Thursday, July 31, 2008

Olmert resigns

Finally, Ehud Olmert has announced that he is stepping down as PM after the Kadima Party primary on Sept 17. He will remain a caretaker after that until the next Govt. is formed. He claims of course that he is innocent of all charges against him, but he finally admits that he cannot go on serving as PM while under investigation. He must leave office before he is indicted.
The four candidates for Kadima leadership to replace him are FM Tzipi Livni, former Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, Security Minister Avi Dichter, and Meir Shetreet. Since it is a relatively new party there are no strong factions within Kadima as there are in Likud and Labor. But, the majority apparently (40-50%) support Livni, mainly because she has held herself above the fray of political intrigue, having criticized Olmert but not acted to oust him.
Assuming she wins the Kadima Party primary she will be our next PM, but without a national election. If there were an election, if she could not form a Government coalition, then she is the only candidate to possibly challenge Netanyahu. He is leading also by 40-50% in the polls against Livni and Barak of Labor (who only polls 18%).
Olmert's legacy is that he implemented Sharon's policy of disengagement from Gaza, but it was a failure in bringing about any kind of peaceful outcome, in fact it exacerbated the military-security situation by allowing Hamas the ability to take over Gaza. So Olmert dropped any further plans to unilaterally "disengage" from so-called Palestinian areas. He advanced negotiations with the PA, with Pres Abbas and PM Fayyad, but these too have so far gone nowhere, partly because both sides have become so weak. Even Pres. Bush is a lame duck and cannot ensure his wish of achieving some sort of "shelf" agreement by the end of his term at the end of the year. So two of the negotiators gathering in Washington now will be gone by then, and Abbas has announced that if no agreement is achieved he will also resign. If he does what will happen in the West Bank is uncertain, since Hamas is vying for power there, but both the PA and Israel have cracked down on Hamas there.
Olmert also initiated indirect talks with the Syrian Pres Bashar Assad, but these have an uncertain future given that the US is not comfortable with engaging Syria under present circumstances, and yet Assad said he won't continue to talk unless the US is involved.
Olmert gained national office as a result of his sycophancy with Sharon, he never earned it in national elections. Nevertheless, he showed political mastery by holding his coalition together for so long. He presided over the Second War in Lebanon, and although major mistakes were made, he survived the Winograd Committee Report that severely criticized the Government, but avoided laying blame where it belonged. All that Olmert has done has not been bad, but very little that he has done has been successful. He leaves office almost disgraced, but unrepentent. Let's hope we will never see him in office again.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


I turn my back for a minute, I go on vacation for a few days, and all hell breaks loose. There were suicide bombings in Ahmedabad, India, killing 75, and in Istanbul, Turkey, killing a dozen. Then there were internecine killings in Gaza and the West Bank between Hamas and Fatah.
My theory about this is that because Israel is a harder nut to crack, they turn on each other. As the security fence keeps out terrorists and bombers, and Israeli intelligence tracks the bad guys, so they are less and less able to effectively attack Israel. They use paltry rockets and E. Jerusalemites who drive tractors to try and kill a few of us. But, it makes no basic difference. So being a violent culture they turn on each other, since each one claims that they have the key to the Palestinian future. As far as I'm concerned they can kill each other. But, it makes it less and less likely that there is indeed a suitable Palestinian partner for Israel to make peace with.
I just spent a few days in London, where as far as I can see many different cultures inter-mingle peacefully. We saw an area where Caribbean Blacks and Turkish Muslims coexist within the larger British society. The Muslims should be trying to learn from the British how this is done rather than trying to change the system and introduce Sharia law. After reading "A Thousand Splendid Suns" by Khaled Husseini (the author of "The kite runner") and learning in detail how women were treated under all the various Afghan regimes, particularly the Taliban, the Muslims in Britain should realize how lucky they are to live in a tolerant, liberal, democratic society. Unfortunately, they will still try to undermine it and replace it.
Nevertheless, the UK is not for me. Anti-Israel sentiment is a staple of British culture and is widely disseminated in the media and in ordinary people's opinions, including many Jews. We went to my niece's wedding in Southend, and it was crowded partly because this was the first Jewish wedding there for some years. Most of my cousins have inter-married, and there is very little likelihood of any Jewish content in the lives of their offsping. In a few generations there will be hardly any Jews in the UK, apart from the Orthodox core. We are witnessing in our generation the turning point, the fulcrum, in Jewish history when Israel contains more Jews than the rest of the world combined, and the curves are expected to diverge.
What this will mean for Jewish history and Israel is difficult to fathom, but for the first time an Israeli PM (unfortunately Olmert) has made a speech in which he asked how Israel can help to support Jewish life in the diaspora, rather than the other way round as it always has been. We'll have to start learning to live with that.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Obama in Jerusalem

