Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Leading up to the October 1 talks between the G-5+1 and Iran

Think Cuban missile crisis

Iran recently became aware that its adversaries had uncovered the existence of a nuclear facility in Qom. Last week, the US shared what it knew with Russia and China, trying to persuade them to support tougher sanctions against Teheran. Late Thursday, the mullahs abruptly "reported" the secret uranium enrichment plant still under construction to the International Atomic Energy Agency. And on Friday, the US, Britain and France announced that Iran had been exposed - for the third time - trying to deceive the world.

The underground facility, ensconced inside an Islamic Revolutionary Guards base, was described by US Defense Secretary Robert Gates as "part of a pattern" of "lies" that has characterized Iran's nuclear program from "the very beginning."

But don't expect Teheran to show contrition when it meets in Geneva on Thursday with the five permanent members of the Security Council - the US, Russia, China, Britain, France, plus Germany; its first official "engagement" with Washington in decades.

Iran will express, as did Ali Akbar Salehi, head of its Atomic Energy Organization on Saturday, shock at the negative reaction to Qom. In 2003, it promised to reveal any new facilities to the IAEA as soon as it made plans to build them, but later backtracked, allowing Salehi to argue that Iran had had no obligation to tell the IAEA about Qom any sooner.

Add Qom to the scary list of facilities - at Bushehr, Isfahan, Natanz and Arak, and who knows where else - where Islamist fanaticism is being wedded to weapons of mass destruction.

The Iranian leadership's unvarnished thinking on the Qom expose was enunciated by Mohammad Mohammadi Golpayegani, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's bureau chief: "God willing, this plant will be put into operation soon, and will blind the eyes of the enemies."

WHAT happens next? President Barack Obama declared that his "offer of a serious, meaningful dialogue to resolve this issue remains open." But he wants Iran to "come clean" and "make a choice" - cooperation or "confrontation" with the international community. Obama says his policy of engagement and multilateral consultations means that if "diplomacy does not work, we will be in a much stronger position to, for example, apply sanctions that have bite."

That is doubtful. Iran's game continues to be a cunning combination of cooperation and recalcitrance. One step forward, two steps back. For example, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told The Washington Post that he is willing to have his nuclear experts meet with scientists from the United States as a confidence-building measure. Of course these experts will be in no position to answer questions about Iran's nuclear infractions.

The autocrat who stole a basically fixed Iranian election in which only vetted candidates could compete, who believes a cabal of Jews controls the world, that the Holocaust never happened and Israel should be wiped off the face of the earth, has now given his word that Iran has no interest in acquiring nuclear weapons: "We fundamentally believe nuclear bombs are the wrong thing to have."

Iran's stratagem is to "engage" as it pushes ahead with its bomb, thereby making it hard for the international community to impose meaningful sanctions. Once it feels certain it has all the pieces of the nuclear weapon's puzzle in place - fuel, warhead, delivery system - it might offer Obama a stop just short of a test detonation, in return for a long list of Western concessions.

Anyway, the pace of economic sanctions is way out of sync with the progress the mullahs are making on their bomb. Even if Russia and China accepted a winter embargo on refined petroleum products entering Iran, is there any reason to imagine that the mere discomfort of the Iranian masses would take precedence for Khameini and Ahmadinejad over the bomb?

Obama should leapfrog over futile intermediate steps and place draconian sanctions on the table, now. To paraphrase John Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis, this would mean that all ships and planes bound for Iran, from whatever nation, would be turned back.

Perhaps this prospect, coupled with a complete land, sea and air quarantine, can influence Iran's leaders to rethink their one-step-forward-two-steps-back strategy, and save humanity from an Iranian bomb.

Friday, September 25, 2009

64th UN General Assembly...leading up to Netanyahu's speech

Dear Reader.
Thank you for returning. As you can see, we are back from our break.
Shana tova; tzom kal.
& shabbat shalom.

Uncles and elephants

When the "family of nations" gathers, expect a mad uncle or two to show up. Sure enough, the 64th session of the UN General Assembly this week was blighted by the participation of Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Libya's Muammar Gaddafi.

In 1993, the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, writing about how cities had resigned themselves to outlandish, unacceptable behavior by segments of their populations, coined the phrase "defining deviancy down." The UN General Assembly established its reputation for "defining deviancy down" in 1974, when it invited Yasser Arafat to speak.

