enemy destroyed.
3. The majority of Sunni Arabs who will be sad that a powerful champion of Arab nationalism has been removed, largely by Western interference.
4. The extremist Sunni Arabs, such as Hamas and many Iraqi Sunnis, who regard his execution as a crime and will seek revenge for it.
One irony is that while the Iranians support Hamas, they end up at opposite ends in their reaction to Saddam's execution. The Iranians are in the happy category, and Hamas are in the vengeful category. How they overcome this and ignore their opposite reactions is difficult to see, but can be understood only in relation to their common enmity towards Israel. Note that in his final remarks, Saddam, seeking to influence a wider audience, said that Palestine is an Arab area, but also that the Arabs should beware of the Persians. So in that case he lumped Israel and Iran together as common enemies of the Sunni Arabs. Whether or not this statement, or his last testament, will have any long-term influence is questionable. Without his interference the Sunni Arabs are already becoming aware of the threat that the resurgent Shia crescent from Iran to Lebanon means to them.
Next year, Osama's execution!

Friday, December 29, 2006

Limits of expression

My favorite religious satire is by Tom Lehrer, that icon of the 60's, whose work we heard recently after many years at a Hanukkah party we went to near Beersheva. The host played Lehrer's famous record (on CD) called "That was the year that was" dating from 1965! It is antiquated, but still so relevant. The particular song I am referring to is "the Vatican Rag."
Here it goes:

First you get down on your knees,
Fiddle with your rosaries,
Bow your head with great respect,
And genuflect, genuflect, genuflect!

Do whatever steps you want,
ifYou have cleared them with the Pontiff.
Everybody says on Kyrie eleison,
Doin' the Vatican Rag.

Get in line in that processional,
Step into that small confessional,
There, the guy who's got religion'll
Tell you if your sin's original.
If it is, try playing it safer,
Drink the wine and chew the wafer,
Two, four, six, eight,Time to transubstantiate!

So get down upon your knees,
Fiddle with your rosaries,
Bow your head with great respect,
And genuflect, genuflect, genuflect!

Make a cross on your abdomen,
When in Rome do like a Roman,
Ave Maria,Gee it's good to see ya,
Gettin' ecstatic an'
Sorta dramatic an'
Doin' the Vatican Rag!

Even now I get a tingle at how daring it was and is. Of course, Catholicism survived his satire of it, but he could not have sung this in earlier eras, before the secular state became strong enough. If he had done a song satirizing Judaism in 1965, it would not have been considered funny. But, now, after "The Producers" and Woody Allen and Jackie Mason and "Borat," it's so common to satirize Jews that it hardly raises an eyebrow. Jews are expected to poke fun at themselves, in fact in Germany before WWII it was customary for Germans to tell anti-Jewish jokes in public and Jews were expected to laugh at them and to tell them too, otherwise they were not considered sporting like other Germans. This is not simply my opinion, but comes from Peter Gay's work, such as "Freud, Jews and other Germans." But, satirizing Jews is not like satirizing its heretical offshoots, Christianity and Islam. They seriously believe that they have the only true answer to man's needs, and there were and are times and places where you will die if you don't accept their version.
Now this is what I want you to imagine, what if Lehrer had made a similar song about Islam then? Noone would have got it. The reaction in the US would have been, why do that? But, if he did it now, wow! He would be hailed as a brave man and there would no doubt be a fatwa issued against him and he would be in hiding. So much has changed in the past 40 years. After the incredible fuss over the Danish cartoons, and the Pope's remarks, you know that you can't say anything publicly satirizing Islam. To do so is taking your life in your hands. This leads to self-censorship, precisely the reason why the editor published the Danish cartoons. So I propose a new rule (call it Cohen's rule), you'll know that Islam has become like all other religions and the danger from Islamist extremism will be over when someone publishes a song every bit as satrirical of Islam as the Vatican Rag is of Catholicism, and lives to sing it twice. As a matter of fact I'm working on one now.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Ethiopia and Somalia

In writing this "journal" I have written about some exotic and strange places. None more than Ethiopia, the Government of which announced yesterday that it has invaded its neighbor Somalia. There is a very important distinction between these two countries, Ethiopia is predominantly Christian and Somalia is Muslim. Until a few months ago Somalia was considered to be a "failed state" a basket case of a country that has been mired in internal strife since the downfall of the last dictatorial Government about 15 years ago.
Even an attempt by the US to bring some order to the capital Mogadishu in the 90's resulted in disaster when a US helicopter was downed in a district controlled by a warlord and an attempt by a marine patrol to rescue the surviviors lead to the loss of several marines (this was dramatized in the movie "Blackhawk down"). Altogether it was a brave but doomed attempt at rescuing both Americans and Somalia, and the US rapidly retreated.
More recently there were talks to resolve the civil war, the development of a civil administration constituting a recognized national Governent and then a disturbing development, the coalescing of several Islamic movements into one, called the Council of Islamic Courts, the intention of which is to bring strict Islamic law to the country. They have been fighting the recognized Government of Somalia, that never really controlled the country or Mogadishu, and the Islamic Court's militias have control about 2/3 of Somalia, including Mogadishu, while the Government is ensconced in the secondary town of Baidoa. In the towns that have been captured by the Courts the imposition of strict Sharia law means that anyone who is not a Muslim is in danger of being killed and Muslims have to obey all Muslim laws, including praying 5 times a day, or they will be executed. The leader of the Court's Union is Shiekh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed (one man) who admitted today that his forces are in retreat, and in fact have given up half the country in the face of the Ethiopian invasion. At first, Ethiopia denied its forces were operating in Somalia, but now it has become obvious.
There is a strong regional antagonism between Ethiopia and Somalia, mainly because of the religious divide. Ethiopia has its own ancient form of Christianity, that was present in the area long before the rise of Islam. Ethiopia now finds itself surrounded by Islamic countries, Eritrea to the north (that was once part of Ethiopia), Sudan to the west, and Somalia to the north and east. One of Eritrea's main reasons for invading is that it fears the development of an Islamist regime in Somalia, that would be a definite threat to its existence.
The weak Somali Government has welcomed the Ethiopian forces as liberators, and surprisingly the African Union, the local governments in the region, including Kenya, and even the EU as well as the US have welcomed the Ethiopian invasion. They all see the Islamic Courts as a Taliban-type movement that could spell trouble for all if they defeat the Government forces and establish an Islamist regime in Somalia. The US realizes that it is far better that Ethiopia, a pro-Western local power, handles the situation rather than having to send its forces in again. Ethiopian PM Zenawi told the media that his forces will not invade Mogadishu, that could lead to heavy fighting, instead they will defeat the Muslim Court's forces in the country and then surround Mogadishu, leaving the Government to deal with the Courts from a position of strength.
Noone knows where this invasion could lead, but at least it will prevent the consolidation of an Islamist Government in another country that has ties with al Qaeda, and that has called upon foreign Islamic fighters to come and defend it. At present the Islamic Court's militias are in full retreat.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Israeli concessions

