Iran: An agreement to empower evil


While everyone else is weighing in on the merits of the Iran nuclear deal, I can name one person who probably hates it: Atena Farghadani.

Farghadani is a 28-year-old Iranian artist and activist who was sentenced last month to 12 years and nine months in an Iranian prison because she “insulted” members of Parliament with her art. Her “crime” was being a dissident who protested injustice.

Farghadani is not alone. There are thousands like her languishing in Iranian prisons because they had the nerve to oppose an evil and oppressive regime.

How oppressive? According to Human Rights Watch, “In 2014 Iran had the second highest number of executions in the world after China, and executed the largest number of juvenile offenders. The country remains one of the biggest jailers in the world of journalists, bloggers, and social media activists.”

As Secretary of State John Kerry was negotiating with Iran, his own State Department lambasted the regime in its annual report: “Designated as a State Sponsor of Terrorism in 1984, Iran continued its terrorist-related activity in 2014, including support for Palestinian terrorist groups in Gaza, Lebanese Hizballah, and various groups in Iraq and throughout the Middle East.”

Add it up, and you’ve got 30 years of continuous evil from the world’s biggest sponsor of terror.

As they were wooing the West, the representatives of this evil regime were sleeping in luxurious hotels in Vienna while Farghadani was sleeping in her prison cell. Farghadani and other victims like her had no seat at the negotiating table, and they will have no say while we all get to decide whether the deal is good or bad.

I can’t imagine, however, that they’d be too happy with a deal that provides their jailers with $150 billion in sanctions relief.

Nor am I.

Simply put, my problem with this deal is that it empowers an evil regime. In return for what? At best, a 10- or 15-year delay in building a nuclear bomb. 

Many critics are saying that Iranians will build the bomb much sooner because they’re expert cheaters and our inspections won’t be tough enough. That may be true, but what’s really worrisome is that Iran doesn’t have to cheat to get its bomb and continue its path of destruction and domination.

After all, when you’ve been around for 5,000 years, what’s another 10 or 15 years, especially when you’re getting paid $150 billion to wait out these years?

For starters, just imagine the nightmare scenario of Iran taking over Syria and being at Israel’s doorstep. This new deal empowers them to do just that.

We often forget that Iran has been trying to build a nuclear bomb for 28 years. Did you ever wonder why it’s been taking so long? Well, one reason is that we’ve made it very difficult. 

As Herb Keinon notes in JPost, “Computer viruses were sent to infect the Iranian computers, some Iranian nuclear scientists and engineers were assassinated or disappeared, and straw companies were set up around the world selling faulty material to the mullahs, so that when they spun their centrifuges, the centrifuges would blow up.”

That’s what you’re supposed to do with evil— fight it, disrupt it, undermine it and starve it.

You’re not supposed to empower it.

If you must negotiate with evil, you look it in the eye and say things like: “Dismantle your nuclear infrastructure or we will do it for you.” Of course, that’s not what we did. We were bluffing, and the mullahs knew it. That’s why we made so many critical concessions, and that’s why we will release billions in sanctions relief over the next few months and years.

How much damage can Iran do with another $150 billion? Put it this way: Iran has been wreaking havoc across the region on an annual military budget, according to Foreign Policy, of about $14 billion. You do the math.

It’d be nice to think that Iran will spend those new billions on clinics, schools and museums, and on reforming its brutal legal system. But who are we kidding? For starters, just imagine the nightmare scenario of Iran taking over Syria and being at Israel’s doorstep. This new deal empowers them to do just that.

How did we get so ripped off? Maybe it’s partly that in free societies, we’re conditioned to be idealistic– to see things not as they are, but as they could be. President Barack Obama dreams of an Iran that will act more responsibly once it is accepted into the family of nations. He’s banking that a long wait to build the bomb may moderate the regime.

Where I see evil, Obama sees potential.

But I’m a dreamer, too, and I also see things as they could be. I see an Iran that is forced to dismantle its nuclear fangs and is made weaker, not stronger. I see an America that honors and empowers dissidents rather than empowering merchants of evil.

I see an America that invites a liberated Atena Farghadani to the White House, and not the oppressors who jailed her.

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Beyond Iran and Gaza, Israel has socioeconomic worries too


With news focused on Gaza, Iran and the West Bank, it can be easy to forget that Israel has problems within its borders, too. Though Israelis rarely do. Thankfully, we now have a 62-page booklet full of graphs and charts to remind us.

Published last week by the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel, a leading Israeli socioeconomic think tank, the report portrays a country where rents are rising, income gaps are vast, bureaucratic delays are legion and taxes are high. There’s also some good news.

Here are some takeaways about Israel’s domestic difficulties — and a few reasons for optimism.

Israel is as unequal as the U.S.: Months before the eruption of the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York in 2011, Israelis famously pitched tents on Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard and held a months-long protest of Israel’s wealth gaps and high cost of living.

And the U.S. and Israel have about the same level of income inequality, second only to Mexico among developed countries — at least as of 2011, the most recent year for which Taub has data. Israelis with the highest 10 percent of incomes, according to the report, made almost five times as much as those with the lowest tenth of incomes — though that gap was narrowing.

Food and housing prices have skyrocketed: There’s a reason that Israel’s new finance minister, Moshe Kahlon, centered his electoral campaign on housing reform. Real estate prices had risen nearly 60 percent in real dollars since 2008, with a slightly lower increase in rent prices. Part of the fault, the report says, lies with Israel’s bureaucracy: It takes 13 years to get new construction approved in Israel, as opposed to a few months in the European Union.

In 2005, meanwhile, food prices in Israel were 16 percent lower than the average among countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, but by 2015 they had become 19 percent higher.

All sectors of Israelis — from haredim to Arabs — spend more than they make: It’s common for Israelis to gripe about “living in minus” — that is, with a negative bank account balance. Turns out, it’s a problem that cuts across population groups. Haredi Orthodox Jews’ expenses, on average, are 33 percent higher than their incomes, while for Muslims, the figure is 20 percent. Even non-haredi Jews, Israel’s most affluent sector, spend 4 percent more than they earn.

Israel has a big “shadow economy” — and taxes are to blame: Israel’s shadow economy, the portion of business that stays hidden from taxes and regulation, makes up about a fifth of Israel’s GDP. The blame, according to the report, lies with the high tax burden Israel places on small businesses. Israel taxes small businesses at an effective rate of nearly 58 percent — 6 percentage points higher than the OECD average.

Israel’s spending more on education — but it lags in dollars per student: Nearly 11 percent of Israel’s total government budget is dedicated to education — a number that has risen in recent years. But in terms of dollars per student, Israel lags behind the OECD, mostly because Israel has more children than most OECD countries. And classrooms are crowded: An average Israeli classroom has 28 students, as opposed to the OECD average of 21.

But more Israeli students are qualifying for college, and fewer are failing: In 2007, 46.3 percent of students passed Israel’s matriculation exam, a necessary prerequisite to enter college. By 2013, that number was 53.4 percent. And in 2006, 5.2 percent of Israeli students scored within the highest levels of the PISA, an international standardized test, while 36 percent performed poorly. By 2012, the percentage of “outstanding” students was up to 5.8, while the “weak” student rate fell to about 29 percent. The future, at least, is looking a little brighter.

Benjamin Netanyahu: The new Republican hero


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu just won a startling re-election by linking his fate not to the United States as a whole, but to the U.S. Republican Party. Risking opprobrium for alienating President Barack Obama as well as Israel’s international support, he nevertheless bet the house on uniting a militant right in Israel with an already mobilized American conservative movement. He ran to the right, not to the center. Netanyahu is now a Republican hero.

All the while, the White House and Democrats had quietly hoped that a center-left coalition would oust Netanyahu. Had Israel’s center left been victorious in Israel’s March 17 election, it would have bolstered Obama’s domestic case for a negotiated deal with Iran and would have made it more difficult for Republicans to portray him as anti-Israel.

To a degree never before seen, Israeli politics is now integrated into American politics. It is almost impossible to predict where this will lead, but it is well worth consideration. No other nation shares this kind of relationship with the U.S. Consider, by contrast, how little interest Americans are currently showing in the closely contested electoral battle between Labor and Conservatives in the United Kingdom. Does it really matter for American foreign policy which party wins?

The attention so many Americans devoted to last week’s Israeli elections is certainly a testament to how intimate the Israel-U.S. relationship is now, for better and for worse. It is also due very specifically to the deep affinity and connection between right-wing political parties in the two nations. (England’s conservatives are quite liberal by the standards of the American Republican Party and therefore unlikely candidates for a political marriage.)

An Israeli election these days, especially for Republicans, is starting to seem like a domestic political bellwether, much like an American off-year gubernatorial election in a major, closely watched “purple” industrial state. Say Wisconsin. Republican Scott Walker wins re-election by running a hard-right campaign for governor that mobilizes his conservative base, not by reaching out to the center. Winning this way in a state that normally votes Democratic makes Walker an instant hero to Republicans and a serious candidate for his party’s 2016 presidential nomination.

There’s lot of pundit commentary about how “irrational” this hyper-partisan path is as a political strategy, because it turns off the “center.” But a strategy can be unreasonable without being irrational. It is certainly working for Walker. In a system like ours — historically made up of two soft, flabby parties — when one tightens up and becomes unified, aggressive and mobilized, it can be very successful, at least until the other party wakes up and becomes itself less soft and flabby.

In following the Walker model, Netanyahu is now a Republican hero and may well become the most revered Republican leader since Ronald Reagan. He will certainly be more popular and more uniting among Republicans in the U.S. than among the people he serves in Israel, where he remains a divisive figure. And because he is not actually running for office here, he won’t be subject to careful ideological scrutiny in Republican politics.


To a degree never before seen, Israeli politics is now integrated into American politics. It is almost impossible to predict where this will lead, but it is well worth consideration. No other nation shares this kind of relationship with the U.S.

Republicans have suffered for years from a shortage of political heroes; since Reagan, they haven’t had one. I can easily imagine Netanyahu campaigning openly for the Republican ticket in 2016 — from the presidential candidate down to congressional and state races. He could appear in campaign commercials paid for by Sheldon Adelson, a deep-pocketed American funder of conservatives in both Israel and the U.S. whose Adelson’s Israeli free newspaper, Israel
HaYom is heavily pro-Netanyahu. Explicit cross-national partisanship worked for Netanyahu in 2015, despite dire political predictions to the contrary. The barrier already had been crossed with his speech to Congress. House Speaker John Boehner and a delegation of congressional Republicans are heading to Israel this week for a hero’s welcome.

Netanyahu’s embrace of the Republican Party dovetails well with the Republican imperative to move the American political debate away from domestic issues, on which Democrats may soon enjoy a decisive edge in a strengthening economy and in the wake of successful health care reform. Republicans already have begun trying to center the 2016 election around foreign policy and terror threats. Just as Netanyahu moved his own nation’s debate away from talk of income inequality and other shaky domestic ground to focus on foreign policy and security, he can help Republicans do the same in the U.S.

There will be tactical lessons from the 2015 Israeli election. Don’t be surprised when, the week before the 2016 presidential election, if the polls look good for the Democrats and they sit on their lead, the Republicans warn that “buses are bringing (fill in the blank) to the polls” in order to mobilize white voters or say that terror threats are imminent. Both resemble Netanyahu’s last-minute appeals in 2015.

Netanyahu also certainly will try to break the Jewish link to the Democratic Party by arguing that he alone represents Israel on the world stage and that Jews who support Democrats are not supporting Israel. Republicans will enjoy watching Democrats struggle to hold together their multiracial coalition, which is very supportive of Obama and deeply resents Netanyahu’s approach. We don’t know how many Jews will move right in response to these appeals or whether Jewish Democrats will respond in angry defense of their party.

Democrats will have to be better prepared for these developments than the Israeli left was. A militant party that unites the American and Israeli right is very formidable. Many Democrats continue to believe that positive polling on issues and an image of “reasonableness” can combat a passionate, united, angry and mobilized conservative movement. Republicans in the United States and conservatives in Israel are, by contrast, building electoral strength by uniting and mobilizing their base.

There are, however, weak links in this tight conservative alliance. Conservative foreign policy leaders, including Netanyahu, brought us the disastrous Iraq war, and some are making noises about starting another one with Iran. Voters are much more supportive of “strength” than of actual war. Democrats could argue that we listened to these people the last time and look at the mess the Iraq war created. Why should we listen to them this time? (This is one way Hillary Clinton might deal with the problem of having voted for the Iraq war.) Of course, Democrats will have to avoid being drawn into an election season that focuses only on foreign policy and neglects the domestic issues that are their ticket to victory.

For their part, Israeli voters may decide one day that tying their nation’s fate to an enraged American political party whose stance is in total opposition to and disrespectful toward a U.S. president who won two electoral majorities and actually directs foreign policy may not work outside the hermetically sealed binational right wings.

By tying himself to the Republicans, Netanyahu risks blocking Israel from gaining ground with the rising multiracial generation of Americans who, inevitably, one day will play a major role in America’s relationship with Israel. They are not as easy to reach with Israel’s story as today’s Republicans, but it may be unwise to give up trying.

Finally, what will happen to this political alliance if the Republican base realizes how socially liberal, cosmopolitan, scientifically sophisticated, and only moderately religious much of Israel is? Right now, Republican voters likely see Israel just as a symbol of the approach they support in the world, but this comes at the cost of not knowing the diversity of opinions and worldviews within Israel itself. I doubt Netanyahu will choose to enlighten them on this front.

Hoping that one party in another country has the answers is not completely the province of Netanyahu and the Republicans. Obama and the Democrats may find that tying U.S. policy in the Middle East to the electoral success of a center-left coalition in Israel is a weak reed on which to rely. Any peace agreement in the Middle East requires more than one coalition; it will require a greater comfort level among the broad swath of Israelis. Just because Netanyahu has painted himself into a partisan corner doesn’t mean the Democrats have to. The real test will be America’s ability to win the trust of at least some of those Israelis who do not support the center left.

To see another path, we have only to look back at how Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Tory Prime Minister Winston Churchill managed to overcome ideological differences over domestic politics to forge the relationship that saved the world from the Nazis during World War II. Their collaboration proves it isn’t necessary to have a partner in another nation whose political views mirror one’s own.

In fact, agreements often have a better chance of lasting if leaders from different political camps can join together across nations. The price of such a successful relationship is giving up the pipe dream that any leader can or should control the internal politics of any other nation, let alone one with which a productive alliance is sought.

All electoral results are transitory. Although political struggles within both Israel and the United States are going to continue, our common interests still may overcome domestic fluctuations in power bases. The electoral victory of either the left or the right confers only momentary standing to speak for the nation.

Israel can elect and re-elect Netanyahu, but this hard-won election also suggests that the voters might sooner, rather than later, knock him out of office. Obama’s two election victories followed the two-term George W. Bush, and who knows who will win the U.S. presidency in 2016? In just two years from now, there could be a Republican in the White House working with Netanyahu’s opponents in power in Israel.

I spent a semester teaching in France during the 2008 American presidential election. Europeans told me that they had been shocked by past U.S. presidential races — not that Bush won in a disputed 2000 election but that voters had with full knowledge of him re-elected Bush in 2004. Many Europeans were also extremely skeptical that this same nation would elect the first African-American president just four years later. I thought: “It’s the same country!” America is neither red nor blue. We’re purple, and if you are going to love America, you have to love all of our political colors.

The same goes for Israel. Like us, it’s purple — we are both passionately divided democracies, but tied together in an unbreakable family pact. Elections come and go, but national affinities like ours with Israel must outlast the twists and turns of domestic politics.


Raphael J. Sonenshein is executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State L.A.

L.A.’s Iranian Jews must launch new Iran advocacy campaign


Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to speak to a Southern California Christian group about the significant human rights violations that the Iranian regime has waged against the Christians, Jews and other religious minorities living in Iran today. While this congregation was sympathetic and very receptive to my brief discussion, they were completely in the dark regarding the plight of minorities, women, journalists and even average Muslim-Iranians facing tremendous hardships at the hands of Iran’s mullahs. 

Likewise, many average non-Jewish groups I have come across have by and large been totally unaware of the substantial role Iran has played in arming, funding and fanning the fires of terrorism perpetrated by Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon against Israel. Today the majority of Iranian Jews living in America very clearly see Iran’s significant role in destabilizing the entire Middle East, funding and arming terrorist groups, as well as calling for another Holocaust against Jews with their daily chants of “Death to Israel.” We as Iranian Jews not only understand the Farsi language declarations of genocide repeated by Iran’s ayatollahs, but the majority of us have experienced the evils of the Iranian regime firsthand. 

Nevertheless, the Iranian-Jewish community in Los Angeles has never undertaken its own serious, comprehensive and relentless public advocacy campaign to educate the larger non-Iranian American community about the very real and emerging dangers of Iran’s fundamentalist Islamic regime to the Middle East and the entire world. This education of the greater public about who the Iranian regime consists of and its objectives is essential in transforming the U.S. government’s approach to Iran’s threats against non-Shiite Muslims throughout the world. In my humble opinion, now is the time for L.A.’s Iranian Jews to stand up and undertake such a critical grassroots advocacy campaign to educate every other community in America about the rising threat of Iran’s regime.

