Friday, January 31, 2014

US inconsistency

There is an intrinsic flaw in the peace negotiations with the Palestinians. Israel regards itself as a liberal secular democratic country, even if Jewish, and has affiliation with the western world, and we consider the USA as our chief ally. But, the US is also the mediator in the peace negotiations, and tries to adopt a "neutral" position, in order not to alienate the Palestinians and their own Arab friends and allies, such as Saudi Arabia. I put it to you that the US cannot play both roles, they cannot both support Israel as a favored ally and be neutral in the negotiations.

Case in point, the settlements on the West Bank. Israel has an excellent case in internatiaonal law for Jewish settlement in the territories of Judea and Samara, that have never been under any other sovereign since the Turks were here. When the British captured these territories with the rest of what they called "Palestine" in WWI from the Turks, they were given a "mandate" according to the Treaty of Lausanne and the League of Nations in 1922 to establish a Jewish homeland here. The Arabs were supposed to get Arabia, Syria and Iraq, which they did. But, the British never had actual sovereignty of Palestine. Then in the War of Independence in 1948, Jordan annexed the territories known as the West Bank, but its sovereignty was never recognized. So Israel still has a legitimate claim to sovereignty over these territories.

Whatever the details of the case, one would expect a strong ally and friend to take Israel's position seriously and even support it. Is this asking too much of an ally? But, in fact the US consistently disputes Israel's position and variously states that the Jewish settlements are either "illegal" or latterly "illegitimate." Their argument is that these settlements may preclude the establishment of a contiguous Palestinian State on these territories. But, that doesn't change the legal case, and neither should it prejudge the situation. In effect this US policy accepts that a Palestinian State should be Judenrein, free of Jews, and therefore it opposes Israeli's right to settle there.

Pres. Obama and his Administration have stated several times that they "have Israel's back." But, does anyone really believe that Obama would go to war with Iran if Israel decided that it had no other choice but to strike the Iranian nuclear facilities. According to his policies it is evident that Obama will not attack Iran. Therefore the idea that the US is at the same time a strong ally of Israel and a neutral in the peace process is inconsistent. From this basic inconsistency many unfortunate consequences arise, not least of which is that the Israeli Government and people do not trust Secty, of State Kerry as an honest broker.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Geneva II

The meeting of the international community and the parties to the Syrian conflict in Montreux, known as Geneva II, cannot be considered a success by any stretch of the imagination. But, in the end the two sides did meet face-to-face, although communicating through UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi, and certain humanitarian agreements or gestures were arrived at. Relief for the Syrian populations in Homs and Aleppo were discussed in order to supply food and medicine and to allow women and children to leave the besieged areas. But, even these issues were not agreed to so far.

For the first two days each side, including the Americans and the Russians, gave vent to their frustrations and restated their positions. The Government of Bashar Assad agreed that a transitional gvernment can be establsihed, but it must include him. While the opposition agreed to a transitional government that must exclude him. One major problem is that the opposition represented is only the so-called moderate or secular opposition, who want a democratic Syria. A large portion of the oppositioon are Sunni extremists, Salafists or al Qaeda, who want an Islamist state, called ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) to replace the current countries. Their fighters are indeed carrying out atrocities not only against the Assad government, but also against the secular opposition. So there is a three-way war for Syria going on, and the Islamists were not represented at Geneva II.

The Government of Bashar Assad is using its opportuntiy to lambast the "terrorists" on the opposition side. But, they lump the moderate opposition in with the Islamists for their own political reasons. The moderate opposition, even though they have endorsed the Geneva I proposal of a transitional government, still insist that Bashar Assad's regime cannot be represented in that body. So there is a political stalemate, while the war drags on. Neither side has enough strength to defeat the other, and neither side at present can be defeated, so there is in effect a military stalemate. How long this can go on for is unknown, but clearly the Russians and the Iranians are motivated to support their puppet Assad, while the support on the oppositon side is hardly equivalent. The US has withdrawn all military support in case weapons fall into the hands of the Islamists, and the Sunni Arab States, Qatar, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, are probably not as commited to their clients. From a western and Israeli perspective, we must stand aside until there is some resolution.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Riots in Egypt

In wide-spread riots throughout Egypt ca. 50 people were killed and hundreds injured on the commemmoration of the third anniversary of the ouster of Pres. Mubarak. The pro-Morsi Muslim Brotherhood organized major demonstrations against the military government of Gen. al-Sisi, but the largest crowds came out to celebrate the anniversary of the "revolution" with fireworks.

However, in reality nothing much has changed in Egypt, there was an interlude of quasi-democracy that the MB exploited as the largest and best organized political party, and now there is a return to the status quo ante with the accession of the Army chief at the head of the interim military government. The continuity between Mubarak and al-Sisi is evident. One difference is that the secular/liberal forces at present support Sisi as opposed to the MB, and they hope he is dedicated to bringing back democracy to Egypt with the new constitution. But, Egypt had a good constitution before under Mubarak, it was simply never applied.

Gen al-Sisi is currently dedicated to suppressing the MB, by arresting and killing its leaders. But, he is also suppressing freedom of speech, by arresting many journalists and leaders of the secular movement who led the fight against Mubarak. He is also engaged in a deadly conflict in Sinai with elements of the Islamist opposition, including MB and al Qaeda. Although this has destablized Sinai, it is better for Israel that these Islamist groups are fighting the Egyptian Army rather than fighting against Israel. There have been no rockets fired into Israel from Sinai for some months and the tunnels between Egypt and Gaza have been closed by the al-Sisi government, cutting off Gaza and Hamas from many weapons and significant income.

It has been announced in Egypt that presidential elections have been brought forward, so that Gen al-Sisi can be elected and assume legal power sooner rather than later. But, don't expect the struggle in Egypt to come to a peaceful conclusion any time soon. The violent cataclysms in the surrounding Arab countries, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq have left Israel in a relatively peaceful situation, although it may be the calm before the storm.

Monday, January 27, 2014

International Holocaust Day

To commemmorate International Holocaust Day on Jan 27, the day that Auschwitz was liberated by the Red Army in 1945, Netanya Mayor Miriam Fierberg-Ikar had an authentic cattle car incongruously installed on the cliff top in Netanya opposite the blue Mediterranean Sea. The red cattle car was used by the Nazis during WWII to transport Jews to the concentration camps and to their deaths. It is the shard in the eye that cannot be ignored, the irritant that clashes with the notion of carefree Netanya, the Jewish city of refuge, the holiday resort in the sunshine. It ensures that we will never forget their fate and their suffering, even here. It stands appropriately outside the Beit Yad L'banim, the memorial to the fallen in Israel's wars. Who can tell what terrible suffering took place inside this car, let it be for a memorial.

The Mayor announced that there will be a Holocaust educational center installed adjacent to the car and the school children of Netanya will be taken to see this. Who is it most appropriate to educate in the knowledge of the great tragedy that befell the powerless Jews of Europe? Certainly few Arabs or Muslims take the truth about the Holocaust seriously. Right wing Europeans think too much is made of the "guilt" associated with their own involvement in the murders and liberals think the Palestinians are being subjected to an equivalent "holocaust" by the terrible Israelis (read Jews). But, what is more important is that Israeli children must know the truth about their history.

There is a valid argument that Israel would have come into existence without the Holocaust happening during WWII. But, even if this is true as I believe, the impact of the terrible scenes witnessed by the whole world of the mass murders and starvation of the Jews, in fact the genocide of the Jews, was undoubtedly a powerful impetus for the rest of the world to support the founding of a Jewish State. Now the inhabitants of the State must remember and know why we are here and what is our main raison d'etre, to maintain the survival of the Jewish people against all odds.

Many who consider themselves liberals think that Israel is too aggressive, too militant, even too militaristic. If they knew Israel society they could not believe this. Yet, most of us see no reason why Jews cannot settle in the areas of the Holy Land, once called Palestine by the British, that were illegally occupied by the Jordanian and Egyptian armies. We are settling there and as PM Netanyahu stated a few days ago at the Davos conference, Israel has no intention of forcing the settlers to leave. If the Palestinians want peace let them live side-by-side with us. We will not accept a Judenrein region in our Land, and we will not allow a putative mini-State that is not viable to become a haven for all kinds of Islamist and anti-Israel terrorism. No one can force us to commit suicide in our Land, so take that into account when you formulate your "solutions."