Controversy has erupted in the wake of the meeting between PM Olmert and Pres. Abbas last Sat. evening. Four areas of dispute are being discussed in political circles, namely (i) the payment of m$100 that Olmert agreed to pay from the taxes Israel has collected to the PA authority, but only to Pres. Abbas not the Hamas Government; (ii) the release of Palestinian prisoners even before the release of Cpl. Shalit, who was kidnapped last June and is being held by Hamas supporters; (iii) the continuation of Israeli "restraint" in not responding to breakages of the "ceasefire" in Gaza, even though 60 rockets have been fired into Israel since the "ceasefire" came into effect and yesterday one hit a security facility in Ashkelon; (iv) the drastic reduction in checkpoints in the West Bank to allow freer movement by Palestinians.
In all areas it seems the Kadima Government has no self-respect. They agreed to a ceasefire that the other side has not kept at all, rockets are fired practically daily. Yet, Israel withdrew all IDF from Gaza and has made no response, even though they have sometimes had the launchers in their sights! It is argued by Olmert and his supporters that since the firing is by Islamic Jihad and other groups that do not support the ceasefire one cannot punish Pres. Abbas by counter-attacking. In other words Israel must support Abbas and not undermine him, but at what cost? Abbas and Olmert reportedly discussed extending the ceasefire to the West Bank, which is against IDF security advice. But, shall we accept a onesided ceasefire that is worthless, shall we totally undermine the concept of keeping agreements and stop considering the political leadership on the other side responsible for all attacks from their territory? This is ludicrous policy when dealing with terrorists and risks the lives of Israeli citizens.
Regarding the funds, it's clear that Olmert wanted to make a gesture of good faith to Abbas, so money was an easy thing to promise, but this money has strings, no using it for arms or helping Hamas. But, it will be used to pay the salaries of Government workers, including security people who are operating against Israel. Also, it is earmarked for educational purposes, but still in the PA education system, operating under Abbas, the pupils are being taught hatred of Israel and blatant anti-Semitism. Why should Israel underwrite this?
The release of prisoners before the release of Cpl. Shalit is a direct contradiction of many statements of Olmert and his Cabinet, most of whom now apparently support the idea of a release of Palestinian prisoners as a good-will gesture to Abbas. However, this would be seen as a sign of weakness by the PA Hamas Government, and they no doubt would conclude that kidnapping soldiers is worthwhile, so they would be likely to do it again. In any case it is clear that Abbas has no control in dealing with the kidnappers of Cpl. Shalit and no power to alter the chaotic situation in Gaza. One must conclude that all these steps are calculated to please European Foreign Ministers and no one else.
Regarding the removal of ca. 27 checkpoints in the West Bank that was today approved by Olmert, the security establishment warns that this would once again open up Israel to infiltration by terrorists. They claim that all checkpoints are there for security purposes and not to "humiliate" Palestianians, who have an easy way to stop this treatment, simply by stopping the terrorism, that we know they can do if they want to.
This Kadima Government has reversed almost every red line that it established since its inception, no end of the war in Lebanon until the two captured IDF soldiers are released by Hizbollah (!), no release of Palestinian prisoners until after Cpl. Shalit is released, no release of funds to the PA that can be used for purposes against Israel and ignoring the PA's breaking of the ceasefire. How can any responsible leader justify this catalog of reversals, they should change the name of Olmert's party from Kadima (forward) to Ahora (backward)!

Monday, December 25, 2006

Flowering of talent

When I started sending these messages it was mainly to tell our friends about our life in Israel. But, around 2000 the intifada made them more political and urgent. Now we have little terrorism and apart from the recent war in Lebanon and the steady barrage of Kassam rockets on Sderot, life is quiet here, until the next war.
In the past two days we went to two concerts in the same building, owned by the City in a poor neighborhood, but an excellent, relatively new hall. The first concert was given by a group of opera singers organized by a local musician, Nadia Fridkovsky, who formed her own opera company. Since she was Naomi's choir director, and she is a superb pianist, we are on her mailing list. They sang a wide variety of arias from many operas, 3 sopranos, one mezzo and three men. All had beautiful voices (except one soprano who had a powerful but screechy voice). They were mostly from the former Soviet Union, and some perform at the Israel Opera Co. in Tel Aviv. There were also Ukrainian dances performed and sung by a girl's group, mostly little blond kids.
Last night we went to the scholarship giving ceremony of our friend Moshe Shamir's organization "This land is my land." He awarded 300 scholarships to kids in high schoools and colleges mainly to poor Ethiopian and Russian immigrants. This started with the ORT school in Netanya over 20 years ago, and now covers the whole country, but only Netanya residents are eligible. One of the administrators from one of the schools had been a scholarship recipient that enabled her to continue her education. There was also entertainment, a group of Israeli dancers, an Israeli choir and a piano duo. This duo is Yuval Admony and Tami Kanazawa, his Japanese wife. They are excellent, they live in Israel but travel the world concertizing. We have heard them before, but their performance of Gershwin's "Rhapsody in blue" is wonderful.
Today we also have a quartet performing at the weekly Monday Shearim concerts. So we are not short of music and culture here. The flowering of amazing talent.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Secret meetings

On Tuesday last week PM Olmert flew to Amman to meet King Abdullah II of Jordan in an unannounced and supposedly secret meeting, that was immediately leaked to the press. What did they talk about for 2 hours? The announcement said that they discussed any possible spillover of the violent confrontations ("civil war") in the PA to Jordan, that has a large (ca. 65%) Palestinian population that is split between support for Fatah and Hamas. King Abdullah knows that his Hashemite (Beduin) regime is very susceptible to any outbreak of Palestinian violence that could undermine or even topple his monarchy. So no doubt he sought Israeli support in case such an outbreak of violence threatens his Kingdom.
But, equally likely was a discussion of the situation vis-a-vis Syria. King Abdullah probably also asked Olmert for assurances that he is not going to do a deal with Syria that would cede the Golan Heights to Assad, as suggested stupidly in the Baker Report. At present relations between the US and Syria are at a low, mainly because Syria is at least allowing, if not organizing, the flow of terrorists thru Damascus into Iraq to fight the US forces. As a result of this the US has no intention of making any deal with Syria and certainly does not want Israel to do so, especially if it strengthens the Assad regime in any way. Also, as far as Israel is concerned Assad bears heavy responsibility for harboring terrorist groups, such as Hamas in Damascus, from where Khaled Mashaal is manipulating events in Gaza, as well as the Hizbollah-Syria connection, thru which Assad played a major role in precipitating the recent Lebanon War.
Note that Syria has never recognized the existence of the sovereign states of Lebanon and Jordan, as well as Israel, regarding them all as part of Greater Syria, taken away from them by the Western colonialist regimes (of course Syria does recognize its own imperial ambitions in these claims). At least once before in 1983, in the wake of the first Lebanon War, when Syria threatened to invade Jordan, the US sanctioned Israel to threaten to attack Syrian forces if they entered Jordan, and this caused the Syrians to back down, thus saving the Hashemite regime. So Abdullah knows that his future is intricately linked to Israeli support, and Israel would prefer to have a stable Hashemite monarchy to its East than any Syrian or Palestinian regime.
I have often wondered it the slogan "Jordan is Arab Palestine" that used to be popular with the Israeli right wing, if it ever came about, whether or not the infighting over control of Jordan might not keep the Palestinians busy for a generation or more. But, that's a different story, only relevant if the Hashemite regime falls to a Palestinian insurrection, not impossible but currently unlikely.
So while the Jordanian monarch waxes lyrical in his current visit to Japan about the need for peace in the Palestinian territories and between the PA and Israel, he is really worrying about his own hide and that of his regime. Will the Palestinians ever feel stong enough to overthrow him and will the Syrians ever feel strong enough to invade?
Now this coming week it is reported that Olmert will finally meet with Pres. Abbas of the PA, after more than six months that this meeting has been batted around. What will they talk about? No doubt Abbas will ask for Olmert's assurances that if Hamas seems to be getting the upper hand in the confrontation with Fatah, that Israel will step in and save him/them. After all, Fatah in principle seemed once to accept Israel's right to exist, while Hamas totally and repeatedly rejects that. Also, Abbas is regarded as a moderate, opposing the use of suicide bombings against Israelis, although the al Aksa Martyrs Brigades that have carried out a large proportion of these attacks is nominally under his control. It seems that he is a true successor of Arafat, asking for Western help, publicly (in English) opposing terrorism, but secretly sanctioning it. Nevertheless, some might argue that Israel can gain by forging a link with a Palestinian leader.
After the first intifada, when Arafat was still in exile in Tunisia, the sentiment was that no Palestinian leadership "chosen" or supported by Israel had any chance of success. That was why PM Rabin brought Arafat back from exile, expecting him to be grateful and do the dirty work and take care of Hamas. Well, it didn't work out that way, and maybe Abbas won't either, but at least Olmert has to be seen to be trying. On the other hand it will probably be better if Israel does not interfere in internal Palestinian power struggles, that are likely to be messy and bloody, and rather take a detached position, waiting for the dust to settle. Only then can Israel decide what to do, and a re-invasion of Gaza is not out of the question if Hamas wins, now that we know that Hamas terrorists are in Iran being trained by the revolutionary guards.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Muslim violence