For more than 30 years, I have witnessed my community of Iranian Jews in Southern California growing and prospering after establishing new roots here. They have flourished in America and also generously given back to the larger Jewish and non-Jewish communities. Iranian Jews in Los Angeles have even established their own nonprofit groups, such as the Iranian American Jewish Federation, Magbit, the Hope Foundation and 30 Years After, to advance our community issues and to help Israel. While Iranian-American Jews have also been involved with other organizations such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the American Jewish Committee about raising public awareness of Iran’s nuclear threat, they have never launched their own initiative to educate the Latino, African-American, Asian, labor union, LGBTQ and other communities about the horrific human-rights abuses and spread of global terrorism carried out by Iran’s clerics and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). So who better than Iranian Jews, who experienced firsthand anti-Semitism, random arrests, unceasing tortures and imprisonments at the hands of this Iranian regime, to speak out today about the evil nature of the regime? Who else but Iranian Jews, who have had family members randomly executed by the Iranian regime, to educate the public about the regime’s unmerciful thugs? Who else but Iranian Jews, who have witnessed their Christian, Baha’i, Zoroastrian, Sunni and other religious minority countrymen experience unspeakable abuse and murders at the hands of the Iranian regime’s secret police, to speak out? Who better than Iranian Jews to educate the larger American public about how Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and other regime strongmen are very openly calling for the elimination of all people who do not follow their radical form of Shia Islam? While in recent years, individual Jewish-Iranian activists in Los Angeles have indeed spoken out about the cancerous spread of the Iranian regime’s evil among its own people in Iran and the entire Middle East, much more of this type of public advocacy must be done on a larger scale by local Iranian Jews. Additionally, while the new Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, has attempted to put on a happy and nicer face for the Iranian regime with his public relations campaigns, we as Iranian Jews have a duty to remove the smiling mask from Rouhani and his minions in order to expose their true nature and evil actions to the American public.

More importantly, as Israel wages a war to defend innocent civilians from the terrorism of Hamas, Iranian Jews, who listen to Farsi language news broadcasts from Iranian state-run media, must make all Americans aware of what the regime’s leaders are saying about their role in perpetuating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For example, this past July, on Iranian-state run television, Khamenei called for all those who “love Palestine” to send arms to the West Bank and turn it into another Gaza. He also issued a religious edict for the IRGC and its subordinate Basij militia to send arms and fighters to the area. Likewise in July, the Iranian Islamic Assembly spokesman boasted on state-run television about the Iranian regime’s role in providing Hamas with rocket technology. The chairman of the Parliament of Iran, Ali Larijani, has repeatedly said on Iranian state-run news programs that Iran originally provided Hamas with the know-how to produce its own homemade rockets. Mohsen Rezai, the secretary of the Iranian regime’s Expediency Discernment Council, a high official in the regime, has recently called for more kidnappings of hundreds of Israelis and making them human shields in Gaza. Rezai has promised more arms and more financial support to Hamas until “all of Palestine is free of the Jews.” This information is very rarely reported by Western news media for whatever reason, but we as Iranian Jews have a duty to name and shame every single member of the Iranian regime who is calling for a perpetuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and glorifying the genocide of Jews in Israel. 

So as Iranian Jews, we must venture out of our enclaves in Beverly Hills, Pico-Robertson, Encino, Brentwood and Tarzana in order to reach out to every local group in Los Angeles. Whether it is speaking to the Christian-Korean community in Koreatown to discuss the Iranian regime’s abuse of Christians, or reaching out to the LGBTQ community in West Hollywood about how gays are forced to have gender reassignment surgeries and face executions in Iran, a new public advocacy program about the evils of the Iranian regime is imperative today. Without the larger public knowing what crimes against humanity the Iranian regime is committing, no one will raise a voice to our elected officials to ratchet up the pressure on the Iranian regime. No one will demand that the current U.S. administration take a tougher stance on Iran’s heinous human-rights records if we as Iranian-American Jews do not educate others about this regime. Just as American Jews proudly launched a very vocal and public campaign against the former Soviet Union for its mistreatment of Jews and human-rights activists in Russia during the 1960s and 1970s, so must we as Iranian Jews in America today launch the same type of campaign against the Iranian regime. In the end, as the first victims of the Iranian regime’s reign of terror and murder, it is incumbent on us to educate the American public and the larger world about the tsunami of evil Iran’s regime is seeking to unleash on the Middle East as well as the free world. If we continue to remain silent about the human-rights crimes carried out by the Iranian regime against all Iranians and the terrorism it sponsors against non-Iranians, we have committed an even greater crime.


Karmel Melamed is an attorney and award-winning journalist based in Southern California. His blog “Iranian American Jews” can be found at: jewishjournal.com/iranianamericanjews/

Focusing on ISIS in U.N. speech, Obama virtually ignores Iran


President Barack Obama devoted the bulk of his U.N. speech to the fight against violent Islamic extremism and hardly mentioned Iran’s nuclear program.

In his U.N. General Assembly speech last year, Obama spent a lot of time talking about Tehran’s nuclear pursuit, describing it as one of two major focus areas for American diplomatic efforts (the other was the Israeli-Palestinian conflict). In this year’s General Assembly speech, Obama devoted just four lines to Iran.

“America is pursuing a diplomatic resolution to the Iranian nuclear issue, as part of our commitment to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and pursue the peace and security of a world without them,” Obama said. “This can only happen if Iran takes this historic opportunity. My message to Iran’s leaders and people is simple: Do not let this opportunity pass. We can reach a solution that meets your energy needs while assuring the world that your program is peaceful.”

The thin coverage of Iran drew immediate notice from Jewish groups.

“Obama devoted only 78 words at #UNGA to greatest threat to world peace, the #Iran nuclear threat; 1,540 words to #ISIS,” the American Jewish Committee’s Global Jewish Advocacy project noted in a tweet.

Near the speech’s conclusion, Obama also spoke a bit about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Leadership will be necessary to address the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis,” he said. “As bleak as the landscape appears, America will not give up on the pursuit of peace.”

The turmoil in Iraq, Syria and Libya should disabuse anyone of the mistaken notion that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is somehow the root of all Middle East conflict, Obama said. Noting that the turmoil has made too many Israelis ready to abandon the hard work of peace, Obama diverted from his prepared remarks and added, “That’s something Israelis should reflect on.”

“The status quo in the West Bank and Gaza is not sustainable,” Obama said. “We cannot afford to turn away from this effort, not when rockets are fired at innocent Israelis or when the lives of so many Palestinian children are taken from us in Gaza.”

He said, “Israelis, Palestinians, the region and the world will be more just and safe with two states living side by side in peace and security.”

Most of the president’s speech focused on the need for the international community to counter what he described as the “cancer of violent extremism.” At the top of the list was ISIS, the Islamic group in Iraq and Syria also known by the acronym ISIL.

“Collectively, we must take concrete steps to address the dangers posed by religiously motivated fanatics and the trends that fuel their recruitment,” Obama said, outlining four major focus areas.

“The terrorist group known as ISIL must be degraded and ultimately destroyed,” he said. “There can be no reasoning, no negotiating with this brand of evil. The only language understood by killers like this is the language of force.”

The second, Obama said, is for “the world, especially Muslim communities, to explicitly, forcefully and consistently reject the ideology of organizations like al Qaeda and ISIL.” That means, he said, cutting off the funding of those who fuel hateful groups and ideologies; contesting the space terrorists occupy, including the internet and social media; expunging intolerance from schools; and bringing people of different faiths together.

“There should be no more tolerance of so-called clerics who call upon people to harm innocents because they are Jewish, Christian or Muslim,” Obama said.

The third focus area Obama outlined was addressing sectarian strife and resolving differences at the negotiating table rather than through violent proxies. In Syria, he said, that means finding a solution that works for all Syrian groups.

“Together with our partners, America is training and equipping the Syrian opposition to be a counterweight to the terrorists of ISIL and the brutality of the Assad regime,” Obama said as Syria’s U.N. delegation watched from the audience. “But the only lasting solution to Syria’s civil war is political: an inclusive political transition that responds to the legitimate aspirations of all Syrian citizens, regardless of ethnicity or creed.”

The fourth area of focus, he said, must be to encourage civil society and entrepreneurship in the Arab and Muslim world, particularly among young people.

The first nation Obama focused on was Russia, which he lumped in with ISIS and Ebola as one of the reasons for “a pervasive unease in our world – a sense that the very forces that have brought us together have created new dangers.”

“Russian aggression in Europe recalls the days when large nations trampled small ones in pursuit of territorial ambition,” he said. “We will impose a cost on Russia for aggression, and counter falsehoods with the truth.”

The president also talked briefly about the need for a more robust and coordinated response to the Ebola outbreak in west Africa.

Facing Islamist threats, Arab nations tilt toward Israel


Between the war in Gaza and gains by Islamic militants in Iraq, Syria and Libya, there’s plenty of cause these days for pessimism about the Middle East.

But amid all the fighting, there’s also some good news for Israel.

If it wasn’t obvious before, the conflagrations have driven home just how much the old paradigms of the Middle East have faded in an era when the threat of Islamic extremists has become the overarching concern in the Arab world. In this fight against Islamic militancy, many Arab governments find themselves on the same side as Israel.

A generation ago, much of the Middle East was viewed through the prism of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Then, during the Iraq War era of the 2000s, the focus shifted to the Sunni-Shiite divide and the sectarian fighting it spurred. By early 2011, the Arab Spring movement had become the template for the region, generating excitement that repressive autocratic governments might be replaced with fledgling democracies.

Instead, the Arab Spring ushered in bloody civil wars in Syria and Libya, providing openings for violent Islamists. Egypt’s experiment in democracy resulted in an Islamist-led government, prompting a backlash and coup a year ago and the restoration of the old guard.

After witnessing the outcomes of the Arab Spring, the old Arab order appears more determined than ever to keep its grip on power and beat back any challenges, particularly by potent Islamist adversaries.

The confluence of events over the summer demonstrates just how menacingly Arab regimes view militant Islam. A newly declared radical Islamic State, known by the acronym ISIS, made rapid territorial gains in Syria and Iraq, brutally executing opponents and capturing Iraq’s second-largest city. In Libya, Islamic militants overran the Tripoli airport while Egypt and the United Arab Emirates carried out airstrikes against them.

Concerning Gaza, Arab governments (with one notable exception) have been loath to offer support for the Islamists who lead Hamas.

Let’s consider the players.

Egypt

Having briefly experienced a form of Islamist rule with the election and yearlong reign of President Mohamed Morsi, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, the pendulum has swung back the other way in Egypt.

The Egypt of President Abdel Fattah al Sisi, who seized power from Morsi, is far more hostile to the Muslim Brotherhood than Hosni Mubarak’s was before the coup that toppled him from the presidency in 2011. Sisi’s Egypt has outlawed the Brotherhood, arrested its leaders and sentenced hundreds of Brotherhood members to death.

The Brotherhood’s pain has been Israel’s gain. During the Morsi era, Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula became a staging ground for attacks against Israel and a conduit for funneling arms to Hamas, a Brotherhood affiliate. But after Sisi took charge, he all but shut down the smuggling tunnels between Egypt and Gaza, clamped down on lawlessness in the Sinai, and ended the discord that had taken hold between Cairo and Jerusalem.

When Hamas and Israel went to war this summer, there was no question about where Cairo stood. For weeks, Egyptian mediators refused to countenance Hamas’ cease-fire demands, presenting only Israel’s proposals. On Egyptian TV, commentators lambasted and mocked Hamas leaders.

With its clandestine airstrikes in Libya over the last few days, Egypt has shown that it is willing to go beyond its borders to fight Islamic militants.

Saudi Arabia

It may be many years before Israel reaches a formal peace agreement with the Arab monarchy that is home to Islam’s two holiest cities, but in practice the interests of the Saudis and Israelis have aligned for years – particularly when it comes to Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah.

Saudi and Israeli leaders are equally concerned about Iran — both are pressing the U.S. administration to take a harder line against Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program. With Iran’s Shiite leaders the natural rivals of Saudi’s Sunni rulers, the kingdom is concerned that the growing power of Iran threatens Saudi Arabia’s political, economic and religious clout in the region.

Saudi antipathy toward Iran and Shiite hegemony accounts for the kingdom’s hostility toward Hezbollah, the Shiite terrorist group that serves as Iran’s proxy in Lebanon. After Hezbollah launched a cross-border attack that sparked a war with Israel in 2006, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal blamed Hezbollah for the conflict.

Hezbollah’s actions are “unexpected, inappropriate and irresponsible,” Saud said at the time. “These acts will pull the whole region back to years ago, and we simply cannot accept them.”

More surprising, perhaps, was Saudi criticism this summer of Hamas, a fellow Sunni group. While former Saudi intelligence chief Turki al Faisal condemned Israel’s “barbaric assault on innocent civilians,” he also blamed Hamas for the conflict overall.

“Hamas is responsible for the slaughter in the Gaza Strip following its bad decisions in the past, and the haughtiness it shows by firing useless rockets at Israel, which contribute nothing to the Palestinian interest,” Saud told the London-based pan-Arab newspaper A-Sharq Al-Awsat.

Saudi rulers oppose Hamas because they view it as an affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood, which they believe wants to topple Arab governments. Likewise, when ISIS declared earlier this summer that it had established an Islamic caliphate, al-Faisal called ISIS “a danger to the whole area and, I think, to the rest of the world.”

The Wahabbis who rule Saudi Arabia may be religiously conservative, but they’re not so extreme as to promote overtly the violent export of their fundamentalist brand of Islam through war, jihad and terrorism.

Of course, just because their interests are aligned doesn’t mean the Saudis love Israel. The Saudi ambassador to Britain, Prince Nawaf Al-Saud, wrote during the Gaza war that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “will answer for his crimes before a higher authority than here on earth.”

But common foes increasingly are bringing Saudi and Israeli interests together.

Qatar

At first glance, Qatar may seem like a benign, oil-rich emirate of 2 million people living in relative peace, spending heavily on its media network, Al Jazeera, and planning to wow the world with construction for the 2022 World Cup.

But Qatar is also a major sponsor of Islamic extremism and terrorism. The country funnels money and weapons to Hamas, to Islamic militants in Libya and, according to Ron Prosor, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, to groups in Syria affiliated with al-Qaida.

In an Op-Ed column in Monday’s New York Times, Prosor disparaged Qatar, which is home to Hamas leader Khaled Mashal and serves as a base for Taliban leaders, as a “Club Med for Terrorists.”

“Qatar has spared no cost to dress up its country as a liberal, progressive society, yet at its core, the micro monarchy is aggressively financing radical Islamist movements,” Prosor wrote. “Qatar is not a part of the solution but a significant part of the problem.”

Syria

When the uprising against Syrian dictator Bashar Assad began, champions of democracy cheered the revolution as yet another positive sign of the Arab Spring. It took a while, but the Obama administration eventually joined the chorus calling for the end of the Assad regime.

In Israel, officials were more circumspect, fretting about what might come next in a country that despite its hostility had kept its border with Israel quiet for nearly four decades.

Three years on, the conflict in Syria is no longer seen as one of freedom fighters vs. a ruthless tyrant. Assad’s opponents include an array of groups, the most powerful among them Islamic militants who have carved out pieces of Syrian territory to create their Islamic State.

Now the Obama administration is considering airstrikes to limit the Islamists’ gains — and trying to figure out if there’s a way to do so without strengthening Assad’s hand.

For Israel, which has stayed on the sidelines of the Syrian conflict, the prospect of a weakened but still breathing Assad regime seems a better alternative than a failed state with ISIS on the march.

Iran

Where is the Islamic Republic in all this? Compared to the newest bad boy on the block, this one-time member of the “axis of evil” looks downright moderate.

Iran is negotiating with the United States over its nuclear program, and both view ISIS as a foe and threat to the Iraqi government (which Iran backs as a Shiite ally).

Last week, State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf indicated that the United States may be open to cooperation with Iran in the fight against ISIS, which is also known by the acronym ISIL.

“If they are interested in playing a constructive role in helping to degrade ISIL’s capabilities, then I’m sure we can have that conversation then,” Harf said.

Whether working with Iran is good or bad for Israel depends on one’s view of the Iranian nuclear negotiations.

If you think the talks have a realistic chance of resolving the nuclear standoff with Iran diplomatically, the convergence of U.S.-Iran interests may ultimately serve the goal of addressing this existential threat to Israel. If you think Iran is merely using the negotiations as a stalling tactic to exploit eased sanctions while it continues to build its nuclear project, then Iran-U.S. detente may distract from the larger issue.

Where all this turmoil will leave the region is anyone’s guess. One thing is certain, as made clear by the U.S. decision to intervene against ISIS: Ignoring what’s happening in the Middle East is not an option.

U.S. to continue Iran talks despite ship seizure


The United States will continue taking part in negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, despite the Israeli seizure of an Iranian ship carrying weapons to the Gaza Strip.

White House spokesman Jay Carney acknowledged Wednesday that Iran’s state sponsorship of terror has continued during the talks. He also said the United States “will continue to stand up to Iran’s support for destabilizing activities in the region, in coordination with our partners and allies, and [make] clear that these illicit actions are unacceptable to the international community and in gross violation of Iran’s [United Nations] Security Council obligations,” according to the Times of Israel.

But Carney said that despite Iran’s terror sponsorship, “it’s entirely appropriate to continue to pursue the possibility of reaching a resolution on the nuclear program” in negotiations between Iran and Western powers.

