Tuesday, August 31, 2010

US First Fleet

Now that the US has for all intents and purposes withdrawn from Iraq and is in no position to significantly influence events there, all eyes turn to Afghanistan. There the US under Obama is supposed to be carrying out the good fight to destroy al Qaeda and their protectors the Taliban. But, this war isn't going so well and with the number of troops there it is unlikely that the Allies can effectively defeat the Taliban forces. Since they know that under Obama the American people have chosen to retreat from Iraq, and will ultimately do the same in Afghanistan, an even more difficult country to pacify, all the Taliban forces have to do is wait their turn. The Islamists defeated the Soviet forces in Afghanistan and the US has a history of retreating from conflicts, for example Vietnam in the 1970's (50,000 dead, but we could have won), Lebanon in the 1980's (the Marine barracks bombing, 241 killed), Somalia in the 1990's (18 killed, remember " Blackhawk down"), and now Iraq. If you were the Taliban commander what would you do? You would keep up the pressure to ensure continuing US and British military casualties, but wait until they leave in order to make a major attack to take over the government.

It should be apparent to any US military advisor that the US has no firm friends among the Muslim countries, none that can be relied upon, even those that are protected by US power (Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, Egypt, Jordan, etc.). They will always vacillate in their support for the US, due to their internal opposition, that often hates the US, as well as the pressure of their fellow Muslim States (such as the OIC). In this respect the Palestinians are no different, they will never whole-heartedly support any US initiative, even of Pres. Obama, their best friend so far in the US.

Lately I have seen articles that purport to be evaluations of Israel's strategic cost and value to the US. In many cases the result is negative, since the US purportedly gives billions of dollars to Israel, and what does it get in return? Although Israel is the best ally the US has in the world according to UN votes, still its support for Israel costs the US in support among the Muslim states. But, this lack of support is endemic and has little to do with any alliance between Israel and the US. In fact, if push comes to shove, say an all out war between the US and N. Korea, or between the US and Iran, who ya gonna call? Israel is America's one permanent anchored aircraft carrier, its First Fleet.

Monday, August 30, 2010

It's my wife

Naomi, my wife, is very nurturing. She goes out shopping every day and feels she must bring back something worthwhile. Lately this has been a large package of toilet rolls. Perhaps it is the bulk of these packages that attracts her, that makes her feel that they will add to our well-being. We are now over-run with these packages, in sizes of 12, 18 and 24 rolls. We have no more place to put them.

I have asked Naomi not to buy any more and in fact not to buy anything she doesn't know for sure that we need! We have 5 (yes 5!) jars of mayonnaise open in our fridge, and each time we need it, she opens a new one (I just stopped her last week). We have 5 different jars of marmalade open, even though she knows that I can't eat it. She also opens a new package of instant mashed potato each time, even though there are 5 packages already opened (what's with the number 5?).

I, on the other hand, am perfectly normal.

It so happens that our air conditioning is not working, just during this horribly hot period. I have found the best way of dealing with this is having my own personal air conditioning. I have a wet flannel over my face. Blowing air thru this definitely cools me. So I walk around carrying an electric fan on a long leash, that blows in my face. Of course, I have to keep my eyes clear so that I can see where I'm going, except when I lie down. The flannel happens to be orange, and Naomi thinks, with my naked chest and flannel pants, I look just like Yul Brynner as Pharaoh. I prefer to think that I look like Moses.

Tomorrow the air conditioning tech is supposed to be finally coming ("we're very busy") and then I can revert to being a normal human being, wearing clothes and sitting in chairs, etc. That is if I can find a place between the toilet rolls.

Shana tovah to all my loyal readers (and everyone else).

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Conqueror

Last week the Iranian regime announced three new weapons systems, an upgraded third-generation missile the Fateh-110 ("Conqueror"), a fast missile boat and a rocket drone that can fire a rocket at any target anywhere. One interpretation of why they have brought out these weapons systems at this time is that they are feeling nervous. Since the Bushehr nuclear reactor began operation last week with enriched nuclear materials supplied by Russia, these demonstrations of weapons are intended to frighten any potential enemy (Israel and/or the US) that Iran is ready and means business. Israeli analysts dismissed these weapons systems as more PR, as more posturing by Ahmedinejad and the Revolutionary Guard to impress themselves, since all the systems are merely variations on known weapons that Iran has.

At the same time Iran issued a statement to the Emir of Kuwait, assuring him that these weapons systems were no threat to Kuwait, and expressing the hope that should Iran be attacked by "western forces" that Kuwait and the other Gulf Atrab States would side with Iran. Fat chance of that!

At the same time the UN issued a statement that Iran is ca. 2-3 years away from acquiring a nuclear weapon. This is roughly consistent with the US position, but a bit longer than the Israeli one that estimates only 1 year. However, these estimates have often changed with time. The possibility of Israel attacking Iran over Bushehr is unlikely, because this is truly an electricity generation plant, and the Russians have not only guaranteed that Iran will return the spent fuel rods (that could be used to obtain plutonium) to them, but also since Russia is intimately involved, Israel would not want to attack a site where many Russians are working. It is more likely that Israel would wait until a purely Iranian (secret) site is close to attaining the desired level of uranium enrichment, and then attack that. But, any such attack is fraught with danger for Israel and so no attack will happen unless the ultimate danger looms. Until then everyone will adhere to the hope that sanctions will work, or regime change can take place.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Prospects for peace?

With the "direct talks" between PM Netanyahu and Pres. Abbas due to start next week there have been numerous opinions cast, varying from the very pessimistic to the very optimistic. I would say that I am somewhere in between, mildly pessimistic.

The reason that I am pessimistic is that the beginning of the talks were calculated by the Palestinians to put pressure on Netanyahu, in other words they waited until near the end of the Israeli building moratorium on the West Bank and then agreed to talks under pressure "without preconditions" according to the US, but they have already said that if the moratorium is stopped on Sept 26, they will leave the talks and so Israel will be blamed for the breakdown of the talks. Is this the kind of attitude that one would expect from a partner who is enthusiastically engaging in talks and wants a positive outcome. It seems that the US from the start gave the Palestinians an easy out, by insisting on a building freeze, that they now know Israel cannot maintain. Israel has the legitimate right, pending an agreement, to continuie building in the territories, that are only occupied by Israel because they were previously occupied illegally by Jordan. Whether they should or not build is a matter of opinion, but legally Israel has the right to build there, since it is not and has never been part of a Palestinian State. Further, this was not an issue for the first 18 years of direct negotiations from the Madrid Conference in 1990 until 2 years ago when Pres. Obama came to power and accepted the Palestinian position on this issue. So we are in the state we are in today, when progress towards peace is impossible, because although the talks are not supposed to be with preconditions, the PA leaders have already staked out their position that the talks will fail because Israel will continue building in the West Bank after its 10 month building moratorium ceases.

