Hamas militants take part in a military parade in Gaza. Suhaib Salem/ Reuters

IDF Destroys Hamas Tunnel


The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) destroyed a Hamas tunnel on Monday that was still in the process of being built.

The tunnel spanned from Khan Younis in Gaza toward Kibbutz Kissufim in Israel. The IDF was able to detect it through an unspecified technological advancement and then destroyed the tunnel through a controlled explosion.

The explosion resulted in nine dead Palestinian terrorists, one of which was the senior commander of Islamic Jihad’s al-Quds Brigades, according to the Jerusalem Post.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed the tunnel’s demolition as how Israel is “developing breakthrough technology to deal with the tunnel threat.”

“Today, we located a tunnel and we destroyed it, and we will continue doing so,” Netanyahu declared. “We will continue to protect Israel’s borders.”

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman stressed that the explosion took place on the Israeli border and that the Jewish state isn’t interested in another armed conflict with Gaza. However, Lieberman noted that “despite Palestinian unity, the Gaza Strip remains a terrorist kingdom.”

“There is no doubt Hamas, which controls Gaza, is responsible,” said Lieberman.

Hamas called the tunnel’s explosion a “Zionist crime” that “is a dangerous escalation against our people” to halt “efforts to restore Palestinian unity” in a statement.

“We affirm that resisting the occupation in all its forms and by possessing its various forms is a natural and guaranteed right of our people,” the statement read.

Iran, which funds Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, also denounced the tunnel’s destruction by referring to Israel as the “blood-sucking Zionist regime” that “wants to weaken the resolve of the oppressed Palestinian nation through the massacre of Palestinian youth.”

This is the third Hamas tunnel that has been destroyed by Israel since Hamas first started using the tunnels in the 2014 conflict. In 2016, Israel warned that Hamas digs over six miles of tunnel a month toward Israel and that they can travel through the entirety of the Gaza Strip underground through their network of tunnels. There have been some instances in which the tunnels have collapsed on Hamas members.

Yahya Sinwar, left, and Ali Khamenei (Getty Images via JTA)

I’m rubber, you’re glue: Iran and Hamas impose sanctions targeting US, Israel


Israel’s archenemies apparently couldn’t wait until April Fool’s Day.

On Sunday, geopolitics got all “hafouch,” or turned upside down, as they say in this country. Iran imposed penalties on U.S. firms for working with Israel, and Hamas closed its border with the Jewish state. Stereotypically, of course, it’s the other way around, with the United States and Israel doing the sanctioning of Iran and Hamas.

According to Iran’s IRNA state news agency, the “reciprocal” sanctions on 15 U.S. companies are for alleged human rights violations and cooperating with Israel. IRNA quoted Iran’s foreign ministry as saying the companies had “flagrantly violated human rights” and cooperated with Israel against the Palestinians.

Iran’s seizure of the companies’ assets and ban on contact is largely symbolic since the companies don’t do business with Iran. Among the targeted firms are Re/Max Real Estate, which Tehran accuses of “buying and settling home in settlements located in the occupied territories.”

Emily Landau, a senior researcher at the Institute for International Security Studies, a leading Israeli think tank, said Iran actually has a long history of using the United States’ tools against it.

“This is well-known Iranian tactic of turning the tables on the U.S.,” she wrote in an email to JTA. “Iran has done it many times before over the past years. They take the same messages that the U.S. sends them, about how Iran must do this or the other, and sends them back in reverse.”

Meanwhile, in a rare move, Hamas shut the Erez crossing, which is how people move between Israel and Gaza, due to the assassination of a senior official in its military wing Friday. Hamas officials have blamed the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad for the killing of one of its top military leaders, who was shot dead by unknown gunmen Friday in Gaza.

“The closure is being implemented as part of the steps taken by Hamas security forces as a result of the crime of the assassination of Mazan Fukha,” the spokesman for the Interior Ministry said in a post on his official Facebook page.

Israel has maintained a blockade of Hamas-run Gaza since 2007, but it grants permits for people to cross through Erez for business or humanitarian reasons. Hamas apparently suspects that collaborators with Israel were involved in the shooting. Israel has not commented.

So far, Hamas has refrained from responding with rockets. Israeli analyst Avi Issacharoff wrote in The Times of Israel Sunday that Hamas may be looking to avoid a new war.