On Wednesday, the Israel Defense Forces intercepted an Iranian ship it said was laden with weaponry and bound for terrorist organizations in Gaza. Carney confirmed that U.S. intelligence had cooperated with the IDF on the operation.

IDF intercepts Iranian weapons ship bound for Gaza


The Israel Defense Forces intercepted an Iranian ship laden with weaponry and bound for terrorist organizations in Gaza.

The interception took place Wednesday morning off the Somali coast in the Red Sea. IDF intelligence showed that the weapons originated in Damascus months ago and were flown to Tehran, after which they were sent on a ship around the Persian Gulf and into the Red Sea. The ship, called the Klos-C, was a civilian vessel, and the weapons crates were hidden among commercial cargo.

IDF Chief of Staff Benny Ganz ordered the special forces interception operation Tuesday night. The weaponry included advanced missiles capable of reaching Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Israel’s largest cities.

The Israeli Navy is now accompanying the ship to an Israeli port.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the operation and said that it reveals Iran’s violent intentions. Netanyahu has advocated increasing international pressure on Iran as Iran negotiates with Western powers over its nuclear program.

“I would like to commend the IDF, the intelligence services of the State of Israel and –- of course –- the navy commanders and personnel who carried out a perfect operation to intercept a secret Iranian weapons ship,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “At a time when it is talking to the major powers, Iran smiles and says all sorts of nice things, [and] the same Iran is sending deadly weapons to terrorist organizations.”

Iron Dome anti-missile system placed in Jerusalem area


An Iron Dome anti-missile defense system was positioned in the Jerusalem area, reportedly for the first time.

The deployment came on Sunday, according to international news agencies, which also showed photos of the battery in place.

The Israeli military did not comment on its decision to locate the system near Jerusalem.

“The army will not discuss its air-defense assessments,” an Israel Defense Forces spokesman said in a statement. “Our defenses have spread out over different areas according to situational assessments.”

Two rockets landed in nearby Gush Etzion during the Gaza Operation Pillar of Defense last November.

Long the bane of Venezuelan Jews, Chavez is gone. Now what?


For more than a decade, Venezuelan Jews have been holding their breath, subject to the whims of a mercurial president who used his bully pulpit to intimidate, rail against Israel and embrace Iran.

There was the police raid of a Caracas school in 2004, allegedly to search for evidence in the high-profile murder case of a prosecutor. There were the demands by President Hugo Chavez when war broke out between Israel and Hamas in December 2008 that his country’s Jews rebuke Israel for its conduct in Gaza. There was Chavez’s warm alliance with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. There was the use of state radio to spread anti-Semitic canards.

Most recently, there were revelations that Venezuela’s intelligence service, SEBIN, was spying on the country's Jewish communty.

While Chavez never explicitly threatened the Jews of Venezuela, his frequent harassment and staunchly anti-Israel positions kept them continually on edge. Afraid to criticize their president, the Jewish community found itself in a predicament that took on a frightening resemblance to the one faced by Jews in another staunchly anti-Western, anti-Zionist country: Iran.

But even with Chavez gone, felled by an undisclosed cancer at age 58 just weeks into his fourth term, Venezuelan Jews aren’t quite ready to exhale.

For one thing, Chavez leaves behind a country wracked by violent crime and mired in economic turmoil. For another, Chavez played such a commanding role in Venezuelan life and politics that nobody is quite sure what will happen to the country.

Perhaps most notably for Venezuela’s Jews, far fewer of them are still around to find out.

Over the past 14 years, Venezuelan Jews have been leaving the country in droves. When Chavez was elected in 1999, there were more than 20,000 Jews living in Venezuela. Today the community is estimated to have fallen to less than half that number.

Jews were not the only ones to take flight from the Chavez regime. Hundreds of thousands of upper- and middle-class Venezuelans left during the Chavez years, seeking to escape Venezuela’s anti-business climate, the government’s nationalization of private companies, economic crises and a soaring crime rate. Jews left for many of the same reasons, with anti-Semitism by all accounts taking a back seat to concerns for economic and physical security.

With Chavez gone, there is an opportunity for change. But it’s far from clear things will improve for the Jews of Venezuela, at least in the short term.

Venezuela’s constitution appears to require new elections be held within 30 days. In his final months, Chavez made clear his preference that his vice president, Nicolas Maduro, take over Chavez’s so-called Bolivarian revolution. The likeliest opponent to Maduro, who has echoed Chavez’s anti-Western rhetoric, is Henrique Capriles Radonski, who lost to Chavez by an 11-point margin in elections held last October.

Capriles, who identifies as a Catholic, also happens to be the grandson of Holocaust survivors — a fact Chavez exploited in launching anti-Semitic attacks against him.

During the 2012 presidential campaign, state-run media urged Venezuelans to reject “international Zionism” and vote against Capriles, describing him as having “a platform opposed to our national and independent interests.” Chavez also said the Mossad, Israel's secret service, was out to kill him and accused Israel of financing Venezuela’s opposition. Government media described Capriles as “Jewish-Zionist bourgeoisie.”

The Anti-Defamation League and the Simon Wiesenthal Center condemned Chavez for his rhetoric.

The campaign was typical Chavez, only the latest in a long series of episodes that left Jews feeling deeply unsettled in a country that before Chavez had remarkably little anti-Semitism.

The first signs of trouble under Chavez came during the years of the second intifada, when the government sponsored rallies in support of the Palestinian cause. After one such rally in May 2004, the Sephardic Tiferet Israel Synagogue in Caracas was attacked.

But it wasn’t until November of that year that Venezuelan Jews felt directly targeted by the government, when security forces carried out an armed raid on a Jewish school in Caracas, the Venezuelan capital. The incident was described in a report by Tel Aviv University’s Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism and Racism as “perhaps the most serious incident ever to have taken place in the history of the Jewish community” in Venezuela.

Chavez kept up his anti-Israel and anti-Western rhetoric throughout the 2000s, calling U.S. President George W. Bush a devil during a 2006 speech at the United Nations and linking Israeli and American “terrorist” policies. During the 2006 Lebanon War, Chavez accused Israel of perpetrating a “new holocaust” and using Nazi-like methods to kill Lebanese and Palestinians.

Meanwhile, Chavez nurtured an ever-closer relationship with Iran. The seemingly incongruous friendship between Chavez, a secular socialist, and Ahmadinejad, president of an Islamic theocracy, was built around shared hostility to the United States, the West and Israel. The two leaders sharply increased bilateral trade, inaugurated weekly flights between Caracas and Tehran, and frequently visited each other.

As the size of the Iranian diplomatic presence in Venezuela grew, Western security experts accused Venezuela of providing Iran with a Latin American base for illicit activities, including arms trading.

Venezuela’s final break with Israel came in 2009, during the three-week Israel-Hamas war in Gaza that began in late December 2008. Chavez severed diplomatic ties with the Jewish state, expelling the Israeli ambassador in Caracas and accusing Israel of committing genocide against the Palestinians. Chavez also insisted that the Jews of Venezuela rebuke Israel for its actions.

Chavez’s constant linkage of Venezuelan Jewry with Israel seemed to give presidential sanction to anti-Semitism, even if Chavez himself said he “respected and loved” Jews.

Anti-Semitic graffiti appeared in Caracas, equating the Jewish Star of David with the swastika. Broadcasters on state radio recommended the anti-Semitic forgery “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” as an insightful read. Jewish institutions and houses of worship in Venezuela were attacked.

“People are being taught to hate,” then-Venezuelan Chief Rabbi Pynchas Brener told JTA in early 2009. “Venezuela has never seen anything like this before.”

But Chavez was no Hitler. Venezuelan Jews were free to come and go as they pleased, and even many of those who emigrated returned frequently to visit — including Brener, who has since moved to Florida.

To some extent, Chavez watched over the country’s Jews. In 2009, the government gave round-the-clock police protection to the site of a Caracas synagogue that had been attacked.

But Venezuelan Jews also felt that Chavez was watching them — a suspicion vindicated by the publication early this year of documents showing that the SEBIN secret service was spying on Venezuelan Jews. The documents, which were obtained by the Argentinian media outlet Analises24, included intelligence reports, clandestinely recorded photos and videos.

For now, it’s unclear whether or for how long the anti-Jewish atmosphere Chavez allowed to take root in Venezuela will survive him.

But after 14 years of policies that prompted more than half of Venezuela’s Jews to pick up and leave — and with Venezuela’s economic and security problems now compounded by political turmoil — it’s hard to imagine very many of the Jewish emigres are hurrying back.

What’s the Strategy?


A couple of years ago a private conversation between then French President Nicholas Sarkozy and President Obama was caught on a live mike. Sarkozy said I can't bare Netanyahu, he's such a liar.” Obama responded: “You're fed up with him but I have to deal with him more than you do.”
 
After the latest stunt one wonders how anyone can disagree with the President's irritation.  Recall that the Prime Minister was widely perceived in Israel and the United States as overstepping the normal propriety of neutrality in a Presidential election. He pressed for a meeting with President Obama on his United Nations visit in September to get a commitment on American action in Iran. Obama wisely refused to take the meeting. 
 
Why would anyone want an American commitment to bomb Iran and perhaps to go to war to be made in a political context on the eve of the election with the Jewish vote supposedly at stake in the swing states of Florida and Ohio?
 
Recall also that in the aftermath of the election, the President backed Israel to the hilt on its battle in Gaza clearly defending Israel's right to defend its citizens attack rocket attack – justifiably so, properly so. Recall that it was Obama that approved US economic support for the Iron Dome, which proved its value during the recent attacks on Israel, after the Bush administration had not been as forthcoming. The President and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton were essential to the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas and US Special Forces have been placed in the Sinai to keep quiet on the border between Israel and Egypt and perhaps to constrain Hamas.
 
The administration worked hard to oppose the overwhelming vote to give Palestine the status of an observer state in the United States and was certain to veto another Palestinian effort to gain Security Council recognition of the Palestinian State.
 
On the horizon, seemingly looms an existential threat to Israel of an Iranian nuclear bomb. Though Israel talks of attacking Iran, the more it talks about such an attack, the more clear it becomes that Israel does not want to take military action alone and would prefer that the United States with its greater capability would lead the attack.
 
And the Obama administration may be called upon to intervene in the civil war – perhaps we should call it a genocide – in Syria if the Assad resorts to using chemical weapons on his enemies, domestic or foreign. The US will be essential to easing Assad out of office as the discussions between the UN representative, the US Secretary of State and the Foreign Minister of Russia seem to indicate.
 
So why spit in the eye of the President and announce retaliation against Mahmoud Abbas by approving settlements connecting Ariel and Jerusalem and thus dividing the West Bank?
 
I know the domestic considerations. Palestinians were cheering the establishment of a their state – as if that was the outcome of the UN action. Hamas is cheering its “victory” in Gaza – one wishes them many more such victories. 
 
And many Israelis would have preferred a ground war in Gaza to defeat Hamas once and for all. They were expressing sentiments of the heart not of the mind. IDF leadership and the Defense Minister have said time and again that the Gaza problem cannot be solved militarily, at least not without a political strategy, of which there is none.
 
So after working hard to protect Israel's interest and to defend Israel in the international community, the Israeli Prime Minister thumbs his nose at the reelected President and not only expands settlements but moves into the E1 sector. Were these plans actually to materialize, at least according to some informed sources, they would divide the West Bank and make a contiguous Palestinian State impossible.
 
Netanyahu had not only alienated the President but European leaders as well. His news conference in Germany was sidetracked into a defense of settlement while the most that the German Chancellor could say was that “we agreed to disagree.” It is not exactly wise to alienate Europe further if action is needed on Iran – intensifying sanctions, tacitly supporting the military action. [As an aside, one wonders why the American Jewish community has not been more vocal in support of the Administration's red line on the use of chemical warfare. There is a strange silence on Syria.]
 
Netanyahu is a masterful tactician, but one wonders what is his strategy going forward, especially if he needs the President's good will for actions – diplomatic, political and potentially military against Iran?
 
If Iran is an existential threat to Israel, the strategy of an Israeli Prime Minister – any Israeli Prime Minister — should be to gather international support against Iran. As one looks at current actions, it seems that the only strategy that this Prime Minister has is his own reelection. 

Israel-Gaza conflict: Low expectations


No one knows for sure why the Gaza hostilities began. 

We know that there had been weeks of intensifying rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip, rockets fired by various Palestinian groups that were tolerated, even encouraged by the governing Hamas. And we know that the Israeli government had reached its limit of tolerance for such attacks, possibly, though not primarily, because elections are coming up, and the Israeli public wanted something done. We also know that what ignited the final escalation of this cycle of violence was Israel’s assassination of Hamas’ military chief on Nov. 14. We know that, following every such action, a barrage of rockets can be expected. We know, as well, that such a barrage is invitation for even more retaliation, and so on and so forth. 

Israelis got a glimpse last week of the damage Hamas can inflict on Israel; they discovered that Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are, indeed, within the reach of rockets from Gaza. That Hamas’ threats are no joke. But Israelis still don’t know why it all began. What was the calculus behind Hamas’ decision to allow and abet this growing harassment of Israeli civilians? What was the logic behind it, assuming there is some such logic? What was Hamas trying to achieve?

Not knowing Hamas’ goals is a problem for all those trying to assess Hamas’ ability to actually meet those goals. As this article was being written, attempts at negotiations were taking place to reach an agreement that would put an end to the fighting. Israelis will be happy if such agreement can end the barrage of rockets on its territory. Israeli leaders believe the country demonstrated last week that its citizens are willing to temporarily increase their own suffering in hope of getting a better long-term deal. And they also demonstrated the ability of Israel’s defensive tool — the Iron Dome — to dramatically decrease damage to Israel’s citizens in case of war. And that is an important message not just for Hamas, but also for all other potential attackers, such as Hezbollah and Iran. 

Of course, it is possible that Hamas had just miscalculated its way into this week of skirmishes; it is possible that its leaders did not quite understand that Israel had reached the boiling point. Back in 2006, when Ehud Olmert abruptly launched the second Lebanon war, it was widely assumed — even publicly admitted — by Hezbollah leaders that the other side didn’t see it coming. That Hassan Nasrallah believed he could kidnap Israeli soldiers and get away with it. So it’s possible that the leaders of Hamas are guilty of a similar misperception; it’s possible they didn’t expect the harsh response they got.

However, other possibilities must also be considered. Maybe Hamas needed the fight. Maybe it needed to reassert its presence as a player that can make things complicated for all parties just as the Palestinian Authority (PA), headed by Mahmoud Abbas, was going to the United Nations to get the coveted seat of an almost official member. Maybe Hamas was trying to send a message to a disappointing Egyptian government that had not yet proven itself to be the ally Hamas expected it to be. 

The raging events around Gaza are a distraction from more urgent matters engulfing the Middle East and threatening to turn 2013 into a year much more challenging and dramatic than the year that is about to end. Lost behind the Gaza headlines is the recent report that the Iranians have completed yet another step in building their nuclear program. Pushed aside from attention are the much more bloody — but repetitious — events in Syria. 

The nature of small wars such as the one involving Gaza is that the context is always overwhelmed by the details. Another siren, another rocket, another Israeli attack from the air, more reservists join the troops, more injured, and dead; the hours pass, the days pass, but after a while, it all becomes blurred and seems cyclical. Each rocket fired matters only the moment it hits, or, in most cases, misses. Each siren matters only for the couple of minutes until the danger is over. Most of the occurrences of the past week — which I write abut with the caveat of a Nov. 19 press time — were quickly forgotten, negligible in their impact on the larger scheme of things. 

The final outcome of the battle is what matters, and, strangely, while no one can quite explain why the war started, everyone has known from the outset how it is supposed to end: a cease fire, the return to the status quo. No more rockets fired at Israel; no attacks from the Israeli side. Until the next round. The Gaza pressure cooker had to let some steam off before returning to normal (which is hardly what people in most other countries would call “normal”).

There have been many complaints as the operation continued, related to the lack of “strategy” on the part of Israel (for some reason — maybe lack of expectations? — fewer such complaints were aimed at Hamas). These complaints have come mostly in two forms: 1.) that Israel should not fight a war against Hamas without coupling its effort with a parallel effort at advancing the peace process with the PA; and 2.) that it is time for Israel to abandon its policy of non-negotiation with Hamas and acknowledge reality — Hamas is here to stay.

These two alternative policies are both worthy of discussion, as long as one realizes that they contradict one another. If Israel negotiates with Hamas, it undermines the PA, the only partner Israel might have for a peace process. If Israel advances peace negotiations with the PA, it is likely to draw even more opposition from Hamas. Nevertheless, some serious people believe that at least one of the two options should be vigorously pursued by Israel, and some even believe that Israel can attempt to try both in parallel. At the bottom of these alternative policy paths, though, lie two assumptions that Israel doesn’t seem to accept, and hence doesn’t seem inclined to follow: 1.) that there’s no problem without solution, and 2.) that action is always preferable to inaction.

