Saturday, May 19, 2007


We are going away for a while, so there will be a break in my sending these missives. This is my current parting shot.
When I started writing this blog in 2000, due to the second intifada that the Palestinians opened up on us, it was a way to inform friends, mainly in the US, of what life was like in Israel then. At first it was all about suicide bombings and Israeli casualties on buses and in cafes. Once the IDF found how to deal with this and the security barrier was built, the intifada gradually faded.
Then we segued into the era of Iranian domination of the Muslim side of the conflict, with the ascendence of a rearmed Hizbollah in Lebanon and of Hamas in the PA. While we have been waiting years for the so-called "moderate" Pres. Abbas to flex his muscles and take over the initiative, so far this has not happened, and probably never will.
So after the Second Lebanon war of 2006 we are left with the armed struggle going on between Fatah and Hamas for control of Palestinian destiny, that is based on profound differences of ideology as well as of strategy and economics. But, we also have a constant rocket barrage against the south of our coutnry, without adequate response from this weak and indecisive Government.
I do receive occasional plaudits and criticisms from recipients and the messages are forwarded on to others, so I have no real idea how many people read them. I do receive comments from unexpected places, for example Georg from central France, and an Islamist who quoted the Koran and the Bible to prove that I am wrong.
No one can predict where the current situation will lead, but certainly the challenge of dealing with a resurgent and possibly nuclear armed Iran is the chief concern for the near future. I promised myself, and perhaps others, that I would stop writing these articles once we have a peace treaty with the Palestinians. OK, maybe that means never, but there is the possibility that there can both be peace and an end to this blog, whichever comes first. At least live in hope. Be back in two weeks.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Gaza on the brink

The civil war between the Palestine nationalist party Fatah and the Islamist Hamas has brought Gaza to the brink of total chaos. Over the past few days at least 24 were killed and 100 injured in a series of gun battles and ambushes throughout the Gaza Strip. The worst incident was the shooting of eight Fatah security guards who were returning to their barracks without realizing that it had been occupied by Hamas militiamen. Nothing is working in Gaza, schools, banks and Government offices are closed, since most people are afraid to venture out on the streets. An Egyptian envoy who went to assess the current state of fighting was shot in the hand. Several so-called ceasefire agreements have failed and the Unity Government has in reality collapsed.
Hamas chose this moment to escalate its rocket attacks on southern Israel. A volley of 20 rockets hit the southern Israeli town of Sderot on Tues, injuring many and hitting a school that luckily was empty at the time. Now all schools are closed and people have been ordered into shelters, although to date only half the shelters in Sderot have been strengthened. Even the weak and incompetent Olmert-Peretz Government cannot ignore this challenge. On Weds the IAF hit a Hamas hq in Rafah, killing four. Although there will not likely be a major IDF ground offensive, an increase in targeted killings of rocket launchers and terrorists is expected. No doubt Hamas wants to intimidate Israel and stimulate a response as a means to take attention away from their internal clashes and as a way to unite the factions against Israel. Hopefully the IDF will be able to respond without such consequences. Unfortunately, by being reorganized to fight terror the IDF had neglected its central role as the main defenseive deterrent to Arab armed forces.
Although the chaos in Gaza could have unforeseen consequences, it is basically in Israel's interest if the Palestinian factions fight a civil war. One way of looking at this is that whenever Israel is too difficult for them to attack, because of the anti-terrorist barrier and the improved methods that Israel has developed over the past few years, then the militant factions turn on each other. Yesterday, EU Foreign Commissioner Solana was asked by a PA Minister to pay funds directly to the Hamas-led Unity Government, and even he demurred. He said that while there was fighting going on in Gaza there was no point in paying more money to the PA. Under these circumstances there is no possibility of progress towards a Palestinian State, so all the current talk about the Arab peace initiative and US "benchmarks" are so much irrelevant nonsense.
We often complain about the state of affairs in Israel, with corruption and political incompetence. But, we must keep a sense of proportions. Our problems result largely from the open workings of an active liberal democracy, transparency has its price. But if we compare ourselves to the Palestinians, I have no doubt whose situation we would rather be in. Some leftists blame Israel for the civil war in Gaza, but in reality it is of their own doing, as even the official PA spokesman Saeb Erakat admitted in an unusually candid statement yesterday.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


Flaring is the process of burning off natural gas (methane) that is produced in all petroleum and natural gas fields. Some flaring is necessary to release the pressure that arises when natural gas is pumped into pipes. But, most of it is simply wasted, a burning off of precious fuel that could be used for other purposes, such as providing heat and electricity. It has been calculated (according to a BBC program on the subject) that 95% of the flaring that occurs is unnecessary and the amount of natural gas that is currently wasted could produce b$30-90 for the oil/gas producers. Also, by saving this much flaring the production of CO2 could be reduced more than all other methods that have been recommended together.
The worst culprits in this flaring waste are Nigeria, Russia, and Saudi Arabia. Areas around the Niger Gulf in Nigeria are extremely poor, and often have no electricity, whereas in fact the gas that is wasted in flaring could support them in cheap electricity for ever, and that could help support not only an improved standard of living, but allow them to work and produce for themselves. To prove this a pilot project was set up on the oil rich island of Bonny that is working extremely well providing cheap electricity all hours of the day and night. This is the way of the future, to make sure that such waste is turned into productive energy. Another use of the unused natural gas that is produced in petroleum fields is to transform it into methanol. This requires a plant that costs millions of dollars to set up, but pays for itself quickly with this valuable industrial solvent. Such a plant is now operating in Siberia and is expected to be copied all over the world.
One of the few things that are visible from space are the thousands of gas flares in the oil-producing parts of the world. They are one of the main sources of pollution. With the oil-producing countries realising how much they are wasting thru flaring, new laws will be promulgated to limit the amount of flaring, and this will greatly improve the production of energy as well as reducing environmental pollution world-wide.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Jerusalem Day

