If U.S. strikes Syria, destroyers likely to deliver the blow

If President Barack Obama decides to take military action against Syria for using chemical weapons in its two-year-old civil war, the initial blows likely would be delivered by four U.S. guided missile destroyers currently in the Mediterranean.

Beyond that, the president has a number of other ships and aircraft, both in the region and elsewhere, that he could use to carry out limited strikes to send a message aimed at deterring further chemical weapons use.

In the event of a decision to carry out strikes against Syria, European allies like Britain and France are likely to support the effort using their own stand-off weapons like the jointly developed SCALP/Storm Shadow air-launched cruise missile.

Following are some of the U.S. military assets at Obama's disposal:

GUIDED MISSILE DESTROYERS – The United States has four guided missile destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean Sea – the USS Gravely, the USS Barry, the USS Ramage and the USS Mahan. The ships can carry a maximum of 90 to 96 Tomahawk cruise missiles if loaded only with those weapons. The actual number they are carrying at any time depends on the mission and what other weapons and systems are needed. Tomahawk missiles are likely to be the weapon of choice if Obama orders a strike on Syria because they have a range of about 1,000 miles (1,610 km) and can be used at a distance without a concerted effort to destroy Syria's integrated air defenses.

SUBMARINES – The United States has 58 submarines capable of launching Tomahawk cruise missiles, including four specifically designated guided missile submarines capable of carrying up to 154 missiles apiece. The Navy does not discuss the whereabouts of its submarines, but one or more could be tapped for duty if Obama decides to carry out targeted strikes against Syria.

AIRCRAFT – U.S. B-1, B-2 and B-52 bombers are capable of carrying conventional air-launched cruise missiles. Those could be called into play if needed, as they have been in previous conflicts in the Middle East, flying from bases in the United States or elsewhere. The air-launched cruise missiles also are stand-off weapons that could be dropped from outside Syrian territory.

AIRCRAFT CARRIERS – The USS Harry S. Truman is currently in the northern Arabian Sea and the USS Nimitz is in the Indian Ocean. Aircraft from the two carriers could be called into service if needed to participate in an attack against Syria. But their participation appears unlikely. U.S. officials have indicated any strikes against Syria are likely to be limited in scope. Use of aircraft from the carriers would probably require a broader operation involving a U.S. effort to destroy Syria's integrated air defenses before sending planes over the country. The Nimitz has been supporting U.S. operations in Afghanistan and is due to be replaced by the Truman, which is crossing the Arabian Sea to relieve the Nimitz so it can return home.

AMPHIBIOUS ASSAULT SHIP – The USS Kearsarge just ended a port call in the Gulf and is headed back out to sea. The vessel has a contingent of Marines but is not considered likely to participate in limited operations like the ones Obama is reported to be considering.

ADDITIONAL AIRCRAFT AT BASES IN THE REGION – The United States has additional aircraft at different bases in the region that could support an operation against Syria if needed. But that is not seen as likely because it would require a much larger effort to remove the threat of Syria's air defenses. (Reporting by David Alexander; Editing by Karey Van Hall and Jim Loney)

U.S. to sell Saudis $30 billion in combat aircraft

The United States will sell Saudi Arabia $30 billion in combat aircraft and upgrades.

“This agreement includes production of 84 new aircraft and the modernization of 70 existing aircraft as well as munitions, spare parts, training, maintenance and logistics,” a statement from the White House said Thursday. “These F-15SA aircraft, manufactured by The Boeing Company, are among the most sophisticated and capable aircraft in the world.”

The statement appeared to cast the sale against growing tensions with Iran, an enemy of Saudi Arabia and a threat to U.S. interests in the Persian Gulf.

“This agreement reinforces the strong and enduring relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia, and demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a strong Saudi defense capability as a key component to regional security,” it said.

The Obama administration notified Congress of the planned sale in 2010.

Nearly 200 Congress members wrote the Obama administration in November, 2010, raising, among other concerns, the potential of the sale to narrow Israel’s qualitative military edge.

In response, according to a Congression Research Service report, the administration said it was selling Israel F-35s, the Joint Strike Fighter. The CRS report said that when the planes are delivered, they “would maintain Israel’s status as having the most advanced fighter aircraft in the region.”

The Obama administration offered Israel additional advanced fighter aircraft last year as part of a bid to get Israel to freeze settlement building and lure the Palestinians back to peace talks. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ultimately turned down the offer.

