Monday, June 30, 2014

How to lose friends

In his infamous speech in Cairo in 2009 in which he attempted to appease the Muslim world, Pres. Obama said that "no form of government should be imposed on one nation by another." In other words, Western Democracy is not suitable for every country and so it would not be appropriate for the US to try to force democracy on anyone.  Yet, this is precisely what he did, and in doing so he has not only lost the US friends, but he has reduced America's influence and credibility in the world and especially in the Middle East.
For example, the Obama Administration dropped Pres. Hosni Mubarak, an ally of the US, like a hot potato as soon as there were demonstrations against him, the supposed reason was that he was a military dictator and the US wanted Egypt to adopt democracy.  So Mubarak was toppled, and there was a vote and the Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi won the election. But, one vote does not a democracy make.  Now the MB is an Islamic party whose avowed ideology is anti-Western and anti-American.  It was founded by Hassan al-Banna, whose ideology was full of hatred and vitriol against the US.  Yet, Obama was happy to accept and support a MB President in Egypt.  Did the US not know what was coming next?  Apparently the Egyptian people did, since they rose up and overthrew Morsi with the support of the Egyptian Army, and this led to the reinstatement of the military dictatorship and the former Gen. al Sisi is now Pres. al Sisi.  If you were al Sisi do you think you would be prepared to trust the US, knowing how they treated your predecessor Mubarak?  This complete mis-reading of the Egyptian situation and the support of the election of a totally anti-Western and in fact anti-democratic candidate, shows the stupidity and naievete of the Obama outlook on the world.  Obama backed the wrong horse and "lost" Egypt.
Obama is not the first American President who thinks that by putting pressure on Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians it will win him marks with the Arab world.  But, in fact it loses US credibility, because what the Arab world sees is that US commitment to its staunchest ally can be bought.  The US allies in the Arab world such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait andf the UAE realise that US support is not reliable.  Case in point, the US is negotiating with Iran over its nuclear program, that includes the development of high uranium enrichment that can only be used for weapons development.  Yet, the US continues for years with the Europeans, playing the Iranian delaying game.  The Gulf Arab States fear Iran, for good reason, and they see that if Iran does develop a nuclear weapon they may be the first in line to be intimidated and/or destroyed. .The Arab allies in the Middle East see US policy on Iran as weak and wavering, and in this respect they have the same views and interests as Israel.   When Pres. Obama commited the US to act if Syria crossed the "red line" of using chemical weapons against civilians, he then backed off that threat, and invited Pres. Putin of Russia to use his influence and power on Pres. Assad to obtain Syrian compliance.  But, in doing so Obama squandered the credibility of the Presidency and of the USA. The US has lost credibility as a strong ally in the Middle East. 
Iraq is a mess, that the US poured billions of dollars into, to obtain what?  A reliable US ally that was democratic?  Any schoolboy with knowledge of the Middle East could have told him that a democratic alliance betwen the Sunni and the Shia in Iraq would never last.  As soon as the Shia obtained a majority in the Iraqi Government, the Sunni refused to cooperate, and PM Maliki did not try to accomodate them.  Such a split was inevitable.  What is also inevitable is that the Kurds in Northern Iraq will break from the central Iraqi Government.  They have built up a strong autonomous region and have been waiting for the moment.  With the fall of the Sunni areas into the hands of the Islamist ISIS and the collapse of the American-trained and financed Iraqi Army, the Kurdish Peshmurga fighters have taken over effective control of Kirkuk and the northern oil fields.  Soon they will establish Kurdistan and they will be recognized by Israel, with whom they have had friendly relations for 50 years.  But, once again Obama is making a mistake, he is holding off giving support to the Kurds in the vain hope of saving or resuscitating Iraq.  Frankly a few air strikes won't do it.
We are left with a situation in former Iraq that an independent Kurdistan will be a positive outcome for Israel and the West, but the emergence of an Islamist Sunni state in central Iraq and an Iranian-controlled Shia Arab state in southern Iraq will be two negatives.  Still they may be fighting each other for a long time, so overall the situation could be quite good for Israel and the West.  If only Pres Obama could resist screwing that up too.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

WWI centenary

The 100th anniversary of the assassination of the Arch-Duke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Arch-Duchess Sonia of Austria-Hungary in Sarajevo is being celebrated today.  It was the event that precipitated the First World War in 1914 and forever changed the world.  Not only did the Austro-Hungarian Empire collapse, but also the Russian and Turkish Empires, and with the defeat of Germany by the Allied powers, it sowed the seeds of WWII that started only 21 years after the end of WWI.
The assassin was Gavrilo Princip who was a Serbian nationalist and carried out the assassination as a member of a Serbian underground cell against the imperial Austro-Hungarian Empire.  What is not widely known is that Princip was in fact a Muslim, although a Serbian.  Perhaps he wanted to prove his Serbian nationalism to his fellow plotters, or perhaps he was used by them, since he was the one chosen to actually pull the trigger.  Also, what is not widely known is that the original plan for the assassination went wrong and Princip sat at a cafe, had a coffee and was roaming around randomly when the Arch- Duke's car happened to go by.  Apparently the driver lost his way and ended up in a narrow street and as he was turning a sharp corner he slowed down to walking pace.  The Arch Duke and Duchess had no security protection, Princip could hardly miss. 
The consequences of this act of anti-imperialism were enormous.  It caused Austria-Hungary to declare war on Serbia, that then resulted in Russia, the champion of Serbia as a Slavic nation, to declare war on Austria-Hungary, which then caused other dominoes to fall.  The German Kaiser rose to the side of his fellow Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary, and then the British and French rallied to the side of Serbia and Russia.  And so the first war that engulfed all of Europe and much of the world was born.  Of course, the deeper causes of the War are to be found in the rotten repressive and economic practices of the Empires that ruled so many subject peoples.   Even though the Austro-Hungarian Empire was relatively liberal, the war not only swept it away, but also the Romanov Czar in Russia, who was replaced by an uprising that was quickly taken over by the extreme elements of the Bolsheviks.  And the demise of the Turkish Empire led to the freeing of many Arab areas as well as what was to become Israel.  Turkey itself emerged as a modern state only because Kemal Attaturk was able to reorganize the Turkish Army and political system and declare a  democratic republic. 
One major result of WWI was the introduction of weapons of mass destruction, poison gas, the use of tanks, and air planes and wide-spread bombing of cities.  After WWI it became the strategic goal of belligerents in wars to attempt to destroy the enemies cities, at the cost of huge numbers of civilian casualties.  As a result of this and other atrocities that were perpetrated and that became worse in WWII, certain international treaties were promulgated, supposedly to prevent and stop such activities.  With the gradual improvement in technology it now becomes possible to use targeted bombing that should reduce civilian casualties, something that Israel has perfected in its attacks on terrorists in Gaza for example.  Yesterday two known terrorists of the Popular Resistance Committees who were responsible for multiple missile attacks on Israel were killed in a targeted attack on a car in Gaza, that injured no-one else.   All of these things can be traced back to Gavrilo Princip and his fateful encounter with destiny.  

Friday, June 27, 2014

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Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Renovation

