Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Dear All,

"Going Fishing" -- hope to be back by the middle of next week.


Countdown to 30

In a month's time, Egypt and Israel will mark 30 years since the signing of our peace treaty. Israel staged a phased withdrawal from the Sinai following the 1979 accord, giving up strategic depth, vital airspace, military bases, newly discovered oil fields and control of the Straits of Tiran - the gateway to Eilat. From the Israeli perspective, Israel gave - Egypt took. And peace was established.

But Egypt paid a stiff price for being the first Arab country to make peace with Israel. It was ostracized by the Arab world and vilified by Iran's newly installed Muslim fanatics. Anwar Sadat, assassinated in October 1981 by al-Qaida's precursors, didn't live to see the final Israeli pullback from Yamit in April 1982.

Israelis never fully appreciated, or perhaps wrongly discounted as lip service, the importance Sadat placed on a resolution of the Palestinian problem, linking it to progress on bilateral relations. "Even if peace between all the confrontation states and Israel were achieved," Sadat told the Knesset, "in the absence of a just solution of the Palestinian problem - never will there be that durable and just peace upon which the entire world insists…"

Sadat vaguely embraced Menachem Begin's proposal of autonomy, but the Palestinians brushed it aside, faithful to the principle of never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity. They have spared no effort since to undermine Cairo-Jerusalem relations.

Neither Begin nor Sadat set out to construct a cold peace. Perhaps, along with the disappointments on both sides, the weeks leading up to the anniversary could be used to reflect on what has been achieved - against all odds.

THERE IS much that Israelis do not understand about Egyptian policy. We never understood why, in 2000, Hosni Mubarak opposed an international administration for the Temple Mount, warning Yasser Arafat not to "give up sovereignty over Al-Haram al-Sharif."

We never really understood Egypt's lackadaisical attitude to Hamas's weapons smuggling - though by limiting the number of troops permitted along the border, the treaty does complicate Cairo's efforts to secure the Philadelphi Corridor. But even with technical support now from the US and Europe, weapons flow practically unabated.

We do not understand why Egypt is pushing a Gaza cease-fire that would further strengthen Hamas, while leaving Gilad Schalit in its clutches. But Egypt must be equally befuddled by Israel's decision to pummel Gaza for three weeks - even as Cairo explicitly blamed Hamas for instigating the violence - only to declare a unilateral cease-fire that left the Islamists emboldened.

We do not understand why Cairo refuses to allow a genuinely controlled but open border between the Strip and Sinai, stopping guns and bad guys but allowing everything else; or why it opposes port facilities in northern Sinai that could benefit Egyptians and Palestinians alike. In the long run, such a move would foster Palestinian self-determination.

Egypt is again trying to foster reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah. But Palestinian unity predicated on Hamas's maximalist demands hardly salvages what is admittedly a bad situation. Why doesn't Egypt condition its efforts on Hamas meeting the demands of the international community to renounce violence, recognize Israel and abide by agreements signed by the Palestinian leadership?

Israelis can appreciate that Egypt's frosty policy toward our country is influenced by a complex set of foreign and domestic factors. Yet we don't understand why, in international forums, Egypt occasionally leads the charge against Israel; why, at home, state-controlled media sometimes promotes stereotyping of Jews.

When a rudimentary bomb went off in Islamic Cairo on Sunday, killing a French tourist, the reverberations were felt in Jerusalem. We were troubled that some ascribed the attack to "frustration" over Egypt's supposedly ineffective response to "Israel's devastating offensive in Gaza"; and that Iran's condemnation of the bombing "as serving Zionist interests" was taken at face value.

Our criticism notwithstanding, the survivability of the regime the now-octogenarian Hosni Mubarak established is a strategic Israeli interest. Egyptian war games in the Sinai earlier this month drew little comment because Mubarak's men are in command. We were delighted by the release from prison of opposition leader Ayman Nour. Yet we know that democratization absent essential institution-building and the right kind of political socialization is catastrophic.

Preliminary judgment: Thirty years of fraught relations trumps the previous 30 years of bellicosity.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Amnesty International & Israel's destruction

Tuesday -- No pardon for Amnesty

Yesterday, Amnesty International, the world's premier "human rights" brand, called for the destruction of Israel. We're overdramatizing? Were AI to get its way, the UN Security Council would impose a comprehensive arms embargo on the world's only Jewish state - but not on any of the 22 member states of the Arab League, or on Iran. Over time, Israel would find it impossible to defend itself against conventional or WMD threats stemming from hostile states or Palestinian and Islamist terror organizations.

The pretext for the embargo call was the IDF's campaign in Gaza to compel Hamas to end its bombardment of southern Israel and cross-border aggression. Over the years, Hamas has killed hundreds of Israelis in terror attacks. Apparently spearheading AI's anti-Israel crusade is the group's "principal researcher on Israel/Occupied Palestine," the London-based Donatella Rovera.

Though Israel purchases arms from dozens of sources, AI's boycott call is really aimed at the Obama administration: "Israel's military offensive in Gaza was carried out [largely] with weapons, munitions and military equipment supplied by the USA and paid for with US taxpayers' money," claimed Malcolm Smart, AI's director for the Middle East.

Either to simulate evenhandedness, or perhaps because it really is blinded by moral relativism, AI perfunctorily called for a weapons embargo against Hamas. It thus appears incapable of distinguishing between Israel and Hamas, between victim and aggressor - between an albeit imperfect Western nation which values tolerance, representative government, rule of law and respect for minority rights, and a medieval-oriented Islamist movement which mobilizes Palestinian masses to hate, teaches its young to glorify suicide bombers, and inculcates a political culture wallowing in self-inflicted victimization.

AMNESTY DOES much good work. Many of its rank-and-file members and contributors are sincerely motivated by a desire to make the world a better place. Yet beyond this good-hearted circle stands a professional cadre backed by agenda-driven money, which, we suspect, is exploiting Amnesty's good name. This cadre relies on world-class public relations and advertising firms to leverage AI's human rights brand for blatantly partisan purposes.

AI has long been under internal pressure to champion an arms embargo against Israel. Some have intimated that Jews in the organization were standing in the way. Francis Boyle, a law professor and pro-PLO activist: "You have… the very powerful role played by the Israel lobby on Amnesty International USA… Amnesty pretty much kowtows to them…" Plainly, Boyle's "very powerful" Jews have been sidelined.

AI is not some amorphous, beatific entity; it's comprised of personalities with all the usual human foibles. Everyone connected to AI needs to say whether they really oppose Israel's right to self-defense. Are we to assume that AI's International Secretariat - Irene Zubaida Khan, Paul Hoffman, Tony Klug, Susan Waltz, Jan Egeland, Menno Kamminga, Jaap Jacobson, Margaret Bedggood, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Neil Sammonds, Melvin Coleman - all support an anti-Israel arms embargo?

AI gets money from foundations such as the Sigrid Rausing Trust (which also funds B'Tselem). Does Sigrid Rausing personally want Israel to stand defenseless against Iran, Hizbullah and Hamas? Do board members Josh Mailman, Susan Hitch, Andrew Puddephat and Geoffrey Budlender?

The MacArthur Foundation, better known for its "genius awards," also funds AI. We have no idea whether its board - Robert E. Denham, Lloyd Axworthy, John Seely Brown, Jonathan F. Fanton, Jack Fuller, Jamie Gorelick, Mary Graham, Donald R. Hopkins, Will Miller, Mario J. Molina, Marjorie M. Scardino and Claude M. Steele - appreciate what could happen to six million Israeli Jews were AI to get its embargo. Does the actor Nicolas Cage, another major AI benefactor, stand behind the embargo call?

A good chunk of AI money comes from its American board - Steve Abrams, Jeff Bachman, Simon Billenness, Jessica Morris Carvalho, Mayra Gomez, Rick Halperin, Theresa Harris, Shahram Hashemi, Bill Jones, Frank Kendall, Carole Nagengast, Christianna Nichols Leahy, Dennis Nurkse, Phyllis Pautrat, Aniket Shah, Barbara Sproul, Bret Thiele and Diego Zavala. Which of them will be first to speak out against this immoral embargo call?