A ceasefire was signed between Hamas and Fatah in Gaza on Thursday to try to halt the slide of the PA towards civil war. On Wednesday six were killed in gun battles in Gaza and on Thursday two more. But, just as in Iraq the chance of actually halting the violence is slim. Why is this? Is it because Arab/Muslim culture is prone to solving political problems violently? Everywhere you look in the Muslim world there is violent insurrection, in Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, and now in Somalia and Sudan. And this has spread far and wide from Afghanistan to Algeria. The Muslims are not the source of all violence in the world, look for example at Sri Lanka where Hindus are battling Buddhists, but, nevertheless, violence seems to be endemic in the Arab/Muslim world.
Here is a speech given by James Baker: "To solve the conflict in Somalia we need first to solve the core problem, the Arab-Israel dispute. To do this is simple, all you have to do is talk to Syria and Iran, and give them something they want. We have decided that if Israel gives Syria the Golan that will satisfy them, for a time. We should also be prepared to sacrifice Lebanon for the greater good." No he didn't actually give this speech, but he and a wide range of shallow politicians who are basically anti-Israel could have done so.
Yesterday I saw Sen. John Kerry on TV while visiting Israel after the PA. He spoke for 5 mins and everything he said was a cliche: "this is a crucial moment in the Middle East, we need to have peace for both peoples, the situation in Iraq can only be improved if we can resolve the core Israel-Arab conflict, in order to do this we must have two states living side-by-side in peace, a state for the Palestinains and security for Israel, but the Palestinians must recognize Israel's right to exist and that means supporting Pres. Abbas in his clash with Hamas,....." This could have been spoken by a robot, these phrases roll off the tongues of uninformed and shallow politicians as if they actually meant something, but its all superficial. Why don't they just say that nothing can be done until the Palestinians give up the use of violence, until then everything else is talk. And as for the rest of the Muslims, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan and elsewhere, their conflicts have nothing whatsoever to do with Israel and everything to do with the Muslim propensity towards violence.

Thursday, December 21, 2006


Wednesday afternoon I went to the opening of a new media center in Jerusalem called MediaCentral. This is designed to fulfil a need that has been apparent for some time. The large contingent of foreign press in Israel covers most of the Middle East, including the PA, Jordan and Lebanon. They are no doubt safer staying in Israel than in the Arab areas. But, they get little in the way of actual help and support from Israel.
There are now good spokespeople at the IDF and the Foreign Ministry, but the Israeli Government does not provide communications, transportation and other perks for the foreign press, most of whom do not work for large international press agencies, and often do not report in English. The Foreign Ministry does not have the budget to support these activities and are not trusted by many foreign press anyway.
If a journalist wants a car, a photographer or a translator to accompany him in the PA there are offices in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Gaza where he can go to and get this help free. But, even though these offices are supposed to be independent, everyone knows that they are supported by the PA, just as they used to be part of the PLO. There is no such thing as independent news organizations in the Palestinian areas. So with the aid of biased helpers, no wonder much of the reporting is biased against Israel (apart from any inherent bias by the reporters themselves). But on the Israeli side such offices have not existed. Ideally what is needed is an NGO, a truly independent organization that tries to help the foreign press to do their job by providing both services and accurate up-to-date information about Israel. MediaCentral is now that organization.
It does not duplicate what the FM and IDF spokespeople do, because they give the official Govt. view, while MC will give an independent view, with regular briefings by many different groups, as well as the official ones, but also including the settlers groups and the human rights groups. They will also provide contact services for journalists who are in a hurry. For example, their first action was to help a Swedish TV team find an Israel woman who spoke Swedish who could give a view about the Security Fence to counter that given by a Swedish woman who lives in the PA.
They have nice offices, with TVs and computers, and a small library, as well as an informed staff. The person who spoke on behalf of MediaCentral was the Director, Aryeh Green, an old friend from Sharansky days. The FM spokesman Mark Regev and the IDF spokesman also spoke briefly. We also had doughnuts (soufganiyot).
For many years many of us have been critical of the poor PR activity of the Israeli Government. They have always cried lack of funds and often seem to respond too slowly because they present only the official point of view. Now finally others are doing something about it. For further information their web address is

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

I'm dreamin' of a sunny Hanukkah

I'm glad to be living in Israel, especially during Xmas time. No white Xmas, no snow to clean off the windshield, no more getting stuck in the snow, no slipping on the ice and breaking a wrist (as Naomi did). And no more annoying songs repeated ad nauseam, "Rudolf the red nosed reindeer," "I'm dreamin' of a white Christmas" and "Little drummer boy," etc. etc. From Thanksgiving to New Year's Day there is a constant barrage of buy, buy, buy. And the houses covered with lights, flashing on and off, and plastic Santas flying across the roofs.
But, I also remember America as I first encountered it in magazines growing up in England. "Moonlight in Vermont," and the husband arriving home in a big shiny car to a big house, lit inside with a Christmas tree, on the cover of "Life" magazine. Then my father won 100 pounds on the football pools and he went out and bought our first TV. And what do I remember from that time, the epic series "Victory at Sea," from which I learnt not only about WWII in the Pacific, but about the huge power and the generosity of the Americans. How they conquered many lands and then gave them back to their inhibitants. I remember two things especially, the hundreds of American bodies washing back and forth in the waves on Guadalcanal, and the music written for the series by Richard Rodgers. Somehow it epitomises for me the best of America, and today its one of my favorite pieces to play in my studio, so evocative of its time and place, and yet eternal ("no other love have I").
So this turned out to be a paean for America. Did the Japanese deserve the sacrifice that Americans suffered to make them free? I suppose they did, since they took advantage of that opportunity, they shed the myth of idolatry of the Emperor, they adopted democracy, and now they too can pursue happiness. And what of the Iraqis, do they deserve the sacrifices of the Americans to make them free? It seems not!
In any case, I'm happy to be here in Israel enjoying the sunny Hanukkah, and remembering the greatness of America, but glad that I don't have to suffer through another Christmas season.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


