Friday, April 29, 2011

The wrong dictator?

It is evident that the US cannot be the world's policeman. Much of the need for international humanitarian and military action today is in the Arab Muslim world, and the US is already spread pretty thin in Iraq and Afghanistan. The US has an agreement with the Government of Iraq to withdraw all active US forces (apart from training) by December 2011 (i.e. in 8 months). But, in view of the current situation of uprisings in the Arab world making the whole region unstable, the US is now trying to persuade the Malaki Government to request a delay in the withdrawal.

The Obama Administration showed its reluctance to get involved in the Libya crisis by refusing to be in charge of the operation mandated by the UN, and instead passed responsibility to NATO, and refused to consider "boots on the ground" there. Now the situation in Syria has escalated and massive human rights abuses are being inflicted by the Assad regime on the Syrian people. What's a well-intentioned powerful democratic leader to do?

If you have limited resources, which dictator should you oppose, Gaddafi or Assad? Well, Gaddafi came first, because his regime, while repressive, was not as brutal as Assad's, and it took longer for the people of Syria to pluck up the courage to oppose it and demonstrate. But, also, Libya has oil (the 7th largest supplies in the world), and the US and its European allies want to make sure that the oil is going to be produced in the shortest term. Syria does not have oil and consequently one might argue that it is less important to remove Assad than Gaddafi. However, Assad is a direct belligerant in the Israel-Arab conflict, and many have argued that separating Syria from Iran could have a very significant effect on that conflict. In fact, in order to try to do this, Obama optimistically re-established diplomatic relations with Syria and tried to "engage" Assad in dialog. Now we see the futility of that "policy", and those of us who argued against both dealing with Assad and assuming that the solution to the Israel-Arab conflict is fundamental to Middle East peace have been vindicated. So the US should remove Gaddafi, but leave Syria's Assad to stew in his own juices, at least for a while.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Palestinian unity?

At a press conference in Cairo Wednesday the Palestinian factions of Fatah and Hamas announced that, after secret talks under the auspices of the interim Egyptian Government, they have arrived at a unity deal. There are three aspects of the deal, first they agree to establish an interim unity Government that would consist of agreed "professional" figures that would rule both Gaza and the West Bank, second they agreed to have unified elections in the near future for both President and the currently inactive Palestine Legislative Council and third they agreed that they would release each other's prisoners from their respective jails. Hamas also stated that there will not be any negotiations with Israel pending the application for recognition of a Palestinian State at the UN in the new session in September.

This deal was predicted as a necessary preliminary measure for any application for Palestinian Statehood before the UN. After all, how could a State be recognized if it was in fact divided into two separate pieces, Hamas in Gaza and the PA on the West Bank. Whether this agreement will stand the test of time, and whether or not Hamas will take over the whole of the PA territory after an election as it did in Gaza, is not known. PM Netanyahu cautioned the PA President Abbas that he had a choice, either he could choose to negotiate peace with Israel or he could choose to make a unity deal with the terrorists of Hamas, but he could not have both. Since Hamas calls openly for the destruction of Israel and refuses any recognition of Israel, such a deal makes any Palestinian unity Government not a viable partner for peace with Israel.

The US Government spokesman was cautious about the deal, calling on the Palestinian factions to establish a unity government that does want to negotiate peace with Israel. But, as indicated above this has already been ruled out. Such a move may convince some countries at the UN to vote for a Palestinian State, but others will see thru the ruse and will oppose any State that is deliberately negating any future deal with Israel. The US will vote against such a State based on the current unity agreement. The problem is that if Hamas is included in any Palestinain Government, they will not define their borders since their intention is to destroy Israel and occupy "all" of Palestine. They will probably make the pre-June 1967 ceasefire lines their temporary borders. Israel cannot accept this, since the whole point of the negotiations is to arrive at mutually agreed borders, not imposed ones. However, if that is made impossible, then Israel will have no alternative but to impose its own version of its borders. This will mean first a move to incorporate all densely populated Jewish areas of the West Banjk into Israel, and then possibly extending the occupation of the IDF over most of the West Bank. The Land of Israel cannot be allowed to be permanently and unilaterally grabbed by a putative Palestinian state that declares itself an enemy of Israel.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Murdering Jews

A group of unarmed haredi students went to pray at Joseph's tomb near Nablus. They were shot at by Palestinian Police and one was killed and three injured. The dead student, Ben-Joseph Livnat, 24 and the father of four, was the nephew of Minister for Culture and Sport Limor Livnat. After the incident a Palestinian mob once again attacked the tomb and began burning Hebrew books.

During the second intifada a mob of Palestinians attacked the isolated tomb and killed two IDF soldiers who were guarding it. They then destroyed the tomb, breaking it apart and burning it, including all the Hebrew books inside. Some time after this sacrilege, the PA allowed Israel to re-built the tomb and return it to use, and agreed to allow Jews to pray there with prior permission. According to an agreement between Israel and the PA, permission is supposed to be obtained in advance for groups of Jews to visit the tomb to pray. However, groups of haredim, mainly from the Breslauer Hassidic community, have been visiting the tomb and praying there without first obtaining IDF and PA permission. Whether this murder was a deliberate PA maneuver to re-establish its control, or the action of a group of Police who wanted to kill Jews is currently unknown. PA spokesman Saeb Erakat declared unbelievably that the students were throwing stones at the Police. PM Netanyahu and Minister Livnat have called for a joint Israel-PA investigation to establish the facts and punish the perpetrators of this crime.

If one looks at the record one sees that every week or so there are violent incidents in which Israelis are killed. In recent weeks there was the murder of The Fogel family of five at the settlement of Itamar, for which two youths were arrested at the village of Awad. Then there was the killing of the Jewish teen, Daniel Viflic 16, who was driving in a school bus near the border with Gaza that was hit by an anti-tank missile. After all the stabbings in the Old City and the rockets fired from Gaza and the random shootings, one would think that the Palestinians might realize that this approach will not gain them any of their aims. But, it is a reflection of the blind hatred that they have for us, that allows them to stab babies in their cribs. These are the people that we are supposed to make deals with?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Nightmare scenario

Arguably the most significant event now occuring in the Middle East is the killing of hundreds of peaceful demonstrators by Government armed forces in Syria. This puts the lie to the claims by Pres. Bashar Assad that he has rescinded the hated 50 year old emergency regulations that allows him to rule without legal opposition. But, this situation is not yet ripe for international intervention.