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Emancipation of the Jews of England

Elkan Levy gave another superb talk at AACI Netanya on the subject of the "Emancipation of the Jews of England." Elkan is an expert on the history of British Jewry and is a former President of the United Synagogue and was a lawyer in Britain.

When Americans hear the word "emancipation" they automatically think of the Blacks, but they forget that even in the United States, complete equality for Jews was not automatic and had a long history. Rhode Island was the first place in the world in 1663 that granted people of all religions, including Jews, complete equality before the law. Other States followed suit (PA, VA, etc.), but Jews were not admitted to the US House of Congress until 1844.

In England, the cause of complete emancipation of the Jews was long and complex and faced entirely different obstacles to those in the USA, mainly because England had an established Church, the Church of Engand, founded by King Henry VIII in defiance of the Pope in Rome. In fact, before 1825 all non-Anglicans, including Catholics, Methodists and Jews, were treated essentially the same in England and could not hold public office or be elected to Parliament. It was the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 and the industrial revolution in England that ushered in social change that resulted in the gradual removal of such limitations. There were two main factors, the increased presence of Jews in everyday life in Britain and the thinking among the progressive social elite that the opening up of society to Jews was appropriate.

Several contemporary Jewish leaders were active in this issue, they including Francis Goldsmid, Sir Moses Montefiore and Lionel de Rothschild. Among those who worked for the acceptance of Jews as equals into the House of Commons were Benjamin Disraeli, Lord John Russell (future PM) and Benjamin Hall (after whom "Big Ben" is named). There were no laws that prevented Jews from running for office and being elected to Parliament, the only limitation was their inability to swear the oaths required for an MP to be accepted into Parliament. There were in fact three oaths that each MP had to take, but only one of them involved swearing "as a Christian" in order to be accepted.

The Jews at the time could choose to push for change in the swearing in process by legal means, or sit back and wait for change to happen. But, the way things worked out was not predictable. On three separate occasions Lionel de Rochschild was elected one of the MPs for the City of London (where he was of course an influential banker) and each time he refused to take the third oath and was disbarred from taking his seat. He was first elected in 1847, and the PM Lord John Russell introduced a Jewish Disabilites Bill to allow Jews to take the oath, but the House of Lords rejected this Bill three times. After another attempt, Lord Lucan (of charge of the Light Brigade fame) in 1858 suggested that each House should choose its own members, and this allowed the House of Commons to go ahead and accept a Jewish MP. Lionel de Rothschild covered his head when taking the oath and substituted "in the name of Jehovah" for the Christian term and on July 26, 1858, became the first practising Jew to take his seat in the House of Commons. Today, not only is the speaker of the House of Commons Jewish, John Bercow, but so is the leader of the Labor opposition, Ed Miliband.

Friday, January 24, 2014


Once upon a time, after millions of Jews had been murdered during WWII because of baseless hatred, the UN was established to prevent such terrible events recurring. As part of it, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) was organized to educate the peoples of the world against this kind of baseless, ethnic and religious hatred. But, for a long time now UNESCO, like most of the UN, has been dominated by Arab, Muslim and liberal western countries that are profoundly anti-Israel and anti-Semitic.

Current case in point, an exhibit that was to have been held commemorating the 3,500 years of Jewish connection to the Holyland, the Land of the Bible, was to be held at UNESCO headquaters in Geneva. However, as a result of protests by a group of Arab countries, the President of UNESCO cancelled the event and called off the exhibit. Does this in any way deny the factual connection of Jews throughout history to the Land of the Bible, now called Israel? Not at all, but the ignorance that UNESCO was founded to overcome has raised its ugly head again and relative morality is alive and well. For the Arabs it's a zero-sum game, any admission that the Jews have a connection to the Land of Israel is seen as a loss for them, for their claims.

Following world-wide protests against the bias represented by this cancellation, the President of UNESCO has now announced that the exhibit will be opened instead in June. His excuse was that he did not want to influence the current peace negotiations going on between Israel and the PA under US auspices. However, this is clearly an invalid excuse, since how could any such exhibit change the outcome of the negotiations. At least we know that the international reaction of Jewish and other communities around the world is enough to cancel out the influence of the Arab States in UNESCO, including the PA that is now a member of UNESCO. However, there is a lot of time between now and June, and a lot of excuses not to show it then are no doubt being worked on.

Thursday, January 23, 2014


In Egypt there are two main forces in conflict, the pro-Morsi Muslim Brotherhood and the Army supported by a large proportion of the secular and anti-Islamist population. Among the latter is the group called Tamarod, which is a faction of young, dedicated anti-Islamists who support democracy, but failing that, prefer to see the Army take power rather than the MB. Alhough there are many anti-Islamists in the Muslim world, they rarely come out and say that publicly for fear of being attacked and murdered. The conditions in Egypt right now are ripe for the organization of this anti-Islamist group.

Egypt recently had its referendum on the new constitution, introduced under the interim military government of Gen. Al-Sisi. Of those voting, about 98% supported the constitution, but the main opposition, namely the MB boycotted the vote. Nevertheless the turnout was greater (ca. 38%) than the turnout for the constitution introduced by Pres. Morsi when he was in power (29%) when the vote was boycotted by the secular forces. From this we can judge that while the majority did not participate, of those voting, more support this anti-Islamist constitution than oppose it.

What is the signifcance of the Tamarod movement in Egypt and elsewhere? Currently, having largely defeated the forces of the MB in Egypt itself, the Egyptian Army is continuing its crackdown on the terrorists in Sinai. Many have been killed on both sides, but the tunnels into Gaza have been closed and the border crossing into Gaza at Rafah has been open only spasmodically. There are reports that in order to bring Sinai under control, the Egyptian military government intends to try to bring down the Hamas government in Gaza. This government took power in a bloody coup in 2007 when they murdered many Fatah supporters. It is rumored that the Egyptian government is allying itself with Fatah against Hamas, and intends to take direct action against Hamas in Gaza. This is certainly in Israel's interest, since while Hamas is considered responsible for the periodic rocket attacks on southern Israel, Fatah at least seems more inclined to stop overt military attacks and terrorism.

It now appears that a parallel Palestinian Tamarod movement is starting in Gaza against Hamas. If that is true it is indeed good news, since the Palestinians have long been known for their tendency to tolerate the most extreme elements against Israel, even when this is against their own interests. The more Hamas takes a hard line against Israel, the more there are attacks and counter-attacks and the worse the situation of the Arabs in Gaza become. A Tamarod movement supported by the Egyptian government could make a difference and help to bring the Hamas government in Gaza down.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Harper's visit

Canadian PM Stephen Harper is visiting Israel for the first time amid a positive flowering of mutual admiration between Israel and Canada. PM Netanyahu welcomed Harper at BG Airport and in Jerusalem with a flourish of trumpets and pomp and both PMs spoke appreciatively of each other. In his speech at the Knesset Harper said "through fire and water, Canada will stand with you." His support was unconditional, unlike that of other supposed allies of Israel.

However, this does not mean that Canada is not pro-active in relation to the Palestinians. Harper visited Bethlehem and Ramallah and announced a m$35 grant to the Palestine Authority to help it pay its bills. He like many others believes in a two-state solution as a fair and equitable way to solve the Israel-Palestinian conflict. But, he supports Israel's rights in the negotiations and voted against the PA's attempt to obtain recognititon for its sovereignty unilaterally at the UN. Any Palestine state must come about only through negotiations with Israel. Harper spoke out against attempts by many to delegitimize Israel and stated that all countries in the world must accept Israel as the Jewish State without qualification.