In calling on the US and UN to rob Israel of its ability to defend itself, Amnesty International is speaking in the name of its leaders and benefactors. Silence is acquiescence. Or they can dissociate themselves from one of Amnesty's biggest errors in judgment.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Iran, the Bomb and Obama

Monday - Obama's Plan B?

According to UN officials and arms-control experts, as of last Thursday, which of the following was true?

(a) Iran has enough nuclear fuel to build a bomb if it violates its international treaty obligations, kicks out inspectors and further refines its supply, as The Los Angeles Times reported;

(b) "Iran has slowed its uranium enrichment program," as Xinhua, the Chinese news agency reported; or

(c), "Iran has slowed the expansion of its uranium enrichment plant, but has built up a stockpile of nuclear fuel…," as Reuters reported.

Confused? That's probably what Iran and its international enablers want.

Experts deduce Iran has amassed 1,010 kilograms of reactor-grade nuclear fuel. It needs, give or take, 1,700. The Financial Times quoted UN officials as saying that "Iran has built up a stockpile of enough enriched uranium for one nuclear bomb" and has "produced more nuclear material than previously thought."

Are we months or several years away from a nuclear armed Iran? We can only speculate - about how much weapons-grade uranium Iran possesses; about possible clandestine bomb-making facilities; about whether Iran has built, or purchased, nuclear trigger mechanisms. There are no certainties about Iran's capabilities or intentions.

We know only that its continued enrichment of uranium is in contravention of multiple Security Council resolutions from 2006-2008.

We know, too, that Iran is guilty, under the "1949 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide," of "direct and public incitement" to commit genocide.

Iran's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, has called Israel "a cancerous bacterium" and "a stain of disgrace" on the garment of Islam. While attention focuses on the hate speech of the uncouth Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, it was actually the former president, Hashemi Rafsanjani, who tied Iran's genocidal intentions to its nuclear ambitions: "The employment of even one atomic bomb inside Israel will wipe it off the face of the earth..."

IT REALLY isn't fair that Europe, Russia and China not only abdicated their responsibilities to stop Iran, but also stoked its economy and military. The international community did not muster the collective will to impose the kind of biting sanctions that could have by now compelled Iran to abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions. The world failed to exploit the leverage created by Iran's declining oil production and its need to import refined petroleum.

It isn't fair that the Bush administration bogged America down in Iraq and took its eye off Afghanistan-Pakistan. Still, this is the state of affairs President Barack Obama has inherited, and this appalling situation will get exponentially worse if Iran gets its bomb.

Only 35 days into his administration, Obama appears to have less time than anyone imagined to stop Teheran.

With meaningful sanctions seemingly dead in the water, the administration is pledged to "engagement." For this, it may wait until after Iran's presidential elections in June in the hope that Ahmadinejad will lose. It will take yet additional months to acknowledge that Ahmadinejad wasn't the problem, that the mullahs will not abandon their quest.

Could it be that Obama and his advisers know this and have already given up on preventing Teheran from getting the bomb, that their fallback position is to "contain" a nuclear-armed Iran? But an America that lacked the stomach to stop Iran in the first place will have small credibility in containing its rapacious ambitions in the region and beyond.

As part of a policy of containment, there is talk of a US declaration that an attack on the Jewish state would be viewed as an attack against the United States. How credible would that be? To undermine just such a pledge, Iran could surreptitiously transfer a nuclear device to Hizbullah-controlled Lebanon or to Hamastan. Pakistan, the only other Muslim state to go nuclear, proliferated to Iran. Teheran could be expected to carry on the tradition.

In fact, containment may simply not apply to an apocalyptic messianic regime. It is certainly not a viable "Plan B" to the prospect of a failed engagement policy. And engagement, while arguably worth a try, is no substitute for the kind of sanctions - a complete blockade, for instance - that could yet prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapons capacity that threatens far more than the Middle East.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Dubai, Qatar & Israel

Dear All,
Shabbat shalom. And thanks for checking the site.

Friday -- Foul play in the Gulf

In yet another egregious instance of Arab men cutting off their noses to spite their faces, copies of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue featuring Israel's stunning Bar Refaeli on the cover have been removed from Dubai magazine racks.

And, after intense pressure from the Association of Tennis Professionals, Dubai has reluctantly granted an entry visa to Andy Ram to play in next week's Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships - after barring Shahar Pe'er from playing in the Women's Tennis Association tournament, affecting her earnings, if not her ranking.

International response to such anti-Israelism by the United Arab Emirates (of which Dubai is the commercial center and a self-governing city-state) has been understated. The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal were critical, and the Tennis Channel cancelled plans to broadcast the Dubai women's tournament. Pe'er's fellow players, hearing about her exclusion at the 11th hour, were sympathetic but decided to go ahead and compete rather than forfeit millions of dollars in sponsors' support.

Sadly, anti-Israel frenzy has reached such proportions that in Malmö, Sweden, where Muslim immigrants comprise 25 percent of the population, the Davis Cup tennis first round tie against Israel next month will be played in an empty stadium.

Back in the UAE, the first ever "Emirates Airline International Festival of Literature," set for next week, is becoming a real page-turner owing to official censorship of Geraldine Bedell's novel The Gulf Between Us featuring a homosexual relationship set in a fictional Gulf emirate.

The Emirates, where fewer than 20 percent of the 4.4 million residents are citizens, likes to be perceived as a tolerant, pro-Western oasis. And, to be fair, the Saudi-controlled, Dubai-based satellite news channel Al-Arabiya makes a stab at modifying Al-Jazeera's radicalism. Still, public antagonism toward Israel and Western values is getting ever harder to cloak.

QATAR plays an even more duplicitous game, presenting itself as cosmopolitan while shilling for the Islamists. Back in 1996, it hosted the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and seemed to be moving incrementally toward staking out a moderate position in Arab affairs. Indeed, as late as last year, Qatar allowed Pe'er to play in a WTA Tour tournament.

But at this week's three-day annual US-Islamic World Forum in Doha, co-hosted with the Brookings Institution's Saban Center, some Arab participants echoed a refrain commonly heard from Indonesia - where US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton just visited - to the Gulf States: If the US really wants to move closer to the Arab world, it will have to abandon its "near-blind" support for Israel and "overcome the veto power" of the Zionists on Washington's decision-making.

Qatar, which has the highest per-capita income in the world, has lately adopted a radically pro-Hamas foreign policy; in January, it suspended low-level diplomatic ties with Israel. Controlled by the family of Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, Qatar has the peculiar distinction of being 75-percent male thanks to its outsized expatriate workforce.

Sheikh Hamad is the main financial backer of the Doha-based Al-Jazeera. While Al-Jazeera's English-language website and television take a mild tone, the main, Arabic, enterprise aligns itself with the Hamas-Iran-Syria-Hizbullah bloc. For instance, it identifies those killed in the Gaza fighting as shahids. The Muslim Brotherhood has long been a presence in Qatar, and Al-Jazeera serves as a popular, attractive platform for spreading its extremist views throughout the region.

During Operation Cast Lead, Qatar hosted a meeting of radical Arab states, plus Iran, to mobilize support for Hamas and also pledged millions of dollars for Gaza's reconstruction. The al-Thani family also played a key role in facilitating Hizbullah's incremental ascendency in Lebanon.

But Qatar is shrewd enough to hedge its bets by hosting bases of the US military's Central Command, which oversees American operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The State Department considers both Qatar and the UAE - two of the world's richest countries - as friendly states.

HOW HAS Qatar, which promotes the Muslim Brotherhood and bankrolls the poisonous al-Jazeera station, succeeded in maintaining its image as a friend of the West? And how is Dubai, with its on-off boycott of Israel, able to sustain its own moderate image?