Over a month ago the exterminators drilled holes every foot around the walls of my studio and injected a poison that they assured me would  destroy the nest of the termites and there would be no more of them.  They said that If I wanted to I could replace the two partially eaten away door frames.  So I started by ripping off the moulding around the door frames, and guess what I found, loads of live termites, small white insects with tiny legs.  I called the exterminator back and told him they are still in the wood of the door frames.  So he advised to rip out the affected door frames and get rid of them and he would come again and spray a stronger chemical around the area where they had been, no extra charge. 
I had arranged for someone to come in and replace the door frames, for a price of course (estimate NIS 4,000=$1150), but he never showed up or answered my calls.  So I thought I would have to do it myself, not a very big job, but nevertheless daunting.  I thought to remove the door frames I would cut them into pieces and take the pieces out one at a time.  This way I would avoid the screws or bolts that were holding the frame to the wall. But, I could not find a readily available small electric saw, so I thought I would have to use a hand saw.  Being the son of a carpenter I was not afraid of this approach, but I was not very happy either. 
As I was getting ready to do this, gathering my tools, with the door open, one of the guys who works in the office opposite (there is only one other office in the basement) happened to go by and asked me what I was doing.  I told him that I had to remove the door frames because they were infested with termites.  He asked me how I was going to do this and I told him.  He was not impressed and said that he could help me do the work, I asked him how much he would charge and he said, we're neighbors, I'll just help you and you can decide what to pay me.  So I agreed.
The next day he tunred up with a sledge hammer and simply started to smash the door frames out.  I would call this the "direct approach" as opposed to my "intellectual approach."  I stopped him and explained that it might be easier to find the screws and remove them.  By the way, I should point out that this guy doesn't speak English, so we communicated thru my poor Hebrew and sign language.  I learnt that the door frame in Hebrew is called the "mashkof" (although literally the horizontal beam or lintel) and the vertical door post is called (guess what) the "mezuzah."  Anyway we removed a few screws, but it was difficult and taking time, so he went back to the direct approach and smashed the two sets of doorposts out.  It wasn't that difficult, but it did tend to take some of the wall with it.  He said, never mind, we'll fix that later, and I must say that he did.
We found a mass of live termites in the hole under one of the door posts and I sprayed them and they disappeared, I hope for good.  Once the door posts had been removed, the exterminator came and sprayed all around.  I decided to replace one of the door frames and have the other opening plastered over without a frame since I had never used that door.  I figured if there was no door posts and no wood then the termites could not return.  But, this was not easier because it required him to plaster around the whole opening. 
I had no idea about this friendly guy, he was dark skinned and I assumed he was a Sephardi Jew.  His name was Murray, and when I asked him where he came from he told me Fureidis, which is an Arab town up the coast near Zichron Yaakov.  He had apparently been working in that office for 19 years, and his name is actually Maree Maree (I do not make this up).  Fureidis is not one of those ancient Arab towns that we are always hearing about, but was founded as a work camp for Arabs who helped build Zichron Yaakov when it was founded in the 1880s.  It couldn't have been so bad there because Fureidis means "paradise" in Arabic (the English word comes from pardess in Hebrew that means "orchard"),   I told him I was a Professor and I told him to tell his friends that his assistant was a Jewish Professor.  Although in principle I could have done all this work myself, I'm glad I didn't try. 
Anyway, we agreed on a price and I paid him for removing the door frames.  Then we went to the industrial zone (azor tassia) and bought a new pre-prepared door-frame (mashkof) and the plaster and paint for the other opening.  He fitted the door frame easily, but then ran into a problem, the walls of the basement are made of concrete and the drill bit wouldn't go through that.  He then plastered the other opening with professional skill.  So the next day he brought a power drill and drilled the holes and inserted the large screws to hold the door posts in place.  Then he re-hung the door and with a little bit of scraping and fitting, the major work had been done.  Then we cut the moulding and put it around the door frame.  He finished filling in all the holes and smoothing the wall with sand-paper.  Finally it was all painted and voila the job was done.  I paid him a total of NIS 1200 ($345), a lot for him but a big saving for me. No more termites, and no more floods (they also fixed the drains). A perfect ending.   

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Emirates solution

The well-known Middle East (ME) analyst Dr. Mordechai Kedar from the Begin-Sadat Center (BESA) at Bar-Ilan University spoke at Netanya AACI.  In a coherent and informative presentation he gave a unique perspective on the ME. This is my attempt at a summary.

He pointed out that the term "Peace process" or "Peace in the Middle East" is taken to refer only to Israel and the Palestinians. Yet, almost every country in the wider Muslim ME is at war.  For example: Morocco is waging an almost unknown war against the Polisario guerillas for control of Western Sahara; Algeria had a disputed election that the Islamists won, but the Army took over and suppressed them, resulting in a civil war in which ca. 500,000 were killed; Libya is a mess, after the downfall of Qaddafi, the various tribal groups are currently battling for control; Egypt is now under a quasi military dictatorship that is suppressing the Muslim Brotherhood and fighting a civil war in Sinai; Syria is engaged in a tragic civil war that has killed at least 160,000 and made ca. 9 million homeless; Lebanon has had a major civil war and is now teetering on the edge of another with Hezbollah taking greater control; Jordan has barely concealed hostility between the majority of Palestinians and the Beduin supporters of the Hashemite Monarchy; Iraq, that was an invention of the British imperialists who cobbled together a state consisting of mutually hostile Kurds, Sunni Arabs and Shia Arabs, is now falling apart and engaged in a sectarian civil war that will probably result in it splitting into at least three separate states; Yemen is fighting two wars one between the east and west and one between the military and the Islamists; Iran is fighting barely known wars against the Kurds in the north west and the Baluchis in the south east, both of which want their independence from Iranian domination; Turkey is fighting a continuing war against the Kurds, and if the Iraqi Kurds try to establish an independent Kurdistan with the Kurds of Syria and Turkey this will precipitate a major war with Turkey, and so it goes on.

The question is why is "peace in the ME" taken to refer only to Israel when there are major conflicts all over the region and the death toll of those conflicts are infinitely more that the losses of those killed in fighting with Israel.  It is about time that the stupid idea that has gained traction that all conflicts in the ME derive from the Israel-Palestine conflict is ditched.  I challenge anyone who believes this is the cse to explain the connection between any of the above intra- and inter-necine conflicts and Israel.  There simply isn't any.  So the question arises, why is the Muslim ME the most conflict-ridden and down-trodden region of the world (even the conflicts in Africa, such as in Mali, the Central African Republic and Somalia turn out to be Muslim-related). 

For the answer to this question we must note that the only Muslim Arab states that are not in conflict and are currently affluent, are the Gulf States, namely Kuwait (that was previously occupied by Iraq), Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).  This is a federation of seven independent sovereign Emirates or Sheikhdoms that have joined together for mutual benefit and security.  If we find the reason for their stability it should help to explain the instability of the rest of the Muslim world.  And the answer is that these states are relatively small entities in which the rulers have legitimacy based on their local tribal, religious and ethnic homogeneity.   In other words there are no intra-tribal, ethnic or religious forces that threaten their established order.  Whether this is good or not is beside the point, that is the apparent reason.

There are four origins of conflict in the ME (as elsewhere), namely tribal, ethnic, religious and sectarian.  Whereas in the countries of the West, such as the UK, France and the USA, the absence of tribal and eventually religious conflicts has allowed liberal democracy to develop, a concept that is unknown and totally inappropriate in most of the Middle East, where tribal, ethnic, religious and sectarian factors play a far larger role.  For example, the Iraqi army that was 900,000 strong collapsed in the face of the Sunni ISIS advance because the Iraqi soldiers were not from Mosul and so it made no sense to them to die to defend it. 

There are examples of each source of division, for example the Alawis of Syria fight for the regime of Pres. Assad not for political reasons, but because they are ethnically aligned to it.  Bahrain is a case of sectarianism, where the Sunni dominated kingdom rules over a majority Shia population, this Sunni-Shia sectarian divide is predominant throughout the Middle East.  In Lebanon there are inter-religious conflicts, especially between the Christians and various sects of Muslims, and in this context the Israel-Palestine conflict may be seen as a religious conflict.  But, basically tribal conflicts are ubiquitous throughout the ME.  One reason why the Palestinians cannot form an effective State is that they are riven with tribal conflicts, each city has its own tribe or tribes that rule and control that city.  Pres. Abbas has almost no authority in the seven major cities of the PA.  For example Ramallah is controlled by the Tawil and Barghouti tribes, Jerusalem by the Nashishibis and Husaynis, Jenin by the Yahya, and so on.  Most casual observers are completely unaware of this tribal infrastructure of power within so-called Palestinian society (note that Palestine is not originally an Arab name).

A potential solution to the Israel-Arab conflict could be through the establishment of seven emirates in the West Bank, where each would be a self-governing entity controlled by the tribe to which the inhabitants owe their allegiance.  In that case the Sheikh or Emir would be the natural ruler, and a federation of the Tribes could be organized, called for example the United Sheikhdoms or even the Palestine Emirates.  Such entities would be legitimate and peaceful and could deal with Israel on a friendly and mutually cooperative basis. 
Only when we try to resolve the problems of the ME on the basis of the real social characteristics and interests of the inhabitants will there be peace.  In the meantime the various interest groups, tribal, ethnic, religious and sectarian in the ME will have to battle it out, as they did in Europe not so long ago. 