It is not generally known that Canada is the second largest country in the world, after Russia and before China and the USA. But, it's true that large portions of it are too cold or desolate for human habitation. The Mackenzie River Valley in north west Canada is as large as Europe, but is hardly populated. I asked a friend of mine from Canada why and he told me that he spent a summer there, canoeing up the Mackenzie River (over 1,000 ml long), and he had to wear netting all the time, otherwise he would be eaten alive by midges, zillions of them. So Israel and Canada are very different in terms of size and density of population, but in other respects are quite similar. They share the commitment to a democratic system, both are immigrant populations and there are many Canadian Jews who have made aliyah to Israel. They turned out in force to welcome Harper and all had a good time, eh!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Breaking Bad II

have just finished watching all 62 episodes of "Breaking Bad," a major achievement. Do not read this if you too want to watch the series yourself. I was hooked on this series from the start, and had to watch to the final denouement. Breaking bad means that things turn out bad, whatever you might hope, and that is the fate of Walter White, a mild-mannered high school chemistry teacher, who in the first episode learns that he has inoperable lung cancer. With a pregnant wife and a crippled son to support, he decides he needs to make a lot of money quickly, and how better to do this than synthesize drugs, and not just any drug, but the major synthetic drug, not found in nature, amphetamine, "crystal meth." So he hooks up with a minor drug dealer who was his former student, Jesse Pinkman, and they start making crystal meth in an old broken down RV out in the desert near Alburquerque NM.

At first the tone is humorous, after all they are just beginners and Walt's intentions are always pure, he does it to help his family, but they are doing something very illegal. Gradually they get drawn into a life of crime, what starts out as a black comedy gets blacker. Jesse's drug contacts immediately see the improvement in his product and come and try to take over Walt's operation. So what does he do, in order to survive, he kills them. But he does it in a way they don't expect, not with guns or knives, but with poison. This leads their cousin, a violent drug dealer named Tuco, to kidnap them and he intends to turn them over to the Mexican drug cartel. But, Walt's brother-in-law, who happens to be a DEA agent, is following Jesse and finds his car at Tuco's place and he kills Tuco in a shootout. So now three people are dead because of Walt and this is only the beginning. I counted that he kills or is responsible for the deaths of 30 people, most of them bad guys, but some innocent bystanders.

The leader of the local Mexican drug cartel, Gustavo Fring, a particularly efficient drug distributor and cold-bloodied killer, then takes over Walt's drug operation, but Walt fearing that he will be killed, works out how to kill Fring first and in the process kills several others. The whole story is so intricate and complex that I cannot try to explain it all here. Suffice to say that what happens ends up being the opposite to what Walt wanted, instead of helping his family he destroys it (shades of "The Godfather"). And Walt turns out to be a much more complex character than expected.

Crime doesn't pay, but its a hell of a ride finding out. In every aspect of the story he uses science as a means to survive. The way he starts their van when it breaks down in the desert, the stratagem he uses to steal from a train the tank-full of chemicals he needs as his precursor. The way he manages to kill the well-guarded Fring and the woman who runs the international distribution, and finally how he wipes out the gang of white supremacists who have kidnapped Jesse, it's all very clever. "Breaking Bad" was much more addictive than the other series "Homeland" that I have watched, even though the acting there was also excellent. But, above all, in "Breaking Bad" the acting is superb, you take these people as being real. I won't reveal the final outcome, but suffice it to say I'm still thinking about it.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Ethnic cleansing

There are reports that the PA leadership have decided not only to reject the American Framework intiative in the current peace negotiations, but also to go on the offensive again to try to achieve a Palestinian State unilaterally at the UN and to undermine Israel. They will do this because they are not only split, but because no Palestinian leader can make any compromise away from their maximal positions over land, Jerusalem and refugee "right of return."

One of their maximalist positions over which they will not compromise is the "ethnic cleansing" of the West Bank. They reject the right of any Jews to live in "their" areas, and the 500,000 or so settlers who live there now according to them must go. Of course, Israel will not agree to relinquish the large settlements of Ma'ale Adumim, Kfar Etzion and Ariel. But, there are many smaller settlements that the Palestinians will demand must be dismantled. Where are these Jews to go? As far as they and we are concerned they have a perfect right to live there, in part of the original Holyland and in the British Palestine Mandate that was set up to establish a Homeland for the Jews, not for the Arabs.

Some might say, well the Palestinians are fed up with being "occupied" by Israel and they want the Jews out. But, what about the 1 million or so Arabs who live in Israel. Does Israel insist that they be moved out, transferred to an Arab sovereignty? No, that would be considered ethnic cleansing and if Israel did that there would be international criticism and a furore in the UN against Israel. But, the Palestinians can insist on ethnically cleansing their putative State, without a word of protest from the international community.

FM Avigdor Liberman was criticized by UN Secty Gen Ban-ki Moon and many others for suggesting a population exchange with the Palestinian State, if one were to be established by agreement thru the peace negotiations. But, what would be wrong with this, if the Arabs want their own State and call themselves Palestinians and not Israelis and oppose Israel, why shouldn't they be accomodated in a Palestine State if one is established. If the Palestine State decides to expel all Jews from its territory, then Israel would be perfectly justified in reciprocating and expelling the Arabs living in Israel. However, what Lieberman had in mind was not expelling Arabs from their homes, but a land swap. The 6% of the West Bank that contains the large Jewish settlements in exchange for the largely Arab areas within Israel, of the so-called Triangle that contains the largest Arab town of Umm-al-Fahm. It is believed that this "land-swap" is part of the Framework plan that Secty. Kerry has proposed to the two sides in the current talks. An agreed exchange of populations is legitimate and can be agreed to, but a unilateral expulsion of Jews living in the West Bank would be ethnic cleansing and would be illegal and unacceptable.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Your job is....

I don't know you well, but I have decided to appoint you to my Cabinet. You will be Deputy Foreign Minister in charge of the Syrian desk. Your job is to ensure that the State of Syria ceases to be a threat to the existence of Israel. What do you do in that position? The answer is - nothing! You do nothing, because you don't need to do anything to reduce the effectiveness of the Syrian Army, destroy Syria's large cache of chemical weapons and reduce the Syrian population to destruction and poverty. Why, don't you need to do anything, because the Syrians have done it all for you. In order to remove the ruthless and corrupt Assad dictatorship that has ruled Syria for 40 years, the civil population of Syria began with demonstrations that led to street fighting, and ended in a civil war that has been going on for 3 years now. Over 130,000 Syrians are dead, over 5 million are either internally displaced refugees or are living in camps in the surrounding countries of Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan. Also, the international community has ensured that Syria's stockpile of chemical weapons will be destroyed this year. Syria is wrecked, so you don't have to do nothing! Enjoy your new job.

So, I don't know you well either, but I have decided nevertheless to appoint you as Deputy Foreign Minister in charge of the Egypt desk. What are your actions, the answer is none! Egypt is a large Arab country that is unravelling, it's society is split between supporters of the new military regime led by Gen al-Sisi mainly in the cities and the followers of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, who are largely in the countryside. When they overthrew Pres. Mubarak as head of the military regime, the rioters demanded elections, but the elections produced a Muslim Brotherhood Government led by Pres. Morsi. He worked for the ascendency of the MB more than for the welfare of the Egyptians. This led to futher demonstrations and fighting and Egypt is now well and truly split, with the MB declared an illegal terrorist organization and the military ruthlessly suppressing the pro-Morsi movement. So sit back and enjoy, while the Egyptian Army is busy closing the tunnels under the Egypt-Gaza border and fighting the insurgency of pro-Islamist elements.

OK, I don't want to leave anyone out, so I appoint you as Deputy Foreign Minister in charge of Iraq. What do you have to do in your new position, the answer is - you guessed it, nothing! If Saddam Hussein had remained in power you would have had a serious job countering him as a threat ot the existence of the State of Israel. But, after the US attacked Iraq and removed Saddam from power and then had him executed, after a fair trial of course, you can relax. Now Iraq is split between the Shia majority in the east and the Sunni minority in the west, as well as a Kurdish region in the north. The Sunni extremists who are pro-al-Qaeda have occupied the two main cities of Ramadi and Faluja in Anbar province and the Shia-dominated government has sent the Iraqi army to dislodge them. They are killing each other - again - so relax and take it easy, a cushy job.

