Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Suicide bombing in Eilat

The suicide bombing in Eilat is unique for several reasons: First, it is the first suicide bombing in Israel for 9 months, and since they are always trying, this shows how effective the Security Fence and the methods of the security forces have become. Second, it is the first suicide bombing in Eilat, that has been spared this type of attack mainly because it is isolated and hence easier to police. Even though this suicide bombing was planned for 7 months (according to the perpetrators), they were only able to attack a small local bakery, nowhere near the tourist center, and unfortunately kill the owners, an elderly couple, and their foreign worker. Even though it could have been much worse, this bombing was calculated to affect the tourist trade in Eilat, and no doubt will have a small effect.
Another interesting feature of this attack is that several Palestinian terrorist organizations claimed credit for it. This is supposed to enhance their prestige among the Palestinians while they are in the midst of a civil war. Notably Fatah did not claim credit and criticized the bombing, but blamed Israel for it (?), since according to their spokesman Israel's attacks (which ones) against Palestinian civilians (?) have given the terrorists justification for bombing Israeli civilians! And these are the "moderates' that we are supposed to be helping and with whom we are supposed to make peace!
According to Israeli sources, the bomber did not come from Jordan as claimed, but probably from Egypt. In Gaza it was revealed that the bomber was Mohammed Saksak, 19, whose mother said she was proud of him, and would willingly sacrifice her other sons for the cause. It is now easy to infiltrate Egypt across the Gaza border, and then to slip into Israel across the relatively open Egyptian Sinai-Israeli Negev border. Until now ca. 100 potential infiltrators ahve been caught by the security forces there. Apparently the Israeli driver who gave the bomber a lift deliberately dropped him far from the Center of town and called the police but it was too late.
The Israeli security forces are deciding whether or how to retaliate, since any response in Gaza might tend to unify the gunmen currently fighting it out. People are still being killed, and abducted there. On the other hand, not to retaliate gives the impression of weakness, both in Israel and among the Palestinians, and only leads to more attacks. If they know that their home is going to be destroyed and their parents and family made homeless, this does have some preventative effect against would-be suicide bombers. Today the IDF bombed a tunnel known to be used for smuggling.
The most insidious aspect of this attack is that it is most likely financed by Iran. It is known that Iran is smuggling money into Gaza and the West Bank to finance attacks against Israel. Further, the Iranians have taken over what was formerly mainly Saddam Hussein's function, of paying the families of suicide bombers for their death. It was up to ca. $25,000 per bomber until Saddam was overthrown. The Iranians are very supportive of bombings against Israel, but not to that extent. They are a bit cheaper.
On Sunday, the Cabinet approved the appointment of its first Arab member, Ghaled Mujadle, a Labor Party member and supporter of Defense Minister Amir Peretz. The only dissenter was Avigdor Lieberman, Head of the Yisrael Beiteinu faction. However, while Israeli Arabs are reportedly pleased with this development, it gains us no points with the Palestinians and their European supporters. Will they see this appointment and conclude that Israel is indeed a democracy, where the Arab minority have full rights? Never, they would never admit this even in the face of such clear evidence, even when we are taking suicide bombings, that they justify and blame on us. Mujadle at least condemned the bombing and said that it interferes with the possibility of peace.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Oh, Pioneer!

Everywhere one goes in Israel there is evidence of building and development. In every city there are cranes showing sites of highrises, either residential or commercial. Industrial quarters are mushrooming from every city, Petah Tikva, Netanya, Rehovot, Ra'anana, etc. It's all very modern and impressive and testifies to the strength of the Israeli economy.
But, there is a downside to this development, and I don't mean the usual criticism of "over" development, the proliferation of concrete and glass, taking orchards and greenery from this small, densely populated country. What is happening is an intense internalization of development, while empty land sits waiting for pioneers to develop it, and they cannot because the Government and the people have changed course.
There was an interesting article in the Jerusalem Post this weekend entitled "The Great Drift" by Erica Chernofsky comparing the role of pioneers in the early days of the Jewish settlement (1930-40s) to that nowadays. In the early days, even before independence, the pioneers who went out and settled barren land (where there were no or few Arabs) were considered brave and resourceful men and women, who were establishing the contours of the State. They were left-wing idealists who founded kibbutzim (most of which have now failed). Today in the 2000's pioneers are called "settlers" and this is considered a pejorative term. Now they are considered right wing fanatics who are endangering the State by taking land that "should" belong to the Palestinians Arabs, and by doing so are making a peaceful solution to the conflict more difficult. In other words, to use the current liberal jargon, they are contributing to the "occupation" that is the main justification for Arab violence against Jews.
But, wait a minute. In Gaza there is a civil war going on. This past weekend ca. 25 Arabs were killed by other Arabs, including a baby and a child. So which Arabs are our settlers upsetting. Well, its all of them, or both camps, Fatah and Hamas. But, its noteworthy that not being able to attack and kill us, they are now attacking and killing each other. The pretense of a negotation towards a Unity Government has been dropped, and the fighting is more intense and vicious. In many Arab places and situations there are at least two sides fighting it out, in Iraq, in Lebanon, and now in "Palestine." The question arises, is this people responsible enough to justify having their own State, and if you think they are, would you want it next to you?
It seems that neither side has the capability of destroying the other and taking over. Fatah could do it, but it would be a bloodbath, and Hamas are prepared for a bloodbath (as the extremists are doing in Iraq), but don't have the capability. So this internecine conflict is likely to go on, off and on, for a long time, with neither side coming out on top. In either case, both sides will support terrorism against Israel, since they have no other military capability, except rockets.
So we are kidding ourselves if we, Israelis, think that eventually there will be a peace partner that will negotiate with us in rational terms, agree on borders and settle the dispute. It ain't gonna happen! Get used to the idea. Since they can't destroy us, they are turning in on themselves, just as we are doing, although the manifestation is different. In their case it means destruction, while in ours it means intense internal development.
The West Bank can never be given to a Palestinian State (because of the vulnerability to rockets), short of an ideal peaceful settlement, which is nowhere on the cards. So instead, we must go back to the status quo ante (before the last intifada of 2000) that frightened many of us into a defensive crouch. We must continue the brave re-settlement of our land. If pioneers want to do that, let them. The IDF must protect them just as much as the Jews of Tel Aviv.
Such activity will expand the State, will protect its current citizens and be a much better use of the land than giving it over to a terrorist state in the making. Is that what the Europeans and the Americans want, an anti-Western, terrorist state that will be dedicated to destroying Israel and attacking them?
The corollary of trying to democratize the Middle East is not giving up land to the enemies of freedom loving Western civilization. Let Israel's drive for development be outward looking and not only internalized out of fear and self-deception.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

