Monday, March 31, 2014

In the eye of the storm

In an incisive and coherent analysis Jonathan Spyer, a member of the IDC in Herzliya and currently acting head of the Gloria Center there, spoke at Netanya AACI on "Israel in the changing Middle East: threats and opportunities."  Here is my summary of his excellent talk.
He described the Middle East prior to what was misnamed "The Arab Spring," mainly by the media, as being composed of two major blocks, on the one hand Iran and its proxies, Assad in Syria, Hizbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza and on the other hand the pro-American block, with Saudi Arabia, Israel and the linch-pin of Mubarak in Egypt. Then the wave of popular uprisings swept Mubarak away in 2011, without any overt support from the US Obama Administration, which promptly supported the right to a democratic election that produced the Muslim Brotherhood regime of Pres. Morsi.  The US decided it could live with that, just as it accepted the democratically elected Hamas regime in Gaza.  So initially it looked as if the Iranian block had made some gains, and because Iran has chosen the Palestinian problem as a means to make headway in the Sunni Arab world, they were very happy with Mubarak's fall.
At this point it looked as if a new block of Islamist-controlled Arab States would emerge, including Tunisia, Libya, and particularly Egypt.  But, very quickly and unpredictably the tables were turned, with a military coup in Egypt, and the reigning in of the Islamist forces in Tunisia and Libya.  Furthermore, the prediction by none other than Bashar Assad that Syria would be immune from these uprisings was quickly disproven.  Not only were there popular uprisings, but in the past three years the civil war in Syria has caused 140,000 deaths and 5 million refugees.  But, strikingly Assad is still in power in Damascus.  What was the crucial difference between Mubarak and Assad? It was that Iran went to bat for its proxy, pouring money and materiel in to support Assad, also with Russian support, while the US immediately backed away from Mubarak as soon as trouble threatened (shades of the Shah of Iran).  This is the key difference, this is why the Iranian block is still actively functioning, while the pro-American block is essentially defunct.   Assad is standing his ground with solid support from his patron Iran, while Mubarak is no more.  This explains a lot, now that the Egyptian military has ensured the continuity of their rule, with Gen al-Sisi governing Egypt and MB leaders sentenced to death, they no longer trust the US, and why should they.  They know that at the first sign of trouble the US will abandon them, while in Syria they see that Russia is a proven ally of Assad.  Obama will go down in history as the President that lost Egypt and ensured the decline of US power in the Middle East.
Of course, other US allies have taken note of this situation, particularly Saudi Arabia has taken steps to ensure its own continuity, not depending on the unreliable US.  They have increased support for the insurgents in Syria and have cut ties with Qatar that has been bankrolling the MB and other Islamist extremist groups.  In essence the game has changed from a clash between the pro-Iranian and pro-American blocks to a clash between the Sunni and Shia blocks.  In the Shia block there is of course Iran, Hizbollah and Assad as before, but now there is also Pres. al-Maliki of Iraq.  But in effect, Iraq has ceased to exist, not very long after the US withdrew.  Maliki, head of a Shia regime, is now an ally of Iran, and the country is split into three regions, the Kurds in the north, the Shia in the south and the Sunni in the west.  Anbar province has reverted to Sunni Islamist control, essentially an al Qaeda-controlled region, just what the US fought futiley against.  Also, Lebanon has been drawn ever closer into the Syria conflict, so that now it is almost impossible to talk of the sovereign states of Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, but rather of a large region of the Arab world stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to the Iranian border that is engulfed in the Shia-Sunni conflict.
Where is Israel in all of this?  Israel is like the eye of the storm, not directly involved but sitting ready for any eventuality.  One may ask, why at this particular juncture did the US under Obama decide to take the initiative to re-start the so-called peace-process?  There is no rational answer to this question, except perhaps they had no other idea what to do in the Middle East.  Certainly there was no indicator of any kind to presage success, and in fact there has been abject failure. If Secty Kerry criticizes Israel for requiring the Palestinians to acknowlege that Israel is the Jewish State, and then claimed that they had already done so, why is it that at the current Arab League meeting in Kuwait the Arab world resoundingly rejected this possibility.  So the Palestinian problem turns out to be a very marginal problem in the current maelstrom of the Middle East, not worthy of so much US commitment.
Israel seems to be holding its own.  We cannot be sure what will happen regarding Iran's nuclear weapons program, but meanwhile the West is engaging Iran in talks and Israel is watching very closely to see if Iran achieves breakout potential.  The Sunni Arab States are also watching as closely and a very loose alliance is being forged between Israel and the Saudi-led Sunni States.  This is along the lines that the enemy of my enemy is my friend.  Saudi Arabia may take the lead in bashing Israel in the Arab League and the UN, but on the ground they fear much more the Shia Iranian-led forces than they fear Israel.  Also, the IDF has effectively silenced the military capability of Hizbollah and Hamas.  They know what it feels like to provoke Israel into a major reaction and they are very wary of that.  So Israel must sit tight until the dust on the other side of the border settles, and that may not be for a very long time.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Prisoner release?

Apparently the whole of the Middle East peace process hinges on whether or not the Israeli Government releases 38 prisoners, the fourth group agreed to by PM Netanyahu under US pressure in order to get the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.  But, that agreement was 9 months ago.  At the end of next month the Palestinians have threatened not only to leave the talks after receiving the prisoners, but also to revert to their plan to unilaterally seek membership as a State in the UN.  Also, Netanyahu made recognition by the Palestinians of Israel as the Jewish State a requirement for any peace agreement, and the PA.  Pres Abbas not only rejected this, but he got the whole Arab League meeting in Kuwait to reject it too.  So much for US Secty Kerry's declaration that the Palestinians had already recognized Israel as a Jewish State, he'll apparently say anything to rescue his losing initiative.
The Israeli public and apparently the Security Cabinet too can see no point in releasing these terrorists when Israel will receive nothing in return.  So the release is on hold.  Meanwhile the Palestinians are mad and Kerry is racing around the world (from Rome to Amman) in order to try to entice Abbas to continue sitting uselessly in the same room as the Israelis.  Another farce brought to you by that famous troupe, the Obama Administration.  It was rumored that the US might release Pollard to sweeten the deal for Israel, but then this was vehemently denied by the State Dept. spokesman.