One factor in the Iranian behavior towards Israel has not been commented on is their intention to humiliate the Jews. Denying the Holocaust is not a new phenomenon, but no country has eagerly embraced this policy since the end of WWII. But, what does the Iranian clerical regime really gain by doing this? In questioning the veracity of the murder of 6 million Jews during WWII, the Iranian regime is deliberately tryng to humiliate the Jews. What can the Jews do in response? Nothing!
The Iranians see their conference questioning the Holocaust as a continuation of the policies of the Nazi Hitler regime of Germany in WWII, since Pres. Ahmedinejad has made clear his intention of wiping Israel off the map. In this respect the fascist policies of his predecessors and the anti-Israel policies of the Islamic State fit neatly together. In carrying out their anti-Semitic program it was important to the Nazis/Germans not only to murder Jews, but at the same time also to humiliate them. Hence the "Arbeit macht frei" slogans, hence the forced labor and confiscations, hence the crude language with which the Germans degraded Jews. Now Iran, which is the successor Aryan State to that of the Nazis is looking for ways to show its disdain for all Jews. Given no opposition, Iran under Ahmedinejad, a convinced anti-Semite, will carry out similar humiliations.
So the anti-Holocaust conference was not only organized to question the factual scope of the anti-Jewish murders, but also as a means of giving a warning to the Jews, we will kill you but we will also humiliate you in any way we can first. The Iranian regime is busy repeating the classic anti-Semitic lessons that they learned from their German teachers, namely the Jewish "control of media/banks/politics etc." But, added to that is the Muslim mantra of the Jews destroying Islam, of Jewish plans to defeat and humiliate the Muslims. Although there is no hint of that in all Jewish literature or behavior (Islam was founded so much later than Judaism), they firmly believe it, and act accordingly (as did the Christians of Europe). So do not expect any change in their ethnic attitudes, they are firmly ingrained. Only a revolution from within Iran can change the situation and avert a major clash.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Abbas gambles

Finally, after five months, Pres. Abbas of the PA gave up on negotiations with Hamas and declared in a speech on Saturday that he will organize new elections for both President and Parliament. However, he stopped short of dismissing the current Hamas Government and giving a specific date for these supposed elections. Nevertheless, it had the effect of bringing Hamas out into the open and escalating the violence in the PA. The Hamas spokesman accused Abbas of making a coup attempt against the legally elected Government. There were several violent clashes between Fatah and Hamas gunmen in the streets of Gaza and the West Bank leading to four dead and scores of injured.
In one case Hamas attacked a training camp adjacent to Abbas' office in Gaza and killed two Fatah gunmen. They also fired four mortar shells at his office. In another case the motorcade of Hamas FM as-Sanah was attacked in Gaza, although he escaped unhurt. Many commentators have concluded that a civil war is currently underway between Fatah and Hamas in the PA. This is part of the overall clash between the extremist forces supported by Iran and the "moderate" Sunni forces in Lebanon, Palestine and Iraq.
However, last night a ceasefire was announced in the PA covering all groups, including Islamic Jihad. They agreed to withdraw all armed men from the streets and to release all captives. It was agreed that in place of any clashes, negotiations should continue for a unity government, but this is definitely not a realistic possibility. Meanwhile polls show that the Palestinian population is evenly split between support for Abbas/Fatah and Haniyeh/Hamas.
There are currently three consequences of the current violence:
1. There is an increasing schism between Gaza and the West Bank, because Gaza is more pro-Hamas and the WB more pro-Fatah. So far there is no formal political separation between them, but increasingly Hamas sees Gaza as its power base and Abbas, who sits in Ramallah, sees the WB as his. There is relatively little connection between these two areas, since due to the anti-Israel violence, including the continuing firing of Kassam shells into Israel, the Israeli Givernment has closed all road/rail links between Gaza and the WB. Whether or not in time this separation will become insititutionalized remains unknown.
2. There is a difference of opinion in Israel between those who think that it is a good thing that Palestinian thugs kill each other rather than Israelis, and those who believe that the terrorist groups will compete more feverishly with each other to carry out terrorist attacks against Israel to prove their dedication to the Palestinian cause. This too remains to be seen, but seen as a zero-sum game, a dead terrorist is a dead terrorist!
3. The surrounding "moderate" Sunni Arabs States, especially Lebanon and Jordan, are afraid of the violence spilling over into the Palestinian camps on their territories, where there are factions that support both Fatah and Hamas. In a larger perspective such splintering can be seen as part of the overall clash within the Arab/Muslim world between the extremist Shia/Sunni alliance (lead by Iran and including al Qaeda) and the more pro-Western moderate Sunnis (including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, etc.).
It might be concluded that whenever the Palestinians are unable to make headway in their attacks against Israel, due to the Security fence and improved IDF security, they quite naturally turn on each other. This has happened in the past and is likely to escalate until they come to an agreemente or one side or the other scores a victory. Then they will they renew their campaign against Israel, trying once again to do what they have failed to do in the past.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Constructive ambiguity

There has been a lot of comment about PM Olmert's statement in Germany that implied that Israel has atomic weapons. I for one am not unhappy about this. It's true that it appears to breach the traditional policy of ambiguity that has been Israeli Govt. policy since the 1960s. Israel has always said that it will not be the first country to "introduce" atomic weapons into the Middle East. But, in fact, almost everyone believes that Israel does have the bomb, and would use it if it were faced with a survival situation. However, believing and knowing are two different things, and Israel's policy so far has been a hedge against its Arab/Islamic enemies getting the bomb too. Now that Iran is clearly on the path to getting nuclear enrichment leading to a bomb, it is appropriate for Israel to in effect remind them, particularly as they hold an anti-Holocaust conference, that Israel is by no means defenceless.
So was Olmert's statement to a German TV program an off-the cuff remark that was mistaken and misinterpreted or was it a deliberate gaffe in order to let everyone know where we all stand? I think the former, but it has the effect of the latter. In any case, it really shouldn't make any difference, because Iran is supposed, according to its own leaders, to be developing nuclear capability for purely peaceful purposes. So why then should it consider it necessary to switch to a weapons program, if it hasn't done so already, just because of Olmert's remark. The Israeli nuclear capability is not a threat to any other country, and is not deployed. As Olmert said, that is the crucial difference, Israel threatens no country while Iran threatens to "wipe Israel of the map," specifically, repeatedly and publicly.
Seen in this light, Mordecahi Vanunu's revelations about Israel's nuclear research had a salutary effect in that it let everyone know that Israel does indeed have the capability to deploy nuclear weapons. I wouldn't call Vanunu a patriot, but I see no harm in our enemies knowing that although they want to destroy us, doing so may result in their mutual destruction as well.
Now the secondary effect of the Iranian push for nuclear technology has transpired. A coalition of the Sunni Arab countries, The Gulf Cooperation Council consisting of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Oman, Jordan, etc. have announced that they intend to start a program to examine the development of a nuclear capability for peaceful purposes. Such is the nature of proliferation. However, while this is a dangerous development it is directed against the Iranian threat rather than that of Israel, although they might use the Olmert revelation as an excuse.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