If one accepts these two assumptions, it is reasonable to be puzzled, even dismayed by Israel’s lack of “strategy.” It is clear, and not just in regard to the 2012 Gaza operation, that Israel operates under the supposition that no solution is currently available for the problem of Gaza and Hamas, and that inaction — in the larger sense — is indeed preferable to action. Israel believes that Hamas is an enemy with whom no negotiation can lead to resolution, and that this is a component of the larger problem of a Palestinian society that isn’t yet ready for peace. When Palestinians are ready — when they are ready not just to negotiate with Israel, but also to confront the radical factions within their own society — that will be the right time for an attempt at a resolution that demands action. But until then, Israel defies both above-mentioned assumptions: It believes that there’s no present agreement that will put an end to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and that the lack of a possible agreement makes a tense but quiet status quo the only thing it can hope to achieve. 

Hence, an operation with no “strategy.” A war of low intensity, but also of low expectations. An operation aimed at restoring a status quo that is far from satisfying to both Palestinians and Israelis. An operation that outsiders perceive with a measure of dismay: All this violence just to go back to what we had two months ago? All this violence, and no attempt to leverage it to achieve larger goals? 

The answer, sadly, is a resounding yes. The dead, the injured, the terrified, the heart-wrenching scenes, the scared innocents, the crying children, the wasted days, the sleepless nights, the constant worry, the shattered windows, the wasted resources, the sad realization that there’s no end — all this with no purpose other than to restore the status quo. That is what Israel wants for now. And as for Hamas: As I warned at the outset of this article, we have a problem with Hamas, beginning with the fact that we don’t quite understand what they want.


Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor.

Rockets hit near Tel Aviv as war looms over Gaza


[UPDATE 11:13 am] Two rockets fired from the Gaza Strip targeted Tel Aviv on Thursday in the first attack on Israel's commercial capital in 20 years, raising the stakes in a showdown between Israel and the Palestinians that is moving towards all-out war.

Earlier Hamas rocket killed three Israelis north of the Gaza Strip on Thursday, drawing the first blood from Israel as the Palestinian death toll rose to 16 in a military showdown lurching closer to all-out war and a threatened invasion of the enclave. 

Israeli warplanes bombed targets in and around Gaza city for a second day, shaking tall buildings. In a sign of possible escalation, the armed forces spokesman said the military had received the green light to call in up to 30,000 reserve troops.

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said Palestinian militants would pay a price for firing the missiles.

Plumes of smoke and dust furled into a sky laced with the vapor trails of outgoing rockets over the crowded city, where four young children killed on Wednesday were buried.

After enduring months of incoming rocket fire from Gaza,   Israel retaliated with the killing of Hamas's military chief, and targeting longer-range rocket caches in Gaza.

[Related: Rocket strikes southern outskirts of Tel Aviv]

Egypt's new Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, viewed by Hamas as a protector, led a chorus of denunciation of the Israeli strikes by Palestinian allies.

Mosi's prime minister, Hisham Kandil, will visit Gaza on Friday with other Egyptian officials in a show of support for the enclave, an Egyptian cabinet official said. Israel promised that the delegation would come to no harm.

Israel says its attack is in response to escalating missile strikes from Gaza. Israel's bombing has not yet reached the saturation level seen before it last invaded Gaza in 2008, but Israeli officials have said a ground assault is still an option.

Israeli police said three Israelis died when a rocket hit a four-story building in the town of Kiryat Malachi, some 25 km (15 miles) north of Gaza, the first Israeli fatalities of the latest conflict to hit the coastal region.

Air raid sirens sent residents running for shelter in Tel Aviv, Israel's commercial centre which has not been hit by a rocket since the 1991 Gulf War. A security source said it landed in the sea. Tel Aviv residents said an explosion could be heard.

The Tel Aviv metropolitan area holds more than 3 million people, more than 40 percent of Israel's population.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Hamas was committing a double war crime, by firing at Israeli civilians and hiding behind Palestinians civilians.

“I hope that Hamas and the other terrorist organizations in Gaza got the message,” he said. “If not, Israel is prepared to take whatever action is necessary to defend our people.”

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said Israel would pay a heavy price “for this open war which they initiated”.

After watching powerlessly from the sidelines of the Arab Spring, Israel has been thrust to the centre of a volatile new world in which Islamist Hamas hopes that Mursi and his newly dominant Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt will be its protectors.

“The Israelis must realize that this aggression is unacceptable and would only lead to instability in the region and would negatively and greatly impact the security of the region,” Mursi said.

The new conflict will be the biggest test yet of Mursi's commitment to Egypt's 1979 peace treaty with Israel, which the West views as the bedrock of Middle East peace.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which brought Mursi to power in an election after the downfall of autocrat Hosni Mubarak, has called for a “Day of Rage” in Arab capitals on Friday. The Brotherhood is seen as the spiritual mentors of Hamas.

ASSASSINATION

The offensive began on Wednesday when a precision Israeli airstrike killed Hamas military mastermind Ahmed Al-Jaabari. Israel then began shelling the enclave from land, air and sea.

At Jaabari's funeral on Thursday, supporters fired guns in the air celebrating news of the Israeli deaths, to chants for Jaabari of “You have won.”

His corpse was borne through the streets wrapped in a bloodied white sheet. But senior Hamas figures were not in evidence, wary of Israel's warning they are in its crosshairs.

The Israeli army said 250 targets were hit in Gaza, including more than 130 rocket launchers. It said more than 270 rockets had struck Israel since the start of the operation, with its Iron Dome interceptor system shooting down more than 105 rockets headed for residential areas.

Expecting days or more of fighting and almost inevitable civilian casualties, Israeli warplanes dropped leaflets in Gaza telling residents to stay away from Hamas and other militants.

The United States condemned Hamas, shunned by the West as an obstacle to peace for its refusal to renounce violence and recognize Israel.

“There is no justification for the violence that Hamas and other terrorist organizations are employing against the people of Israel,” said Mark Toner, deputy State Department spokesman.

The U.N. Security Council held an emergency meeting late on Wednesday, but took no action.

In France, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabious said: “It would be a catastrophe if there is an escalation in the region.Israel has the right to security but it won't achieve it through violence. The Palestinians also have the right to a state.”

“GATES OF HELL”

Israel's sworn enemy Iran, which supports and arms Hamas, condemned the Israeli offensive as “organized terrorism”. Lebanon's Iranian-backed Shi'ite militia Hezbollah, which has its own rockets aimed at the Jewish state, denounced strikes on Gaza as “criminal aggression”, but held its fire.

Oil prices rose more than $1 as the crisis grew. Israeli shares and bonds fell, while Israel's currency rose off Wednesday's lows, when the shekel slid more than 1 percent to a two-month low against the dollar.

A second Gaza war has loomed on the horizon for months as waves of Palestinian rocket attacks and Israeli strikes grew increasingly intense and frequent. Netanyahu, favored in polls to win a January 22 general election, said on Wednesday the Gaza operation could be stepped up.

His cabinet has granted authorization for the mobilization of military reserves if required to press the offensive, dubbed “Pillar of Defence” in English and “Pillar of Cloud” in Hebrew after the Israelites' divine sign of deliverance in Exodus.

Hamas has said the killing of its top commander in a precise, death-from-above airstrike, would “open the gates of hell” for Israel. It appealed to Egypt to halt the assault.

Israel has been anxious since Mubarak was toppled last year in the Arab Spring revolts that replaced secularist strongmen with elected Islamists in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, and brought civil war to Israel's other big neighbor Syria.

Cairo recalled its ambassador from Israel on Wednesday. Israel's ambassador left Cairo on what was called a routine home visit and Israel said its embassy would stay open.

Gaza has an estimated 35,000 Palestinian fighters, no match for Israel's F-16 fighter-bombers, Apache helicopter gunships, Merkava tanks and other modern weapons systems in the hands of a conscript force of 175,000, with 450,000 in reserve.

This story was edited by JewishJournal.com.  

Additional reporting by Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem, Erika Solomon in Beirut, John Irish in Paris. Marwa Awad in Cairo.; Writing by Douglas Hamilton; Editing by Peter Graff

Israelis see Iran ‘mini-drill’ in Gaza flare-up


Israel has emerged from the past few days of fighting with Palestinians in Gaza more confident that its advanced missile shield and civil defenses can perform well in any war with Iran.

“In a sense, this was a mini-drill” for Iran, an Israeli official said on Tuesday after an Egyptian-brokered truce took hold, leaving 25 dead in the Gaza Strip and three people wounded in Israel.

“There are significant differences, of course, but the basic principles regarding the ‘day after’ scenarios are similar,” the official said, alluding to Iran’s threat to respond to any “pre-emptive strike” on its nuclear facilities by firing ballistic missiles at Israel.

Employing a similar doctrine of pre-emption against Palestinians, Israel killed two senior militants in a Gaza air strike on Friday, accusing them of planning a major attack on its citizens through the territory of neighboring Egypt.

That southern Israel weathered the ensuing scores of short-range rockets from Gaza, with sirens summoning around a million citizens to cover and the Iron Dome aerial shield providing extra protection, was savored – warily – by Israeli defense officials.

“The Israeli home front has shown once more that it can deal with the challenges,” the armed forces’ commander, Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz, told reporters.

Though he described the cumulative threat from surrounding armies and guerrillas as “significant and abundant”, Gantz said: “I am convinced that our enemies understand the balance we have between a comfortable defense capability and our offensive capabilities, which we will use as required.”

While Iron Dome is deployed against rockets from Gaza, Israel’s answer to the bigger, ballistic missiles of Iran and Syria is Arrow II, an interceptor that works in a similar way but at far higher altitudes.

Israeli officials said Iron Dome shot down some three in four of the Palestinian rockets fired in recent days. Developers of the Arrow II, which has so far proved itself only in trials, boast a shoot-down rate for that system of some 90 percent.

PARALYSIS

Uzi Rubin, a veteran of the Arrow program, cautioned, however, against relying too far on such defenses as Iranian missiles, if not intercepted, could wreak far more damage than Gazan rockets, many of which are improvised from drainage pipes.

“We are talking about [1,650-lb] warheads, enough to level a city block,” Rubin said, noting there would be a greater impact if Iran’s allies on Israel’s borders—Syria, Lebanon’s Hezbollah guerrillas, and Palestinian militants—joined in.

Yet some Israeli experts see that axis bending to new domestic political pressures, notably after the popular Arab revolts of the past year, which may reduce the extent to which Tehran can count on their support in any conflict with Israel.

Indeed, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has recently predicted that “maybe not even 500” of Israel’s civilians would die in any counter-attack after a strike on Iran.

Gaza’s governing Hamas movement stayed out of the four days of fighting waged by other militants—a reflection, perhaps, of the powerful Islamist group’s placing of domestic interests over any desire by Tehran to bleed Israel by proxy. Hamas’s ties with long-time sponsors Iran and Syria have weakened this year.

Sanguine assessments by Israeli defense officials are at odds, however, with disclosures by an opposition lawmaker last month that, despite a government-sponsored fortification drive, almost one in four citizens lacked access to shelters.

Budgetary problems no doubt contributed to the lags in construction, and the economic damage of any conflict with Iran is a factor that those who counsel against over-confidence in defensive systems have highlighted.

Rubin noted that while the flare-up with the lightly armed Palestinians in Gaza had disrupted life and business activity only in Israel’s southern periphery, Iran’s missiles were easily capable of striking its main industrial hubs—the Tel Aviv conurbation and Haifa port in the north.

“There would be a total economic paralysis,” he said.

If it is planning to attack Iran, which denies seeking the bomb while preaching the Jewish state’s destruction, Israel must contend with unprecedented tactical hurdles and the disapproval of the United States—underwriter of Arrow II and Iron Dome.

Israel would also depend on Washington’s grants for the two projects to bear the lopsided cost of each interception—between $25,000 and $80,000 for Iron Dome, and $2 million and $3 million for Arrow.

Though Israel is widely assumed to have its own atomic arsenal, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dubs Iran a mortal threat and described the recent Gaza rockets as a harbinger.

“These terrorist attacks, by Islamic Jihad for example, demonstrate the scale of the danger that will be wrought if, God forbid, a nuclear Iran stands behind them,” he said on Monday.

Additional reporting by Maayan Lubell; Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Alastair Macdonald

Hamas leader heading to Iran


Ismail Haniyeh, the prime minister of the Hamas-led government in the Gaza Strip, will visit Iran.

Haniyeh is going to Tehran at the invitation of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad amid reports that relations between Hamas and Iran have soured because of Hamas’ failure to publicly support Syrian President Bashar Assad’s crackdown on pro-democracy forces.

Haniyeh arrived Monday in Qatar and also will be traveling to Kuwait and Bahrain before visiting Iran. Earlier this month he visited Egypt, Turkey, Sudan and Tunisia—part of Hamas’ bid to identify with the popular protests that have swept the region and to consolidate Muslim support.

Khaled Meshaal, the leader in exile of the terrorist group, met Sunday with Jordan’s King Abdullah.

Hamas wants to re-establish its base in Jordan, but its officials told Meshaal this was not going to happen, the Associated Press reported. Jordan banned the group six years ago for illicit activities, including storing a weapons cache.

IDF official: Nuclear Iran may curb Israeli border wars


A nuclear-armed Iran could deter Israel from going to war against Tehran’s guerrilla allies in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, a senior Israeli general said on Tuesday.

The Jewish state sees the makings of a mortal threat in Iran’s uranium enrichment and missile programs, and has lobbied world powers to roll them back through sanctions while hinting it could resort to pre-emptive military strikes.

Major-General Amir Eshel, head of strategic planning for the armed forces, echoed Israeli government leaders who argue that Iran, which denies wrongdoing but rejects international censure over its secretive projects, could create a “global nuclear jungle” and fuel arms races in an already volatile Middle East.

Eshel made clear that Israel – widely reputed to have the region’s only atomic arsenal – worries that Syria and Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia as well as Palestinian Hamas Islamists who rule Gaza could one day find reassurance in an Iranian bomb.

“They will be more aggressive. They will dare to do things that right now they would not dare to do,” he said in a briefing to foreign journalists and diplomats.

“So this is going to create a dramatic change in Israel’s strategic posture, because if we are forced to do things in Gaza or Lebanon under an Iranian nuclear umbrella , it might be different.”

Eshel, who spoke at the conservative Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs think-tank, quoted an unnamed Indian officer who, he said, had described the Asian power’s friction with nuclear-armed rival and neighbour Pakistan in terms of self-restraint.

“When the other side has a nuclear capability and are willing to use it, you think twice,” Eshel said. “You are more restrained because you don’t want to get into that ball game.”

Israel waged offensives in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip in 2006 and 2008-2009, coming under short-range rocket attacks by Hezbollah and Hamas, both of which are supported by Iran.

Eshel said there are now some 100,000 rockets and missiles that could be fired at Israel by the guerrillas, Iran and its ally Syria.

Despite seeing its resources strained by a 10-month-old popular uprising, Syria’s government has invested $2 billion in air defences over the last two years, and more on counter-measures against any ground invasion, Eshel said, linking both efforts to Syrian wariness of Israel.

He declined to be drawn on whether Israel might try to attack Iran’s distant, dispersed and well-defended nuclear facilities alone – or, conversely, whether it could decide to accept a nuclear-armed Iran as an inevitability to be contained through superior firepower and fortifications.

Those decisions, Eshel said, were up to the government and the armed forces would provide it with a “tool box” of options.

“We have the ability to hit very, very hard, any adversary,” said Eshel, a former senior air force officer and fighter pilot. But he cautioned against expecting any decisive “knock-out” blow against Israel’s enemies.

Writing by Dan Williams

Iran says Palestinian statehood only “first step” towards wiping out Israel


The creation of a universally-recognized Palestinian state would be just a first step towards wiping out Israel, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Friday.

He spoke weeks ahead of a U.N. General Assembly in New York where the Arab League plans to seek full U.N. membership for a Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Aug. 16 that he would deliver the application to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at some point during a gathering of world leaders for the General Assembly starting the week of Sept. 19.

Ahmadinejad, restating a position expressed soon after taking office in 2005 that Israel was a “tumour” to be wiped off the map, urged Palestinians not to settle for a two-state solution that is backed by Abbas but to strive for a complete return of what they consider their land.

“Recognizing the Palestinian state is not the last goal. It is only one step forward towards liberating the whole of Palestine,” Ahmadinejad told worshippers at Friday prayers on international Qods Day—an annual show of support for the Palestinian cause.

“The Zionist regime is a centre of microbes, a cancer cell and if it exists in one iota of Palestine it will mobilize again and hurt everyone.”

Any move for Palestinian statehood at the United Nations is likely to be vetoed by the United States, but even if it were to pass and Israelis and Palestinians found a way to co-exist, that would still be entirely insufficient, Ahmadinejad said.

“It is not enough for them to have a weak, powerless state in a very small piece of Palestine. They should unite to establish a state but the ultimate goal is the liberation of the whole of Palestine,” he said.

“I urge the Palestinians never to forget this ideal. Forgetting this ideal is equal to committing suicide. It would be giving an opportunity to an enemy which is on the verge of collapse and disappearance.”

Abbas has said he wants the world to recognize a Palestinian state at the General Assembly and support its admission to the United Nations, while sticking to his goal of two-state co-existence with Israel.

Palestinians want their state to encompass the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip, from which Israel withdrew settlers in 2005, with East Jerusalem as their capital. Israel captured all three areas in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

Ahmadinejad’s frequent anti-Israeli rhetoric has fuelled calls by the Jewish state for global efforts to stop Iran getting nuclear weapons which it fears could be used to wipe out Israel.