The UN was triggered to intervene in Libya when the rebels had captured Benghazi (the second largest city in Libya) and Gaddafi's forces were on the outskirts and Gaddafi himself was threatening that they would enter every house and kill anyone who opposed them. Fearing a bloodbath in a large metropolitan area, the UN Security Council enacted resolution 1973 to establish a no-fly zone in Libya, and this was extended to preventing Gaddafi's forces from sending tanks into civilian areas. This has been further extended to the use of NATO air forces and US drones to attack Gaddai's forces outside Misratah (the third largest city in Libya) and anywhere else where the rebels are under siege and civilian lives are at stake.

Suppose a similar situation occurs in Syria. Suppose the rebels take over the city of Deraa, where most of the rioting has been, and suppose they drive out Assad's forces. But, then Assad sends his army in to "wipe out the opposition." Then, suppose the UN is once again motivated to pass a resolution to provide a military means to protect the civilians of Deraa. If this continues as it is doing in Libya, there will be a significant possibility of the West saying that Assad, like Gaddafi, must go. Then what will the Iranians do?

Iran has already sent advisors to help Assad to deal with the demonstrators, according to Pres. Obama, because of course it has a lot of experience in putting down civil unrest. There have been at least two major occasions, after the faked elections last year, and recently when Iranian civilians tried to demonstrate as the Egyptians did in Cairo. Syria is Iran's major ally, and the question is, can Iran maintain its strategy of threatening to take over the Arab Middle East by replacing the US, if it loses its major ally? The answer to this is of course "no". It would lose its conduit of arms and ammunition to its proxy Hizbollah in Lebanon and in fact its major means of threatening to attack Israel. Its strategy would be fatally disrupted.

So now, if there was western intervention in Syria, even based on a UN resolution, and if Iran regarded this as a causus belli, what would then happen? Would they send in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard to assist Assad's forces, the Syrian Army and secret police (mukhabarat)? Remember that Iran and Syria do not share a common border, Iraq is in between (a distance of only 200-400 km). Now consider that the Iraqi Government is dominated by a Shi'ite Party and that they may agree to allow, overtly or covertly, the movement of Iranian forces across Iraq into Syria (this is occuring covertly anyway).

The entry of Iranian armed forces into Syria would be considered a threat to international peace by the Security Council, a basis for a resolution against Iran (although this might be opposed by Russia and China). Also, Israel would regard the movement of Iranian armed forces into Syria as a causus belli, a direct threat to its existence. Could Israel afford to wait until the Iranian armed forces were massed on its border? There is then the possibility of a direct armed conclict between Israel and Iran. This is a nightmare scenario, but it is not beyond the realm of possibility. Stranger things have happened.

Friday, April 22, 2011


Some unacknowledged aspects of reality. President Abdullah Gul of Turkey in an op-ed piece published in the NY Times wrote "Whether the Arab uprisings lead to democracy and peace or to tyranny and conflict will depend on an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal." What nonsense! How can any sensible person who views the situation in the Arab world objectively have such an opinion, especially when the Arabs themselves have hardly mentioned Israel in this context. This is another in a series of orchestrated attempts by Turkey's pro-Islamic leaders to expand their influence in the Arab world. In competing with Iran, they seek to label themselves the saviors of the Arabs vis-a-vis Israel. But, at the same time, Turkey has good relations with the Assad regime in Syria, while unarmed Syrian demonstrators are being gunned down by the Syrian secret police.

The Palestine Authority banned Palestinian Arabs living on the West Bank from working for Jewish "settlements" there. But, according to statistics just published by the Palestine Central Bureau of Statistics, 14.2% of Arabs employed in the West Bank worked in Jewish settlements in 2010. This is an increase of 1% over the previous year. Also, those that work for Jews earn on average twice the income that other West Bank Arabs earn. Unemployment in the West Bank stood at 17%, while in Gaza it is 38%. After receiving millions of dollars in hand-outs, these are the people who are supposed to be ready for independence?

Pro-Palestinain leftists from the West are taking great risks when working for the Palestinians out of misplaced sentiments. Two have been murdered recently, Juliano Mer-Khamis, half-Jewish, half Christian Arab, who founded a Peace Theater in Jenin, was assassinated there a few weeks ago. Vittorio Arrigoni, an Italian member of the International Solidarity Movement who identified completely with the Palestinian cause was murdered in Gaza last week. These naieve leftists ignore the fact that all westerners are regarded by Islamists as "infidels" who can be murdered under a fatwa from any Muslim cleric. Further, the rape of women sympathizers who go to work in Palestinian areas is rampant, they are regarded as little better than prostitutes. I read about this at the time of Arafat being in Lebanon, where Scandinavian girls who went to support the Palestinians ended up as pregnant sex slaves, unable not only to return home, but to leave their rooms. Now it is reported in Ha'aretz, the left-wing Israeli newspaper, that sexual attacks on female members of the ISM are rampant, and many of them also are unable to return to their former lives in the West.

Since 1967, Jerusalem Arabs - within Israel's municipal lines - have been permanent Israeli residents and are Israeli ID card holders. They freely work and travel throughout Israel and benefit from Israeli's healthcare system, retirement plans, social security, unemployment, disability and child allowances. They can vote in Jerusalem's municipal elections. According to an opinion poll conducted by The Palestinian Center for Public Opinion headed by Nabil Kukali of Beit Sakhur, a sizeable number of Jerusalem Arabs prefer to remain under Israel's sovereignty. According to the January 2011 poll, which was conducted by Palestinians in Arab neighborhoods far from any Jewish presence, 40% of Jerusalem Arabs would relocate to a area inside Israel if their current neighborhood were to be transferred to the Palestinian Authority. Only 27% would prefer to remain in the neighborhood under Palestinian Authority. So much for Israel being an apartheid state!

Finally. the Red Cross has officially acknowledged that there is no "humanitarian crisis" in Gaza. Mathilde Redmant, the deputy head of the Red Cross in Gaza, said in a published statement, "There is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. If you go to the supermarket there are products....the problem is mainly maintenance of infrastructure..." So why do they need flotillas of ships to "deliver" food and medical supplies that are freely available. Clearly it is all a publicity stunt designed to embarrass Israel, when in fact the Israeli blockade of terrorist-controlled Gaza is perfectly legal under international law. Reality is often not what it is perceived to be.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


Every time I see a burka or a nikab, that all-encompassing face covering that Muslim women wear, I get an overpowering urge to tear it off. I cannot bear the lack of individuality, of anonimity, that it confers on a woman. Isn't it obvious to them that this is a device intended by their menfolk to control them, to reduce them to less than individuals, to treat them like cattle. In the free west we cannot accept this. To say that they have the right to choose is nonsense, a person who has been enslaved is no longer free to choose. To say that this is a cultural tradition is also nonsense. By the same arguments female circumcision, also a cultural tradition, would be tolerated. It is just as objectionable as if only women were required to wear a ball and chain locked around their ankle. Would western women accept this? Women fought hard and even committed suicide in order to obtain equality. Are we now going to let the purveyors of extreme Islam to undo all the progress that has been made in ensuring sex equality. I agree with the French, for a change, burkas should be banned entirely, not just because they make a mockery of identification procedures. What is the point of requiring photo-id, if those who want to can flout the system. This is preferential treatment of Muslim women, and it cannot be tolerated.