On Wednesday, Libya's costumed colonel denounced the UN's structure, noting disdainfully that the tyrannical majority is partly constrained by the UN Charter; and ripped up a copy. After 90 minutes of blather, he finished by complaining that the General Assembly was "like Hyde Park Corner - we just speak, and nobody implements our decision."

Later, Ahmadinejad took the podium to pronounce that it was unacceptable for "a small minority" to "dominate the politics, economy and culture of major parts of the world by its complicated networks." This cabal - guess who he meant - sought to "establish a new form of slavery and harm the reputation of other nations." He then demanded to know why the "crimes" of the "Zionist regime" received unconditional support from "certain governments."

Out of the 192 Assembly members, let it be recorded that a few, including Argentina, Australia, Britain, Canada, Costa Rica, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Italy, New Zealand, the United States - and Sweden, according to Israel Radio - dissociated themselves from this odious message by not having representatives present in the chamber while he spoke.

Of course, a bigger test for the international community comes on October 1 when the permanent members of the Security Council, plus Germany, meet with Iranian diplomats to try once again to sway the mullahs to abandon their quest for nuclear weapons. Iran will continue to play for time, knowing that China, but now Russia perhaps less, opposes punishing economic sanctions.

By year's end, it should become apparent once and for all whether the civilized world has the will to stop an Iranian bomb.

IT WASN'T all Hyde Park Corner at the General Assembly.

President Barack Obama delivered a substantive address devoted partly to peace "between Israel, Palestine and the Arab world."

For Israelis, it was a painfully measured speech - one sentence for us, and one for the Arabs.

Still, he advised Arab states to publicly back a peace they claim privately to support.

He said the goal of peacemaking was to end "the occupation that began in 1967" by establishing a contiguous Palestinian state. Palestinian advocates took this to mean that the president wanted an Israeli withdrawal to the 1949 Armistice Lines. He said no such thing.

Radical Palestinians interpreted Obama's advocacy of "a Jewish State of Israel" as negating the Palestinians' claim to a "right of return." We agree.

Relative moderates among the Palestinians were perturbed that Obama wanted negotiations to resume without preconditions. Mahmoud Abbas had been holding out for a total settlement freeze. Yet by speaking of "settlements" in the generic sense, without reference to strategic settlements blocs, the president was inadvertently encouraging Abbas to dig in his heels.

UNSUPRISINGLY, Obama found it politic not to mention that Hamas controls Gaza and has designs on the West Bank. Palestinian disunity was the elephant in the room.

Palestinian elections are supposed to take place in 2010. Paradoxically, unity augurs ill because among the Palestinians, rejectionism has historically trumped conciliation. At the same time, the continuing fragmentation of the Palestinian polity makes genuine conflict resolution a theoretical goal, at best.

Given the inhospitable venue, we did not realistically expect Obama to take moderate Palestinians to task for their unwavering insistence on the "right" to settle Palestinians en masse in Israel proper; nor did we expect him to call on them to budge from their demand for a pullback to the 1967 boundaries. We also did not realistically expect the president to say that Palestinian demilitarization is the sine qua non of any resolution.

But Obama must at least say these things privately to the Palestinians if the prospect of lasting peace "between Israel, Palestine, and the Arab world" is to be fulfilled.

Monday, September 07, 2009


Gone fishing. Hope to be back after Rosh Hashana.
Thanks for reading.

Plain speaking

According to one version, Harry S Truman said: "If you can't convince them, confuse them." This seems to be the political line taken by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on the settlement issue. However, according to another source, what America's 33rd president actually said was: "It's plain hokum. If you can't convince 'em, confuse 'em. It's an old political trick. But this time it won't work."

The policy of pressing ahead with settlement construction while planning to announce a temporary building freeze may seem disingenuous. On the other hand, the Arab-Israel conflict has not proven itself conducive to Truman-like plain speaking.

EUROPE, AND increasingly Washington too, prefer the comfort of self-delusion about why this conflict is so hard to resolve. In the Orwellian world of peace-processing, those who adhere to the view that settlements are not the main obstacle to peace are committing thought crime. So plain speaking necessarily gives way to doublespeak.

Washington wants Israelis to know that as reward for a settlement freeze, President Barack Obama will be less icy toward Netanyahu, and that Arab states on the margins of the conflict may reopen interest sections (that they should never have closed in the first place).