My plans

One friend, after my recent articles about the Iraq Study Group Report, has challenged me as to what I would do in relation to Iraq. In other words, if I accept that the current policy is not working (on that I agree) and that the Report itself is a facade for appeasement of America's enemies, then what are the alternatives?
I have two cardinal rules, first if the Sunnis and Shia wish to battle out their ages old hostility in a sectarian civil war, then the US forces (a mere 120,000 in a country of 22 million) cannot stop them, so why try. But to "cut and run" would be disastrous. I would declare that the training of the Iraq Army to defend the democratic, but powerless, Iraqi Government, will be continued within US compounds, and so, second I would withdraw all American and coalition forces within well-defended facilities and stop all American patrols and military operations. Then there would be a kind of "survival of the fittest," let the Government, the Shia militias, the Sunni death squads and the al Qaeda terrorists fight it out. True the US bases would be targets, but not as much as the currently exposed forces are during patrols through enemy-infested Shia and Sunni areas.
Why is it important for the US to have bases in Iraq? Because we have real enemies there and we may need to fight them. Better to have a "beachhead" directly there, than to have to go back in from scratch. I would put these bases in well-defended locations, among our best allies, such as in the Kurdish area and along the Jordanian and Kuwaiti borders, with easy access from those countries. I would also hold a major airport in a remote area so that major reinforcements can be flown in at short notice if needed.
There are two possible reasons for a future conflict, first if Iran takes over the Shia areas of Iraq and threatens to use atomic weapons or even conventional warfare against our forces, and second if the al Qaeda or another anti-American terrorist group takes over or is allowed to train and develop as it did in Afghanistan. These are serious possibilites, and having US forces on both the west (Iraq) and east (Afghanistan) of Iran is a military asset that has not been effectively used, while those forces have been pinned down by local anti-American forces. They need to be relieved of this task so that they are ready to carry out the much more important strategic job, if needed. They will in effect be the forward beachhead of US forces in the Mid-East.
Of course, in time, circumstances may change, the Iraq Government may fall, those who come into power may tell the US to leave. If and when that happens we must be flexible, but this "retract and hold" plan has the simplicity of retaining our forces there, while reducing their current combat role, a compromise plan if you like between the current exposed combat situation and a complete withdrawal/defeat.
So that's my suggestion, but much more relevant as far as I am concerned is what to do about Israel's situation. I don't disagree with PM Olmert's attitude of "show the world" (the bastards) that we are the ones willing to make peace - at almost any price, i.e. letting them break the ceasefire by shooting Kassams from Gaza, letting Hizbollah truck in weapons at night from Syria, agreeing to release 500-1000 prisoners for one kidnapped soldier, etc. But, meanwhile we wait and see how things progress, whether the Siniora Government in Lebanon can hold in the face of pro-Syrian Hizbollah attacks, whether Abbas can finally come out and declare new elections for a PA Government, and if so what the results will be (either civil war or a Fatah or Hamas Government) and whether or not Iran makes good on its implied threat to actually develop nuclear weapons. Since we cannot predict the future we might as well let it reveal itself in its own time, meanwhile preparing (far better than we did last time) for the likely war plans of our enemies.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Crossing the line

In organizing the anti-Holocaust conference Iran crossed a red line that requires reaction. Until now many individuals have for various reasons denied the Holocaust. But, in the name of the suffering and deaths of our dear brethren we cannot accept a sovereign state supporting this obnoxious position.
That the Holocaust occured and is a fact is beyond dispute, and that this conference of Holocaust denial is a pro-fascist political position taken by the haters in Tehran is undeniable. As far as I am concerned no such country should be accepted within the legitimate international community. Therefore it is incumbent on all of us to pressure our countries and others to break diplomatic relations with Iran and to start a campaign to expel Iran from the UN. Even if they have the support of the Arab and Muslim countries, at least we shall see who is prepared to support such a disgusting action.
Since the overthrow of Hitler nothing like this legitimization of ethnic cleansing on the greatest scale, the worst crime in history, has happened in 60 years, and it is now up to us to respond to this challenge. The blood of our relatives and people demand it. I hope all of you will write to the American, British and Canadian Governments to initiate action to expel Iran from the UN.
Note that for the first time at his opening speech to the conference Pres. Ahmedinejad was heckled by a group of Iranian students. They were very brave to do this and one wonders what will happen to them. But, at least it gives us hope that even in Iran there are people who are disgusted by this turn of a religious regime to fraud, hatred and distortion. They have crossed a line from which they can never return.
A line was also crossed in Gaza today when the three sons of a Fatah leader were murdered by gunmen while driving to school. Their car was riddled with bullets, and although this may have been an assassination attempt on their father, he was not in the car. This crime has been rejected by Hamas spokesmen, but everyone knows that they did it, and it was specifically in retaliation for the attack yesterday by Fatah gunmen on the motorcade of the Hamas Minister of the Interior Said Siam. Although he was not injured this was considered a serious escalation of the internecine warfare between Fatah and Hamas. This terrible killing of children on their way to school cannot be forgiven. It is a measure of the level down to which the Muslim Arabs are prepared to go in their use of violence for political purposes. Cannot the world simply see how violent, uncivilized and disgusting they really are? If there is not now a civil war between Hamas and Fatah in the PA it will be a miracle.
In Lebanon the two sides, Hizbollah and the Lebanese Government, have apparently accepted an Arab League brokered compromise to increase Shia representation in the Siniora Government while keeping it in power. However, this situation has not resolved itself fully yet, and one can expect further demands and clashes. When the Arabs see weakness it emboldens them. They readily cross lines considered sacrosanct to others.

Monday, December 11, 2006

The positive side

This evening we went to an excellent talk at the AACI given by Gil Hoffman, the political reporter of the Jerusalem Post. He is originally from Chicago, although his parents lived in Israel. He spoke very well and amusingly, and because so many of us have been drawn into a pessimistic view of Israel's situation of late, he decided to focus on the positive side. He listed several reasons for being confident about Israel's future. So for those who found my recent article on the "next war scenario" disturbing, here is an antidote:
Many people are positive about Israel, including Warren Buffet, who made his first investment outside the US in Israel, and Donald Trump who is investing in Israel (and in Netanya). Also, the British astrophysicist Stephen Hawking is visiting Israel right now and has been extremely complimentary about the scientists and the students he has met. So our economy and our science are very good.
Even though the Iranian threat is the most serious, he mentioned that in a talk he gave to a visiting group from the US he was asked a few weeks ago, just before Olmert met Bush in Washington, what he expected would come out of it regarding Iran. His answer was that if Olmert said a lot about Iran that would mean nothing had been achieved, but if he said nothing about Iran that would mean that serious discussions had taken place. After the meeting Olmert said a lot about the Palestinians, but nothing about Iran. It turned out that Olmert and Bush met privately for 45 mins to discuss Iran, without any aides present! This is very unusual (Bush usually needs someone to tell him what to say), so the conclusion is that the US and Israel have agreed about what to do with Iran should the contingency arise.
Bush is a "lame duck" President and so has a more or less free hand to deal with Iran without being worried about his re-election. Also, he is concerned about his place in history, and so far Iraq is not his shining moment. Maybe if he saves the free world from the Iranian bomb he will recoup his losses.
According to recent reports Iran has run into trouble with the enrichment of uranium isotopes. They need another 60,000 centrifuges, and this is no mean requirement, it might indicate that they cannot achieve the optimistic view of developing a nuclear weapon within two years.
The Iranian parliament just voted to shorten Pres. Ahmedinejad's term in office by 1.5 years. This is primarily because of criticism on domestic issues. Many Iranians voted for him because he was an effective mayor of Tehran. But, he has focussed more on foreign affairs (the bomb, the Holocaust) and not putting bread on their plates. Many people are dissillusioned with him (according to reports from recent objective visitors) and so he will be out of office in 2.5 years! However, he may be replaced by someone worse, one doesn't know.
The Democrats want to win big in the next election in 2 years, and don't want to be left with the Iraq war and the Iranian crisis to deal with, so they will cooperate with Bush in the next two years to resolve the situation to Americans' satisfaction in order to start with a clean slate.
Israel defined three conditions for acceptance of the PA Hamas Government, recognition of Israel, stopping terrorist violence and accepting all previous PA-Israel agreements. Surprisingly almost the whole world has continued to go along with this Israeli policy for a year without backsliding. Even the EU has found a way to keep the agreement by paying funds only thru Abbas's office. This is unusual support for Israel's position, that has in fact almost brought the PA Government to its knees.
The Palestinains are on the verge of a civil war. As Abba Eban said "they never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity." Several weeks ago it looked as if Hamas and Fatah might make a deal on a Unity Government, but now that Haniyeh has gone to Iran and stated categorically (for the benefit of his Iranian hosts) that Hamas will never recognize Israel, this pulls the carpet out from under Abbas. So he is likely in a few days to announce new elections. Hamas have said that they would consider this a coup attempt by Fatah, and the hostilities already under way may expanded. Yesterday an attempt was made to assassinate the Hamas Min. of Interior Said Siam. In any case, if there are elections in the PA, whoever wins, the situation will likely deteriorate.
Kofi Annan is retiring as UN Secty General. He will hardly be missed by the US and Israel. On his watch both N. Korea and Iran are in the process of developing nuclear weapons. He will be replaced by the former S. Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon, who has great experience in dealing with nuclear proliferation and is considered to be a serious and dependable candidate. Whether or not this will affect the UN's relationship with Israel remains to be seen.
Gil also responded to questions; about Syria he said that if Bashir Assad really wants to have negotiations with Israel as has been suggested, then he knows what to do, expel Khaled Mashaal and the horde of terrorists living in Damascus. He hasn't done this and so is not serious. Also, he is busy trying to recoup his position in Lebanon, by trying to use Hizbollah to bring down the Lebanese Government. This has not made him popular with the US or the EU. Gil almost dismissed the "Iraq Study Group Report," he said it bore little resemblance to reality on the ground and was already being ignored by Olmert and Bush. He did not think that Israel need worry about the implication in the Report that Israel should give up the Golan to Syria, it just won't happen.
Overall Gil Hofmann gave an affirmative rendition of Israel's predicament.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The next war scenario