Jerusalem Day on May 16 commemorates the day that Jerusalem was recaptured by Israeli forces in 1967. This was an unintended consequence of the Jordanian entry into the Six Day War. Jews were completely excluded from access to the Jordanian-controlled east side of the city for 19 years, from the War of Independence in 1948, and the synagogues and all Old City Jewish areas were destroyed and devastated and left in ruins. It was miraculous that Israeli forces finally recovered the Old City and reunited it into one whole under Israeli administration. Note that Israeli Arabs and Jerusalem residents have complete access to the city and no Muslim mosques or sites were harmed during the reunification (in fact there is still a mosque right in the middle of the Jewish Quarter of the Old City).
In the past 40 years the development of Jerusalem has been amazing. The whole of the Jewish Quarter was rebuilt, and now they are reconstructing the largest synagogue, the Hurva, that was deliberately destroyed by the Arabs, to its former glory. I remember visiting the excavations at the Old City wall for the first time many years ago when it was a mess, but now there is the impressive Davidson Center. After it was unified the city limits of Jerusalem were extended to double the size of the city. The city extends to Mevasseret Zion in the west and to the controversial area of Har Homah in the east. It now has ca. 730,000 inhabitants and is the largest city in Israel.
Doubling the size of Jerusalem has had some unforeseen consequences. The inclusion of many Arab villages to the east of Jerusalem in its boundaries has increased the Arab population. But, also there has been essentially unhindered immigration of Arabs from the adjacent West Bank areas into those villages and so the Arab population has increased significantly. In Jerusalem, as in Israel they get far better welfare payments than they do in the PA and it is a lot safer. Then when the separation wall/fence was being built many Arabs moved into Jerusalem to have free access rather than be cut off. At present there are 67% Jews and 33% Arabs (Muslims and some Christians), but with twice the birthrate among the Arabs this is predicted to shift to 40% Arabs by the year 2012 and by the year 2020 the two will be equal (some dispute these statistics). Also, young Jews, especially couples, are leaving Jerusalem at the rate of 12,000 per year, mainly because of the costs of apartments and the difficulty in finding jobs. Notwithstanding immigration to Jerusalem, there is a next loss of some 5,000 Jews per year. In twenty years time it is predicted that there could be a majority of Arabs in Jerusalem, and this could have untoward consequences, especially with an increase in support for Hamas. So the demographic bomb is ticking, and as a Hamas spokesman said, they can win with the womb rather than with the gun. This requires some long-term planning (not something Israelis seem to be good at), and today the PM established a fund of m5.75 NIS to support the development of Jerusalem, although that may be too little too late.
While unified Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish State, many countries, including the US and EU, do not recognize this status and so will boycott the official Knesset celebrations. We still have a lot of problems, but we continue to celebrate Jerusalem as our eternal capital.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Mickey Mouse politics

Most of you will have seen reports of the disgusting use of a Mickey Mouse look-alike character called Farfour (butterfly) on the Hamas-affiliated al-Aksa TV children's program "Tomorrow's pioneers", that tells the children to aspire to become martyrs and to kill Jews and Americans. Not only that, but it encourages children in the audience and those who call in to repeat anti-Semitic lies and glorifies violence and tells them that Muslims will "take over the world".
But, wait a minute, I thought that was what the Jews were supposed to be doing, taking over the world, and in fact Muslims have criticized Jews for doing just that. Now there is a train of thought, that was prevalent in Germany in the 1930's, that said that Jews already control the world. But, setting aside this absurdity, it seems that Jews were killed and massacred for doing something that Muslims openly claim. And not only that, but there is no objective evidence believed by any sane person that Jews actually had any interest or desire to "take over the world." OK, so we may have wanted to control the media, but if we did we obviously made a mess of that! So why is it that Jews have been excoriated and murdered for not doing something that the Muslims openly claim. Its difficult to understand any of this, but who said it would be rational.
When he was confronted by this Mickey Mouse character proclaiming its violent incitement, PA Information Minister Mustafa Barghouti (a cousin of the notorious terrorist Marwan Barghouti in Israeli jail for terrorist killings) stated on Thursday that the program would be pulled and reviewed and that it represented a "mistaken response" to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. However, the programs were not changed and the character continues daily to incite Palestinian children to fight Israel. When the Hamas director of the program was confronted on this incitement, he saw no problem with it. Maybe therein lies the difference between Fatah and Hamas, the Fatah official prevaricates, but does nothing, and the Hamas official justifes this violent indoctrination of young children.
We have our own Mickey Mouse politics too, the Israeli cabinet fiddles while trying to decide what to do as rockets continue to rain down on southern Israel. The Israeli Government is frozen because it doesn't know what it should be doing in the wake of the Winograd Report, should it act, or discuss, or not act? Meanwhile Fatah and Hamas forces continue to shoot at each other, yesterday 4 were killed in gun battles. However, just sitting back and waiting for them to kill each other is an excuse for policy, while they attack us with rockets and prepare themselves for a future war.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Education strikes