“Yet, for all its rhetoric, Hamas has yet to show any firm evidence of Israeli involvement, a fact that may give the organization the political maneuvering room to avoid a dramatic response that could lead to a full-fledged confrontation,” he wrote.

But he noted the group’s new Gaza chief, Yahya Sinwar, was known to be dangerous and unpredictable when he was head of Hamas’ military wing, and Israel-Hamas tensions can heat up quickly in the summertime.

U.S.-Iran relations have also gotten hotter President Donald Trump took office in January. Twice in as many months the United States has imposed new sanctions on foreign individuals and companies for allegedly supporting Iran’s weapons program. Last month’s sanctions also targeted Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

In response to a proposal by U.S. lawmakers to go further and brand Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organization, a senior Iranian lawmaker threatened that his country could do the same to the CIA.

Imitation may be the highest form of flattery, but in international conflict it tends to escalate.

Hamas maneuvers among regional powers


This story originally appeared at The Media Line.

Hamas is attempting to maneuver between rival regional powers, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Hamas is siding with Iran against the US on negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, but with Saudi Arabia against Iran on the Shi’ite Houthi attempts to take over Yemen.

“An agreement (on Iran’s nuclear program) would be in Hamas’s favor, since Hamas (already) has strong ties with Iran, and this agreement would improve its relationship with American,” Mahmoud al-Zahar, a senior Hamas official in the Gaza Strip told The Media Line.

Yet when it comes to the situation in Yemen, Hamas has declared publicly that they support the Saudi led coalition which is supporting the Sunni government, against the Shiite Houthi rebel militias which has tried to take over the country.

“What is happening right now is best for the Hamas movement on all political levels,” Zahar said. “We need to be on their side too in order to gain more friends in the region, especially with Egypt. This is why we released our opinion recently about Yemen when we said that we are with the legitimate government in Yemen.”

Hamas is tied to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and under former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi ties with Egypt were close. But since new Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi took power, ties have soured. Sisi recently declared Hamas a terrorist organization, and has sealed off hundreds of tunnels that ran underground from Egypt into the Gaza Strip. Hamas taxed the goods coming through these tunnels, and Egypt’s crackdown has deprived Hamas of a much-needed source of revenue.

Mukhaimar Abu Saada, a professor of political science at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, explained that Hamas, which is Sunni, wishes to improve its relationship with Saudi Arabia and therefore is voicing tacit support for the country’s actions in Yemen.

“Saudi Arabia leads the alliance in the region, containing many of the parties that enjoy a good relationship with Hamas – Turkey and Qatar – and Saudi Arabia may be the gateway to improving Hamas's relationship with Egypt,” he said.

These countries are reassessing their position toward Hamas, he said, because they have learned that the alternative to Hamas are groups such as al-Qa’ida and Islamic State.

It appears therefore that Hamas is keen to move closer to Saudi Arabia and are willing to distance themselves from Iran in order to do so.  Mousa Abumarzoq, a member of the political bureau of Hamas said recently that “the Hamas movement is concerned with good and stable relations with Saudi Arabia.”  Marzouq also revealed that the head of Hamas’s Political Bureau, Khaled Meshaal, will be visiting Saudi Arabia though he did not specify when.

Until now, Hamas has been closely allied with Iran, which has also provided most of the funding for the organization which has controlled Gaza since 2007. Talal Okal, a political writer at the al-Ayyam newspaper based in Ramallah, says that “Hamas wants to withdraw from the Iranian camp and head towards the Sunni Arab coalition, led by Saudi Arabia, out of its isolation.”  Okal said that Hamas sees the move towards Saudi Arabia as a way to reduce the isolation they have been feeling in recent years from Arab and international states alike.

“For the last two years Hamas has paid the price for being close to Iran,” Okal told The Media Line. “It was treated as its agent in the Middle East and especially in Palestine, as Hizbullah was seen in Lebanon.”

According to Okal, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are attempting to derail Iranian success in the nuclear negotiations and to undermine the country’s wider influence by intervening in Yemen.  He adds that their claims to be defending the legitimate government of Yemen “could only be believed by the naïve.”

Now, with the nuclear talks continuing despite having passed their deadline, the Sunni coalition – particularly those countries in the Gulf – fear that the USA is about to ditch its long standing allies in order to appease their common foe, Iran, at the very moment that the Shiite state is on the offensive across the region.

A joint effort to contain Iran and its proxies after the 1979 Islamic Revolution was the key reason for the economic, political and military ties that were forged in recent decades by the US and its allies in the Gulf.  These ties have been under strain since the thawing of relations between Washington and Tehran, following the election of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in 2013.