President Katsav

What are we to make of the situation regarding Pres. Katsav? It's clear that Katsav's ability to carry out his role as President has been greatly compromised by the charges that have been leveled against him. But, he has not yet been indicted, they are only potential charges. And he has not yet been tried in a court of law, so he must be assumed innocent. Nevertheless, even if innocent, it's clear that he cannot continue to act as President, and he has been granted a three month leave of absence by the relevant Knesset Committee, during which House Speaker Dalia Itzik will serve temporarily in his place.
What are the charges? A young woman came forward and claimed that Katsav made improper advances towards her and when she resisted he raped her. She was working in his office at the time. What made this more credible is that at least five other women followed her and claimed that they had been sexually harrassed by Katsav at earlier periods of his career. There were even some that were so long ago that they preceded the statute of limitations.
There are two big problems with this situation, the number of complaints and the fact that it's the President they are dealing with, means that the police must be extremely careful how they gather and confirm the evidence. So it has taken months before the Attorney General Meni Mazuz has finally made public his intention to indict Katsav on the charges. But, even now he has not made his final decision, and this may take several more months.
The other problem is that the identities and stories of the accusers cannot be revealed. So while Katsav is being pilloried by the media and many politicians, his accusers are not even named or known to the public. It may be that the story of the main accuser is not credible, and Katsav vehemently denies everything. But, one would expect him to anyway. What did Pres. Clinton say, "I never had sex with that woman!" Well, really?
The implications of the situation are severe: a loss of belief in the system of Government by the citizens, a loss of prestige for the role of President, a loss of credibility for the country abroad. But on the other hand, did Pres. Clinton's little adventure with Monica Lewinski bring down the democratic system in the US. No, on the contrary, the fact that the system has laws and means to deal with such situations shows that the system actually works. Katsav will likely be indicted, will stand trial and will be able to refute the charges, and a panel of judges will decide based on the evidence. Note that in Israel we don't have juries of one's peers, but a panel of judges. For a significant case like the trial of the President there may be 5 or 7 judges, but usually there are three.
Katsav had a very deprived childhood, coming as an immigrant from Iran with his family in 1951 without anything. They lived in a refugee camp (ma'abara) like half the Israeli population then, and their camp became the town of Kiryat Malachi (City of Angels). Katsav's brother was drowned in a flood in the camp, but he went on to become the first person to achieve a degree and became the mayor at the age of 24. Once he was supported by Menachem Begin his political career was assured.
In his uncharacteristically angry press conference on Thursday, when he let loose the floodgates of his feelings that have been bottled up for months, Katsav blamed everybody else but himself. He specifically lambasted the media, the police and the judiciary. But, this won 't wash. Although the press are rarely fair, they have mainly been reporting the situation as it develops, and many people have been reserving their opinions until a trial actually takes place. But, his un-presidential behavior in this press conference even lost Katsav points. Netanyahu could teach him a lesson or two, instead of coming out and crowing "I told you so" about Olmert's and Peretz's behavior in the Lebanon war, Netanyahu has played it very quietly and diplomatically. He has definitely gained by this statesmanlike behavior and is now way ahead in the polls.
There is still a group of MK's, across party lines, that want to impeach Katsav. But, it seems unlikely that they could garner the necessary 2/3 majority in order to do so, and so the situation is that Mazuz will probably bring the actual indictment within three months, and then Katsav will probably resign formally, leading to a vote (in the Knesset, not of the people) for a replacement. At present Shimon Peres is the front runner, because he is old and wise, and PM Olmert backs him. Perhaps Olmert wants to boot him up to get him out of Kadima. Dalia Itzik of Labor has also announced she will not run in the election, so as to clear the way for Peres, her former mentor. But, Peres was considered a shoo-in last time, only to be beaten by Katsav. Peres has raised a storm because he has stated publicly that he knew about Katsav's proclivity back in 2000, but said nothing about it then. Many think he should have done. So nothing is sure, and there are other candidates, including the Likud's Reuven Rivlin. How this will play out is anybody's guess, but it seems that Katsav's political life is essentially over.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Tunnel tour

Although the headlines in the newspapers are about the pending indictment of President Moshe Katsav for sexual and other offenses, I'm going to ignore that situation for now in favor of something eternal. On Wednesday we spent a day in Jerusalem touring the tunnels under the Kotel, the Western Wall, and under the City of David.
If you have not been on the Kotel tunnel tour, you must make it a goal of your life, since it is a remarkable experience. We went many years ago, but since our AACI group was going on this tour and to the City of David (Ir David) that we had never seen we decided to go along. You descend into the tunnel area from the Plaza in front of the Western Wall (ha'kotel ma'aravi). Small groups (ca. 26) go in at a time (if you have trouble walking or with stairs or are claustrophobic don't go on this tour).
The first thing you are shown in maps and models is how small the First Temple (ca. 1000-600 bce) built by Solomon was compared to the Second Temple (ca 500 bce-70 ce). There were in fact only 70 years between the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians and the building of the Second by those who returned from exile in Babylon.
But, the period that we are now most familiar with is that of Herod, when he renovated the Second Temple in 20 bce and flattened the tops of the mountains in the vicinity and filled some areas in to make what is now the huge Temple Mount area (Har habayit) that is as big as ten football fields. He expanded the Temple itself, and surrounded the Temple with other buildings built for various groups and purposes. He built separate areas for Jewish men and women, accomodations for the priests and an area for sacrifices. He also built a small palace for non-Jewish visitors, who were not allowed into the Temple area itself. On the southern side he built a palace to accomodate his many wives and concubines, while on the northern end he built the four towers of the Antonia Fortress, named after one of his wives, to protect the whole Temple area. Overall, the Temple in Jerusalem was the most magnificent building complex outside Rome, and as such rivaled Rome, which was not a wise thing to do.
The tunnel tour includes an automated model showing where the tunnel is along the side of the massive retaining wall that was the Western side of the Temple Mount, now largely covered up by later Arab buildings. During the walk along the tunnel one sees massive stones, one weighing 500 hundred tons, that it is hard to believe were quarried and then moved into place in those times. One sees doors and vaulted tunnels that supported entrances into the Temple from the city that was on the Western side (the city never developed towards the east).
Although not given permission to excavate inside the Temple Mount area by the Turkish Muslim authorities (Wakf), many British engineers and archeologists (some supported by the British Palestine Exploration Society) spent much time investigating areas around the Temple Mount, including Warren, Parker, and Robinson, who found significant structures that are named after them. One walks almost half a kilometer along the tunnel at the base of the Wall, sometimes in very restricted spaces. The massive power of the wall, its extent and significance are almost overwhelming.
About half way along the wall is the most holy area for Jews since it is thought to be the closest to where the actual Holy of Holies of the Temple stood. This raises a very curious situation, if this place and the Western Wall are considered "holy", why not actually go on the Temple Mount where the Temple itself stood and pray there. But, because noone really knows where the Holy of Holies was located and it is forbidden for Jews to enter this area (even though its enclosure no longer physically exists), the Rabbis have ruled that no Jew may enter or pray on the Temple Mount. This raises the strange situation that Jews pray at a wall that itself has no real holy significance. How did this come about?
After the destruction of the Temple in 70 ce, and especially after the Bar Kochba revolt was suppressed in 135 ce, Jews were expelled by the Romans from Jerusalem, it was totally destroyed and rebuilt and was renamed Aelia Capitolina. But, over the centuries Jews drifted back, and began to pray at the eastern wall of the Temple mount closest to the Temple, where that wall coincides with the wall around Jerusalem and there were no building obstructions. This is on the side nearest to the so-called "Lion Gate." However, around 1500 ce the Turks acceded to Jewish requests and assigned the only area where the wall was still visible for ca. 500 m in an alley on the Western side where the Jews could pray. Therefore, it is ironical that the "Western Wall" gradually came to be seen as holy by the Jews, even though it was merely the only remaining site granted by the Turks for Jewish prayer. In a sense, praying at the Western wall (not praying to the wall) has not made it "holy" since it is only the Temple itself that was considered sacred by Jews.
From the Western Wall Plaza we then made our way south out of the Dung Gate (really the Trash Gate) into the Arab village of Silwan. A short distance down the main street we entered the site of David's City. This is one of the major areas of excavation, since here there are no Mosques and no problem of Muslim interference. It is interesting to note that Abraham came from Ur in Chaldea, and the Hebrew word for city is "Ir." Also note that this site is outside the walls of the old city and has been so since the Ottoman Turks rebuilt the city walls partly following the Roman walls. Another interesting fact is that this city was originally inhabited by other peoples, and was controlled by the Jebusites when David conquered it around 1000 bce. Its main fortification was called the Zion fortress, so the name Zion preceded Jewish involvement. After David conquered the city he named it Jerusalem (Ir shalom or city of peace) and a synonym for it was Zion, that later became associated with Mt. Zion and hence Zionism.
David's city was not an overly impressive site from the outside, resembling a huge jumble of stones, which we saw by descending very steep metal stairs. But, when the guide started pointing out some features it became clearer. They found and excavated many rooms and buildings, that revealed that the huge structure of stones was the foundation for the palace that David built behind the Zion tower. The chief topological feature of the site is that it is a promontory protected on two sides by deep ravines, but in the eastern one, the Kidron Valley, there was a natural spring. Since it was outside the city walls, in order to protect it, David built four towers with high walls around it. But, around 700 bce the Assyrian army was approaching, after having destroyed the Kingdom of Israel to the north. King Hezekiah then realised that this was not sufficient protection for their water source and began to cut tunnels in the rock to divert the spring water into the city area. Since the southern part of the city was the lowest the tunnels went from east to south.
We went through these tunnels. The first attempt by Hezekiah was unsuccessful when it opened up into a huge deep shaft, that was rediscovered in the 19th century by Warren, and is known as Warren's Shaft. Warren thought that it was man-made and that the Israelites had dug it in order to access the water. But, in fact it was later discovered to be a natural formation, and prevented further digging there because it was too deep, so that it prevented ready access to the water. So Hezekiah dug another tunnel that still exists and is named after him, although we did not enter it as it still contains water (but you can go thru it).
An interesting corollary of this is that the diverted water formed a pool in the south of the city that was called in Hebrew, Shiloach, from the Hebrew verb lishloach, to send or divert (still used for sending packages today). Later on, at the time of Jesus, this pool was known in Greek as the Pool of Siloam. When the Arabs conquered the area, in Arabic it became Silwan, that gave its name to the Arab village.
We traversed a recently discovered connection from this aborted tunnel and Warren's Shaft into a tunnel dug around 900 bce in order to divert part of the spring water to the terraces along the side of the Kidron Valley. In this they found an inscription by one of the diggers that dates its origin. But, once we were in this tunnel we found that it was very narrow, and at one point so narrow that you really had to squeeze thru a small hole. Several of our group (consisting mostly of older people) had great difficulty getting thru and some got stuck and had to be pushed thru and one man banged his head and got a gash. Then there was a very long narrow tunnel in the dark, not a pleasant experience. But, we all made it thru and we all survived.
These tunnels show the incredible complexity of the archaeological sites, and they emphasize the concrete connection that the ancestors of the Jews had with these sites. It is worthwhile remembering that the name of the Southern Kingdom, not destroyed by the Assyrians, then reestablished after the Babylonian exile and finally destroyed by the Romans, was the Kingdom of Judah, that later was called Judea and that gave its name to the Jews.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