The strike of the university students in Israel became violent on Wednesday after nearly 2 weeks of demonstrations around the country. There was a clash between riot police and ca. 3,000 student strikers who blocked the entranace to the main Ayalon Highway north of Tel Aviv, and 32 students were arrested.
Why are the student's striking? That's a good question that many ordinary citizens would like to know the answer to. They are protesting the increase in student fees that they claim have doubled in one year. They also protest the lack of payment of government funds to the universities to subsidise student costs according to the recommendations of the Shochat Committee, a Government Commission of enquiry that was set up to recommend improvements in the educational system. So basically it all boils down to money.
Also, the universities, that are suffering as a result of the strike, have issued a joint declaration that if the strike does not end this week, then the whole semester will be cancelled. That means that the students will have to repeat a whole new semester to make up for the time lost. While faculty have issued statements supporting the students, they have also called on students to forsake the streets for the classrooms and not to lose the precious time that they need to learn and study for exams. They only have one chance at this.
At the same time as these strikes, the secondary school teachers in Israel are striking for more pay and improved conditions. They are having rolling strikes that target schools in different parts of the country on different weeks. They also protest the lack of implementation of the conclusions of the Shochat Committee. No doubt they have valid complaints, but these strikes are hurting the children as well as the country.
Teachers are among the worst paid workers in almost every country, but in Israel they receive the lowest salary among all the advanced western nations. The students are also poorly supported.
On the other hand, the country, although strong economically, is still reeling from the cost of the 2006 Lebanon War, and from the improvements in the IDF that have been decided are necessary in light of the findings of the Winograd Committee. So you have here competitive claims on the limited government pie from two legitimate and justified committees. It is almost impossible to implement all decisions of both Committees, and others. Israel is a small country with limited resources and overwhelming needs, both in defense and education. All needs cannot be satisfied concurrently.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Irish peace

A historic agreement took place this week in Northern Ireland between the republican party Sinn Fein, led by Martin McGuiness, and the loyalist Democratic Unionist Party, led by Ian Paisley. They both accepted a compromise that allowed devolution of sovereignty from the British Parliament in London to the Northern Ireland Parliament at Stormont. It was amazing to see these two former staunch enemies sitting side by side and smiling.
Although this is not the final end of the Irish conflict, it marks the first peaceful resolution of the struggle for Irish freedom that has taken 90 years from the Easter uprising of 1916 to 2007. The agreement this week resulted from the Good Friday agreement of 1998 that first required the IRA to lay down their weapons and the DUP accepted a role for the Irish Republic in the development of Northern Ireland, while it remains a part of the UK. Now a new era of peaceful development can begin. This agreement owes a lot to the persistance of PM Blair and is an appropriate success for him on his retirement.
A suitable background to the acknowledgement of this process is the recent movie "The wind that shakes the barley," which is an authentic dramatic documentary of the terrible path of Irish history. This shows the brutality of the English and the tragic civil war that engulfed Ireland after the agreement to form the Irish Free State in 1922 was rejected by a large proportion of the IRA. The internecine conflict that followed persisted until 1937 when the sovereign Republic of Ireland (Eire) was formed, and "the troubles" engulfed Northern Ireland in the 1960s-80s so that any peaceful agreement seemed impossible. Now not only is Ireland finally at peace, but it is also very prosperous, having gone from being a backward agrarian society to a modern affluent culture in a very short time.
Those of us who have supported the existence of the sovereign Jewish State of Israel can take some comfort from the Irish example. But, here we have several major complications, first, we are surrounded by a phalanx of Arab/Muslim countries that support the other side (it would be as if an alliance of Catholic countries supported the Irish Catholics). Second, the nature of Islam makes the conflict here well nigh intractable. Finally, the Palestinian side is split between many factions and the moderates are very much a minority. In fact, on Thursday FM Tzipi Livni met in Cairo with the Egyptian and Jordanian FMs who presented the Arab/Saudi peace plan initiative. However, one hopes she told them that the plan as it stands, a take it or leave it dictate by the Arabs, is unacceptable to Israel, particularly with the clauses of "right of return" and withdrawal to the pre-June 1967 lines included.
While no suitable compromise appears on the horizon now for the Israel-Palestine conflict, and although we are threatened by another round of warfare by Iran and its proxies, the Irish agreement gives hope that in time even a tortuous conflict such as ours can be resolved.

Friday, May 11, 2007

What a State!

The State Comptroller, Mischa Lindenstrauss, has just issued his Report for the year 2006. The J. Post is full of excerpts focussing on different aspects of the Government, and what a sorry state of affairs it is.
Of course, I should read the original, but since its a huge tome, and all in Hebrew, no way. So I take the usual journalist's short cut, and simply read the headlines in the Post. So here are a few examples: "State Comptroller excoriates army, government for range of failures," "IDF failed to effectively tackle threats of arms tunnels, Kassams," "Govt. failed to estimate true cost of withdrawal," "Numerous Tax Authority offices falsifying numbers of fines levied," "Directive to insure vacations abroad ignored," "Outdated system of weights and measures hurting growth," "Embassy in London singled out for improper hiring," "National Lottery Board improperly influenced dispensation of funds," "Benefits at Central Bank criticized as 'excessive'," "Religious services plagued by nepotism," "In attempt to self-audit, Knesset pays out extravagant and unnecessary sums," and "National budget mismanagement." I think you get the picture!
These criticisms are impressive and show the transparency of the Israeli system. But, the big drawback of this system is that no funds are specifically allocated to ensure that the Comptroller's recommendations are implemented, and he has no legal authority to enforce his recommendations. As a consequence the Report is replete with list of recommendations from previous year's reports that have not yet been either corrected or implemented. So what's the point, we know what's wrong, but noone here has any sense of shame, they just issue statements saying that it's not their fault and they have no money to correct the problem. Some people should go to jail, in the London Embassy, in the Knesset and some should be fired, in the Govt. and the IDF. But, it won't happen. So the system of circumvented responsibility thrives.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Ode to joy