What particularly annoys Israelis is that the Palestinians insist that Israel relase 12 Israeli Arabs who were convicted of security/terrorism charges in that group.  It would establish a precedent if the PA were allowed to assume authority over these Arabs who in fact are Israeli citizens.  As a result of the controversy, PM Netanyahu would be relieved not to have to release this group of Israeli Arabs.  No one doubts that given a choice the vast majority of the ca. 1 million Israeli Arabs would choose to remain Israeli citizens rather than join a putative Palestinian State.  They know they are safer in Israel, but in a Palestinian State there will be violence, exploitation and chaos.  But there are always a few Israeli Arabs who have been radicalized by nationalism or Islamism.  But, for now Israel will not release them.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Tony and Maria

We happened to watch West Side Story over Purim and it is still in my mind.  The music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim are wonderful, brilliant and memorable.  That West Side Story is based on Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" is clear.  But, there is one subtle difference between them.  In Shakespeare's version Juliet dies, while in Bernstein's version she lives and survives Tony's death.  Why did they do this? 

The easiest explanation is that they needed a credible figure to argue for brotherhood and mutual understanding after the carnage of the clashes between the Puerto Rican Sharks and the white American Jets.  This is the main difference between the two versions.  Whereas in Shakespeare the feuding families of Montagues and Capulets are supposedly reconciled by the deaths of the "star-crossed lovers", in West SIde Story, the adaptation is that of liberal Jewish Americans who see reconciliation of the distinct ethnic groups of New York City as the entry into the melting pot, the American dream, in other words, "I like America."

The original concept for West Side Story was that there would be a Jewish and Irish theme (entitled East Side Story), but this was too close to home for those involved and it was changed after five years to Puerto Rican and Polish-American gangs.  This gave the mainly Jewish authors a certain amount of distance whereby they could express their desire for social engineering.  The libretto was written by Arthur Laurents (born Levine) and with the choreography by Jerome Robbins, the quartet of Jewish Americans, Bernstein, Sondheim, Laurents and Robbins, could express their liberal views of resolution of ethnic conflicts through reconciliation, after all killing each other doesn't make rational sense and its not the Jewish way.

Yet, this is the way the world tends to work, allegiance to family, tribe and ethnic group trumps all other ideologies. Witness the clamor for Crimea to rejoin Russia, the Scottish move for independence, the Palestinian desire to destroy Israel, and so on and so on.  Better to live in the world as it is rather than live in a fantasy universe, it may be more prosaic but it is more realistic.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Citizenship claims

The Spanish and Portuguese Parliaments have passed new laws to extend citizenship to Jews who can prove that their ancestors were resident in those countries at any time.  I thought I would compile a list of countries around the world that we could legitimately apply to for citizenship under the same conditions, that our Jewish ancestors formerly lived there.  Of course, in each country our ancestors left because they were in danger of being killed because they were Jews.   Either that or they were forced to convert to Christianity and then be killed.

So let's start out with Spain, where my mother's ancestors came from, they were Sephardic Jews. In 1492 those Jews who would not willingly convert to Christianity were expelled from Spain and all their goods were confiscated and shared between the Church and the Crown, those that were not stolen by their neighbors.  Most of the Jews who settled later in Holland, where my ancestors lived for 300 years, came via Portugal, and when they were expelled from there between 1498 - 1505 they moved via Bordeaux, France, to Holland.  So I could claim Spanish, Portuguese, French and Dutch citizenships.  My father came from Zhitomir in the Ukraine, that was then part of Russia, where his father was a vintner and his family was forced to flee around 1904 when he was a baby, and they arrived in London via Danzig, that was then Prussian territory.   So  I could claim Ukrainian and/or Russian citizenship.

My wife's family came from Poland, her mother from Radom, and they came via Holland where they lived for some time before moving to England, so she could claim Polish and Dutch citizenship.  Of course, we both have British citizenship, having been born there and we both have US and Israeli citizenship.  So adding them all up, between us, we could claim Spanish, Portuguese, French, Dutch, Russian, Ukrainian, Polish, British, American and finally Israeli, that's ten.  Talk about wandering Jews.  But, to tell the truth I don't want the citizenship of any country that treated my ancestors, my grandparents and parents in such a disgusting way.  I am happy to retain only Israeli citizenship, the buck stops here.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Arab League meeting

The Arab League of 22 countries are meeting In Kuwait to discuss the state of affairs in the Arab world and especially to focus on Syria. Here is a review of the current situation they must face.
  • In Syria the civil war that started over three years ago and has caused 140,000 deaths as well as 5 million refugees is continuing. Remember when we thought that Syrian Pres. Hafez Assad was a ruthless dictator for having killed 30,000 people in the city of Homs and his son Bashar Assad was a wimp, who might even carry out reforms. Well that was well before the carnage in Syria really got going.
  • Saudi Arabia and Bahrain cut diplomatic ties with Qatar for not supporting the opposition in Syria and for not providing arms and funding to the insurgency.
  • In Egypt the military government of Pres. Al-Sisi has condemned 539 members of the extremist Islamist organization Muslim Brotherhood to death, for causing the deaths of Egyptian policemen during recent riots. There is widespread rioting and killings.
  • In Iraq there are still ca. 30 people being killed a day by bomb blasts and shootings as a result of sectarian violence between Shia and Sunni that is rapidly bringing the country to civil war.
  • Lebanon is poised on the cusp of another civil war between Shia, Sunni and Christians, being drawn into the Syrian maelstrom since Hizbollah is fighting for Assad in Syria..
  • In Gaza the ruling Hamas Islamist clique is suffering because Egypt has closed all the tunnels under the Egyptian border and Israel has closed the land crossings since they keep firing missiles into Israeli populated areas. Now they have electricity cuts for 12 hrs each day, yet they still afford to import and build missiles.
  • In the West Bank, that is supposed to become the nucleus of a Palestinian State, Pres. Abbas has arranged celebrations to welcome the terrorist prisoners released by Israel and is paying them large salaries paid for by EU and US taxpayers. He also wants to retire since his actual term in office lapsed in 2006, but there have been no elections since then and there is no mechanism for a succession.
In their first declaration, the Arab League gave their support to Pres. Abbas for not agreeing to recognize Israel as the Jewish State and for deciding to discontinue negotiations (if you can call them that) unless PM Netanyahu implements another building freeze on the West Bank. But, surely that should be a subject of negotiation, not a precondition to talks. The Arab League once again proposes their 2002 "Peace Plan" that basically is the Arab position, that they know that Israel can never accept. Back to square one. They like to have the Palestine problem because it gives an appearance of unity, while they are greatly divided over all other issues, including Syria.

Over all this looms the white elephant, Iran and its Shia faith, that has split the Arab world again as it has for centuries, with Iraq and Syria aligned to Iran and Saudi Arabia leading the Sunni States of Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf States, with Qatar treading a middle path. Although the Arabs put on a good show, their meetings are usually just that, a show with very little substance.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Three noes again

In his meeting with Pres. Obama last week Pres. Abbas of the PA expressed the classic Palestinian Arab rejectionist policy, namely the three noes, no to recognition of Israel as the Jewish State, no to giving up the right of return of Palestinian refugees (supposedly all 5 million of them) and no to an end of conflict agreement. This is so reminiscent of the three noes promulgated by the Arab League meeting in Khartoum in its response to the amazing victory of Israel in the Six-Day War of 1967, no to negotiating with Israel, no to any agreement with Israel and no to any recognition of Israel. Not much has changed in 47 years.