There are two other possibilities, that Netanyahu accept their demand and continue the moratorium, in which case his coalition will collapse and there will have to be new Israeli elections and all talks will be off. Or a compromise is reached, along the lines suggested by Minister Dan Meridor, that building will only be allowed in the densely Jewish populated areas that Israel intends to incorporate in any agreement. In that case the talks could continue, but it is expected that Abbas will reject this compromise because he is still insisting on a complete freeze in the whole of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. So he has staked out a position that will reduce pressure on him from the other Palestinian factions such as Hamas, that are against any negotiations with Israel, so that he can then say, well I tried but the Israelis were too intransigent. That is why these negotiations are not realistic, when one side has doomed them in advance.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Removal of Gilo barrier

Last week the security forces began removing the barrier around Gilo, a southern suburb of Jerusalem. The barrier was a 600 m long 4 m high concrete wall that was installed in 2001 to prevent sniper fire from the neighboring Palestinian Arab town of Beit Jala, near Bethlehem. Although Beit Jala is a mainly Christian Arab town, and quite friendly to Israeli Jews, Palestinian Muslim terrorists had invaded Beit Jala during the last intifada in 2000 and were using the houses there as vantage points to shoot at the houses in Gilo. Several people were killed and it became impossible to live normally in Gilo. Of course, the IDF shot back, destroying some of the houses in Gilo. But it didn't stop the sniping, so the IDF came up with the solution of installing a security wall, just like the security barrier that was installed along the "green line" between Israel and the West Bank (although most of that is a wire fence). This Gilo Wall worked very well, sniping was prevented, and life returned to normal. Gradually the terrorists moved out and the inhabitants reclaimed their homes. Since there has been quiet on this border for a few years now, the time had come at the request of the Gilo inhabitants and the Jerusalem municipality, to remove the barrier. This was done without fanfare last week. This is also a case of the IDF helping Christian Arabs to return to a normal life.

One reason why it is important to note this event is that people had scoffed that the West Bank barrier would never be removed. It may in fact become a border between Israel and any future Palestine State. But, as the removal of the Gilo barrier shows, it can easily be removed if the circumstances warrant. As we said at the time, the security barrier, just as the Gilo Wall, saves lives, and if there is no terrorism there will be no need for such a barrier.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Next CGS

Defense Minister Ehud Barak has announced his selection to replace Lt-Gen. Gaby Ashkenazi as IDF Chief of the General Staff (CGS), it is Lt-Gen. Yoav Galant, Head of Southern Command. There are two surprising aspects of this appointment, not that Galant is not an excellent choice for this post. First, the early date of the appointment, some would call it premature, over 6 months before Ashkenazi's term ends next February, and second while the police investigation into the "Galant document" is continuing. This is a letter on the stationary of a PR company that supposedly advises Galant how to obtain the appointment against the opposition of several other generals. Since it advised "dirty tricks" it is considered to be at least unethical if not illegal. It has been termed a "forgery" by the police, in that it was not really written by a Galant supporter, but rather is an attempt to smear him. Meanwhile a retired officer, Lt-Col. Boaz Harpaz, has been named by the police as the suspected author of the document, and he is due to be arrested upon his return from the US. Both Harpaz and another office mentioned are supporters of Ashkenazi, and it is speculated that they wanted to smear the name of Galant so that he could not be appointed Ashkenazi's successor. Both Ashkenazi and Galant have called on his rivals, Chiefs of the other regional commands, to continue to work with Galant, although some of them might resign or retire.

There are moves afoot in the Knesset to change the procedure whereby the Minister of Defense is the sole person responsible for choosing the CGS, an incredibly important position. Several Knesset Committees feel that the responsibility should be shared, and will be looking into the appointment process. This is especially because of the politicization of the appointment. It was easy in the early years of the state, when often decisions had to be made quickly and the Labor Party (Mapai) controlled all aspects of state power, to select one of the in-group as the CGS. But, now it is felt that a more judicial selection process should be used, rather than the opinion solely of the Defense Minister. While it is felt that Galant is an excellent choice as CGS, especially given that he was Head both of the Navy as well as ground forces, both the speed of the decision and the current political/legal situation make the appointment questionable in some eyes. This is especailly true when the Minister of Defense and the Pirme Minister are of two different parties, Labor and Likud respectively. This crucial appointment should be seen as being above political considerations.

So Galant will become Israel's 20th CGS. He is considered to be both aggressive and very cool under fire. He ran Operation Cast Lead in Gaza and has learnt how to deal with Hamas. His appointment can be considered a warning to Iran, don't mess with us.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Honest BBC!

Can it be that the millennium has come, that the world has turned upside down and that life will never be the same? I ask this because the BBC has run a Panorama program that is judged as "pro-Israel" or at the very least "balanced." The program in question is an in-depth investigation of the Turkish flotilla incident of May when 6 ships attempted to break the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza.

In an unusual exception, the IDF allowed the BBC investigators direct access to the naval commandos who were involved in the incident. The program also used video from several members of the flotilla, including so-called "peace activists" from several of the boats, including some on the Mavi Marmara, where 9 Turks were killed. In fact, this program outcome should not be unusual, but the BBC team for a change reported the unadorned truth, namely that the IHH Turkish Muslim extremists had prepared for battle in advance, had said that they were prepared to die as "martyrs", and were armed and dangerous. Not only did they have iron bars that they cut from the boat's infrastructure, against the wishes of the crew, but they also had knives and a few guns. The second IDF commando who rappelled down onto the deck was in fact shot. What is unusual about this BBC program is that they reported it this way, untainted by the usual anti-Israel bias

Before this program was even broadcast there were demonstrations against the BBC in London and in several other cities. The groups involved in these protests are well known anti-Israel extremists, including the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and the Muslim Public Affairs Committee. They are anti-Israel to the core and care nothing for the facts and what actually happened. Their spokesmen claimed that there had been armed conflicts on all the boats, which is untrue, it was only on the Mavi Marmara, and they claimed that the Turkish "peace activists" had been shot unprovoked by the IDF commandos. This was not true, as any reasonable person can see with their own eyes. Further, the commandos were armed with paint-ball rifles for crowd control, but luckily had pistols at their sides. They won't make this mistake again.

The repercussions of this Report are difficult to predict. For the first time the lies of the genuflecting anti-Israel organizations have been exposed by the BBC itself. For the first time, the outcome of a balanced investigation has exonerated the IDF and its actions (compare for example the UN sponsored investigation of Operation Cast Lead, as well as the BBC and other channels biased reporting of it). Other flotillas are apparently being planned, one is supposed to leave from Tripoli, Lebanon, but so far has been postponed several times. They would apparently have to stop in Cyprus, and the Cypriot Government has announced that it will not allow them to continue. Also, George Galloway, now out of a job as MP, is organizing another of his "Free Gaza" flotillas. But, so far he was unable to obtain sufficient funding. We may have passed the worst as far as flotillas for Gaza are concerned. Not only is Gaza's situation improving, but people can see more clearly that these flotillas are purely publicity seeking stunts and not really "humanitarian" in origin. If the organizers were really motivated by humanitarian causes they should be organizing flotillas to Pakistan or to almost any Arab country, for example Syria or Egypt, where the standard of living is worse than that in Gaza.

(to see the whole video go to: http://www.kintera.org/TR.asp?a=kqLRKZODKbJOIcK&s=lwJ5JjMWIiK2KfMXKvE&m=6oLFLTPyHfKOL6I)

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Direct talks in Washington

Israel and the Palestinians are due to restart direct negotiations without preconditions in Washington DC on September 2, after a 20 month hiatus, under the auspices of US Pres. Obama. Both Israeli PM Netanyahu, who accepted the invitation immediately, and PA Pres. Abbas, who did so after a meeting of the PLO Executive, will attend. Prior to the actual restart of talks there will be the usual diplomatic niceties, although this time not as in Annapolis with a full-court international conference. The four principals, Obama, Clinton, Netanyahu and Abbas, will meet on September 1 with King Abdullah of Jordan and Pres. Mubarak of Egypt. These meetings are only to satisfy the Arab need to show that they are not excluded from the fate of their Palestinian clients. Quartet representative Tony Blair will also be present to show that the EU, UN and Russia have not been totally excluded. However, after all the pomp of a state dinner, the circumstance of actual negotiations will occur with Netanyahu and Abbas and their teams face to face. Where it will go from there and how the main issues will be tackled is anybody's guess.