The answer is money. Lots of it. To win friends, influence people, and manipulate perceptions.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


Wednesday - Shari'a-for-peace

The government of Pakistan signed an agreement on Monday with Taliban rebels to trade "Shari'a-for-peace." The arrangement comes after Pakistani authorities essentially lost control of the once-idyllic Swat Valley - the "Switzerland of Pakistan" - in the Northwest frontier province.

Under pressure from Washington, Pakistan dispatched 12,000 troops in what turned out to be a failed campaign to pacify a region terrorized by 3,000 Taliban fighters. The Islamists had destroyed hundreds of schools (where girls were being educated or boys were learning secular subjects); intimidated foreign teachers, beheaded policemen and murdered journalists. Hundreds of thousands of civilians fled the province.

There are disturbing, though unsubstantiated, reports that India may be supporting the Taliban in both Pakistan and Afghanistan - another example, if true, of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" aphorism.

Most of Swat, roughly 100 miles from Islamabad, is in Taliban hands. Authorities also hold little sway in the tribal areas of North and South Waziristan. In short, while Pakistan is a nuclear power and has a seat in the UN, it is arguable whether it is a genuinely sovereign state.

The Shari'a-for-peace accord was reached between authorities and Taliban "moderates" led by Sufi Mohamed. What impact the deal will have on his more radical son-in-law, Maulana Fazlullah, remains to be seen.

In theory, the deal bolsters "moderate" Taliban and removes Shari'a law as the battle cry of the extremists. The theocratic rules to go into effect, authorities insist, will be a gentler, kinder version of Shari'a, compared to the Afghanistan strain.

The most positive spin on the deal is that it will end lawlessness and replace an unresponsive civil court system. Outlawing television, public entertainment and shaving would be a small price to pay.

President Asif Ali Zardari, whose wife Benazir Bhutto was probably assassinated by Taliban types in December 2007, has approved the Shari'a-for-peace deal. So, reportedly, did the Awami National Party, a secular Pashtun grouping. The Pashtun ethnic group comprises 15 percent of Pakistan's population, and 42% (a plurality) of Afghanistan's. The Taliban is predominantly Pashtun.

BUT MANY Pakistani modernizing elites are distressed. "This deal shows that the Pakistan military has in fact been defeated by the militants; that we are now incapable of retaining control of vast tracts of our own territory," commented a News of Pakistan editorial.

The decision to trade Sharia-for-peace appears to reflect a bad trend in the Muslim (and Arab) world whereby radicals stick to their guns, and moderates capitulate. Even if the Taliban could be satiated with "just" Afghanistan and Pakistan, these vast lands would become - even more than they already are - safe havens and launching pads for terrorism against "the infidels."

Indeed, reports claim that Osama bin Laden is currently not in some cave but in the village of Parachinar, near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, in an area that's seen Sunni-Shi'ite strife.

US envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke, who is just completing a tour of the region, called the Swat deal proof that India, the United States and Pakistan "all have a common threat now."

If only that were true. If only matters were that clear-cut.

The US is doing its best to keep up appearances. Anne W. Patterson, America's ambassador to Pakistan (who sometimes appears in public wearing a head covering), oversees the delivery of millions of dollars in US aid. At the same time, the US military (starting in the last months of the Bush administration) is employing unmanned aircraft to strike at terrorist targets inside the country, with the tacit approval of Pakistani authorities.

WHEN Pakistan's top general. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani - the man who controls Islamabad's nuclear arsenal and presumably still makes the final call in the shadowy Inter-Services Intelligence Agency - arrives in Washington next week to meet Obama administration officials, there will be much to talk about: the release from house arrest of A.Q. Khan, and the serious proliferation risk he continues to be; the Shari'a-for-peace deal; and Pakistan's culpability in the Mumbai attacks.

Between Iran's quest for nuclear weapons, the power vacuum in Pakistan-Afghanistan, and the need to preserve relative stability in Iraq, the administration will, no doubt, want to prioritize its Middle East agenda accordingly.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Those Gaza killed and wounded: An update

Tuesday -- The first casualty of war: Truth

Which is the greater factor in getting consumers of news to believe that "1,300 Palestinians, most of them civilians" were killed during Operation Cast Lead? Intrinsic anti-Israel bias - or a high degree of gullibility to manipulative international media coverage?

Put another way, do you have to be anti-Israel to believe Palestinian lies, or is Palestinian mendacity so well-constructed, so plausible, and so well disseminated by collaborative media outlets like Al Jazeera that even well-meaning people can't help but believe the worst of Israel?

These questions are prompted by some significant reporting in Monday's Jerusalem Post ("Int'l community was duped by Hamas's false civilian death toll figures, IDF claims").

Even well-regarded Palestinian pressure groups have been claiming that Israel killed 895 civilians in the Gaza fighting. Operating on the basis of such "data," coupled with a poisoned wellspring of antipathy against the Jewish state, Mahmoud Abbas has been making the case for indicting Israeli cabinet ministers and military officers for international war crimes.

Pro-Palestinian campaigners allege that two-thirds of the Arab fatalities were civilian. The IDF insists that no more than a third of the dead were civilians - and not a one was targeted intentionally. So instead of "1,300 killed, most of them civilians," we now have reason to believe, based on the IDF's methodical analysis of 1,200 of the Palestinian fatalities thus far identified by name, that 580 were combatants and 300 non-combatants.

Of these 300, two were female suicide bombers, and some others were related to terrorists such as Nizar Rayyan, a top Hamas gunman who insisted that his family join him in the hereafter.

"The first casualty when war comes is truth," said US senator Hiram Warren Johnson.

Take, for instance, Arab eyewitness accounts of the number killed at the Jabalya UN School on January 6 - some 40 dead, maybe 15 of them women and children. The IDF says the actual figure is 12 killed, nine of them Hamas operatives.

With time, perhaps, the names and true identities of each and every one of the Gaza dead - including the 320 as yet unclassified - will be determined.

One point is indisputable: Despite the best efforts of both sides, the IDF wound up killing more Palestinians unintentionally than the Palestinians killed Israeli civilians on purpose. This is known as "disproportionality."

Israeli officials, given bitter experiences such as Jenin in 2002, when a grossly false narrative of massacre and massed killing was disseminated by Palestinian officials, should have long since internalized the imperative to try to ascertain the number and nature of Palestinian dead in real time.

But while the figure "1,300 Palestinians killed, most/many of them civilians" is now embedded in the public consciousness, it is emphatically not too late to try to set the record straight.

Atrocity stories are nothing new. The British have been charged with using them to create popular outrage during the Boer War. The allies used them against Germany during World War I - which, incidentally, allowed the real Nazi atrocities during WWII to be dismissed long into the Holocaust.

Nowadays, it matters what masses of uninformed or ill-informed people far removed from the Arab-Israel conflict think. Dry statistics released so belatedly will win Israel no PR credit in a world of 24/7 satellite news channels and real-time blogging. Nevertheless, the fact that an Israeli narrative is finally out there is significant. Perhaps responsible news outlets will want to reexamine some of their original reporting, along with the assumption that "most" of the dead were non-combatants.

Palestinian propaganda is insidious because those being manipulated are oblivious to what is happening. Chaotic images of casualties being hurried to hospitals, gut-wrenching funerals and swaths of shattered buildings create an overarching "reality." Against this, Israel's pleadings that the Palestinians are culpable for the destruction, and that the above images lack context, scarcely resonate.

Despite six decades of intransigence and a virtual copyright on airline hijackings and suicide bombings, the Palestinians have created a popular "brand" for themselves by parlaying their self-inflicted victimization into a battering ram against Israel.

Disseminators of news should have learned better than to take Palestinian death-toll claims at face value, least of all when sourced directly or indirectly from the Hamas-run government of Gaza.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Ooops, turns out they are working on a Bomb

Monday - Intelligence has its limits

"The problem with technical intelligence," East German spymaster Markus Wolf once said, "is that it is essentially information without evaluation. Technical intelligence can only record what has happened so far - not what might happen in the future."