Terrorism of ’70s Forced Israeli Move

The dates and times are all one blur. What remains crystal clear, however, is what it was like to be an Israeli in the early 1970s, when the phenomenon of international terror began: Japanese terrorists landing at Lod Airport and gunning down dozens of pilgrims just arrived from Peru; German terrorists trying to shoot down an El Al airliner taking off from Kenya; the hijacking of Israeli and foreign aircraft en route to Israel; attacks by the Red Brigades on Israelis and on embassies in London and Seoul, and in Athens, Paris and Rome. And, of course, the horrible massacre at the Munich Olympics.

Israel’s response to the Munich killings was the targeted assassination of the perpetrators, a strategy that became the basis for Steven Spielberg’s new film, “Munich.”

To understand Israel’s decision, it’s necessary to understand what that time was like. Nowhere on earth, it seemed, was it safe to travel, let alone do so openly as an Israeli. The attacks were at home, abroad, everywhere. And the attackers — in addition to the Palestinians, Syrians, Lebanese, Yemenite and other assorted members of the various arms of the Palestinian liberation movements — were radicals from half the member states of the United Nations.

In the early 1970s, when on my first work trip abroad, I remember receiving written instructions from my travel agent, obviously supplied by the authorities, that I was to wear or show no overt sign that I was an Israeli, such as carrying an El Al travel bag, for example, and I was advised to buy a cover for my passport so that only immigration officials and not others in line would know my nationality.

But it was more than that. Suddenly, Israeli embassies around the world needed to implement new security regimes costing hundreds of millions and fully guaranteeing nothing. Every Israeli delegation traveling abroad, especially after the Munich massacre, needed professional security protection. Every suitcase going onto every flight to and from Israel needed to be checked; every check-in counter turned into a fortress.

Israel was again being strategically challenged, despite its string of successes: the 1967 War — when Israel conquered the Sinai, the West Bank and the Golan Heights, re-united Jerusalem and destroyed Arab air forces as far away as Iraq; its steadfastness during the War of Attrition along the Suez Canal; and its ultimate victory in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

This time, it was a different kind of enemy playing on a different battlefield. And while not posing an existential threat to Israel, this danger threatened to cripple the country economically, physiologically and diplomatically. It was something that could not go unchallenged. If not confronted, the threat would bask in its own success and grow. It had to be defeated.

Assigned by Prime Minister Golda Meir to mastermind the effort was a diminutive figure by the name of Aharon (Arele) Yariv, a retired major general who had served as Israel’s head of military with distinction for nine years. He had retired in 1971 and had subsequently served as a minister in Meir’s government.

What he headed was not a rogue operation made up of foreigners; nor was his mission vengeance. He was chosen because he was trusted by the prime minister and respected by the head of the Mossad (the Israeli intelligence agency), as well as by the senior echelons of the military. And he had the skill, ingenuity and experience to understand the new threat and to formulate Israel’s strategic response.

The strategy Yariv developed — and one that has been refined ever since, culminating in the current concept of “preemptive targeted killing” — was not to waste energy and resources to go after the rank-and-file echelons of terrorist movements but their operational capabilities and leadership.

“Use a scalpel not a sledgehammer,” he once told me in the temporary offices he had set up on the second floor of a cinema adjacent to Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Circle in the mid-70s.

“Place them on the defensive, and they will suffer operationally, having to defend themselves, rather than having the luxury of only having to think about how to plan the next attack on Israel,” he said in an interview that was off-the-record at the time. “When one of their leaders is exposed, they wonder who exposed him. That leads to mistrust in once-cohesive and secretive organizations. They look to find the leak. It distracts and weakens them.”

Was Israel’s campaign against the terror movements effective or did it lead to more terror in revenge for Israel’s actions?

The question is not really relevant. In declaring its war on terror in the 1970s, Israel was responding to a threat of international proportions and strategic consequences; it was not on a campaign of vengeance.

These terrorists were not the Nazis of the past who deserved retribution but a new enemy using new means on new turf and requiring a new answer. The answer was Yariv’s policy of going for the jugular in order to strangle the body. It was pinpoint, effective and ultimately successful at the time, despite the mistakes — like the killing in Lillehammer, Norway, of an innocent waiter, Ahmed Bushiki, wrongly identified by Israeli agents as a terrorist.

The overall capabilities of the terrorist movements dropped dramatically; international terror groups, including the Red Brigades and others, faded into history. And international cooperation to challenge terror was born. Yariv and the Israeli government demonstrated that while one may not be able to fully defeat terror, it can be thwarted.

Hirsh Goodman is the author of “Let Me Create a Paradise, God Said to Himself,” published in April by PublicAffairs and a senior fellow at the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.