The outlines of the next war as seen by Israel's enemies is quite clear. First, Hamas and Hizbollah will make coordinated attacks as they did last summer. Then when Israel is bleeding and is being hit by rockets both north and south, Iran will step in with its long-range nuclear tipped rockets and commit the coup de grace. Result, the Zionist entity will be "wiped off the map."
In achieving this scenario, several things must happen first. Note that Hamas has been stringing Pres. Abbas along for about 6 months, not agreeing to a Unity Government and not allowing him to take over. In fact an obscure statement was issued by Hamas in Gaza saying that Hamas intends to contest the next Presidential elections in the PA and expects to win the Presidency from Abbas. PM Haniyeh, obviously feeling strong enough to leave Gaza, is currently visiting Iran and stated at a rally at Tehran University that Hamas will never recognize Israel's right to exist and (echoing Ahmedinejad) that the end of the Zionist entity is in sight. Hamas is also training an army of 10,000 men (supported by Iran) along the lines of Hizbollah, that has not yet seen any action, so the IDF has been battling the usual terrorists, but this new army is being held in reserve for future action. It is amazing that the Israel Government knowing this has allowed them to continue training and arming this army with weapons smuggled from Egypt, but has done nothing about it!
Meanwhile in Lebanon, Hizbollah is cashing in its chips. It is making a play to take over Lebanon on behalf of its Syrian and Iranian backers. They are also now supplying Hizbollah with updated weapons and rockets, mostly trucked in at night over the Syrian border. Two things are worth noting about this, first UNIFIL (the new improved version) is doing nothing about this, and second the ambassadors of the EU countries in UNIFIL have been shown film of this smuggling operation taken by Israeli flyovers (that they oppose) but have done nothing about it. So much for UNIFIL and the EU. Once Hizbollah takes over the Lebanese Government they will first cancel the UN's judicial enquiry into the assassination of Rafik Hariri. Then they will somehow expel UNIFIL or remove their remit to extend to the Lebanese-Israeli border, and they will then take up their positions as they were before the recent war. They will then initiate border incidents with Israel, that will result in Israel being censured by the UN.
When the scene is set, about 6 months-1 year from now, hostilities will begin. Then Israel will respond as expected and will be hit by the new improved Hamas Army in Gaza and the new improved Hizbollah Army in south Lebanon. Feigning some kind of excuse Iran will then come to the aid of their proxies, and the real war will break out. Iran can send its Iranian guard through Syria to Lebanon and could fly and drop parachutists into Gaza and/or the West Bank. This might also bring Syria into the war. Israel can stop these attacks and kill many of the parachutists, but by no means all. When this war has gone on for about a year and Israel is being exhausted, then Iran will have its nuclear weapons ready and will announce that either Israel capitulates or will be bombed. Since Israel will not capitulate (or even if it does), Iran will then drop the A-bomb on Tel Aviv. That in outline is the Iranian plan.
Seen from the Israeli point of view there are various defensive measures that can be taken. First, the IDF can invade Gaza to find and destroy the nascent Hamas army before it can be fully trained, armed and deployed. But this requires a decision by the Government that has been known so far as weak and indecisive. Second, a preemptive strike on the Iranian nuclear facilities can be made to prevent the development and deployment of the A-bomb. This will be condemned in all parts of the world, but from an Israeli perspective, better to hit first than be hit first, or have we learnt nothing from history. In any case the rest of the world will crucify us and not come to our aid. Note that the US is conspicuously absent in this scenario, it has all but written itself out of the script.
Note also that the Hizbollah takeover of all of Lebanon is not a sure thing. Apart from his braggadocio and swaggering after his "victory" in the recent war, Nasrallah may be overreaching. He has not yet shown that he can overcome the anti-Syrian opposition. However, he is banking on them being afraid to respond strongly and hence be responsible for initiating a new civil war, that Nasrallah does not fear (they are prepared to lose many lives to gain their ends).
This is only a possible scenario, but with the leader of Hamas visiting Tehran and being seen shaking hands with Pres. Ahmedinejad, and the leader of Hizbollah confidently stating that he will bring down the democratically elected Lebanese Government, this looks like a reasonable probability. Only the time line is uncertain. And where is the leader of the free world in all of this, mired in death and controversy in Iraq, and making ready to "cut and run."

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Iraq Study Group Report

I have not read the full "Iraq Study Group Report," but from reports in the media the outlines of the proposed policy changes to get the US out of Iraq are clear. In order to do so the US needs the help of Iran and Syria. Of course, in the context of Iraq, Iran and Syria are in fact the erstwhile enemy, they are the ones bankrolling and organizing the main opposition to the US in Iraq and trying to bring down the so-called democratic government of Iraq.
It is the height of political naievete to believe that those who have been fighting the US will in fact help it out (this is not just my view see the attached Editorial from today's Jerusalem Post). This is a new example of sentiment-based US foreign policy, starting from Pres. Woodrow Wilson, that simply does not face reality. Of course, Iran and Syria want the US out of Iraq, although they don't want it to leave an Iraqi state that would be pro-Western and that could threaten them. So they will help the US leave and then carve Iraq up. But, they will demand a price for helping the US. Part of that price has been offered by former Secty. Baker, Israel will give Syria the Golan Heights. This is the "game" played by a long line of American Protestant leaders, from William Rogers (and his plan) to Jimmy Carter (who has written a ridiculous book) and back to James Baker (who wants another Madrid conference). Their main idea seems to be that throwing Israeli bones to the Arab dogs will somehow buy them some concessions. Although in reality there is no connection of the Iraq situation to the Israel-Palestine conflict, its in their collective imagination.
Another part of the price, already signalled by new Secty. of Defense Gates, is that Iran's nuclear policy will be tolerated by the US, given that Iran feels itself threatened, surrounded by other countries with nuclear weapons, including Russia, Pakistan, Israel and of course the US itself. If ever there was a self-defeating policy that must be it! The idea that because the US has nuclear weapons Iran should be allowed to get them too is ridiculous, whatever happened to non-proliferation? It seems the more the merrier, as long as it gets the US out of Iraq!
So the US is in the process of adopting a policy of appeasement to its enemies in the Middle East, and in the process will do anyhting to disentagle itself from Iraq, including selling Israel out.
Although there are many protestations that this is not the case, today for example from Edward Djerejian, former assistant to Baker, they don't ring true. For example, in the Report at every point where it says that they will effectively "force" Israel to negotiate with the Palestinians, it says "those that recognize Israel's right to exist," but who are these Palestinians, they don't really exist!. Nevertheless, such niceties will not dissuade these sincere idiots from pursuing their self-righteous aims. They care more for "peace" as a perfect Christian concept than they care for the survival of the Jewish State of Israel.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Persia and the power vacuum