Recently we went to a performance of Beethoven's 9th Symphony by the Herzliya Chamber Orchestra. I thought this was an ambitious work for them to perform, but they carried it off extremely well. They had choirs from Holland and Jerusalem to sing the final "Ode to Joy." The conducter Harvey Bordowitz mentioned that the original poem by Friedrich Schiller had probably been named "Ode to freedom," but he was forced to change it by the censor.
What struck me, as it must have many others before, is the incredibly idealistic nature of this paean to brotherhood, "all men are brothers." Beethoven was known to be a great "liberal" and had several Jewish friends, but it is interesting to see the contrast between his words and music and those of Wagner, whose anti-Semitism was profound. It seems that both of these intensely German geniuses were completely opposite in their beliefs and their attitudes towards mankind.
In that case, we are forced to acknowledge that the liberal impetus in Germany that freed the Jews and allowed them to occupy many positions in the mid-nineteenth century was a strong positive influence. But, perhaps there is a trend that links these two opposites together, and that is the extremely idealistic nature of both these beliefs. It's as if the world had to be "black and white," and you either took the "black" or the "white," without any shades of gray in between. In France a similar set of attitudes prevailed, but in England and the English-speaking world, the more pragmatic approach accepted that there were shades of gray and that "live and let live" was better than "my way or the highway." As the British philosopher Bertrand Russell said, "beware of ideologues."
As we approach a visit to Berlin soon, I am thinking about these issues. Needless to say I do not look forward to being in Germany, but if I hark back to the words of Beethoven I must acknowledge that not all Germans were anti-Semites nor killers of Jews. However, I cannot escape the feeling that while the new generation is largely freed of this yoke of the past, it has not died out in German culture. "The Ode to Joy" has been adopted as the anthem of the EU, so we might say that Beethoven won over Wagner, just as Nazism was defeated by western democracies. But, the latest wave of anti-Semitism in Europe does not inspire confidence. So after our visit to Berlin, especially to see the sights of Jewish interest (the Jewish museum, the Holocaust memorial), we will quickly head south to Italy, for relief from the oppressive feelings of being in Germany.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Rice's cancellation

In an unprecedented move, US Secty. of State Condoleeza Rice has cancelled her planned trip to Israel this week. The reasons for this are not hard to decipher, one could cite the current political turmoil in Israel and the weakness of the Olmert Government following the Lebanon War and the interim Winograd Report. But, what is most likely the proximal cause is the recent list of "confidence building measures" that the US officially requested Israel and the PA to implement as "benchmarks" to improve the trust between the two sides and to help start the so-called peace process. This was seen as an American response to the Arab/Saudi so-called peace initiative, that is nothing more than a capitulation plan for Israel to accept the Arab positions.
The so-called confidence building measures are mostly aimed at Israel, and require the removal of various road blocks, used to intercept terrorists, and the opening of a regular bus connection between Gaza and the West Bank.
The US also calls on the PA to stop the rocket attacks on southern Israel and to release the Israeli hostage Cpl. Gilad Shalit. Although Pres. Abbas was positive about the US initiative, some of his aides criticized it, and it was rejected by the Hamas Government and its leader in Damascus, Khaled Mashaal, who called them a trick by the US to stop the "resistance." Also, today a Hamas group warned that if Israel responds to the rocket attacks by invading Gaza they will kill Shalit, but this was later denied by a spokesman for the Hamas Government. Given the current chaos in Gaza noone knows what can happen to Shalit.
Guess who is attacking UNWRA? Some Palestinian extremists have attacked and partly destroyed the American School in northern Gaza and also an UNWRA school as well as a sports field because boys and girls have been allowed to mix together. This is the "Talibanisation" of the Palestinian conflict. While the PA has almost completely lost control of its territory, Israel is expected to make concessions to them. Under no circumstances should Israel allow a regular bus connection between Gaza and the West Bank, because it will absolutely be used to smuggle arms and terrorists into the West Bank. Rice knows this and yet she still asks Israel to make this one-sided and suicidal concession. Since the Olmert Government is so weak and so controversial it cannot take any such step without risking its existence, so Rice has decided not to come so that she will not be forced to ask this of the Olmert Government, and force them to reject her request. Also, at the same time the State Dept. has backed off the timeline it gave with specific dates for realising its benchmarks, it now calls them "flexible."
Nevertheless, Rice is going next week to a meeting of the Quartet in Egypt, that will only end up putting more pressure on Israel. Don't they see that the PA is being run by a terrorist organization out of Damascus and that Israel cannot, while being bombarded by rockets from Gaza, make any concessions to the PA or the Arabs? Let them put some pressure on Hamas, Syria or Iran for that matter, if they can, because that's where the impetus for the current instability derives.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