EU Foreign Policy Chief Xavier Solana recently stated that there is now "a window of opportunity" in the Middle East to bring Israel and the Palestinians together to negotiate peace. What nonsense!
But, he is not alone, many others continue to express unbridled optimism, unsupported by any actual evidence. Those not directly involved in the Middle East generally tend to express optimistic views, until such a time as they hope by chance they might be right. Recently, the German FM said the same thing and so did the Canadian FM, and Condi Rice was practically falling over herself to express support for Pres. Abbas and negotiations with PM Olmert during her recent visit and meetings. The Quartet are also meeting in an atmosphere of hope. What is the basis for all this optimism? Actually nothing!
It's more a continuous sense that anyone can interfere in our affairs, give us advice and take a stab at solving our problems, and generally be helpful, when they have not the slightest idea about the real situation. I mean, give me a break, things couldn't be worse for a peaceful solution, they couldn't be further from a possible solution that they have ever been.
There is a crisis in the PA, with two blocs fighting each other. Those left-wing-liberals, who say that "violence solves nothing," have no idea what is going on. The two sides, Fatah and Hamas, are part of a larger clash within the Muslim/Arab world between the Islamic view and the nationalist view. Hamas want to establish an Islamic state in place of Israel, and Fatah want to establish a Palestinian State, preferably in place of Israel, but if they can't do that at least in all of the West Bank and Gaza. But, before any progress to peace can take place the two sides have to decide which way they are going.
At present there is no partner for peace, Abbas is unable to move in any direction, even with all the support he is getting from the West. For example, where did he go to get help, he made the Hajj to Syria. At first Khaled Mashaal, Head of the Hamas political bureau in Damascus, refused to see him (the President of the Palestinians). Only after the intervention of Pres. Assad, did a meeting take place. Of course, Abbas begged Mashaal to form a National Unity Government, but Mashaal rejected that. So Abbas is left hanging, he is being pushed further and further into a corner, until his only option is the military one, civil war. On the face of it Fatah should win such a clash, because Abbas has tens of thousands of security forces (maybe 40,000) while Hamas are severely outnumbered (maybe 10,000). But, Hamas have Syria and Iran behind them and they are playing rough.
A very similar and parallel scenario is playing out in Lebanon, where Sheikh Nasrullah is trying to bring down PM Seniora and his Government. The fact that it was elected makes no difference to Hizbollah, they are in effect staging a coup, but without so far actually attacking the Government forces. If Seniora orders his army to attack Hizbollah, noone knows what will happen, will they do so, will they refuse, or will there be a civil war. So far Seniora is trying to appear conciliatory. Nasrullah is banking on the fear of the Christians and Sunnis of returning to a civil war, whereas he and his forces are quite prepared for that outcome.
The general Islamist strategy is to force out any pro-Western governments in Iraq, Lebanon and the PA, and thereby to strengthen and unify the pro-Iranian Islamist forces throughout the Middle East. Now you might think this would be considered a major threat to the other Sunni Arab States, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. But according to an eminent analyst, former CIA Chief James Woolsey, speaking at the Herzliya Conference, these States are not yet showing any real concern. They are still stuck in their rut of considering Israel their main enemy and being ambivalent to or outright opposing US policy in Iraq. But, although they want the US out of Iraq, they realize that would almost certainly lead to Iranian expansion into the Shia areas (which is already happening) and this could be a more direct threat to them. So they don't actually want the US to withdraw. But, as usual they are not doing anything positive to support the US, in case they are labelled pro-American, which the Islamist opposition labels them anyway.
At the same time, Israel is afflicted with a weak and indecisive Government, that should have resigned after the Lebanon War. The Defense Minister is a joke, and the PM now has less than 20% support. The President is also about to be indicted on several charges. The IDF has not recovered from the fiasco of the Lebanense war, and the new Commander in Chief Ashkenazi has only just been appointed. Under these circumstances Israel is hardly capable of countering any meaningful clash. Meanwhile the rockets continue to fall in the south.
Woolsey predicts that the Sunni Arabs will wake up to the true threat to their regimes too late, by which time neither the US and certainly not Israel could save them. Only a determined combination lead by the US, with Israel and/or the Sunni Arab States could prevent the Iranian ascendency, and soon it may be too late. If Iran gets nuclear weapons then the game is over, and many deaths could not be averted!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

JP Letters

Here are three letters, edited versions of which appeared in the Jerusalem Post letters column on the dates given:

Dec 12, 2006: Borat self-denigrator
Dear Editor:
Can you conceive of a member of any other ethnic group producing such a self-denigrating satire? Only a Jew would be so self-loathing as to make such a picture of Jews for members of other ethnic groups to laugh at. This is the corrosive influence of anti-Semitism, that it makes Jews grovel in stupidity in order to be accepted by the rest. Would there be a movie made by an Italian containing a "running of the Italians" or throwing money at bugs that are Irish or Arab made by a member of these groups? No, it is only funny if Jews are degraded in this way. The best response is not to go see the movie. Let Cohen do something truly funny but not anti-Semitic in order to redeem the shame heaped on our Jewish name.
Jack Cohen

Jan 15, 2007: Netanyahu no bigot
Dear Sir:
Larry Derfner is way out of line calling Bibi Netanyahu a "bigot" just because he discussed the Arab demographic problem (Jan 4). This has been a major issue in Israeli politics for years, and has been discussed publicly by PMs Sharon and Olmert, and their policy of selective withdrawals from Gaza and elsewhere, called disengagement and other euphemisms, was precisely based on trying to reduce the Arab population in Israel. Any Israeli leader who does not address this issue would be considered irresponsible.
Jack Cohen