Sen. Obama, the Democratic Presidential candidate, arrived in Jerusalem last night. He is here to court the Jewish vote, a trip that is now mandatory for all presidential candidates. Of course, he is now saying how much he supports Israel, although this is quite a new stance for him. He also condemned the terror attack that took place yesterday just up the street from the King David Hotel where he is staying.
Fortunately, this bulldozer attack was less severe than the first one, the driver was shot sooner and although two parked cars were overturned and several were injured, no-one was killed. As Obama said, Israelis are used to such attacks, but now the Israeli Govt. may be forced to actually take action against the perpetrators, who come from East Jerusalem and have Green cards that allow them to travel anywhere in Israel. No retaliatory action was taken in the past two incidents and so there is no reprisal cost to them for carrying out these attacks. The police are now supposed to check all building sites in Jerusalem, but no decision has been made reagarding the destruction of the houses of these terrorists.
Today Obama will do a lightning tour of Israel by helicopter, with FM Livni and DM Barak, and he will meet Pres. Peres and PM Olmert. Then he will give a press conference tonite, where he will clarify his clarification of his backtrack on Jeruslaem. At the AIPAC conference he supported a unified Jerusalem unequivocally, but later he said that Jerusalem could be divided in order to satisfy the needs of the Palestinians. Of course, his advisors, Stanley Ross (a former advisor to Pres. Clinton) and former US Ambassador to Israel, Dan Kurzer, are well known to Israelis, and are not totally trusted. They are the kind of "friends" who will tell us what is best for us, as if they know better than we do.
In his talks, the threat of Iran will loom large and will be brought up several times. Obama has said that he is willing to meet and negotiate with the leader of Iran. As far as most Israelis are concerned that would be a dangerous and naieve move, giving credibility to a profoundly anti-Western regime. Whether or not Obama learns something on this "learning" trip, nothing can replace actual foreign policy experience, of which he has none. Nevertheless, several other presidents have started out with this disadvantage, including Carter, Clinton and Bush! Perhaps for a change we need a President who has some real experience before he comes into office.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A shooting video

A video is being shown on the news of an IDF soldier shooting a rubber bullet (although it's not clear what kind of bullet it is) into the foot of a blindfolded and bound Palestinian prisoner. What is unusual about this video is that it was filmed supposedly by a 14 year old Palestinian girl who was given, along with about 200 others, video cameras by B'tselem, an Israeli "human rights" organization that cooperates with international "peace activists," otherwise known as left-wing agitators. They have been fomenting daily demonstrations against the security fence (or "wall") at several Arab villages, in this case Ni'ilin.
While the Palestinians have become past masters at media deception, remember the Jenin "massacre," the Gaza beach "massacre," the Mohammed Dura "shooting," etc. However, in this case the video looks genuine, although once again one must remain sceptical.
Nevertheless, the IDF have acted immediately, the IDF soldier has been identified and arrested. The IDF spokesman issued a statement saying that this type of action is against regulations for the treatment of prisoners, and the soldier will be investigated and tried if necessary. The soldier claims that he was directly ordered by his commander to carry out this shooting, although the officer denies this It sometimes happens that arrested prisoners remain uncooperative and some means must be used to pacify them. However, the point here is not whether or not there was a shooting, but the immediate way in which the IDF responded and arrested the soldier and will investigate the matter. In another example, yesterday a policeman was found guilty of headbutting a youth during the takeover of the settlement of Amona in 2006.
I would respect the so-called peace activists if they were honest about their activites that are entirely anti-Israel. Last week a supposed collaborator was shot dead in the street in Nablus. This happens periodically, and in fact more Palestinians are killed by other Palestinians than are killed by Israelis. One never knows whether or not the person was indeed a collaborator with Israel, or it is merely a way to take revenge on an individual or family. So contrast the lack of due process in the PA, where people can be shot with impunity by anyone with a gun, and the situation in Israel where due process is followed. The international activists seem to care only about Palestinian human rights when Israel is involved.

Monday, July 21, 2008

PM Brown's speech to the Knesset

UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown made history today when he addressed the Knesset in Jerusalem. Brown has a history of being a friend of Israel that dates from his early childhood. His father was a leader in the Church of Scotland, and was very pro-Israel. He began to take annual trips to Israel soon after independance and often took his young son with him.
I suppose no previous PM (not even Blair) was invited because of the fact that many of them were ambivalent about Israel, Britain having been the imperial occupier of the area, and having been pro-Arab during the crucial years of Jewish immigration after WWII.
It's true that Brown berated Israel for its settlement policy on the West Bank when he visited Pres. Abbas in Ramallah yesterday. But this pales in comparison to the fulsome words he included in his speech to the Knesset.
I am appending Brown's speech because I think it warrants reading. He makes three important points, i. That Israel is unique in having accomplished more in a shorter time than any other nation on earth; ii. He criticizes Iran and it's leaders for their statements about Israel, and he calls for stiffer sanctions against them; iii. He criticizes attempted British academic boycotts of Israeli academia and promised an expansion of joint academic projects between the UK and Israel.