“We’ll not raise this issue right now but the US is behaving with double standards that are in these negotiations by the attempts to control Iran’s nuclear program while Israel's nuclear program, which risks security and peace in the region, is not held accountable,” an official in the Palestinian Authority, who asked to remain anonymous told The Media Line.

“On the one hand the US is supporting Saudi Arabia against Iranian expansionism in the Gulf,” he said. “On the other hand in Iraq’s war against Islamic State the US has in fact become a partner with Iran, which maintains brutal Shiite militias.”

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/

In the new Middle East, an embarrassment of evils


One of the crazy things about following the Middle East is trying to keep track of all the bad guys. Remember when Iran was the big bad Islamic wolf? Or al-Qaida? Or Hezbollah? Or the Muslim Brotherhood? Or Hamas?

Now, as if in a flash, along comes ISIS to become the evil flavor of the month. Seriously, how much evil can one region generate?

A screenwriter couldn’t make up such a cocktail of hatred. Just for starters, you have Shias against Sunnis, Persians against Arabs, Arabs against Turks, Turks against Persians, Iraqis against insurgents, Syrians against insurgents, insurgents against insurgents, Lebanese against Syrians, Egyptians against Qataris, Saudis against Iran — and everyone against the Jews.

I’ll leave it to the scholars to explain how each shade of evil differs from the next. I know that a lot of people these days are into the “Who’s worse? Hamas or ISIS?” game, but from where I sit, whether you chop people’s heads off or hide behind children to murder other children, evil is evil.

Even that old standby, “the enemy of your enemy is my friend,” doesn’t really hold up anymore. Just look at ISIS and Syria.

One of the sworn enemies of ISIS just happens to be … yeah, the biggest murderer of the new century, Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, who’s responsible for the deaths of nearly 200,000 of his own people.

I know ISIS is the height of evil, but can I really cheer for that Syrian butcher against anybody?

Same with the Jew-hating Holocaust deniers in Iran – they also hate ISIS. Aside from the fact that we belong to the same species, do I really want to have anything in common with the nuclear mullahs of Persia—even if it’s a common enemy?

It’s hard to fathom that one of the nastiest, Jew-hating threats to Israel – Hezbollah – could now be fighting in Syria against one of the nastiest, Jew-hating threats to Israel—ISIS.

Consider also Saudi Arabia, presumably in the “moderate” camp of the Mideast jungle. We’re now supposed to be buddy-buddies with the Saudi royalty because they’re the enemies of Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah. But wait. Guess who for years has been funding the most violent strains of Islam in the region? That’s right, the Ferrari-driving House of Saud.

Those turkeys are surely coming home to roost.

The craziness is everywhere. Remember when the Muslim Brotherhood was running the show in Egypt and helping smuggle lethal weaponry to their Hamas brothers in Gaza? Well, the Brotherhood became so hated in Egypt that most of them are now in jail. So, guess who’s now Egypt’s sworn enemy? That’s right, Hamas, the sworn enemy of Israel.

Of course, the Egyptian people are not exactly crowding into Tahrir Square to cheer on the Zionist army as it fights Hamas. But cheering privately? Highly likely.

We saw another example of the new Middle East craziness a few weeks ago when Egypt first tried to negotiate a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.

On one side you had Egypt, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and (yes!) Israel—all sworn enemies of Hamas– and on the other side you had Turkey, Qatar and (yes!) the United States. Why would the U.S. be on the “wrong” side?

The best analysis I’ve read is that President Obama is obsessed with closing a nuclear deal with Iran, and since the Egyptian-led coalition is strongly opposed to Iran, Obama was reluctant to poke Iran in the eye by empowering the anti-Iran coalition on any issue.

In any event, now that ISIS has crossed the line by beheading an American journalist, Obama is facing some serious cognitive dissonance: Should he align with the evil mullahs of Iran or the butcher of Damascus against the evil killers of ISIS, at least covertly? Good luck with that one.

I knew things were getting hairy when I asked my daughter in Tel Aviv how she was holding up with all the latest Hamas rockets, and she replied: “We’re worried about ISIS now.”

This is what the new Middle East has come down to– an embarrassment of evils. ISIS may be a new brand of evil, but when I look at longtime murderous entities like Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran or Syria, all I can think is: Pick your poison, folks.