Jan 21, 2007: Israel/Holocaust misconception
Dear Editor:
Jim Walker is incorrect when he asserts (letters 17/1/07) that "the fundamental impetus for the creation of an independent Jewish State was the Holocaust." This is a popular misconception that needs to be challenged.
The "creation" of the Jewish State occurred during the period 1880-1939 as a result of mainly non-religious Jewish emigration from Eastern Europe. During that period the Jewish settlement in Palestine (the Yishuv) expanded and grew in size and sophistication until it was capable of becoming a Jewish State. Between the period 1939-1945, when the Holocaust occured, the status of the Yishuv remained more or less static. Between 1945-48, very few of those who survived the Holocaust in Europe actually arrived in Palestine, mainly due to the British blockade, and even fewer participated in the fighting that developed into the War of Independence. Once the State was proclaimed in 1948 only then did significant post-WWII European Jewish immigration occur. So the concept that the Holocaust was the "fundamental impetus for the creation of the Jewish State" of Israel is a misconception, that maybe satisfies the Christian guilt complex. Whereas in fact, the Holocaust made it finally clear to all concerned that there was no viable place for Jews in Europe.
Many had come to that conclusion long before, including Theodor Herzl when he experienced the anti-Semitic response to the false accusations against Captain Dreyfus in France in 1894, that motivated him to establish the Zionist movement. Those Jews that left Europe for Palestine in the period 1880-1939 were the ones that built and fought for the creation of the Jewish State, those that survived the Holocaust, having made the unfortunate mistake of remaining in Europe, were their beneficiaries.
Jack Cohen

The H-bomb

Everyone is legitimately afraid of Iran achieving an atomic bomb, or a dirty bomb. But, the worse bomb in history is the H-bomb, no not the hydrogen bomb, but the hate-bomb. Hate is the most powerful force of destruction in the world, based on the belief that you (as a group) are superior to any other and it is your right and duty to kill others. This is the motivation that leads to the use of suicide bombings and missiles against civilian populations. The Holocaust was a clear example of the human destructiveness of such hatred.
What motivates people to have this hatred is ideology. In the case of Islam, while it is true that the majority of Muslims don't want to kill Christians and Jews, there are enough of a minority of extremists to take this threat seriously. Maybe its only 1% or 5% or 10% or more, but its enough, as 9/11 and 7/7 testify to be very effective.
Recently there have been a spate of reports about Muslim hatred and instigation to violence. Christiane Amanpour (she's married to a Jew) has a series on CNN about Islam in the UK. She is showing that the minority of hate-filled jihadists are speaking and shouting openly in Britain, proclaiming that they are against democracy, and support the replacement of the current legal system with Sharia law. They cannot be ignored, but why can't they be arrested and deported for instigation to racial violence?
There is a series of videos (available on U-tube) taken secretly in British mosques. Outwardly these mosques proclaim their support for peaceful coexistence between religions, but actually inside their preachers preach an astonishing level of intolerance, referring to all non-Muslims as "kaffars" or infidels, and asserting the right of Muslims to kill them to stop the "suppression" of Islam (in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine!). They also propose to replace the legal system in the UK with Sharia law. This is a level of deception that is both unacceptable and dangerous.
If you compare the reaction of Muslims and Jews as minorities in England or elsewhere, they are diametrically opposite. Jews were intent on assimilating, of fitting in, and certainly not trying to overthrow the system (as Jews), while Muslims have the reverse reaction, they want to remain separate and to replace the system. Maybe some will say that these are biased views, that Islam is a "peaceful" religion. There was recently a debate between extremist, jihadist Muslims and moderate Muslims in Trinity College, Dublin. As it showed any religion is only what its adherents make of it. The preachers on both sides of the debate used selective quotation from the Koran, and the Bible or any other holy book can similarly be used to justify any course of action. It is the supreme irony that Christians used their interpretation of the Jewish Bible to justify killing Jews.
I leave you with this thought. There are estimated to be ca. 200 British Muslims fighting against the coalition forces in Iraq. Some of them are returning to Britain to take the war home with them, to strike against their enemy in London not in Baghdad. This is a world wide phenomenon, and these battle-hardened Muslims are coming to a neighborhood near you soon.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Caliphate?

It seems to me that in our (Western) clash with Islamic "civilization" (using the term loosely) we should exploit every weakness. As Lenin said "press the bayonet in, if you feel mush then continue to advance, but if you feel steel then withdraw" (maybe that's why Djugashvilli used the pseudonym Stalin meaning "Steel").
While most people now know the difference between Sunni and Shia Islam we often tend to lump all extreme Islamists together. This is a mistake, there is in fact one very major difference between Sunni extremists such as Osama bin Ladin and his al Qaeda organization and the Saudi Wahhabis, and Shia extremists such as Ahmedinejad and his Iranian State, including its ally Hizbollah. The Sunni extremists are fighting to overthrow decadent Western civilization in order to re-introduce the universal Caliphate, to go back to the situation as it was after Mohammed's death in the 8th century. However, the Shia extremists do not support the Caliphate, in fact quite the opposite they are the most severe enemies of the Caliphate.
Shia Islam was founded on the principle that after Mohammed's death his nearest living relative, his grandson Hussein ibn Ali, should become the leader of Islam. While in fact, the majority of Muslims accepted that the followers of Mohammed (known collectively as the ulema) would choose a leader from among themselves, who would be the Caliph, both the political and religious leader. So in effect there was a fundamental clash between the "monarchists" and the "pragmatists." The actual battle between these groups took place in Kerbala (Iraq) in 680 ce, not long after the death of Mohammed (632 ce). Hussein's followers were outnumbered 4:1 and he was killed and the Caliphate was established (first centered in Damascus and then in Baghdad). The Shia (or "party" of Hussein) became a heretical sect of Islam.
Shia and Sunni Islam also differ fundamentally in how they interpret the Islamic legal code known as Sharia. Particularly the Shia reject all aspects of Sharia that are based on the practice of law formulated over the centuries in the Caliphate and the concept of Sunnah that means the "path" of the followers of Mohammed. As a consequence the legal systems of Iran and of Sunni Muslim countries are quite different. This is similar to the difference between Rabbinic Judaism, where all Rabbis accept the previous teachings (precedent) established by earlier Rabbis, and non-Rabbinic Jewish sects, such as Samaritans and Karaites (most of which have in fact nearly died out).
The Caliphate lasted for only about 100 years and then the Islamic Empire broke up into several contending geographical entities that later became countries. The Shia recognized 12 Imams or Ayatollahs (supreme religious leaders) as the legitimate followers of Hussein, and consequently most Shia are called "Twelvers." Some only recognized the first seven of these and are called "Seveners." After the first twelve, the leaders of Shia Islam were forced to go underground, and consequently there were "secret" Imams, whose identity cannot be revealed. The significance of Ayatollah Khomeini was not only that he was the leader of Iran, but that he was the first Ayatollah of Shia Islam to come out into the open. The followers of Shia Islam do not want to re-establish the Caliphate they historically opposed, but want to see a Shia world, in which their Ayatollah excercises secular as well as religious control. In other words, as Iran operates now, with a "secular" political system, where people vote etc. but with a "Supreme Guidance Council" consisting of the religious authority of which the Ayatollah is the Head, that has to sanction all Government decisions (that is how Ahmedinejad was selected as the candidate for the people to vote for).
There are only three countries where Shia are in the majority (Iran, Iraq and Bahrein). It is generally believed that Sunni Muslims are the majority of Muslims in the world (ca. 70%). But, this often ignores minorities of Shia believers in most Muslim countries. For example, in Syria there are the Awalekites who believe that Hussein was a god (a bit like Jesus for the Christians), and although they are only 17% they run the country and the army (Assad is an Awalekite, which explains his alliance with Iran, although the Shia consider the Awalekites to be heretics!). In Lebanon the Shia are the largest single sect (ca. 40%). In Pakistan there are the Ismailis, who have their own leadership (the Aga Khan), and there are Shia-type sects in many other countries. If one adds all these up some believe that there is a majority of Shia in the Muslim world. Clashes between Shia and Sunni Muslims are prevalent in Iraq and Pakistan and even in India (which has the second largest Muslim population in the world).
In this respect Hamas in Palestine is an exception, it is a Sunni extremist organization allied with Shia Iran and Hizbollah. They do this out of practical reasons, because Iran supports them to the hilt, with money (for suicide bombings in Israel), with weapons (rockets) and with training (by Iranian revolutionary guards). Both Hamas and Iran have the same initial goal, to destroy Israel. After that they both want to destroy the West (Britain, America), while Al Qaeda focuses on initial destruction of the West. After purportedly destroying Israel, Hamas wants to establish a Caliphate with Sharia law, although Iran certainly would not support this goal.
Understanding these differences within Islam and possibly exploiting them to show that there is no universal agreement about how Islam should develop, apart from its social and economic backwardness, should be a prime focus for the West. To use an analogy, its as if the century of warfare between Catholicism and Protestantism were still very much alive in the West, as it is for example in Ireland. But, now this fundamental clash is generally subsumed within the framework of the modern secular democratic state.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Halutz resigns