What have we left? You I appoint to the Jordan desk. Your job is to sit back and wait until the majority of Palestinians in Jordan assert themselves and try to take power. We in Israel will support the ruling Hashemites, because they have been somewhat friendly to us, but not too friendly. So we'll let them fight it out, while giving the King some support. However, its a losing battle, the Hashemites and their Beduin followers can't win, so your main job is to decide if we should give asylum to the King and his family. Difficult job? We don't have a special desk for Saudi Arabia or the Gulf States, but basically we don't need to worry about them, although we do keep an eye on Qatar that has been supporting various extreme elements in the Arab world.

Now for you, we've kept the best job for last. Your job, should you choose to accept it, is to be in charge of the Iran desk. Come and see me, we have a lot to talk about.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Rocket science

Israel is protected by a four layered interlocking anti-missile system. At the lowest level, taking care of short range rockets, is the Iron Dome system, then there is David's Sling that counteracts medium range missiles, and finally the Arrow 3 and 4 that are for long range ballistic missiles. Israel is the only country in the world that has such an effective anti-missile defense.

Once such anti-missile systems were thought to be science fiction or fantasy. Remember Pres. Reagan's 1983 Star War's anti-missile defense system, that a lot of liberal intellectuals laughed at. Well guess what, it's here, the Iron Dome system works. In 2012, when hundreds of rockets were fired from Gaza, in operational mode the Iron Dome batteries in Southern Israel had an 85% success rate when it was fired. It also sounds an alarm called the "Code Red" that alerts civilians giving them from seconds to minutes of warning to take cover. It's software computes the trajectory of the incoming rocket and decides whether or not to fire the anti-missile depending on whether or not the incoming rocket will hit a selected target, such as an urban area or a strategic target such as an army camp. If it is only going to land in a field the Iron Dome is not activated. This save a lot of money, since ca. 30% of rockets land harmlessly.

The difference between a rocket and a missile is that the former is a primitive weapon with only explosive fuel to launch it and no guidance system, it is inaccurate and contains a small amount of explosive. Typically for a Kassam rocket launched from Gaza the range is 30-40 km. A larger Grad rocket may have up to 70 km range that brings a large portion of Israel within its range. But, a more dangerous missile is for example the Fajr-5, an Iranian missile that has a rocket motor and a guidance system and can reach over 120 km range. It is more accurate and contains more high explosive and can demolish a whole building. Iran has shipped thousands of these rockets to Hamas in Gaza and Hizbollah in Lebanon, although relatively few were fired during the rocket barrage on the north of Israel in 2012. But then the Iron Dome was not operational in Northern Israel.

Now Israel has in excess of 13 Iron Dome batteries and although this is not enough to cover the whole country, it is very effective. One must emphasize that very dedicated scientists and military people worked hard for years to develop this system and it was an all-Israeli product. However, one must also acknowledge that the US Government gave many millions of dollars to buy the systems that are deployed to protect Israel. The David's Sling system is not quite operational yet, but has passed all tests, and the Arrow-4 system is still being developed in cooperation with the US. Unfortunately our enemies are geting smarter and are putting GPS positioning on their long-range rockets to increase their accuracy.

The big question is, are these systems "cost-effective? There is no simple answer to this question. Consider that for every $1,000-3,000 Kassam rocket fired, each Iron Dome anti-missile costs ca. $20,000. However, since the Iron Dome is so effective, it prevents death and destruction on a large scale in Israel. The IDF was poised to invade Gaza in 2012 as a result of the massive rocket barrage, about 700 rockets were fired in a few days. But, the absence of civilian casualties and limited property damage meant that a costly invasion, costly both in men and money, was avoided. Even one day of fighting in Gaza would have cost ten times more than the anti-missiles fired. So is it cost effective? That's not rocket science. Can you put a price on lives saved? Israel emphasizes saving lives while our enemies emphasize dying for their cause.

This blog is based on a lecture given by an anonymous rocket scientist, but all the information quoted has already been published. If I told you more I would have to kill myself and you, in that order.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

American music

Harvey Bordowitz was the conductor of the Herzliya Chamber Orchestra for 31 years. Now retired he shares his knowledge and enthusiasm for music in lectures. The first of his presentations in his current series at Netanya AACI was on "American music."

The first well-known American composer was George Whitefield Chadwick (1854-1931), who like all his American contemporaries went to Europe to learn musical composition. Thus his works cannot be distinguished from other European music. Stephen Foster (1826-64) was known as the "father of American music" for his most famous songs, "Oh, Susannah," "Camptown races," "I dream of Jeanie with the light-brown hair," and many more. He was the first truly popular song composer. Another popular composer was Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-1869), who was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, and whose father was Jewish, who composed many piano pieces and was known as a piano virtuoso who toured Europe as well as America.

The first really American music derived from the Black African community, including jazz (that originally meant sex) and ragtime. The name ragtime derived from the fact that the music was not smooth like European music but had a syncopated "ragged time." The most famous exponent of ragtime was Scott Joplin (1867-1917), a Black composer from Texas whose compositions became famous after the 1970s move "The Sting" featured his music.

Two classical American composers were Charles Ives (1874-1954) and Samuel Barber (1910-1981), both of whom injected American themes into their music. Ives was considered a modernist composer who incorporated expermental approaches in his music that foreshadowed the music of the 20th century, one of his famous compositions involves two bands playing different music passing each other. Samuel Barber's most famous moving composition is his "Adagio for strings" that is often played at funerals. After them the most prominent was Aaron Copland (1900-1990), born in Brooklyn, whose compositions, including "Fanfare for the Common Man", "Appalachian Spring" and "Rodeo" are considered some of the most evocative American music.

Perhaps the most famous American composer of the early 20th century was George Gershwin (1898-1937), who learnt to play the piano as a song-plugger on Tin-pan Alley, the center for sheet music publication in New York in the early 1900s. George was a composer in a true American idiom and his ":Rhapsody in Blue" is a masterpiece of its kind. It was written in 1924 with only 5 weeks notice for the Paul Whiteman Orchestra and had valuable input from the arranger Ferdie Grofe, who introduced the famous initial clarinet theme that is so reminiscent of that age. Gershwin also wrote the famous "American in Paris" (1928) and the unique American Opera "Porgy and Bess" (1935). Most of Gershwin's lyrics were written by his brother Ira, including "Fascinating rhythm" and "Lady be good" and many more.

His musical successor was Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990), who took the format of the American Musical to greater heights. The American Musical can be considered the equivalent of the Italian Opera in the modern age. Its chief exponents were Richard Rodgers (who was Jewish), Oscar Hammerstein (who was not), Cole Porter, Lorenz Hart, Jerome Kern, Lerner and Loewe, and the most popular examples were "Oklahoma" and "Carousel." But, it was Bernstein's "West Side Story," with its tribute to "America" that topped them all. In these musicals the singing, dancing, entertaining performers rose to new heights that were then translated into memorable movies.

The master of the American popular song was Irving Berlin (1888-1989; changed from Isidore Beilin) who wrote more American popular songs than anyone else ever. Among the great jazz composers were Jelly Roll Morton and Duke Ellington, whose band in the Cotton Club in Harlem was very influential.

Although at the outset American composers went to Europe for training, by the middle of the 20th century European composers went to America for inspiration. Some European composers who went to the USA were Antonin Dvorak, whose "Symphony from the New World" is a popular classical piece, and Frederick Delius, who incorporated Black spirituals into his music. Igor Stravinsky, Arnold Schoenberg and Bela Bartok were among those who went to the USA to escape WWII. In modern classical music, Phillip Glass can be considered a major influence.