London trial

The year-long trial at the Old Bailey in London of a group of Muslim conspirators ended last week with sentences of life for the five main ringleaders. This was the so-called Crevice group that had been monitored for several months by the British MI5 and then Scotland Yard's counter-terrorism police. During their surveillance of this group there were many contacts with other individuals and groups, and while at the beginning of the case they recognized 50 groups of Muslim conspirators, by the end this had risen to over 200. It is important to note that the vast majority of the ca. 1,200 people being investigated were British-born Muslims.
As the ring of contacts expanded through 2004, the police found themselves overwhelmed by the numbers. Of course not all of them were terrorists or were considered suspicious. In fact, even in the trial one of those charged was found not guilty and is now considered to have been a dupe of the main ringleaders (showing that the justice system works). Also, some of those followed and suspected were not arrested, and this might be because they aided the police or were able to cover their tracks.
The main organizer of the group was Omar Khayam of Crawley, who had been on trips to Pakistan and had received training at al Qaeda camps there. MI5, the intelligence arm, brought him and his contacts to the attention of the anti-terrorism police. He had rented a storage space and put in it a huge bag containing 600 kg of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, a well known explosive that had been used by the Kansas City bomber in the USA. Unbeknownst to him the police had him under surveillance and switched the powder so that no bomb could be made.
When the conspirators started talking about potential bombing targets, malls, dance clubs, synagogues, and then they bought airplane tickets to Pakistan, the police moved in and arrested them. Showing the international ramifications of these plots, one of their co-conspirators who was making the timers for their bombs was arrested in Ottawa, and tried in Canada, and one named Barbar was arrested in the US and turned into a Govt. informant against them and is now in the FBI witness protection program.
One of the most telling points highlighted in a BBC Panorama program aired last week entitled "Did MI5 miss the London Bombers" by Peter Taylor (available on in the Panorama section) is that the MI5 recorded four separate contacts between this group (Crevice) that they were following and the group that later carried out the London bombings on 7/7 and these were not followed up. In fact on one occasion Khan and Tanweer the two London bombing ringleaders were followed all the way to Leeds 17 months before the bombings in London, but the police failed to follow up on this because they regarded the two as not likely suspects.
In January, the trial took place of the 6 conspirators in the failed London bombings of July 21, a completely different group (of African/Somali origin). In that case they used peroxide bombs that failed to detonate. These also were not suicide bombers, they hoped to get away. Because their bombs failed to go off they were apprehended. At first it was said that they were "copy-cat" bombers of the 7/7 successful suicide bombings, but in fact this was not true. The evidence shows that they had been planning this attack for many months before the 7/7 bombings, and furthermore they had had contact with the earlier killers.
So the pattern that emerges is of hundreds of young Muslim plotters, in small cells with informal contacts, some of African origin (the 7/21) bombers and some of Pakistani origin (the Crevice fertilizer bombers). A similar situation has developed in the US with the latest aborted attack on Fort Dix, NJ, by a group of disaffected American Muslims following al Qaeda methods. A book has been written by a former member of one of these cells entitled "The Islamist: why I became a radical Muslim in Britain and why I left" by Ed Husain, showing how he was brainwashed and indoctrinated before he managed to break away. What is clear is that some of these Muslim are dedicated to killing innocent British or Americans in order to advance the cause of extremist Islam. Fortunately, the police are now forewarned, but the sheer number of suspicious groups and individuals makes their job very difficult. Nevertheless there are some guilty young Muslim men who will never see the light of day again.

Mark Regev

Monday we went to a luncheon on behalf of Laniado Hospital at which Mark Regev, the spokesman of the Israel Foreign Ministry spoke. He said that although he tries hard, it is very difficult for him to "win" in his situation, and its not only because of anti-Israel bias of the journalists or editors.
He gave as an example a Canadian TV reporter who came to him recently and said the he had interviewed an 80 year old Palestinian man at the security fence, who claimed that he was separated from his olive trees for the first time in his life. He wanted a comment from the official spokesman. How can any response he gives compare to the picture of the poor old man deprived of access to his livelihood? Even if he explains that there are gates and that the barrier has been erected to save Israeli lives due to terrorism and that the barrier could be removed if the terrorism were to stop, etc., it still cannot balance out the graphic picture of the poor old Palestinian man.
As the official spokesman he is viewed by many journalists and their readers/viewers as the colonial representative, justifying the "occupation" of the colonized Palestinians. They make an automatic comparison between the former colonial control of the British over its colonies and the French in N. Africa and Israel with the Palestinians. They think, instead of justifying why you are there why don't you simply leave and give them their freedom? They don't see the true picture of the situation. A truly balanced comparison would be for the TV reporter to go and interview a family member of someone killed by a suicide bomber to make a person to person balance. But, he can only suggest this, he cannot enforce it.
But, he thinks Israel itself is a success story, as he remarked he hadn't been to Netanya for many years and was amazed by the growth, for example of the southern region of Poleg that now consists of hundreds of apartment blocks where there was nothing 10 years ago. In that respect Israel is a succcess story, while abroad foreigners only know Netanya as a target of terrorism.
He also pointed out that the poll results show that the anti-Israel bias in Britain and France has been slowly reversing and the US has become more pro-Israel over the past few years. He attributes this to a paradigm shift, as the colonial power view of Israel changes to one of a common victim of Islamic terrorism. He said that he used to dread debating with Hanan Ashwari, who was the spokesman for Arafat, because she came across as so liberal, so western and so reasonable. But, now his opponents, who won't even debate with him, are full-bearded Muslim extremists with foreign accents who remind the viewer of Arab terrorists more than fellow western liberals. So his job is made easier. In that respect Israel's image is improving.

Monday, May 07, 2007

British/French elections

The local elections in England and the elections for the devolved Parliaments of Scotland and Wales and the Presidential election in France, all have significance for Israel.
First, the English local elections have resulted in net losses for the Labor and Liberal Democrat Parties and gains by the Conservatives. The extent of this gain was ca. 40% of the vote, which is a huge increase, while Labor received only 27%. This shows that the new Conservative leader David Cameron has struck a cord with the British electorate, and that they are fed up with Labor Government control. But, what is most interesting about this result is that the Lib Dems that have gained at the past two elections, have been put back where they were as the lowest running "third party." Although Labor lost a lot, Labor and Conservatives are now running very close, and in a General Election that includes the vote for Prime Minister that is not due for another two years, it is impossible to predict at this stage who would win. If it is George Brown for Labor against David Cameron for the Tories, then either could win. Certainly the unpopularity of the Iraq War has lost Blair a lot of support, especially among the left wing of the Labor Party. But, the Conservatives have generally supported the war, while the Lib Dems have been consistently against it (and pro-Palestinian), so this does not compute in simple terms. One could conclude that the dominant issues are domestic and that people are ready for a change.
In Scotland (pop. 5.2 million), the results are revolutionary! For the first time the Scottish National Party (SNP) has beaten Labor, although only by the slimmest margin, and won the largest bloc of seats in the Scottish Parliament (49 out of 129). They will have to form a coalition to govern, but they plan to have a referendum on secession for Scotland within 5 years, which if passed would sever Scotland from the United Kingdom and would require many major changes, including the names of the countries and the flag. It is important to note that Scotland has been part of the UK for 300 years, not so long a time in the history of the British Isles and certainly not irreversible. However, breaking away would involve a complex economic realignment for Scotland and could potentially be ruinous. It will be very interesting to see what happens, Sean Connery could be the first President of Scotland, and it might become compulsory to wear kilts!
In Wales (pop. 3 million), the equivalent Welsh national party, Plaid Cymru, did not do so well, they won only 15 seats in the Welsh Assembly, and although this is their best showing yet, it is not nearly as good as Labor which got 26 (out of 60) seats. It should be noted that Wales has been joined to England for 1,000 years, so the relationship is much closer than that of England and Scotland. As usual the Conservatives, that are identified as the predominantly traditional English Party, did not do so well in Wales and Scotland.
In France, the national election came down to a race between the socialist candidate Segolene Royal and the right wing candidate Nicolas Sarkozy. Their last debate resulted in an improvement for Sarkozy, he looked more competent than Royal, and was also very polite to her, while she tended to interrupt and also had many nice ideas but few specifics on how to implement them. It was not surprising that Sarkozy won by 7% of the vote, and since he is quarter Jewish (his grandfather) and much more pro-Israel than his predecessor Chirac, we can look forward to better relations with France.
Altogether a good day for Jews and Israel at the polls in the UK and France.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Grouping of small countries