Several years ago I visited India, and I went to Hyderabad. As I entered the airport I was overwhelmed by a sense of alienation, the whole entrance hall was thronged by hundreds of women wearing total face coverings. It was like being on an alien planet. I asked my hosts why there were so many women there and they explained that this was the season for the sale of young women to the Arabian area. The Sheikhs buy their third, fourth or fifth wife from the Moslem areas of India because they are cheap, plentiful and attractive. Who cares what happens to the older wives. It is an abominable tradition, and we should be fighting it in every respect, not giving them the imprimatur of western acceptance.

The system that allows such treatment of women is called sharia, the legal system developed by Sunni Islam. Strictly speaking a Muslim is not supposed to marry more wives than he can treat equally, but that is nonsense, every one knows that as soon as a Muslim man tires of his wife he chooses a younger one. I don't say that western mores are perfect, we have a lot of prostitution and divorce, but our system is infinitely better than treating all women as an underclass with limited or no rights. Ban the burka! (and while we are about it ban the nikab too).

Monday, April 18, 2011

Chocolate guy

We went to a talk given at the Writer's Center at Biton Aharon, nearby Netanya, given by Oded Brenner, the owner of the "Max Brenner" chocolate franchise. He has written and published a book that is a combination of chocolate recipes and his own story. One reason we went was that samples of his chocolates were being provided as part of the show.

What he told us was that he never started out to be a businessman or to develop a chocolate business, he only wanted to be a writer. Growing up in Israel with a romantic view of life, he imagined this meant getting up at noon, reading and thinking until the evening while drinking wine, and then writing until late at night. In pursuit of this dream he had no real interest in making a living or having a profession, so after school he enlisted in a free course given by the Government. There were many such courses mostly on practical subjects, such as car mechanic or electrician, but the one that looked easiest to him was pastry chef, so he took that. His parents were very conservative, although left-wing, and they valued everything from Switzerland as being solid, while everything American was false and tacky. So he went to Switzerland to do an apprenticeship with a chef who promised to pay all his expenses. But, then he found that he was practically a slave, working from very early to very late and doing mostly cleaning, so he quit after 3 months and then wound up in Paris doing the same thing. The Master Chef was very secretive about his recipes, so Oded rescued them from the trash, that he was in charge of, and copied them from his book secretly. During this time he still intended to be a writer, although he never actually wrote. He quoted the saying attributed to John Lennon that "life is what happens to you while you are planning something else."

When he returned to Israel he agreed to set up a joint business with his friend Max, and they decided to call it "Max Brenner." They rented a very small space in the back of a business area next to a car park in Ra'anana, and they decided to make and sell chocolates. This decision was arrived at more by a process of elimination. They bought the necessary equipment and they had the recipes, but Oded had never actually made chocolate before, so he learnt on the job. He decided that the best thing was to have very little merchandise showing and to charge a lot for it. This seemed to work and they gradually increased their clientele, although he had a hard time actually selling anything himself, it seemed unnatural, when all he really wanted to do was write.

They decided to have a booth at the annual food fair in Tel Aviv, and they were inundated with orders. They were amazed, and they had no capability to fill these orders, even though they agreed to do so. One large order was from British Airways, and they worked very hard trying to fulfil this order. They bought cheap tin cans from China that went rusty and they were doing everything by hand late at night, and finally they had to give up. It seems he had to leave Israel, but he happened to meet an American who was selling gifts in New York, and so they bought out Max (who went on to make a fortune in British real estate) and he moved to New York. There he found he was in his element. He loved the competition and learning about the high-end chocolate market and how to run a business. But, finally after 5 years this business arrangement failed, so he returned to Israel and made a deal with a large Israeli chocolate firm and they together developed his franchises, the "Chocolate Bars" and the Max Brenner restaurants around the world, now in the US, Australia and Israel.

He said his goal was to develop a "dream", not just a place to eat, but the fulfilment of a complex series of wishes. He has now started a new chain of chocolate-coffee shops, entitled "Little Brown," although I doubt whether he knows the English ditty "Little Brown Jug." I wanted to tell him about my idea of starting a franchise selling "Cold dogs" instead of "Hot dogs," with a banana in a hot-dog bun covered in chocolate sauce. But, luckily I decided against it. I am too busy pursuing being a painter and a writer.

Oded Brenner came across as a very unassuming and amusing guy, very Israeli, but he never said anything about loving chocolate or having a passion for chocolate, it was all very matter-of-fact and happenstance. It seemed that in order to be successful in business (or in writing) one needs to be self-deluded. He still wants to be a writer.

Chag Pesach sameach to all my loyal Jewish readers. There will be a gap for a few days in my blog for the

Sunday, April 17, 2011


Thanks to my Friday morning pal Joe Gilad for introducing me to the subject of Thorium. What's interesting about Thorium, symbol Th, atomic number 90, is that it is a naturally occuring element found abundantly around the world, it is radioactive and can be used in nuclear energy production. It has two great advantages over uranium, first it does not need to be isotopically purified, as uranium does to enrich U235, which is the fissionable isotope of uranium, so it is much cheaper to use, and second that it cannot be used for the production of weapons and cannot go into "melt down." Given the recent events at the Fukushima nuclear energy plant in Japan these are significant advantages.

Why haven't we all heard about Thorium, when in fact it has been used in the US to produce energy in an experimental facility for 5 years, and there are major programs under way to exploit it in India, Russia, China and S. Africa. These are all countries that have large deposits of Thorium ores from which the necessary metal compounds can be isolated with relative ease. The isotope with 100% abundance of Thorium is Th232. When it is bombarded with neutrons from a small uranium or plutonium source it produces the unstable isotope U233 that fissions into smaller products similar to U235 and produces heat energy. But, if the activating source is removed the Thorium pile immediately cools and loses its fission capability.