There are four main issues, the so called "final status" issues, that must be considered are: borders, security, refugees and Jerusalem. There are also a host of secondary but important issues, including mutual recognition, water distribution, protection of sacred sites and minority rights, stopping of Palestinian incitement, and so on. In many of these issues the two sides have totally opposite views. For example, 1. the Palestinians want a complete freeze of all building on the West Bank, while Netanyahu will accept only a partial freeze (in areas that will be included in the putative Palestinian State); 2. the Pals want all the West Bank, while Israel insists on keeping the densely Jewish populated areas, but will transfer an equal area of land from sovereign Israel; 3. the Pals want at least East Jerusalem, while Israel wants to maintain control of all Jerusalem; 4. the Pals want the "right of return" of what they consider to be "refugees" while Israel denies that they are refugees after several generations and refuses to accept them; 5. Israel wants to be recognized as the "Jewish State" while the Pals want to avoid this; 6. The Pals want a State to be completely free to act, while Israel will insist on its demilitarization (apart from security forces), and so on. Note that most of these issues come down to Palestinian demands, while Israel's requirements are often pushed aside. We hope that won't happen this time as it did in Oslo. Israel must have its security needs met and must have recognition so that there can be "an end of conflict." Only after all the negotiations, if there is an end of conflict agreement, can there be peace and security.

But, this does not include Hamas in Gaza, that controls almost half of the Palestinian people and which immediately rejected the talks. They will not accept any outcome of the talks and may try to derail them with Iranian help. It may be that Israel and/or the PA will eventually have to invade Gaza (again) and remove Hamas from power, so that the Gaza Palestinians can be included in any positive outcome of the talks. But, that depends on the actual outcome of the talks, and don't expect them to be brief and without contentious quarrels. If the two sides can square this circle it will be a miracle.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Ultimate destiny

While the impending acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran, and Israel's possible response to that, consitute the greatest threats to stability looming on the horizon, two other threats have not been fully recognized. One is the forthcoming retreat from Iraq by US forces under Pres. Obama, and the other is the failure of the US and its allies to pacify Afghanistan. In fact both countries will likely revert to a situation that existed prior to colonization by western forces.

Remember that Iraq was an invention of the British Colonial Office under Winston Churchill and was gerrymandered together from three disparate and antagonistic groups, the Arab Sunni, the Arab Shia and the Kurds. The likelihood of their remaining under one stable government once the US forces leave is very small. More people, mostly Shia Arabs, are being killed every day now in Iraq than before. Once things start to fall apart, Iran is likely to occupy the Shia in the south, Turkey is likely to gobble up the Kurds in the north, to prevent them becoming independent, and the Sunnis will be left with a rump of Iraq in the center. This process will occur with several conflicts and major loss of life, but this is the only way that the Arab/Muslims can handle things, much like the European Christians in the Middle Ages.

Afghanistan has never been pacified, and the British were driven out after their previous attempts. While British and US soldiers are dying daily, not much is being accomplished. The regime of Pres. Karzai hardly controls anything outside Kabul, and it will be better when the western forces leave and Afghanistan will return to its fractious primitive state. In this situation the Taliban forces, other extremist Muslim groups and various war-lords will continue to battle it out for control, and the training of Islamist terrorists will recur as they seek to attack the western nations in their homelands. This will be much like a return to the status quo ante. There will not be much that can be done, but rather than trying to pacify and democratize the unregenerate, the US will content itself with attacking them from afar. Destroying them and their capability will be far more effective than trying to civilize them.

This might seem like a return to the old evils of imperialism, but instead of seeking to occupy and exploit thair lands, apart from oil, the western nations will mainly seek to suppress and destroy the aims of extreme Islam, until they get the idea and start to change internally. That could take hundreds of years, so ingrained is the expansionist and absolutist philosophy of Islam. So the future does not look bright, but the west must be able to outlast them.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Israeli arrogance

There have been numerous incidents that indicate an arrogance of Israeli military preparations, an assumption that the enemy is incapable of carrying out effective operations, an assumption that all will work out for the best. David Horovitz, Editor of The Jerusalem Post, in a column entitled "Underestimating our enemies" (http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Columnists/Article.aspx?id=184614) ascribes this to Israeli "hubris," an alternative synonym.

Perhaps the worst example of this phenomenon was the absolute refusal of the Chief of Military Intelligence, Gen. Eli Zeira in 1973 to believe that the Egyptian forces could cross the Suez Canal and attack the IDF fortifications there, even when the evidence was staring him in the face. Only on the same morning that the Egyptians turned a supposed training operation into an actual attack on the IDF positions with a superiority of 40:1 did the Intelligence chief acknowledge that they might be attacking, when they actually were. The result of this arrogance was the loss of ca 3,000 Israeli lives due to complete lack of readiness, when all but one of the forts along the Canal were over-run. Of course, this attitude was bred from the overwhelming success of the IAF and IDF in the Six Day War of 1967. So the Chief of Intelligence believed his own propaganda, that the Egyptians were incapable of fighting and so he was still fighting the 1967 war. But, Sadat was cleverer than he, and totally outwitted the IDF. It was only Sadat's mistake to follow up his initial success by sending his tanks out from under the protection of the umbrella of Scud missiles along the Canal, at the insistence of the Syrians who were being defeated, that allowed the IAF to destroy his tank formations and turn the tide of war.

A few other examples: 1. In 1997 a team of elite Israeli naval commandos from the Shayetet 13 inflitrated Lebanon to attack a terrorist center. They had excellent intelligence from a drone that had flown over the region. But, unknown to them Hizbollah had intercepted the signals from the drone that had been sent in the clear, unencrypted. So the terrorists knew the naval forces route and simply waited for them and ambushed them, 12 out of 16 commandos were killed. The IDF knew how to encryt these images, but didn't bother to do so, because they assumed that Hizbollah were too stupid to intercept even a straightforward transmission. Sheikh Nasrullah, Head of Hizbollah, referred to this unsuccessful attack in his speech in Lebanon and claimed incredibly that it was a prelude to the assassination of Rafik Hariri. 2. In the 1982 Lebanon War, IDF tanks ran straight ahead along the coast. At a certain point where the road narrowed, instead of waiting for reconaissance, the tanks forged ahead and were ambushed by the Syrian Army and most of them were destroyed. Only a few IDF soldiers survived by swimming out to sea and coming back further south. This was an operational mistake that cost several tanks and many lives. 3. In the 2006 Second Lebanon War, the IDF infantry were sent in to villages north of the Lebanese border. Since there was heavy fire from entrenched Hizbollah positions, the soldiers took refuge behind the few houses on the edge of the village, and went inside them during the night for protection. But, Hizbollah had mined and pre-targeted those houses and they were mostly blown up, killing the IDF occupants. How is it that the IDF had not managed to realize that Hizbollah in all the years that they had occupied those villages had not prepared for such an eventuality. 4. During the Lebanon War a sophisticated Israeli Navy ship was standing off the Lebanese coast when a missile was fired at it from the shore, causing enormous damage and killing four sailors. The arrogance was that the vessel had anti-missile defences, but they were turned off because they thought that the enemy could not fire such advanced missiles. 5. In 2006, when IDF forces were surrounding Gaza much as they do now, the IDF had been warned that Hamas had been digging tunnels to undermine IDF positions. Even though the IDF had sensitive equipment to detect such digging operations they refused to use it. As a result an IDF position was attacked from the rear by a Hamas force that infiltrated from a tunnel and two soldiers were killed and Gilad Schalit was captured. He remains in captivity 4 years later. 6. In May, 2010, a group of 15 Shayetet 13 naval commandos rappelled onto the deck of the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara assuming that there would be no resistance. They carried paint-ball guns and luckily they also had real pistols. They were attacked by about 50 armed men with iron bars, knives and guns. The first IDF soldier who landed was thrown overboard, the second was shot. How is it that such an attack was allowed to go ahead assuming that there would be no resistance and no weapons on board? Wasn't this unnecessarily risking the lives of the commandos. The IDF Chief Gen. Ashkenazi admitted that the IDF should have "sterilized" the deck before attacking.