As the division of the countries at the UN between capitalist and communist and between east and west break down, there is a need for other more pragmatic groupings. I suggest that the UN is an ideal forum for the protection of small countries, those with less than 10 million inhabitants and less than 100,000 sq. km., that tend to be dominated by the great powers, mainly the US, Russia, China and Britain, and by other local hegemons. I suggest that Israel could play a leading role in forming such a Grouping of Small Countries (GSC), that will have common interests in self-protection and trade.
Such a Grouping could include, in Europe: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Denmark, Malta, Ireland and Iceland, in the Middle East: Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Kuwait and Qatar, in Asia: East Timor, Bhutan, Fiji and the various Polynesian and Melanesian States, in Africa: Gambia, Burundi,Togo and Rwanda and in the Americas: El Salvador, Costa Rica, Jamaica, and other Caribbean island States.
It would be preferable if such pragmatic groupings would develop naturally, and it is not at all certain that the UN can be saved from its current predominantly anti-American and anti-Israel institutionalized bias. But, given that institutions change over time and that there is a new more pragmatic Secretary General Ban-ki Moon, from S. Korea, then such a realignment of country groupings might be feasible.
It is not expected that a grouping of large and powerful countries would be similarly organized at the UN, but there is already the group of economically developed countries, the G8, that meet regularly to discuss topics of common interest. Why not a similar organization of small countries to gather together to protect themselves by their numbers? Two cases they could take up would be the occupation of Tibet by China, against all legal norms including the Geneva Conventions and the attempts to undermine the sovereignty of Lebanon by Syria and Iran.
Although the development of such a grouping might be idealistic, nevertheless there are 191 countries at the UN and perhaps a fifth of them fall into this category. The potential power of this grouping can be grasped by realizing that each one has a vote in the General Assembly equal to that of the USA, and few of them so far have been voted onto the Security Council.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

The al Quds Brigade

Recently there have been several references to the shadowy al Quds Brigade of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) that has been reported to be active in Iraq, Lebanon and elsewhere around the world. In fact the al Quds Brigade is the secret underground army of the Iranian revolution, answerable not to the high command of the IRGC, but directly to the highest authority in Iran, the Head of the Iranian Revolutionary Council, Ayatollah Khamenei.
Al Quds means in Arabic "the Holy" (similar to Kodesh in Hebrew) and refers to Jerusalem. From the beginning of the Iranian revolution in 1979 it has been a stated goal of the Shia state to recapture Jerusalem from the Jews. One of the slogans of the Iranians in the war against Iraq in 1980-88 was "the road to Jerusalem leads thru Baghdad." But, they of course failed to achieve their goal of capturing Baghdad, let alone Jerusalem. Notably the al Quds Brigade played an active role in the war against Iraq and it is believed that Pres. Ahmedinejad of Iran was a former member of this force.
Now with the ferment in Iraq and the activism of a large segment of Iraqi (Arab) Shia there, this goal of capturing Baghdad now seems feasible to the Iranians. They have their agents actively supporting the Shia insurgency, including Muktada al Sadr and his 10,000 man Mahdi Army. The reason it is called the Mahdi Army is that the Shia believe in the coming of a Messiah (as derived from Judaism), but in their case it would be the secret 12th Imam who would take over the victorious Islamic forces. They believe that this could happen once Jerusalem is restored to them.
A presentation about the al Quds Brigade of the IRGC was given by Daniel Diker in the recent symposium in Jerusalem organized by The Israel Project ( entitled "Hamas, Hizbollah and Iran." He makes the point that until recently little was known about the activities of the al Quds Force, but recently they have been detected in Iraq, Lebanon and Gaza. Earlier activities of the al Quds Force include the 1983 bombings in Beirut of the US Embassy killing 63 and the US marine barracks that killed 241 US servicemen and the bombings in Buenos Aires, Argentina, of the Israeli Embassy in 1992 that killed 29 and the Jewish Community Center in 1994 that killed 85, for which high officials of Iran are now wanted under an Interpol warrant. These bombings were carried out in cooperation with Hizbollah, which is closely associated with the al Quds force. In fact it is known that a senior Hizbollah operative, Imad Mugnieh, was involved in carrying out these bombings, and is now known to be living in Iran. Members of the al Quds force have been captured by the IDF in Lebanon and by US forces in Iraq. They are also reportedly active in Gaza, training a Hamas army of 10,000 men modeled after Hizbollah.
The al Quds Force is the secret underground army of the Iranian revolution that engages in international activities on behalf of the Iranian state. It is the Shia equivalent to, and competitor of, the Sunni al Qaeda. Look for it in your vicinity, if it's not there yet, it will be soon.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Losers go home!