Here is his speech:
21 July 2008

Speech by the Rt Hon Gordon Brown MP, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom at the Knesset , Jerusalem, Israel.

See and look for "speeches"

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Unsettled future

Now that Nasrullah has retrieved the murderer Kuntar, and now that the US is sending an envoy to meet with the Iranian representative in Geneva, the future for Israel looks unsettled.
As far as Hizbollah is concerned, the situation returns to the status quo ante, in other words Hizbollah prepares once again for an attack on Israel that will enable it to continue to bill itself as the "resistance" in Lebanon. In order to accomplish this they have fully rearmed, including 40% more short range rockets (estimates vary from 20-40,000) and medium and long range rockets above the level before the 2006 war. But, there are two factors that militate against an attack, first Hizbollah is now part of the political establishment in Lebanon as a result of the Doha agreement. But, while Hizbollah now has veto power over decisions of the Lebanese Govt. they also agreed not to start a war without the knowledge and agreement of the other parties in the Govt. Even though Pres. Sleiman and the whole Lebanese people publicly celebrated the return of Kuntar last week, it is not likely that any other group in Lebanon would agree to re-start hostilities with Israel, given the bashing they received after the cross-border raid by Hizbollah that precipitated the 2006 war. At the time, Hizbollah bombarded the whole of Israel south of the border as cover for their raid to capture Israeli soldiers. They did no expect that Israel would respond so violently and destroy much of Lebanon's infrastructure. Now they will be a little more careful and perhaps restrained by the other parties in Lebanon. Also, they know that the IDF learnt many lessons form the war in 2006, and next time hopefully would be even more effective.
As far as Iran is concerned, they want Hizbollah and Hamas, their proxy in Gaza, to continue attacking Israel. But, in the south there is a tentative truce that both sides seem to want to keep, at least until the negotiations over the release of Gilad Schalit come to a conclusion. Hamas is afraid that Israel will re-institute the blockade and/or mount a major attack after his release, so they are upping the ante, and asking for more Palestinian prisoners to be freed.
At the same time, Iran is continuing negotiations with the EU over its uranium enrichment program, which is illegal according to the IAEA and the UN. Their representative Saed Jallili met with Javier Solana and other EU members in Geneva. But, this time a new dimension was added by the participation of US Undersecretary of State William Burns. Why has the Bush administration now decided to meet with the Iranians, even though he is not going to "negotiate," when until now their policy has been firmly to avoid any direct contact? There are two possible reasons for this, either they have changed their policy in light of the pressure of public opinion in the US, engendered by the stated aim of Democratic candidate Barack Obama to initiate direct engotiations with Iran if he is elected. By starting such contacts now, the Bush Administration somewhat undercuts Obama's position.
Also, and perhaps the main reason, is that the Bush Administration is deliberately showing the world that they are in favor of negotiations rather than the military option with Iran. Since this past week a Bush Administration source let it be known that they were not giving Israel the green light to attack Iran, but neither were they giving Israel a red light, they were simply giving Israel an "open door" if it felt that it had no alternative but to attack Iran. So this statement, together with Burns attendance at the meeting, sends a signal to all concerned, including Israel, that the US will not attack Iran, but that Israel can if it needs to. This is different from the US policy towards Iran until now, that "all options are on the table," expliticly including the military one. Finally at the meeting in Geneva, Iran rejected the West's offer, but has been given another two weeks to reconsider. When they won't budge, what then? Another offer or an ultimatum?
One cannot predict how things will work out now, and it may be that the US move is a front for continued preparations for an attack (although the US is usually not that devious). But, given these developments, the future for Israel looks unsettled.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Bad prisoner swap