It has been used in various designs, most notably as a molten salt that is circulated through a network of pipes, thus heating water to produce steam and electriciy, the so-called molten salt reactor (MSR). This was run successfully in Oak Ridge National Laboratory under physicist Alvin Weinberg, and a similar project was undertaken at Tel Aviv University by Alvin Radkovsky in collaboration with the IAEA. Among the further research and development projects of Thorium based energy production, Ben Gurion University has a joint project with the Bookhaven National Labororatory. Since India and China have active programs developing Thorium based energy plants, we cannot say that this is an unknown and obscure subject. Perhaps the most important fact about Thorium is that it does not produce neutrons itself and so cannot develop a self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction, in other words neither a bomb nor a melt-down.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Iran vs. USA

In the AACI-Netanya lecture series at Netanya College, Dr. Jonathan Spyer of the Herzliya Inter-disciplinary Center gave a truly excellent talk entitled "The changing Middle East and its consequences for Israel". He focussed on the nature of the root problem, namely the competition between Iran and the USA for hegemony in the Middle East.

Since WWII, the US has been the major power in the world and since the late 1980s has been pre-eminent in the Middle East, particularly after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The "peace process" between Israel and the Palestinians that has been around for nearly 30 years, with its constant ups and downs, is actually an American invention. It is an outcome of the American belief that if two sides sit down together and talk they are bound to arrive at a compromise solution. Without going into the pros and cons, it is clear that this is an overly optimistic view . But, nevertheless, there has not been a major war between Israel and the Arab states since 1973, and no major war since the first Lebanon war of 1982. So things have gradually improved between Israel and the Arabs, the fundamental move by Pres. Sadat of Egypt to make peace with Israel was one that he took despite US policies.

The broader challenge to US hegemony in the Middle East is that of the Iranian regime. The islamization of politics in Iran has produced an elite that came to the fore in the wake of the Iranian revolution and the Iran-Iraq war, and they are only now taking control of Iran with a renewal of revolutionary fervor. The so-called Arab-Israel conflict has for some time actually become an Israeli-Islamic conflict, because Iran with its proxies Hizbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza has been preparing the ground for some time for an assault on the Israeli State. Why are the Iranians so intent on destroying Israel? They have two reasons, first they see Israel as the major ally of the US in the Middle East, and second they see the Palestinian cause as a way of gaining support in the Sunni Arab world. They have plotted their moves carefully to fill the vacuum created by US strategic confusion under Pres. Obama. The Iranians are patient, and they are prepared to spend a lot of money, even though they are virtually bankrupt and despised by their own people, in order to achieve the greatness that they passionately believe is their due as Shia Muslims and Persians. They fervently believe that Israel will eventually collapse due to its own internal dissensions, but they fail to understand the values of democracy.

Viewing the uprisings in the Arab world thru the prism of the rivalry between Shia Iran and the USA, then the score so far is two for the Iranians and two possibly for the US. Hosni Mubarak was a major US asset in the Middle East. It cost the US about b$1-2 pa in order to keep Egypt afloat, but obviously the population were not happy, neither with their economic situation nor with their level of personal freedom. The loss of Tunisia and Egypt is a blow to the US, even though we don't know what the eventual outcome will be it is unlikely that they will end up being pro-American again. So this is a net gain for Iran's ambitions in the region. The two possibles for the US are Bahrain, that is now firmly under the control of the Khalifas with Saudi military help, and Syria.

Syria is a complex case, since the Assad regime consists mainly of the Shia-type Alawite minority that constitutes 12% of the population. Assad is ruthlessly suppressing the uprising to avoid any possibility of the Sunni majority taking over. Given this fact it is unlikely that the Assad regime will fall, like the Mubarak regime in Egypt, but the most likely outcome will be a weakening of the regime and hence a gain for the US. So the net score so far is more or less even.

Iranian ambitions of hegemony in the region have put Israel and the Sunni Arab regimes on the same side. The gambit of Iran to be a leader of the Sunni Arabs has been shown to be a false one, given that Saudi Arabia is now playing the role of the Sunni leader against the Shias in Bahrain. It probably was not a smart move by Iran to back the Shia in Bahrain because it undermines their pretense to also be the leader of the Sunnis against Israel. Also, Iran has no model to persuade the Arabs that they can run a successful state, their own is a repressive police state that is undergoing economic meltdown. Turkey is a better model for the Arabs, it is Sunni and it can boast a successful economic system. The move of Turkey towards the Islamic east has been widely noted, but Turkey will never be a number two to Iran, it wants to be number one and is just waiting for Iran to fail.

The danger for Israel is that in the complex turmoil of the Middle East, the US abandoned Mubarak but weakly supported the Khalifas in Bahrain, and has no clear strategic policy. If the UN General Assembly does approve Palestinian statehood by a majority in September, the UK is likely to go along and the US may also cave. However, in the final analysis, such a declaration will not really help the Palestinians achieve a state, for that they will still need Israel. With regard to Hamas, Israel requires deterrance, and this can only be achieved by strong counter-reaction to any attack. There is a split within Hamas between the political wing under Haniyeh that wants a ceasefire and the military wing Izzadin al Kassem, that wants to continue shooting. There may come a time in the future when Israel will be forced to take action to remove this Iranian proxy on the Mediterranean, and then the whole of the Middle East could unravel.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Catholics and Jews

Rabbi David Rosen spoke to the Supporters of Laniado Hospital at the Young Israel synagogue in Netanya on Weds night. He was an excellent and informative speaker. The title was "The inside story of the Israel-Vatican diplomatic relations," and indeed as one of the five Israeli representatives he did provide an inside view. He explained that he was included mainly because they needed "religious" expertise and none of the Israeli diplomats from the Foreign Ministry had that. He was also the only native English speaker, so that helped a lot.

In 1903 Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern political Zionism, was finally given an audience with Pope Pius X. He asked that the Pope agree to recognize the Jewish right to the Land of Israel (Palestine). The Pope refused, and said that he could not stop Jews from going to live there but he would only recognize Jewish rights there if all the Jews accepted Jesus. As Rabbi Rosen pointed out this was very naieve of Herzl to ask, because he knew nothing about Judaism and even less about Catholicism. The Pope's answer was in line with 2000 years of Catholic and even Christian theology. But, the situation now is a triumph for Zionism, not only did the Papacy eventually recognize Jewish sovereignty in the Holy Land, but its whole attitude towards the Jews and anti-Semitism is 180 degrees from what it was.

This came about partly due to the Shoah (Holocaust) and its influence on two Popes, Pope John XXIII (elected in 1958) and Pope John Paul II (1978). Pope John XXIII was born Giuseppi Roncalli, and while a priest in Bulgaria saw the evils of fascism and helped persuade the Archbishop there not to allow the Jews to be deported. As Pope he convened the Vatican Council II (1963) that not only was instrumental in adapting Catholicism to the modern world, but also changed radically the relationship to the Jews. In the portion known as "Notre aetate" (our times) it was stated that the Jews were not and never were responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and further that anti-Semitism was unjustified and unacceptable. It was left to Pope John Paul II, who had personally experienced the Shoah as a priest in Krakow, Poland, and had saved the lives of Jews, to visit Israel and negotiate mutual recognition, that was ratified in 1993.