If a sinister game designer wanted to create a new video game to capture what’s going on right now in the Middle East jungle, that’s a good name right there: “Pick your poison.”

There wouldn’t be any good guys in this game– just an orgy of bad guys. The whole fun would be in deciding who the baddest guy is at any moment, and knocking down as many of these guys as possible.

The ultimate goal would be to take down the baddest “bad guy” of them all, the one the whole world really hates: Israel.

L.A.’s Iranian Jews stand with Israel during war


During the war between Israel and Hamas, local Iranian Jews have taken a two-pronged approach to supporting the Jewish state: raising substantial dollars on behalf of humanitarian causes in Israel and speaking out on Farsi-language media outlets based in Southern California. 

“We need to be the voice of Israel, the voice that upholds, uplifts and supports Israel, our home country, and our brave IDF [Israel Defense Forces] soldiers who bravely, tirelessly and selflessly stand in our defense. … If we don’t, who else will?” said Simon Etehad, president of the Beverly Hills-based Iranian Nessah Synagogue.

Nessah is one of a dozen local Iranian-Jewish groups raising money for Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF), having collected more than $100,000 on its own since July 12, according to Etehad. 

The West Hollywood-based Iranian American Jewish Federation (IAJF) joined with more than a dozen other Iranian Jewish groups — including Nessah — on July 23 to raise nearly $1 million for the FIDF. IAJF President Susan Azizzadeh said the money her organization raised was matched by Hollywood mogul and Israeli philanthropist Haim Saban. 

And while local Iranian-Jewish organizations have not openly criticized the Iranian regime for its involvement in supporting Hamas, more than two dozen Iranian-Jewish activists in Southern California on July 29 penned a three-page letter denouncing both Hamas and the Iranian regime for their reign of terror on Israeli civilians.

Sam Kermanian, a senior adviser to the IAJF, said the majority of Iranian Jews have strong reasons to support Israel. They consider the creation of the Jewish state as a type of redemption, with Israelis as heroes for the Jewish people worldwide. 

“Our community has always supported Israel to the best of their abilities. In fact, more than two-thirds of Jews of Iranian origin currently live in Israel,” he said. “There are no Iranian Jews anywhere in the world who do not have direct family ties to Israel, which is only topped by their religious and cultural ties to that land.”

Sam Yebri, president of 30 Years After, a Los Angeles-based Iranian-Jewish nonprofit group, said the community’s strong affinity for Israel can also be traced to painful experiences of fleeing Iran more than 30 years ago due to the country’s radical Islamic regime.

“Iranian-American Jews feel a deep connection to Israel as our Jewish homeland and as the Jewish people’s safe haven, especially given our experience in Iran,” Yebri said. “More importantly, the anti-Semitism that emerged internationally and the mischaracterization of Israel as committing ‘war crimes’ in some media outlets and at local rallies made it crystal clear that we must do our part to support Israel, as Americans and as Jews.”

Frank Nikbakht, an Iranian-Jewish activist who heads the L.A.-based Committee For Minority Rights in Iran, said some locals have increasingly tried to focus public attention on the major role the current Iranian regime has played in its sponsorship of Hamas’ terrorism. 

“The Islamic Republic of Iran has been the major instigator for this war and for quite a while they have been complaining about why ‘Palestine’ has been forgotten because of the ISIS [Islamic State in Iraq and Syria] and the Ukraine conflicts,” Nikbakht said. “They have been pushing Hamas for offensive tactics and massive kidnappings of Israelis. The Iranian regime’s commanders thus revealed that they have indeed been behind the kidnapping and tunnel strategy.”

Last week on Iranian state-run television, Mohsen Rezaei, a senior adviser to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said the Iranian regime had already provided Hamas with missile-building technology being used in fighting the IDF in the Gaza Strip. At the same time, Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani last week said Iran “had no hesitation in its coming to the aid of Hamas and other militant groups fighting Israel.”

Many of L.A.’s Iranian-Jewish activists have countered by appearing on Farsi-language radio programs and satellite news programs. One such example came last week when local Iranian-Jewish businessman and community activist Bijan Khalili appeared on KIRN 670-AM, a Studio City-based Farsi-language radio station. Khalili offered his insights to the majority Iranian-Muslim listeners during the station’s news program about Israeli military objectives to defend its citizens from Hamas rocket attacks.