What is amazing about this is that the US with all its intelligence capabilities could not have predicted this before the current negotiations got underway 8 months ago, when most casual observers could have told them so. If any Palestinian leader accepts a final end of conflict, he would be rejecting over 50 years of Palestinian history. Even in abject defeat they cannot and will not give up their fantasy of ultimately defeating Israel. Its like knocking their heads against a brick wall and ultimately expecting the wall to collapse. If they did recognize Israel as the Jewish State they would be in effect giving up their claim to all of Palestine and accepting an end to the conflict and they cannot do that. Meanwhile we await to see if even a Framework for future negotiations can be produced by Secty Kerry after all his work and focus on this problem.

Given the anticipated end of the negotiations in one month after the 9 month agreed period is up, the question is should Israel continue to release Palestinian prisoners. A fourth group of 28 prisoners were due to be released in order to keep the PA at the table. But, if they are not going to continue to talk why then release the prisoners. It has been suggested that to persuade PM Netnayahu to continue with the release the US needs to do something extra, and it has been suggested that this gestrue should be the release of Jay Pollard after 28 years in prison. Not only is this a miscarriage of justice, but it shows a deep strain of anti-Semitism within the US establishment, that does not want to see Pollard released. Even though some balk at equating Pollard with Palestinain terrorists, it would be worthwhile to have him released at almost any price, just as the State did for Schalit. So even "no" may have some positive consequences.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Choosing sides in Ukraine

Just as the Crimea has chosen to side with Russia, so western Ukraine under its new interim government in Kiev has sided with the EU. As you may remember this whole crisis erupted months ago when the elected Pres. Yanukovich of Ukraine, a pro-Russian Ukrainian, decided to abort the signing of a treaty between Ukraine and the EU that had been initiated by his predecessor Pres. Timoshenko, whom he had imprisoned, and instead he flew to Moscow to do a deal with Pres. Putin. It was clear that Putin was totally opposed to any deal between Ukraine and the EU, and wanted the Ukraine to remain within the Russian sphere of influence. Accordingly he offered Yanukovich a loan of billions of dollars to help support the ailing Ukrainian economy in place of the deal with the EU. This maneuver was anathema to most western-oriented Ukrainians who wanted to get out from under the Russians, and so a series of demonstrations started in Kiev and elsewhre that led after many months to the overthrow of Yanukovich, who fled Kiev and is now believed to be in Russia.

However, surprisingly Putin did not try to replace his puppet Yanukovich by force in Kiev, but instead he instigated a pro-Russian uprising in the Crimea, a part of sovereign Ukrainian territory that had been originally Russian, until in 1954 USSR Premier Khruschev (some say in a drunken haze) signed the Crimea over to Ukraine. This was a big mistake since the Russian Black Sea fleet had its headquarters at Simferopol in the Crimea. There followed years of haggling between Ukraine and Russia over who would control the fleet docked at Simferopol, until an agrement was arrived at that divided the fleet 2:1 in favor of Russia. However, that and all other treaties between the two States have now become defunct since the people in a referendum and the Parliament in Crimea voted to leave Ukraine and join the Russian Federation. A delegation was sent to Moscow where the Duma also voted for the inclusion of the Crmea into the Russian Federation and then Pres. Putin in a historic ceremony signed the papers that made Crima part of the Russian Federation. Now the question is, when will the rouble become the official currency in Crimea, will Russia continue to pay pensions and salaries that were previously paid by the Ukraine, and what will happen to the Ukrainian soldiers, sailors and the Ukrainian fleet still docked at Simferopol.

Meanwhile the interim Pres. Yatsenyuk of Ukraine lost no time in first visiting the White House to meet with Pres. Obama and then to meet with the EU leaders and sign an accord with them, which is about the same as the original one that Yanukovich balked at. Now Ukraine (without Crimea) can consider itself a European nation and will receive support and financial assistance from the US and the EU. So the counter-signing has been done and the sides have been chosen. The big question is whether Putin's appetite for Russian expansion has been appeased or whether the signing by Pres. Yatsenyuk is like a red rag to a bull and it will provoke Putin to instigate violence in eastern Ukraine, that is already starting, in order to cause Ukraine to be further divided and then Russia will eat up the eastern half, leaving a much smaller pro-Western Ukraine. Would the US and EU intervene, not likely, they will merely turn the economic screws tighter on Russia. Will there be another Cold War? Probably. But where will it end, only time can tell.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Israel's Palestine problem

However much the US tries to appear neutral in their dealings with both sides in the Palestinian-Israeli dispute, after all is said and done they come out supporting the Palestinians, notwithstanding the fact that Israel always makes the concessions, such as prisoner releases, without reciprocation. Case in point, US Secty of State Kerry stated that Israel should not insist on the need for the Palestinians to recognize it as a Jewish State. His reasons are that the League of Nations agreed to the Britsh Mandate in 1922 in order for the British to establish a Jewish Homeland in Palestine, but wait a minute, that doesn't mean that the Arabs or the Palestinians accepted that. The same goes for the UN resolutions, they may mention that Israel is the Jewish State, but the Arabs rejected the UN Partition Plan in 1948. Then Kerry said that Arafat recognized Israel as a Jewish State, but not so. Arafat agreed to recognize Israel and had the Palestine National Council accept it by acclaim, but no vote was taken and so there was a question about the legitimacy of this maneuver and anyway there was no mention of Israel being the Jewish State. So why is Kerry spouting Palestinian propaganda, the answer can only be that the US under Pres. Obama basically supports the Palestinians in their bid for a State despite all Israeli conditions.

Kerry is right that Britain was given the Mandate to establish a Jewish Homeland in Palestine, but there was no provision in the Mandate for the establishment of an Arab State in Palestine. Nevertheless, in 1922 Britain, in fact Winston Churchill (supposedly a Zionist supporter), unilaterally took more than half of the Mandate territory and illegally established an Arab State in it, namely Transjordan (now Jordan). The reason Britain did this was to satisfy their commitments to the Hashemite clan of Arabia (before Saudi Arabia was established in 1932). Why should Jewish sovereign rights in Palestine be lost because of the colonial needs of the British? The irony of British PM Cameron speaking to the Knesset in Jerusalem and stating that Israel is a friendly democracy and giving us advice on how to resolve our problems with the Palestinians (a "two-state solution") has not escaped our notice. It was Britain in pursuance of its own colonial interests that effectively precipitated the conflict between the Jews and the Arabs in Palestine, just as they did between the Hindus and Muslims in India/Pakistan in the same era.