Perhaps that is why the director of US National Intelligence, Adm. Dennis Blair, told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence last Thursday that "Iran is clearly developing all the components of a deliverable nuclear weapons program," but "whether they take it all the way to nuclear weapons depends a great deal on their internal decisions."

Blair is the American government's highest-ranking intelligence official. He released the Annual Threat Assessment of the Director of National Intelligence after being in office just two weeks.

The struggle against Islamist terrorism and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan absorb the bulk of US intelligence resources, he revealed.

No one - perhaps not even the Iranians themselves - knows with absolute certainty whether they will stop just short of a test detonation once they have worked out all the pieces of the nuclear bomb-making puzzle. The mullahs may want to wait for a second-strike capability. But by the time Iranian decision makers grapple with that, it will already be too late.

When Israelis think about intelligence it is of the concrete, tactical variety that, for instance, helps the IAF target Kassam launching squads. Over the weekend, the Americans used their tactical intelligence to target an Islamist base along the Pakistan-Afghan border using drone aircraft.

The threat assessment, in contrast, while presumably informed by hard intelligence, is largely subjective evaluation. In this respect, it reminds us of the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate ("Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities") which told policymakers "with high confidence" that Teheran had halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003.

Last week, President Barack Obama acknowledged that Iran was pursuing "a nuclear weapon." So did CIA Director Leon Panetta: "There is no question that they are seeking that capability."

THE BIGGEST danger facing the US, according to last week's assessment, is not Iran, or North Korea or Islamist terrorism, but the world economic crisis.

The prospect of cross-border instability increases when the rising expectations of the masses are dashed by sputtering economies and runaway unemployment. Regimes that feel threatened at home become problems abroad. "The longer it takes for the recovery to begin, the greater the likelihood of serious damage to US strategic interests," said Blair.

The assessment also focused on nuclear proliferation, narcotics trafficking, global warming, pandemics, North Korea - even cyber-terror.

US intelligence believes that Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida, though still dangerous, is largely hunkered down, sidelined and finding it increasingly difficult to communicate with adherents worldwide. In addition, many Sunni Muslims, in Iraq for instance, are fed up with the indiscriminate al-Qaida-inspired violence. "We have seen notable progress in Muslim opinion turning against terrorist groups such as al-Qaida," Blair said.

At the same time, however, groups nominally loyal to al-Qaida are gaining ground in East Africa and Yemen.

Blair acknowledged that the Islamists are ascendant in Afghanistan, and a dangerous threat in Pakistan. In Afghanistan, the Taliban have thrived in an atmosphere of government corruption, insidious drug-related criminality, and a failure to develop the rule of law and rebuild the economy.

INTELLIGENCE HAS its limits. It always did. US intelligence could not predict - with certainty - until after December 7, 1941 that Pearl Harbor would be attacked; nor, until after December 25, 1991, that the Soviet Union would implode; nor, until two years after the US-led invasion, that Iraq did not have deployable WMDs.

Today's 20th anniversary of the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan is another reminder that evaluative intelligence, especially, has its limits. Could anyone then have certified that the mujahadin who had ousted the Soviets would turn their fanaticism against the West?

Though the US president has access to the kind of intelligence that goes well beyond what is publicly released in the Annual Threat Assessment, at the end of the day his job is about leadership and decision-making. Barack Obama has declared time and again that Iran must be prevented from acquiring nuclear weapons. To make good on that commitment, and in the absence of absolute certainty, he will have to make some tough decisions.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Jewish leaders meet the pope in Rome

Shabbat shalom to all

Friday -- Benedict's plea

On January 25, 1904 Theodor Herzl obtained an audience with Pope Pius X to seek Vatican support for the Zionist enterprise. The pontiff held out his hand, but Herzl did not kiss it - though he felt uncomfortable not doing so.

The father of modern Zionism outlined his plans. The pope's response was disappointing: "We cannot give approval to this movement… We can never sanction it… The Jews have not recognized our Lord; therefore we cannot recognize the Jewish people."

The Church has come a long way in its attitude. The principal milestone was the 1965 Second Vatican Council's Nostra Aetate which repudiated the precept of collective Jewish guilt for the death of the Christian messiah.

In 1986, John Paul II became the first modern pope to visit a synagogue, where he called Jews "our beloved elder brothers." And in 1994, the Vatican - casting aside the age-old belief that the Church had replaced the Jews as the "true Israel" - established diplomatic relations with the Jewish state.

In parallel with these signs of progress, there has been some backsliding. In the late 1980s, John Paul II met twice with Kurt Waldheim after the Austrian president's Nazi connections emerged. The Church moved glacially to relocate a group of Carmelite nuns who had set up a convent at Auschwitz. The pope sullied his papacy with a nauseating, 20-minute meeting with Yasser Arafat on September 16, 1982 - long before the PLO chief feigned his renunciation of terrorism. The pontiff went on to meet Arafat 10 more times.

BENEDICT XVI has had a troubling record. In 2005, the pope condemned a litany of terrorist atrocities while conspicuously avoiding mention of the 57 Israelis killed that year during the second intifada.

In 2007, Benedict moved to canonize Pope Pius XII ("Hitler's pope"). Last year, he reintroduced the Tridentine Mass, which Nostra Aetate had rendered archaic: The Latin original contained a Good Friday prayer for the conversion of "the perfidious Jews." Benedict's revised version lets Catholic conservatives pray that God "remove the veil" from the hearts of Jews and end their "blindness."

During Operation Cast Lead, a senior Vatican cardinal, Renato Martino, referred to Hamas-ruled Gaza as one "big concentration camp."

But it was the lifting last month of the 1988 excommunication of four arch-conservative bishops associated with the Society of Saint Pius X that brought Catholic-Jewish relations to a nadir. Jews do not much care about theological issues within the Church unless they impact on us directly. But one of those readmitted bishops, Richard Williamson, is an unregenerate Holocaust-denier.

Someone in the Vatican hierarchy did Benedict a great disservice in not forewarning him about Williamson. Only after criticism crested, and the (Protestant) German Chancellor Angela Merkel called on Benedict to make "very clear" his rejection of Holocaust-denial, did the German-born pope take action. (To his credit, Benedict has refused to receive Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.)

As a matter of Jewish dignity, The Jerusalem Post called for a moratorium on public contacts between the organized Jewish community and the Vatican - which is now saying Williamson must accept Nostra Aetate to be granted full communion, and has told him to publicly recant his Holocaust denial. To no avail.

ON THURSDAY, leaders of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations met with Pope Benedict in Rome. The audience had been scheduled before the Williamson controversy broke. Canceling it would have exacerbated tensions and embarrassed the pope - which is not the Jewish way. These communal leaders sensed the Vatican wanted to set matters straight. It appears they were right.

The pope told them: "Any denial or minimization of [the Holocaust] is intolerable… This should be clear to everyone, especially to those standing in the tradition of the Holy Scriptures."

He then repeated, verbatim, the prayer Pope John Paul offered when he visited the Western Wall in 2000 and asked the Jews to forgive the Christians who had persecuted them over the centuries. Benedict ended: "I now make his prayer my own."

We welcome this reiteration of the late pope's entreaty. Still, as the Holy Father may know, in Jewish tradition, absolution requires not just the confession of a sin, but its cessation.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Likud + Kadima + YB = A government

Thursday -- National Unity

The rocket Hamas fired into the western Negev on Wednesday morning was an
explosive reminder that while Israel is bogged down in post-election
befuddlement, its foreign and security agenda can¹t be put on hold.

The issue of a tolerable Gaza cease-fire deal that would not leave Israel
worse off than it is today, but would free Gilad Schalit, remains
unresolved. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is reportedly trying to make a
surrender to Hamas¹s long-standing demand ­ 1,000 prisoners as ransom for
our soldier ­ less repulsive by excluding four uniquely monstrous terrorists
from the arrangement.