It should be noted that a large proportion of the music that is called American was produced by Jews, many of whom were native Americans, such as Copland, Gershwin and Bernstein. We can consider America as a free society in which the Jewish musical genius was able to flower and to realize its full potential.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014


The Central African Republic (C.A.R.) is the armpit of the world, probably of the universe. It is poverty-stricken and usually the lowest in all categories - per capita income, health access, water availability. So why are we bothering to talk about it. The answer is that currently there is a vicious inter-religious war going on there, that started with a coup carried out by a Muslim militia called the Seneka rebels. They overthrew the corrupt but elected government after several years of civil war, removed the Government and replaced it with a Muslim one led by Pres. Djotodia. However, this Government was unable to run the country and further massacres occured. The Muslim rebels looted, raped and massacred Christians, cutting off hands, arms and heads.with machetes The international community decided this was not nice, so they sent in some troops, mainly from France and other African countries to maintain the peace.

Then last week Pres. Djotodia was forced to resign by pressure from his fellow African leaders meeting in neighboring Chad, and the Christians celebrated. Their militia Amed went out on the streets with their machetes and exacted revenge on the Muslims, cutting off hands, arms and heads and burning down mosques. This is giving religion a bad name, after all what is the message of Christianity, "turn the other cheek?"

The CAR is a small country, with a population of less than 5 million, mostly Christian with a Muslim minority, that was part of the former French Equatorial Africa and achieved independence in 1960. The CAR was famous for the excesses of its Emperor Bokassa, who took power in 1965, who lived in lavish style and was also supposed to have practised cannibalism. The capital Bangui is now in utter chaos, with armed troops patrolling the streets, but unable to effectively stop the inter-religious violence. France has requested that other European countries, possibly NATO, send in more peace-keeping troops. But, under conditions of deprivation and corruption the CAR is another failed African state. It can probably never be otherwise.

Monday, January 13, 2014

African migrants

There were major demonstrations around Israel last week by tens of thousands of Black African immigrants to Israel. There are estimated to be about 60,000 such illegal immigrants, and about 20,000 participated in the various marches and rallies, in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The rallies were peaceful and well-organized and the demonstrators demanded jobs and rights and the freedom to live in Israel under the international laws of asylum. But, wait a minute, how did so many immigrants, without means, manage to organize themselves in such an effective way. Yes, like me, you must assume they had help, they were "organized" by the left in Israel, by those who want to see the Jewish aspects of the State of Israel reduced, who think that by accepting a large illegal Black minority into Israel, it will make Israel more democratic and less of a Jewish State. What fools, don't they know that these Africans are mainly from Eritrea and Sudan and are all Muslims. Just what Israel needs.

Since it has been judged that the vast majority of these immigrants are here for economic reasons (hence they demand jobs) they do not qualify as asylum seekers, even if their home country is violent (what African country is not violent and also poor). There is a wave of African immigration lapping at the shores of affluent Europe and Israel is more convenient in that not only is it relatively affluent, but it is closer since it has a land border with Africa and the migrants do not have to undertake a dangerous sea crossing to get here. They do however have to cross the Sinai desert that is comparatively dangerous as the Egyptian border guards shoot them on sight and the Beduin capture them and enslave them and also kill them for their organs on the international market (want a liver or kidney?). However, thousands of them poured into Israel for several years until the Government realized the danger of unlimited African immigration and closed off the Egyptian border with a high double electric fence, hence reducing the numbers from hundreds a day to a few a month.

Some illegal immigrants have been returned with a few thosuand dollars each to South Sudan now that it is a State, although currently in a civil war. The process of repatriation is increasing, but there are legal hurdles. The Government was imprisoning the illegal migrants, but the Supreme Court ruled that they cannot be imprisoned pending a fair asylum hearing. The Government was forced to open the new migrants detention center in the south and hence the migrants were able to flock to our cities and form their own enclaves. This has upset and endangered the local populations and makes a mockery of Israel's "Law of return" for Jewish immigrants. If many who consider themselves Jewish but can't satisfy the religious requirements of the Rabbinate are routinely denied Israeli citizenship and forced to leave Israel or are deported, how then can thousands of illegal Africans live and work here. The Government must act strongly and boldly against this unwanted and illegal population. Not to do so invites many more illegal immigrants.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Ariel Sharon

Ariel Sharon (1928-2014) who died yesterday after 8 years in a coma, will be best remembered as a brilliant general and a great leader, who saved Israel from destruction in two wars. In the Six-Day War of 1967, disobeying orders, he parachuted with his troops into the Mitla Pass in Sinai and ambushed the main Egyptian Army as it tried to retreat in order to regroup. In the Yom Kippur War of 1973, he fought in the southern Sinai, defeated the Egyptian forces and crossed the Suez Canal over a ramp that he had prepared in 1967. He captured part of "Africa" and out-flanked the main Egyptian forces and caused their surrender. The IDF then advanced to within 101 km of Cairo. This action led to the subsequent ceasefire talks and the peace treaty with Egypt that was signed by Pres. Anwar Sadat and PM Menachem Begin in Washington in1979.

He was an agressive commander, not afraid to take risks and was nicknamed "the bulldozer." But, this eventually led to his downfall, when as Defense Minister in the Government of Begin in 1982, he exceeded his remit and ordered the IDF to invade Lebanon and capture Beirut. During this action the Christian Phalange milita that was nominally allied to Israel took the opportunity to enter the Palestinian refugee camps at Sabra and Shatila and massacred hundreds of Palestinians. Although Israeli troops were not involved and although Sharon did not give any orders to carry out such massacres, he was the ultimate authority in charge and was blamed for allowing the Christian forces to enter the camps. An enquiry in Israel found him guilty of indirectly causing the massacres and his political career was destroyed for 10 years.

During his terms in office he was the chief initiator of the building of Israeli settlements in the occupied areas that were part of the original Palestine mandate and that Israel claimed. He supported the building of settlements in Gaza as well as all over the West Bank and the expansion of Jerusalem. As a result he was adored by the right wing in Israel and abhorred by the left. When he returned to politics in 2000 as head of the Likud Party, he decided to tour the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and this led to Palestinian rioting that became the second intifada, although this was obviously planned prior to his visit. by Yasir Arafat. Sharon was elected PM in 2001 and was re-elected in 2003 and remained in office until his second major stroke in 2006, when he was suceeded by Ehud Olmert.

In his time as PM he decided that the Palestinians would never make peace with Israel and so he did an about-turn and introduced the policy of "unilateral disengagement." In 2005 he ordered the forced withdrawal of all 8,000 Israeli settlers and the IDF from Gaza, that was a very disruptive event in Israel and caused many of his former supporters to abandon him. Therefore he left the Likud Party and formed his own centrist party called Kadima (Forward). Then the left adored him and the right wing abhorred him. As such he was a very controversial figure in the end, and his policy of unilateral actions by Israel were considered a failure and will never be repeated.

This was his way, he never accepted the status quo, he always moved forward and showed disdain for political dogma and caution. He was an illustrious Israeli leader.

Friday, January 10, 2014

New doohicky

What is one of a man's worst nightmares, getting up in the morning and finding a flood of water on the floor of the toilet. The first question, as you slog around in the water with cloths to soak it up is, "where is it coming from?" This is not always an easy question to answer, especially as in this case when there is water everywhere, on the floor, the walls, the pipes and on the water tank or cistern. Flushing the toilet and watching adds to the flood, but allows you to judge the source. Finally by taking the lid off the cistern I was able to see water squirting out of the valve on the top of the doohicky device, you know what I mean, the one that stops the water flow after the cistern is full that has the lever and float attached to it. It is also called a "thingamyjigabob," but let's not get too technical. What was happening was that instead of pouring nicely down the plastic tube until the valve shuts off, water was squirting everywhere, in all directions, including into my face. I quickly evaluated the situation, "we need a new doohicky."

In order to leave the situation safe while I went to buy a doohicky I had to shut off the water to the toilet. There is a faucet (tap) to do this, but I must admit that I was not strong enough to turn it. It probably had not been turned for years and was stuck. So I had to flush the cistern to remove all the water and then take the plastic cistern off the wall and off the top if its pipe to the toilet get a good grip on the faucet. I did this and managed with a pair of plyers to turn the water off nearly completely, although it still dripped a bit. Then I went and bought a new doohicky in a shop, you try explaining what a doohicky is in Hebrew. Anyway I got a one for a few dollars and returned home and replaced the old one, no sweat.