While we are on the subject, I do not think that a further division of western Palestine between Israel and a putative Palestinian State will either work or is justifiable. Such a mini-State would be a non-viable terrorist enclave that would precipitate further violence. My solution, after the current peace talks fail, as they undoubtedly will, is that Israel should declare that the West Bank (Judea and Samaria), a portion of the original Mandate, is sovereign Israeli territory, in other words annex it. Then the Arabs living there should be given a choice, either accept Israeli citizenship and sign a pledge of allegiance to Israel (there is precedent for this), or be declared citizens of Jordan, the Arab State in Palestine. If they prefer they can be moved to Jordan, just as the Syrian refugees are being accepted there, or elsewhere in the Arab world. Remember that after the US War of Independence, British citizens who would not declare their allegiance to the USA were expelled to British Canada. Whether Jordan remains a Hashemite Kingdom, or succumbs to its Palestinian majority (ca. 70%) is an internal matter, not Israel's decision. Since Jordanian sovereignty has been in existence for over 90 years and since it is a recognized sovereign state, Israel should formally relinquish any claims to its territory. These steps might not solve Israel's "Palestine problem," but they might go a long way towards it.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Simple but elegant

Life throws up these problems. I have a studio where I have many paintings and so far I have used wooden crates taken off the street, to stand the paintings on. This keeps them off the floor and prevents damage especially due to flooding. But, recently termites were found in my studio and some of the crates supporting the paintings were infected (although the paintings themselves are fine). I had to throw the crates out. But I need to replace them with something, not wood, that I can stand paintings on. At first I thought of some kind of low plastic table, that I could cut or leave the legs off. Then I found plastic folding tables or laundry dryers, but they were quite expensive and a waste of money for what I needed. Looking around the stores I came across the ideal solution, CPU holders.

What are CPU holders? They are low plastic supports for the CPUs of computers that keep them off the floor so that when the cleaners clean the floor they don't get water into the computer CPU. They have tiny wheels that clip in, but I saw that they could be used upside down without the wheels. They are about 2 inches high with little stubby legs with rubber non-slide contacts with the floor (into which the CPU would usually fit) and they open up into a rectangular cross. Two of them are perfect for supporting paintings. They also leave plenty of space for air flow and for cleaning under them, far better than the crates, and they cost less than $10 each. A simple but elegant solution to a trivial but unavoidable problem.

My studio has had the termite treatment of the boring of holes through the floor tiles around the walls every foot or so followed by poison being pumped in. Then I went around and injected silicone to seal the holes (back-breaking). Now I have had the floors washed and then I put all the furniture and paintings back. I have a bookcase that was infected by termites at the bottom and it was damaged by several floods. I took everything out of it, took off the infected bottom piece and then sawed off the bottom sides, which took only a few minutes (its all chipboard) and then turned it upside down. Then I attached four stubby legs and put everything back. Noone could tell there had been a problem with it. Apart from taking care of the door frames that were infected by the termites everything is back in order. It was an unfortunate and expensive experience.

Thursday, March 20, 2014


Amazing coincidences are of course rare. Consider this, I last saw a man named Lionel Holland around 1977, when we were living in Israel when I was on sabbatical at the Weizmann Inst. in Rehovot. I had met him first in 1963 when we were on our first visit to Israel from the UK and we went and stayed with him and his wife Zena in Hadera. I was very impressed by Lionel, as a student he had become interested in the kibbutz lifestyle and joined a garin or group that was making aliyah. There he met Zena, and also my cousin who was part of the garin and who also met her husband there. I remember attending their wedding at a training farm near Portsmouth in England before they actually moved to Israel, that was a memorable experience for me as a young kid. They eventually lived on kibbutz Amiad in the Galilee. Lionel was 10 years older than me and I was impressed by his breadth of knowledge and his commitment to living in Israel, although by then he and Zena had left the kibbutz and he was working at the Hadera paper factory. We saw them again when we went back to live in Israel in 1965 and 1977, then we lost touch.

About 10 years ago we were at a party at my friend's home in Los Angeles and his daughter's in-laws were visiting. I was chatting with her father-in-law and he mentioned that he had just returned from Israel and that he was a coin collector and had bought some Roman coins in Haifa from an Englishman named Lionel Holland. I was sure it was the same man and I decided to contact him when we returned to Israel, where we now lived in Netanya. But, somehow I never got around to it.

Last week my son returned to California after visiting for the wedding of my oldest grandson. On his last day I looked for a place to take him where he had never been before, since he has visited many times, and I came up with the British detention camp at Atlit. This is the site where thousands of "illegal" Jewish immigrants were interned by the British when they still controlled Palestine. On the way there, up the coast about a half hour's drive north, we passed Hadera, and I momentarily thought of Lionel Holland and wondered what had happened to him. The following night I had a cold and I woke up in the middle of the night. While I was sitting at the computer I googled "Lionel Holland coins" and got a hit. I obtained Lionel's e-mail address and wrote to him and the following day, after 37 years, I received a reply from Lionel Holland. What an amazing coincidence. He is alive and well and still living in Hadera and we will meet soon.

That's not the only renewed contact, I also received an e-mail from a former colleague at NIH, Richard Feldmann, whom I had not seen for at least 25 years. He happened to sit behind another former colleague at a concert in Rockville MD and they got talking and my name came up. So when he got home he googled "Jack Cohen Israel" and found my e-mail address and wrote me a very nice letter. We published a paper together on protein molecular modeling by computer in Nature way back in 1973 (over 40 years ago!). So the computer, or more correctly cyber-space, turns out to be a wonderful medium for re-establishing old contacts. As we get older we become nostalgic for the past and wonder what happened to those we were friends with for a time and then lost contact with.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014


The rain in Ukraine falls mainly on the plain
(on the plain, on the plain)
And where's that blasted plain?
in Ukraine, in Ukraine

The crime in Crimea is mainly due to Putin
(Putin, Putin)
And where's that blasted Putin?
In the Kremlin, in the Kremlin
(with apologies to "My fair lady")

The latest step in the saga of the Ukraine is the declaration of independence by the Crimea from Ukraine by its Russian-dominated Parliament. In the referendum that was engineered by pro-Russian elements they claim over 96% voted for cessation from Ukraine and re-joining Russia. In the Parliament only 85% of deputies voted to rejoin Russia and a delegation was sent to Moscow to request to join the Russian Federation. Ukraine and the West haven't a hope of deterring Putin from his current course of expanding Russia. Ukraine's Parliament in Kiev voted to support the interim President of Ukraine in calling up an expanded Ukraine defence force of ca. 40,000 men. This will not deter Putin, neither will the sanctions being voted on in the EU and in the US and being implemented by Pres. Obama. Putin knows noone is going to go to war over the Crimea.