There are two main reasons why the Israeli population supports the conclusions of the Winograd Committee interim Report, that covers only the start (first 5 days) of the war in Lebanon. One is because PM Olmert rushed into the war without taking adequate care to consider alternatives. For this reason the left wing oppose Olmert, and think that his decision to go to war was ill-advised and precipitous.
The other reason is from the right, people who think he made the right decision to go to war with Hizbollah, but made the wrong strategic decisions on how to wage the war. In this respect, the final Committee Report due in two months should provide more details and answers. But, everyone knows already that it was partly because he had a dummy for a Defense Minister, who apparently had no idea what to do, and a biased Chief of Staff who pushed only an aerial campaign. Most experts (and I) agree that what was needed was a massive ground invasion through the center of southern Lebanon that would have carved up the Hizbollah forces and overwhelmed them. Instead the IDF sat around the edges and were picked off. Also, unrealistic war aims were presented publicly and nothing serious was done to stop the barrage of rockets into northern Israel.
So let's be clear, most people thought a war with Hizbollah was necessary, but failed Olmert and his crew for their incompetent conduct of the war. In fact, the Winograd Committee criticized the three previous Israeli Administrations, back to PM Barak who had been a Chief of Staff himself, for having allowed Hizbollah to grow so large and become so well-armed (with rockets) without having taken any action against them, while at the same time neglecting the IDF's readiness for war. In other words, they all left the situation to worsen until it fell into Olmert's lap, and he had no idea what to do about it.
Now Olmert's excuse for clinging to power is that since he made the mistakes, he should be the one to implement the proposals of the Committee and rectify the errors. But, that is faulty logic, if he was at fault, and he acknowledges that he was, then he should resign and leave it to someone more qualified to rectify his mistakes and improve the level of readiness and capability of the IDF. It is not only a question of the need to make sure these errors aren't repeated, but to let the Arabs know that the IDF still has the necessary deterrent capability. Otherwise they may feel that Israel is weakened and they may be empowered to attack. It may be in this light that there are reports that Syria is massing arms (supplied by Iran) and men on the Israeli border in readiness for another war this summer. I tremble to think that Olmert and Peretz could still be in power and in charge of running another war, this time one for Israeli survival.
Note that Olmert prevented the setting up of an official Government Commission that would have had the authority to fire him. What he set up was a Committee of enquiry that does not have that degree of authority, whose conclusions are not binding but are only advisory. So that's why Olmert and Peretz remain glued to their chairs. We need to get the rascals out, and a huge rally of ca. 200,000 people took place last night (Thurs) at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv in order to do just that, with the slogan "Losers go home!" Let's hope this process will succeed.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Party of God

In a lecture at a recent symposium held in Jerusalem by The Israel Project( entitled "Hamas, Hizbollah and Iran," Mordechi Kedar of Bar-Ilan University suggested that current events in the Middle East and around the world can be understood as the outcome of an intense, vicious competition between Shia and Sunni Islam. It should be noted that although all Muslims regard Western non-Muslims as "infidels" (kaffurs), in another sense the two main sects of Islam regard each other as much more dangerous enemies. It is apparently quite customary for them to refer to each other as "filth" and other unpleasant epithets. Dr. Kedar explains the current attacks on the West not only intrinsically, but as a means of scoring points against each other.
The growth of this process can be dated initially from the Iranian Revolution of 1979, that occured during the Administration of Pres. Carter. Once Shia Islam had taken over the Government of Iran, a conflict with Sunni Islam became inevitable. The first stage in this process was the war between Iran and Iraq that lasted from 1980-1988. Since this practically exhausted both sides it took years for both of them to recover and it set the expansion of the Iranian revolution back for some time.
It should be noted that Hizb-Allah actually means "The Party of God," that is a quote from the Koran, meaning that whoever constitutes the party favored by God will inevitably win. By calling their Shia proxy in Lebanon Hizbollah, the Shia Iranians are telling the world and most particularly the Sunnis, that they will end up victorious.
There is no Sunni regime comparable to the Shia regime in Iran. All the current so-called Sunni regimes are compromised by being modernized or cooperative with the West. This particularly includes Saudi Arabia, which is an open ally of the US. It was this fact that drove Osama bin Laden not only to declare war on the West but also on the Saudi regime. The only comparable Sunni religiously controlled Government to Shia Iran was that of the Taliban in Afghanistan, which also supported the training and export of Sunni al Qaeda terrorism. But, that regime was defeated by the Americans after the attack of 9/11.
In the competition of Shia and Sunnis in scoring points, the West is a favorite target. It is in this respect that the 9/11 attack of 2001 in the US and the 7/7 attack of 2004 in London, as well as the myriad attacks around the world, can be understood. They were a Sunni response to the success of the Iranian revolution. While Iran focuses on hegemony in the Middle East, including exporting its revolution thru Syria to Lebanon and the PA, al Qaeda and the Sunni terrorists have focussed on hitting the West.
But, there is an anomaly here, namely that the Palestinians are Sunni, so why are they allied with Iran. The simple answer is money and hatred of Israel. One of the aims of the current Ahmedinejad Government in Iran is the elimination of Israel, and how to do this better than to support both Hizbollah and the Palestinians with large sums of money and training. The leadership of Hamas assumed that if they became the Government of the PA they would receive the large sums of money that had been flowing from the EU and US into the PA under Arafat. But, they have been surprised by the solidarity of the West in refusing to give money to them. Also, the other Sunni states have largely followed this lead and have cut off funding. Iran has stepped into the breach, and last year spent m$220 in supporting Hamas in Gaza. They also have programs underway in the West Bank, and are currently trying to co-opt the al Aksa Martyrs Brigades, that were started by Fatah, but that are now virtually independent and more extreme. In that way, Iran hopes to bring about a three front war against Israel, from Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank, supported by their own forces from Iran. Rockets will play a large role in this intended war of extirmination, as they did in the Second Lebanon War of 2006. Of course, Iran also hopes to have its own atomic tipped missiles with which to threaten and attack Israel in due course.
Nowhere is the competition between Shia and Sunni Islam more violent than in Iraq. Civilian casualties are now running at ca. 30 a day! If you wonder why they kill each other with such abandon, it is there that the sectarian divide has become open conflict. It would be best if the US forces got out of the way and, as in the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-88, let them get on with it, since nothing can now stop that war. Is is based on the Koran, whoever wins it will then be known as the party that God (Allah) favors.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Zero percent!