The United Nations has imposed four rounds of sanctions on Iran and Israel and Washington both say they do not rule out military action to stop Iran getting the atomic bomb.

Tehran says its atomic programme is for purely peaceful purposes such as power generation and accuses Israel of hypocrisy on the issue as it is widely believed to have the only nuclear arsenal in the Middle East.

Additional reporting by Ramin Mostafavi; Writing by Robin Pomeroy; Editing by Mark Heinrich

Iran denies connection to seized weapons


Iran denied Israeli assertions that it sent weapons to Gaza aboard a ship intercepted by Israel’s Navy.

“The Jerusalem occupation regime is a regime of lies, production of lies and dissemination of lies. We reject all of these mendacious reports,” the Iranian army’s chief of staff, Gen. Atallah Salhi, told the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency on Wednesday.

“God willing, this regime will sink into the Mediterranean Sea like the regime of the pharaohs in Egypt,” he is quoted as saying.

The Liberia-flagged cargo ship Victoria was seized Tuesday in the Mediterranean Sea 200 miles west of Israel. The German-owned ship, which originated in Syria, was headed to Egypt via Turkey with tons of concealed weapons that Israel said were bound for Gaza.

The sophisticated missiles found aboard the Victoria came with manuals in Farsi.

Meanwhile, Egyptian officials on Tuesday told The Associated Press that its military seized five trucks that entered the country carrying weapons from Sudan bound for Gaza. The weapons were to be ferried through smuggling tunnels between Egypt and Gaza, AP reported.

WikiLeaks reveals secrets, backroom dealmaking—and cluelessness


A careful reading of the WikiLeaks trove of State Department cables—which is laying bare some 250,000 secret dispatches detailing private conversations, assessments and dealmaking of U.S. diplomats—reveals a notable if perhaps surprising pattern: how often they get things wrong.

Again and again the cables show diplomats, lawmakers and heads of state predicting outcomes that never come true.

A year ago, top Israeli defense officials in a meeting with their U.S. counterparts set 2010 as the absolute, must-be-met deadline to squeeze Iran on its nuclear program. Now Israeli officials say date is 2012. In a 2005 assessment, the same Israeli cadre told U.S. interlocutors that the point of no return would be Iran’s ability to enrich uranium without assistance. Iran has had that capacity for years.

In January 2008, Egypt’s intelligence chief said Hamas was isolated and would not stand in the way of a peace agreement. Hamas’ continuing control of Gaza, even after the war that broke out 11 months after the Egyptian assessment, still undercuts Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

In 2007, U.S. diplomats called Tzipi Livni an up-and-comer. Though now the leader of the Israeli opposition as head of the Kadima Party, Livni twice failed in bids to become Israel’s prime minister. The same State Dept. cable from 2007 said the Israeli military and government don’t get along—“never the twain shall meet!” But they do get along, mostly, and meet often; the lack of cooperation in 2007 was the result of the short-lived term of Amir Peretz as Israeli defense minister.

The disparities between predictions and reality reflect the on-the-fly nature of the discussions detailed in the newly revealed cables.

Ed Abington, a former U.S. consul in Jerusalem who has consulted for the Palestinian Authority, said the authors of such cables work under pressure to come up with “added value” in analysis, and fill in the vacuum with chatter that might not have any basis in reality.

“You’re looking for what you can add that makes it relevant to policy makers in Washington and elsewhere—analysis, insight,” Abington told JTA. “A lot of the reporting, in hindsight, is irrelevant.”

David Makovsky, a senior analyst with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said facts on the ground also change rapidly—a factor that helps explain how dire Israeli predictions about Iran’s imminent weapons program have dissipated, at least for now. Part of that may be attributable to western efforts to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program. Makovsky cited to the recent success of the Stuxnet computer worm, which apparently disrupted Iranian centrifuges necessary to enrich uranium to bomb-making capacity.

Much of the material in the leaked cables offers frank U.S. assessments of everything from the temperament of foreign leaders to the shipment of arms between foes of the United States. In late 2009, U.S. officials told their Russian counterparts that they believed North Korea had shipped Iran missiles capable of hitting capitals in western Europe. The Russians were skeptical, but agreed that there was evidence of increased cooperation between the two rogue nations and that it posed new dangers.

The cables also track increasing concern among the United States, Israel and western nations that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is leading Turkey along a path to Islamism—and beyond the point of no return of accommodation with the West. In Cairo, U.S. diplomats prep secretaries of state in both the Bush and Obama administrations for meetings with Egyptian leaders and tell them to defer to Egyptian self-regard as the indispensable Arab state, while acknowledging that this perception is long past its due date.

Tracking the cables that straddle the Israeli and U.S. administrations also demonstrates that on some matters policies have changed little, if at all. Stuart Levey, the Treasury undersecretary charged with enforcing Iran sanctions, in December of 2008 reassures Israeli Mossad chief Meir Dagan that Obama is as determined as Bush was to isolate Iran through sanctions. Within a few weeks, Obama would confirm it by reappointing Levey to the job, ensuring consistency.

The leaks also show Iranian and Syrian duplicity. A 2008 memo, apparently from an Iranian source, details how Iran used the cover of the Iranian Red Crescent to smuggle officers into Lebanon in 2006 to assist in Hezbollah’s war against Israel. Syria apparently provided sophisticated weapons to Hezbollah within weeks of pledging to U.S. officials that it would not do so.

Some of those named in the leaks worried that their publication could inhibit frank dialogue. Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), was outraged that her private exchange with Netanyahu on Iran and Palestinian issues in a 2009 meeting was now public knowledge. “If Congress has no ability to have candid conversations with foreign leaders, we won’t have some of the critical information we need to make the judgments we need to make about countries like Iran,” she told The Daily Beast.

‘We are fighting an Iranian proxy’: Q&A with Israeli Consul General Yaakov Dayan


Yaakov Dayan is Israel’s consul general for the Southwestern states. He is a 14-year veteran of the Foreign Service, has served in Europe and the United States and has conducted sensitive negotiations with Palestinian, Jordanian and Syrian officials. The Jewish Journal interviewed Dayan last Sunday.

Jewish Journal: It’s been widely remarked that both Israel’s military and public relations arms were better prepared for the Gaza operation than, say, at the start of the Second Lebanon War in 2006. Did you receive an advance tip-off and instructions from Jerusalem before the air attacks started on Dec. 27?
Yaakov Dayan: I won’t go into specific details, but we knew exactly what to do; we didn’t have to wait for instructions. On the first day alone, I handled 15 media interviews, and the pace hasn’t slowed down. Today is Sunday and [Deputy Consul General] Gil [Artzyeli] is meeting with the media in Denver, Shahar [Azani, consul for media and public affairs,] is speaking at a rally in Phoenix, and TV crews have been coming to my home all day. In between, we’re calling governors, senators and local officials for public declarations of support, and so far we have about 60 such statements.

JJ: Your base is in Los Angeles, but it seems that Israel expects you to reach out well beyond the city and the state in the global public opinion struggle.
YD: You have to understand that Los Angeles is one of the top three or four pro-Israel strongholds in the world, matched in importance only by New York. Most everywhere else in Europe and Asia, there are mainly pro-Palestinian voices. So Los Angeles has to fill in the gaps Complete Gaza Coveragein our strength. For instance, CNN’s worldwide service broadcast clips of pro-Hamas demonstrations from all over the world, but at least it was also able to show the pro-Israel rally in front of the Federal Building here.

JJ: With television and newspapers constantly showing pictures of injured Gaza children and distraught parents, what can you do to counteract the image of Israel as a heartless aggressor?
YD: It’s difficult, because photos are stronger than words. However, we must keep conveying the fact that we’re dealing with a brutal and cynical enemy who takes advantage of Western values and respect for human life by using civilians and children as human shields.
For instance, last week our air force targeted a Gaza building full of ammunition. We first phoned the Hamas activist inside that we would bomb the place in 30 minutes and that he should evacuate his family. Instead, he sent his four wives and their kids to stand on the roof of the building.

JJ: How would you evaluate media coverage locally and elsewhere?
YD: Fox News definitely has the best coverage, from our point of view. In general, the media are a little more balanced than on previous occasions, but I can’t say I’m not upset when I see on the front page of the Los Angeles Times a photo of two dead Arab girls. Admittedly, in a following issue, the Times showed a hole in the roof of a kibbutz building, hit by a Hamas rocket. Sometimes, I cringe at the op-eds, but occasionally, they’re all right. Interestingly, the Arab coverage in Egypt and Jordan is relatively all right, they understand that we are fighting an Iranian proxy.

JJ: What do you expect Los Angeles Jews and Israelis to do while the conflict lasts?
YD: We now have an Israeli flag flying outside the consulate on Wilshire Boulevard, and I am calling on everybody to stand by that flag, literally and symbolically. Everyone has an obligation to stand for Israel; that’s such a rewarding act, and I’m not speaking about money.
It’s great that 1,000 turn out for a rally, but why not 10,000? Write letters to the press, write op-eds, join solidarity missions, be active in your professional or social organization.

JJ: What was your toughest assignment during the last two weeks?
YD: I was on Air America [a self-described progressive talk radio network] for a national call-in program, and for an hour I answered comments and questions, all of them negative. No one called in to support Israel. At the end of the scheduled hour, the host said there were still lots of listeners wanting to talk to me, so we went at it for a second hour. At the end of this, I was completely exhausted.

JJ: So how are you holding up personally?
YD: Look, here I’m running between TV interviews, but in Israel they’re running between missiles. Who am I to complain?

Israel facing grim threat assessment for 2009


JERUSALEM (JTA) — Delivering a grim threat assessment for 2009, the Israeli National Security Council (NSC) said that Israel in 2009 may well find itself alone, facing Iran on the threshold of nuclear power, fighting rocket attacks on two fronts and without a Palestinian partner for a two-state solution.

The assessment, which will be presented next month to the Israeli Cabinet, makes some far-reaching preemptive recommendations: developing a credible military option against Iran, making peace with Syria and preventing Palestinian elections, even at the cost of a collision with the United States.

The NSC foresees two possible Iran-related diplomatic developments that could hurt Israel: a U.S.-initiated dialogue leading to rapprochement between Iran, the United States and the Arab world, or the United States building a wide international coalition against Iran — for which Israel might be forced to pay a price.

To preempt these developments, the NSC urges the Israeli government to work closely with the incoming U.S. administration to mobilize the international community against Iran and to prevent an American deal with Tehran that undermines Israeli interests.

However, Israel’s various intelligence agencies appear to have differences of opinion on the Iran issue.

Military intelligence seems to have more faith in President-elect Barack Obama’s plan to stop Iran from going nuclear by using diplomacy backed by the threat of stiffer economic sanctions. Intelligence Chief Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin argues that Iran is now more vulnerable to sanctions as a result of the plummeting price of oil.

After conducting a bona fide dialogue with Tehran, Yadlin says, Obama will be in a position to build a strong international coalition for tighter sanctions if the Iranians refuse to drop their nuclear plans.

The NSC, however, is skeptical. Its members believe the only way to stop Iran will be through the threat or use of force. It maintains that Israel only has a small window of opportunity for action and urges the government to work discreetly on contingency plans, while building a realistic military option. In the NSC’s view, a nuclear Iran would constitute by far the biggest threat to Israel’s existence.

But Israel is seriously threatened, as well, by massive rocket buildups in southern Lebanon and, to a lesser extent, in the Gaza Strip. According to Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Hezbollah now has approximately 42,000 rockets in Lebanon — more than three times the number it had during the 2006 Lebanon War.

Hamas, too, apparently has been using its truce with Israel to smuggle in huge quantities of weaponry into Gaza from Egypt. The NSC suggests that in the event of a provocation from Lebanon or Gaza, the Israel Defense Forces at all costs should avoid being sucked into a long war of attrition. If the IDF fails to contain the trouble quickly, it should consider launching a wide-scale operation, hitting the other side hard and bringing the fighting to an abrupt end, with as clear cut a result as possible.

The NSC sees in peace with Syria a major strategic advantage in the battle against Iran and its proxies, because peace with Syria likely would lead to peace with Lebanon and significantly weaken the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah-Hamas axis.

For this gain, Israel should be prepared to pay the heavy price of returning the Golan Heights to Syria, the NSC says. Israel also should try to harness the incoming U.S. administration to this end, because Syria would be unlikely to come aboard without U.S. economic and diplomatic assurances. The intelligence agencies seem to be in accord on Syria, although there are differences of nuance here, too.

Yadlin says there are encouraging signs that Syrian President Bashar Assad really wants a deal with Israel, but that it would have to be on his terms: getting back the Golan and receiving the same kind of significant U.S. investment in Syria as Egypt received after it made peace with Israel in 1979.

The NSC believes that the price is worthwhile for both Israel and the United States, as long as Syria detaches itself from the Iranian axis. Yadlin, however, is not sure whether Syria really would cut its ties with Iran and pro-Iranian terrorist groups like Hezbollah.

To shore up its position against Shiite-run Iran, the NSC says Israel should strengthen its ties with moderate Sunni Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia. Israel also should stabilize and strengthen its ties with Jordan. But the NSC does not say how this or strengthening the Saudi connection could be achieved.

One of the bleaker scenarios the NSC posits for 2009 is the collapse of the Palestinian Authority. Hamas is insisting on new elections for the Palestinian presidency and Parliament in January; Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas wants to extend his term for another year without new elections.

The NSC fears that Abbas might retire from public life if he fails to get his way, possibly leading to the disintegration of the Palestinian Authority. Alternatively, Abbas could compete in the elections and lose to the fundamentalist Hamas.

Either way, chances for a negotiated two-state solution would evaporate if Abbas’ moderate-led Palestinian Authority were replaced with Hamas. Israel would be left in the West Bank without a partner to negotiate an end to the occupation.

To keep Abbas in power and the two-state solution alive, the NSC recommends that Israel prevent Palestinian elections, even at the cost of a showdown with the United States and the international community.

Whatever happens, the NSC says, Israel must continue to pressure and weaken Hamas. If the current Hamas-Israel truce in Gaza breaks down, the NSC recommends that Israel launch a wide-ranging operation to topple Hamas in Gaza. Whether that would mean reoccupying Gaza, and if so, for how long, the NSC does not say.

The NSC’s thinking is based on the assumption that Israel can do business with Abbas and moderate Palestinians but not with Hamas. But the assessment fails to address the question of whether the moderates can deliver on Israel’s security needs and whether the moderate Palestinian leadership has the grass-roots support to stay in power over time.

The NSC analysis and recommendations may not win universal Cabinet approval when presented next month, but they do show very clearly just how complex and dangerous the security issues Israel faces in 2009 will be.

Compounding the uncertainty, the big decisions of ’09 will be taken by new and untried governments in both Jerusalem and Washington.

It’s time for words to lead the peace process


It is now clear that no peace agreement, not even on principles, will be signed by the Israeli-Palestinian negotiating team before some time in 2009, after the
new American administration takes charge, the Israeli election runs its course and the fate of Mahmoud Abbas’ presidency is decided.

Analysts who have been urging the two sides to expedite matters for all the many reasons that made the window of opportunities narrower by the day are now urging them to “keep the momentum going,” lest the window, which I doubt ever existed, becomes too narrow to re-open.

But how do you keep momentum going when the two sides are locked in a fundamentally immobile stalemate?

Israel is physically unable to accommodate a sovereign neighbor a rocket range away from its vital airports, one whose youngsters openly vow to destroy it. And Palestinians, on their part, cannot change their youngsters’ vows after having nourished them for decades, especially under occupation, while Iran is promising to turn those vows into reality.

Yet there is a way. If we cannot move on the ground, we should move above it — in the metaphysical sphere of words, metaphors and paradigms — to create a movement that not only would maintain the perception of “keeping the momentum going,” but could actually be the key to any future movement on the ground.

Let us be frank: The current stalemate is ideological, not physical, and it hangs on two major contentions: “historical right” and “justice,” which must be wrestled with in words before we can expect any substantive movement on the ground.

Starting with “historical right,” we recall that a year ago, the Annapolis process was on the verge of collapse on account of two words: “Jewish state.”

In the week preceding Annapolis, Palestinian Authority chief negotiator Saeb Erekat proclaimed, “The PA would never acknowledge Israel’s Jewish identity,” to which Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reacted angrily with: “We won’t hold negotiations on our existence as a Jewish state…. Whoever does not accept this cannot hold any negotiations with me.”

Clearly, to the secular Israeli society, the insistence on a Jewish state has nothing to do with kosher food or wearing yarmulkes; it has to do with historical claims of co-ownership and legitimacy, which are prerequisites for any lasting peace, regardless of its shape. Olmert’s reaction, which is shared by the vast majority of Israelis, translates into: “Whoever refuses to tell his children that Jews are here by moral and historical imperative has no intention of honoring his agreements in the long run.”

In other words, recognizing Israel as a “Jewish state” is seen by Israelis as a litmus test for Arabs’ intentions to take peace agreements as permanent. Unfortunately, for the Arabs, the words “Jewish state” signal the legitimization of a theocratic society and the exclusion of non-Jews from co-ownership in the state.

Can these two views be reconciled?

Of course they can. If the PA agrees to recognize Israel’s “historical right” to exist (instead of just “right to exist” or “exist as a Jewish state”) fears connected with religious exclusion will not be awakened, and Israel’s demand for a proof of intention will simultaneously be satisfied: You do not teach your children of your neighbor’s “historical right” unless you intend to make the final status agreement truly final — education is an irreversible investment.