I could go on, but the point is clear; however good the IDF is, too often its decisions are flawed because of arrogance in underestimating the enemy. Will they learn these lessons and avoid these unnecessary risks in order not to sacrifice their soldiers, our family, in the future.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Direct negotiations?

Between the Madrid Conference of 1990 and the election of Netanyahu as Israeli PM in 2008 there were direct negotiations between the then current Palestinian leader and the current Israeli PM. For the past two years, Pres. Abbas of the PA has refused to renew direct negotiations, but instead has erected a series of unacceptable preconditions to the restart of direct negotiations. Once Pres. Obama pressured Netanyahu to make a West Bank building freeze a precondition to the renewal of direct talks, there was no reason for Abbas to renew talks without this precondition. But, Netanyahu wisely placed a time limit on this building moratorium, namely 10 months, and it is due to run out on Sept. 26. If Netanyahu had not done this, and had not repeated that the moratorium will end on that date, his governing coalition might well have fallen apart and his credibility would be shot. But, this precondition proved not to be enough, Abbas made other preconditions, such as a prior agreement by Israel that the pre-June 1967 ceasefire lines, without alteration, should be the borders of the putative Palestinian State. Also, Israel had to accept the "right of return" of the (millions) of descendents of the original Palestinian refugees. So if all these major issues were accepted in advance by Israel, why bother to have negotiations at all? It would be in effect as if under Pres. Obama the PA was allowed to dictate the final terms in advance.

Now it appears after much pressure by the US, directly thru Sen MItchell, and by the Quartet, consisting of the US, EU, Russia and the UN, that Abbas is finally preparing to accept direct talks. But, he will not give up his preconditions. How to satisfy both sides? The Quartet is likely to endorse an EU statement that calls on Israel to stop all building in the West Bank and to establish a Palestinian State with contiguous borders, and possibly to divide Jerusalem, giving E. Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian State. But, these will be guidelines only, non-binding wishes of the Quartet, providing a fig leaf for Abbas to indulge in direct talks. The PA spokesman, Saeb Erekat, has made it clear that if Israel does not accept the building moratorium as a precondition then it will be Netanyahu's fault if the talks do not proceed. This is their way of carrying out "hard ball" negotiations in advance of any actual talks. Netanyahu's Government will likely reject all these preconditions, but nevertheless is ready to engage Abbas in direct talks. By continuing to build only in those areas where there is dense Jewish settlement, which will be retained by Israel, this may partially satisfy the needs of Abbas.

It is clear that the Quartet and its components, the US and EU particularly, have adopted a specifically pro-Palestinian position, giving up their support for the democratic and pro-western State of Israel. This is not only a historic rejection of the Jewish State, but smacks of hypocrisy. While fighting terrorism elsewhere, in Afghanistan and around the world, the western powers are happily undermining Israel in order to curry favor with the Muslim world. Israel should not allow their self-defeating and appeasing policies to influence its own decisions, that must be based on what are the best interests of the Jewish State.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Strategic consequences

We cannot predict the future, but two developments seem certain, that Iran will eventually develop a nuclear weapon and that the US under Pres. Obama will do nothing about this. As Caroline Glick argues in her latest column "A guide to the perplexed," (http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Columnists/Article.aspx?id=184613), Pres. Obama has no intention to strike at Iran under any circumstances, he supports sanctions, he will go thru the UN Security Council, but he will not attack any Muslim country! The necessary conclusion from this is that Israel will have to strike Iran unless something significant happens, such as regime change in Tehran.

Such a strike by Israel could have dire consequences, not least of which would be some kind of counter-attack by Iran. How Iran could carry out a counter-attack is unclear, its air force is inadequate and could not readily penetrate Israeli air space, its ballistic missiles, while under development, are probably not operational, and its land forces could not attack Israel without first going thru the territory of Iraq, Syria and/or Jordan, a very unlikely eventuality. Nevertheless, Israel must be ready for such a counter-attack. Also, other Muslim countries might join Iran in opposing Israel, but the major Sunni countries, namely Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, whatever they say, will probably heave a sigh of relief if the Iranian nuclear option is stopped, even if only temporarily.

What would be the outcome of such an Israeli strike? It would be a realignment of strategic power in the Middle East. By not taking action against Iran the US would have lost credibility as a guarantor of the independence of the Sunni Muslim States. This would be opposite to the effect that Pres. Bush Sr. had when he attacked Iraq to free Kuwait and then when his son Pres. George W. Bush attacked Iraq to remove the dictator Saddam Hussein. Whatever the merits of these actions, they sufficed to show that the US was the main actor in the region and was the guarantor of Sunni Arab independence. By retreating from Iraq and not facing up to Iran, the US under Pres. Obama has squandered that position. If Israel is left to "go it alone" and Israel succeeds, not only will Israel's deterrence be restored, but its strategic position will be enhanced as the main guarantor of Sunni Arab independence from Shia Iran.

This would not be the first time that Israel has "saved" a Sunni Arab State from destruction. In 1970, Syria threatened to attack Jordan, following the Jordanian Legion's destruction of the PLO forces in Jordan that threatened to overthrow King Hussein. Jordan appealed to the US for help and the US stood by while Israel mobilized its forces and threatened Syria that Israel would not accept the entry of hostile forces into Jordan. Syria backed down, and in effect Israel became the guarantor of Jordanian independence. So whatever King Hussein says, one should remember that he retains his throne only because of Israeli power. Such an Israeli attack on Iran would in effect expand that role and replace the US as the guarantor of the independence of all the Sunni Arab States.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Mosque at ground zero

President Obama has come out in favor of building the Mosque near ground zero, close to the location of the 9/11 attack where 3,000 people were killed by Muslim extremists. He said, "As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable."

While I agree with Pres. Obama that religious freedom must be protected, the question of the location of this Mosque and Community Center is really the issue. Why build it there? Isn't that showing extreme insensitivity, both to the survivors and their families as well as to the US in general. Isn't this a typical case of Muslim ascendency, of "rubbing their noses in it." I might not believe this is deliberate if it were not for the fact that historically this is precisely what Islam has done repeatedly. For example, when the Muslims captured Jerusalem, they destroyed the Byzantine Church that was built in place of the Jewish Temple, and built their Mosques in place of it, the Mosques of Omar and the Dome of the Rock are built directly on the ruins of the Temple and the Church. When the Muslims captured Constantinople, they renamed it Istanbul and built minarets at each corner of the Hagia Sophia, the largest Church in the world, and transformed it into a Mosque. The Christians did the same thing, when the Spanish forces captured Cordoba they built a Cathedral right in the center of the magnificent Great Mosque, an act of architectural as well as religious desecration.