Finally one of the guilty three, responsible for the fiasco of the Lebanon War, has resigned. Although Dan Halutz was an excellent senior officer and Head of the IAF, he was a failure as Chief of Staff. But, he should not be the only one resigning, both PM Olmert and MoD Peretz are equally culpable for the outcome of the war.
The three main aims of the IDF during the war were: 1, to relese the two captive IDF soldiers, 2. to stop the Katyusha rockets falling on northern Israel, and 3. to destory Hizbollah's capability. They failed in all three major aims. However, as a result of Halutz's focus on use of the air force to destroy Hizbollah's facilities in Beirut and the south and their major arteries of resupply, the war was not a total failure for Israel. But, there were other failures, including constant changing of orders leading to frontline confusion, lack of providing front line troops with up-to-date information and intelligence of the enemy's dispositions (even though this information was held by the MI), bad tactics (such as sending groups of soldiers into buildings which were targeted by Hizbollah and bunching reserves together in areas under rocket fire), poor or no training of reserves, etc. While Halutz cannot be blamed for all of this, he was in charge and he was responsible. He certainly was the cause of the IDF relying on air power and not making a ground assault early in the war to attempt to achieve the war aims. Relying too much on air power also caused civilian deaths for which Israel was widely criticized (so-called "disproportionate use of force"). It is likely that Halutz decided to resign now, two weeks before the Winograd Commission is due to give its Report on the conduct of the war, in order that he can defend himself before them as a civilian.
Peretz is also under pressure to resign, not least from members of his own Labor Party, and they are having a Central Committee meeting soon that will discuss him. The main focus of the meeting is that Peretz appointed Labor MK Majadle as the first Arab Cabinet Minister (Science and Sport) in Israeli history. But, notably Peretz did this without the permission of PM Olmert (who was visiting China at the time) and without consulting his colleagues in Labor. He said that he had the right to do it under the coalition agreement, but it seems likely that he did this for political reasons, in order to obtain support from the Israeli Arab sector. The Central Committee disagrees with this action and says that they must be consulted for any party appointment, and while Olmert is reported to be angry, he has kept his peace and is biding his time. Eventually Peretz's incompetence will catch up with him, and the sooner the better.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Abbas the "moderate"

"Shooting at your brother is forbidden. Raising rifles against the occupation is our legitimate right, but raising guns against each other is forbidden. We should put our internal fighting aside and raise our rifles only against the Israeli occupation," said Pres. Abbas in a speech in Ramallah last week celebrating the 42nd anniversary of the founding of Fatah..
This at a time when the US is arranging to pay m$86 to Abbas, and when Secty. of State Rice, on her trip to the Middle East, has agreed to organize a three way meeting between Abbas, PM Olmert and herself soon in Washington. Abbas is the Palestinian "moderate" leader, but only relative to Hamas. And just as with Arafat, the US is pushing Israel to "empower" Abbas in order to strengthen him. So rather than the Palestinians, the weaker party, making any concessions or gestures to Israel (whatever happened to the release of Cpl. Shalit?), Israel must make all the gestures and concessions.
Olmert has agreed to this meeting in order to avoid another "Madrid" type meeting where everyone, including the Europeans, will gang up on Israel. Nevertheless the effect will be the same, pressure by the Sunni Arab allies of the US, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the Gulf States, has been put on Rice in exchange for what? The formula as expressed by the Saudis is "Iraq for peace," i.e. if you want our support for US moves in Iraq, that delegitimize the Sunni ascendency over the Shia, then you must deliver Israel. How long such a modus vivendi can last is unclear, but since the US needs moderate Arab support now for the "surge" in 25,000 US troops being sent to Iraq to provide increased security in Baghdad, in the short term the Bush administration will accede, or at least appear to do so.
Rice herself said this week that progress towards a Palestinian State is independent of progress in Iraq. So while the Arab States are trying to couple everything to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, she states clearly that there is really no linkage. But, perception plays a large part in determining reality, and so this Washington summit will probably proceed.
In the longer term, since Olmert's popularity continues to plunge, nothing he can do, short of destroying Iran's nuclear/missile facilities, could help him. So he will go to Washington, and try to seem statesmanlike, but just as with Abbas, nothing will help, and the talks there will be a sham and a waste of time.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Condy's visit

Secty. of State Condoleeza Rice is now visiting the Middle East, mainly to sell Pres. Bush's "new" policy on Iraq. While this policy is not so new, and is in fact more of the old policy that has been rejected by a majority of Americans, nevertheless Rice has been sent to try to keep the US allies in line.
Her focus on Iraq definitely distracts from the supposedly "core" issue of the Palestine-Israel conflict, that is not such a core issue after all. In both the PA and Israel the Governments are weak. Pres. Abbas is involved in a civil war with Hamas. How do we know he means business, given his customary vacillations? Because he has appointed Mohammed Dahlan as Head of his Security Forces. Dahlan is a former head of security under Arafat, who had a falling out with Arafat, and was dismissed. He is known to be a "strong man" and has great loyalty from the Fatah-controlled security forces in Gaza. He is likely to precipitate a show-down with Hamas and will hopefully out-maneuver them. Nevertheless, Hamas has doubled the size of their forces and represent a significant threat to Abbas/Dahlan. But, there can be no progress on any so-called "peace process" while the PA is involved in a civil war. Latest reports are that Abbas is engaged in negotiations with Khaled Mashaal, Head of Hamas in Syria, to form a Unity Government.
Similarly in Israel, PM Olmert is down to a new low of only ca. 22% support. If an election were to be held today Kadima would win only 12 seats and Likud would get 29, so Netanyahu would be our PM. Under these circumstances, Olmert is in no position to make any significant decisions. While his coalition is stable for now, it cannot last very long, especially since the Winograd Commission of enquiry into the Lebanon War is due to issue its report soon, and it has given warnings to Olmert, Peretz and Halutz that they might be named for offences in the report. The US does not want to take any chance of making a deal with Olmert that could soon collapse. Also, any change in the Israel-Palestine front will make no difference to the crucial situation in Iraq!
Rice's main problem is keeping the Sunni partners on board, since Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan are unhappy with the moves of the US in Iraq to support a "democratic" Government that is essentially Shia dominated. As Sharon warned Bush, democracy is hardly skin deep in the Arab world. Where the US sees a democratically elected Government in Iraq, the Sunni states see a Shia-controlled Government that is closer to and more dependent on Iran. Unless the Iraqi Government of PM Maliki cracks down on the Shia militias, such as the Mahdi Army of Moqtada al Sadr, as well as the Sunni insurgents, the Sunni allies will become increasingly nervous and may part company with the US on Iraq.
So Condy is here to try to reassure the Sunni allies that Iraq will represent no threat to them. But, she cannot really do that since the sectarian split in Iraq is becoming ever deeper, and the likelihood of a crack in the unity of the Iraqi state is becoming ever more likely. Then the question will be whether or not a federal Iraqi state can be saved from the mess or whether a coalition of the Iraqi Shia with Iran will line up against the coalition of the Iraqi Sunnis and the Sunni States. If that happens the whole world is in for a major clash over control of Islam, and the Israel-Palestine and the Lebanon disputes will fade into relative insignificance. Nevertheless Condy is trying to keep a lid on things.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Dead Sea break