For more details please visit

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The J-Street dilemma

We went to a showing of a video presentation called "The J-Street Challenge" at Beth Israel, the Netanya Conservative (Masorti) Synagogue.  It was arranged by the synagogue and was presented by Prof Richard Landes, who is Prof. of History at Boston Univ, who led the post-viewing discussion.  He also appears in the film, which was produced by Americans for Peace and Tolerance and is sponsored by CAMERA and StandWithUs.
Most of you will know that J-street is an American Jewish organization that considers itself a liberal alternative to AIPAC, that it sees as slavishly following Israeli Government policies.  J-Street proclaims itself both as "pro-Israel" and "pro-Peace."  But questions have arisen as to the veracity of its pro-Israel stance when J-Street allies itself with and gives a voice to individuals and organizations, such as Jews for Palestine, that are notably anti-Israel.  Further, its pro-Peace stance, that is its dominant theme, tends to result in severe criticisms of Israeli Government policies as well as undermining the support for Israel in the US political system, both with the Administration and Congress.  In effect, J-Street has decided in advance that Israel is the cause of the lack of peace and so it takes a decidely pro-Palestinian viewpoint, that it justifies by proclaiming that the interest of peace trumps all other interests, including those of the Israeli Government.
The video consists of descriptions of positions that J-Street has taken, including statements by its own leaders, such as its founder and President Jeremy Ben-Ami, and then these are followed by comments of critics of J-Street, including such notables of American Jewish society as Alan Dershowitz, Ruth Wisse, Daniel Gordis and Richard Landes.  But, these comments are definitely to the point and expose a very disturbing pattern of dissimulation and subterfuge on the part of the leadership of J-Street, that taken overall lead one to conclude that J-Street is definitely not pro-Israel, but is not pro-Peace either, but more substantially pro-Palestinian.
One cause for concern is, where does the lavish funding for J-street come from?  It originally came in the form of millions of dollars from George Soros, a Jewish billionaire of Hungarian origin, well-known for his leftist and strongly anti-Israel positions.  Another liberal cause that Soros supported was Barak Obama in his run for the Presidency.  There is a strong implication that J-Street serves the interests of the Obama Administration by providing an alternative Jewish framework to AIPAC and the mainline organized Jewish community and J-Street leaders, including Ben-Ami, have boasted of their direct links to the White House.  Much of the funding for J-Street comes from outside the US and may originate from Arab and even jihadi sources, with which J-Street has often shown common cause.
Why does such an organization gain support in the younger generation of the American Jewish Community.  The reasons may be complex, but one of the most persuasive is that not only are the younger generation ignorant of the actual history of the conflcit and the extremism of the Arab and Palestinian side, but that they are embarrassed by any actions that Israel takes that puts them in a bad light.  They want to be part of the American liberal establishment, not a part of the pro-Israel Jewish elements, that they see as supporting a colonialist, imperialist, militaristic state.  By taking this stance they no longer need feel guilty at supporting Israel, but can proclaim themselves pro-peace and hence become acceptable in the American liberal context. 
This is not a new phenomenon.  One can clearly see the same psychology acting in the German Jewish preference for German over Jewish culture and the quite common anti-Semitism among German-Jewish intellectuals before WWII (until the Germans rounded them all up).  When I served for 15 years (1970-1985) as a member of the Board of the Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington DC, there were several attempts by a similar group called "Americans for Peace Now" to join the JCC, which was an umbrella Jewish organization, but they were rejected by an overwhelmingly liberal community.  Similarly the The Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations that includes 50 such organizations recently rejected an application by J-Street to join them.  This is a feature of such marginally Jewish, politically motivated organizations, to infiltrate the mainstream Jewish community in order to undermine its own true values and to gain credibility. 
The audience at Beth Israel overwhelmingly agreed that the film was a fair and worrying expose of the activities of J-Street, but there was a small and vocal minority of liberal supporters who felt that the video was a "smear" and was unfair to J-Street.  When asked how, they could not articulate the reasons.  Watch the video and I leave it you to judge for yourselves.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Syrian consequences

Some consequences of the civil war in Syria are gradually emerging.  A not well known fact is that the movement of some 5 million refugees out of Syria is not only a humanitarian problem, but has shifted the sectarian balance within Syria.  Most of those moving into Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq are Sunni Muslims.  This has had the consequence of shifting the population balance within what is left of Syria in favor of the pro-Shia Alawis, they were once 12% of the population, now they must be considerably more.  And there are other serious consequences of the Sunni wave into the adjacent countries, as well as further afield.
In Jordan the influx of ca. 1 million Sunnis has shifted the balance away from the Palestinians, who were ca. 70% of the population.  If the Syrians stay in Jordan, as seems most likely, then King Abdullah will be much more entrenched in his Kingdom.  SImilarly, the influx of ca. 1 million Sunnis into Lebanon has shifted the balance against the Shia and Hizbollah there, leading to the unusual outcome that while Hizbollah is fighting in Syria to support Pres. Assad's regime, the refugees they are causing will result in the undermining of their own position in Lebanon.  The influx of maybe 2 million Sunnis into Turkey does not have that much of an impact because Turkey is a much larger country, but in Iraq 1 million Sunni refugees  has the effect of enlarging the Sunni power base and unifying Syria and Iraq, just as the ISIS Islamist rebels are trying to do. 
One other consequence of the Syrian conflict may be the long-delayed emergence of a Kurdish state, namely Kurdistan.  The Kurds have been called the largest minority group in the world (45 million) without a state of their own.  There are Kurdish minorities in Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq.  Now that the ISIS rebels have destablized Iraq, the Iraqi Government has lost control not only of the central Sunni provinces, but also the northern Kurdish provinces.  The Peshmurga Kurdish fighters are formidable and well armed.  They have captured Kirkuk, which is the center of the northern oil fields.  It was once a largely Kurdish city, but in the Anfal campaign of the mid-1990s Saddam Hussein deported and killed large numbers of Kurds in an attempt to Arabize the northern regions of Iraq.  Now that process is being reversed, and the Peshmurga have effectively held off the ISIS forces, who in any case are more interested in defeating the Shia than bothering with the Kurds.  
If the Iraqi Kurds then declare the independence of Kurdistan, it is likely that the Kurds in Syria will join them.  But Turkey may consider this a causus belli and go to war against Kurdistan in order to prevent their own large Kurdish minority from joining Kurdistan, which would mean a loss of a significant portion of eastern Turkey.  We cannot predict the future, but the process of separating out the various sectarian and ethnic groups seems like a process of reversing the former meddling of the imperialist colonial powers of Britain and France.  
The wave of refugees from Syria, the largest refugee crisis in the world, are now beginning to arrive in Europe.  On rickety boats they are crossing the Mediterranean and arriving in Greece, Italy, France and Spain and then to the UK and as far afield as Australia and the USA.  They represent a further increase in the number of Muslims in Western coutnries and a further increase in anti-Semitism and anti-Israel activity.
One of the major consequences of the Syrian conflagration that is good for Israel is that the Syrian Government is taking the opportunity to flush out and destroy the so-called Palestinian refugee camps, where they had kept the Sunni Palestinians cooped up for 65 years.  On the grounds that the Palestinians sided with the Sunni opposition, even Hamas moved its headquarters out of Damascus due to opposition to the pro-Shia Assad regime, the Syrian Army and Hizbollah have been taking revenge, massacring Palestinians.  This has received almost no media attention since the western liberal media don't like reporting anything negative about the Palestinians, their favorite cause, but can you imagine the press coverage if the IDF were doing this.  But, this is far from a unique situation.  
When Saddam Hussein's forces invaded Kuwait, the Palestinians there (not in refugee camps) helped them, so when the American forces chased the Iraqi Army out of Kuwait in the Gulf War of 1990, the Kuwaitis took revenge on the hated Palestinians, killing and expelling them.  When PM Rabin allowed Yasir Arafat and the PLO to return to Gaza and the West Bank from Tunisia where they had received refuge, this was a disaster for Israel, but the Tunisians heaved a great sigh of relief, glad to be rid of these trouble-makers.  Lebanon also treated the Palestinians badly because they changed the delicate ethnic balance of the country, and Palestinians were restricted by law to the camps and not even allowed to work, a law that was only recently repealed due to its inhumaneness, contrary to UN standards.  In Jordan, the Palestinains have been from the beginning Jordanian citizens, and although they are not loyal to the Hashemite Monarchy, they have been treated better there than anywhere else in the Arab world, and are not in fact refugees.  Nowhere in the Arab world are the Palestinians liked or tolerated, they are not allowed into Saudi Arabia or the Gulf States.  The place the Palestinians are treated best is in ....Israel.  All the rest is propaganda.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Operation Brother's Keeper