The exchange of prisoners between Hizbollah in Lebanon and Israel took place on Wednesday July 16. The main criticism of this exchange is that the Govt. of Israel has crossed several red lines in agreeing to exchange five live Lebanese prisoners, as well as the remains of 200, for two dead Israelis. Admittedly the Govt. did not know in advance whether the IDF soldiers would be alive or dead, so carefully did Hizbollah prevent this being known, against international law. But, it was concluded weeks ago in Israel before the deal was concluded, that they were dead.
The inclusion of Samir Kuntar among the Lebanese prisoners is also unacceptable, since it breaks the code that Israel will not release terrorists "with Israeli blood on their hands." Kuntar was a cold-blooded killer, who murdered two Israeli policemen in Nahariya in 1979 and then when he was surrounded deliberately killed a man and smashed the skull of his young daughter with his rifle butt. He has been in prison since 1980, and should never have been release or should have been executed. But, in order to get back the two soldiers, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, Sheikh Nasruallah demanded Kuntar. He had boasted years ago that he would free Kuntar and in fact that is why the cross-border raid took place in 2006 and they kidnapped the two men, presumably both injured. According to the experts it seems they soon died from their injuries.
Now Nasrullah is realizing his dream because the Israeli Govt. has capitulated to him. This was celebrated as a triumph for Hizbollah, and Nasrullah organized a huge homecoming in Beirut which will boost his and Hizbollah's standing. This is the third reason why the exchange was a dumb move, because it demonstrates Israel's weakness in relation to Hizbollah, and may result in a further attack and another war sooner than Israel expects, leading to more dead and wounded on both sides. In Lebanon, this killer has been hailed as a national hero, such are the differences in morality between us and them. If anyone thinks this exchange is a sign of improved relations, they are way off-base.
Meanwhile a negotiation is continuing for the release of Cpl. Gilad Schalit from imprisonment in Gaza. But, in this case, we know that he is alive, since letters and photos of him have been released, even recently. Now after this exchange with Hizbullah, what is there to persuade his captors not to torture and kill him before the exchange - nothing! Although the rationale given for the exchange of live prisoners for dead ones is that Israel has the responsibility to bring every soldier back, dead or alive, this does not take into account the long-term consequences of such a deal. Now Hizbollah and others have stated that they intend to kidnap more IDF soldiers, since they can get a good deal from Israel, and they regard this as a sign of weakness, which it is.
I personally would prefer to leave dead Israeli soldier's remains in Lebanon rather than release live killers like Kuntar and have Hizbollah celebrate with a national frenzy. In future cases, with no sign of life we must assume the captives are dead and refuse to release live solderis for them. This exchange will boomerang on Israel and cause greater casualties in the future and more sad stories of kidnapped soldiers and civilians. It is a mistake to run a State based on sentiment and the pressure of grieving families.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Obama vs. McCain

Tuesday evening I saw on TV the major foreign policy speech of Barack Obama at the Natl. Press Club in Washington DC, and then the speech by John McCain at a Town Hall Meeting in New Mexico. They were both very characteristic of the two candidates for President.
Obama gave an excellent speech, full of high flown rhetoric and drama, while McCain's talk was more low key and specific. Obama's focus was on "ending" the war in Iraq, essentially by a rapid phased withdrawal, so that he can re-focus attention on Afghanistan and Pakistan, where al Qaeda still has a haven. This strategy is carefully crafted to appeal to the liberal anti-war sentiment in the US, while giving the conservatives something to look forward to, a continuation of the war against al Qaeda. Very plausible.
But, as McCain pointed out, Obama is about to embark on a world trip including Iraq and Afghanistan, and it will be only his second trip to Iraq after a long delay and his first to Afghanistan. As he said, usually the fact-finding mission preceeds the determination of policy. It is an astounding fact that Obama has never met Gen. Petraeus, the author of the "troop surge" success in Iraq, and has never met Pres. Maliki of Iraq or Pres. Karsai of Afghanistan.
Now it is also a fact that McCain supported and sponsored the "surge" in Iraq when it was not popular and did so at great personal political risk. Yet Obama, who opposed the "surge", as everything else about Iraq, now says that the results of the surge were expected, and he wants to end it without even consulting the military experts on the ground. How can he estimate when the troops can be removed from Iraq and military control be handed over to the Iraqi Govt. when he has not consulted with either the US military or the Iraqi Govt. So much for his high flown rhetoric, it has no substance.
Meanwhile, John McCain said that with his extensive military experience and in consultation with our military leaders and our allies he would decide when to reduce the US forces in Iraq and increase them in Afghanistan. He pointed out that there are four separate military commands in Afghanistan, one NATO and three US, and he said that to be effective these need to be unified into a single command, and he has the necessary military experience to accomplish this.
There were other areas that Obama addressed, such as energy/oil policy. But, what he said was hardly different from what Pres. Bush said at a press conference held earlier in the day, but he has instituted policies to expand US oil drilling, including on the outer continental shelf and in Alaska (that have been opposed by Obama and most of the Democratic Congress) and to improve financial rewards for exploiting alternative forms of energy. It was almost as if Obama stole the ideas from Bush, but couched them in high-sounding English instead of the folksy delivery of Bush.
So while I was impressed by Obama's rhetorical ability, I found his content shallow and without credibility, while I found McCain's talk more down to earth and based on experience and pragmatism. I could never vote for a candidate based principally on his oratory and not much else, that would be superficial.
I also saw the cover of the New Yorker magazine, that shows Obama and his wife in the Oval Office, he dressed as a Muslim cleric with turban, and his wife in camoflage with a gun slung over her shoulder. Above the fireplace is a picture of Osama bin Laden and in the fire is a US flag. I do think this is going too far, even for a supposed "satire." I would be insulted if anyone thought that my opposition to Obama has anything to do with his supposed Muslim background and/or the color of his skin. Let's be clear, I oppose his candidacy because he has insufficient experience and almost no track record, and I would oppose anyone with this background (or lack thereof) of any party for the highest position in the world, even if he does speak well!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Entente cordiale