Given such inducements, Netanyahu has decided to allow building now in progress to proceed on 2,500 units in Judea and Samaria; announce approval for the construction of hundreds of new units within existing settlements, or in areas immediately adjacent to settlement blocs. And around the time of his anticipated meeting with Mahmoud Abbas and Obama at the UN General Assembly later this month, Netanyahu will announce a building freeze - excluding metropolitan Jerusalem - of up to a year.

Publicly, the White House has taken umbrage over Netanyahu's build-and-freeze scheme. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs declared that "the United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement expansion, and we urge that it stop." EU foreign ministers have tripped over each other to condemn Netanyahu's approach.

In a parallel universe, meanwhile, Israeli officials are absolutely convinced that they have reached a tacit understanding with the administration. After months of wrangling, Netanyahu, Ehud Barak, Yitzhak Molcho and Michael Herzog think they have just about persuaded the administration to drop its demands for a categorical settlement freeze everywhere over the Green Line first enunciated by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on May 28.

Supposedly, the White House has come to realize - despite the counsel of J Street, Peace Now, Haaretz and an assortment of big-name pundits for the Hebrew tabloids - that a total freeze is impractical; that the previous administration really did tell Israel that certain construction would be tolerated; that the US insistence on a freeze has frozen only the negotiations; and, finally, that Saudi Arabia will make no gestures to Israel that might contribute to creating a better environment for peacemaking.

Time will tell if the Israelis are right about having changed American minds.

TO GIVE Netanyahu his due, at his Bar-Ilan speech in June, he tried speaking plain about settlements and about the root causes of the conflict, but much of what he said was lost on his American and European audiences. The premier urged the Palestinian leadership to recognize the right of the Jewish people to a state of its own. Abbas said no. Netanyahu implored them to solve the Palestinian refugee issue outside Israel's borders. Abbas ignored him. The premier urged them to negotiate the establishment of a non-militarized Palestinian state. Abbas's advisers scorned the notion.

Netanyahu also tried some plain speaking to the settlers, saying Israel did not want to rule over the Palestinians. Granted, it would have been better had he stated unequivocally that even a deal with the Palestinians he could live with would entail uprooting communities outside the settlement blocs. Yet given the constraints of our political system and the inhospitable political environment in Europe and in Washington, there is just so much plain speaking Netanyahu can usefully do.

SO MAYBE the real problem, in this instance, is not that Netanyahu doesn't speak plainly, but that ears attached to closed minds - on the Israeli Right, at the EU and in Washington - have made it difficult for his words to strike a chord.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Gilad Schalit

In Memory of Abigail Radoszkowicz

Barak takes a tough line

The first time Noam Schalit's photograph appeared in The Jerusalem Post was on June 27, 2006, two days after his son Gilad was taken by Hamas. Our headline quoted him as saying: "We are hoping for good news."

Noam and his wife, Aviva, together with their other children, Yoel and Hadas, have been waiting three agonizing years for these hopes to be fulfilled.

Periodic reports in the Arab or German press, relayed in the Israeli media, have hinted at momentum in the circuitous negotiations between Israel and Hamas: something Khaled Mashaal or Mousa Abu Marzook said, or that Osama Hamdan didn't say. Talk of momentum has been inspired too by sightings of Ahmed Ja'abari or Mahmoud al-Zahar in Cairo.

The latest rumors claim Israel gave Hamas a new list of 450 prisoners it is willing to release, to be followed by 550 additional "humanitarian cases" set free down the line, ostensibly unconnected to the soldier's ransom. There are stories that Hamas is insisting on including Israeli Arab prisoners in any deal; and that it wants Fatah "redeemer" Marwan Barghouti included. Other accounts have Hamas sticking to its demand that the masterminds of the Sbarro, Moment Cafe and Dolphinarium attacks, and of the Netanya Pessah Seder massacre, be included in any exchange. Rumor has it that Israel will try to save face by deporting these evil men upon their release, the tacit understanding being that many will eventually slither into Gaza.

WHAT MAKES us think that the government of Binyamin Netanyahu really is close to a deal is, paradoxically, the hard line we've been hearing lately from Defense Minister Ehud Barak: "We are taking and will continue to take every possible and proper action in order to bring him back quickly to his family. I emphasize: Every possible and proper action... but not at all costs. Not at all costs."

Noam Schalit responded - as any father would - by saying that in these days of repentance leading up to Rosh Hashana, all he cared about was having Gilad home.