As far as the Russians are concerned they have popular support in the Crimea, even though it is a breach of international law to effectively invade a sovereign country. The extension of Russian law and currency to the Crimea is another step towards annexation. The last time this kind of thing was done was when Hitler ordered the German Army to invade Czechoslovakia in order to protect the Sudenten Germans, which precipitated WWII. Today Putin signed the document in the Kremlin in Moscoiw admitting the Republic of Crimea to the Russian Federation.

But, there are already clashes taking place in eastern Ukraine between pro-Russian elements and pro-Ukrainian forces. A pro-Russian mob invaded the City Hall in Rostov and declared that they also want to join the Russian Federation and similarly in Donets. In this region, although it has a majority of Russian speaking ethnics, there are still a large number of Ukrainians, and the split will not be so easy as in Crimea. There will be fighting between the two sideas and both the Ukrainian Army and the Russian forces both inside and outside Ukraine are poised. A war over the Ukraine will have terribly serious consequences, with a split between eastern and western Ukraine most likely. How far Putin is prepared to go to re-expand the Russian Empire is as yet unclear, he is cautious, seeking electoral justification, but so did Hitler. Perhaps after Ukraine he has his eyes set on the Baltic States and the Central Asian "stans." Let's hope we are not seeing the start of WWIII.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Nightmare scenario

The mystery of the vanished Malaysian airlines plane continues to fascinate. Where did it go? Did it crash? Was it taken by aliens?

The fact that there is no trace of it crashing into the sea (at least none found yet) nor any Mayday or alarm call from the pilots, nor any trace from electronic signals, is very puzzling. It appears that only someone trained in aeronautics could turn off the transponder (designed specifically to trace a plane) and all other transmitting sources means that either there was a catastrophic explosion (which would generate lots of debris and therefore unlikely) or that the airplane was hijacked by experts. The fact that there were two Iranians on board, who have been identified by their passports flying into Kuala Lumpur, but who boarded the plane using stolen European passports, might indicate foul play and a terrorist hijacking.

Another nighmarish possibility is as follows, suppose the plane has been flown to a remote and untraceable airport or one in a country that is cooperative with terrorists (Iran, Sudan, Yemen?). Then suppose the plane will subsequently be piloted by suicide pilots, much as they did in the 9/11 Twin Towers incident, to be crashed into a politically sensitive location. I would suggest that crashing a plane into Ben Gurion airport or into the Knesset in Jerusalem might be such a target. Of course, you could say why not use their own planes, why need to hijack one, but that would avoid direct attribution and subsequent reaction. We still don't have a country to blame for the 9/11 hijackings, even though the majority of the hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. What about the 239 people on board. The hijackers don't care, they will kill as many as they need to. They would even use them as hostages if they are approaching an airport and claim they are trying to land. Then if Israel shoots down the plane they will blame Israel for the loss of life.

One argument against this scenario is that the airplane needs to be refueled, and unless they have the cooperation of a country it is hard to imagine this being done without someone knowing about it or detecting it. Also, the majority of the passengers on board are Chinese, and who in their right mind would want to pick a fight with China. OK, but if this scenario is wrong, and I hope the Israeli air controllers are alert, where then is the plane? It could not have sunk into the ocean in one piece without leaving a trace.

Note: This was written before the Malaysian PM announced on Sat that they had changed their evaluation and now thought it was deliberately diverted or hijacked.

Friday, March 14, 2014

David Cameron visiting Israel

David Cameron is visiting Israel for the first time as British PM and he gave a speech to the Knesset. He was well received and there were no negative reactions to his statements. Unlike the American and other European equivalents, Cameron has put a positive spin on his support for a two-state solution. Instead of threatening Israel with boycotts etc. if it doesn't go along with the American positions, Cameron emphasized the positive results for Israel and the Palestinians that could be expected from a two-state peace agreement. Cameron was accompanied by a group of British businessmen and stressed the expanding edconomic and academic ties between the UK and Israel, and he stated that the British Government would never accept any kind of boycott of Israel. Today Cameron is visiting Ramallah to meet with PA Pres Abbas.

As far as Israel is concerned there can hardly be a better diplomat than Cameron, he did not put a step wrong and came across as a highly sympathetic supporter and friend of Israel, on a par with Canadian Premier Harper. The only statement that Israelis could disagree with was Cameron's declaration that further building of settlements in the West Bank might prevent the establishment of a Palestinian State. But, as Netanyahu responded, it's not the settlements that prevent peace but the Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel and make peace that leads to the building of more settlements.

The fact that Cameron's visit coincided last night with a barrage of 60 missiles fired into southern Israel from Ashkelon to Rehovot, putting over 1 million Israelis in danger, was a graphic reminder, if any were needed, of Israel's predicament. While one set of Palestinians supposedly talks peace, while demanding concessions, another group keeps firing missiles into populated areas trying to kill Israeli civilians, although luckily noone was killed. The IDF hit back, 3 Islamic Jihad rocket launchers were killed when caught in the act by Israeli tanks and there were many IAFstrikes on targets throughout the Gaza strip. After 24 hrs the Egyptians mediated a ceasefire.

Cameron's visit happened to coincide with several domestic issues being debated by the Knesset and there was a walkout by the haredi religious parties and the Labor opposition before his speech. He handled the situation with aplomb. Netanyahu joked that although Israel is a democracy we haven't yet absorbed the British Parliament's sense of decorum. However, if he has ever watched Commons debates he would know that there is a lot less decorum there than expected.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Legislative activity

Three important bills currently being debated in the Knesset represent the Government coalition's main legislative thrust and when passed will significantly affect Israel domestically. The three Bills are those on the threshold of parties to be represented in the Knesset, haredi enlistment in the IDF and a referendum of the Israeli public for any agreement with the Palestinians especially to approve any transfer of sovereign Israeli territory.

The first of these has already passed the Knesset by a wide margin and requires that the threshold for a party to be given representation in the Knesset rises from 2% to 3.25%. The final number agreed is a compromise between those who wanted it to rise to 3% and those to 4%. What will happen as a result of this law is that some small parties that have been active in Israeli politics and have had greater influence than their numbers would merit will no longer be able to enter the Knesset. These include small religious parties, the far left parties (such as Meretz) and the Arab parties. Although some predict this will be a net loss for the Arabs, this may not be the the case, since in the current Knesset there are three Arab parties with 12 total MKs, including the communists, but if they united then they might have up to 15 MKs. So the future effects on Israeli politics are as yet uncertain.