Pres. Sarkozy of France has found a new area of influence. He has brought together 44 heads of state representing all the countries surrounding the Mediterannean Sea in Paris in his "Union of the Mediterranean." There are actually only 20 countries surrounding the Med (Spain, France, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Albania, Montenegro, Greece, Cyprus, Malta, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, Libya (that did not attend), Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco), but all the EU countries were also invited as well. The Med is an area that neither the US, the UK nor even the Russians can claim as their own, so Sarkozy has found a region that is both large and ripe for French influence.
The Med littoral includes countries of Europe, North Africa, the Levant and Asia Minor. Thus, Sarkozy can legitimately claim this to be a major, yet heterogeneous, conglomeration of countries. Of those attending, there are many Arab states, and it will be the first time that Israel will sit down in a hall with some of them, even though some walked out before FM Livni gave her speech, nevertheless others stayed.
The big news has been that Pres. Assad of Syria is attending. It seems that after assassinating former PM Hariri of Lebanon, as well as several other leaders, all is now forgiven. France has re-established ties with Syria and Assad was welcomed with a specially strong handshake by Sarkozy, grateful that Assad agreed to accept his invitation and grace the Elysee Palace.
Now that Lebanon has a new President, it was good for Sarkozy that Assad and Suleiman met and shook hands, and that had Sarkozy all aquiver. Finally, when Abbas and Olmert arrived simultaneously in adjacent cars, and shook hands with Sarkozy, he was almost in ecstasy. Olmert duly stated that Israel and the Palestinians have never been closer to an agreement, and that had Sarkozy gushing about "love rather than hate." He quoted to the Arabs the European Union as an example of what can happen if they gave up their hateful ways. But, it will take more than a little talking to, to curb the tendency towards violence in even the most "moderate" and pro-Western Arab countries, like Egypt and Morocco.
However, Sarkozy will not get the handshake that he so earnestly desires, that between Assad and Olmert. Assad will not give this political concession at so cheap a price. Israel will have to give up all the Golan Heights before he would deign to shake hands with the Israeli PM. And he will wait for three things to happen, first the US Presidential election (his chosen candidate is Obama), then the replacement of Olmert, since he knows that no agreement arrived at with Olmert will be approved by the Knesset, and third, the outcome of the sabre rattling between Iran and Israel and the US. If Iran is indeed either brought low by sanctions or by a military attack, then Assad will know that it is time to deal. Until then he will merely smile and enjoy being courted in the French style.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Raid on Iran?