It is for this reason that the organization that is behind the planning and purchasing of this site for the building of the Mosque and Community Center is called "the Cordova Initiative," a name that would otherwise mean nothing to the unitiated. Building this Mosque right next to the site of the 9/11 destruction carried out by Muslims is a step in the process of restoring the rightful place of Islam in Cordova and in Jerusalem. Certainly the Community Center could be used for inter-faith dialog, but let's face it, all of us know that one or two or a few Islamist extremists will "infiltrate" this Mosque, as they have done elsewhere, and will then plan and organize further attacks against the infidels. This is not just a possibility it is a certainty. It is for this reason that I oppose such a politically motivated initiative to build a Mosque, with all due tolerance, at this location. It is for this reason that I oppose Pres. Obama and Mayor Bloomberg and all the others who pretend to be "holier than thou." Let them build a Mosque and Community Center elsewhere, in the center of Central Park, but let them not "score points" by deliberately building a Mosque at the site of their greatest victory over American democracy.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Family ties

The real family ties that bind are genetic! It seems that genes are the true origin of most of our physical and mental characteristics. Two independent groups, one working in New York lead by Harry Ostrer (Albert Einstein College and NYU) and one in Israel lead by Doron Behar (Haifa University and Tartu University, Estonia), have recently published findings that show that there are genetic markers that define the Jewish people.

This was reported in The Jerusalem Post a few weeks ago, but without sufficient details. Now an article in Science magazine gives more specifics (Michael Balter, Science 328, 1342, 2010). Both research groups independently used what are termed microarrays to analyze commonalities between nuclear DNA from a range of hundreds of Jewish and non-Jewish individuals. The difference between this work and previous work is that they used the total genome, or nuclear DNA content, rather than analyzing only the male Y chromosome or the female mitochondrial DNA, to assess similarities. The results obtained in the new studies provide a statistical probability of nearness of relationship. The results of the two studies were consistent, showing that Jews from the three main Diaspora groups: Ashkenazi (Jews of European origin), Sephardi (Jews of Spanish origin) and Oriental Jews (of Middle Eastern origin), showed closer genetic relationships than comparison to non-Jewish groups of the same geographic region. Further, the European Jews showed greater similarities to Cypriot and Druze groups than to other European groups.

These results support earlier studies on more restricted genetic regions that agree with the commonly held view that all Jews share a common Middle Eastern origin. Jews from peripheral groups, such as the Ethiopian Jews, the Bnai Israel from northern India and the Cochin Jews of southern India, all showed more distant relationships to the main Jewish groups and were more related to their local populations. This ties in with the general view that although these groups share ancient Jewish origins, they have over the centuries experienced more genetic dilution thru intermarriage with the local populations.

There is a view, expressed originally by Arthur Koestler in his book "The thirteenth tribe," that European Jews were mainly descended from converts of central Asian origins, specifically the Khazars, a Turkic tribe that was converted to Judaism in the 8th century. This was expanded on recently (2008) by Tel Aviv University historian Shlomo Sands in "The invention of the Jewish people." These can be seen as attempts by left-wing ideologues to justify their view that the Jews have no legitimate claim to the land of the Middle East and hence allows them to oppose Israel but support the claims of the Palestinians. All genetic studies carried out so far refute these views and support the conventional view that the main Jewish groups are related to each other and not to Turkic tribes and that all Jewish groups do in fact have an origin in the Middle East.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


Israel needs the best possible Commander in Chief of the IDF (Chief of the General Staff) for obvious reasons. Defense Minister Ehud Barak, leader of the Labor Party, is now choosing the successor to Gabi Ashkenazi for the post. This is unusual since it is still 6 months until Ashkenazi's term runs out. But, there has been well reported antagonism between Barak and Ashkenazi, and so Barak announced that he will not renew Ashkenazi for a second term and has started interviewing a group of potential successors. It is felt that this is a snub at Ashkenazi and is perhaps intended to persuade him to leave his position early. This is a pity since it is considered that Ashkenazi has been a successful incumbent who has turned around the woeful state that the IDF was in after the Second Lebanon War. Among the deficiencies revealed during that conflict was a lack of training for reserves and lack of supplies for the forces at the front. These serious deficiencies have supposedly been resolved. Now Barak is interviewing the commanders of the north, south, center and several other military leaders. Since Barak was himself Chief of the IDF he presumably knows what is needed, but the clash with Ashkenazi may indicate that Barak is himself trying to run the IDF and wants someone who will be cooperative.

Into this complex situation came the "Galant letter." Maj-Gen Yoav Galant is OC Southern Command. A letter purportedly written on his behalf, on the letterhead of the Arad Communications PR company, suggests ways to improve his chances of becoming the next CiC and ways to damage the reputations of his rivals for the post. Some think the letter is a forgery and the Head of the company Arad Communications says categorically that he had never seen the letter and had nothing to do with it. The police speculate that someone obtained the letterhead and misused it deliberately in order to damage Galant's chances. But, before the police could examine the document it was sealed in a safe by the court, because Channel 2, which was given the document, claims that to reveal its contents would compromise their source. So we await the next chapter of this sordid incident.

Meanwhile all three major players, PM Netanyahu, Defense Min. Ehud Barak and Head of the IDF Staff Ashkenazi, have all given testimony before the Turkel Commission investigating the Turkish flotilla incident. The notable thing about Netanyahu's testimony was that he downplayed the political aspects, saying that the security cabinet meeting held before the incident mainly concerned itself with possible PR fallout and he passed the responsibility onto to Barak, because he said that he was absent from the country during that period. However, later he retracted, and said that indeed, as Barak had testified, there was a discussion of the political aspects and he remained ultimately responsible, even though he was in Canada receiving an award at the time of the incident, and he had cancelled his visit to Washington. Barak seemed eager to accept responsibility, maybe because it enhanced his importance. Ashkenazi admitted that the IDF had failed to "sterilize" the deck of the Mavi Marmara before the commandos rappeled onto the deck and that the main failure was one of intelligence, that the IDF itself was not primarily responsible for.

The UN Committee of Enquiry into the flotilla incident held its first meeting in New York. There was an exchange between Netanyahu and Secty. Gen Ban ki Moon. Ban said that the committee could interview anyone it likes, but Netanyahu pointed out that Israel's participation was conditioned on not allowing the committee to interview any IDF officers. In any case, the UN Committee will eventually rely on the findings of the Turkel Commission, the IDF enquiries, and a Turkish Committee's findings. All this attention to what was after all a minor incident, deliberately instigated by Turkish militants in order to gain publicity for their cause, is frankly ridiculous.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

More slogans

Lebanon is an Iranian Proxy
In its ambition to take over the Middle East, Iran is driven by both Shia Muslim extremism and Persian nationalism. This makes Israel, as well as the Sunni Muslim Arab states (Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia), very nervous. Hizbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza are Iranian proxies. Syria is an ally of Iran, partly because it is controlled by the Alawite minority (10% of the population) that is a Muslim heretical sect like the Shia in Iran. Lebanon is supposedly a democratic country, but when all the other militia groups were disarmed after the Civil War, the Shia militia Hizbollah refused, and has gone from strength to strength, supported by Syria and Iran. It is now more powerful than it was before the Second Lebanon War of 2006. In the past two years Hizbollah has entered the Lebanese Government and is now a controlling partner. The current President Saad Hariri can do nothing without Hizbollah approval. Since Syria left Lebanon officially in 2005, it now controls Lebanon thru Hizbollah. Originally Israel supported the idea that the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) would control the area of Lebanon south of the Litani River. But, the LAF is no longer neutral, with ca. 50% Shia soldiers and ca. 30% Shia officers, the LAF is now essentially an offshoot of Hizbollah. We must now consider Lebanon in all respects as a fully fledged proxy of Iran.