But would the PA ever agree to grant Israel such recognition?

This brings us to the second magical word: “justice.” One of the main impediments to Palestinians’ recognition of Israel’s “right to exist,” be it historical or de-facto, is their fear that such recognition would delegitimize the Arabs’ struggle against the Zionist program throughout the first half of the 20th century, thus contextualizing the entire conflict as a whimsical Arab aggression and weakening their claims to the “right of return.”

All analysts agree that Palestinians would never agree to give up, tarnish or weaken this right. They might, however, accept a symbolic recognition that would satisfy, neutralize and, perhaps, even substitute for the literal right of return.

Palestinian columnist Daoud Kuttab wrote in the Washington Post (May 12): “The basic demand is not the physical return of all refugees but for Israel to take responsibility for causing this decades-long tragedy.”

Similar to Jewish refugees from Arab countries, Palestinian refugees demand their place in history through recognition that their suffering was not a senseless dust storm but part of a man-made historical process, to which someone bears responsibility and is prepared to amend the injustice.

Journalist Uri Avnery, an Israeli peace activist and former member of the Knesset, believes that this deep sense of injustice can be satisfied through an open and frank Israeli apology.

“I believe that peace between us and the Palestinian people — a real peace, based on real conciliation — starts with an apology” he wrote in Arabic Media Internet Network, June 14 (www.amin.org).

“In my mind’s eye,” he writes, “I see the president of the state or the prime minister addressing an extraordinary session of the Knesset and making an historic speech of apology:

‘Madam Speaker, honorable Knesset,

‘On behalf of the State of Israel and all its citizens, I address today the sons and daughters of the Palestinian people, wherever they are.

‘We recognize the fact that we have committed against you a historic injustice, and we humbly ask your forgiveness.

‘The burning desire of the founding fathers of the Zionist movement was to save the Jews of Europe, where the dark clouds of hatred for the Jews were gathering. In Eastern Europe, pogroms were raging, and all over Europe there were signs of the process that would eventually lead to the terrible Holocaust, in which 6 million Jews perished.

‘All this does not justify what happened afterwards. The creation of the Jewish national home in this country has involved a profound injustice to you, the people who lived here for generations.

‘We cannot ignore anymore the fact that in the war of 1948 — which is the War of Independence for us and the Naqba for you — some 750,000 Palestinians were compelled to leave their homes and lands. As for the precise circumstances of this tragedy, I propose the establishment of a Committee for Truth and Reconciliation composed of experts from your and from our side, whose conclusions will from then on be incorporated in the schoolbooks, yours and ours.'”

Is Israeli society ready to make such an apology and assume such responsibility? Not a chance.

For an Israeli, admitting guilt for creating the refugee problem is tantamount to embedding Israel’s birth in sin, thus undermining the legitimacy of its existence and encouraging those who threaten that existence. The dominant attitude is: They started the war; wars have painful consequences; they fled on their own, despite our official calls to stay put. We are clean.

Can this attitude be reconciled with Palestinians’ demands for official recognition of their suffering? I believe it can.

Whereas Israelis refuse to assume full responsibility for the consequences of the 1948 war, they are certainly prepared to assume part of that responsibility. After all, Israelis are not unaware of stories about field commanders in the 1948 war who initiated private campaigns to scare Arab villagers and, on some occasions, to force them out.

So, how do we find words to express reciprocal responsibility? Here I take author’s liberty and, following Avnery, appeal to my mind’s eye and envision the continuation of that extraordinary Knesset session at the end of the Israeli president’s speech.

I see Abbas waiting for the applause to subside, stepping to the podium and saying:

“Madam Speaker, honorable Knesset,

“On behalf of the Palestinian people and the future state of Palestine, I address today the sons and daughters of the Jewish nation, wherever they are.

“We recognize the fact that we have committed against you a historic injustice, and we humbly ask your forgiveness.

“The burning desire of the founding fathers of the Palestinian national movement was to liberate Palestine from colonial powers, first the Ottoman empire and then the British Mandate Authorities. In their zeal to achieve independence, they have treated the creation of a Jewish national home in this country as a form of colonial occupation, rather than a homecoming endeavor of a potentially friendly neighbor, a partner to liberation, whose historical attachment to this landscape was not weaker than ours.

“We cannot ignore anymore the fact that the Great Arab Revolt of 1936-1939 has resulted in the British White Paper, which prevented thousands, if not millions, of European Jews from escaping the Nazi extermination plan. Nor can we ignore the fact that when survivors of Nazi concentration camps sought refuge in Palestine, we were instrumental in denying them safety and, when they finally established their historical homeland, we called the armies of our Arab brethren to wipe out their newly created state.

“Subsequently, for the past 60 years, in our zeal to rectify the injustice done to us, we have taught our children that only your demise can bring about the justice and liberty they so badly deserve. They took our teachings rather seriously, and some of them resorted to terror wars that killed, maimed and injured thousands of your citizens.”

Admittedly, this scenario is utopian. The idea of Palestinians apologizing to Israel is so heretical in prevailing political consciousness that only six Google entries mention such a gesture, compared with 615 entries citing “Israel must apologize.”

Yet, peace begins with ideas, and ideas are shaped by words. And the utopian scenario I painted above gives a feasible frame to reciprocal words that must be said, in one form or another, for a lasting peace to set in.

And if not now, when? Recall, we must keep the momentum going.

Judea Pearl is a professor at UCLA and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation (www.danielpearl.org) named after his son. He and his wife, Ruth, are editors of “I Am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl” (Jewish Lights, 2004), winner of the National Jewish Book Award.

Paradoxes characterize life in Israel


To be an Israeli at the time of the state’s 60th anniversary means to be resigned to living with insoluble emotional and political paradoxes. It means living with a growing fear of mortality, even as we celebrate our ability to outlive every threat. We are almost certainly the only nation that marks its Independence Day with an annual poll that invariably includes the question: “Do you believe the country will still exist 50 years from now?”

Most Israelis continue to answer in the affirmative, precisely because we know that the odds have always been against us, and that we have thrived in the face of dangers few nations would likely have survived.

We are still “the only country” — the only country whose borders are not internationally recognized, the only country whose capital city has no foreign embassies, the only country expected in negotiations to yield tangible assets in exchange for mere recognition of our existence, the only country on which a death sentence has been passed by some of its neighbors.

Terror enclaves impinge on our borders, while the threat of a nuclear Iran grows. Our wars have shifted from the battlefront to the home front. Katyushas on Haifa and Ashkelon, exploding buses in Jerusalem — the inconceivable has become routine.

As the jihad against us intensifies, we long for the ever-more elusive promise of normalization. Perhaps only now, in our fitful late-middle age, do we realize how touchingly naïve it was for the Zionist movement to imagine normalizing the Jews by creating the only non-Muslim state in the Middle East, in a land holy to three competing faiths, in proximity to the world’s most coveted oil fields.

To be an Israeli at 60 means to be proud of unimagined achievements, of being a world innovator in science and technology, of being second, just behind America, in the number of high-tech start-ups represented on the NASDAQ. And it means carrying the shame of chilul, desecration of the name “Israel.”

We have allowed ourselves to be represented by a president accused of rape, a prime minister voted the most corrupt politician in the country, a deputy prime minister convicted of molestation, a former finance minister accused of massive embezzlement. Other countries may have leaders even more corrupt than ours, but that is no comfort for a people facing life-and-death decisions and repeatedly summoned to sacrifice far beyond the capacity of any other Western citizenry.

In our late middle age, most of us are wary of the notion of fulfilling the biblical imperative of becoming a light unto the nations. “Let’s first be a light to ourselves,” we say.

Still, we suspect that we may be a light after all. In our war against the suicide bombers, we proved that a consumerist society can defeat terrorists and reclaim its public space — a historic victory for the world, even if much of the world doesn’t know it.

This is the third time in less than a century that the Jews find themselves on the front line against totalitarian evil — Nazism, Soviet communism and now jihadism. Each of those movements aspired to remake humanity in its image, and each defined the Jews as its main obstacle.

It is difficult to celebrate that pattern of enmity, but understanding the nature of our enemies should, at least, give us confidence in the essential rightness of our cause. By being the front line against jihad, Israel is performing the work of tikkun olam, helping to heal the world.

Not only are we fighting this war while bereft of inspired leadership; for the first time in our history, we lack a vision that can summon a majority of Israelis.

One after another our ideological certainties have collapsed. The dream of “greater Israel” ended in the first intifada; the dream of “peace now” ended in jihad. Finally, there was the hope of unilateralism: If we can’t occupy the Palestinians and we can’t make peace with them, we can at least determine our own borders. That fantasy ended with the missile attacks from Gaza. Now there are no answers, only improvisations.

Still, in place of ideological certainty there is hard-won sobriety. Most of us would make almost any concession to end this conflict and achieve genuine recognition of our legitimacy. But most of us realize that at this point in the conflict, no concession will bring us that recognition.

The left has won the argument over concessions; the right has won the argument over peace. For the first time since the Six-Day War, we are facing reality without ideological blinkers. The collapse of ideologies depresses but also clarifies: Finally, we understand the complexity in which we live, and that enables us to cope.

To be an Israeli at 60 means to acknowledge that our internal conflicts over identity can only be managed, not solved. As a modern state in a holy land, we are fated to remain at once secular and religious, without a decisive tilt in either direction. And with Arabs constituting over 20 percent of our population, we are fated to be both a democratic state and a Jewish State, aspiring to somehow include all its citizens in its national identity, while maintaining responsibility even for Jews who are not its citizens.

No less extraordinary than the multiple fault lines in the society is the fact that the society is holding. We have survived the murder of a prime minister and the uprooting of thousands of our fellow citizens from their homes in Gaza. We know our capacity for self-devouring, the Jewish yetzer harah (evil temptation).

The vast immigration waves of the last two decades from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia have yet to be integrated. But we know, too, that the ingathering of the exiles has its own momentum, and that, somehow, a people is being formed out of disparate and even antithetical communities.

To be an Israeli at 60 means to be privy to a secret that most Diaspora Jews don’t know, and which we often don’t acknowledge even to ourselves: Israel is a great place to live — to cherish the informality, the vitality if not the rudeness, the endless surprises and permutations of Israeliness. Within unbearable tension, we have created ease. The food is great, the humor beyond politically incorrect. Hebrew culture scandalizes the sacred and sanctifies the mundane.

Briefs: Some West Bank settlers would agree to leave, Israel OKs Palestinian police stations


Some West Bank Settlers Would Leave If Offered Government Support, Poll Finds

Approximately one in five Israelis living east of the West Bank security fence would leave if offered government support, a poll found. According to an internal government study, whose results were leaked Tuesday to Yediot Achronot, approximately 15,000 of the 70,000 settlers whose communities are not taken in by the fence would accept voluntary relocation packages.

The poll was conducted at the behest of Deputy Prime Minister Haim Ramon and Minister Ami Ayalon, who want Israel to group settlers within the fence on the assumption that it will serve as the de facto border with a future Palestinian state. The newspaper did not provide details on how many people were polled or the margin of error.

Israel’s failure to satisfactorily rehabilitate many of the 8,000 Jews it removed from the Gaza Strip in 2005 has raised speculation that West Bank settlers would think twice about accepting government relocation offers.

Israel OKs Reopening of 20 Palestinian Police Stations in West Bank

Israel will allow the reopening of 20 West Bank police stations under Palestinian control. The stations will have a staff of approximately 500 and are located in a zone under Israeli security control and Palestinian civil control. This is the first time Israel has permitted such a move since 2001. It is part of commitments made last week by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak to ease the lives of ordinary Palestinians.

“This aims to enhance security and impose law and order under the Abbas security plan,” Hussein al-Sheikh, head of the Palestinian Authority’s Civil Affairs Ministry, told Reuters.

Al Qaeda Assails Hamas’ Purported Willingness to Support Peace Accord

Al Qaeda came out against Hamas’ purported willingness to support a future Israeli-Palestinian peace accord. Osama bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, issued a statement on the Internet Tuesday attacking the Palestinian Islamist group after its leaders told former U.S. President Jimmy Carter that they could support a future peace accord if it passes a Palestinian referendum.

“As for peace agreements with Israel, they spoke of putting it to a referendum, despite considering it a breach of shariah,” Zawahiri said, referring to Muslim law. “How can they put a matter that violates shariah to a referendum?”

Hamas has made clear, however, that it would continue in its refusal to recognize the Jewish state, no matter what peace terms Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas reaches with the Israelis. The referendum demanded by Hamas also would have to include millions of “exiled” Palestinians, many of them radicalized refugees, making it a nonstarter in terms of logistics and of the possibility of endorsing a vision of two-state coexistence.

Rising Anti-Semitism in Muslim Countries Fueling Hostility to Israel, Study Finds

Official anti-Semitism is on the rise in Muslim countries of the Middle East, fueling long-term hostility to Israel, a study found. Israel’s Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center published a study this week arguing that in Iran and Arab states — even those that have recognized the Jewish state — officially sanctioned statements of anti-Semitism with a Muslim slant are increasing, often as a means of diverting internal dissent from the government.

One salient example is Holocaust denial twinned with allegations that Israel is practicing a “real” holocaust against the Palestinians. Anti-Semitism tends to rise in parallel to progress in diplomatic rapprochement between Arab regimes and Israel, calling into question the long-term efficacy of such accords.

The study singled out Iran as a country whose anti-Semitism poses a potential threat to Israel’s existence, given Tehran’s supposed nuclear program.

“Anti-Semitism supported by a state, which publicly adheres to a policy of genocide and is making efforts to arm itself with nonconventional weapons which will enable it to carry out that policy, is unprecedented since Nazi Germany,” the study said.

IDF Investigating Cameraman’s Death

Israel announced an investigation into the killing of a Reuters cameraman by its forces in the Gaza Strip. Following calls for a probe by Reuters and international watchdog groups, the Israeli military said Sunday it was gathering information to determine the circumstances behind the death of Fadel Shana.

Shana was killed while filming a central Gaza combat zone, and film from his camera showed an Israeli tank firing in his direction. An autopsy revealed that he had been hit by a kind of dart used in Israeli shells.

Some critics have suggested the tank crew targeted Shana, although it knew he was a journalist. The Israeli military rejected this.

“The IDF wishes to emphasize that unlike terrorist organizations, not only does it not deliberately target uninvolved civilians, it also uses means to avoid such incidents,” the IDF said in a statement. “Reports claiming the opposite are false and misleading.”

Israel Foils Two Hamas Border Attacks

Israeli forces foiled a massive Palestinian assault on a key Gaza Strip border crossing. Using an armored car and two explosives-laden jeeps painted to resemble Israeli military vehicles, Hamas terrorists rammed the Kerem Shalom border terminal before dawn last Saturday. Israeli soldiers at first responded with small-arms fire, but took cover as the jeeps were blown up by their drivers.

In parallel, another Hamas armored car tried to smash through the Gaza-Israel border fence north of Kerem Shalom but was destroyed by tank fire. Thirteen soldiers were wounded in the Kerem Shalom incident, and four Hamas gunmen were killed.

Israel’s top brass said Hamas had been denied its objective of killing a large number of troops and abducting others in a blow to the Jewish state’s morale on Passover eve. Six Hamas gunmen and another Palestinian were killed in later Israeli air strikes in Gaza.

Israel Upgrades Dress Code for Official Meetings

A more formal dress code is being adopted in the halls of Israel’s government. Cabinet Secretary Ovad Yehezkel sent ministers and other top Israeli officials an advisory that following the Passover vacation, they will be expected to dress formally at government-level meetings, Yediot Achronot reported Tuesday.

Israel’s Arab neighbors may hold key to summit’s success


As the Annapolis peace parley rapidly approaches, some of the Arab and Muslim players expected to play a key role in creating conditions for a favorable outcome are proving to be more of an obstacle than an asset.

Egypt, Syria and Turkey have been complicating efforts to hold what the United States envisions to be a tipping point in the long-dormant peace process.

On Tuesday, one of those nations seemed to reverse course: Egypt threw its support behind the peace conference after Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit met with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Syria, however, has proven more of a problem. If Annapolis is supposed to trigger a process of reconciliation between Israel and the Arab world, it is imperative that Syria attend. But Syrian leader Bashar Assad said he has no intention of coming to Maryland unless a much clearer offer of a deal with Israel is put on the table.

Complicating matters further are strains between Israel and Turkey, which reportedly is trying to mediate between Jerusalem and Damascus.

The difficulties on the Palestinian track could be helped by a Syrian presence in Annapolis. Although Assad says he has yet to receive a serious offer, he went to Turkey on Tuesday for regional talks that were to include discussion of Israel. Assad told the Tunisian daily al-Shuruq that the Turks have been mediating between Israel and Syria for the past six months.

Just two weeks ago, Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan came to Jerusalem after visiting Damascus. Before that the Turks initiated a failed back channel involving former Israeli Foreign Ministry Director General Alon Liel and Syrian-American Abe Suleiman.

Ironically, some Israelis believe the chances of accommodation with Syria are greater in the wake of the reported Israeli air strike last month against an alleged Syrian nuclear facility. Top Israel Defense Forces generals believe there now is a real chance for a dialogue with Syria, and Israel should explore it.