A poll conducted by TV Channel 2 in Israel gave PM Olmert zero percent of public support! This is down from 2% in the last poll and is even less than the statistical error. Has any leader of any country ever reached this low? But, in the wake of the interim Winograd Report that strongly criticized Olmert, he has announced that he will remain as PM. So now we know that he is both incompetent and immoral. Quite a record.
Yesterday the Labor whip Eitan Cabel resigned from the coalition and today the Kadima whip Yitzhaki withdrew his support from Olmert. Also, today Olmert met with FM Tzipi Livni, who gave a press conference afterwards and announced that she told Olmert that she thinks he should resign, although it's his decision. She will remain in his Cabinet and will not do anything to hasten his leaving. However, at the same time she announced that she will run for the leadership of Kadima in his place. So she is placing herself carefully as his eventual successor.
There have been reports that Olmert and others prefer Shimon Peres as his successor as Head of the Kadima (Forward) Party. This would result in the ludicrous situation that Peres, a former Head of the Labor Party, would become Head of Kadima in place of Ariel Sharon, who was a former Head of the Likud Party. What a political inversion, no wonder Israeli politics is confusing. Let's hope this doesn't happen and that Peres will finally be forced to retire, better sooner than later. But, it only goes to show you what a mess Kadima is. It's not so much a Party as a conglomeration of incompetents and opportunists. In fact there is a joke in Israel, that now with the Winograd Report, they are thinking of changing the Party's name to "Achora" (meaning backward).
There are also rumors that Amir Peretz will announce his resignation as Defense Minsiter within 48 hrs. There has never been a politician who is as much a nobody as Peretz. He looks like a buffoon and his every action tends to prove it. He is well loved for the time he spent (nearly an hour) looking through binoculors with the end caps still on. What was he seeing and what was he thinking? In any case Labor politicians are lining up to replace him as leader of their Party.
It appears that most politicians who are busy saving their own necks are not in favor of new elections, that Likud would certainly win by a landslide, and that could possibly totally destroy the Kadima Party. Those in Kadima realize that to save the Party and themselves they need to ditch Olmert and replace him with Livni, as the only leading Govt. Minister who was not severely criticized by the Winograd Committee. If they can manage that sleight of hand then maybe Kadima can survive.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


The news story of a Jewish woman being attacked by anti-Semitic Muslims in a train station in Marseilles reminds us once again of the need for Jewish self-defense. Audrey Brachelle, whose mother is Israeli, told police that anti-Semitism came into play when the assailants noticed her necklace which bore a Jewish "chai" pendant. The attackers began hitting her, Brachelle said, then one of them drew a knife, slashed open her shirt and drew a swastika on her chest.
This incident brings to mind two incidents that happened to me. I was on my way to Cambridge in 1961 when I was accosted on a London bus by three anti-Semites, two women and a man. Without going into details, I stood up to them and the man and I were almost at the point of blows. I called on the bus conducter to stop the bus and call a policeman, but he refused. The rest of the passengers ignored what was going on. I still remember his parting words when they got off the bus at the Angel, Islington, "If I see you around here again Jew bastard, I'll kill you." I was very shaken by this incident and maybe it played arole in my decision to make aliyah.
The first significant development of Jewish self-defense took place in NY City in the 1960s when Meir Kahane established the Jewish Defense League. This became very religious/political in its orientation and lead eventually to Kahane being assassinated in one of the first Muslim attacks on US soil (the police downplayed this attack merely as a "crime").
When I was living in suburban Maryland I became the organizer of many student and Jewish community demonstrations. The student group I worked with was the Baltimore-Washington Union of Jewish Students (BWUJS) that I helped found. When I started organizing demonstrations and marches for the Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington in 1970, I soon realized that we needed security, and I coopted some of the BWUJS students to help me. I also met a colleague who had started a Jewish youth martial arts program, called the Jewish Athletic Club (JAC), and some of his students participated.
A group of neo-Nazis from nearby Virginia showed up at our demonstrations. On one occasion some of our students attacked them. They were very surprised, were outnumbered and received a beating. One of our students had taught himself to use the nunchuk, a dangerous martial arts weapon, and used it very effectively. Also, the tires of their vehicles were slashed, and the DC police (most of them Black) did nothing to protect them. They ended up walking back to Virginia and never bothered us again.
What we need in every major city, London, Paris, Marseille, Berlin, etc., is a JAC group of young Jews trained in the martial arts, but with no specific religious or political affiliation, that will patrol certain areas as a group, and counter-attack any violent fascists, neo-Nazis, or liberal anti-Israel elements who let their concern for Palestinian human rights manifest as anti-Semitism. Their emblem could be a Magen David star inside a clenched fist. They should not be aggressive except as a counter to violence against Jews. The anti-Semites are cowards, they look for lone women or youths and Rabbis to beat up. Let them be afraid for once that someone they least suspect, and their friends, will be waiting for them.