The second bill on haredi enlistment in the IDF is perhaps the most important of the three and it has been a major issue of debate in Israel for the past few months. Last week there was a huge gathering of haredi men at the entrance of Jerusalem for a prayer meeting, rather than a demonstration, that brought Jerusalem to a stand-still. Yet the fact that there was no violence and little political rhetoric was interpreted to mean that the haredi parties, although they oppose treating haredim and yeshiva students like the rest of the population, nevertheless have recognized that the compromise arrived at in the Knesset is probably the best they can expect. For the time being, while all 18 year old must register for the draft, yeshiva students will be deferred for up to three years. But, if they don't register they will be subject to financial losses that includes reduction of Government payments to them personally and to their Yeshiva. As yet no criminal charges are being levelled against the haredim. The Bill passed even though the religious parties and the Labor opposition boycotted it. Only one coalition MK voted against the Bill.

The referendum law will require specific public support for any major concessions to the Palestinians in any possible peace agreement. Although no such agreement seems to be currently in the offing, the right wing wanted this referendum law in place in case of any future territorial concessions that they oppose. PM Netanyahu has accepted the need for such a law, not only to satisfy his right wing, but also to ensure that the Israeli public is behind any potential agreement, thus avoiding future internal conflict. The passing of these three laws is a success for PM Netanyahu in not only holding his coalition together, but also in achieving real change in domestic Israeli politics.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Mistreatment of the Palestinians

The poor Palestinians, the Israelis are starving them and also expelling them...well, actually not, its the Syrians who are starving them, preventing all food supplies from entering the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp near Damascus, and its the Egyptians who are expelling them, about 1,300 Palestinians are being expelled from Egypt for participating in anti-Egyptian activities, in other words supporting Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. Now if Israel were really doing this to them it would make major news headlines around the world, but since its only other Arabs, who cares what happens to the Palestinians.

This selective concern for only those who are supposedly the victims of Jewish mistreatment is a clear example of anti-Semitism. Let me know if you see or hear of any protests against Syrian or Egyptian mistreatment of Palestinians near you. I can safely predict there won't be any. On the other hand, the ubiquitous pro-Palestinian groups will be demonstrating at a campus or supermarket near you, pushing their baseless BDS campaign and claiming that Israel is some kind of "apartheid" state. Only infantile minds with no serious grasp of reality could believe such crap.

At the same time, Israel has intercepted another arms shipment, 40 long range missiles on a cargo ship being transported from Iran to Sudan for trans-shipment to Gaza. What were the poor, starving and oppressed Palestinians intending to do with these rockets there, eat them? Feed them to their starving kids? No, shoot them at Israel in order to kill Jews.

In another context, the two passengers using stolen passports who boarded Malaysian Airlines flight 370 to Beijing that has disappeared and is thought to have crashed in the sea as a result of a probable hijacking, are now known to have been Iranian. It may be premature to speculate, but since Iran is busily exporting terrorism around the world, this is likely another example of their contributions to civilization. Nowhere is safe from Iranian missiles and terrorists.

In another incident, a Jordanian judge was shot dead at the Allenby Bridge crossing between Israel and Jordan by Israeli border guards. Appartently in a fit of Islamic fervor he shouted "Allahu akhbar" and charged the guards and tried to wrest a gun from one of them, he was warned and shot and then when he persisted he was shot again. Israel has apologized to Jordan for this incident, although a preliminary investigation shows that the border guards acted properly. A joint Israeli-Jordanian team will investigate the incident.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Jewishness of the descendants of the Anusim

There was a conference on Sunday at Netanya Academic College (NAC) entitled: "Different Perspectives of Jewish Law, The Jewish people and the State of Israel towards the Secret Jews (Anusim)." This is an important area of concern when out of the millions of descendents of the forced Jewish converts to Christianity (conversos) scattered around the world there are potentially thousands who wish to return to Judaism and to the Jewish people. The conference was divided into two sessions, I. "The Descendents of the Marranos in Jewish Law," and 2. "The Attitude of the State of Israel and the Jewish People towards the Descendents of the Marranos." This is my personal summary of the conference.

The President of NAC Prof. Zvi Arad gave welcoming remarks and presented an award to the Sabah Foundation that is providing funding to the NAC to continue its work in this area. Sen. VP of NAC Prof. David Altman introduced the subject to the audience.

In the first Session, Chaired by Prof. Zvi Gilat of NAC, the speakers tended to give their opinion about the Jewishness of the descendents of the conversos (or Marranos) in anecdotal format. Thus, Prof. Michael Corinaldi who is Chairman of the International Inst. for the Study of Secret Jews (Anusim) (IISSJ) at NAC stated categorically that the decendents of the conversos are indeed part of the Jewish people. Rabbi Eliahu Touitou, who has worked in S. America, Portugal and Spain in the field of descendents of Anusim, also endorsed this viewpoint and emphasized the large numbers of potential converts or returnees to Judaism who have been turned away by the mainline Jewish authorities. Rabbi MK Dov Lipman of the Yesh Atid party, and a member of the Knesset Comm. for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs, spoke in terms of eventual "redemption" of some of those who are descendents of the Anusim.

Rabbi Moshe Pinchuk, who is the Head of the Jewish Heritage Center at NAC, was the only speaker who gave an academic and analytical approach to the problem. He emphasized that the classical and clear-cut interpretation is that someone who is born of a Jewish mother is by definition "Jewish." But, the problem arises when there are people who have Jewish fathers or grandparents, known as "the seed of the Jews" in rabbinical discourse. He stated that in the original Law of Return adopted by the Knesset in 1949 the prior definition was used, but it was quickly modified in practice in 1952 to include persons with Jewish fathers and grandparents, partly because this was the racial definition used by the Nazis in Germany to characterize and murder Jews. In other words a purely religious definition was inadequate for the State of Israel that needed an ethnic or national definition. Some rabbinical authorities support this approach and others reject it.

In the second Session, Shai Hermesh spoke for the World Zionist Congress and supported the view that more or less all descendents of Anusim were potentially Jewish, while Abraham Duvdevani of the World Zonist Organization spoke in more practical terms and from his personal experience pointed out the difficulties that shlichim on the ground have in determining whether or not after 500 years someone is legimitately Jewish because they have some residual Jewish practices and claim to be Jewish. He concluded that ultimately the secular state authorities must depend on the rabbinical authorities to classify for them who indeed is, or is not, a Jew.