The IDF is carrying out Operation Brother's Keeper in the West Bank, searching for the three missing Israeli teens, Eyal Yifrah, Naftali Fraenkel and Gilad Shaer, who were abducted by Hamas operatives last week.  Their mission was made more difficult because the police ignored a plea for help that one of the boys managed to whisper into his cell-phone saying "we're being kidnapped."  That was at 10.30 pm, but the police officer in charge thought it was a prank and ignored it.  It was only revealed 5 hours later when the parents of one of the boys went to the police station to report their son missing.  That policeman should be fired. This unfortunate error, of not taking every warning seriously, gave the kidnappers 5 hours start over the searchers.  But it was not enough time to take the boys over any border, they must still be in the West Bank, and may be in the vicinity of Hebron, hidden in an underground bunker.
Around the country and the world there have been prayer services to "Bring our Boys Home."  We have barely survived all our prayers, we only survived when we took up the gun - "praise the Lord, but pass the ammunition."  So the Operation continues.  The Israeli Government is taking the opportunity to attack Hamas in the West Bank, not only because Hamas was responsible for the kidnapping (the Government has evidence that it hasn't revealed so far) but because Hamas is a terrorist organization committed to the destruction of Israel and the killing and kidnapping of Israeli civilians, including children.  During this search the IDF has arrested over 300 mostly Hamas operatives and have discovered arms caches and arms factories.  The strategy is that by making this kidnapping so costly to Hamas they will be forced to give back the boys, or they will have bargaining chips to exchange for the boys.
The IDF is treading a fine line, they want to find the boys, but they don't want to be brutal in the process or to kill Palestinians in revenge because this could set of an explosion, another intifada that would be in nobody's interests, except the terrorists.  There have been several cases of violent demonstrations against the IDF by youths throwing stones and Molotov cocktails as well as shooting. One 15 year old boy was shot after attacking IDF soldiers. In fact by arresting Hamas leaders, Israel is helping the Fatah leadership of the PA, because Hamas is their enemy too.  The PA security services are supposedly cooperating with the IDF, although not themselves carrying out arrests.
There has been a controversy regarding the response of Pres. Abbas of the PA to this situation.  At first he made no mention of the kidnapping, but then at the meeting of the Islamic States in Saudi Arabia last week he made a statement against the kidnapping and supporting the need for the PA to cooperate with the IDF and said that the boys are "humans" and should be released. The fact that he made this statement in that setting was regarded by some as very brave and important.  Yet, PM Netanyahu gave the statement only a luke warm response, because as he said, if the PA wants to be taken seriously they should cut their ties to Hamas and dissolve the Unity Government.  Hamas, of course, strongly criticized Fatah for "cooperating with the enemy."
Analysts of Palestinian public opinion say that the Palestinian street supports the kidnapping, seeing it as equivalent to Israel arresting their boys and putting them in prison, although they forget the crimes they commited and the courts that judged them.  But, analysts also say that this support is passive, they generally don't want an escalation of the situation or a third intifada.  Some pro-Palestinian comments, including those from MK Hanan Zoabi, who said it wasn't a kidnapping at all, and the UN that has effectively dismissed the kidnapping but criticized the IDF action.
Many Western liberals and the media dismiss the kidnappings because they characterize the boys as "settlers", even though they are mere teenagers.  But there is some irony in this.  The area where the kidnapping occured and where two of the boys live is the Etzion bloc, an area south of Jerusalem that was bought by the JNF in the 1920s and on which three kibbutzim were established, including Kfar Etzion, that fluourished in the 1930s-40s.  In 1948 the Arabs captured the whole area and massacred the inhabitants and razed the settlements to the ground, even destroying all the orchards and uprooting all trees (only one large one remained).  This area was recaptured by the IDF in 1967 and resettled by the children of the original settlers and will remain part of Israel in whatever settlement or outcome ensues.  So the people there are indeed settlers, but they live on Jewish land!
Meanwhile the boys are still missing and the search goes on.  The hope is that they are still alive because the terrorists want to use them to exchange for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.   This shows the futility of releasing 1,000 prisoners for one Israeli, Gilad Schalit, as PM Netanyahu did, because it only encourages kidnapping.  The Knesset has now passed a law restricting the ability of the Government to release prisoners who have been convicted of security offences and murder.  So that this should prevent a further such travesty.  Also, there is now a free App named the "SOS App" developed by an Israeli company NowForce that can allow a GPS trace of all cell phones that have it ( ).  All Israelis are encouraged to download that App.  One way or another we will defeat these terrorists.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Where's Kerry

Has anybody here seen Kerry?
Has anybody here seen Kerry?
Find him if you can!
He's as bad as old Shapir-o,
Left me on my own-ee-o,
Has anybody here seen Kerry?
Kerry from the USA!
Yes, US Secty of State Kerry has been noticeably absent from his favorite hunting ground, the Middle East, for a while.  Yet, I understand that since he is very pro-Israel, he feels he needs to save Israel from itself, he knows (as an American) what is best for Israel.  So he has recognized the new PA government that includes Hamas, which is recognized as a terrorist organization by the USA.  He has done this because Pres. Abbas has assured him that the new Unity Government will abide by the conditions set down by the Quartet, of recognition of Israel, giving up violence (terrorism) and accepting all previous agreements.  However, at the same time, Hamas has publicly declared that they will not accept these conditions.  Nevertheless, Kerry is so committed to the "peace process" that he is prepared to give Hamas the benefit of the doubt.  This is essentially what US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro said in a recent speech, basically let's give Hamas the benefit of the doubt, until they actually start (or continue) killing people.  Now this might be a good idea, if we were not the killees, the victims of Hamas's determination according to their Covenant to wipe Israel of the face of the earth.  

Now with the dramatic advance of the ISIS forces in Iraq, and the kidnapping of three yeshiva students in Judea, we are otherwise occupied. Obama wants to punish the new Egyptian President al-Sisi, and to come to terms with the Ayatollahs in Iran.   Let the Americans get on with their own business, in Ukraine, Iraq and elsewhere, and leave us to take care of our situation without their self-destructive policies.  We don't miss Kerry.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Being all things to all people

Barack Obama is not a mystery, he is out there, trying to be liked by everyone.  Perhaps this is the legacy of being a black boy brougnt up in a white world, a Kenyan-Indonesian who became a Hawaiian-Chicagoan American.   In any event he wants to be liked, if possible, even by his enemies. Is this a Christian propensity or a liberal inclination?  His Cairo speech of 2009 is an example of trying to be a different President of the USA, of trying to tell the Muslim world don't hate us (or me), we are really nice people and mean no harm.
But, this kind of attitude, while well-meaning and perhaps commendable, is also dangerous. For example, when the President of the most powerful country in the world declares a red-line, and then retreats from it, not only does he lose credibility, but the County he represents loses deterrence.  OK, so he backed away from attacking Syria for massacring 300 civilians with poison gas.  But, what he also did was allow Russian Pres. Putin to take over the problem and to solve it for him. 
Then he failed to foresee the nuances of Egyptian politics.  Not only did he fail to support the pro-American ruler of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, but he hung him out to dry, like his predecessor Pres. Carter did with the Shah of Iran.  Was it liberal distaste for dictators, even friendly ones.  In that case the result was the most disastrous mistake in US foreign policy, that Iran fell under the control of the Shi'ite extremists that led to the taking of the US Embassy and its American hostages.  Then Pres. Obama in the name of supposed democracy supported the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Pres. Morsi, over the military ruler Gen al-Sisi, who is now President (also supposedly by a democratic election) and he will not forget this insult and major error in judgement.  What are Obama's advisors, naieve college kids, don't they know that in the real world hard-ball is the only game in town?
Now Obama is on the horns of a dilemma, so to speak, caught in the unfortunate position of his own making of having contradictory policies at the same time.  On the one hand, he commendably supports the Sunni insurrection in Syria and the removal of Pres. Assad, who is a ruthless dictator (but who recently won a supposed democratic election), but on the other hand he supports the Shia-dominated Maliki Governemtn of Iraq against the Sunni rebels of ISIS, the worst nighmare of al Qaeda fearing Americans. To regard this government as "democratic" is insane, it was elected because the Shia majority in Iraq voted for it, a sectarian victory that the Sunni will never accept.  But, in real life you can't have it both ways, your cannot support Sunni rebels against a Shia puppet and a Shia puppet against Sunni terrorists.  It makes no sense, it is self-destructive, it loses friends on both sides and it makes the US more of a target as part of the struggle.  Also, consider that aligning America with the Shia-led Government of Iraq will alienate a large proportion of the Sunni Arab world, who constitute 85% of all Muslims. 
It's time someone took Obama aside and told him some truths: democracy means nothing in the Middle East, it is an abstract concept, when tribe, religion and sect mean everything; the enemy of my enemy in the ME is still my enemy; getting involved in other people's vicious wars is not a way to win friends and influence people; when in doubt do nothing.  When two enemies are fighting each other, sit back and wait and see what will be the denouement.  Only then attack the winner.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Predictions on Iraq