Many Israelis take the opportunity during the cold winter months of a trip to the Dead Sea. We went on such a trip from our synagogue (McDonald's or the New Synagogue) arranged by an elderly member in his 80's who has been doing this for the past 15 years. He is such a character and manages to obtain fantastic deals from the hotel management for this group. When we left Netanya it was raining and cold, but at the Dead Sea in only three hours by coach (including a stop) it was dry and sunny, about 5-10 degrees hotter. It was possible to walk around even at night with a thin cardigan or sweater. We stayed at a Hotel on the strip at Bokek, near the Ein Bokek spring, that supplies fresh water, and we spent a delightful 4 nights there, with unlimited food.
One of the main reasons to go, apart from the winter break, is the Dead Sea water. Although the Dead Sea itself is very cold, the Hotels have heated pools of Dead Sea water that is of course so viscous that you float in it, but being heated it is very pleasant. It is important not to splash in case you get the water in your eye, and also not to lose control since if you turn on your face it can be very nasty. I found just keeping my legs on the pool bottom was a difficult task. Although this treatment is touted as being therapeutic, I doubt myself that it has any significant effect, it just feels good and different. There are also jacuzzis to go in after the salt water dip.
You get to meet people there, and many were Arabs. I sat in a jacuzzi with some of them and found that they were Druse from a small village called Julis near Acre (Akko). One man was a huge powerful looking man and when I commented on this he said he had been in the Israeli Army. There were also a large group from the village of Kfar Kanna in Galilee, that includes Muslims and Christians. It was a typical Israeli place where you could hear Hebrew, Arabic, Russian, English and French spoken side by side.
We also went with friends on two trips to the springs along the Dead Sea coast, at Ein (pronouned Ayn) Bokek and at Ein Gedi. Both were wonderful visits that each took about an hour to climb to the water falls and back. The narrow gorge with the stream meandering down the center and profuse vegetation in the middle of the desert is very beautiful. Ein Bokek is much less developed and has fewer visitors than Ein Gedi. Also, Ein Gedi is an official Nature Reserve and has facilites such as toilets and a store. Ein Gedi has been improved in the past few years and now has many steps and railings, although I found the steps more difficult to climb than the paths and rocks. Our friends also went on a trip to nearby Masada, although we opted to have a rest day since we have been there many times before. However, our friends told us that they have made many improvements to the visitor center, etc.
Although there is not much to do at the Dead Sea, apart from visiting the three places I mentioned, there is a small commercial center at Bokek where they sell the Dead Sea products. Also, the main idea is to rest and recuperate. Now we are back I'm getting into my e-mail and returning to normality after a very pleasant winter break.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Israeli corruption

In one of the biggest cases in Israeli history, the Head of the Israel Tax Authority, Jacky Matza, has been arrested on bribery and corruption charges. Also his predecessor in that job Eitan Rub and the Administrator of the Prime Minoster's Office Shula Zaken are among the 30 people arrested so far after a 10 month investigation by the Police Fraud Squad. It is alleged that certain individuals, including Zaken's brother Yoram Karshi, arranged for Matza to be selected for this job, and then used him as a conduit to arrange reduced tax payments by certain businessmen. Even though PM Olmert was responsible for the appointment of Matza, according to police sources o far there is no link in this case to the PM himself. This case represents the underbelly of ongoing corruption in the Israeli Government and causes disilluion among ordinary Israeli tax payers. The PM himself is being investigated in 7 other cases!
Note: we shall be away for a few days, so have a rest!

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Olmert & Mubarak

The meeting yesterday in Sharm el-Sheikh between PM Olmert and Pres. Mubarak of Egypt was a failure. Even though not much was expected of this meeting, it was made into a disaster by the attack of IDF forces in Ramallah on the same day, that killed 4 people and failed to capture the alleged target. If the IDF wanted to undermine and sabotage Olmert's meeting they could not have done it better. I'm all for capturing wanted terrorists, but this attack was ill-timed and unnecessary. Before the whole Arab world it reinforced their belief that Israel is incorrigible and bent on killing civilians. No matter that PM Olmert apologised for that, nevertheless it reinforces the impression that Israel is always killing civilians and always apologizing.
Although the main topics of the meeting were to find out about Egyptian attempts to free Cpl. Shalit from his captors in Gaza and to reduce the smuggling of arms into Gaza, limited progress was made on these aims. Mubarak admitted that the Palestinians, specifically Hamas, were responsible for preventing a prisoner exchange by demanding too many Palestinian prisoners, nevertheless he criticized Israel for not being prepared to release prisoners before Cpl Shalit is released. Also, although there was no official press release from the meeting, Mubarak admitted that arms were being smuggled, and said that Egypt would double the number of men trying to stop it. He also criticized PM Olmert for saying that the smuggling of large sums of money (m$50 from Iran for example) into Gaza were illegal, by saying that this was legal as long as they informed the Egyptian customs how much they were carrying.
Generally the atmosphere between Olmert and Mubarak was "frosty" and it reinforced the idea that although many think that Egypt is working for peace, actually they are working to undermine Israel. They are clearly allowing smuggling of arms, money and terrorists into Gaza, and they are doing very little to achieve a prisoner exchange. Since the signing of the Israel-Egyptian peace treaty many years ago, Mubarak has never set foot on Israeli territory, while many Israeli PMs have gone to Egypt. This is a one-sided, insincere relationship, and it is about time that Israel stopped pretending that Egypt is its friend in trying to achieve peace with the Palestinians.
While 4 Palestinians were killed by the IDF, many more (perhaps 12) were killed and injured in fierce fighting between Fatah and Hamas forces in Gaza and the West Bank. Last night, once again Pres. Abbas and PM Haniyeh met in Gaza to try to stop the violence. It was announced that all gunmen would be ordered off the streets. But, this has been tried before and has not worked, and it is unlikely that this time it will stop the "spiral of violence." Ironically, as Israel has withdrawn from Gaza, this has left a power vacuum, and while Hamas and Fatah are fighting to fill the gap, the Egyptians are also now more active in Gaza, which they controlled between 1948-1967.
The US has announced that they are giving m$83 to Pres Abbas for him to strengthen his armed forces in the clash with Hamas. What troubles Israelis is that first, Abbas is almost powerless to affect the situation and this addition will probably not help. Second, it is likely that one way or another these arms will be directed at the IDF at some time in the near future. In this situation, the enemy of my enemy is not my friend. Mubarak is also proposing a local summit of Olmert, himself, King Abdullah of Jordan and Pres. Abbas. In the past, Israel has avoided such meetings where the Arabs can gang up on it. But, Olmert probably does not have enough sense to see this coming.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Israeli bureaucracy