By focussing on Iran's Shia Muslim religion it seems that many of us have been missing an important point. Just as the Sunni Arabs had an Empire that stretched from India to Spain, so the Persians had an Empire that stretched, not quite as far, from India to Egypt. Especially the Sassanid Empire (not to be confused with the Sassenach Empire), that had as its state religion Zoroastrianism (still lingering on as the religion of the Parsis of India), that lasted from 224 to 632 ce and was swept away by the Arab Muslims. The Persians, or Iranians as they called themselves, then opted for the non-orthodox Muslim faith of Shi'ism.
Nevertheless, many Iranians remember the historic extent of Persian power, and relish the idea that they are once again being expansive and flexing their muscles. Of course, the Imams in Iran would never admit this, since any history before Mohammed is considered unholy, but to ordinary Persians this is a factor. For example, the Iranian American woman who went into space as a tourist a few months ago, although completely secular, said that she wished to dedicate her experience to the greatness of the Iranian people.
There is a power vacuum in the Middle East due to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the strong man of Iraq and of the central Arab world. Remember that the Iranians and Iraqis fought an 8 year war for control of the area, and the war ended in stalemate. But the US has been unable to fill this vacuum and has been unable to replace Saddam with a strong democratic Iraq, in an area where democracy is unknown and untried. Since the US has evidently failed to control the security situation and insurrection taking place in Iraq, this counterweight to Iranian power has been removed. The assumption that a unified Iraq would replace Saddma's Iraq as a counterweight to Irna has not transpired. This assumption not only neglected the weakness of Arab democracy, it also ignored the over-riding hatred between Sunni and Shia in Iraq. It seems there is no way that they are going to be contained in one state, short of a ruthless dictator such as Saddam.
As a consequence, the Iranians have been helping the Shia Arabs in Iraq to throw off the yoke of American and British imperialism as well as Sunni control. As the US has appeared weaker the Iranians have appeared stronger. Now they are boasting about their nuclear program (read weapon) and are seeking to fill the power vacuum left by the overthrow of Saddam's Iraq and of the US as the most powerful country in the Mideast. Iran has already co-opted as part of their sphere of influence ("empire") Assad's Syria and the Shia Hizbollah of Lebanon
Since the US is in withdrawal mode in Iraq ("let's ask the Iranians and the Syrians if they'll help us??") and now seems reconciled to Iranian hegemony, who does that leave to stop this Iranian drive for power? The only potential counter to Iranian power now is the combined Sunni power bloc. Given that Sunnis outnumber Shia by a factor of 100:1 in the world and probably 10:1 in the Middle East, and includes such countries as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan, Pakistan, etc., one would think that a Sunni coalition would arise to oppose Iranian expansionism. That is happening, but oh so slowly. The Sunnis prefer to buy off their opposition, as they have been doing for a long time with the Palestinian terrorists, and they are suspicious of each other's motives. So no serious opposition is likely to cohere from the Sunnis until it is too late. And who does that leave, you are right, little Israel!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

State or non-state entities

It is easier for a State to fight another State than to fight non-State entities such as terrorists or insurgents. This is what the US is finding in Iraq, as many others have found in the past, including the British in Burma, Kenya and Ireland (the result of having many colonies), and as Israel has found in fighting the Palestinian terrorist groups and Hizbollah. Even though the US had a terrible time in Vietnam, when push came to shove, Kissinger advised Nixon to bomb Hanoi harbor, because that's where all their arms were being shipped through and this was what brought N. Vietnam to the negotiating table.
Now, with the advice from the "Iraq Study Group" being the news flavor of the month, everyone is saying that the US should talk to Syria and Iran, and this will help the Iraq situation. I think this is an incredible error, this is equivalent to saying "let's negotiate with Hitler, he's an honorable man," or "Good Old Joe Stalin, he's our loyal ally." Not only that, but in his remarks before the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday, new Secty of Defense Gates stated categorically that using force against Syria and Iran would be only a "last resort." At least he didn't rule it out altogether.
It should be clear by now that the neo-conservatives, who by no means are all Jews and for all their supposed power as a cabal "controlling" Washington, lost out to the Democrats, who received nearly 80% of the Jewish vote. I am afraid of being labelled an Israeli who would fight to the last American, so I am not exactly representative of the views of my American Jewish cousins. But, I think they would all agree that if you have a choice between fighting a war against non-state entities in Iraq, or fighting a state like Syria, the latter would be the easier choice. After all isn't the US supposed to be the greatest power the world has ever seen, so what's with all the mickey mousing around in Iraq.
Every State has infrastructure - roads, bridges, railways, TV stations, etc. etc. that it does not want to lose. This was the basis for the NATO bombing of Serbia, that caused the Serbian Government to capitulate on Kossovo, and for the Israeli bombing of Lebanese infrastructure that caused Lebanon to cry "halt" in the recent war with Hizbollah. This is especially true once their arms depots and resupply lines were disrupted. So in the long run it would be easier to fight Syria than the Syrian supported terrorists in Iraq and ditto for Iran. Now that we know the Iranina nuclear threat is real, althouhg not imminent, we must watch that situation very carefully and be prepared to act in our essential defence.
I heard a British businessman in Iraq interviewed on the BBC. He said some interesting things, such as that the man in charge of disbursing contracts in southern Iraq, the Shia area, was not Iraqi and spoke Farsi (in other words he was Iranian), and as long as you kept to the contract terms there was no problem with terrorists. And giving gifts and jobs to the local boys kept them out of your hair. He also said that in his estimate things would quiet down in Iraq, and not get worse if the US withdrew its forces either completely or away from the battle areas. It might be that Baghdad is a special case because there all the ethnic groups come together, but in the main Sunni and Shia areas, the local militias are now in charge and there will be no change if the US leaves. So continuing to fight in Iraq is somewhat superfluous, but to hit at the State supporters of international terrorism, such as Syria and Iran, "the axis of evil" (remember them), now that's a different matter altogether.