Here are my predictions as to what might happen in Iraq. The Sunni extremists of ISIS, whose ideology is to establish a Caliphate throughout the Middle East from Lebanon to Iraq as the first step, are bent on defeating the Shia in Iraq.  In the cities that they have captured so far, including Mosul and Tikrit, they have taken the Iraqi Shi'ite police and soldiers out into the main square and massacred them.  Their destiny is ordained by Allah to defeat Shi'ism and re-establish Mohammed's Caliphate.  If they really want to do this they will not directly attack Baghdad, because it is currently too well defended and too big a bite for them.  If they really want to piss off the Shia they will bypass Baghdad and attack and capture Kerbala, which is the Shia Holy City only 55 miles south of Baghdad.  It contains the tomb of Hussein, the Prophet Mohammed's grandson, who was killed in the battle of Kerbala in 680 ce by the elected Caliph which led to the schism between Sunni and Shia.  They will desecrate the mosque named after Ali.  This would be a terrible blow to the Shia and would require them to counter-attack, leading to a major sectarian war, which is what ISIS want.  In that case, all Sunni extremists (and maybe all Sunnis) will rally to their side and the result will be a religious war akin to the wars between Catholics and Protestants, such as the Thirty years war (1618-48) and for hundreds of years after that.    
The champion of the Shia is Iran.  The Ayatollahs cannot maintain their postion if they do not respond to such a terrible humiliation and they will send their army into Iraq to defeat ISIS.  This will extend the war to a terrible conclusion, like the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-88, when it is estimated that half a million people died.  Those in Europe and the US who want to defend so-called "democratic" Iraq, which was merely a puppet Shia state set-up by the Americans, will be wasting their time and money.  If the US, as some idiots have suggested, cooperate with Iran in trying to defeat ISIS they will find themsrlves on the wrong side.  Remember that 85% of Muslims are Sunnis, and if you collaborate with Iran you will not only make a pact with the devil, namely a totally ruthless totalitarian religious regime, but you will antagonize all the Sunni countries, including Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Indonesia, Egypt and so on.  The simple idea that the enemy of my enemy is my friend does not work in the Middle East, in this case both sides are our enemy.
It will be a stupid move for Pres. Obama to even send air stikes in to try to slow down the ISIS advance.  It cannot make a significant difference, now that the majority of the Sunnis in Iraq have been freed from Shia domination and will support ISIS or anyone who comes along to fight the Shia.  The best advice is not to get involved on either side, nothing can be done now, except to stand by and let them fight it out.  Iraq was a western (British) invention, as are several other Arab countries in the Middle East (Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, etc.), only Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel were formed independently of British and French imperial designs (the Sykes-Picot treaty and all that).  Remember that Israel first fought the British for its independence before fighting the Arabs. For idiots like Boris Johnson (Mayor of London) who called former PM Blair "unhinged" is the height of stupidity, Blair and Bush had nothing to do with this current situation, eventually, after Saddam Hussein and everyone else, the sectarian Sunni-Shia clash has returned and will become the most important issue of our times.  

Tuesday, June 17, 2014


The kidnapping of the three yeshiva boys from the Etzion area is currently gripping Israel.   Apparently they were taken by Hamas operatives as they were hitch-hiking home around 10 pm, but the alarm was not sounded until about 5 hrs later when the parents of one of them went to the police station.  A massive man-hunt is under way involving the IDF and intelligence agencies.  About 150 mostly Hamas leaders have been arrested and are being interrogated.  I assume this is a maneuver by the Govt. to put pressure on Hamas to release the boys, otherwise their organization will be greatly disrupted. There is cooperation with the PA security forces, although the extent of this is unclear.
Note that there have been other kidnappings by Islamist extremists.  In Nigeria 220 Christian girls were kidnapped from a  school in NE Nigeria by Boko Haram and have not been seen since except for a video showing them all in Muslim garb reciting a Muslim prayer.  This is a clear case of forced conversion, and it if far from the only case.  In Egypt and Iraq Christian girls disappear regularly and usually are never found.  It is estimated that in Egypt alone about 15,000 Coptic Christian girls are missing.  The fact that it is Muslims kidnapping Christians and Jews and not the other way around must be taken seriously. 
We note that the case of the Nigerian girls who have been kidnapped has become an international cause celebre.  But, don't expect the world to pay much attention to the three Jewish teens who have been kidnapped.  After all, they can be dismissed as "settlers" or even worse as persecutors of poor Palestinians.  The fact that the terrorist group Hamas, that is now in the Palestinian government, is responsible, hardly raises an eyebrow among the western elite leftist intelligentsia.  Even the western media aren't interested, after all they are only Jews.   

Monday, June 16, 2014

Humpty Dumpty history

I saw an interview on TV of Lakhdar Brahimi, the Egyptian diplomat who was the UN Secty General's Special Envoy for Syria, upon his retirement from that post.   He apologized to the Syrian people because he was unable to do anything significant to stop the civil war raging there.  He admitted that Syria is basically destroyed, that ca. 160,000 men, women and children have been killed there in over 3 years of fighting, and that perhaps 7 million people have been displaced as external and internal refugees, about one third of the population, that it is now  the largest refugee problem in the world.  He admitted that the UN was in stalemate because of the support for opposite sides by different members of the UN Security Council, Russia and China supporting Pres. Assad and the West, the US, UK and France, supporting the insurgents.   What he didn't specify is that the Sunni Arab states, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey are supporting the Islamist rebels, while the West is trying to only support the democratic opposition, and Iran is supporting Assad. 
One thing that he said that impressed me was that there is no going back to the status quo ante, in other words, Syria is now sundered and cannot be put back together again as it was.  He wished both sides would accept and understand this, since both sides think that is what they are fighting for.  I will call this the Humpty Dumpty theory of history, and it should be applied more widely, for example, to the Israel-Palestine conflict.   The very basis of the Arab view is that a historic injustice has been done to the Palestinians and that they are fighting to reverse that injustice.  But, the cat has been let out of the bag, so to speak, and Humpty Dumpty has fallen (to mix metaphors) and this cannot be put back together again.  History cannot be reversed! The Palestinians can no more go back to "Palestine" as it was, than the nations of Europe can go back to before WWI or WWII or the USSR can be put back together again (someone should tell Putin that). 
What is most ridiculous is that the Islamists, al Qaeda and particularly the ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) are fighting to instal a new Caliphate over all the Sunni Arab world, and in fact over all the world (including the US and Europe), a status that is based on the early medieval Islamic period when they briefly (for ca. 100 years) controlled a huge unified Empire that stretched from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from Morocco to India.  Not only did it break up into many separate countries (Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Iran, etc.), but it can never be put back together again!  Someone should tell them this, because it is going to cause a great deal of suffering, death and destruction until they find this out.  Perhaps I should be more worried than I am, because there is an upside to this, while the Islamists are fighting a lost cause, to go backwards, we are meanwhile going forward.  While their young men are fanatically blowing themselves up and killing their own people, our young men are learning biotechnology and computer science.  Perhaps I am being a bit harsh, one must never under-estimate one's enemy, as history has shown, but some generalizations are nevertheless true.  Perhaps the Islamists have never heard of Humpty Dumpty, someone should tell them.  