“The tragedy of this war is that Hamas, a terrorist organization that is well funded and armed by the Iranian regime, clearly does not value Palestinian life nor Israeli life, and as a result both sides have suffered,” Khalili said on the radio program. “This war was begun by Hamas rockets fired at Israeli citizens. What would you expect your government to do but to protect your children and family from terrorists trying to kill them?”

While Iranian Jews living in the United States have been voicing strong support for Israel during the latest war with Hamas, leaders of the Jewish community in Iran have publicly denounced Israel. Homayoun Sameyah Najafabadi, the leader of the Jewish Committee of Tehran, denounced Israel on Iranian state-run news television broadcasts last week. Additionally, the only Jewish member of the Iranian parliament, Siamak Moreh Sedgh, recently compared Israel’s government with that of Nazi Germany. 

Community activists in the U.S. argue that this is the result of pressure from the Iranian regime. Kermanian said Moreh Sedgh’s comments about Israel are not shared by the 10,000 Jews still living in Iran and that Moreh Sedgh has no credibility among Iranian Jews in Iran or the U.S.

“First and foremost, Moreh Sedgh’s own history indicates that far more than being the representative of the Jewish community in the Iranian parliament, he is a hand-picked representative of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence for representing that community in accordance with the wishes and propaganda guidelines of the Iranian regime,” Kermanian said. “Secondly, considering the regime’s policies toward Israel and the fear and intimidation that the Iranian-Jewish community faces inside Iran, he might wrongfully think that he is serving the interests of that community by selling himself out to the regime.” 

For more than three decades, many Iranian Jews living in America have been hesitant to voice their opposition to the Iranian regime for fear that their comments may have negative repercussions against their Jewish brethren still living in Iran. Kermanian said the Iranian regime has tried to utilize this retaliatory fear to silence Iranian Jews living in the U.S. but that there are limits to the strategy’s effectiveness.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran needs to be aware that there are certain red lines beyond which our community abroad will not go, and certain issues on which it will not keep quiet, regardless of cost, “ Kermanian said. “The safety and security of Jews and the State of Israel are two such issues.”


To read more about the Iranian regime’s involvement in the current Gaza war, visit Karmel Melamed’s blog at jewishjournal.com/iranianamericanjews.

Arab rifts may complicate search for Gaza truce


The push for a Gaza ceasefire risks becoming mired in a regional tussle for influence between conservative Arab states and Islamist-friendly governments, with rival powers competing to take credit for a truce, analysts and some officials say.

The main protagonists are Arab heavyweight Egypt and the tiny Gulf state of Qatar, on opposite sides of a regional standoff over Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip, and its ideological patron the Muslim Brotherhood.

Both camps suggest the other is motivated as much by a desire to polish diplomatic prestige and crush political adversaries as by the humanitarian goal of protecting Palestinian lives from the Israeli military.

“Gaza has turned very suddenly into the theater in which this new alignment within the Arab world is being expressed,” said UK-based analyst Ghanem Nusseibeh.

“Gaza is the first test for these new alliances, and this has affected the possibility of reaching a ceasefire there.”

He was referring to Qatar, Turkey, Sudan and non-Arab Iran, the main members of a loose grouping of states which believe Islamists represent the future of Middle East politics.

That camp stands in increasingly overt competition with a conservative, pro-Western group led by Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, most of whom are intent on crushing the Brotherhood and see it as a threat.

That cleavage is now apparent in the diplomacy over Gaza.

CEASEFIRE PLAN

Qatar bankrolled the elected Muslim Brotherhood government of Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, who was overthrown by the military a year ago. Saudi Arabia and the UAE have since poured in money to support strongman Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who led the takeover and has since been elected president after outlawing and suppressing the Brotherhood.

Under his rule, Egypt has tightened its stranglehold on the southern end of the Gaza Strip, closing tunnels to try to block supplies of weapons and prevent militants crossing.

Egyptian officials suspect Qatar encouraged Hamas to reject a ceasefire plan Cairo put forward last week to try to end an Israeli assault that has now killed more than 500 Palestinians as well as 18 Israeli soldiers and two Israeli civilians.

Palestinian officials said the proposal contained little more than Israeli and U.S. terms for a truce. Hamas has its own demands for stopping rocket fire into Israel, including the release of prisoners and the lifting of an economic blockade.

With Egypt's initiative sidelined, all eyes turned to Doha, where visiting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday met Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, who lives in the Qatari capital, a senior Qatari source told Reuters.