Israel is a Legitimate State
The campaign to delegitimize Israel implies that Israel is in fact a legitimate State. The key determinate of legitimacy is whether or not a state is recognized by the UN and the majority of countries on earth, and Israel is. It has existed for 62 years! Apart from the Biblical heritage, that everyone knows, modern Israel derives from Jewish immigrants who started returning in the 1860s and settled the land, which was largely barren and underpopulated. More Jewish immigrants came after the Holocaust in WWII. By hard work and commitment they have built an effective and thriving state. By comparison, the Palestinian Arabs have been largely content to sit in camps and bemoan their fate, even with billions of dollars of aid they have not prospered and have largely depended on violence and the destruction of Israel for their raison d'etre. To those who believe in a "two state solution" this fact is unpalatable, but true.

There never was an Arab State in Palestine
The area called Palestine by the British was conquered from the Turks in WWI. After the British received the Palestine Mandate from the League of Nations in 1922 its responsibility was to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Britain then unilaterally divided Palestine and separated the Arab State of Transjordan from the Mandate. It later became Jordan when its Arab Legion occupied the West Bank from 1948-67. Until the 1930s Britain honored its commitment to the Jews, but then under Arab influence it reneged and from 1938 began to severely limit Jewish immigration, thus causing the deaths of many Jew who were trapped in Europe during WWII. After WWII Britain gave up its Mandate and allowed the newly founded United Nations to determine the fate of Palestine. In 1948 the UN voted for partition to form a Jewish and an Arab State. But, the surrounding Arab countries invaded the nascent Jewish State and the first of several wars of intended destruction too place. However, in every war Israel defeated the combined Arab forces. At no time has there ever been Arab sovereignty over Palestine.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Our slogans

Arabs come from Arabia
In 638 ce the Arabs swept out of Arabia and conquered Jerusalem. This was part of their imperialist march that led to a vast Muslim Empire and subsequently to a Turkish Empire. The Jews started returned to their ancient homeland to re-establish their State in the 1860s. After WWI the Jews were helped by the British under the terms of its League of Nations Mandate for Palestine, but then under Arab pressure the British Government reneged on its commitment and prevented Jews from immigrating before WWII, which added to the Jewish dead during the Holocaust. The Jews originally came from Judea, and now Israel is a well-established fluourishing State recognized by the United Nations. The Arab homeland is Arabia.

Palestinians are named after the Philistines, who no longer exist
The Palestinians are named after the Philistines, who came from the sea and conquered part of the Biblical Holyland. They were defeated by the Israelites (remember David and Goliath) but their name stuck. "Philistia" was used by the Romans to designate part of their Empire to avoid the use of a name related to the Jews, who they in turn had defeated. When the Arabs conquered the Holyland they were simply "Arabs," and remained so. When Britain defeated the Turks in WWI and occupied the area they called it "Palestine." Then there were Palestinian Jews and Palestinian Arabs, but only the Jews were known as "Palestinians" and the Arabs were simply "Arabs." It was not until the defeat of the Arabs forces in 1967 by the IDF in the Six Day War, that the Arabs living in Palestine started to take on an ethnic identification of their own. However, only their geographical and historical features are distinct, in all other respects they are identical to the surrounding Arabs in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt.

Israel is a Rainbow Nation
Calling Israel an "apartheid state" is one of the most fatuous slogans that the anti-Israel left have invented. It has no validity whatsoever. For example, walk down any Israeli street and you will see a rainbow of people, Jews from every country on earth, American, British, French, Russian, Australian, and of every skin color, Ashkenazi, Sephardi and Ethiopian. Then there are the Arabs (21% of the population), Muslims, Druse, Christians and Beduin. There are ca. 170,000 Beduin Arabs in Israel and one of them was recently the Israeli Deputy Consul General in San Francisco. Druse and Beduin serve in the IDF. Then there are the non-Jewish immigrants, such as Africans (some refugees from Darfur), Philippinos (many come as care givers and stay) and Thais. Israel is truly a rainbow nation and is a working liberal democracy. This is something that cannot be said of any Arab country. There are Gay Pride Parades in most major Israeli cities, try and do that in a Muslim country.

The Arabs are Intransigent
Israeli PM Netanyahu has been calling for direct peace negotiations with the Palestinians to restart for nearly two years. First, PA Pres. Abbas insisted on indirect "proximity" talks thru US President Obama's representative Sen. Mitchell. Then long after Netanyahu instituted a freeze on all building in the West Bank, Abbas would still not agree to direct talks. Now the US, UN, EU and even the Arab League have supported direct talks, but Abbas still will not go ahead. He insists on impossible preconditions, such as Israel accepting a permanent freeze on building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Israel accepting the pre-June 1967 ceasefire lines as the borders of a Palestinian State, and Israel accepting the right of return of Palestinian "refugees," all complex issues that must be discussed in direct talks. Why are the Arabs intransigent, avoiding an end of the conflict agreement that might remove their excuse for continually trying to delegitimize and destroy Israel.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

A minority within a minority

On Thursday evening we went to a fascinating talk at AACI given by Ishmael Khaldi, an Israeli Beduin. He went around the room asking the ca. 50 people there where each of them came from, the answers were varied, the US, Britain, S. Africa, Australia and so on, then he finished by saying that he was the only one there who was born in Israel. He spoke about his transition from a shepherd in his village in the Galilee to being a Haifa university student, then a border policeman and an IDF recruit and then he obtained a Master's degree in political science at Tel Aviv University and was then appointed Deputy Consul General of Israel in San Francisco, the first and so far only Israeli Beduin to achieve a diplomatic posting. He is now Arab affairs advisor to FM Avigdor Lieberman. He has described his unique life in his new book "A Shepherd's Story."

The question of identity is central to his book and indeed to his life. Although one million (21%) of the Israeli population is Arab, of these only ca. 170,000 (17%) are Beduin and only ca. 40,000 of these live in the north. While the rest of the Arabs have been settled in towns and cities for centuries, the Beduin are distinguished from the other Arabs by being until very recently nomadic. It was coincidental that as the Jews immigrated into Turkish Palestine so the Beduin in the north were also settling in permanent places. First a collection of tents formed a village, then as late as the 1950s they built small huts, finally in the 1970s they built permanent houses. They were also recognized as official communities by the Israeli Government and so could be connected to the national electricity and water grids.