In his column "No repeat of Osirak," in this weekend's Jerusalem Post, the Editor, David Horowitz, focuses on a book entitled "Raid on the Sun" by Rodger Claire, that is about the Israeli strike on the Osirak nuclear reactor in Baghdad in 1981. Although this book received little publicity when it was published in 2004, nevertheless it is instructive to read it in relation to today's news about Iran and the debate about whether or not Israel and/or the US will be forced in future to attack Iran to stop their development of nuclear weapons. Both Israeli and US spokesmen have been issuing contradictory statements that either enhance and/or reduce the likelihood of an attack, so that now everything is confused, and we are in the "fog of war."
The testing by Iran of several types of missiles last week that could carry nuclear warheads and that could reach Tel Aviv, as well as Eastern Europe and US forces in the Gulf and Afghanistan, heighten this concern. In addition, Pres. Ahmedinejad and other Iranian leaders have specifically threatened "annihilation" of Israel, and have refused to allow international oversight (by IAEA) of their nuclear enrichement program. Everyone says that the sanctions voted by the UN Security Council should be allowed to work first, but the fact is that these or any additional sanctions are unlikely to ever influence Iran's actions. Under these circumstances the possibility of a pre-emptive military attack on Iran by Israeli and/or US forces becomes more likely.
So what are the lessons of the 1981 raid on Osirak, not the ones you might expect. Yes, the Osirak reactor was completely destroyed in what was a pinpoint raid, yes, the IAF bombers were able to reach there over 1,000 km and return home wthout damage. But, when you look at the details of what actually happened it was not the flawless scheme that was portrayed previously (as in books like "First Strike, by Shlomo Nakdimon, 1987) and that perpetuated the image of the IAF pilots as perfect Zionist heroes.
The first thing that went wrong was (1) the last navigational checkpoint before the raid, an island in a lake about 100 km west of Baghdad, did not appear, this confused the lead pilot Amos Yadlin (who is now C-in-C of the IAF) so that he would have missed the target (the explanation was that they used reconaissance photos taken during the dry period, and now in the rainy season the island was submerged!); 2. The second pilot realized the mistake, and decided to underfly his leader and dropped his bombs first, and accurately, but in doing so he could have destroyed the mission; 3. The pilot of the last of the planes had flu, but kept it secret, but was so ill that be actually blacked out over the target, but still managed to drop his bombs and return safely; 4. The Mossad intelligence knew that the whole crew of the Iraqi radar stations took dinner together at a certain time, so the raid was scheduled for then, but they didn't know that the radar systems would actually be switched off during the raid, and that's why no planes were damaged by anti-aircraft shelling and the raid was fully successful.
However, Horowitz points out that these and other terrible errors that occured enforce the maxim that "no plan, no matter how perfect, ever survives contact with the enemy." So not only is there the extra distance (from Iraq to Iran, another 500-1000 km), and the extra number of sites (dispersed throughout Iran), but the sites are not open to the air, but buried below ground. In this case the number of variables is increased greatly and the possibiility for things going wrong are of course also much greater.
However, I don't think Horowitz has chosen the correct maxim, the true one is that with "the more complex the plan the more that can go wrong," and this has nothing to do with the enemy or war, and for instance this is the basis of the mathematician's role in "Jurassic Park" by Michael Crichton, he is specifically included to comment cynically on the breakdown of the complex plan for a commercial venture.
But, we have all moved on, lessons have been learned and developments are not all against the venture of a military raid on Iran, for example : 1. We have improved faster planes with extra fuel tanks so that the extra distance does not represent a serious impediment; 2. The planes are equipped with accurate global positioning systems (GPS), so that they don't need to check a physical site on the ground before attacking; 3. They have missiles that can be accurately aimed at a target without the need to drop large bombs or even cruise missiles without even using planes; 4. With stealth technology, planes can attack targets without worrying about being detected by radar, even if it is fully operational. 5. There are/should be positive checks on both fliers and planes before any operation; 6. There are "bunker buster" bombs that penetrate to great depths that can pancake any undergorund facilities so that they become unusable; 7. The IAF has the best record in terms of turnaround time so that they can carry out hundreds of missions if necessary, as in the case of teh Secodn Lebanon War; 7. This time even the Sunni Arab States are not going to intervene agaisnt Israel; 8. Perhaps most importantly, the IAF controls the skies over the Middle East and no enemy airforce has any chance against them.
Given these facts, the "military option" against Iran does not seem so problematic, even though the same maxim quoted above applies to any complex operation.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Pray for rain

The water level of Lake Kinneret, the main open source of all water in Israel, today reached the lower red line. It is at its lowest level in 80 years, since measurements have been taken. It is still going down after 4 years of relative drought, and if it reaches the black line this summer, then water will have to be turned off in faucets throughout Israel, because at that level the water becomes polluted and the level of the lake is below the intake of the national water carrier that pumps it to the south. The other two main sources of water in Israel, the mountain and the coastal aquifers, are also both getting low and are subject to increased pollution, a situation that may soon become irreversible.
This dire state of affairs prompted the Water Authority of the Govt. to call a press conference on Monday and to issue an emergency warning. Everyone is instructed to avoid wasting water, there should be no washing of cars and unecessary watering of grass, etc. But, these are just advisory, the Govt. and the Water Board have no authority, so far, to make any water conservation measures mandatory. In any case, Israelis ignore these kind of warnings, their attitude is: "let the other guy worry about, I don't need to bother, there'll always be plenty of water!" The only practical measure the Govt. will take now is to double the cost of water for sprinklers and to add NIS 100m for education!
We were in the same situation in 2001, and precious little has been done by successive Govt.'s to improve the situation since then. Several years ago the Govt. took two decisions, first to trans-ship water from a large river in southern Turkey using tankers and/or large inflatable barges. A contract was signed several years ago, but they neglected to establish a port facility in Israel where the water could be off-loaded, so nothing ever happened. Second, they decided to build three water desalination plants, a technology in which Israel has world-class leadership. Note that all the water in Eilat comes from a desalination plant built more than 20 years ago. However, so far only two of the plants have been completed, one in Ashkelon and one in Ashdod. Athough the first one is fully operational, together they only produce about 5% of Israel's water needs. Now they have built another desalination plant near Hadera, but its "much too little, much too late." This dire situation was predicted many years ago. As the population rises and the economy increases, the use of water increases proportionately, but the sources remain the same. Ergo a shortage!
What shall we do? The practice of using brackish or waste water for agriculture has been criticized because it pollutes the land and the aquifers. Depending on the voluntary conservation of Israelis is a prescription for failure.
There are other suggestions that I can make: 1. Establish suction stations throughout Israel, where the sweat produced on people due to the heat can be sucked into a pipeline. 2. If the suction is turned up, the volume of liquid produced will be greater, and the population will be decreased at the same time. 3. Learn to drink urine (its apparently not so bad, some Hindus do this as a religious obligation). 4. Buy water instead of gasoline (although it won't run cars).
But, the best idea was suggested by an employee of the Water Board itself, "pray for rain." If that doesn't work there's always the back-up, the rain dance.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Moral dilemma