The Session ended with two personal statements, the first by Cecilia Mendes, a Portuguese attorney practising law in Lisbon, who discovered in her teens that she was descended on her maternal side from "Chuetas" from Palma, Majorca. Her grandmother had left the island, that was previously forbidden to Chuetas, and married and lived in Seville. Subsequently her mother married and moved to Lisbon. In her research on her maternal descendents she discovered that the Chuetas, descendents of conversos in Majorca, were cruelly treated by the Christian authorities. They were not only forbidden to leave the island, but were restricted to certain crafts and locations. Fifteen families were required to take ":Christian" names and these were carefully recorded for posterity, so that there was NO intermarriage or social interaction between Chuetas and :"old Christians" in Majorca. Thus, after taking conversion classes in Judaism, Ms. Mendes was able to present her evidence of Jewish matrilineal descent to the Rabbinate in Jerusalem and was accepted as Jewish without the need for conversion. She ended by pointing out that she was a consultant for the drafting of the new law recently adopted by the Portuguese Parliament that extends Portuguese citizenship to any Sephardic Jews who can prove that their antecedents lived at any time in Portugal.

The Conference ended with a statement by Mrs. Gloria Mound, Executive Director of Casa Shalom and Sen. Advisor to the IISSJ, who pointed out in summary that although the issue of the rights of the descendents of Anusim has been raised numerous times with the relevant authorities, including the Ministry of Immigration and Absorption, the Jewish Agency and personally with Rabbi Lipman, as far as she could determine, apart from a lot of lip service, nothing has actually been done to facilitate the return of the descendents of the Anusim to the Jewish people and to Israel.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Klos-C missiles

The Panamanian cargo vessel Klos-C that was intercepted in the Red Sea 1,500 km from Israel, steamed into Eilat harbor Saturday under Israel military naval escort. Its cargo was unloaded and exhibited for the world to see, if it cares to. The cargo from Bandar Abbas in Iran to Port Sudan destined for Gaza, was loaded with cement from Iraq, but secreted within the crates were 40 long-range missiles, 180 mortar shells and hundreds of thousands of bullets. With the missiles Hamas could have targeted anywhere within Israel, including Netanya where I am sitting writing this. It is not exaggerating to say that if this shipment had reached Gaza it could have triggered a war if they had blanketed Israel with these missilies and killed hundreds of Israelis. Thanks to the excellent intelligence of Israel and our security forces this war was avoided.

There is no doubt that this is part of Iran's plan to bring the war to Israel, since they have also tried to transfer such missiles to Hizbollah in Lebanon. But twice the IAF has attacked and destroyed convoys of trucks taking missiles from Syria into Lebanon. Although Sheikh Nasrallah threatened to retaliate for these attacks he has refrained from doing so, mainly because he is busy with Hizbollah fighting in Syria to support the Assad regime. No doubt it irks the powers that be in Iran that while the Muslim world is convulsed by war and violence, Israel is a peaceful island in their midst.

PM Netanyahu suggested at the Cabinet Meeting Sunday morning that EU Foreign Secretary Catherine Ashton might want to bring up the missile delivery with her hosts while she is visiting Tehran to discuss the Iranian nuclear program. Ashton looked suitably Muslim wearing a headscarf as she kowtowed to the Iranian government representatives. However, out of sensitivity for her hosts feelings she failed to raise the missile ship issue or anything else that might have caused them any concern. Iranian FM Zarif made clear that any agreement would have to conform to Iran's national interests.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Sovereignty of ethnic minorities

There is a difficult dilemma regarding regions of countries that have an ethnic majority that is not the same as that of the country as a whole. This issue comes into sharp focus now with the crisis in the Crimea, that is part of the sovereign state of Ukraine, but has an ethnically Russian majority (ca. 65%). This is not an uncommon situation around the world where countries developed from tribes that overlapped and fought each other for control of territory. The issue is, should state sovereignty or local self-determination take precedence?

Almost no country in the world is ethnically homogeneous. A good example of an ethnic dispute is Alsace-Lorraine, that region between France and Germany that was claimed by both countries. It was a major issue of WWI and was decided in France's favor when Germany was defeated. In that case the majority of the population, although ethnically German, preferred by a majority to stay as part of France. Other examples are the United Kingdom, in which the English conquered and annexed Wales, Scotland and Ireland. They were forced to give up most of Ireland to form the Republic of Eire and soon the Scots will vote on whether or not they want to remain in the UK or become independent. Other examples are the large Hungarian majority in the northern Transylvania region of Romania and Tibet that was annexed by China.

One example that proved very troublesome in history is the area of Schleswig-Holstein, between Denmark and Germany, where the people speak Danish and German. Since Germany was a large powerful country and Denmark was not, the outcome was predictable. In 1863 Germany used force to take Schleswig-Holstein, and then settled many German-speaking people there. After they had settled a majority, they held a plebiscite and of course the majority voted to remain part of Germany. This was one of the main reasons why the Geneva Convention forbids the settlement of the population of a conquering country in the territory of another sovereign state. The application of this treaty to the Israel-Palestine dispute is not valid because Palestine has never been a sovereign nation in the Israeli-occupied territories. In fact calling these "Palestinian" or "Arab" territories is a misnomer, they have never been under any recognized sovereignty except that of Turkey.

Another example that caused a lot of trouble was Trieste. It was part of Italy, but after WWII to punish Italy that had been allied to Germany, Trieste was officially added to the state of Yugoslavia. But the almost entirely Italian population rose up and fought to remain part of Italy and after some fighting the allies reversed themselves and in 1954 Trieste became Italian again (a very beautiful city that we visited once). Another example is Moldova, that is a Romanian-speaking region that was annexed by Russia. After the break-up of the USSR, Russia insisted that it not be reunited with Romania, so it became the independent state of Moldova.

So the question arises, should Russia be allowed to take-over the Crimea if the majority of its inhabitants vote "yes" in a referendum. The answer is "no", the principle of sovereignty of a state under international law must be inviolable. Otherwise Hungary could do the same to Romania, Germany could claim Alsace-Lorraine back, Denmark could claim Schleswig-Holstein, Slovenia could claim Trieste, Romania could annex Moldova and so on. There must be a stop to this presumption that because an ethnic minority is a majority in one area, that area is ripe for another country with the same ethnic majority to take it over.

However, that is not the way things will work out in this case. The Russians will take over the Crimea and annex it as a fait accompli. No one is going to go to war with Russia over the Crimea, least of all Ukraine, that is still split and in a state of chaos. Contrary to Putin's assertions, there are no fascists or terrorists taking over in Ukraine, but it certainly cannot be described as democratic at this stage. The West will invest billions of dollars to try to stablize its economy. The West will also try to "punish" Russia for this "adventure", but no effective punishments can deter Putin from gobbling up a pro-Russian entity on his own borders. How far his appetite for further acquisitions will take him remains to be seen.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Netanyahu in Washington again

PM Netanyahu has meet Pres. Obama in Washington again. Prior to his arrival, Pres. Obama gave an interview to journalist Jeffrey Goldberg in which he prepared the groundwork for specifically blaming Israel if the current so-called peace negotiations with the PA fail. As happens every time there are negotiations, the supposed neutral democratic western nations, including the US and the EU, issue what amount to threats against Israel. Either you stop the building of settlements or make concessions to the Palestinians or there will be violence or sanctions or boycotts of Israel. Goldberg himself characterized Obama's statements as "veiled threats" to Israel and noted the personal nature of the remarks about Netanyahu. Apparently both the State Department and Secty of State Kerry were upset by this premptive attack by Obama on Netanyahu before he arrived and the feeling is that it will reduce Israel's likelihood of trusting the US in any so-called Framework agreement that Kerry might come up with.