Monday, December 04, 2006


Is Muslim democracy a contradiction in terms? Is such a chimera a figment of the imagination, but impossible to realize in reality? In Iraq, given that the insurrection and sectarian violence is only getting worse, should the US in effect "cut and run"?
There is no doubt that the US in an altruistic manner sacrificed its young men and its treasure to try after the Gulf war to make Iraq into a democracy. But, let's face it, the Arabs/Muslims are not accultured to democracy, they have no idea what a "loyal opposition" means. With their culture of inbuilt martyrdom, they tend to extremes and always solve their disagreements violently. This is as true in Iraq as it is in Lebanon and Palestine.
Just as the US has patiently waited for the Iraqi Government to take charge and assert itself, so Israel has waited for Pres. Abbas to take over from the Hamas elected Government. But, it never happens, because they have in effect no power. Maliki and Abbas are seen as representatives of outside Western powers, and the only authentic Arab power structure that can govern must be established not by the ballot but by the bullet. This is the way of the Arab/Muslim world. This is why they had dictators such as Saddam Hussein and Assad. Where are the democracies in the Muslim world? There is Turkey, and beyond that perhaps Malaysia and Indonesia that are partially democratic, and no others, out of 22 Arab countries and 62 other Muslim countries. That is quite a statistic to explain away, while much of the rest of the world (e.g. Eastern Europe, South America, Asia) is tending towards democracy.
This is not to say that Islam and democracy are in principle incompatible, rather that the cultural basis of Islam tends towards violent confrontation and religious control of political forces, militating against peaceful democracy. One could say that the Muslim world is hundreds of years behind the Western world, which itself passed through such a violent religious-based confrontation in the 16-17th centuries. This is not to say that the West has been peaceful since then, witness WWI and WWII, but in the past half century has seemingly settled down into a period of secular control of democratic institutions.
Although Israel has fought many wars against the Arabs, and the West was challenged by the communist world (in Korea and Vietnam) these things are very much in the past. The challenge to Israel of Soviet supported Arab regimes is gone, and the communist system has failed. Now only the Islamist challenge remains, of Iran and its allies Syria and Hizbollah in Lebanon, and al Qaeda and the remnants of the Taliban in Afghanistan. How this terrorist sponsored challenge to Western civilization will be resisted will determine whether or not our democratic institutions survive. Victory is not certain, but we remain determined and hopeful.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Two state solution for all

When things concern the Palestine-Israel conflict everyone wants to get in on the act. The EU recently held a special session in Finland (that is currently Chair of the EU) to discuss this topic. The revised UN Human Rights Council have passed three resolutions against Israel and none on any other topic. The group of nations that met in Amman recently on the subject of "crises in the Arab world" also came out with proposals. And last but not least the UN General Assembly just passed its series of annual resolutions criticizing Israel for its "occupation" of Palestinian land. All agree that the solution to the perennial problem involves a "two-state" solution, Israel within the pre-1967 borders and a Palestinian State in the rest. This is in effect both US and Israeli Government policy too. The only question left seems to be where precisely to draw the lines.
Since a "two-state" solution is considered such a panacea, I suggest that it be applied to other conflicted countries in the Middle East. Why not a two-state solution for Lebanon? After all Lebanon is currently split between the Christian-Druse-Sunni anti-Syrian North and the Shia pro-Syrian South. It would be quite easy to draw a line that separates the two and leave a truly coherent Lebanon without the Shia region, that could be returned to Syria, which in any case they support. This would reverse the French-imposed solution for the Christian Arabs that unfortunately included one minority group too many.
And what about Iraq? A two-state solution for the Sunnis and Shia would be an obvious solution to the problem of the current conflict that is taking approx. 100 lives a day. Of course, there is the complication of the Kurds in the north, but they could either be a third independent region or to avoid Turkish ire be a part of the Sunni or Shia areas. While this would not suit a Bush-imposed democracy for Iraq, it would be a more natural solution to what was after all a British-imposed country lumping the three groups together.
And why not a two-state solution for Jordan (divided between the Beduin and the Palestinians) and for Egypt (between the Muslims and the Copts). None of this mixing together, lets have separate states for all religious and ethnic minorities. If it can work for the Palestinians it can work for everyone else.
But, unfortunately, all Palestinians do not accept a two-state solution for themselves. The Hamas Government of the PA, democratically elected by all Palestinians, does not recognize Israel's right to exist, will not negotiate with Israel, and does not accept a two-state solution of "Israel and Palestine living side-by-side in peace!" They want an Islamic state in all of Palestine, and that to be part of a huge Muslim Caliphate. However hard Abbas and his external supporters (including Pres. Bush, the Quartet and PM Olmert) wish it were not so. For now, even though the whole world is backing this neat solution, and even though Israel is seen by most as the impediment to this "easy" solution, no two-state solution for the Palestine conflict is in the offing. So why not let's try this easy solution elsewhere.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Polonium 210

Polonium-210 is all over the news since Alexander Litvinenko an anti-Putin Russian defector died from it in London. I recently read about polonium because I read an autobiography by the New York psychologist Jonathan Sacks, who grew up in London. He was an amazingly precocious chemist, whose uncles were chemists and physicists and whose parents were both physicians. When he was about 12 he already had his own chemistry lab and a fume hood in his own large home. The book is entitled "Uncle Tungsten," because one of his uncles had a factory that made electric light bulbs from early in the 19th century using tungsten as the ideal filament (strong and able to withstand very high temperatures). The book is about his childhood and his love affair with chemistry. One thing one learns about in detail in the book is the discovery of the higher elements by Marie and Pierre Curie, including the discovery of uranium and other radioactive elements.
Most people know that the French chemist Becquerel actually discovered spontaneous radiation. It was the Curies who spent many years isolating the higher radioactive elements from ores such as pitchblende. Their laboratory was so contaminated from all the radiation emitting elements it literally glowed in the dark. When they realized that uranium spontaneously decayed to lighter elements, usually including the stable element lead, they also discovered a series of new elements in the breakdown products. The first of them Marie Cure called Polonium after her native country Poland.
Polonium also spontaneously decays and emits alpha particles or high energy radiation, but only over a very short distance (cm). In that respect Polonium 210 is a very good poison, because its radiation is stopped by any barrier from paper to glass and if contained inside a glass vial it is undetectable from the outside. But, if ingested into the body in food, drink or thru lesions in the skin, it is highly toxic (250 million times more than cyanide) at very low doses (micrograms, like grains of salt), and when spread around the body will cause the breakdown of numerous tissues over time. Since polonium 210 has a half life of 138 days, over a period of a few months while causing death, it will also decay away. So if the tissues and/or the urine of the person are not analyzed in time, it will be gone, mysteriously - poof!
It is a mystery why it was first thought that Litvinenko was posioned by thallium, which has isotopes of mass 203 and 205. Using a method called mass spectrometry, which measures the mass of any isotope, it is very characteristic to measure the mass of an element and unique to find a peak at 210. It is strange that this was not found much earlier, but it was not until several weeks after the poisoning (Nov 1) that it was announced that the effects were due to polonium. Why his urine was not checked for radiation and mass spectrometry immediately remains a serious question.
Even more mysterious is why they checked the clothes of the peron he met at the Japanese restaurant Itsu on November 1, an Italian Professor named Mario Scaramella, who has some strange connections in Russia and Italy, but they did not check his urine until now. It was intially announced that Scaramella was not contaminated, but now they say that he is highly contaminated, although he shows none of the medical symptoms that Litvinenko did. So the question arises, was he the perpetrator of Litvinenko's poisoning or was he just another unlucky victim. Also, Yegor Gaidar, a former PM of Russia, who was taken suddenly very ill on a visit to Ireland recetnly, where Litvinenko also went after his initial poisoning and where he also became suddenly very ill, seems to have very similar symptoms now in a hospital in Moscow.
The physical evidence doesn't lie. By determining the level of contamination or radioactivity in tissues it is possible to work backwards to find out the source of the poisoning. Litvinenko will have left small traces of contamination in every place he went, including especially wherever he went to the toilet. If he left traces on plates and utensils in restaurants it is hoped that all personnel used gloves that would have protected them from being contaminated.
Polonium 210 cannot be used as a weapon of mass destruction, it is a highly localized but potent poison. This unprecendented case will bring great attention to the nefarious workings of secret agents and their insidious methods of removing troublesome opponents. Inside Russia they simply shoot them, but outside they must be more subtle.