In farewell interviews, the outgoing deputy chief of staff, Maj.-Gen Moshe Kaplinsky, argued that detaching Syria from the Iranian-led “axis of evil” was a vital Israeli and American interest.

At one point, the Turkish mediation effort seemed hampered by strains in ties between the country and Israel. The Turks were angered by Israeli planes flying over their airspace during the reported operation against the Syrian nuclear facility, as well by what they saw as Israeli influence on U.S. Jewish groups lobbying for congressional legislation to recognize the Armenian genocide.

Although the visit to Israel this week of the Turkish chief of staff, Gen. Yasar Buyukanit, seems to indicate business as usual, there are major concerns in Israel about Turkey’s geopolitical alignment. The fact that Ankara is now ruled by an Islamist government and president, and seems to be gearing up for military action against the Kurds in northern Iraq, raises questions about its position within the moderate pro-Western camp.

Just as the Western camp would like to pluck Syria from the axis of evil, Iran is making renewed efforts to draw Turkey away from its Western orientation.

As important, Israel and the United States had hoped that Egypt, the key moderate Sunni nation in the region, would encourage the Palestinians and other regional protagonists to make peace with Israel the way it did in 1979.

Instead, Israeli officials have been complaining that Egypt has been playing a negative role, turning a blind eye to the unimpeded smuggling of weapons across the Egyptian border to Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip. The Israelis said this was creating a major military threat that could scuttle the November gathering even before it began.

For months, tons of explosives and weapons have been flooding across the porous Egyptian border with Gaza, Israeli officials say. Dozens of Palestinian terrorists also have been slipping back into Gaza through Egypt after training in Iran, Syria or Lebanon.

Before the Hamas takeover in Gaza in June, there was a semblance of border control. Now, Israel says, the Egypt-Gaza border has become a “smugglers’ highway.” So great is the increase in smuggling that Israel says it constitutes a “strategic threat” both militarily and politically.

In mid-October, Israeli officials fired off an urgent message to Washington: “The smuggling of weapons and terrorist experts,” they said, poses “a real threat to the holding of the Annapolis conference.”

The nightmare scenario is this: The smuggling encourages Hamas to launch rocket attacks on Israeli urban centers, drawing Israel into a large-scale military operation in Gaza and pushing Annapolis off the agenda.

This week, however, the Egyptians announced they had uncovered new tunnels to Gaza. Three Palestinians found inside one of them were arrested, and bombs, bullets and drugs found inside another were confiscated.

Israel foresees two major military problems if the smuggling remains unchecked: The introduction of longer-range rockets and the industrial wherewithal for Hamas to produce its own missiles on a grand scale. This would give the terrorists in Gaza the capacity to threaten Israel in the southern and central regions of the country in very much the same way the Lebanese-based Hezbollah does in the North.

Israeli officials also are concerned by Egyptian attempts behind the scenes to effect reconciliation between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ moderate Fatah movement and Hamas.

“Egypt is working against everything we are all trying to achieve,” senior Israeli officials complained recently to the Americans. “We are organizing a summit, trying to strengthen Abbas, and they are strengthening Hamas.”

The Egyptians see things differently. They claim Israel is to blame for the difficulties in the run-up to Annapolis.

“There are people in Israel who are trying to prevent prior agreement on the core issues, without which the conference will fail,” the Egyptian Foreign Minister Gheit charged.

Gheit softened his tone somewhat after meeting Tuesday with Rice, who had come to the region to get the agenda back on track.

Rice has three main goals: To bring Israelis and Palestinians closer to agreement on a statement of principles, to impress Israeli government hard-liners of the need to go forward and to get Israel and Egypt back on the same page.

One thing is clear: In the run-up to Annapolis, the geopolitical stakes are rising.


Leslie Susser is the diplomatic correspondent of the Jerusalem Report.

Am I Left?


It’s a bright Thursday morning, and I’m having breakfast at Toast with an Israeli diplomat.

After a few minutes, the subject turns to my editorials, and,suddenly, he’s not so diplomatic.

“Rob,” he tells me, “people think you hate Israel. And people think you love Iran.”

I’m not flabbergasted — I do read our Letters to the Editor, and you should see the ones we don’t print — but neither am I flattered. Because here’s the truth: I love Israel; I hate the Iranian regime; I’m not a fan of Hamas; and I’m very, very fond of Judaism and the Jewish people.

I gather this will all come as breaking news to many readers who have reacted so negatively to recent editorials. Those columns the diplomat ticked off were the ones in which I questioned whether divestment from Iranian companies would be enough to deter Iran’s nuclear weapons development; whether Israel could exist as a Jewish state without making hard choices regarding its negotiating partners and its territories; whether any diplomatic overtures to Iran would be fruitless; whether American Jews weren’t too quick to dismiss dialogue with American Muslims.

People out there think you’re three clicks left of Noam Chomsky, the diplomat said.

I’m well aware, I told him. It’s not just the letters, it’s Kiddush. After Shabbat services, when the congregation races for the wine, challah and sprinkle cookies, it’s easy to sense how deeply offended people are by what I wrote that week. “Hey Rob,” an acquaintance will say as we shake hands. Then there’s an uncomfortable beat. “I was going to say something about your editorial — but never mind, it’s Shabbat.”

If studios have focus groups and politicians have tracking polls, Jewish editors have Kiddush.

“Am I left?” I asked the diplomat. I don’t even know what left or right means anymore. At a moment in history when Israel’s prime minister, from the center-right, ran on a ticket of unilateral withdrawal from the territories, something even the left opposed a few years back, and when the left in Israel advocates for a separation fence that its leaders once fought against, and when right and left are united in their disgust with the current government, these labels mean bubkes in Israel.

And they mean less and less here in the States. We have a Republican president whose policies many conservatives find abhorrent and a Republican governor who stands for green energy, stem-cell research and the end of Rush Limbaugh. I would vote for Arnold over any Democrat on the near or far horizon. Am I right?

These labels really turn worthless when we try to apply them to our foreign policy choices.

Take Iran.

As bad as what’s happening in Gaza — a.k.a. Hamastan — is, Israel’s true existential threat is the specter of a nuclear-armed Iran led by the mullahs and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The reality of Hamas fed with Iranian arms in the south, Iranian-supported Hezbollah to the north and Iran filling the vacuum left by America’s invasion of Iraq only amplifies Iran’s danger in the region.

Israel’s new defense minister, Ehud Barak, has spoken of a “Shiite banana” of Iranian influence in the Middle East. Think of how much worse it would be to confront a nuclear-armed Shiite banana.

What’s a Jew to do? The June 2007 issue of Commentary landed on my desk with the cover headline provided by editor Norman Podhoretz’s solution: “The Case for Bombing Iran.” Inside, he lays out the dangers Iran poses not just to Israel but to Europe, to the Sunni Muslim world and to the United States. By the end, I was ready to push the button. Then I remembered Podhoretz’s unwavering support for the Iraq War. Not a ringing endorsement.

So I read Newsweek’s Fareed Zakaria, who arrives at a diametrically opposed solution, arguing that a combination of sanctions, divestment, military preparedness and diplomatic carrots will strengthen the realists within a weak regime with a teetering economy.

All-out nuclear war or step-by-step?

I dipped into this massive dilemma in a prior column. Evidently, many people read it as being clearly opposed to the movement afoot to divest state employee pension funds from Iranian interests. I don’t oppose it. I support it. I applaud the California Assembly for unanimously passing AB 221 last week, which requires the state’s two pension funds with $441 billion in assets to divest from companies doing business with Iran.

The nation’s public pension funds hold $1 trillion in assets, and legislators in at least 15 statehouses are considering similar bills (Florida passed its version last week, as well, and Gov. Charlie Crist signed it into law).

My concern, the shattered wine glass that tempers my wild enthusiasm for this cause, is twofold: These divestment bills take months or years to pass and once passed, offer a window of one or more years to complete the task. These efforts alone, in other words, are hardly enough. Zakaria and Middle East expert Gidi Grinstein both believe divestment needs to be joined with a credible military threat, diplomatic carrots and international sanctions.

“Divestment as part of a package of sanctions may not be successful on its own in stopping the nuclear project,” Grinstein wrote me, “but compounded with the two other legs of credible and viable military option and a political package it may work. Effective outcome is not guaranteed, but decisive action here is very important.”

By the way, as The Wall Street Journal reported last week, the Bush administration believes divestment will derail the larger diplomatic aim of isolating Iran. So the president is strongly opposed to these divestment efforts.

That George W. Bush — such a leftist!

A Pyrrhic victory for Hamas?


The Hamas coup in Gaza last week might seem like a victory for Iran and its followers, who now have a foothold on Israel’s doorstep. But if Israel plays its cards wisely, it might
turn things around.

Since the 1979 Israel-Egypt Camp David accords, Israel has been on a quest to end its responsibility over the Palestinian population. This quest is rooted in the need to preserve the delicate balance among four of Zionism’s basic values and visions: individual and collective security for Jews; humanism, liberalism and democracy; the Jewishness of the State of Israel and the Jewish majority in it; and the desire for sovereignty in the areas where Hebrew civilization was conceived.

The Six-Day War destabilized Zionism as Israel assumed responsibility for millions of Palestinians. Indeed, the Israeli-Palestinian political process may be framed as a painful journey to restore Zionist equilibrium through territorial compromise.

Many strategies to do so have been tested since 1979. They include the “Jordanian Option,” “Interim Agreements,” “Permanent-Status Agreement,” “Self-Governing Palestinian Authority” and “Unilateral Disengagement.” Every prime minister since Yitzhak Shamir has taken a significant step in this direction: Shamir’s Madrid Summit of 1991, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres’ Oslo accords of 1993-1995, Benjamin Netanyahu’s Wye River Memorandum of 1998, Ehud Barak’s Camp David of 2000 and Ariel Sharon’s Gaza Disengagement of 2005.

Against this backdrop, the current Israeli government intended to bring this process to a close by “converging” from the West Bank. However, these plans were aborted due to the election of Hamas in January 2006, the Second Lebanon War last summer and the constant firing of Qassam rockets from Gaza to Israel.

Hence, it has been nearly 18 months that Israel has been at a political impasse facing a double-headed Palestinian entity. Hamas controlled the Palestinian Legislative Council and therefore the government of the Palestinian Authority. Fatah’s Mahmoud Abbas was its chairman. The Palestinian ideological and political stalemate was compounded by a constitutional and structural deadlock. No one could move.

Israel has not been able to come up with an adequate response. We were not able to fight Hamas properly because of Fatah, nor were we able to engage Fatah politically because of Hamas. We have been at a standstill with no agenda to serve our own existential interests.

Last week we were suddenly unstuck. Whereas our military dilemma has not changed, we now face a Hamas-controlled Gaza and a Fatah-dominated — or so we hope — West Bank.

On the military side, the dilemma surrounding an Israeli ground operation in Gaza has not changed. The military logic is to stop Qassams and prevent Hamas’ military buildup by seizing territory and engaging its armed forces. But Israel’s national security logic is to never again assume responsibility for the 1.3 million Palestinians in Gaza.

This is a clash of logics that has no resolution. So far the latter national security logic has been “winning” and Israel has been avoiding a large-scale military operation. At the moment, Hamas’ victory doesn’t change that fundamental equation.

But what should be the new political logic? The answer is rooted in our fundamental interest in ending our control over the Palestinians. However, in the new reality, Gaza and the West Bank merit separate approaches.

While the Hamas victory is a potential setback for this goal, in certain respects, if forced to face the Islamic fundamentalist group, Israel now has it where it wants it.

First, Hamas for the first time assumes full control and responsibility over the Palestinian population in Gaza. Finally it is fully exposed to the tensions between its ideology and the needs of the population, with no Fatah to blame for its failures, although Israel is always there to serve as a scapegoat.

Second, being associated with the Egyptian opposition movement of Islamic Brotherhood and under sponsorship of Iran, Hamas is now more clearly an adversary of Egypt and not just of Israel. Hence, incentives for Egypt to act decisively against the smuggling of weapons have dramatically increased.

Third, the slow process of international recognition of Hamas now will be frozen.

Finally, Israel now has solid political and legal ground to further disassociate itself from Gaza. The new Gaza situation calls for further decisive actions such as cutting off any formal or practical ties except for acute humanitarian needs. This should include the dismantling of the shared customs role and a freeze on the trafficking of goods to and from Israel.

At the same time, we can now re-engage Fatah in the West Bank. The new Palestinian government headed by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is the most moderate for which one could ask. Alleviating the economic and political boycott and fostering negotiations may open the way for Israel to end our responsibility over the Palestinian population in the West Bank, as well.

Concerns that the West Bank may become a platform for military activity against Israel are valid. No one and nothing can guarantee that this will not happen. But there are a few noteworthy differences from Gaza.

For one, Jordan has consistently been more aggressive than Egypt in fighting Islamic terrorism in all its forms. Also, Fatah is stronger in the West Bank. Finally, the West Bank is simply different in its demographic, economic and social makeup.

Therefore, our policy should be to empower Abbas and the new Palestinian government, to transfer to them attributes of statehood and to stabilize their economy. We now have the opportunity to engage them in a political process with the purpose of establishing a Palestinian state in provisional borders or to agree on terms of reference for a permanent status.

In this context, one should keep in mind that the infrastructure for separation between Israel and the West Bank Palestinians, i.e. the security fence, is inching its way to completion. At that point, more than 95 percent of the settlers will live west of the fence and a similar percentage of Palestinians will live on its eastern side. This is a piece of real estate that constitutes transformative politics.

Israel’s challenges have not been made easier by last week’s developments in Gaza. But its flexibility to serve its interests has increased dramatically. The Hamas victory can be turned into a Pyrrhic one.

Article courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Gidi Grinstein is founder and president of the Re’ut Institute, a Tel Aviv-based think tank.

Can Olmert’s goodwill gestures kick-start peace?


After the plethora of goodwill gestures Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made in his meeting Saturday with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, politicians and pundits on both sides are asking one question: Will it be enough to kick-start the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process?

Leaders on both sides are optimistic. They see Olmert’s moves as part of a new and wider American plan for Israeli-Palestinian accommodation.

Pundits, however, are downbeat. Few believe Abbas will be able to create the necessary conditions on the Palestinian side for successful negotiations with Israel.

The meeting was the first between the two leaders since Olmert’s election victory last March. Its primary purpose was to help strengthen Abbas and his relatively moderate Fatah movement in their ongoing power struggle with the radical Hamas.

Olmert’s moves were part of a two-pronged plan: To show the Palestinian people that more can be achieved through Abbas-style dialogue with Israel than armed confrontation, and to strengthen Fatah militarily by allowing it the wherewithal to build up its armed forces ahead of a possible showdown with Hamas over approaches to Israel.

With this in mind, Olmert made the following goodwill gestures:

  • Israel would release $100 million in frozen Palestinian tax money.
  • It would remove dozens of checkpoints to facilitate Palestinian movement in the West Bank.
  • It would ease passage in and out of Gaza to enable the free flow of goods and medicines.
  • It would consider freeing a few dozen Palestinian prisoners in early January to mark Id el-Adha, the Muslim feast of the sacrifice, ahead of the release of Cpl. Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier held by Hamas-affiliated terrorists.
  • It would agree to set up joint committees to consider further prisoner releases and the removal of key Fatah operatives from Israel’s wanted list.
  • It would allow Egypt to supply Fatah with 1,900 Kalashnikov rifles.
  • It would allow the Palestinian Badr Brigade, currently stationed in Jordan, to redeploy in Gaza.

Olmert went out of his way to show friendship and respect for Abbas and his presidency, waiting for Abbas outside the prime minister’s residence and embracing him warmly on arrival.

Olmert also made a major symbolic gesture: For the first time, Palestinian flags were flown in an official Israeli state building.

“Abu Mazen is an adversary — he is a not an easy adversary, but with an adversary like this, there is, perhaps, a chance of dialogue that will bring an accord between us and the Palestinians,” Olmert said in a speech Sunday, his first public comments following the two hours of talks with Abbas.

Senior Abbas aide Saeb Erekat also was cautiously optimistic.

“It would be a mistake to think that all the problems could be solved in one meeting, but the meeting improved the feeling on both sides,” he said.

Writing in the mass-circulation daily, Yediot Achronot, political analyst Itamar Eichner summed up the new friendship between Olmert and Abbas.

“They have a common interest not to mention a common enemy: to block the rise of Hamas, which enjoys massive support from Iran,” he wrote.

The Israeli moves complement U.S. and European efforts to strengthen Fatah.

The Americans are soon expected to release about $100 million to Abbas, and they also have been training Fatah forces.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, in a mid-December visit to Ramallah, outlined economic projects from which the Palestinians could benefit if they reached accommodation with Israel.

All of these moves are part of a wider plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that has begun to take shape in the U.S. State Department. The new American thinking envisages leapfrogging stage one of the internationally approved “road map” for Israeli-Palestinian peace and moving directly to stage two, which calls for the establishment of an interim Palestinian state with provisional borders.

Discarding stage one means that talks could go ahead without the Palestinians first stopping all violence and without Israel dismantling West Bank outposts.

The idea is that once a ministate is established, those things would be much easier for the parties to handle.

By strengthening Abbas, the Americans hope to create conditions for the establishment of a new Palestinian government that would recognize Israel and become a serious negotiating partner. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected to make a visit to the region soon to press the plan.