Community Briefs

6 Million Remembered Nun’s the Word on Mother’sDay

It’s not every day or even every year that a Jewish organization honors a Catholic nun — but naming her Community Mother of the Year seems odd for a Jewish organization. This year, the Jewish Home for the Aging (JHA) is honoring Sister Jennie Lechtenberg, founder and executive director of the PUENTE Learning Center in Los Angeles, at the JHA annual “World’s Largest Mother’s Day” event. “We really wanted someone who has done something incredible [in the] community — and Sister [Jennie] has helped so many children, she really could be a mother,” said Dan Rosenson, committee chair for the event.

At the event, winners will be announced for JHA’s “Why My Mom Is the Best” essay contest, sponsored by Wells Fargo Bank. This year’s contest drew responses from 214 pupils at 37 local elementary schools. Some of the themes addressed in this year’s winning essays were heartbreaking. Two children wrote about mothers fighting breast cancer, one first-grade girl, Gabriela Fernandez, wrote about how her mother, a cleaning lady, “works so hard to get her job back” and Fiana Eber, a fifth-grader at Stephen S. Wise, wrote about how her mother adopted her from the Ukraine last year.

Molly Forrest, chief executive officer of the JHA, said the Mother’s Day event is one of great importance to the residents. JHA currently cares for 800 people on its two campuses, about 90 percent of whom are women and about one-third of them in their 90s. Many of the women have survived their immediate family “and thus have no one to come for Mother’s Day,” Forrest said.

“We buy gifts for Mother’s Day, but the best gifts for these people is to see your faces, the faces of their family and of the community,” she said.

The ninth annual Jewish Home for the Aging Mother’s Day celebration, which includes brunch, will take place Sunday, May 11 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the home’s Eisenberg Village campus, 18855 Victory Blvd., Reseda. $15 (adults), $5 (children). For reservations, call (818) 774-3324. — Wendy J. Madnick, Contributing Writer

Silence of the Left

A prominent Israeli journalist expressed his dismay last week that in his travels along the West Coast, “I have heard no pro-peace voices in the American Jewish community.

“Even when I spoke at UC Berkeley, I could find no such voices,” said David Landau, who sits on the editorial board of the prestigious Ha’aretz daily newspaper and is editor of its English edition.

The British-born Landau, a former diplomatic correspondent and managing editor for The Jerusalem Post, addressed a faculty group at UCLA Hillel, and later a student audience on campus.

The central decision facing Israel, and by extension American Jewry, is how to deal with the “road map” for ending the intifada and setting Israelis and Palestinians on the long road to peace.

Though “very poorly put together,” the road map is crucial because it represents a concrete proposal on the table and can provide “the building bricks of real change,” he said. Landau warned that if the road map fails, the present situation continues and Israel doesn’t evacuate the territories, then Israel will face a demographic time bomb with Arabs outnumbering Jews in the Jewish State by 2008.

Israel’s course will depend almost entirely on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who is in a near unassailable position after his overwhelming election victory and the disarray of the opposition, said Landau, whose kippa and beard gives him a certain rabbinical look.

Far from being just a rough-and-ready “bulldozer,” Sharon is “a very complex and very sophisticated person, who appreciates good music and good art,” Landau observed. But the prime minister is also a very hard man to read. “Even those close to Sharon don’t know what he will do,” said Landau. “He remains an enigma to us.”

David Landau will be speaking on “The Road map to Peace” at Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel on May 10. For more information, call (310) 475-7311. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

HUC-JIR Sets Up New Institute for AdultEd

Most rabbis, cantors, educators and communal professionals have had no professional training for meeting the needs of adults seeking Jewish education — until now. This spring, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in Los Angeles established the Institute for Teaching Jewish Adults (ITJA). The continuing education program, which is the first of its kind in the United States, will train Jewish professionals and advanced lay leaders to reach out to the growing number of adults seeking Jewish literacy.

“Concerns over Jewish literacy and the need to develop an informed leadership are becoming commonplace in our community, affecting every family and synagogue,” said Dr. Diane Tickton Schuster, the director of the ITJA, who is also a visiting faculty member at HUC-JIR, an educator at the Institute for Informal Jewish Education at Brandeis University and in the counseling department at Cal State Fullerton.

“It is increasingly important that Jewish professionals who work with adults understand the learning needs of this highly diverse constituency and the best strategies for teaching them,” she said.

Currently, the new program has a pioneer class of six students, all rabbis. — Sharon Schatz Rosenthal, Education Writer

El Al Introduces Platinum Class

El Al recently replaced its Business Class with a new Platinum Business Class, offering increased personal service and comfort to passengers traveling on the airline’s 777 and 747-400 aircraft.