But the defense minister's eminently reasonable stance unleashed a deluge of biting criticism. One pundit retorted: It's not like we're being asked to exchange Schalit for the Golan Heights or east Jerusalem. "We are talking about a certain price... more or less several hundred (sic) terrorists… some with blood on their hands, some... who will resume terrorist activities immediately upon their release. This is the price." In other words: Let's go for it.

Other advocates of meeting Hamas's demands grant that some of the released terrorists will plan a new wave of bus bombings, drive-by shootings and the occasional assassination of a government minister, but they find solace in the hope that the overwhelming majority of the freed prisoners will be content to serve as quiet role models to a new generation of Palestinians.

ISRAELIS DESPERATELY want to see an end to the Schalit family's ordeal. But the one thing even more important than bringing Gilad home is doing so in a way that does not give the enemy an incentive to try again.

Were Netanyahu to cave in to the emotional blackmail instigated by those in the populist media, he would be broadcasting to Iran and Hizbullah, not to mention the Palestinians, that for all his braggadocio, he has no stomach for confrontation; no patience for victory.

If the government grants Hamas essentially what it has been asking for all along, no amount of subterfuge will camouflage the truth.

This brings us back to Barak - Israel's grandmaster of strategy, whose brilliance and zigzags are sometimes too clever by half.

Forgive us for wondering if Barak doth protest too much, if his "not at all costs" rhetoric is actually a Machiavellian scheme concocted together with the premier to bring the Schalit saga to closure - largely on Hamas's terms.

Having now established himself as courageously prepared to take flak for opposing a deal that goes too far, Barak positions himself to validate any deal he does embrace as good for Israel.

Hebrew speakers would call such a ploy hafuch al hafuch. We might simply call it deceitful.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Remembering how the Second World War Began ...five lessons that apply today

70 years later

Seventy years is a long time. The span between the outbreak of World War II and today is about equal to the period between the first powered flight of the Wright brothers and NASA's Saturn V rocket launch of Skylab.

Men and women in their 20s today can't but relate to the Second World War as something that happened in their grandparents' generation. People in their 40s and 50s relate to WWII as something their parents may have experienced. Take President Barack Obama, who at 48 has only heard stories about how his great-uncle Charles Payne helped to liberate Buchenwald.

THE PASSAGE of time notwithstanding, controversy over the war remains vibrant. Revisionist historians, for example, falsely claim that there is no difference between the victims of communism and the victims of Nazism.

A more serious debate revolves around who, apart from Hitler, was most responsible for starting WWII?

Russia blames Poland for being Hitler's accomplice to the partition of Czechoslovakia in 1938, thus setting the stage for the conflict. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania along with Ukraine are marking the anniversary by spotlighting the evil committed by Josef Stalin and arguing that he and Hitler shared responsibility for the horrendous consequences of the war. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev calls this view a "flat-out lie."

Stalin, as we know, was responsible for the deaths of an estimated 20 million people within the borders of the Soviet Union until his death in 1953. His authorization of the August 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact provided Hitler with the breathing space needed to launch Germany's invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939. The pact allowed Moscow to annex Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, two-thirds of Poland and a chunk of Romania.

The Russians point out that their pact with Hitler would not have been necessary if not for the Munich agreement Britain and France signed with Germany. That September 1938 deal obliged Czechoslovakia to trade land for peace and turn over its Sudetenland region to the Nazis. Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister, heralded the accord as delivering "peace for our time."

Hitler betrayed Stalin and in one of the fuhrer's greatest blunders ordered the invasion of Russia on June 22, 1941. With the Soviet Union fighting on the side of the Allies, the Nazis were decisively defeated.

Whatever the miscalculations and moral deficiencies of Chamberlain, Stalin and the other leaders of that era, the unalterable fact is that Hitler alone instigated World War II.

The war made it possible for the Nazi leader to fulfill his "prophecy" that European Jewry would be destroyed. Indeed, implementing the systematic, industrial-scale murder of the Jews was a raison d'être for launching the conflict - and a critical German war aim.

BUT AS we said, 70 years is a long time ago. Today, a quarter of Germans, according to Stern magazine, believe there were positive aspects to Nazi rule. And as The Associated Press recently reported from Gaza, a Hamas spiritual leader considers it a war crime to teach Palestinian pupils that the Nazis murdered 6 million Jews.

Despite a myriad of Holocaust films, museums and books that have made the Final Solution synonymous, in many minds, with the war itself, only 37 percent of British high school students knew that 6 million Jews were killed in the Shoah. A staggering 83% of Dutch people surveyed in 2006 thought the Allies fought WWII because of the Holocaust.