The American approach is not much different from ideas being bandied about in the Israeli Foreign Ministry and supported by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

Livni, who favors going directly for an interim Palestinian state, told a meeting of Europe-based Israeli ambassadors in Jerusalem on Sunday that the Olmert-Abbas meeting was important not as “a lone gesture, but as a process of which gestures are a part.” She added that in her view, moderate Arab and Muslim states should be involved, as well.

On the Palestinian side, Abbas also expressed the hope that the meeting would lead to peace talks.

Israeli pundits, however, are skeptical. They doubt Abbas will be able to carry off the necessary first step: the establishment of a Palestinian government that makes the right noises about recognizing Israel, accepting previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements and renouncing violence.

“First that must happen, but as we know from experience, something on the way is bound to go wrong, and all we’ll get is more of the same,” political analyst Ben Caspit wrote in the Ma’ariv daily.

“Many meetings between Palestinian and Israeli leaders have taken place up till now, but it seems that never have two such weak partners sat on either side of the table — Abu Mazen on the verge of a civil war and Olmert after a war and embroiled in an investigation,” Caspit wrote.

“They have a great many qualities in common: not a bad vision and considerable courage. On the other hand they are lacking in leadership and confidence, exhausted and shackled by political constraints, enemies inside and out.”

The trouble is, Palestinian society is deeply divided over how to proceed.

In Abbas’ view, the Palestinians will always be outgunned and therefore will lose in any violent confrontation with Israel. Thus, negotiation is the way forward.

Hamas holds that time is on the Palestinians’ side, and the best path is to establish a temporary truce, use it to stockpile weapons and wait for Iran to become the dominant regional power.

Israeli intelligence estimates that if Abbas is able to rekindle a peace process, Hamas will escalate its violence against Israel in a bid to extinguish it.

Complicating matters even further, the fight on the Palestinian streets is not only between Fatah and Hamas. Poverty and the breakdown of law and order have spawned violent, armed gangs loyal only to themselves and contemptuous of authority, whether from Fatah or Hamas. They will probably continue to use terror against Israel, even if Abbas and Hamas agree to a cease-fire.

If the latest American initiative is to succeed, it will have to find a way of neutralizing both Hamas and the street gangs. Otherwise, new peace prospects will drown in a sea of Palestinian chaos.

Making peace at the best of times would not be easy. In these circumstances, it will be a very tall order indeed.

Leslie Susser is diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem report.
JTA correspondent Dan Baron in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

Enforce cease-fire terms for peaceful New Year


The Jewish people have a tradition of reflecting on the past as a tool to move forward. Never is this custom more significant than at the start of each New Year.

This Yom Kippur, we have a lot to bear in mind. At the end of summer a year ago, just before the beginning of 5766, Israel had faced what at the time seemed to be its most difficult summer with the disengagement from Gaza. A rift was created within Israeli society, one that the people of Israel were still dealing with until just before this summer began.

The thriving economy and booming tourist industry seemed a promising end to a trying year and hopeful beginning of the coming year. Unprecedented numbers of Hollywood celebrities were calling Tel Aviv their summer hotspot, and Israeli teens were trampling all over each other to buy tickets for some of the biggest acts in the world — performing in Israel.

School was out and summer camp was in. The pools had been properly chlorinated, and everyone was ready to show off their brand new bathing suits. For the kids all over Israel, this was the moment they’d been waiting for since September.

Following the deaths of 10 Israeli soldiers in two terrorist attacks, which resulted in the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit on June 25 as well as Udi Goldwasser and Eldad Regev on July 12, Israel set aside its summer plans and prepared to face once again what we have faced so many times in the past — war.

By mid-July the residents of northern Israel were being bombarded on a daily basis by deadly Katyusha missiles fired by Hezbollah. Innocent civilians were being targeted and killed. Hezbollah was exhibiting a new ruthlessness, placing ball bearings in the missile heads with the sole purpose of inflicting maximum injury and suffering on anyone within its reach of one mile.

Northern Israel took a harsh beating, bustling Israeli landmark cities like Haifa, Tzfat, Nahariya, Kiriyat Shmona and Tiberias were nearly deserted. Buildings were destroyed, the lush green landscape was in flames, and many lives were lost. With more than a third of Israel’s population in the line of fire, residents either fled south or huddled together in bomb shelters, transforming the animated north into a ghost town.

By the time a cease-fire was reached, 160 Israelis had been killed by Hezbollah terrorists. More than 4,000 missiles landed in Israel during the war, hitting 6,000 homes, leaving 300,000 Israeli’s displaced and forcing more than a million to live in bomb shelters.
Had the United Nations implemented Security Council Resolution 1559, the war would probably have been averted. Now, with the adoption of Security Council Resolution 1701, the international community has been given a second chance to make things right.

Resolution 1701 brought an end to the military struggle, but while the bombs have stopped falling and the focus is to regroup and rebuild northern Israel, we must remain cautious and guarded.

The clear agenda of the president of Iran, a fundamentalist regime that gives financial support and operational directives to terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah, has not changed. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad continues to sponsor terrorism and strives to achieve nuclear capabilities, while at the same time reiterating his call for the destruction of the Israel and denying the Holocaust.

Iran and Syria remain the driving force behind Hezbollah, a fact that strengthens the argument that the arms embargo addressed in Resolution 1701 must be enforced.
The culture of hatred that has grown strong in the unstable region surrounding Israel affects the Jewish people worldwide. Today, however, the Jewish people are stronger than they have ever been. That strength stems, among other things, from Eretz Israel, the one country in the world every Jew is free to call their home.

This summer, as Israel was under fire, the Jews of the world spoke together and stood together. It is well known that as Jews we band together in times of hardship. Never was that more true than during this past summer. Jews in Israel and around the world understood the stakes and made standing with Israel their first priority.

In accepting Resolution 1701, Israel has once again shown its commitment to peace by giving diplomacy a chance to succeed. It is now essential that this commitment to peace be echoed by the international community, starting first and foremost with the implementation of this important resolution.

As we continue the battle to free our abducted soldiers and secure our borders, Israel remains strong. Looking forward to a new year, we are strengthened by the lessons of our past. The Jewish people have overcome countless obstacles since the beginning of our history 5767 years ago, and we will continue to prevail against all odds and all enemies for a long time to come.

With this year ending and a new one beginning, I want to take this opportunity to thank the Jewish community for its undying support of Israel.

I pray that God continues to give us all the strength to face the many challenges that lie ahead.

I wish all of you a healthy, happy, peaceful New Year and may all of your hearts’ desires be fulfilled.

Am Yisrael Chai!

The people of Israel will live for eternity.

Chag Samech, Shana Tova and Gmar Chatima Tova.

Ehud Danoch is Israel’s consul general in Los Angeles.

Nation & World Briefs


Israel Reacts After Gaza Attacks

Just weeks after Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, fighting with the Palestinians resumed with sound and fury — and, some feared, the potential to evolve into a full-blown border war. Israeli forces answered Hamas rocket salvoes from Gaza with airstrikes, arrest sweeps in the West Bank and, in an unprecedented move, by putting its artillery on standby to fire.

On Sunday, Hamas announced that it would stop its rocket salvoes against the Jewish state — but the declaration was quickly followed by more Palestinian rocket and mortar fire into Israel.

At the same time, Islamic Jihad vowed to avenge the death of Mohammed Khalil, commander of its military wing in the Gaza Strip, who was killed in an Israeli air strike Sunday night. His deputy was killed as well, and four other people were wounded.

The escalation began with a terrorism-sparked tragedy: At least 15 people were killed last Friday when a munitions truck taking part in a Hamas victory parade in Gaza exploded, apparently by accident.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, embarrassed by the chaotic display of arms banned under the U.S.-led “road map” peace plan, condemned Hamas as irresponsible.

But with its prestige on the line just months before a January election for the Palestinian Parliament, Hamas put its own interpretation on the blast, calling it an Israeli airstrike or sabotage. Vowing to “open the gates of hell” on Israel, Hamas launched at least 35 Kassam rockets across the Gaza border at the southern Israeli town of Sderot. At least five Israelis were wounded in the strikes.

Wiesenthal Buried in Israel

Dignitaries from the United States, Israel and Austria joined hundreds of mourners in laying legendary Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal to rest in Herzliya last Friday. Wiesenthal, 96, died Sept. 20 in his sleep at his home in Vienna. No Israeli Cabinet ministers attended the funeral, but Deputy Minister Michael Melchior represented the government and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon issued a statement: “The State of Israel, the Jewish people and all humanity owe a great debt to Simon Wiesenthal, who dedicated his life to ensuring that the horrors of the past do not recur and that murderers do not escape justice.”

U.S. Jew Arrested in Alleged Sharon Plot

An American Jew was arrested in Israel on suspicion that he planned to assassinate Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Police said they planned to deport Shen’or Zalman Hatzkolevitch, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man from Brooklyn. It would mark the first time a Jew is deported from Israel for security violations.

Iran One Step Closer to Sanctions

The United Nations’ nuclear watchdog is one step closer to referring Iran to the U.N. Security Council for sanctions. A resolution passed last weekend by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) board requires Iran to suspend uranium enrichment, end construction of a heavy-water treatment plant and allow increased inspection of its nuclear facilities. Israel and the United States, believing Iran may be less than two years away from manufacturing a nuclear bomb, had been pressing the IAEA to pass such a resolution. Iran may face sanctions as early as November when the IAEA board next meets. The resolution was pushed through by European nations, which had been on the fence until this summer. It passed 22-1 with 12 abstentions; Venezuela voted against it.

Joint Peace Rallies Held

Thousands of Israelis and Palestinians held rallies calling for a return to peace talks and an end to violence. In an address first delivered Saturday in Ramallah and then broadcast in Jerusalem, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas extended greetings to the Israeli peace camp, saying that the crowds at both rallies were fighting for the same goal of peace and an end to suffering. Some 10,000 people attended the Ramallah rally and 7,000 assembled in Jerusalem. The rally in Jerusalem was characterized by the strong presence of young people and members of the Russian-speaking community.

Withdrawal Aid Off the Table

Israel’s request for additional assistance from the United States to resettle evacuees from the Gaza Strip pullout is off the table for now, a senior Israeli official said.

President Bush had expressed interest in assisting Israel following the withdrawal, but “with one disaster after another, the momentum we had before the disengagement” has been lost, Yossi Bachar, the director general of Israel’s Finance Ministry, said Sunday.

He cited the massive costs the United States faces this hurricane season. In light of the hurricanes it is appropriate for Israel not to raise the matter, Bachar said, and he could not say when it would come up again.

Israel wanted $600 million from the United States in compensation for moving its army bases out of Gaza and an undetermined amount estimated in some reports to be $1.6 billion to absorb evacuated settlers into Israel’s Galilee and Negev regions. Bachar is in Washington with the governor of the Bank of Israel, Stanley Fischer, to attend International Monetary Fund meetings. Bachar, who met with his Russian, Jordanian, Egyptian, Dutch and Chinese counterparts over the weekend, as well as with board members from major investment banks, said interest in investment in Israel was high in the wake of the withdrawal.

French Dictionary Recalled

A French dictionary was recalled after a computer virus caused the publication to revert to an edition with anti-Semitic definitions. Earlier this week, MRAP, a French anti-racism association, charged that the 2005 edition of Le Petit Littre had reverted to an 1874 edition that contained racist and anti-Semitic definitions. A computer bug caused the 19th century edition to be sent to the printer by mistake. The publisher said the 2006 edition will be published with a foreword explaining the evolution of these terms since the 19th century.

Rita Damages Synagogue Containing Rescued Torahs

A Louisiana synagogue that was housing Torahs recovered from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina was damaged by Hurricane Rita. The Torahs being kept at Beth Shalom Synagogue were not harmed, but water overwhelmed the synagogue’s rooftop drainage system, leaving an inch in the sanctuary, along with fallen tiles from the ceiling and hanging electrical wires, the Advocate News in Baton Rouge reported.

Jewish Woman Dies, 2nd Hurt in Hurricane Evacuation

A Houston Jewish woman died when a bus evacuating residents of an assisted-living community ahead of Hurricane Rita caught fire. Bessie Kaplan, 92, was among more than 20 people killed when a bus chartered by Brighton Gardens of Bellaire burst into flames as it was transporting them to Dallas. Another passenger, Ruby Goldberg, was treated for injuries at Dallas’ Parkland Hospital and released. Authorities believe a mechanical failure caused the fire.

Israel Aid Escapes Cut in GOP Committee Proposal

Funding for Israel would remain untouched in cuts proposed by Republicans in the wake of recent hurricanes. Funding for Egypt, Africa, the AIDS initiative and the Peace Corps would take hits under a Republican Study Committee document obtained by JTA. Israel is the single largest recipient of U.S. aid, receiving more than $2.5 billion a year, but is not on the list for cuts. The report is a proposal that House Republican leaders may bring to the floor.

Jewish Court to Rule on Ritual Circumcision Method

The city of New York agreed to allow a Jewish court to handle the case of a ritual circumcision practice that may have caused an infant’s death. Metzitzah b’peh, a circumcision method used only in some ultra-Orthodox communities, involves the mohel placing his mouth directly on the wound.

Rabbi Yitzchok Fisher’s use of metzitzah b’peh allegedly led to the death of a baby who contracted herpes. Fisher has agreed to suspend the practice while the beit din (Jewish court) studies the issue, the New York Jewish Week reported.

The city’s decision reportedly came after ultra-Orthodox rabbis persuaded Mayor Michael Bloomberg that the rabbinical court is the best place to resolve the issue.

Mourning for Gaza, New Orleans

The Orthodox Union has called on its rabbis to declare this Saturday, Oct. 1, a day of mourning for both the Gaza evacuation and the hurricanes that devastated New Orleans. It asks that each shul institute a ta’anit dibur — literally a “speech fast” or a period free of conversation, in commemoration of recent events.

“We ask all those attending shul that Shabbat morning to refrain from conversation while inside the sanctuary,” — including speeches or even conversation between pauses in the praying, according to a press release. Even traditional greetings of “Good Shabbos” or “Yasher koach” (good job), the OU says, “should be replaced with a handshake, a smile or both.”

The recent hurricane destruction in New Orleans and the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, which resulted in the razing of Israeli villages and synagogues, both transpired because of a loss of Torah and holiness in the world, and these events require a day of mourning, according to the OU, which is the main body representing Orthodox Judaism in the United States.

The OU interpretation is at odds with both the position of the Israeli government and that of many Jews and Jewish organizations in the United States. A majority in the American Jewish community supported the pullout. Other Jews and Jewish organizations combined neutrality with general support for the Israeli government.

The call for communal mourning has historical resonance. Throughout Jewish history, rabbis and leaders have called upon their communities to participate in speech fasts and food fasts in response to devastating world events or in preparation for repentance. — Amy Klein, Religion Editor

New Beer for New Year

North America’s only Jewish beer company has brewed a special beer for Rosh Hashanah. He’Brew’s Jewbelation 5766 is a nut-brown ale made from nine malts and hops to mark the company’s ninth anniversary, He’Brew owner Jeremy Cowan said.

More information is available at www.schmaltz.com.

Chabad to Dedicate Torah at Pentagon Chapel

The Lubavitch movement is dedicating a Torah at the Pentagon to mark the Sept. 11 terrorist attack there. The Torah will be installed Monday in a chapel built precisely where a hijacked plane hit on Sept. 11, 2001. The Aleph Institute, a Chabad affiliate that reaches out to prisoners and troops, is dedicating the Torah in coordination with the Pentagon chaplain’s office.

House Approves Funding for Faith-Based Head Start

The House of Representatives extended funding for Head Start programs to religious institutions, legislation opposed by some Jewish groups. The Reform movement strongly condemned last week’s vote, saying it would lower standards by allowing institutions to use federal funds to hire early-childhood teachers based on religion, not qualifications.

U.S. Imposed Arms Embargo, Ex-Shin Bet Chief Says

The United States imposed a limited arms embargo on Israel in the first year of the intifada, a former Israeli intelligence official said. Avi Dichter, former chief of Israel’s Shin Bet security service, said the embargo was imposed on helicopter parts, because of their use in Israel’s targeted killing of terrorist leaders, but that U.S. officials resisted calls for a wider arms embargo. The United States opposed targeted killings at the time.

Dichter was speaking at the Saban Institute in Washington, where he now is a fellow. The embargo ended after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and the United States used helicopter-launched missiles to assassinate an Al Qaeda terrorist leader in Yemen in 2002. President Bush later said he could not keep Israel from carrying out an anti-terror strategy that he himself favored.

Jewish School Chief Testifies on Hurricane Aid Assistance

The president of a Memphis Jewish school was invited to testify before a Senate committee considering compensation for schools absorbing Hurricane Katrina refugees. Michael Stein, president of Margolin Hebrew Academy, was to testify before the Senate Health and Education Committee on the needs of parochial schools that take in displaced children.

“Our school adopted a policy of ‘doing whatever it takes,’ even though there was no way of knowing the cost and where the money would come from,” Stein said in prepared remarks distributed by the Orthodox Union before his testimony last week. “During the week of Aug. 28, our school enrolled 24 students ranging in age from 3 years to 17, increasing our school’s current population by 10 percent.”

The Orthodox Union wants the government to compensate parochial schools. Some Democrats oppose such funding, saying it violates church-state separation.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

 

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