Egypt is mobilizing to reconcile Hamas with Fatah and help them establish a
united front. Jerusalem will need a coherent policy toward a Palestinian
unity government.

Mahmoud Abbas has been diligently working to have the International Court of
Justice in The Hague indict Israel for war crimes over Operation Cast Lead.
In the topsy-turvy world of what nowadays passes for international law, such
PLO lobbying is a real threat. We need a government that can credibly warn
Abbas that his continued demonization of Israel will have consequences.

Over at the UN, where, to paraphrase George Orwell, the clock is always
striking thirteen, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has established a committee
to ³investigate² Israel¹s culpability in defending itself against Hamas
violence emanating from the Strip. Israel needs an assertive, eloquent UN
ambassador who can speak truth to inanity.

Israel also needs a no-nonsense defense minister to keep an eye on
Hizbullah-dominated Lebanon ­ where there are now more missiles aimed at our
North than before the Second Lebanon War ­ and on Hassan Nasrallah who,
still in his bunker, threatens a mega-terrorist attack to ³avenge² the
slaying of arch-terrorist Imad Mughniyeh.

Israel¹s biggest challenge is in Teheran, where President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad told an enormous crowd celebrating the 30th anniversary of the
Shah¹s overthrow that he was open to overtures from the new US
administration so long as President Barack Obama had no ulterior motives.
Ahmadinejad¹s party was spoiled by reports suggesting that Iran was short of
³yellow cake² ­ raw uranium for its nuclear weapons program.

The American Special Envoy for Middle East Peace, George Mitchell, has taken
the ³pulse² of the relevant parties. Back in 2000, Mitchell wrote that he
does ³not in any way equate Palestinian terrorism with Israeli settlement

Now Israel needs a strong government that can relate effectively, and
respond constructively, to the administration¹s efforts to broker a deal
with the Palestinian Arabs.

ISRAEL does not have the luxury of squandering precious time on coalition
bargaining. The existential threat posed by Iran, as well as lesser ­ by
comparison ­ security and foreign policy challenges, combined with the need
to competently address the local impact of the global economic crisis,
demands leadership of the highest caliber.

Tuesday¹s elections gave Kadima 29 mandates and Likud 28 (the balance of
power can still shift once all the ballots are counted). It is clear to us
that the two winners need to join forces in a national unity government.
Together with Israel Beiteinu¹s 15 mandates they can effortlessly and
expeditiously form a ruling coalition and get down to the business of

As the Likud¹s Bennie Begin argues, the differences between Kadima, Israel
Beiteinu and Likud regarding the endgame of negotiations with the
Palestinians are purely theoretical.

Given that the ³moderate² Mahmoud Abbas could not, or would not, cut a deal
with Ehud Olmert, notwithstanding the latter¹s generosity of spirit (and
desperation to end his tenure on a high note), it is self-evident that, for
now, Jerusalem has no partner for peace.

National unity is essential. Netanyahu could form a short-lived, narrow
right-wing government (with 64 seats), while Livni does not appear to have
an option of heading a government without the Likud. The Jerusalem Post,
consequently, favors Netanyahu for prime minister and Livni in the role of
vice premier and acting prime minister. Avigdor Lieberman could play a
constructive role as minister of the interior and member of the security

Admittedly, such a scenario requires Livni and Lieberman to put country
first. But given the Jewish state¹s need for four years of stable government
under capable stewardship, this is not too much to ask.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Election equations -- Israel

7 AM results -- below this posting.

Israeli election results are bewildering even for those who think they
understand the political lay of the land, partly because it will take weeks
for a governing coalition to take shape.

Advocacy journalists and agenda-driven media outlets are confusing the situation even further for those abroad by claiming that Israel holds virtually all of the cards in Arab-Israel peace-making.

The importance of Tuesday¹s results notwithstanding, what Israel does ­ or
fails to do ­comprises only part of the peace-making equation.

CNN¹s Ben Wedeman¹s point of departure, ahead of our elections, was the
bogeyman of "Palestinian despair." Having "just been tear-gassed" by
Israeli soldiers while covering riots near the security barrier ­-- where
Israeli settlements have "increasingly encroached" on Arab farmland --
Wedeman implies that Israel does not, really, want a two-state solution.

The Palestinians are being offered "an ever smaller, ever more economically
unviable territory," Wedeman reports. And so they are left to seek a
"one-state solution" in which an eventual Arab majority will demographically
overwhelm the Jews.

The magnanimous, arguably reckless, territorial concessions Ehud Olmert has
just offered Mahmoud Abbas count for nothing.

IF YOU can get innocents abroad to believe that Israel has refused to offer
the Palestinians a viable two-state solution ­ you can also insinuate that
Israelis will reap what they sow. The new prime minister, London's Daily Telegraph informs, "will face one unavoidable reality: the area between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean will soon have more Arabs than Jews."

No one champions the idea of 3.5 million or so hostile Palestinians living
under the jurisdiction of five million Jews. The demographic clock is ticking, but not quite as fast as the Telegraph would have its readers

Pity those who lack the back-story: The Arabs have been rejecting a
two-state solution since the UN¹s 1947 Partition Plan, and that rejection
created the refugee problem. The Palestinians have also consistently
rejected exchanging land for peace, and that rejection created the settlement "problem."

Perceptions are further skewed when the idea is implanted that the onus of
peace-making is entirely on Israel. Sky News said our elections "will shape
the future of peace in the Middle East." At stake was Israel's "final
borders," Asia News opined. The Times of India reported that Palestinians hope "President Barack Obama will help ensure that whoever becomes prime minister does not bury the already teetering peace process."

It's as if there were no Arab interlocutors to "shape" or "bury" events. But
there are. Diminishing their responsibilities presents only half the

Over-simplification is another way to guarantee skewed perceptions. In 1977,
the foreign media practically lynched Menachem Begin as an enemy of peace.
Yet he became the first Israeli premier to sign a peace treaty with an Arab

Similarly, Binyamin Netanyahu has been pigeonholed as "hawkish." And while
it is true that Tzipi Livni is a "centrist," Israel's entire political
spectrum has shifted rightward in reaction to years of Palestinian

Avigdor Lieberman is all too simplistically tagged as being on the "far
Right." Reuters prefers "ultra-rightist." But the Lieberman phenomenon needs
context. Voters susceptible to populist or demagogic appeals do, from time
to time, catapult protest parties to power, only to abandon them when the
magic wears off ­-- witness the Pensioners and Shinui.

Isn't the Guardian¹s Jonathan Freedland oversimplifying in claiming that Netanyahu rules out "any compromise" on Jerusalem, and is "still refusing" to accept a Palestinian state? Is it not a gross exaggeration to claim, as an Associated Press dispatch did, that Netanyahu "opposes giving up land-for-peace"? Netanyahu told The Jerusalem Post that he would be delighted to find a formula that allows the Palestinians to govern themselves and Israel to live in security.

Regardless of whether our next prime minister is called Livni or Netanyahu -- something that is not clear this post-election day -- Israel needs an Arab partner with whom to make peace. Ultimately, of course, a deal is dependent on what happens in both polities.

That said, Israel must not shirk its half of the conflict resolution
equation. Our next premier must ensure that all coalition partners in the
new government are committed to what, is after all, a strategic imperative
for Israel ­ peace.


As of 7 AM: Kadima has won 28 Knesset seats, the Likud—27, Yisrael Beiteinu—15, Labor—13, Shas—11, United Torah Judaism—5, Hadash, United Arab List-Arab Movement for Renewal and the National Union—4 each, The Jewish Home, Balad and Meretz — 3 each.

The right wing bloc holds a clear majority of 65 Knesset seats compared to the center-left’s 55.

The votes of IDF personnel have not all yet been counted.