Sunday, June 15, 2014

President Rivlin

Reuven Rivlin is hardly the best candidate available to be the tenth President of Israel.  But, given that the President is chosen by vote of the Knesset, not by the people, and that Rivlin is a veteran politician who knows the ropes, in the end he won.  His main rival was Meir Sheetrit, a similar politician, but Rivlin is from the majority Likud Party and Sheetrit is from the much smaller Hatnuah Party, although he had Labor opposition support.  Candidates like Nobel Prize winner Dan Schectman and Supreme Court Justice Dalia Dorner, stand no chance against the professional politicians.  The Knesset will always choose one of their own.
There was an unusual situation that developed when partly because PM Netanyahu had not initially supported Rivlin, the right was not strongly behind him.  He won the first ballot with 44 votes, but if in the second ballot when there are only the top two candidates, if all those who had voted on the left for the other candidates, including Dalia Itzik, had put their support to Meir Sheetrit, he would have won easily.  But, as soon as they saw the danger, the right pulled in all their votes, for example Shas MKs almost certainly changed sides, and Rivlin won by 10 votes, 63 to 53.
On the face of it Rivlin is not a bad choice.  He is a right wing Likud veteran, who has been a political rival of Bibi Netanyahu for many years.  Such rivalries run deep and so Netanyahu was against Rivlin's candidacy, but in the end he turned around and supported him.   Now that they are no longer rivals, they may actually work well together.  Rivlin said the right things in his inaugural spech, that as of today he is no longer a party politician but is now a representative of the whole people. 
It is unlikely that Rivlin will be considered a statesman like Shimon Peres, who retires when his term expires in June. Rivlin is not well known in international circles and does not cut an impressive figure.  But, he will do the job, he will act as a figurehead, and he has some solid qualifications.  He has been the Knesset speaker during two sessions and did a good job.  He has sponsored many bills that support democracy and the rights of minorities.  He is a very appropriate choice and will make an excellent representative of the State of Israel.

Friday, June 13, 2014

ISIS gains

The fall of Mosul to the forces of ISIS is a major event in the unraveling of the Pax Americana in the Middle East, for which the US fought the Gulf War.  ISIS stands for "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (or more correctly "the Levant," which includes Lebanon).   ISIS is so extreme in its views and actions that it has been expelled by al Qaeda from its organization and there have been battles between the two groups within Syria.  ISIS has developed as a major belligerant in the fight of Sunni Islamists against Pres. Assad's pro-Shia forces in Syria that are supported by Iran and Hizbollah. 
Mosul is the second largest city in Iraq and controls access to the major oil-producing area in the north.  It is reported that already in one day 500,000 refugees, mostly Kurds, have left Mosul and are spreading north and east.  Beyond this area is the Kurdish semi-autonomous enclave of Kurdish Iraq, and the authorities controlling this area have indicated that they will both accept the Kurdish refugees and fight any attempt by ISIS to extend their control beyond Kirkuk in the north of Iraq using their Pesh Merga fighters.  What was very striking in this attack was the rapidity with which the American-trained Iraqi Army collapsed in one day and left the northern region of Iraq undefended.  This indicates a dire situation for the Shia-led Iraqi Government of Pres. Maliki, who has not been an effective leader.  It is reported that ISIS fighters are now moving south and have captured Beiji and Tikrit (Saddam Hussein's home town) and may soon threaten Baghdad.  This is reminiscent of the way the Taliban over took Afghanistan.
Whether one regards this situation as an inevitable Sunni reaction to the domination of the Shia in a nominally democratic Iraq, or as just a spill-over from the conflict in Syria is secondary.  What is clear is that the Sunni ISIS-led takeover of regions of northern Syria, the main city in Iraq's Anbar province (Ramadi) and now Mosul, reflect the growing strength of the Sunni Islamist threat to the whole region.  ISIS intends to establish a new Caliphate in the areas under their control.  The question arises, should the US and the West view this development as a direct threat to their own security.  I would think that a delay to consider the possibilities is in order.  If ISIS were to threaten a takeover of Baghdad, and especially Kerbala, the Shia holy city, then the Shia heartland would be threatened and Iran would have to come to support their Shia brethren.  Then the full-scale Sunni-Shia conflict that has been predicted for some time might be in the offing.  In that case, it would be astute to let the two Islamic sides fight it out, as Sunni-led Iraq and Shia Iran did during the Iraq-Iran war of 1980-88, and let the chips fall where they may.  Having to actually fight a war might make Iran a lot less of a direct threat to the West and Israel, and ironically might reduce its nuclear ambitions.  Iran might have more immediate urgent issues to attend to.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Coalition cracks

At the annual Herzliya Conference on Mon night, two major Government Coalition partners, Yair Lapid, Head of the Yesh Atid party, and Naftali Bennett of the Bayit Yehudi party, gave contradictory opinions in speeches on policy towards the Palestinians.  Lapid threatened that if the Government annexes any West Bank land he will bolt the coalition, but Bennett said that if the Government does not annex land he will bolt the coalition.  The irony is that these two relative newcomers to Israeli politics once forged an alliance in order to get mutually beneficial conditions from Netanyahu when the Coalition was formed.  In response, Netanyahu issued a statement criticizing "inexperienced" politicians who push their own foreign policy solutions, without any previous familiarity in the area of international relations and have no idea of the consequences of their hastily proposed plans.
Since the talks between Israel and the PA have broken down, and no party is willing to talk to a Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas, the question is what to do next.  Now their different political interests have come to the fore, with Lapid on the left and Bennett on the right of the Coalition.  In addition, the presence of Justice Minister Tzipi Livni in the Coalition has become an embarrassment, since she was in charge of the talks with the Palestinians and now effectively she has no political commonality with Netanyahu.  Her unauthorized "private" meeting with Pres. Abbas in London after the United PA government was formed almost led to her dismissal from the Coalition.  She and her Hatnuah party are hanging by a thread. Will the Coalition unravel?
Probably not, since none of these small parties want to subject themselves to a future election, especially if they are forced into the opposition.  But, this leaves Netanyahu paralysed, unable to act to either annex some territory, that would become part of Israel in any future peace agreement, or respond in any other way.  So either Netanyahu will do nothing and keep his Coalition in place, or he will decide to act and perhaps lose the left wing of his Coalition, Livni and Lapid, but maybe in their place he will gain partners on the right, namely the religious and ultra-orthodox parties. It's in the balance. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Military blunders

David Lawrence-Young, a retired history teacher and author originally from the UK, gave a lecture on "Military blunders" at Netanya-AACI.   He first defined what is meant by a military blunder, either a mistake by an individual or group or a misunderstanding of orders, or a mistake in intelligence.  Very often blunders occur thru the under-estimation of the enemy. 
He then gave examples that have occurred throughout history. He started with the Battle of Bannockburn of 1314, that resulted in the defeat of the numerically superior English under King Edward II and led to the establishment of King Robert the Bruce as the King of an independent Scotland.  King Edward's blunder was that through his arrogance he understimated the Scots, he chose to attck thejm with cavalry in a conficned space that was marshy.  As a result his cavalry was decimatd and England lost ca. 10,000 men.  Fourteen years later his successor chose to give Robert the Bruce Scottish independence that lasted until 1775 with the Union with England (although that is now subject to a referendum). 
A similar mistake was made by the French King against the English under King Henry V at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415.  The English after marching for weeks were tired and desperate.  They had no armor, but they boasted the best Welsh archers who could shoot 10 arrows a minute.  It is estimated that 25,000 French were killed and the Englsh who were out-numbered about 5 to 1 were successful because the French cavalry had to charge into a narrow marshy area where the English could pick them off.  Although this victory enabled the then-English (formerly Norman) King to hold onto his domains in France, they were eventually doomed to be taken over by the French.
The famous "Charge of the Light Brigade" took place at the Battle of Balaclava in 1854 in the Crimean War, that pitched the English and French against the Russians.  The debacle resulted largely from military incompetence of the commanding British generals and stupidity on the part of the local commanders.  Lord Raglan was the General in charge, he gave the order for the Light Brigade to attack the guns of the Russians that were at the end of a long defile.  He later siad he did not intend for them to attack head-on, but by the time the local commanders got their orders that is what they interpreted, and so they did and 475 out of 670 were killed.  As the French General famously remarked "C'est marveilleux, c'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre."   This was one of the first occasions when a war correpondent who was present exposed the incompetence of the Generals.
A well-known American example was the Battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876, also known as "Custer's last stand."  The US Cavalry was sent to pacify the Lakota Sioux tribe under Chief Sitting Bull.  There were 286 soldiers under the command of the unorthodox, arrogant Gen. Custer who was driven by personal ambition.  He divided his forces and although he was warned that he was outnumbered and in a dangerous position, he ignored the advice and grossly understimated the Native Indian opponents.  He was surrounded and his whole force was wiped out.  Unfortunately this only increased the US suppression of the Native tribes.