The issue of the beatification of Pope Pius XII, who was Pope during WWII and did little to save Jewish lives, is a matter of discord between the Vatican and the Jews. It has been delayed for ca. 20 years, indicating the Papacy's sensitivity to this issue. There is not likely to be a decision on this until after the secret archives of this period are opened, due to be in 5 years time. However, the archives might be cleansed, as the Church has done so many times in the past.

In answering questions, the issue of Islam was raised and Rabbi Rosen poined out that the Catholic Church is very sensitive to the position of the Arab Christians, and could not be seen to be ahead of the Arab States in dealing with Israel, hence the delay in recognition until after Egypt. Also, the relationship of the Vatican to Islam is more a cultural dialog, while that with Judaism is a religious dialog. This was a most interesting and fluent presentation.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The land ironclads

The news of the successful deployment of the Iron Dome anti-missile system, that knocked out 8 Grad rockets being targeted at Israel's southern cities last weekend, was another first for our small but brilliant State of Israel. Unfortunately, we are forced to develop such weapons in order to defend ourselves from our despicable neighbors, who are terrorists and killers. They must be thinking "those damn Jews, they've done it again, now we'll have to develop another fiendish weapon to kill them."

It reminded me of a story that the British author HG Wells wrote in 1903, long prior to WWI. As many of you will know Wells was a scientist and wrote some of the first science fiction, most famous is "The War of the Worlds." This particular story is entitled "The Land Ironclads" and was prescient in that he describes fairly accurately the use to tanks in warfare, the so-called "Ironclads." In this story a young war correspondent is witnessing a battle between "the people of the city" and the "people of the country." The former are reluctant to go to war, and at first are taken by surprise by the attack of the latter. The people of the country are enthusiastic to go to war, they are aggressive, used to fighting, more numerous and confident of victory. But, the people of the city, although taken by surprise and on the defensive, put some of their best minds to work on determining how they can defend themselves. In doing so they come up with the idea of a moving iron-clad vehicle that will protect the occupants from bullets and yet allow them to fire out of small slits in the iron covering at their attackers. The journalist witnesses for the first time the use of such vehicles in warfare, and not only is he amazed, but sees clearly how the inventiveness and forward-looking people of the city will always defeat the over-confidence of the brutish and violent people of the country. Of course, in foreseeing the use of tanks in warfare, Wells was predicting their use in WWI and in general showing how the more scientifically-based of two combatants will always win. Thus, the US and its allies defeated the Germans, even though they also adapted technology for its use in warfare and no doubt other factors played a role, but they lacked radar and computers.

In the situation of the war between the Jews and the Arabs (before there was even a group known as "Palestinians") the Jews always displayed better tactics and use of technology. For example, I once met an Israeli of British-German origin, Shalhevet Frier, who had been an officer in the British Army in Palestine. He was in charge of communications and helped the Hagana establish a secret underground telephone exchange in Jerusalem that mimicked exactly that of the British Army themselves. So when calls were exchanged between the British and the Arabs, the Jews knew about it as soon as they did.

I had imagined that during their training Israeli officers were given tasks, such as how would they have attempted to prevent the Holocaust. People have said that this would have been impossible, but maybe not. If there were two groups of 100 Jewish men, each responsible for an area of Poland thru which trains were sent to the concentration camps. If they broke up into small groups and chopped down trees to stop trains, or loosened the rails to cause them to crash, this would have disrupted the flow of victims. After all there were only so many rail lines that could be used going to the East. They could also have ambushed the trains or attacked them, stolen some weapons and then the process would have escalated. One hundred determined men can do a lot, but a defeated non-belligerent people is doomed before they start. Now that we have our own State and Armed forces, nothing is impossible, not even thwarting the murderous aims of our enemies, even though we are greatly outnumbered. The success of the Israelis in numerous wars is a testament to the fact that quality plus technology will defeat quantity every time.

As our PM stated, the Iron Dome system is not perfect, it cannot guarantee protection, but it can save lives and it can deter our enemies from thinking that we have no defense to their current rocket strategy.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Four concerts and a lecture

In the past week we went to four concerts, which is unusual. First we went to our regular Monday noon concert at Shearim in Netanya. Last Monday it was a piano-violin duo and they were very good. The last piece "Jealousy" was very nicely done. Then we went to the concert in Herzliya of the Ihud Choir singing Carmina Burana, which we saw advertized in The Jerusalem Post. This was an exceptional experience.

Some friends asked me about "Carmina Burana," the name means simply songs from Burana, a place in lower Germany. They were written between the 11th-13th centuries mostly in medieval Latin, with some German, French and Italian. In fact the 254 songs, poems and theatrical pieces were from a hoard discovered in a Benedictine monastery in Bavaria in 1803. They were probably written down by novice monks, but the songs are bawdy, with many references to sex, drinking and even some mocking the Catholic Church. They were probably the kind of thing spoken/sung by the common people and monks in the lingua franca of medieval central Europe. There are many musical arrangements of them, but the most famous is that of Carl Orff, who set 24 of them to an innovative score in 1938. It has been performed many times and is a popular choral/percussion piece.

Then a day later we had a show at the AACI called "Frankly Sinatra," presented by the "Broadway Rabbi" Yisrael Lutnick, who is from the US but has a pulpit in Mevasseret Zion near Jerusalem. He sang very well, although not trying to sound like Sinatra, he was charming and personable. He told Frankie's life story through his songs.

Then we had our monthly prescription concert of the Herzliya Chamber Orchestra under Harvey Bordowitz, which last Sat night had a concert of orchestral pieces, the last one of which was Schubert's "Unfinished" Symphony (no. 8), which as usual was beautifully performed. The reason I tell you about these concerts is to let you know that life continues as normal here, and we have a very active program.