Voter turnout was 65%

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Today Israel Votes

See below for my election predictions

Tuesday - Our broken system

Think of Israel's political system as a homeostatic device. When working properly, the country's temperature is, say, a comfortable 22.2 degrees (72°F). Some citizens might want it hotter, others cooler, but the apparatus is programmed to find most people's comfort level. However, when majorities consistently demand a change in temperature, yet the system is unresponsive - as if the thermostat was broken - you're looking at a dysfunctional political system.

Political scientist David Easton argued that a system is endowed with the capacity to gauge its own state of health. It senses public opinion swings, levels of voter participation, even violence, and takes corrective measures to restore equilibrium.

Israel's political system has been getting feedback that should have alerted it long ago that citizens are dissatisfied. Its homeostatic failure is worrisome.

The signs of discontent are blatant: Though over 30 parties are competing in today's election, many voters are saying, "There's no one to vote for." Few Israelis will wake up Wednesday morning feeling they'll have a real voice in the 18th Knesset.

Only 15 percent, according to the Israel Democracy Institute (IDC), trust political parties. The percentage of voters going to the polls plummeted from 87 percent in the 1949 Knesset elections to 63.5% in 2006. Those going to the polls today will be doing so with little zest. Perhaps 20-30% will be making up their minds at the last minute. Fewer and fewer strongly identify with any party.

In this environment of discontent the populist Israel Beiteinu seems poised to practically double its Knesset representation on the strength of a demagogic appeal to have those who are already citizens formally pledge allegiance.

Alienation, apathy and lack of participation extend well beyond electoral politics to encompass institutions such as the media and judiciary. The IDC's 2008 Democracy Index reported that only 35% consider the Supreme Court to be safeguarding our democracy. By these same criteria, the media receives a 37% rating. A staggering 90% of those surveyed believe the system is riddled with corruption.

WITH many Israelis relating to today's election with a combination of lethargy and cynicism, something clearly needs to be done to fix our dysfunctional system.

But what? To the extent that citizens feel their elected officials lack accountability, and that voters have no real representation in the corridors of power, part of the solution is electoral reform.

This newspaper has consistently championed, in broad outline, the Magidor Commission report, which recommended that the Knesset be elected by a hybrid method of district and proportional representation. The country is anyway administratively divided into 17 districts by the Interior Ministry. Key to reinvigorating the system with faith and legitimacy is giving people the sense that they have an "address" for their grievances - that they are someone's constituents.

No such reform, however, is possible so long as small parties with narrow parochial interests stand in the way. They are intent on blocking alterations to the system that gives them their disproportionate clout.

Yet the major parties, all of which ostensibly support electoral reform, can't afford to antagonize the smaller factions, whose support they need to cobble together a governing coalition majority. Only if these big parties collaborate could the threshold of votes required for Knesset entry be raised as a first step toward creating more stable governments, which are the prerequisite to fundamental electoral reform.

And yet most of us intuitively realize that fixing the way we select our elected officials alone is not enough. That to return faith and legitimacy to our politics - repairing the system's homeostatic capabilities - Israel's political, judicial, media, business and spiritual elites need to come to their senses and start acting responsibly. They need to approach power not as an end in itself, but as a means of fulfilling their fiduciary duties to the people.

Their failure to do so has paved the way for counter-elites like Avigdor Lieberman to exploit what American historian Richard Hofstadter described as a paranoid style of politics: overheated, over-suspicious, over-aggressive and grandiose.

Only a combination of structural reforms accompanied by elite responsibility and a renewed commitment to civic virtue can mend the system and give us elections that produce what Israel urgently needs: governments with a mandate and a capacity to lead.

Here's what my gut tells me will happen. No statistical analysis was involved. This is not the outcome I want. Voting in my neighborhood of Talpiot in Jerusalem was very light.

Kadima - 26
Likud - 26
Yisroel Beiteinu - 19
Labor - 11
Shas - 11
UJC - 5
Meretz- 5
Habayit Hyahudi - 4
Meimad/Green - 2
National Union -2
Arabs - 9
===================== 120

Monday, February 09, 2009

Compassion perverted: Shalit & a Gaza Cease-fire

Monday - Misguided compassion

This week's news cycle began with a flurry of rumors that a deal for the release of Gilad Schalit, a Hamas hostage for over 950 days, might shortly be wrapped up. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak held an unusual Saturday night meeting to discuss Schalit and a Gaza cease-fire.

The troika met again prior to Sunday's cabinet meeting. Afterwards Barak updated President Shimon Peres on the Schalit-cease-fire negotiations between Defense Ministry official Amos Gilad and Egypt's Omar Suleiman. Peres will need to grant 1,000 pardons to the imprisoned terrorists who are reportedly to be exchanged for Schalit.

The surprise appearance in Cairo Saturday of Mahmoud Zahar, a top Gaza-based Hamas leader, spurred rumors that Schalit's fate would be announced by Tuesday. Zahar is now in Damascus with Hamas politburo chief Khaled Mashaal. Hamas "inside" and Hamas "outside" are at odds over the parameters of a cease-fire deal and conditions for Schalit's release. Even within Gaza, military wing head Ahmed Jabari has reportedly taken a comparatively harder line in the negotiations brokered by Suleiman.

Meanwhile, Olmert told the cabinet that he is the one in charge of efforts to free Schalit, and that those who leaked the rumors that generated Sunday's headlines both exaggerated the chances for progress and damaged the prospects of freeing our soldier.

SCHALIT RUMORS touch an emotional nerve in the Israeli psyche every time they come to the fore. Hamas has hardheartedly refused to allow the Red Cross to visit him, so no one can credibly guarantee that he is alive and well.

Knowing what we know about Hamas's malice, the idea that our young soldier has been their hostage for so long fills Israelis with dread. We shudder to think about his physical and psychological well-being. So when Israelis deliberate what blood ransom to pay for our soldier's freedom, the quarrel takes place within Clal Yisrael - the House of Israel - where no one has a monopoly on compassion for Gilad and his parents, Aviva and Noam.

Hamas is supposedly offering a one-and-a-half-year tahadiyeh, or temporary cease-fire, in return for a complete lifting of restrictions on what can go into Strip. The first phase of this arrangement would see a partial opening of the crossings and a cease-fire. Next, Schalit would be released in exchange for the terrorists.

The Rafah crossing into Egypt from Gaza would, reportedly, be staffed by Mahmoud Abbas's PA, in the presence of Hamas, and with EU monitors on the scene.

The Egyptian package also includes plans for talks between Fatah and Hamas to reestablish their unity government - like the one which existed before June 2007, when Hamas ousted Fatah from Gaza. In its quest for international acceptance Hamas needs Fatah, while a fast-fading Fatah is desperate for a rapprochement with Hamas.

How Israel would stop arms smuggling beneath the Philadelphi Corridor under the Egyptian-brokered deal is anyone's guess.

WE LACK confirmed specifics, granted, but how is this deal different from the one Israel has been rejecting since June 25, 2006 - the day Palestinian gunmen violated our border, killed the forgotten Lt. Hanan Barak and St.-Sgt Pavel Slutsker, and took Schalit captive? Why do Israeli politicians speak in code about the "painful" price to be paid if the deal goes ahead? Don't they have the moral fiber to name names?

Do Olmert, Livni and Barak really intend to free Hamas's top West Bank terrorists? The masterminds of the Hebrew University and Sbarro bombings? The engineer of the Pessah massacre in Netanya? What will they say to those who risked their lives to capture these fiends in the first place?

Moreover, the troika purportedly plan to parlay Israel's capitulation to Hamas into another gesture to "help Abu Mazen," this time by freeing one of the main arsonists of the second intifada, Marwan Barghouti, and wiping away his culpability for the slayings of dozens of Israelis.