During WWI in France the two sides were bogged down in trench warfare.  At the first Battle of the Somme in 1916 the British fired shells for days at the German lines, but the Germans had well-defended underground bunkers, while the British had shallow muddy trenches.  Thinking that the Germans must be devastated, the British forces went forward without due caution and were mowed down by well-entrenched machine guns.  It was the worst day of warfare in British history, they lost 60,000 men killed and wounded.  They gained only 13 km, it was a great disaster.   

Under Winston Churchill the British then decided to try to remove the Turks from their alliance with the Germans during WWI and they concocted a plan to invade Istanbul.  But as the British Navy approached through the narrow Dardanelles strait they lost two ships to mines.  So instead they retreated and it was decided to attack Istanbul by land.  Big mistake.  They did not know the terrain and they grossly underestimated the Turkish forces under Gen. Kemal Attatuk.  The Battle of Gallipolli in 1917 at the narrowest point of the Dardanelles was the starting point to capture in order to head inland.  But, it was heavily defended and the Allied troops, including many Australia and New Zealand Armored Corps (ANZAC) were sent into battle completely unprepared.  Hundreds of thousands were killed and wounded and Australian Gen Monash was brought in to organize a strategic retreat.  It was another great disaster. 
During WWII, The Battle at Dunkirk in 1940 was perhaps the German's greatest blunder.  They had the complete British Expeditionary Force and the French forces completely surrounded and in retreat.  Strangely, the German General Staff with Hitler's agreement decided to stop their attack, that allowed the British forces to be rescued by hundreds of boats off the beaches and returned to England.  Altogether ca. 200,000 British and ca. 140,000 French soldiers were saved to fight another day. It is not generally realized that this mistake cost the Germans dearly later in the war.  The Battle of Stalingrad in 1942-3 was another great mistake by Hitler, he continued to order his troops to press the attack when they were already frozen, starving and without supplies.  Around 850,000 German and Axis soldiers were killed or wounded and Gen. Paulus was forced to surrender what was left of the German 6th Army.  This was the turning point of WWII.
In Israel, the Yom Kippur War of 1973 represented the biggest blunder of Israeli military intelligence.  All the information pointed to an Egyptian attack along the Suez Canal, but the military intelligence chiefs in Israel totally underestimated the Egyptian capability and refused to believe the obvious.  The Egyptian forces under Pres. Anwar Sadat planned a surprise attack on a broad front with up-to-date military technology, including Russian SAM ground-to-air missiles providing an air defense umbrella and troops with anti-tank missiles that blunted the Israeli counter-attack.  It was only with great losses (for Israel) of ca. 3,500 men that the tide was turned and the Israeli soldiers and tactics allowed Israel to score a great victory.
There have been major military blunders throughout history and it is likely that in the future these will be repeated, for after all war is a human activity and men are fallible. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014


I love three Russians, Dostoevsky, Solzhenitsyn and Sharapova.  I don't love Putin, and anyway, what kind of a Russian name is Putin? 
I watched a fascinating game in the quarter finals of the French Open at Rolland Garros between the magnificent Maria Sharapova and Garbine Mugurutha.   Maria Sharapova (seeded 7) is 6 ft 2in, blond, beautiful and impressive to see.  Her opponent was a 20 year old unseeded Spanish girl who came from nowhere and defeated Serena Williams (No. 1 in the world).  So now she set about demolishing Maria, winning the first set 6:1.  Maria had no chance, not only was she making many unforced errors, but Mugurutha (I love that name) was all over her.  As the commentator said, this being her first outing in a quarter final of a Grand Slam, while Maria has done 17 of them, Mugurutha would come out aggressively swinging, and she did.  Maria could not withstand the onslaught and even looked nervous and flustered.  But, in the second set she started playing better, and got to 3:1, then 4:2, but Mugurutha (did I say I love that name) fought back and brought it to 5:5. 
But, suddenly Maria started showing her class and out-played Mugurutha and took the second set 7:5.  From then on it was an amazing transformation, Maria played like a champion and Mugurutha faded.  I think it was case of having "shot her wad," as they would say if she were a boy.  Then Maria over-powered her and won the match 1:6 7:5 6:1.  What a strange and interesting transformation.  Next time out Mugurutha will harvest her energies more conservatively.  But, she is undoubtedly a great player of the next generation, big, fast and accurate.  Anyway, Maria is through to the semis.  Now that the top seeds are all out (Serena, Radwanska, Li Na) Maria (seeded 7) is the favorite, but it was a narrow escape.
Today I watched Maria go through exactly the same process again, she played Genie Bouchard, the young Canadian challenger, in the semi-final, although this time she lost the first set 6-4, won the second set after several set-backs 7:5 as in the previous match and then won the third set 6-2.  Bouchard lasted a bit longer than Mugurutha, and Maria showed her usual nerves and tension, but came through in the end to the final.  She will play Simona Halep of Romania the winner of the other semi-final against Andrea Petkovic of Germany.
The Final today was excellent.  Apart from the fact that Maria Sharapova made more unforced errors and double faults than she should have, it was a great match, one of the best finals in about 10 years.  Halep (seeded 4) played a very good defensive game and kept up with Maria to the end.  It was unlike her previous games in that Maria won the first set 6:4, then lost the second one in a tie-break 7:6, but won the final set 6:4.  Maria Sharpova is to Russian tennis what Tchaikovsky was to Russian music and Tolstoy was to Russian literature.  By the way, who cares about the men's tournament, its always either Nadal or Djokovic, and this time it was Nadal again.

Monday, June 09, 2014


This letter appeared in The Jerusalem Post, June 6, 2014:
I was gratified that the Israeli Ministry of Education has finally taken the decision to teach evolution at the middle school level ("Middle schools in Israel to begin teaching Darwin's theory," June 1) .  To those who doubt the basis of evolution I would point out that evolution is not a theory, it is a fact.  In other words, species have evolved and changed over long periods of time.  What is theory is how this process has occurred. 
Some might think that God was responsible for this process, a theory called "creationism."  Darwin's theory of "the survival of the fittest" and "adaptation by means of natural selection," that he published in "On the Origin of Species" in 1859, is as far as we know correct, except that Darwin could not know how this process occurred fundamentally, because he did not know about genetics. 
The work of Gregor Mendel that established genetics was not presented until 1865 and the work of Friederich Miescher who discovered what was to later to be known as DNA did not occur until 1869.  Now, much later, the subsequent findings of genetics and molecular biology fully support what we know about how evolution has occurred.
It is only ignorance that leads people to still deny evolution.  We must ensure that in this modern world our children are not brought up ignorant of one of the most important issues of our times, namely how man and animals have evolved. 
Jack Cohen
Retired Professor of Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
It is interesting to note that Gregor Mendel was a monk and Charles Darwin was a devout Christian, who spent many hours agonizing over how his findings would influence Christian belief.  I must admit that those religious opponents of the teaching of evolution, both in England (such as Bishop Wilberforce in the Huxley debates) and in the USA (such as William Jennings Brian in the Scopes trial) were right to fear the impact of secular education, it has undermined unquestioning belief in religions.  Apart from this there is the impact of other events, such as the Holocaust, that led to the valid question, "where was God while innocent Jews were being massacred?"  But, we must never forget that the basis of secular belief is built on a firm foundation of facts and conclusions that were hard fought for and attained at great price.   
I would like to emphasize that the term "natural selection" introduced by Darwin implies that the selection of new species was "natural", i.e. not directed, as is human selection of domesticated animals and plants or divine selection either by an imagined "intelligent designer" or by a God.  There is a well-known philosophical rule known as "Occam's razor" or "Occam's rule," that says that if there are two possible explanations for a problem, then one is required to take the simplest explanation.  As applied to evolution this means that we are required to take the explanation of "natural selection" rather than presume selection by an unknown external force. 