Some of you like to know what its really like living in Israel. Living here can be ...interesting, as you will see.
Example 1:
Naomi has been the "va'ad habayit," the person who takes care of all the administrative details (i.e. shit) in an apartment building in Israel. This means that she collects money every month from the tenants and pays for the expenses for heating oil for hot water, for the cleaning of the stairs, etc. This has become a real chore since one of the tenants died 4 years ago and her family refused to pay, so Naomi has been involved in a legal action and a bounced check, etc. After 5 years she has transferred the job over to another apartment owner as of Jan 1. In order to do this she had to obtain a form from the official organization that sets the rules for apartments, and get the signatures of a majority of the apartment dwellers. Some of them were resistant, but she did this. Then Naomi and her successor went to the bank to transfer the signature rights on the va'ad habayit account. However, after they waited 45 mins, the clerk refused to accept the signed form, since she wanted it on the Bank's letterhead. The new va'ad member went to see the manager who ordered the clerk to accept the form. But, then she saw that there was another name on the list of the va'ad members and she said that he had to be present to sign too, but they said it wasn't necessary since he was remaining on the va'ad, he wasn't changing. After another argument the new guy decided to take the account out of that Bank and transfer it elsewhere. Only a few hours were wasted. The clerk was not at all concerned that she had lost a client from the Bank.
Example 2:
I receive expenses from the Department where I work at Hebrew University (HU). Each year I have to obtain an exemption form from taxes from Mas Hachnasa (IRS), otherwise they would take 50% in tax and then I would have to reclaim it. I have been doing this every year and in the last two years it has been a formality taking a few minutes to obtain the form. This time when I went to Mas Hachnasa in Netanya they sent me to another office and two guys interviewed me. Without reading the official letter that I brought (in Hebrew) from HU which explictly states that this is for expenses only and not salary, they implied that I was using this as a dodge to supplement my salary. They checked my Israel tax form, and then suggested I submit a list of expenses. I pointed out tha according to their own regulations this was not necessary if the amount of expenses was under a certain limit, which it is. So after an hour they politely told me that I was "a nice Professor" and issued the form.
Example 3:
As a Visiting Professor at HU, each year I receive a letter from the Dean re-appointing me for another year. One of the rights I get for this is the use of the University computer. I received a notice by e-mail that I needed to renew my account before the end of December. I gave a copy to my host and he said he would take care of it, and he told me he did. However, he contacted the Hadassah computer office, but the University has separate offices and the message apparently never got to them. So on Jan 2 my internet and e-mail connection stopped working. I contacted the HU computer Help Desk, and they said they needed proof of my re-appointment, so I faxed the letter to them and they called back and said they were working on it and it would take a few hours. Six hours later it was still not connecting, so I called the Help Desk again. However, now the calls were routed to the Givat Ram campus and not the Mount Scopus campus. They of course said they received no fax, and could not reinstate me. At this point I became angry and acted like an Israeli. I asked to speak to the Manager, I told him it was his fault that they had such a ridiculous system, and that I was going to call the Head of my Institute. He said he would see what he could do. I did call my host, he called his contact in the computer center, and lo and behold they connected me in a few minutes and then I got an e-mail saying that it was for the year.
What is behind this constant struggle with bureaucracy in Israel. I used to think it was the Eastern European or Levantine thinking of Israelis, but now most of the clerks are Russian. One of my friends suggested that by constantly finding faults that prevents further progress this avoids the clerk having to do the work required. The idea of efficiency and helping the customer does not even come into it. Yet, if I said that things have greatly improved over even 10 years ago, like the use of electronic number boards in most public offices, its hard to believe.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Glick's analysis

Caroline Glick is Israel’s Condoleeza Rice, although unfortunately she is not in a powerful Government position. She is Managing Editor of the Jerusalem Post and one of their leading columnists. Her analysis is right wing and usually very realistic and quite pessimistic. She spoke to a large audience at our Beit Knesset Tuesday night.
She stated that the international Islamic Jihad lead by the Iranian regime is at war with Israel. She emphasized that Iran considers itself in a perpetual revolutionary jihad against all the infidels, and they see the wiping out of the Jews as part of their divine mission. Contrary to belief, Iran’s borders with Israel are not hundreds of miles away, but actually they are Israel’s borders with Lebanon, Syria and the PA.
Syria has become effectively a colony of Iran, for several reasons. First, Syria has never been a very independent country, it was controlled by the Turks, the French and the Egyptians (Nasserites), before Hafez Assad and the Ba’athists took power. But now under Bashar Assad, the country is almost bankrupt and Assad and the regime have allowed Iran to come in and virtually take over. They have supervised the modernization of the Syrian armed forces from a concentration on tanks and airplanes, which were easily defeated by the IDF, to missiles and commando strike forces.
This is similar to Hizbollah in Lebanon, which is an extension of Iran’s revolutionary guard. Hizbollah has now recouped its position in south Lebanon almost to what it was before the recent war. They have been rearmed and have rebuilt their infrastructure of underground bunkers, and are back in Bint Jbail and all the other southern villages. The presence of UNIFIL has made no difference to them, on the contrary UNIFIL cooperates with them in avoiding clashes while they retake control of the south. Their operations against the Saniora Government have so far failed mainly because of stiff US and French support for that Government. But, if such support were withdrawn then Sheikh Nasrallah would see the weakness and pounce on it.
Also, in the PA, after establishing Palestine Islamic Jihad which it controls, Iran have now virtually bought out both Hamas and Fatah’s military wing, the al Aksa Martyrs Brigades. The “civil war” in the PA can be understood as a fight between terrorist gangs for control, both for money and turf, not as an ideological clash as it is often portrayed.
A crucial individual who has played a role in bringing about the Iranization of the Palestinian conflict is Imad Bugnieh, who started out as a Fatah operative under Arafat, then moved to Iran and became the contact between Arafat and the regime. He was responsible for the shipment of the arms ship Karin A, which was intercepted by the IDF. Bugnieh has been involved in many terrorist bombings, and is the third most wanted terrorist in the US after bin Laden and Zawahiri.
Given the declared intention of the Iranian Government to destroy Israel and their development of nuclear weapons, with help also from N. Korea, and given their increasing proximity and power in the surrounding countries, Glick believes that Israel is “staring annihilation in the face.”
But, it’s as if in Israel the Jews have come to believe that we will always be victorious, without strenuous effort, as if we can rest on our laurels, and expect the next war to be like the previous ones. In believing that we are underestimating our enemies, who now feel that their aim is within their reach. They especially appreciate the weakness that Israel projects by continually withdrawing and accepting criticism. They see this as weakness and are poised to take advantage of it. This becomes truer since we are lead by “dummies,” whose only policy seems to be to remain in office. It is clear to everyone that Amir Peretz is totally incompetent as Defense Minister, even in the Labor Party he ranks sixth and last to all challengers, including “all of the above.” Yet Wednesday he used a speech to a gathering of 500 Army officers at an air base to restate that he will not resign. Since he won’t resign he cannot fire those officers who were responsible for the recent fiasco in Lebanon. For example, who could have developed an army that depends on reservists that had not trained for 5 years! She also pointed out that to advertise the meeting of 500 officers and the site where they would be meeting was an incredible lapse of security, luckily nothing happened!
Olmert, Peretz and Halutz are responsible for the failure of the IDF to be prepared for the improved tactics and strategies of the three Iranian-trained armies (in Lebanon, Syria and the PA) that are now surrounding Israel, and the situation will only get worse while they are in charge.
What to do about this situation? Israel cannot rely on any anti-Iranian policy of the US. They simply won’t take forceful action. Israel has to be prepared not only to take military action, but it can be done. The whole Iranian nuclear industry does not have to be wiped out, the pin-point destruction of a limited number of facilities would cripple their progress for years, giving Israel breathing time. To those who say this would only make the Iranians our enemies, they already are to the utmost extent. Also, to those who say there is “no military solution,” this is not intended to be only a military action, but must be coupled with strong diplomatic and PR activities.
She pointed out that in a recent poll run by the mullahs in Iran an incredible 80% of people said that they would like to see the regime changed! There are many problems in Iran, not only is Ahmedinejad very unpopular for not taking care of domestic policies, but the ordinary people are fed up with the constant harping on Zionism and infidels. Also, Iran is by no means monolithic, it consists of several ethnic groups including 24 million Azeris (more than in Azerbaijan), millions of Baluchis, who consider themselves oppressed by the Persians, and the Arabs in the south (in Arabistan) who are at war with the regime.
Just as Iran is subverting the countries surrounding Israel so Israel needs to become active in subverting the regime, aimed at regime change. This is the only feasible complement to military action. There are millions of Iranians who had good relations with Israel before the revolution, and millions of young people who are fed up with the regime and want a drastic change to a Western system. They will be very sympathetic to subversion that unfortunately is not being done by the US.
Another complementary threat to military action is that Israel must threaten to destroy all the oil industry in Iran, and in any country that helps it (including Saudi Arabia). Since they depend on their oil industry for income it is their vulnerable soft underbelly, more accessible and more easily destroyed than their nuclear facilities. Also, such a threat might waken the West, that depends on Middle Eastern oil, that they must do something about Iran before Israel feels itself forced to act, although that is unlikely.
Finally, how to replace the current Israeli Government that is incompetent and incapable of handling the terrible situation into which they have brought us. Only a dissolution of the coalition could remove Olmert and that could only be accomplished by persuading the parties on the right of his coalition, specifically Shas and Israel Beitenu, who should not be in the coalition anyway, that they are being traitors to their own cause and will lose electoral support and will be defeated at the next election.
Finally, we must change our perspective on the region, and realize that Iraq is not like Northern Ireland or Canada, that have minorities that have come to a democratic compromise. Iraq and the other Muslim countries in the Middle East are more like Yugoslavia, with ethnic groups that hate each other and that have no experience or interest in Western democracy, which they consider a foreign system being imposed on them. However, for all their mutual hatred they will overcome this in order to join up whenever possible to attack and destroy their common enemy, Israel and the Jews. Yet, we are strong enough and committed enough to prevent that and to prevail.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Kohanim genetics