We all want Gilad Schalit back home. The question is one of price and consequence. Is it truly in keeping with Jewish compassion to purchase the freedom of one beloved captive at the almost certain cost of unleashing fresh acts of terrorism on our buses, in our cafes and malls, and on our roads - violence that would send many more innocents to their deaths?

Friday, February 06, 2009

Israel's elections -- Agenda for the next government

Friday - Red lines

Amos Gilad, head of the Defense Ministry's Diplomatic-Security Bureau, told this week's Herzliya Conference that Israel should try for a peace treaty with Syria within "the parameters at which we have arrived, but with vital additions which constitute red lines." Gilad believes that Israel needs to make peace with Syria because the two countries are on a collision course.

Gilad shuttles between here and Cairo meeting with Egyptian Intelligence Chief Gen. Omar Suleiman about a Gaza cease-fire, freedom for Gilad Schalit and such sensitive issues as smuggling underneath the Philadelphi Corridor. When he speaks, people listen.

Syria has the capacity to rain deadly missiles on Tel Aviv, Gilad said. A peace treaty de-linking Damascus from Teheran would therefore reduce Syrian support for Hamas and Hizbullah and improve Israeli security dramatically. But if a treaty isn't signed, Bashar Assad may provoke a war. The ensuing Israeli retaliation could bring down his Alawite government, to be replaced by a less cuddly, radical Sunni regime.

This summation of the obvious notwithstanding, Gilad's fleeting reference to "red lines" deserves elucidation. Demarking such lines - the point beyond which Israeli policymakers cannot safely go - is essential, both in order to build a domestic consensus and to help Israel articulate a coherent position in the international arena.

Red lines can translate into tangible ones. An Israeli-Syrian peace agreement could place our border along (1) the 1923 boundary; (2) the 1949 Armistice Line; or (3) the June 4, 1967 line. Presumably, Israel balks at handing over the former demilitarized zone, or pulling back to the 1949 demarcation. Other Israeli red lines would surely include ironclad guarantees for a demilitarized Golan and the unobstructed flow of water.

Talking about Israel's safety, what guarantee do we have that once a Syria-Israel peace treaty was in place - and the Golan abandoned - Damascus-Teheran relations wouldn't revert to normal; that Syria wouldn't continue to give Hamas leaders safe haven; and that it wouldn't go on funneling Hizbullah weapons? Should these doubts prompt red lines?

When Israeli strategists like Gilad speak in shorthand, assuming that "everyone" knows Israel's sticking points, they do the country no favors. They need to do a better job of defining them.

Far better if they helped build a consensus about those pesky red lines. Should Israel insist, for instance, that Assad recognize Israel as a Jewish state? That he visit Jerusalem? Assad is holding out a cold peace. What about holding out for a "warm" one?

RED LINES also identify minimum needs. Israelis generally assume that statehood is the Palestinians' red line. But what if their true red line is the one enunciated in December 2000 by Saeb Erekat: "The whole peace process hinges on Israel's willingness to withdraw to the borders of June 4, 1967… and come to terms with the refugees' right to return…"

Mahmoud Abbas today is still demanding: a total pullback to the 1949 Armistice Lines; the redivision of Jerusalem, and the "return" of millions of refugees, and their descendants, to Israel proper.

How are these red lines, representing the most "moderate" Palestinian position, to be reconciled with those of Israel's mainstream? It's hard to fathom.

Putting aside the issue of Hamas's control of Gaza, most Israelis would anyway insist on "1967-plus" - retaining strategic settlement blocs along the Green Line; a demilitarized Palestine, and control of the airspace and electromagnetic environment over Judea and Samaria. An IDF presence might long be necessary in the Jordan Valley to protect against threats from the east.

Israeli negotiators thus need to determine whether Palestinian red lines are indelible. It may be that they aren't. Just four decades ago, the Arabs declared: "No peace, no negotiation, no recognition"; today Israel has formal peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, and is talking to the Palestinians.

ISRAEL'S NEXT coalition government needs to put defining this country's red lines high on its agenda. Our negotiators can then take those parameters, reflecting a national consensus, to the negotiating table.

Binyamin Netanyahu may be best suited to help us identify our red lines at home; Tzipi Livni might be more credible at marketing them abroad.

Crystallizing red lines is not about throwing down the gauntlet, it's about knowing our own minds.

The danger lies not in revealing our hand, but in not having one.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Iran at 30 - Happy birthday NOT

Wednesday -- Dark anniversary

The Islamic Republic of Iran was established 30 years ago. That black day in history should, perhaps, have been marked last month; for in January 1979, after a year of demonstrations by his Islamist opponents, the shah - sick with cancer and abandoned by the Carter administration - left Teheran for exile.

Arguably, this month is the proper anniversary because it was in February 1979 that the Iranian military stood down and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini ended his exile, returning from Paris to a tumultuous Teheran welcome.

As he was helped down the steps of the plane, Khomeini showed nary a flicker of emotion. He went directly to a cemetery where his "martyred" followers were buried. Millions clogged the route to get a glimpse of the 76-year-old cleric; it took three hours to make the 40-km. journey.

Shapur Bakhtiar, the interim prime minister appointed by the shah, said Khomeini was welcome but would have to respect the rule of law. Khomeini ordered him to resign. He went into exile. In 1991, Khomeini had him killed by Hizbullah.

Sixteen days after Khomeini's triumphant arrival, PLO chief Yasser Arafat became the first foreign visitor to pay him homage. The two men held hands; Arafat beamed and snuggled ever closer to Khomeini, whose revolutionary guards had been trained in PLO camps in Lebanon. When the cameras left, Khomeini lectured Arafat on the need to drop his nationalist facade and make the Palestinian struggle against Israel part of the larger worldwide jihad. And on February 17, he turned the former Israeli embassy in Teheran over to Arafat.

It took Khomeini a while to pacify all of Iran. A revolt by the Turkomans had to be put down; former generals and officials loyal to the shah had to be executed. And over the coming years the revolution would consume its own. Revolutionary committees were established to purge the government and military of bourgeois supporters whose religiosity was suspect.

Khomeini ordered thousands of executions. Well into the late 1980s and beyond, there were always new internal enemies to slaughter.

Some say that the true anniversary of the Iranian revolution should be marked on April 1 when, after a nationwide referendum, Khomeini proclaimed the Islamic Republic.

IRAN'S FALL into the benighted hands of Shi'ite extremists turned out to be a geo-strategic blow of historic proportions to Western interests. The mullahs not only created a theocracy at home, they exported their pernicious fanaticism abroad. The November 4, 1979 takeover of the US embassy, and the 444-day hostage crisis, profoundly undermined customary international law.

A share of the country's vast oil wealth has been put at the disposal of its imperial goals - endowing the regime's quest to build a nuclear bomb, funding terrorist movements and establishing proxies such as Hizbullah.

American policymakers misjudged Iran's willingness to behave pragmatically in what came to be known as the Iran-Contra affair. In 1985, the Reagan administration secretly sold Iran $30 million worth of weapons to defend itself against Iraqi aggression, in the hope that a new leaf could be turned over in relations between the two countries - and as ransom for US hostages held by Iran's Lebanese allies. Rather than warn the US away from such folly, Israel played an instrumental role in facilitating the scheme because Jerusalem also misjudged the depth of the mullahs' intransigence and loathing of the "infidels."

Khomeini died in 1989 and was replaced by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who now controls the ruling 12-man Council of Guardians. On Monday, when Iran launched into orbit its first domestically made satellite - reportedly a civilian version of the Shihab 3 ballistic missile - the supreme leader obtained further, tangible proof that international sanctions are little more than a nuisance to Iran's imperial aspirations.

PRESIDENT Barack Obama says that if Iran is willing to unclench its fist, it "will find an extended hand from us." But the mullahs are playing hard to get.