Note: My lecture on "DNA:a history of the discovery of the structure and function of the genetic substance" is now available on-line on my website at www.jackcohenart/Lectures.html

Sunday, June 08, 2014


June is the anniversary of many significant events, the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings that brought the end of WWII, the 25th anniversary of the first free elections in Poland that brought an end to communism, and perhaps most significantly for Israel, the 47th anniversary of the Six-Day War on June 5, 1967.
If anything can be said to have established Israel as a fait accompli in the Middle East, it was the amazing aerial attack of June 5, 1967, by the IAF on the surrounding Arab countries, particularly Egypt and Syria, that decimated their air forces  before they even took off.  These countries had threatened Israel's existence, and in some cases still do, but they got an extreme shock when Israel not only fought back, but won so easily.  It was all over in 6 Days, little Israel (6 million people then) had defeated the collective armies of the Arab world (120 million people).  Since then the world has never looked the same.
It had a profound psychological impact on all Jews around the world.  No longer were they cowering in a cellar waiting for the forces of darkness to strike and kill them at will.  Now the Jews were defended by our own first class armed forces that used the latest technology to decimate the Arab enemies.  Their arrogance and Jew-hatred had been blunted and their intentions to destroy the only Jewish State in the world had been utterly defeated.  Although they tried again in 1973, nevertheless, 1967 was a turning point, a watershed, that represented the transformation of the destroyed Jews of the Holocaust of 1939-45 into the victorious Jews of the IDF of 1967.  We are still trying to come to terms with that fateful transition.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Message to Putin

On Weds June 4 Pres. Obama met with a gathering of Heads of State of Eastern European countries, including newly elected Pres. Poroshenko of Ukraine, in Warsaw, Poland, to commemorate 25 years since the first free election in Poland that began the fall of communism.  This was the victory of the non-violent Solidarity movement, that started with trade unionists refusing to work under degrading conditions and ended with complete freedom for Poland and not only the fall of communism in Poland, but the withdrawal of all USSR forces from Poland.  And this had a domino effect that led to the freedom of all the so-called Iron Curtain countries in Eastern Europe, including Hungary and East Germany and led to the fall of the USSR and its break-up into 15 independent non-communist countries and the reunification of Germany.  This amazing transformation after 72 years of the USSR and 44 years of communism in Eastern Europe took all of 2 years, from the first election in Poland in 1989 to the dissolution of the USSR in 1991.
But, Obama's meeting and rousing speech in Warsaw was meant as a message to none other than Pres. Putin.  It was a not-so-veiled threat, that the coalition of free nations represented there, and of the EU and NATO, will not stand for any undue Russian interference in the affairs of these free countries, that have been under Russian control and influence for so long.  While Ukraine is not a NATO country, as is Poland, nevertheless the countries assembled there, including the USA, gave a solemn warning to Putin to stop meddling in the affairs of Ukraine.  Crimea has already gone from Ukraine to Russia, but Eastern Ukraine, centred around Donetsk, is still in the balance.  Obama promised a billion dollars to strengthen democracy in Eastern Europe by providing arms, ammunition and training.  The US will not supply arms to Ukraine, but will provide non-military supplies as well as much-needed military advice and training for the growing Ukrainian forces to combat the pro-Russian insurgents.  NATO will also increase its defensive maneuvers in the regions surrounding Eastern Europe.  Whether or not Putin will listen to these warnings will determine the future of us all.
Two statements in Obama's speech had historic significance, first the reference to the Warsaw Ghetto uprising of 1943, that was a  last desperate attempt by the Jewish occupants of the Ghetto to resist the Nazi onslaught.  It should be pointed out that in terms of freedom in Eastern Europe this was the first mass uprising against totalitarian oppression there.  Also, Obama mentioned the Warsaw uprising by Poles in 1944 that was doomed to failure when the Soviet forces deliberately held back across the Vistula River and allowed the Germans to reinforce and reoccupy Warsaw.  None of the Eastern European countries represented there are inclined to be very friendly to Russia, remembering that tragic history, but they are prepared to deal with Russia as long as it obeys the rules of international relations.  
On June 6 will be the commemoration in Normandy of the D-Day landings of 1944 that spelt the relief of Russia from German invasion and that heralded the end of WWII.   This will be another opportunity for Obama to remind Putin that they both owe each other a great deal and as democratic nations need to work together.  To the extent that Russia remains democratic it will resist the desire to occupy more land and take over other countries.   

Thursday, June 05, 2014

American shame

I was shocked, but not surprised, when the State Dept. announced that the US has given immediate recognition to the Fatah-Hamas Unity Government that was installed in the Palestine Authority today.  In my previous blog, "Palestine Unity Government," I enunciated the reasons why both Hamas and Fatah have decided at this time to rejoin forces.  But, not one reason why they combined has anything to do with peace or reconciliation with Israel.  While Pres. Abbas maintains that nothing has changed, he is openly contradicted by the Hamas spokesmen who declare their eternal enmity to Israel. 
Yet, the Obama Administration, as always, acts as the "useful idiots," who accept Abbas's word that the new PA Govt. still want to maintain their involvement in the peace process.  This is wishful thinking raised to the level of high art.  Hamas is a radical Islamist terrorist organization, recognized as such by the UN, the EU and even the US.  How can anyone believe that a Palestinian Government that includes Hamas can have anything to do with peace?  It defies logic and involves self-deception, but this is something that the Obama Administration is excellent at.  If Secty. of State Kerry thinks this new situation has anything to do with peace he is so naieve and completely self-deluded.
PM Netanyahu wasted no time in publicly lambasting this decision of the US Government in unusually harsh terms.  Not only is this a self-defeating act for a county that has an established policy not to recognize terrorist-led governments, but it is also a stab in the back for Israel.  Netanyahu requested all western governments to think and hesitate before recognizing such a government that includes Hamas, but the US did not hesitate.   The same Obama Administration that recognized the Muslim Brotherhood Government of Pres. Morsi of Egypt, was also in a hurry to recognize the Hamas-containing  Government of the PA.  
One excuse given by the State Dept. spokesman Jen Psaki for this recognition is that this PA Government is one of "technocrats."  But, everyone knows that these technocrats have no actual power, they are controlled by the powers of Fatah and Hamas.  And who can guarantee that Hamas will not only be pulling the strings, but that in short time Hamas will out-maneuver Fatah, as they did in Gaza, and then take over the West Bank.  This would be a disaster for Israel and also for the so-called peace process.  If Kerry negotiates with a partial Hamas Government, how can he then justify not accepting a fully Hamas Government, especially if it is elected.  It is clear that the Obama Administration has crossed a red-line, and Netanyahu for one will take appropriate action, which Obama typically failed to do in Syria. 
The State Dept also announced that the US will continue to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to the PA.  Some of this is used to reward terrorists who have murdered Americans and Israelis, and other of this money will be used to support terrorism and other actions against Israel.  I urge all US citizens to send a note criticizing this shameful and inappropriate action by the Obama Administration to the White House and to Senators and Congressmen.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Syrian fallout

As a result of thousands of Sunni Muslims from Europe and the US  going to Syria to fight against the pro-Shia Assad regime and becoming radicalized, must we then accept our people to be murdered on the streets of Europe?  Are we to become fair game for any returning Muslim with a gun?  This is what happened as a result of the radicalization of Muslims after the Afghan war (at that time with the USSR) that spawned al Qaeda.  Are we to see another wave of terrorist violence from returning Syrian combatants?
Mehdi Nemmouche, a French Algerian Muslim, who had returned from fighting in Syria, was arrested by French police in Marseille.  He was supposedly apprehended on a drugs trafficking charge, but he was still carrying the same guns and wearing the same clothes that he wore when he attacked the Jewish Museum in Brussels and killed four people a few days before.  He also had a CD on him in which he took responsibility for the attack, in order to kill Jews.  So he managed to cross the Belgian-French border carrying two guns immediately after the shooting.  What does this say about Belgian-French anti-terrorist cooperation?  I suggest that until such anti-terrorist activity is greatly strengthened Jewish tourists are unsafe in most of Europe. 
The main question is was Nemmouche a "lone wolf"?  Did he act alone and at his own instigation?  I am sure that he did not!  He did not go from Syria back to France and then choose to attack the Jewish Museum in Brussels totally on his own.  How did he choose it, who planned and organized the attack, where did he get the weapons?  How did he know the Jewish Museum in Brussels had no security whatsoever, not even a metal detector or a police guard!  The French police have already arrested four more French Muslims who have been operating a jihadist ring, recruiting people to go and fight in Syria, and then help them to return and carry out actions on European soil.  This brings to mind the terrible attack by Mohammed Merah in Toulouse in 2012 who murdered four Jews and two others, that shook France.  These attacks add fuel to the campaign of those who oppose foreign and particularly Muslim immigration to France, such as the Front National.  The FN started out as traditionally anti-Semitic, but ironically in the wake of these attacks it has become more anti-Muslim and less anti-Semitic.  Both the FN and French Jewish organizations are calling for French government action against those returning from Syria.  Politics makes strange bed-fellows.