In between these concerts, we went to a lecture about Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern political Zionism, given by a Professor of History who visits here every year, Hank Citron, who taught at various Universities in the USA. He pointed out that Herzl was completely secular, had no Jewish education, but became aware of irrational anti-Semitism when he reported on the Dreyfus trial in Paris for his liberal Viennese newspaper. He wrote the pamphlet "der Judenstaat" in 1896 which made him famous at the age of 38. He then gave up his job and spent his own money founding the Zionist movement and organized its first Congress in Basel in 1897. Although few knew him and his plans, he managed to persuade about 100 Jewish leaders of different political views to attend. At first he focussed on rich Jews, and tried to obtain concessions from the Sultan of Turkey on Palestine and the Kaiser of Germany, but both rebuffed him. He met the Kaiser on his visit to the Holyland, not in his hotel but on the road to Jerusalem. However, since there was no photograph of this incident, the Zionists manufactured a picture of the two of them together, an early case of "photo-manipulation". Actually he was unsuccessful, so he swtiched to gaining support from the poor Jewish masses and there was more successful. He published his novel, "Altneuland" in 1902 and predicted that there would be a Jewish State within 50 years, and he was right. He died in 1904 at the age of only 44. In every town and city in Israel the main street is called "Herzl Street" and he is buried in Jerusalem on Mt. Herzl.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Sunni-Shia clash

In the turmoil that is going on in the Arab world there are two quite separate processes that we must distinguish. The first is sometimes called "the Arab spring", namely the series of uprisings against aging autocratic rulers, such as Ben Ali of Tunisia and Mubarak of Egypt, who have already gone, and Gaddafi of Libya and Saleh of Yemen, who are fighting back. The other process, and perhaps the more significant, is the historic clash between Sunni and Shia Arabs, the former supported by Saudi Arabia and the latter by Shia Iran. The focus of this clash is in Bahrain, which constitutes the perfect locus for this clash, because the majority of its population are Shia while the ruling elite is Sunni.

When the mob tried to take over Pearl Square in the middle of Manama a few weeks ago, it seemed just like the other uprisings in Cairo and Behghazi. But, the difference was soon noted. This was not some mere attempt to redress popular sentiment against an autocratic ruler, whatever the legitimate claims of the populace. This was a Shia-Iran inspired attempt to remove the Sunni rulers and replace them with a Shia regime. Not to be neglected is the fact that Bahrain is the center of US forces in the Persian Gulf and the home of the US Fifth Fleet. Bahrain under the Khalifah dynasty has been a friendly base for US interests in the region as a bulwark against Shia Iran. For the Shia to replace the Sunni Khalifas and then be able to expel the US forces would be a coup for Iran of epic proportions. That is why, when things started to unravel in Manama, that Saudi Arabia sent in a large force of its Army in armed troop carriers to assist the Bahraini forces to regain control from the Shia mob. No doubt the US was sufficiently concerned with the situation that they approved this move.

So now the flash point in the whole Sunni-Shia/ Arab/Iranian clash of cultures is in Bahrain. If Bahrain were to go under the Iranian sphere of influence or local hegemony, then this would be a major loss for the Saudis, the Sunnis and the US. So don't be so sympathetic to the revolting masses in every case. Remember that sympathy for those revolting against the Shah of Iran led to the establishment of the Khomeini regime, which was much worse for the Iranians as well as for us. How ever much you believe in the democratic aims of the Egyptian and other Arab masses, in this case the Shia masses are the major enemies of the West, while the Saudi and Bahraini rulers are our allies!

Meanwhile, in Syria, which is a strong ally of Iran, things are heating up. There have been large demonstrations in several Syrian cities, and at least 36 people were killed, mostly shot down by Syrian secret police in civilian clothes. Here the situation is both an uprising against a hated family regime, that of Assad, and the opposite to that in Bahrain, namely a Sunni majority demonstrating against a Shia-type Alawite ruling minority. Here there is no doubt who we should support, the people against Assad and his Iranian allies. Yes, its true, the Middle East is complex and woe to those who simplify it as purely an Israel-Palestinian conflict. Even Quartet representative Tony Blair was forced to admit that the uprisings in the Arab world make the achievement of an Israeli-Arab peace more challenging.

Sunday, April 10, 2011


Friday night Hamas and its terrorist allies in Gaza fired 15 Grad missiles at major Israeli cities, Ashkelon, Ashdod and Beersheva. Eight of them were intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system, which seems to be working very well. It can detect whether or not the missile is targeted at a populated area and it only activates and intercepts if it is. This is the first time in history that an anti-missile system has worked effectively. There were no major Israeli casualties of these rockets, but this number of long-range rockets is the highest fired from Gaza since Operation Cast Lead over two years ago. In total terrorists launched ca. 120 missiles, rockets and mortars at Israel over the weekend (Fri-Sat)! This is a major war crime! In response, the IDF carried out attacks throughout the Gaza strip, killing three leaders of the Hamas military wing and 15 others, mostly rocket firing teams caught as soon as they fired.

Remember that this exchange of firing was initiated by Hamas shooting an anti-tank missile from Gaza at a school bus inside Israel, critically injuring a teenage boy, who is still struggling for his life with shrapnel in his head. PM Netanyahu stated while on a visit to the Czech Republic, that "the attack on a school bus crossed the line, whoever tries to hurt and murder children will be held accountable." Israeli Generals have warned that unless the attacks cease they may be forced to take major action like that of Operation Defensive Shield against the West Bank in 2002, that led to Israeli occupation and eventually the breaking of the military and terrorist capability of Fatah in the West Bank. One theory as to why this escalation is occuring now is that there are major uprisings occuring elsewhere in the Arab world, taking the limelight away from the Palestinians.

Now this might seem to be of purely academic interest to outsiders, something that happens from time to time and then there is a period of relative calm until the next outbreak. But, I assure you this is a major real concern for all Israelis, we don't want to be attacking and invading a hostile area like Gaza, unless it is necessary. In southern Israel 1 million Israelis are now within the range of their rockets and it could be more if they turn their sights on to Tel Aviv. All schools, kindergartens and public meetings are either closed or cut back. We are invited to our daughter's home in Beersheva for the Pesach holiday. Can you imagine what will happen if we are all gathered around the table on Seder night and incoming rockets are detected and the Iron Dome alarm goes off? Remember it was the bombing of the Park Hotel in Netanya on Seder night 2002 killing 30 people that led to Operation Defensrve Shield. We thought we had left such terror behind, but Iran has supplied Hamas and Hizbollah with thousands of such rockets in order to deliberately hit Israeli civilians. The Israeli Government and the Defense forces cannot simply accept this missile terror as a fait accompli. Our oldest grandson is due to be inducted into the IDF next year. We certainly don't want him to be in the Gaza strip, but if that is what is necessary to stop this war crime, then so be it.

No doubt after the dust settles there will be another UN human rights council condemnation of Israel and maybe they can even persuade Richard Goldstone to be in charge of the investigation again, although even he seems to have learnt his lesson. The predictable outcome will undoubtedly be more criticism of Israel for defending itself, but it is better to win on the ground than to win in the biased courts of the UN.

Friday, April 08, 2011


An Israeli school bus driving in the Negev region received a direct hit from anti-tank missiles fired from Gaza by Palestinian terrorists on Thursday. Luckily there were only two occupants, the driver and a teenage boy, who were injured and evacuated to hospital, the latter in critical condition. The rest of the children had just left the bus. The attack in Israel was reported to be in revenge for the killing of two men driving in a car last week in southern Gaza, who were suspected of being part of a terrorist rocket-firing team.

