Sunday, December 22, 2013

Israelis Unsurprised by NSA Spying Revelations. Politicians Note that Pollard Has Been in a US Prison for 30 Years for doing Much Less

Reaction in Israel was muted to reports that the NSA and its British counterpart spied on former Israeli premier Ehud Olmert, former defense minister Ehud Barak and on Israeli facilities. 

The revelations were made public by N.S.A. defector-- now Moscow denizen-- Edward Snowden and published in the New York Times on Friday December 20 just as Jerusalem went offline for the Jewish Sabbath.

With the end of the Israeli weekend on Sunday, the Hebrew-language newspapers and radio news programs headlined the eavesdropping.

Israel's top political, intelligence and military leaders work under the assumption that foreigners— friends and foes— are spying on them.

Shimon Shiffer, a columnist for the anti-Netanyahu government tabloid, Yediot Aharanot, wrote that he doubted senior Israeli officials would even pretend to be outraged. "No one has been taken by surprise, Israel's top officials know that everyone wiretaps everyone else, all the time."

Ronen Bergman, who specializes in national security affairs, wrote in Yediot that the Americans were likely looking for information about a possible Israeli attack against Iran's nuclear facilities.

The NSA also reportedly spied on the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Institute of Physics, according to the Times.

Yediot reported that American officials rented an apartment near Barak's Tel Aviv residence-- a high-rise tower -- in order to listen in on his conversations.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds his most sensitive discussions at Mossad intelligence headquarters to minimize the possibility of eavesdropping, according to Israel's Channel 10 news. 

For similar reasons he does not keep a computer in his office, according to Israel's Channel 2.

Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz, whose office has no direct operational responsibilities, called the NSA's behavior "unacceptable," according to the Jerusalem Post.

"We don't monitor the U.S. president, the White House, or the defense minister, and I think we need to reach an understanding with the U.S." not to spy on Israel, Steinitz said.

My own take is that it would have been wiser for Steinitz to restrain himself. Not every event requires a comment even if a minister has time on his hands. 

And I doubt these comments reflect anyone's thinking but his own.

For the most part, Israeli politicians used the revelations to call on the White House to pardon Jonathan Pollard, an Israeli spy who has been incarcerated in a U.S. prison for 30 years. 

Few in Israel understand why he has been punished so harshly for so long.

The new head of the Labor opposition, Isaac Herzog, called on Washington to release Pollard on the grounds that he had been punished enough for spying done long ago.

Netanyahu said little on the matter directly.

He told the Cabinet on Sunday that Israel did not need to capitalize on the NSA revelations to make the case that justice demanded Pollard be released.

Earlier, Transportation Minister Israel Katz, a member of Netanyahu's Likud Party, said Pollard was being punished for activities that were mild in comparison to what the NSA had done. 

Tzahi Hanegbi, a former head of the Knesset Foreign Affairs Committee, said the NSA revelations ought to serve as an impetus for Pollard's release.

The angriest, and characteristically shallowest, reaction came from Labor opposition Knesset member Nachman Shai, chair of  the Knesset Caucus on US-Israel Relations, who demanded that parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee hold hearings on the American espionage.

"The silence of Israeli officials following these reports is disappointing and shameful," Shai said according to the Times of Israel. 

Most Israelis will take the revelations in stride, I suspect. Like all countries, the US has interests and to protect those interests it monitors events and conversations.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Money Buys Qatar Influence and Interdependence

The tiny Gulf sheikdom of Qatar, comprised of 300,000 citizens and one million foreign workers, is increasing its financial, economic and media footprint in the United States, the Washington Post reported.

Experts say Doha does not have a unified strategy behind its expansion into America other than to create strong cultural, political and economic bonds with countries that could help protect its interests.

"You'll drive yourself mad trying to find an overarching plan behind all the Qatari moves," said author David Roberts, according to the Post.

Qatar previously invested in Britain. Europe's tallest building funded by Qatari investors is the 72-story Shard located near London Bridge. 

Qatar has a major stake in Heathrow Airport. It also owns the Harrods department store. Since 2007, Qatar has invested $33 billion in Britain, according to the Post.

Qatar has established Al Jazeera America.

The original media outlet Al Jazeera in Arabic has been influential in forming public opinion in the Middle East. 

Obviously, you won't be seeing preachers teaching the Koran and ridiculing those not of the faith on the American version.

In fact, Al Jazeera in English -- shown in Israel -- looks a lot like the BBC. (Take that any way you care to.)

In January, Qatar purchased Al Gore's Current TV for $500 million in order to secure access to cable television channels for Al Jazeera America which is now hiring hundreds of reporters.
Besides Washington, Qatar has real estate interests in Chicago's Radisson Blu Aqua hotel and it is a majority owner of Golden Pass Products, a Houston-based importer of natural gas.

Qatar Airways is a significant customer of Boeing having recently purchased 50 Boeing 777 aircraft for $19 billion. It is the second biggest airline in Mideast behind Turkish Airlines.

Through its Qatari Foundation, the sheikdom has donated $100 million to Hurricane Katrina relief and is investing $5 million to spread Arab language and culture in America, the Post reported.

Like Saudi Arabia, which is controlled by the family Saud, Qatar is a family concern. The emir— who took over in June from his father— is Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani, 33, who trained at Sandhurst, Britain's Royal Military Academy.

Qatar's foreign policies are not easy to pigeonhole.

Israeli ministers have quietly visited Doha.

Since 2003 it has allowed the U.S. to station a major military base on its soil. At the same time, it is a prominent backer of the Muslim Brotherhood and a generous donor to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Qatari-supported clerics have tried to make peace between Hamas and more radical Moslems based in the Strip.

With the eruption of the Syrian civil war, Qatar broke with the Assad regime and Hezbollah, supporting the Islamic opposition including groups associated with al-Qaeda. It has now reportedly stepped back from the Syrian morass ceding its influence to Saudi Arabia.


Wednesday, December 04, 2013

How is President Barack Obama Like George W. Bush & Bill Clinton?

Following in the footsteps of predecessors, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, President Barack Obama suspended for another six months a law passed by Congress in 1995 that required the U.S. Embassy in Israel to be relocated from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, according to a White House statement Tuesday.

Under the Jerusalem Embassy Act, Congress empowered the president to waive the law on grounds of national security.
Obama formerly instructed Secretary of State John Kerry not to move the embassy. The president must issue the order on six month intervals or the law goes into effect.

As a candidate in 2008, Obama referred to Jerusalem as Israel's capital saying, "Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided."

He subsequently clarified his position saying, "Well, obviously, it's going to be up to the parties to negotiate a range of these issues. And Jerusalem will be part of those negotiations."

During the 2012 presidential campaign Mitt Romney promised to move the embassy to Jerusalem. "Every nation has the right to choose its capital," he declared.

Prior to his election candidate George W. Bush had also promised that he would move the embassy.

While the Israeli government is seated in Jerusalem, since Israel's establishment in 1948, Washington has never recognized the Jewish state's sovereignty over any part of the city.


My Archive