As the world marks the anniversary of the outbreak of WWII this week, and with the Iranian leader set to address the United Nations next month, those who make fateful decisions for the international community need to draw the appropriate lessons from history.

These include, we submit:

• Leaders will appease tyrants when confrontation is costly, only to pay a greater price later.

• Purely pragmatic yet amoral policies directed at a tyrant broadcast weakness.

• When a tyrant prophesies a world without Jews (or Israel), he is revealing his intentions.

• Rational decision-making models may not apply in polities where crucial choices are made by a strongman and his sycophants. Such leaders are inherently unpredictable.

• Appeasement emboldens autocrats convinced they have a special aura and messianic mission.

History does not repeat itself. But people have been known to make the same mistake twice.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Why Israelis are cynical about their elected officials

Yes to outrage

You know what's really distressing about Sunday's indictment of former prime minister Ehud Olmert on graft charges? It's that the news was anti-climatic. That Israeli society has reached the point where one mass-circulation tabloid devoted more front page coverage to Madonna's visit to the Western Wall than to the historic indictment of an ex-premier.

Israelis were not shaken. We did not feel betrayed. And therein lies the heartbreak.

Part of the blasé reaction can be explained by the fact that Olmert has been under investigation for so long. In September 1996, while in the Likud, he was indicted for illicit fund raising and for signing false statements. He was ultimately acquitted.

In the last three years, Olmert stood accused of influence-peddling at the Finance Ministry to ensure that the privatization tender of Bank Leumi was won by Australian businessman Frank Lowy. That case was dropped. As Industry, Trade and Labor minister, he was accused of handing out patronage jobs to a company associated with his former law partner. That case is still pending.

Back on March 2, 2006, The Jerusalem Post reported that then-acting prime minister Olmert had been cleared of any wrongdoing in the sale of his home on Rehov Kaf Tet B'November in Jerusalem. Further on in that story, though, we reported that Attorney-General Menachem Mazuz was looking into charges that Olmert's purchase of another Jerusalem home on Cremieux Street was shady. No wrongdoing was ever proven in connection with Olmert's real estate dealings on Cremieux St, or in Nahalot, or in Sheinkin Street in Tel Aviv.

Still, when Olmert was ultimately driven from office it was not for his inept handling of the Second Lebanon War, but because he became too unpopular to lead Kadima at the polls.

THE attorney-general has now filed a 61-page, three-count indictment charging Olmert with tax evasion, falsifying financial statements and failing to report income. The charges relate to the period Olmert was mayor of Jerusalem and a minister. None allege wrongdoing initiated during his premiership. Olmert is not charged with taking bribes, though that is implicit.

# Charge One: Rishon Tours. Olmert is accused of double, sometimes triple billing the government and not-for-profit organizations for reimbursement of 17 trips abroad between 2002-2006, and of directing that surplus funds, roughly $90,000, be held on account at the travel agency for personal use by him and members of his family.

# Charge Two: Morris Talansky affair. Olmert is accused of receiving $600,000 from the American businessman, some of it in cash-stuffed envelopes, between 1997 and 2005.

# Charge Three: Investment Center. As Minister of Industry and Trade, Olmert is charged with a conflict of interest in intervening on behalf of the clients of his law partner Uri Messer to obtain government grants.

No prime minister or ex-premier has ever before been indicted on criminal charges in Israel's history.

This is the place to say that we have not been impressed with the deportment of Olmert's lawyers, particularly their efforts to delay the handing down of this indictment and impugning the motivation of the prosecution. To insinuate that the indictment was driven by ulterior motives is to undermine trust in the legal system.

Olmert is innocent until proven guilty. He is expected to go on trial in Jerusalem District Court before a three judge panel probably after the High Holy Days. The trial is expected to be a drawn out affair, barring a plea bargain.

WE ARE left feeling that hubris more than ethical standards guide the behavior of too many of our politicians. Sixty years after the establishment of the state, the sense that certain things are just not done remains undeveloped.

Former president Moshe Katsav and now Olmert have been indicted. Former finance minister Avraham Hirschson and former Shas MK Shlomo Benizri both start their prison sentences today. Ariel Sharon and Ehud Barak both escaped indictment - just. Police have recommended indicting Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

The charges, circumstances, and personalities may vary but the lingering impression is that those who ought to be paragons of probity too often treat the law with contempt. Their greatest offense is making the rest of us cynical about our country.

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