A series of ca. 50 rockets also hit southern Israel yesterday. Two Grad rockets targeted at Ashkelon were intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system in its first operational deployment. IAF planes attacked tunnels in Gaza used for smuggling weapons. Some of these tunnels are now so large that they can drive trucks thru them. Following the bus attack other sites in Gaza were hit, killing six Palestinians and wounding forty. This tit-for tat represents a breakdown of the unofficial ceasefire over the Gaza border, but an announcement this morning by Hamas stated that all terrorist organizations in Gaza had agreed to re-establish the informal ceasefire with Israel. Whether this announcement is purely tactical, to deter Israeli responses is unclear.

Two men in a rented car driving away from Port Sudan in Sudan were killed yesterday in a direct aerial rocket hit. It was reported that one of the men was a senior Hamas activist who was involved in arms smuggling from Iran via Sudan and Egypt to Gaza, and in fact that he was the replacement for Ahmed Mugniyeh, the Hamas operative who was assassinated in Dubai last year. Hamas denied this, but for Israel to send a plane that far (1200 miles) he must have been an important target. To have such accurate intelligence is amazing. . Israel has operated before in Sudan, which has an Islamist Government. So far there has been no popular demonstrations in Sudan, although Sudan has ceded control over its southern region to a new non-Muslim independent state of South Sudan. Last year the IAF hit a convoy of trucks approaching the Egyptian-Sudan border that were said to be transporting arms from Iran to Gaza. Israel has excellent intelligence and tracked this shipment from the port of Bandar Abbas in the Persian Gulf to Port Sudan and then by truck to Egypt. Now Hamas and the Iranians know that Israel is able to target their senior operatives whereever they may be.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Mer-Khamis/ Carmina Burana

The assassination of Juliano Mer-Khamis in Jenin on Monday has been condemned by leading Palestinian moderates, including PA PM Fayyad. On Tues the PA police arrested several suspects, including a former member of the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades in Jenin known to be involved in violent activities.

Mer-Khamis was an unusual man, with a Jewish mother and a Christian Arab father. He grew up in Israel and served in the IDF paratroopers brigade. But, more recently he had become what is popularly known as a "peace activist" which is often shorthand for being pro-Palestinian. He claimed that he was 100% Israeli and 100% Palestinian. He was an actor who founded a theater in Jenin, the Peace Theater, and used it to help educate Palestinian children towards peace. He was shot dead while sitting outside his theater in his car.

Why would someone murder such a popular and peaceful man? The former commander of the Aksa Martyrs Brigades in Jenin, Zakariya Zubeidi, one of Mer-Kahmis's friends and supporters called his murder "a despicable and cowardly crime." Speculation is that because of the extreme viewpoint of many Muslim activists they looked with scorn and concern on the influence of Mer-Khamis upon Muslim children. Their solution to the problem was to assassinate him. That violence is endemic in Palestinian, and indeed Arab culture, is a known fact. One has only to look at the current situation around the Arab world to see violence everywhere. Is this endemic or inevitable, of course not. People like Mer-Khamis who try to act as a bridge for peace may be the first casualties of this violence. But, if Egypt can manage to pass thru this period of intense change without further bloodshed there may be chance for hope.

On a different topic, while Mer-Khamis was trying to bring culture to the Palestinians, we have plenty here in Israel. Last night Naomi and I went to a concert in Herzliya given by the Ihud 50-member choir from the kibbutz movement. They performed "Carmina Burana" by Carl Orff. It was a great experience. I never realized how much percussion was involved and it was just great watching the three percussionists hitting the kettle drums and the huge bass drum. What an experience, I tell you if you have never seen it performed live you should try to go see it, we were bowled over by the level of the music and the performance.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Peres in Washington

Israeli President Shimon Peres is in Washington today visiting President Barack Obama in the White House. But, these two Presidents have different roles, that of Peres is supposed to be purely ceremonial, while in Israel the power lies in the hands of the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But, Peres in this case is generally agreed to be a pathfinder for Netanyahu, someone who has better relations with Obama and may be trying out various ideas and concepts on President Obama to see how he will respond.

There are two major issues, one is whether or not Israel should be pursuing peace negotiations with the Palestinians at this time of turmoil in the Arab world, and also given the apparent decision by the PA to push the issue of unilateral independence for a Palestinian State at the UN at the next session in September. In order to do this PA President Abbas has asked Hamas to join with them in a unity Government, since he realizes that few will take the idea of a Palestinian State seriously if the Palestinians are split (40:60) between Hamas and Fatah. PM Netanyahu has made it clear in public statements addressed to Abbas that he will not negotiate with any entity that includes Hamas, because of their policies against peace with Israel, so that Abbas must make a choice, between Hamas and Israel. In other words, now is certainly not a good time to be considering restarting negotiations with the PA. By contrast, the American position, stated by Pres. Obama today today, is that even though the times are "challenging," now may be a good time "to seize the opportunity" to press for negotiations again. Does that make rational sense?

The second issue is that of Iran. While the US may have given luke warm support for the demonstrations against the regime in Tehran, Israel is much more anxious about taking the Iranian threat seriously, especially the threat of nuclear capability. When Israel is threatened by Iranian missiles by the two Iranian proxies, Hamas and Hizbollah, right on its borders, the Israeli PM takes a jaundiced view of Obama's policy which was to "engage" with Iran.

No doubt Peres is pointing out the fundamental changes that are occuring in the Arab world and suggesting to Obama that his rather naieve view of that region until recently is widely divergent from reality. Netanyahu has said that he wants to make some new proposals with regard to the Palestinian situation, and no doubt Peres is trying these out on Obama. So Peres is likely to be reporting back to Netanyahu, and our fate will depend on to what extent Obama and Netanyahu can find common policy.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011


Gen. George Washington’s Resignation Speech as Commander of the Continental Army
Maryland State House, Annapolis, December 23, 1783

Mr. President,
The great events on which my resignation depended, having at length taken place, I have now the honor of
offering my sincere congratulations to Congress, and of presenting myself before them, to surrender
into their hands the trust committed to me, and to claim the indulgence of retiring from the service of my country.
Happy in the confirmation of our independence and sovereignty, and pleased with the opportunity afforded the
United States, of becoming a respectable Nation I resign with satisfaction the appointment I accepted with diffidence

In this short speech, one of the most important in history, Washington reveals himself to be honest and principled. He was offered the post of President for Life or Emperor of America, but he politely declined. This is how Presidents should act.