But, things never go smoothly. When I replaced the connection to the water pipe and turned on the flow, of course there was another leak. So I fiddled with the two connections, to the water and to the cistern, and finally gave them an extra turn, and suddenly there was a crack, and one of the plastic connectors had broken. It was old and tired and so were the washers. So I rushed back to the strore and bought a replacement plastic pipe and sure enough it attached easily with the new washers and no leaks and then the doohicky worked fine and now I can go to sleep with a smile on my face, having once again defeated the forces of chaos. But, of course, I am anxious about the morrow.

In the morning I discovered another small water leak from below the cistern where it joins the pipe to the toilet. So I took the whole thing apart again, spilling half a cistern's worth of water on the floor in the process. Then I cleaned the joint and slathered it with vaseline, the plumber's friend. Vaseline did the trick, no more leaks

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Price tag attacks

There have been an increasing series of "price tag" attacks by Jewish extremists against Palestinian property in retaliation for Palestinian terrorist incidents. Although some label the "settlers" who do this as terrorists, that is a bit over-stating it, since they do not attack or kill people. So far they have limited themselves to uprooting trees, slashing tires and writing grafitti. They have also attacked several village mosques. Their activities have been roundly criticized by PM Netanyahu and several government ministers, for exampel yesterday Defense Minsiter Ya'alon called all such attacks "acts of terror in every sense of the word." By comparison Pres. Abbas rarely if ever criticizes the far more violent attacks on Israeli civilians by Palestinian terrorists.

In an unusual incident yesterday ca. 20 young Jewish men went into the Arab village of Kusra on the West Bank either to carry out a price tag attack or because they were hiking in the area, depending on whose story you believe. They were surrounded by angry villagers who wanted to lynch them. They were physically attacked and injured, but, the elders of the village protected them and managed to prevent a more serious incident. They also called the IDF who came in about 45 mins and separated the two groups. Seven Jews were arrested and calm was restored.

These price tag incidents have increased in recent weeks in response to an increase in Palestinian terrorism, including stabbings of guards and civilians as well as attacks on vehicles with stones and Molotov cocktails, which in turn are a response to the continuing peace negotiations going on in Jerusalem and Ramallah. There are clearly extremists on both sides who oppose the major concessions and compromises being floated by the Americans. But, on the Palestinian side there are well organized terrorists from Hamas and Islamic Jihad who are trying all the time to carry out major terrorist attacks in Israel. Yesterday another youth was killed on the Gaza side of the border when a group tried to break through the Gaza-Israel border fence. It's a continual struggle for the security forces to prevent such attacks.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

How the FDA approves drugs

I gave a lecture at the AACI Netanya on the subject of "How the FDA approves drugs." This arose out of the "Health Day" that AACI had in Nov, which was very successful, but, most of the material presented there was for so-called "alternative medicine" and less for standard or "scientific" medicine. I thought there should be a presentation about the way that the FDA approves drugs, since there is a lot of ignorance and misconception about this. But, by then it was too late to be included, so I gave the lecture now.

First, FDA stands for the Food and Drug Administration, the agency that is given the responsibility of checking and approving all food and drugs sold in the USA for human consumption. Without FDA approval it is illegal for doctors to prescribe a drug, although any individual may take anything he/she likes at their own risk. How did the FDA come about? It's precursor was the Chemistry Division of the US Department of Agriculture that was originally founded in 1883. In 1906 Upton Sinclair published his novel "The Jungle" about the meat processing plants in Chicago, and it caused a sensation with its expose of the terrible practices of animal slaughter, hygiene and treatment of the workers. As a result Pres. Theodore Roosevelt introduced the "Food and Drug Act" of 1906 that required all food and drugs for human consumption in the USA to be approved by a US Government agency that became the FDA.

If we look at a graph of the life expectancy of people in the USA we see two things, first the graph keeps climbing, from an average expectancy of less than 50 years in 1900 to an average of ca. 80 nowadays. There is no doubt that improvements in scientific medicine and hygiene are responsible for this almost doubling of the age at mortality. Also, we see that the life expectancy for men lags behind that for women, men die about 5 years earlier than women. But, I won't go into that now since it's too controversial.

How are drugs discovered? Most of the drugs we use are derived from plants or animals and are called "natural products." They are chemicals produced by organisms usually to protect themselves against predators. People scour the world looking for trees, animals and insects that might produce a new chemical that might be a useful human drug. The first important drug discovered was aspirin, found in the bark of the willow tree. It was a folk remedy that was used by a doctors to help their patients deal with pain. Eventually the active ingredient was isolated and synthesized by Bayer in Germany in 1853. It was the first mass produced drug in the world.

Drugs are discovered now with what is called high throughput screening. Extracts of tissues from plants and animals are put into an automated process in a machine run by computers. A certain number of selected cancer cells are pipetted into the wells of a microtiter plate (a plastic plate with small wells in it). Then various solutions are added, including a dye substance and the compound to be tested, in escalating amounts. After a certain time for incubation, the amount of dye coloration is automatically measured. If the candidate drug kills the cells then its contents are released (a process called lysis) and these react with the dye substance to produce a color which can be measured. If small concentrations of the substance kill enough cells, then this becomes a candidate drug. Less than 1% of the substances tested in this way become candidate drugs.

Those selected as candidate drugs or "New molecular entities" (NMEs) are given a code number by the FDA and enter the process of testing for clinical use. This is the crucial part of the process. First there is Preclinical testing in animals to determine toxicity and pharmacokinetics (how fast the drug appears in the tissues) and to see how the drug affects an experimental animal model, such as tumors in mice. Then if it passes those tests the drug is tested in humans and all human subjects must sign informed consent forms. There are three phases of clinical testing , Phase I consists of testing for toxicity of the drug in patients who are usually terminally ill, using drug doses based on an escalating Fibonacci scale, i.e. 1,1,2,3,5,8,13...If there is no overt toxicity then the drug goes into Phase II, in which the drug is tested for efficacy against the chosen medical condition in a small number of human patients. Once again, only if the drug passes this test does it goes to Phase III, which is a multi-center trial with a large cohort of patients, usually ca. 100 in each center. Since this requires a large staff of nurses and doctors and many patients, drugs which do not show efficacy or show toxicity up to this stage are not tested further. The total Clinical Trial for a new drug can cost ca. m$250 and only one or two in ten that get this far are finally approved for human use by the FDA.

All Clinical Trials require suitable controls, and the most widely used is a randomized double blind study. What this means is that neither the doctor, nor the patients, know whether they are getting the actual drug being tested or a placebo (a null substitute). Since it has been found that the "placebo effect" is real, namely patients feel better even if they are given the placebo, it is necessary that the patients don't know what drug they are getting, and since the doctors have a lot at stake (fame and fortune) the clinical trial must be randomized and double blinded. Each hospital has its own Institutional Review Board (IRB, also known as a Helsinki Committee) that runs all clinical trials, thus making it independent, thus there is very little chance of bias or chicanery. Note that the FDA itself does not do the testing, it only reviews the results presented to it. Also, the pharmaceutical company may pay for the trial and supply the drug being tested, but has no control whatsoever in the actual trial. Also, all participants in the trial are required to sign a "conflict of interest" statement declaring any and all commercial interests they have. Failure to declare a true conflict of interest may result in loss of job and possible criminal charges.

Chemotherapy in cancer treatment relies on drugs which are toxic to cells and humans. The drugs are not actually anti-cancer but rather they kill dividing cells. Since cancer cells are rapidly dividing they are most susceptible to these drugs, but other human tissues with dividing cells are also killed by these drugs, including mouth mucosa, skin and hair follicles. This explains why cancer patients lose their hair and develop skin and mouth lesions.