Ishmael was the third son of eleven children in a typically close knit Beduin family. He shared the chores of a shepherd, watching the goats and sheep in the hills around his village, Khawalid in western Galillee, near Kfat Ata. From the 1930's onwards, his family and the village developed close ties with the nearby kibbutz, Kfar HaMaccabi, and it provided them with jobs, sustenance and friendships. Because he was a gifted student he was sent to the Orthodox Christian High School in Haifa, where he was treated badly by the other Arab students because he was a Bedu, whose language and manners were considered primitive by them. After graduation, because he had met Jewish visitors from America at the kibbutz, he impulsively decided that he wanted to visit New York, even though he had not yet been to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. He started collecting his money and was able to manage the air fare to New York. He arrived there with only one tel number in his pocket and that proved not to be enough. He ended up alone and with very little understanding of the way things worked there. He found a Chassid at the airport who told him there were many Israelis in Borough Park, Brooklyn, so he went there. The telephone system and the subway were completely new to him, and when he discovered he was on the wrong side of the train track, he simply crossed over the rail-lines. Incredibly dangerous, but he knew no better! Anyway, he survived, made many friends and this gave him an appetite to return to the US. He spent two years as the Israeli Dep. Consul General in San Francisco, arguing against the many liberal Jews in Berkley who despise Israel and the many Arabs who consider him a traitor.

There is one interesting aspect of his incredible journey that he glosses over. It is that his and the Beduin identification with Israel, even though it is predominantly a Jewish State, derives largely from the empowerment that the State has given him and his people. Under the Ottomans and the Arab Muslims the Beduin were persecuted and looked down on. But, in a modern liberal democratic State like Israel, they are free to act as any other citizen, their human rights are protected. I know this because I came from a poor, persecuted (Jewish) minority in England and the transition to being a member of the Israeli State freed and empowered me too. Khaldi's story is a success story of tremendous achievement and who knows how far he will go.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Unprecedented UN participation

On Monday, Secty. Gen. of the UN, Ban ki Moon, announced that Israel had given its assent to participate in the Committee of Enquiry voted on by the Security Council into the Turkish flotilla incident. Israel will now join a "credible, transparent and objective" panel consisting of the former PM of New Zealand, the former President of Colombia, and Turkish and Israeli representatives. This is the first time that Israel has agreed to participate in a UN panel and this is unprecedented.

Why has PM Netanyahu and his Cabinet agreed to this, when all previous UN panels have been distinguished by their clear bias against Israel from the start? For example, the Goldstone Report one-sidedly pilloried Israel and ignored most of Hamas' crimes against humanity. But, there are two big differences between this "Flotilla Panel" and the previous ones. First, they were mostly set up by the UN Human RIghts Council, that is dominated by Muslim States and dictatorships. They are happy to focus almost entirely on Israel and avoid consideration of the many more serious instances of human rights violations, such as those of the British and US forces in Afghanistan, the Russians in Chechnya, the Sudanese in Darfur and the Chinese in Tibet. But, the current panel was set up by the SC and is under the authority of the Secty. Gen. himself.

Second, the fact that the Turkish Government has already agreed to appoint a member to the Committee, and Moon's commitment to Netanyahu that Israel will be able to submit all its information and it will be treated in a "credible, transparent and objective manner." The Committee is the fifth one to be appointed to study this one incident. There have been two IDF enquiries, one set up by the Israeli Government, the Turkel Commission, that is only just beginning its work, and one established by the UN HRC. But, this additional UN SC enquiry will rely on both the Israeli and Turkish enquiries for their input, and the Secty. Gen. may then cancel the UN HRC enquiry as being redundant. Also, it is rumored that there may have been a deal between Turkey and Israel to use this panel as a means to stepping back from the current very bad relations between the two countries, if the results show that both sides were at fault. Certainly Israel believes that its case, of the Turkish militants deliberately initiating the violence, is a good one. On the other hand, the findings could serve to exacerbate the bad relations, and this might not augur well for future Israeli participation in such Panels.

The greater involvement of Israel in the UN process and the lodging of complaints by Israel with the SC against, for instance, Lebanon and Hamas, for their initiation of deadly incidents that take and/or endanger Israeli civilian lives, contrary to UN SC resolutions, may indicate a greater general participation of Israel in the international agency.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Lebanon incident

A serious military incident took place on Tuesday along the northern border with Lebanon. IDF troops were clearing brush from an enclave of Israeli territory that is located over the border fence with Lebanon. This is a routine action and was coordinated with the UNIFIL forces in the area. Lebanese Army soldiers initiated the firing and killed one IDF officer, Lieut. Col. Dov Harari of Netanya, and wounded another. This was a premeditated and planned attack. The IDF hit back using tanks, artillery and helicopters. A troop carrier was hit killing three LAF soldiers and a journalist. In addition, LAF facilities near the border were destroyed. Israel also lodged a complaint with the UN, since the initiation of fire from Lebanon is a violation of UN SC resolution 1701 that ended the Second Lebanon War.

This is the most serious incident to take place on the northern border since the Second Lebanon War of 2006. What is different about this clash is that it was with the Lebanese Army and not with Hizbollah, that always claims to be the "resistance" force in Lebanon. The timing of the attack was aimed to complement the previous attacks from Gaza and on Eilat. But, because this was the Lebanese Army it is likely that neither side wants to escalate now. If it had been Hizbollah there is a likelihood that the incident would have expanded into a further clash. The Israel Government has made it clear that any attack from Lebanon will be considered an attack by the Lebanese Government, now that Hizbollah is a part of that Government. By using its influence Hizbollah may have used the LAF to strike as a proxy at Israel. But, if such attacks continue, Lebanon as a whole and not just Hizbollah will be a target for the IDF.

Sheikh Nasrullah, the leader of Hizbollah, went on al Manar TV last night and blamed Israel not only for this clash, but also for the assassination of Rafik Hariri four years ago. This is of course nonsense, but in the minds of Muslim extremists any action against them is attributed to "the Jews." Nasrallah is probably concerned that the UN commission that has been investigating the assassination, will come to a conclusion that implicates Hizbollah in the killing. Hizbollah often acts on the orders of Iran and/or Syria, and in this case it has already been determined that high level Syrian agents were involved in the assassination. Pres. Bashar Assad, who met in Beirut a few days ago with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and the Lebanese PM, stated that Hizbollah need not fear since it will receive full Syrian backing.

These three serial incidents, that from Gaza, Egyptian Sinai and Lebanon, indicate a degree of deliberate coordination by the forces opposed to Israel. It may be that this is in response to the Arab League meeting that agreed in principle to direct PA talks with Israel, subject to certain conditions. Or it may be in response to the sanctions against Iran, that are beginning to bite. We may never know the reasons, but they are certainly not random attacks, and if they continue this could lead to a further war. However, it is unlikely that any of the parties currently wants to escalate the situation. The US, UN and EU all appealed for calm.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Jordan attack

Six rockets were fired towards Eilat from the Egyptian Sinai on Monday. Two of them fell into the sea, one landed on the beach at Egyptian Taba, one landed near Eilat causing no damage or injury and two landed in the Jordanian port city of Aqaba. One person was killed and five people were injured by one of the rockets that exploded in a street in Aqaba. It is difficult to know if these rockets were deliberately targeted on Aqaba/Jordan because Aqaba is only a few kilometers from Eilat. However, such inaccuracy seems unlikely. The Egyptian authorities initially denied that the rockets came from Sinai. But, this is the most likely origin since terrorists from Gaza and Egypt have been known to operate in Sinai, and there have been several major bombings in Sinai. No group has claimed credit for firing these rockets.