By contrast, Laurent Gbagbo, former President of the Ivory Coast, who was defeated in a UN monitored election last year by Alessana Outtara, has refused to give up power. He organized an army and has been fighting the forces of the winner of the election, Outtara. At first it looked as if Gbagbo was more powerful, but with western (mainly French) support Outtara has gradually taken over the rebel army in Ivory Coast and has captured most of the country. Gbagbo is still holding out in his power base in the capital Abidjan. Both sides are accused of perpetrating massacres and conservatively 1,300 people have been killed and there are ca. 200,000 refugees. Nevertheless, like Gaddafi, Assad, HItler, Mussolini and the whole sad bunch of absolute rulers, Gbagbo intends to go down fighting to the last Ivorean. If only they could follow the example of Washington and disdain power unless it is thrust upon them, the world would be a safer and more peaceful place.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Goldstone redux

So Justice Richard Goldstone has retracted all the main accusations against Israel that he made in his Report in an article he authored in The Washington Post ("Reconsidering the Goldstone Report on Israel and War Crimes"). He has belatedly admitted that:
1. Israel did not deliberately target civilians
2. the IDF did not commit war crimes
3. his Report deliberately ignored the massive rocket attacks on Israel by Hamas from Gaza
4. Israel has investigated itself appropriately, while Hamas has not investigated itself at all
5. his Report as submitted to the UN Human Rights Council was biased and incomplete
This is a total reversal of the findings he alleged in his infamous and damaging Report of the IDF's Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in 2008-9, and shows that everything that Israel and its supporters were saying was in fact the truth. By deliberately ignoring the causative factor of the rocket firings from Gaza into Israel the Report lacked credibility. And by accusing the IDFof war crimes when the evidence was based mainly on Arab eyewitnesses was clearly inadequate. As a jurist, Goldstone had destroyed his own claims of neutrality and as a Jew Goldstone had willingly allowed himself to be used as a figurehead of a document that was destined to be anti-Israel as a result of its origins in the Muslim-dominated HRC. In fact, at the time, Libya was a prominent member of the HRC!

Goldstone stated in his retraction that he wished Israel had in fact cooperated with the fact-finding aspect of the enquiry, so the results might not have been so bad, although it is a lame hope to expect that it would have made any difference to the outcome then. Only now, two years later, can he afford to say that. I am glad that Israel did not cooperate with an obviously biased system, that from the beginning ignored the actions of Hamas.

Why print his retraction now? Goldstone waited until the dust had settled on his Report to come clean. He probably expected to be rewarded by the UN with a plum position, since he is known to be an unprincipled self-promotor, but since that did not happen he probably decided to take the moral high-ground by admitting his guilt. PM Netanyahu called upon the UN to retract his Report and several Israeli and American leaders called on the UN to issue a formal document reflecting Goldstone's admissions.

Tremendous damage was done to Israel's credibility by this Report, mainly because a large number of liberal-minded westerners, including many Jews, were eager to grab at any thread that castigates Israel. After all, if the UN says it, it must be true, but in fact as we know, the opposite is the case. All UN documents and findings related to Israel are biased and untrue, and to persist in believing otherwise is massive self-delusion. The fact that a supposedly upright Jewish judge allowed himself to be used in this way in no way increased the intrinsic credibility of this false and harmful document. Now at least we can return to the status quo ante, where we are all aware that the IDF is known to be a moral army that avoids civilian casualties.

For the article see:

Sunday, April 03, 2011


Lampedusa is a very small island (ca. 10 km long) off the coast of N. Africa, half-way between Tunisia and Sicily, that belongs to Italy. Lampedusa is in the news because refugees fleeing the turmoil in Tunisia and Libya are using it as a way-station in order to reach Europe. Because of the over-crowding of refugees there they are being transported to Malta and the Italian mainland. But, Lampedusa was in the news back in 1943, it was one of the first parts of "Europe" that was captured by the Allied forces, and thereby hangs a tale.

The day was 12 June, 1943, a reconnaisance aircraft of the RAF was returning to Malta, but there was a malfunction of the engine and the pilot, Flight Sgt. Sydney Cohen, a former cutter from Clapton and and his navigator Les Wright, decided that they must land on the small island below them. As they landed, thinking that they were going to be captured by the Island's Italian and German garrison, they saw that the German U-boat facilities were completely destroyed, partly by Allied bombing and partly by the Germans themselves before they abandoned them. When they landed, a delegation of the Italian garrison approached their plane and surrendered to them, and then the Mayor and his entourage came and surrendered the whole Island. So Sgt. Cohen accepted the surrender in the name of the King of England. This obscure event became a headline story, and Cohen was dubbed "The King of Lampedusa." Soon thereafter, in Dec 1943, a Yiddish writer from Poland named SJ Harendorf produced a play based on the incident entitled "The King of Lampedusa" that became one of the most successsful Yiddish plays in history.

So, Lampedusa, an otherwise obscure and benighted southern extreme of Europe, has once again made it into the annals of history.

Friday, April 01, 2011


The President of Syria, Bashar al Assad, gave an unusual speech last night, in which he spoke to his nation which is undergoing uprisings in many areas. His speech was almost a parody of the kind of things that absolute rulers say. He assured his people that the uprisings were caused by "foreign elements" and "Israeli agents." He said the killings were caused by some mysterious forces, but not his secret police or army. It was conspicuous that he did not mention the emergency regulations that have been in effect for 50 years that prevent any form of freedom. He assured his people that he was going to introduce reforms, although there was no detail about what reforms. A spokesman for the opposition said that reforms should not be handed down from above as if they were gifts to the people.

Syria is one of the most complete police states in the world, it is controlled by the Ba'ath Party, the same Party that controlled Iraq under Saddam Hussein. The Ba'ath Party (it means "renaissance") was formed by Christian Lebanese as a kind of Arab fascist party, that appealed to secular Arabs. The uprising shows that even the most brutal dictatorship cannot keep the aspirations of the people down forever. As with the other Arab military dictatorships, Syria has stagnated under emergency regulations for 50 years. But, unlike other Arab countries, there is little chance that Assad and his supporters will give up power without a ruthless crackdown.

Assad comes from the Alawite minority in Syria, that constitute only 12% of the population but control the Army and the State. The majority of Sunni and other minorities, such as Kurds and Druse, are all fed up being controlled by the Alawites. But although Syria is nominally secular, the Alawites are a Shia-type heretical group that have aligned themselves with Shia Iran and the Shia of Hizbollah in Lebanon. It would be almost impossible for them to give up power without some kind of Sunni retaliation against the Alawites. For that reason alone Assad will never give up the reins of power voluntarily. He may adjust the emergency regulations with which he maintians control of Syria, but don't expect him to fade away as Mubarak did in Egypt. He is more likely to take the Gaddafi route and fight to the last Syrian.