The number of new drug applications being made to the FDA are gradually declining, down from ca. 40 in 1996 to ca. 20 in 2010. As a result scientists are trying to develop drugs by so-called "rational drug design" in which X-ray crystallography and molecular modelling with computer aided drug design (CADD) play a role. Other approaches include gene therapy and antisense, but so far natural products are still the main source of drugs in the world. Any drug must be regarded with scepticism, particularly those that are not subject to the rigorous approval process of the FDA.
Note: The Powerpoint presentation of my actual lecture is available on my web site (

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Iraq civil war

The fighting in Iraq that has been killing approximately 20-30 people a day from suicide and other bombings has now escalated into near civil war. Al-Qaeda affiliated groups of Sunni extremists have taken over the two main cities, Ramadi and Faluja in western Anbar province, the Sunni heartland of Iraq. The government of Iraq under Pres. Maliki is basically Shia, since the majority of Iraqis are Shia and the Sunni parties have refused to cooperate with the government. So while the terrorists and extremists on each side are busy blowing each other's people up, the so-called democratic parties are not cooperating either. Now the Iraqi Government has sent the Iraqi army to besiege Ramadi and Faluja with artillery in order to wrest them from the control of the Sunni terrorist organizations. This sectarian violence is as near to civil war as you can get without it being declared a civil war.

This was the predicted scenario when the US and allied forces left Iraq, as they have done. It was predicted that the sectarian violence plaguing Iraq would spread into a civl war and that Iraq as a country, that was an invention of that great British imperialist Winston Churchill when he was Foreign Secretary, would split up into its three constituent parts, the Kurds in the north, the Shia in the east and the Sunni in the west. They should probably never have been cobbled together in the first place. The Kurds already have a thriving entity in northern Iraq and are in control of most of the oil fields, that will no doubt bring them into conflict again with the Iraqi Government.

What does this remind you of? Why, Syria of course, the same situation pertains there, except that France was the imperialist power in Syria before it achieved independence. Now the Sunnis, who are a majority in Syria, are battling the Alawite-dominated government in Damascus. It is quite likely that Syria will split into a Sunni heartland, an Alawite pro-Shia dominated coastal strip in the west and a Kurdish province in the east. There are two other possible outcomes, that the Kurdish provinces in Syria and Iraq will join together, which will anger the Turks very much, since they have a large Kurdish region in the east. Also, that the Sunnis of Syria and Iraq might join together and form a new Arab heartland of the MIddle East. The extremists affiliated with al Qaeda are already working towards this end, and have formed an alliance of terrorist groups called ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

From one end of the Arab world to the other, from Libya in the west to Iraq in the east, all the countries, including Egypt and Lebanon, are now in turmoil. Only Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States seem immune. However, Jordan is an atificial State also established by Winston Churchill, and few people think the Hashemite monarchy can last another generation. The only progressive Arab countries are in the Gulf, but even some of them are supporting Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. So much so that the Egyptian Military cammander Gen al-Sisi called the Qatari Ambassador in because of his country's support for the MB. Things in the Arab world are going to get a lot worse before they ever get better.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Breaking Bad

I am hooked on the TV series "Breaking Bad." First, what does the title mean, it's slang for things not working out as expected, so best be prepared for the worst. The story is about an ordinary guy named Walter White, a chemistry teacher in a high school in New Mexico, who gets the news that he has inoperable lung cancer. He has a pregnant wife and a son who is crippled. Yes, this is a comedy, but a very black comedy. He suddenly realizes that life has dealt him a bad hand and he needs to make a lot of money quickly in order pay for his treatments and to support his family after he has gone. So what does a chemistry teacher do in such a situation, he decides to make drugs, he decides to synthesize crystal meth or methamphetamine. There is an active drug culture in the area and a big demand for this drug.

Walt meets a former student of his, Jesse Pinkman, who has gone bad and is a minor drug dealer. Walt offer to supply him with good quality crystal meth and they form a partnership. However, his product is too good, too pure and the dealers up the chain know that it's not Jesse's product, so they find Walt and want to control him. In order to survive he has to take drastic action, so he poisons them. One dies, but the other known as "Crazy eight" remains alive, so they imprison him in the basement of Jesse's house, but they now have to deal with him. By the way, all this time Walt has to keep his activities secret from his wife and son and his brother-in-law who is an agent of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) whose job it is to find drug dealers and meth labs.

What has this to do with the Middle East conflict, wait, you'll see. Walt is really a nice guy and wants to release the drug dealer in the basement with a warning, but Jesse, who knows the drug culture, warns against this. He says rightly that if they release him he'll return and cut them to pieces and just for fun he'll kill Walt's family too, probably in front of him. Walt decides to see if he can reason with the drug dealer, but then he realizes that there is no alternative, so he provokes a fight with him and Walt kills him. I think this is a great metaphor for the Middle East, the Jews are like Walt, civilized and reasonable, but we have the Palestinian thugs caught in the basement of our house (Israel). We try to reason with them, but in the final analysis there is no alternative, its kill or be killed, the law of the jungle.

Of course, that's not the end of the story, after disposing of the bodies (using strong acid to dissolve them, a hilarious scene) Walt decides to go a rung up the ladder to the higher level of drug dealers and now he has to deal with a homicidal maniac named Tuco, who likes to beat people to death with his hands. How Walt handles Tuco and how he and Jesse just survive a near-death experience I won't divulge. Suffice it to say that Walt is making a lot of money, but he is in fear of his life and that of his family all the time. In order to survive Walt uses his knowledge of chemistry. OK, I know this all sounds quite extreme and gruesome, but trust me, its good wholesome fun, and you'll probably learn some chemistry too.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Kerry's guidelines

US Secty. of State John Kerry arrived in Israel again for the tenth time since taking office, bringing with him a set of "Guidelines" for a framework agreement that he will apparently propose to both sides in order to facilitate the ongoing Israel-Palestinian peace negotiations. This is another in a series of such proposals, such as the Oslo Accords, Pres. Bush's "Road Map," and Pres. Clinton's "Wye River Memorandum." Media reports speculate that according to these Guidelines, Israel would be required to give up land in the so-called Triangle area in central Israel, containing ca. 300,000 Arabs, in exchange for the areas of the West Bank where there are large Jewish communities, corresponding to ca. 6% of the area of the West Bank. Such a land-swap would have pluses and minuses for Israel, it would remove a large population of Arabs from Israel, but would also mean giving up portions of land that have been part of the sovereign State of Israel since Independence.

Those who say, well Israel should be prepared to give up anything for peace should consider the following: 1. It may be illegal under Israeli law and certainly unpopular to give up any part of the sovereign state of Israel and would set a terrible precedent for all future negotiations; 2. Some political parties, including Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Homeland), say they would quit the coalition if Netanyahu agreed to such a deal, causing a major Government crisis; 3. Israel is supposed to get the land on which the settlements are built as part of the deal, but the Palestinians don't honor their agreements, and actually getting the land may require Israel to engage in a war with Palestinian terrorist organizations, such as Hamas, that don't recognize any such deal; 4. The Arabs to be displaced who are Israeli citizens may refuse to give up their Israel citizenship to join a corrupt, dictatorial Palestinian entity ruled over by a quasi-terrorist organization.

Not only is such a land-swap full of uncertainties, but another presumed part of the agreement would be that Israel would recognize a Palestinian State in exchange for the PA recognizing Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people. Pres. Abbas has already stated unambiguously that he will never agree to this. It would in effect be denying the basic Palestinian claim that all of "Palestine" belongs to them. He also will not give up the so-called "right of return" of the Palestinian so-called "refugees," that is a non-starter for Israel. Further, he insists that Israel must stop construction on the West Bank, although it was made clear in the build-up to the talks that the Palestinians could have a prisoner release or a building pause, but not both. They chose to accept a prisoner release and have been honoring the released murderers with celebrations. Yet, they still also demand a construction stop, even though it was made clear up-front that this would not happen.

Would any other country but Israel release 200 terrorists, convicted in a court of law of mass murder, just to get the other side to sit down and talk? Certainly in the US the President would never release one, let alone 200, convicted terrorists. Then the pressure is again on Israel for continuing to build in the West Bank in territory to which it has a legitimate claim under international law. If these current "Guidelines" have any different result than all of the previous plans or proposals for Middle East peace, then I among many will be more than surprised. It is supposed to be a definition of madness to repeat the same thing over and over again and expect a different result. Let Kerry instead concentrate on bringing peace to Syria or Iraq, where death and destruction are rampant.