There is always a dilemma in the Jewish mind between being ruthless in response to acts of Palestinian terrorism and being sympathetic to the family of the terrorist who might have no knowledge or responsibility for the terrorist's actions or the circumstances that lead to the act. It may be understandable, but in many cases is it appropriate to allow sentiment to enter into the equation?
When a terrorist shoots 8 children in a Yeshiva, something has to be done, doing nothing is in effect condoning the murders, or to put it another way "not to decide is to decide." Governments are good at shelving issues and avoiding decisions. Thus, in the case of the attack on the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva in Jerusalem last March, the Atty. Gen. is still considering whether or not to act in that case, after 4 months!
It used to be standard practice that when a terrorist carried out a murderous action, particularly a suicide mission, then his family home was demolished and completely destroyed. This was intended to do two things, one to send a message that the Israeli State did not accept or condone his/her actions, and also to act as a deterrent to such attacks. Now with appeals that have gone to higher courts, often brought by Israeli left-wing peace groups, the legal ramifications have to be decided in each case. But, four months is excessive!
The man responsible for the tractor attack on Jerusalem's main street this week, Husam Dwayat aged 30 from Sur Bahir outside Jerusalem, who killed 3 and injured many, was known to the police and had a record, he was a drug addict and a rapist. He had raped a Jewish girl and spent 2 years in prison for abusing her. She had a child with him, although the child does not know that his father was an Arab. After she broke with him, he married a 15 year old Arab girl and has two children with her, the oldest 5 years old. He has worked for the Arab company that is doing subcontracting work on the light rail excavations in Jerusalem for 7 years driving a tractor. Some people report that in the past few months he had suddenly declared himself religious and had expressed fervent opinions. In most religions that would be considered a good thing, but in Islam that can only be much worse. Religious Muslims (and in fact all Muslims) are taught that Jews are inferior, that they should be killed by Muslims and especially that Jews have no rights to a State in what is Palestine. Although there is no evidence reported that he was in direct contact with any known terrorist organization, nevertheless, Dwayat acted as a self-motivated terrorist. During the incident when he was driving the tractor over a car, deliberately crushing a young mother, he was shouting "Allahu akhbar" (God is great). So the question is, why did the authorities allow an E. Jeruslam Arab with a known police record to drive a dangerous vehicle in the center of Jerusalem? Incompetence or just plain oversight?
The police arrested his family members and interrogated them, they also prevented them from erecting a funeral tent. But, so far, although both the PM and Defense Minister have declared that they want to see his home demolished, this has not been done. The legal argument against it is that the home belongs to his family and the rest of them have only guilt by association, and further that there is another family sharing part of the house and they have no relationship to his act. This may play itself out in court, while several MKs call for the house to be demolished, and are introducing a bill to accomplish this in the Knesset, while others declare that it will only make other Palestinians into terrorists. Meanwhile, Defense Minister Barak has suggested that the house be sealed, that all doors and windows be bricked up, pending a final decision by the courts.
In my opinion, sentiment should have no role here. When Dwayat was deliberately crushing that young woman, he ran his tractor back and forth over her, crushing her completely (miraculously her baby was saved between his traversals). In doing that he showed no sentiment or mercy. In dealing with such ruthless and bloodthirsty terrorists we must show, whether or not we are a democracy, that by law their (possibly innocent) families will suffer for their actions, and delaying this for a court and appeals to decide is too late. There should be a known and standing order that all terrorists who kill Israeli civilians will have their homes immediately demolished and their parents and family made homeless. That is the price that they will pay here on earth for such acts, even if the terrorist believes that he himself will be enjoying 72 virgins in heaven.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Incident in Jerusalem