No such parallel threats are issued against the intransigence of the Palestinians. Nor is it ever mentioned that Pres. Abbas does not speak for all Palestinians, excluding those in Gaza controlled by Hamas as well as most of those on the West Bank. Nor that any agreement made with him is not worth the paper it is written on. What a farce. Yet this is what the most powerful men in the US are focussing on when there are major crises in Ukraine, Syria, Egypt, Venezuela, Thailand and elsewhere.

Netanyahu did a great job trying to refocus attention on to the Iranian nuclear issue, instead of the Palestinians. After all, what good would a two-state solution be if the Iranians do achieve a nuclear weapon. As Netanyahu pointed out in his speech to AIPAC, Iran needs highly enriched uranium only for a nuclear bomb, and they are developing inter-continental missiles not to attack Israel, they already have missiles to do that, but to attack Europe and the USA. How naieve can the West get? His position that only really tough sanctions can force Iran to suspend its nuclear program makes perfect sense. Letting up on the sanctions as Obama and the Europeans are doing shows weakness and is an invitation to Iran to continue on its nefarious path.

The news of the Israeli naval interception on the Red Sea of a major arms shipment, including many long range missiles, on a ship, the Klos-C, from Bandar Abbas in Iran to Port Sudan in Sudan more than 1,500 km from Israel, broke while Netanyahu was in the US and greatly enhanced his warnings about Iran. The fact that the missiles originated in Syria, were then flown to Iran and hidden in crates containing cement from Iraq, and were destined for Gaza, all supported Netanyahu's claim that Iran is a major supporter of terrorism and cannot be trusted. Although the face of Iran has been softened, by replacing Pres. Ahmedinejad with Rouhani, the regime and its aims remain the same.

Netanyahu then went on to California and signed an agreement with Gov. Jerry Brown for water conservation and development and then visited Silicon Valley, where he high-lighted the fact that Israel has the second largest concentration of hi-tech start-ups in the world, nicknamed Silicon Wadi. Altogether a positive end to an otherwise tenuous visit.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Putin lies

While lying in bed with a cold I happened to catch Russian Pres. Putin's press conference the other day on the crisis in Crimea. He lied directly to the press and the public. He claimed that the Russian soldiers who have taken over most of the military facilities in Crimea and who have no insignia on their uniforms are not Russians, but some spontaneous form of local militia units. Yes, they are pro-Russian, yes they have Russian army uniforms, transports and tanks, but no they are not Russian soldiers and they are not controlled by him, Pres. Putin. What a bald-faced lie! The last time I remember something like this happening was when Hitler sent the German Army into Czechoslovakia in 1939 and claimed they were only there to protect German civilians.

This is purely and simply a land-grab, and is an illegal act against the sovereign state of Ukraine. The West will have to act as they know that Russian forces are now in control of Crimea. The Ukrainian soldiers have been very careful to avoid shooting, because the Russians have far larger forces and could wipe them out. So a gentle diplomatic dance is now underway in Paris while the brown goons face off against all opposition.

Once Obama backed off from his red line on chemical weapons use in Syria and allowed Russia to come in and take the initiative, he lost credibility. Then again in Egypt, Pres. Carter lost Iran, but Obama will be remembered for losing Egypt. Now in the Ukraine Putin is testing Obama's resolve, and he knows pretty much that Obama will back off. They will say "what can America do?" with the largest and most effective military power in the world, for which Americans pay billions in taxes every year. Think of this, if Russia is able to take back eastern Ukraine, it can then continue to western Ukraine, and then to Khazakhstan and the Baltic States. This is appeasement. Putin is intent on expanding Russia's sphere of influence to the "near abroad," the former states of the Soviet Union. Once the process is started, if resolute action is not taken, then there will be nothing to stop him.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Crimean war

The Crimean peninsula juts out from continental Asia into the Black Sea. Its main significance has been that it is the only outlet to warm water ports of the Russian navy. It had its moment in English history when in the Crimean War of 1853-6 an alliance of Britain, France and Turkey defeated the forces of the Russian Empire. This war was famous for two reasons, first, the introduction of nursing for the wounded by Florence Nightingale and second the charge of the light brigade that was one of the greatest blunders in military history.

The Crimea is again in the news because it is the mainly Russian-speaking province of Ukraine that was claimed by and became part of the Ukraine on the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991. But, it has always been predominantly Russian (ca. 70%) and its population opposed the recent removal of the elected pro-Russian President Yanukovich of Ukraine by the opposition protesters in Kiev. Pres. Yanukovich escaped from Kiev and is now in Russia. The Crimea has its own local parliament, that was taken over by pro-Russian activists and the Russian parliament in Moscow passed a resolution supporting Russian intervention in the Ukraine. Accordingly Pres. Putin ordered his troops to take over the Crimea which they are doing.

The interim Ukrainian President has warned Russia not to go any further or there will be war. If the Russian forces now invade Ukraine there will be a war between western Ukraine and Russia. This will lead to untold suffering and a spilt in Ukraine, that could lead to the eastern part of Ukraine becoming part of Russia. Pres. Obama has spoken directly to Pres. Putin and warned him to stop and withdraw Russian forces. Although the Pres. of Ukraine has appealed to the EU for assistance, it is unlikely to be forthcoming. Obama has taken the case of Ukraine to the UN Security Council, but there Russia has a veto, so not much support can come from there. The G8 has postponed its next meeting scheduled for Russia in view of this crisis.

Why is Russia eager to take over the Crimea, apart from the obvious relationship of the people there? Sevastopol has always been the homeport of the Russian Black Sea fleet, that is Russia's only outlet to the Mediterranean Sea and other southern ports. When Ukraine seceded from the Soviet Union and claimed the Crimea, Russia in effect lost that strategic advantage. There were long drawn out acrimonious negotiations between Ukraine and Russia over the fate of the Russian fleet sitting rusting in Sevastopol. Finally, in the agreement signed in 2010, Russia got two thirds of the fleet and Ukraine a third and Ukraine allowed Russia to operate its fleet autonomously from Odessa. Now Russia's grab of Crimea puts them in charge of not only the port of Sevastopol, but also the Ukrainian Black Sea fleet as well as their own. Putin is unlikely to give up such a prize and the situation seems ripe for a war between Ukraine and Russia, with unforeseen consequences.