Friday, January 03, 2014

A night at the Opera

As any aficionado of Opera knows, this year is the 200th anniversary of Giuseppi Verdi's birth (1813-1901). To celebrate it the Shearim Organization sponsored a concert at Congregation Beth Israel in Netanya commemorating his contributions. This was co-sponsored by the Ministry of Immigration and Absorption, and featured mainly performers from the former Soviet Union.

The program was introduced and narrated in three languages, Russian, Hebrew and English (also some French). The five singers sang a selection of Verdi arias and then the program focused on "Rigoletto" (1851) and "La Traviata" (1853), maybe his two most famous operas. The hall was crowded and the need to translate every item into three languages caused delays and sometimes confusion, and took too much time. But, the singing was excellent and the arias and duets were beautifully executed. Don Corleone and his family would have been proud. It was certainly a bit incongruous having the introductions in Russian, Hebrew and English and the lyrics in Italian.

Little is known of Verdi's childhood, there is some mystery about him. He appears to have arrived on the scene without any evidence of his schooling. There is a possibility that his birth certificate was forged (there are two versions, one in Italian saying he was born "yesterday" and another in French because the region was controlled by the French at that time). There is a rumor that he was the child of an itinerant Jewish fiddler who left him with the childless innkeepers named Verdi because he could not care for him. This is cited as the reason for Verdi's sympathy for the Jews, as in his first Opera "Nabucco" and in "Aida," for instance the song of the Hebrew slaves. But, another explanation is that Verdi was an Italian nationalist who used the desire for nationhood of the Hebrews as a means of evading the prevalent censors regarding the same desire of the Italians. Whatever the background there is no doubt that Verdi's 29 operas make him a genius for the ages.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

2014 in the Middle East

We are told that 2014 will be a decisive year in the Middle East. There are numerous activities in progress that might come to a conclusion in the coming year.

1. The Iranian nuclear program: The preliminary agreement between the western powers (P5+1) and Iran is in process of being implemented. It has 6 months to run and then a final overall agreement will be negotiated. It is uncertain whether or not Pres. Rouhani will be able to carry through such an agreement, even if he wanted to, against the forces of extremism in Iran. There are continuous statements by Iranian leaders that Iran will never give up high enrichment of uranium, that they don't need for peaceful applications only for a weapon. So the crucial question is, if the final agrement is not reached, will Israel attack Iran's nuclear facilities before they go critical? Either significant outcome is possible in 2014.
2. The Palestinian-Israel conflict: The peace negotiations are crawling along, at the moment they are stalled, but they are supposed to continue for the full period of 9 months ending in April. So far the positions of the two sides are so far apart that no agreement is possible, the Palestinians are not prepared to compromise, and will not recognize Israel as the Jewish state and want Israel to stop construction on the West Bank. But, Israel says that the release of 200 terrorists prisoners was a concession to the Palestinians and it is not required to unilaterally stop construction. Secty of State Kerry is making this a personal issue, travelling to the region every few weeks, now for the tenth time. If the negotiations fails, as is likely, it will be a defeat for him and for Pres. Obama. The only other alternative is if he uses strong-arm tactics to force Israel to make more concessions, but that isn't going to happen unless the Palestinians compromise too. So another President will find this conflict intractable (you'd think they would learn from experience).
3. The civil war in Syria: Although the year starts with a delay in the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons stockpile, the process is underway and will likely be successfully completed early in 2014. However, the civil war will continue unabated, since both sides are intransigent, Pres. Assad's forces are on the attack, supported by Hizbollah and Iran, but the insurgents hold enough ground that they cannot easily be defeated. In 2014 there is likely to be an increase in clashes between the moderate forces of the Free Syrian Army and the Islamist rebels. But, even if there is a Geneva peace conference, don't expect any major change in Syria in the coming year. So far 130,000 have been killed, and that number will keep rising.
4. The political chaos in Egypt: Gen al-Sisi is now the absolute ruler of Egypt, replacing Hosni Mubarak as military dictator. The brief spell of pseudo-democracy and the reign of the Muslim Brotherhood is over and the MB has now been declared a terrorist organization by the regime and its leaders arrested. In 2014, al-Sisi will consolidate his power and ruthlessly put down any further demonstrations in favor of his prisoner, former Pres. Morsi. MIlitary control in Egypt is favorable to Israel and the West, especially as al-Sisi is antagonistic to Hamas, although Pres. Obama has managed to lose US influence in Egypt, replaced by Pres. Putin's Russia.
5. The political situation in Turkey: The political situation in Turkey will continue to worsen as the people assert their opposition to the Islamization of Turkey by PM Erdogan. The current exposure of corruption only exacerbates the natural opposition by secular elements, including the army, to the government. As the situation deteriorates, the government will be forced to step down and declare elections and hopefully a new secular administration will be voted in, but that is probably wishful thinking.

Further afield there are the similar political crises continuing in Thailand and Ukraine. Although we see the specific tactical activities of various political groups, we sometimes fail to perceive the underlying historical processes that are at work. 2014 will be a year of decision in the Middle East, again!

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Delicate surgery

There are some messages that should not be posted and this is one of them. I reject about a message a month after writing it because of various reasons, either it is too raunchy (sorry, no!) or not really funny, or too controversial. But, there are also some messages that should not be posted because they are too trivial. This is one of those.

Men are strange creatures, yes, I admit it. We need challenges in our lives, something to overcome to make us feel successful, as if we have accomplished something. We need to continue the eternal struggle against chaos in the world. In this case it was the development in our bathroom heater of a loud clicking noise every time we used it. It was so annoyng that we stopped using it, which only became a problem with the onset of winter. When the bathroom is that cold, you put up with a clicking noise, at least for a while. But, being a man, I decided that I had to find the origin of this noise and I had to remove/defeat it.

So I took the heater down off the wall and opened it up. I quickly discovered that the origin of the clicking noise was contact between the cylinder that rotates to put out the hot air and the left hand side of its metal holder. I also discovered that if the heater was tilted to the right the noise stopped. So I put it back up on the wall with a small tilt to the right, but the trouble was the bracket holding the heater is attached through screws in the wall and so the tilt could only be slight. It looked strange tilted and this did not solve the problem, the noise came back. Then when I was looking at it again I realized that if I pushed something in at the left end it would force the axle on which the cylinder rotates to the right and away from the metal plate. I tried this, and it also worked, but only for a short time.

At this point the trivial problem was becoming annoying. Apart from taking the whole unit into a professional and paying for this, I was stumped. So I decided to take the unit apart, I separated it from the electrical connection and opened it up on the table and examined its innards. I found that I could remove the right hand end of the the rotating cylinder which was a rubber cap with a metal piece that had a hole in it for the axle of the rotor. Then I found that it was possible to loosen the whole cylinder, and I thought that if I could take it out I could insert a small spring that would force it to the right. But, I did not want to take it out because I had no idea how I would get it back. So then I had another idea, I found a plastic washer, I cut a small segment out of it and then lowered it into place with tweezers between the rotor and the metal case. When I spun the cylinder by hand there was no noise. When I put the whole thing back together and then hung it on the wall and reconnected the electricity and turned it on - there was no noise! Another strike for mankind against the forces of chaos!

Note that in order to accomplish this task I needed various things, a screwdriver, a tweezers, a small spring, a plastic washer and electrical tape. I found the washer lying in a plastic container where I keep miscellaneous things, pieces of plastic, screws, nails and odd bits of things. When my daughter was here recently and clearing up (which I greatly appreciate) she wanted to throw all my plastic containers of miscellaneous bits and pieces away, but I told her I needed them. Every man needs a drawer or a container in which he collects all manner of trivial things that you never know when one day you might need it, a specific size screw, a spring or a plastic washer.
PS. Happy New Year to all my readers!