Each aircraft has been reconfigured, resulting in a 25 percent reduction in the number of seats and increased leg room for Platinum Business Class passengers. Each seat offers a laptop power outlet and personal lighting, as well as a personal TV monitor. Additional improvements include an increased number of flight attendants per passenger, more meal choices and courses and an extensive wine menu. At specific El Al Platinum Business Class counters check-in is expedited and travelers are allowed three pieces of luggage, compared to two in Coach. Platinum Business Class travelers are also allowed entry into luxurious airport-specific departure lounges, such as the LAX King David Lounge in the Tom Bradley International Terminal.

For those traveling to Israel on a full-fare PlatinumBusiness ticket, El Al offers a $250 roundtrip Platinum Business ticket tocompanions of Platinum Business ticket holders. For more information, visit www.elal.co.il . — Rachel Brand, Staff Writer

Indyk Predicts Ripple Effect of Saddam’sFall

The fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime will have a dramatic impact on the entire Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, veteran policymaker and diplomat Martin Indyk predicted in a speech in Los Angeles. As the first payoff of the coalition’s victory in Iraq, the governments of Iran and Syria “will be much more cautious and defensive, as will the terrorist groups they support, said Indyk, who shaped American policy toward Iraq during the Clinton administration and served twice as U.S. ambassador to Israel.

More basic changes will take a longer time.

“The fall of the most repressive regime in the region will have a ripple, not a domino, effect,” Indyk declared.

Delivering a long-scheduled lecture recently at UCLA’s Burkle Center for International Relations, Indyk also warned that unless two conditions were met, the promising prospects would be squandered. The first condition is the establishment of a representative Iraqi interim authority to guide the country’s reconstruction.

“We cannot impose an unpopular military regime,” Indyk said.

Secondly, President Bush’s administration must continue to be fully engaged in the Middle East and actively participate in a solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

As Clinton’s Middle East adviser on the National Security Council, Indyk was instrumental in changing U.S. policy toward Iraq from “containment” to “regime change” and helped negotiate the Israel-Jordan peace treaty. He is now director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.

Although Bush did not get involved in Israeli-Palestinian problems during the first two years of his term, Indyk thinks that the president will take a more active role now. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Banking on the Future

Tourism to Israel is slumping, but the country’s national airline is betting $400 million on a liftoff.

That’s the amount El Al spent on three new Boeing 777 aircraft, which were turned over to El Al on Jan. 31.

The planes, known as "Triple 7" but formally designated as the Boeing 777-200ER, are named Galilee, Negev and Sharon — the latter not in honor of Israel’s new prime minister, but for Israel’s coastal plain between Tel Aviv and Haifa.

They will begin service in March on nonstop flights from Tel Aviv to New York or Chicago, as well as to London, India and the Far East.

El Al ordered the planes, whose seating arrangements and other interior features are customized to each airline’s preferences, in late 1999.

At the time, El Al was closing out its best year ever, during which it ferried 3.1 million passengers to and from Israel. Projections were that El Al would raise that record figure by 15 percent during the 2000 millennium year. Until September, those estimates were right on the nose.

Then Palestinian violence broke out in late September, the U.S. State Department issued a warning against travel to Israel and expected tourism for the lucrative Christmas season plummeted 30 percent.

Tourism is now running 15 percent to 20 percent below 1999 levels.

Some of the slack has been taken up by U.S. Jewish solidarity missions and sharply higher passenger and cargo loads in flights to India, Hong Kong and Korea.

Conditions may well remain unstable for much of this year, said El Al’s new president, David Hermesh, but he looks forward to a new record of 4 million passengers in 2002.

"It’s been our experience in Israel that after each crisis there is a rebound, a boom in tourism," Hermesh said.

The new Triple 7 is smaller than the workhorse 747-400, carrying 300 passengers to the older plane’s 416 seats. Yet the new planes have more sophisticated technology, greater fuel efficiency and overall noise reduction, and El Al promises greater passenger comfort and better service.

Behind the scenes in Israel, meanwhile, long-running negotiations continue on whether to privatize the government-owned airline, with no resolution expected until 2002.

If privatized, El Al is likely to try to operate flights in and out of Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport during Shabbat, as foreign airlines do.

Before 1982, El Al operated worldwide flights on Saturday. The exceptions were the flights to and from New York, which carried a large number of religiously observant passengers.

Tom Tugend recently participated in a three-day seminar sponsored by El Al, Boeing and Rolls-Royce.