The incident in Jerusalem today was clearly a terrorist attack intended to kill Israeli civilians and to sow mayhem. The fact that 3 were killed and about 45 wounded was another reminder that every day terrorists try to murder Israelis. However, this time it is instructive that the weapon used was a bulldozer and the terrorist had no guns or explosives and was from East Jerusalem.
There are three categories of Arabs, 1. Israeli Arabs, who are Israeli citizens; 2. Palestinians, living on the West Bank and Gaza; and 3. East Jerusalemites (some 250,000) who are somewhere in between. Because Israel annexed East Jerusalem after the 1967 war, the Arab inhabitants became Israeli, although they do not have all the rights of other citizens, such as passports. They are covered by Israeli law (unlike the West Bank) and they have id cards that allow them to travel or work anywhere within Israel. So having an East Jerusalem Arab working on a construction site in Jerusalem driving a tractor or bulldozer is not unusual.
The idea that an Arab individual will decide to carry out such a serious incident by himself is highly improbable. Not only does this require planning and timing, but the place and nature of the attack must be taken into account. The fact that this incident occurred on the main Jaffa Road right in front of the main HQ of most of the media companies in Israel is no coincidence. But, who was behind this attack? Hamas would probably not want to jeopardize their "truce" with Israel in Gaza, and so probably was not involved. A group calling itself "movement for the liberation of Galillee" has been reported to be responsible, but noone knows what this group is, and why attack Jerusalem if you want to liberate Galillee?
The fact is that the terrorist groups are finding it much harder to smuggle both terrorists and weapons (including suicide belts) into Israel for two reasons, first, the security fence, that in Jeruslaem is a wall, that channels all entrants from the territories into a few checkpoints, where they are usually detected, and second the improved activities of the security services, especially intelligence about terrorists on the West Bank. It's true that there are a lot of them, but the whole WB Arab population is only ca. 2 million, so its fairly easy to keep track of them. Since they can't rely on infiltrating Israel, the terrorist groups now try to use E. Jerusalemites who have legitimate passes and even jobs in Jerusalem/Israel.
The attack on the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva in Jerusalem last March in which 8 students were murdered (how quickly we forget) was the first attack for 2 years and was carried out by an E. Jerusalem Arab who was working as a nightwatchman in several places, including that Yeshiva. Even before that, the attack on the Hebrew University cafe on the Mt. Scopus campus some 3 years ago, that killed 4 and wounded many, was carried out by E. Jerusalem workers.
Somehow Israel is going to have to check/monitor these Arab workers with passes into Israel more effectively. In a poll conducted last year the majority of E. Jerusalem Arabs preferred to remain within Israel. This is not surprising since they receive welfare and other benefits of Israeli society. But, if they continue to be a source of murderous terrorists against us, they may not be able to enjoy the advantages of Israeli society for very long.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The woman in black

Some months ago, Naomi decided to buy a computer program that could help improve her memory. Several programs were listed on a hand-out with phone numbers, and Naomi called them to find out details. One of the places was in nearby Ra'anana, a 30 min drive. She spoke to a man there and he said that we should visit to see how the program works, but we put it off until it was convenient.
Today it was convenient since we were in Ra'anana. Naomi called the number for directions and we spoke to a woman named Eta, who told us that the office was not in Ra'anana but in Herzliya, near the airport, and she gave us the names of a couple of streets. So we drove to the nearby Herzliya airport, that is for small planes only, and there I turned off at a street called "kanfay nesharim," which translated means "eagle's wings," which was the name given to the operation for the rescue of the Jews of Yemen. But, that street seemed to lead nowhere, so I went back to the main road and drove to the entrance of the airport. There I asked the security and they had never heard of the place we were looking for (and they looked at us a little strangely). So we called the office again, and this time the guy who replied happened to mention "kanfay nesharim," which I immediately remembered.
So we returned there and then found the other streets Eta had mentioned, but we could not locate the office at no. 6. I drove into a small courtyard and we phoned Eta, and she said don't worry I'll come outside, and I'm wearing all black. So we looked around, and then suddenly a young woman came down some stairs and she was wearing black, and so I ran down the window and said to her "hullo, Eta," and she replied, "I'm not Eta, she's the hairdresser, do you want to speak to her?" We looked at each other in confusion. I asked, "is this number 6?" and she replied "no, its no. 27," whereupon I was very puzzled. So I asked her if she knew where no. 6 was, and she said "no." At that point I drove back onto the street, and there was a woman standing in the middle of the road all dressed in black.
Eta took us to the office, and demonstrated the program, and we decided to purchase a copy for Naomi to use, and they tried to sell another copy to me (each copy must be distinct), but I refused to buy one, and I told them that since I had remembered the streetname "kanfey nesharim" I obviously did not need help with my memory!