Jordanian King Abdullah issued a statement blaming "terrorists that want to thwart the peace process." Terrorists such as those of Hamas and al Qaeda consider Jordan as much of an enemy as Israel, because King Abdullah played a role in persuading the Arab League to vote for the re-start of direct talks between Israel and the PA, subject to certain conditions. The aim of these extremist Sunni Islamist groups is to establish a new international Caliphate, and the current Arab regimes are seen as an impediment to their goal. While there is not much public acknowledgement of cooperation between Israel and Jordan, cooperation between the IDF and the Jordanian Army is known to take place, particularly in the area of security. Both the US State Dept. and the Russian Foreign MInistry issued statements condemning the firing of rockets on Israeli and Jordanian cities.

These attacks tend to push Israel and Jordan together. The rockets were manufactured in Iran, and the Sunni Muslim countries see the Shi'ite Iranians as the major enemy to their existence. There is a working relationship between Sunni Hamas and Shia Iran, even though they are distinct, because they have the same enemies, Israel, the Arab regimes and the USA. In due course, if such attacks continue, they could have the result of causing the Sunni Muslim Arab countries to cooperate further with Israel and the US in attempting to thwart Iran's hegemonic ambitions.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Jewish unity?

There is still a big debate going on about the conversion issue, whether or not the Orthodox should maintain control over all conversions, or whether Reform and Conservative conversions should be acceptable in Israel. Of course, Israel cannot have anything to say about conversions that occur in other countries, including the US. But, if the convert is not considered Jewish here in the Jewish State, what does that mean about Judaism, will it no longer be a unified religion or will it gradually split apart to form two or three even more distinct sects. The forthcoming Knesset debate and vote on a conversion bill will determine in Israeli law how converts both in Israel and those from abroad will be treated. At present there are ca. 200,000 non-Jews in Israel who are waiting to be converted or are waiting for their conversions to be confirmed. Applying strict Orthodox requirements to all of these people is both unfair and unrealistic. Such a situation cannot continue, a resolution to the crisis must be found, and discussions between the two sides will be continuing for the next six months. PM Netanyahu has stated that failure to accommodate the non-Orthodox sects to which a majority of American Jews belong will cause a split in the Jewish people.

But, maybe a split has already developed, and we are just seeing the symptoms of that. One measure of this, for example, is the commitment to Israel that is distinct between the two groups. Yes, the vast majority of American and Diaspora Jews support Israel, but how many would be prepared to fight for it, or even less, how many would be prepared to argue vociferously for Israel's right to exist. Many Jews in the Diaspora are not only liberal, in fact that is the main feature of Reform and Conservative Judaism, but they often take on the opinions of the people around them in order not to stand out, in order to fit into the conventional wisdom. If it is believed that Israel is a dangerous, aggressive, militaristic, occupying State, how many Jews are prepared to stand out and reject that (untrue) view. Israeli Jews, especially those of draft age that join the IDF, know that they must be prepared to fight and die for their country. But, Israel is not "the country" of American Jews. One might even ask how many liberal American Jews would be prepared to fight and die for America? The liberal ethos if not to fight, but to negotiate, as Pres. Obama, supported by ca. 75% of American Jews, has made his particular policy.

Nevertheless, every month hundreds of American Jews make aliyah to Israel, and I personally know of three American Jewish immigrants who died fighting for Israel. And many of these immigrants are not Orthodox. So there can be no clear-cut answer. Nevertheless, Israel must remain the State of all the Jews, of all persuasions, and any attempt to prevent that by the reactionary forces of Othodoxy will lead to potential disaster, a self-inflcited wound much worse than anything the Arabs could do to us.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Nothing to say

I promised myself that if I ever have nothing to say I won't say it. But, I must confess that my thoughts today are not on some existential aspect of Israel's survival. No, the topic is much more prosaic. I am thinking about our bathroom. The men came yesterday and already took out the bath (to be replaced by a cupboard and a new shower) and smashed all the tiles on one side of the wall. They connected pipes with a complex arrangement and then went home. Tomorrow they tell me they are going to do the floor. Anxious moments.

The first estimate I received was for NIS 13,000 (ca. $3,500). The next one was NIS 4,500 ($1,216). I was puzzled by this discrepancy, but noone seemed interested in actually doing the work for that price. Finally someone was recommended who said he would do it for NIS 5,000 and he said he would start the next week. So I agreed, and then he gave me a list of things I needed to buy to actually set up the shower etc. I went to the bathroom supply store and lo and behold the bill was ca. NIS 7,000. So if you add 5,000 and 7,000 you get 13,000. Whee! Now I understand why the discrepancy. The first guy said he would do everything and we needn't worry. Well, on the other hand I prefer to be involved in choosing the materials. We chose frosted glass for the shower (who wants to be seen at our age). But, it will take 3 weeks to make it on special order. So we won't be able to shower for 3 weeks, Too bad, I'll have to go to the gym more often. But, I have a solution, a temporary shower curtain should work.

The other topic that is bothering me is the fate of Don Draper, the erstwhile hero (or anti-hero, it's hard to tell) of "Mad Men." The first episode of the fourth series of which started here this week. Don is in a perilous situation, having been divorced by his very beautiful wife when she learned the truth about him and having set up his own ad agency, which is teetering on the edge, rather than be taken over by a conglomerate. How could I be caught up in a mere "soap"? But on the other hand the characters seem so real, the drama is compelling and there is a lot of sex (vicarious living). Oh well, it keeps me preoccupied while they are destroying our bathroom.

Mrs. Mezvinsky, you are right, Jewish men make good husbands. We are sensitive, caring and loyal, not like some others you might know.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Dangerous message

A Kassam rocket fired from Gaza hit Israel on Wednesday and a mortar was also fired into Israel later that day. A Grad missile hit Ashkelon on Friday Morning. It is no coincidence that the Arab League met on Thursday and authorized Pres. Abbas of the PA to restart direct talks with Israel depending on certain "assurances" from Pres. Obama. Hamas controls Gaza and is committed to the destruction of Israel and is against any talks with the Jewish State. These rockets were their message, not so much to Israel, but to Abbas and the PA, as well as the supporters in the Arab League, that Hamas does not accept to negotiate with Israel.

Israel lodged an official complaint at the UN because the firing of a rocket into a city is a "war crime," although fortunately noone was injured or killed. In Ashkelon there was extensive property damage and three people were treated for shock. Israel retaliated on Wednesday, with two attacks, on a weapons factory in the northern Gaza Strip and a tunnel to Egypt in the southern Gaza Strip. On Saturday, the IDF targeted and killed a senior Hamas terrorist and rocket maker, Issa Batran, commander of the Hamas military wing in central Gaza, and hit two other similar targets as before. Israel's policy of hitting back hard after every rocket attack should convince the Hamas leadership that it is not in their interests to continue to attack Israeli territory and civilians. Israel's ability to pick off senior Hamas figures almost at will might give them pause. Many senior Hamas and Hizbollah leaders now live undergound, moving secretly from place to place to avoid detection. However, another Katyusha missile hit a school near Sderot on Sat night and Hamas vowed revenge. So the "game" continues.

Meanwhile the Appropriations Committee of the House of Representatives voted to give another unprecendented m$422 in addition to the m$240 voted this year for Israeli anti-missile defence. The latter is to support the "Iron Dome" system and make it operational, which is for short range rockets. The latter will be for the Arrow system for longer range rockets. If these systems can be made to work effectively they will not only protect Israel, but will add to the knowledge, experience and ability of US forces to protect the US and its other allies from rocket attacks. The funds however need to be approved by the full House and the Senate, so it has a long way to go before implementation.