Today, diplomats from the US, Russia, Britain, France, Germany and China are scheduled to meet in Frankfurt to discuss Iran's drive for nuclear weapons. The US needs to convince them that - whatever the new administration's tactical differences from the previous one - Washington will not tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009


Tuesday -- Gaza cease-fire talk

The pressure is on for another Egyptian-brokered Gaza cease-fire deal between Israel and Hamas. A bad arrangement would further consolidate Hamas's control over the Strip, leave Gilad Schalit in captivity, throw open the crossing points, and allow for the continued smuggling of ever-more lethal armaments under the Philadelphi Corridor. On the plus side, it would deliver southern Israel from enemy bombardment - give or take the occasional "unauthorized" barrage - for about a year.

While Israel has been funneling tens of thousands of tons of humanitarian goods into Gaza - earmarked for UNRWA, the World Food Program, the World Health Organization and others; along with truckloads of diesel fuel and cooking gas - the Palestinians have "supplied" Israel with deadly cross-border ambushes and fusillades of rockets and mortars. Hamas explains that in the absence of a formal cease-fire, it will do nothing to hinder other "resistance groups."

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert insists that Israel "will not go back to the rules of the game" which prevailed prior to Operation Cast Lead. But it sure does look that way: Aggression from Gaza is met with Israeli airstrikes, tit-for-tat. Citizens in the south are again having to calculate whether it is safe to walk their children 30 meters to kindergarten, or more prudent to drive.

Our leaders - eight days from national elections - are talking tough, though at cross-purposes. Hamas is taking no chances; its key operatives are back in hiding.

The debate over whether the war ended "too soon" is being answered in the affirmative every time an insolent Hamas violates the interim cease-fire.

Arab media reports say that a tahadiyeh, or temporary truce, could kick in as early as Thursday if, in Hamas's words, Israel stops "torpedoing" Egyptian efforts.

WHAT kind of cease-fire would benefit Israel's interests? A one-year hiatus in Kassam and mortar attacks in return for lifting the "siege" is a bad idea. Been there, done that.

A good deal would give Israel a buffer zone between it and the Strip. It would provide for tight control over the crossing points from Egypt, and from Israel, into Gaza. Our security is dependent on effective monitoring by reliable parties of who comes in and goes out, and what material is brought into the Strip.

An effective deal would have Egypt genuinely securing its side of the border; and we may be starting to see this happening. Lately, Egyptian authorities have exploded several tunnels on their side; and with outside support (under international pressure), they've installed security cameras and sensors. Cairo is taking advice from US engineers on how to interdict the tunnels, and they've deployed better-motivated, better-trained personnel.

While the main responsibility for security along the Philadelphi Corridor and the Rafah crossing necessarily falls on Cairo - it must ensure that terrorists and money for terror do not routinely flow into the Strip - Western-trained Palestinian Authority personnel, accompanied by EU monitors, should be on the Gaza side.

Under no circumstances should the crossings be opened, beyond humanitarian aid, until Hamas frees Gilad Schalit in an exchange Israeli security officials can live with. So far, Hamas has not budged from its demand that Israel release 1,000 handpicked inmates involved in some of the most monstrous bloodbaths of the second intifada. This must not happen.

For a viable cease-fire, it's clear the Palestinians need to put their house in order. But the PA and Hamas remain in violent confrontation.

The reconstruction of Gaza is also dependent on Palestinian reconciliation. Donors should insist that the Palestinians drop their opposition to a genuine rebuilding of the territory that does away with the refugee camps and squalid townships. But for the Palestinian predilection to wallow in victimization, Gaza could today be a Singapore on the Mediterranean.

ISRAEL'S outgoing cabinet must not allow itself to be stampeded into a bad cease-fire deal. The harsh reality may be that once a new government is formed, it will find it necessary to order the IDF to retake and hold the Philadelphi Corridor, along with parts of northern Gaza.

If the Arab world and the international community don't want that to happen, now is the time for them to lean on Hamas.

“Allah Akbar” in London UPDATE

I've removed the link that Tom Gross sent out in good faith and which I posted here which showed Muslim extremists rioting in central London.

The footage was real as best as I can tell. But the link delivered my browsers to the site of the British National Party. Oi vey. Apologies for any offense.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Turkey & Israel after Operation Cast Lead

Monday -- Turkey: The longer view

In considering the Israel-Turkey relationship, Israelis have reason to feel let down by the behavior of the Turkish government and people. From the start of Operation Cast Lead on December 27, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been on a diplomatic rampage. His words - coupled with the unbalanced media coverage prevalent worldwide - incited the Turkish masses into an anti-Israel, anti-Jewish frenzy. Turkish leaders declared that Israel was committing atrocities against Gaza and would be punished by Allah.

Israel's Ankara embassy has been in a virtual security lock-down. Turkish basketball fans chanted "Death to the Jews" during a recent match against Bnei Hasharon. Signs in Anatolia declare: "No Armenians or Jews. Dogs OK."

In the latest outrage, Erdogan stormed off the stage in Davos after shouting, "You are killing people" at President Shimon Peres; he was welcomed home as "The Conqueror of Davos."

No wonder Israeli tourists - over 500,000 in 2008 - are staying away.

The 25,000-member Turkish Jewish community doesn't have that luxury.

Anti-Jewish prejudice is endemic. The Izmir synagogue has been vandalized; anti-Jewish posters in Istanbul urge patrons to boycott Jewish shops. Jewish schoolchildren felt compelled to stand during a nationwide moment of silence for the Palestinian dead in Gaza.

SO Israelis have good reason to think Turkey has chosen Hamas over Israel, and Iran over the West. But it may not be quite that simple. Turkey, a nation of 71 million people, a quarter under age 25, is too multifaceted to pigeonhole. While its masses are unsophisticated and easily manipulated by demagoguery, key segments among the elite oppose Erdogan's policies.

In the old days the army might have intervened; the generals saw themselves as Turkey's "constitution," charged with defending Kemal Attaturk's legacy in the face of tyranny, governmental incompetence or threats to civil liberties. Paradoxically, as Turkey has moved closer to EU membership - a prospect now on hold - the army's overt role as the system's final arbiter has diminished.

Nowadays the army has pro-Iranian elements, and the Islamist government is suspected of trying to discredit pro-Western generals. The state of play is truly Byzantine.

Erdogan's tirades against Israel have not been uniformly popular, notably in the Western-oriented press. Many in the elite care deeply about Turkey's relationship with Israel. They argue that only 7 percent of Turks are hardcore extremists, but the complicated political system gives them disproportionate influence. They claim the number of anti-Israel demonstrators has been exaggerated and is small in ratio to the population. They point, further, to $6 billion a year in bilateral trade (factoring in military sales); Turkey will take delivery of Israeli-manufactured armed drones next month. The IAF has used Turkish airspace to train, according to foreign press reports.

As for Iran, our friends in the elite explain that Persians and Turks have a long history of animosity, but Turkey needs to import oil and gas from its neighbor.

Beyond all this, the Turkish premier's outbursts are attributable, those friends emphasize, to his strong sense of personal betrayal by Ehud Olmert.

During the prime minister's farewell visit to his Turkish counterpart, Erdogan invested his energies in ironing out a deal for direct talks between Israel and Syria. With Olmert in an adjacent room, he spent hours on the phone with Bashar Assad teasing out a statement that would have led to face-to-face talks. We don't know what price Israel would have been expected to pay for such contact. Nevertheless, before departing for Jerusalem on the eve of the war, Olmert told Erdogan to keep at it.

So when Israel launched its operation mere hours after Olmert's departure, Erdogan was accused by members of his Islamist coalition of "conspiring with the Zionists to betray the Palestinians." If he knew the Gaza operation was imminent, the pro-Israel Turks say, Olmert should have stayed away. With critically important regional elections set for March 29, Erdogan switched tracks - from being tirelessly helpful on Syria to verbally bludgeoning Israel.

CAN the relationship survive Erdogan's term, which expires in 2011? Ankara may well have forfeited its role as honest broker for a long time to come. Still, those who care about the bond between Turkey and Israel want to see relations back on an even keel.

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