Last Thursday evening we went to a lecture by Rabbi Kleiman of the Jerusalem Center for Kohanim on the subject of "DNA and tradition." He presented the results of genetic analysis on the Kohanim and other Jewish groups and then tried to connect these results to Jewish tradition. I found the actual scientific results that he has taken from published, peer reviewed papers in scientific journals very interesting and persuasive. Where I parted company with him was in his use of selected quotations from the Bible and other Jewish sources to imply that the scientific results support these Jewish quotations. Really all he can say is that the findings are consistent with what is written in the Bible or elsewhere in Jewish literature, not that it proves what was written is true.
However, the results themselves are fascinating. The most clear-cut and important result published in the prestigious journal Nature in 1997 by Dr. Karl Skorecki of Haifa University and his associates, is that a large proportion of Kohanim, Jewish men (both Ashkenazi and Sephardi) descended on the male side from the supposed Temple priesthood, share a common genetic marker. This marker is found in the Y-chromosome, the 23rd human chromosome that determines the male sex of an individual. Since this chromsome is much smaller than all others, it is possible to determine markers on it, and suprisingly one marker called "K" was found to be present in 40% of all Kohanim tested, while controls of other Jews (Levis and others) and non-Jews had no perponderance of this marker (other Jews had only 6% of the marker). Levis on the other hand had a greater amount of another marker "L", but only to the level of 23%. Nevertheless 40% is very significant compared to 6%, and non-Jews had no preponderance of these markers. So this proves that all Kohanim share a common ancestor (Aaron?) and have retained this marker thru many generations. By extrapolation it can be estimated that the originator of this marker was 106 generations back, approximately the time of the destruction of the first Temple in 3000-2500 bce. It should be noted that there is no genetic marker for being a Jew, since over the centuries there have been many converts and intermarriages that dilute out any such "purity." So there is no evidence for a Jewish "race." However, the Kohanim result stands because of the self-selection of Kohanim within the Jewish people maintained over the centuries.
Other results of analysis of the mitochondrial DNA that allows matrilineal descent to be documented has been found, but these results are less clear-cut. Such genetic analysis can however be used to test for the relationship of groups and tribes that claim an ancient connection to the Jewish people, such as Spanish conversos, Ethiopian Jews, Bnai Menasseh of India and the Lemba Tribe of S. Africa, compared to the surrounding population. The results in each case are different, some positive and some negative. But, while not conclusive this makes for a fascinating study.
Using the methods of molecular genetics to support this type of argument, an Orthodox Jew cannot at the same time deny their use to support evolution, for example in the independent establishing of evolutionary trees. Rabbi Kleiman concluded that there is no conflict between Judaism and science and that he accepts the concept of evolution, i.e. small biological changes by genetic alterations such as mutations over long periods of time. However, there are many Orthodox Jews who do deny evolution, and this needs Talmudic consideration.
I would like to quote Francis Crick, who said in his book "The astonishing hypothesis: the scientific search for the soul," that "God is an unnecessary hypothesis." Note that this does not mean that God does not exist, but that it is not necessary to posit God in order to explain evolution, i.e. random events can explain it. The fact that mutation rates can be calcuated for specific genes over long time periods is support for the randomness of the process. Thus, it is not necessary to introduce (according to the philosophical use of Occam's razor) an intelligent designer.

Monday, January 01, 2007


2006 went out with a whimper, the execution of Saddam Hussein, and 2007 came in with a bang, the total defeat of the Islamic Court's Coalition by Ethiopian and Government forces in Somalia. Don't belittle this victory for the anti-Islamist coalition. Somalia very nearly became another hub of the Islamic extremists and it would have been just as dangerous as Afghanistan under the Taliban. We could have expected foreign Muslim forces to set up training camps there and to send out terrorists to attack us in our homelands. The intervention of the Ethiopian forces was a surprising and effective outcome. Rather than see this large country that has been in a state of chaos for 16 years become an Islamist state, the Ethiopian Army with Western acquiescence invaded and the Islamist forces melted before them. Hopefully the few hundred extremists who tried to escape to the south will be captured and/or killed. So chalk this one up to our side.
Whatever President Bush decides to do about Iraq in 2007, it seems inevitable that it will split one way or another along sectarian lines into Sunni and Shia cantons. The Sunni are now scared, if the Shia-controlled Government can execute Saddam and effectively take over Iraq, then they will want out, they won't accept to be dominated by the Shia. In the longer run, this might lead to a Sunni-Shia war, in which Iran supports the Iraqi Arab Shia and the Sunni States, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, and the PA support the Iraqi Sunnis. It is amazing how the Sunnis can make such a fuss about a few hundred Palestinians inadvertently killed by the IDF, but overlook about 200,000 Iraqi Muslims killed by Saddam (well most of them were Kurds and Shia). If this schism gets going, then it would confuse Hamas, since the Palestinians were the most fervent supporters of Saddam Hussein, and Hamas would find it difficult to stay in alliance with Iran on the Shia side in such a conflict. In 2007, this is my wish, to see the Hamas tied up in knots like this, not knowing whether to support Iran or switch sides, and maybe it would exacerbate the internal Palestinian conflict.
The big question in 2007 is whether or not Iran will succeed in developing effective nuclear weapons or if the UN sanctions will start of work. Although this is not expected to happen, it is quite likely that after the losses in the local elections, Ahmedinejad will further lose popular support. We must get across to the young Iranians who oppose the clerical regime that if they don't do something then they will be committing suicide, because if Iran does develop an atomic weapon, Israel and the US will not stand by and let it happen. So they will find themselves in a war, which is completely avoidable if they stop this madness. Let's hope this message gets across in 2007.
Finally, the worst event for Israel in 2006 was the Lebanon war with Hizbollah, and finding that our leadership, perhaps for the first time, was incompetent. It was disillusioning to find that PM Olmert, Defense Minister Peretz and Chief of Staff Halutz were not up to the job. All the 50 internal IDF enquiries into the faults of the war have exposed many mistakes, but noone has been officially blamed. The Vinograd Government Commission is expected to report back early in 2007, and maybe then heads will roll. Let responsibility be taken for past errors that cost lives, and lets hope that if there has to be another war in Lebanon or elsewhere, that the same mistakes won't be repeated.
Have a Happy and Peaceful Year!