An official in Cairo said the Gaza battle “is part of a regional conflict between Qatar, Egypt and Turkey.

“Hamas … ran to Qatar, which Egypt hates most, to ask it for intervention, and at the end we are sure Hamas will eventually settle with an agreement that is so similar to a proposal that Egypt had offered, but with Doha's signature.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, due in Cairo late on Monday, is likely to have to mediate between Egypt and Qatar in a bid to end the fighting in Gaza.

“The dilemma is now to get Egypt and Qatar to agree. It is obvious that Hamas had delegated Qatar to be its spokesman in the talks,” said an Egyptian diplomat. “Kerry is here to try to mediate between Qatar and Egypt to agree on a deal that Hamas would approve.”

Another foreign ministry source said: “Egypt will be asked by Kerry to add in Hamas' conditions and then Kerry will go to Qatar and ask it to ask Hamas to approve the amended deal.”

For reasons of history and geography, Egypt has always seen itself as the most effective mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in neighboring Gaza.

But critics say Egypt's strongly anti-Islamist government is trying to pressure Hamas into accepting a truce offering few concessions for the group. Its aim, they say, is to weaken the movement and allied Islamist forces in Egypt.

Hamas leaders said they were not consulted on the Egyptian move, and it did not address their demands.

With peace efforts delicately poised, Gaza now appears to be a test of strength in a regional struggle for power.

INTERFERENCE

Emirati political scientist Abdulkhaleq Abdulla said Gaza mediation had seen “a lot of political interference”.

“Qatar was unhappy with the Egyptian ceasefire (plan). They are very uncomfortable that it came from Egypt. The Qataris are trying to undermine Egypt politically, and the victim is the ceasefire that Egypt has proposed.

“The terms of the problem is — who will present the ceasefire? Who will win the first political match between those two new camps within the Arab world?” Abdulla said.

At the root of the rift are opposing attitudes to the Muslim Brotherhood, which helped sweep Hosni Mubarak from power in Egypt in 2011 only to be ousted itself last year.

Its ideology challenges the principle of conservative dynastic rule long dominant in the Gulf: Some of its leading members are based in Qatar and broadcast their views via the country's media, angering other Gulf Arab states

Qatar is accused of using its alliance with Hamas to elbow its way into efforts to mediate between the movement and Israel.

Critics suspect Qatar wants to repair an international image clouded by months of allegations of poor labor rights, alleged corruption over the 2022 World Cup and political tensions with its Gulf Arab neighbors.

But Western governments see Qatar, maverick though it be, as a potentially significant regional mediator because of its links to Islamist movements in Egypt, Syria and elsewhere.

Qatar denies any ulterior motive and notes that Washington has openly asked it to talk to Hamas. Foreign Minister Khaled al-Attiyah said on Sunday Qatar’s role was just to facilitate communication.

“BLOODSHED NEEDS TO STOP”

A source familiar with the matter said Qatar will not press Hamas to change or reduce its demands.

In Saudi Arabia, where suspicion of Hamas is particularly strong, as an ally of the Brotherhood and of Iran, Riyadh's main regional adversaries, newspapers have abandoned a tradition of blaming Israel alone to also attack the Palestinian group.

“The Hamas leadership, from Egyptian blood to Palestinian blood,” was the headline of an opinion article by Fadi Ibrahim al-Dhahabi in the daily al-Jazeera newspaper on Sunday.

He argued that Hamas was stoking the war in Gaza not for the sake of Palestinian liberation, but as part of a wider Muslim Brotherhood campaign against Egypt's government and to win favour with Iran.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, part of a recently formed national unity government intended to overcome rivalry between Hamas and the more secular Fatah nationalist movement, told Reuters he had seen no tug-of-war among Arab states.

“This is not the case. There is no competition between Arab countries, they all want to stop the bloodshed,” he said.

“All Arab countries want to bring an end to this fountain of blood in Gaza, Turkey, Qatar and Egypt are all in agreement. And the leaders of these country's have put their differences aside and all agree that the bloodshed needs to stop”.

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.

Islamist movement Hamas moving closer to Iran


This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.

The Islamist Hamas movement has sharply criticized the Palestinian Authority for resuming peace talks with Israel, saying that President Mahmoud Abbas is giving in to American pressure. The criticism comes as Hamas moves toward a rapprochement with Iran, despite differences over Syria.

“The (Israeli-Palestinian) negotiations will not lead to anything — it’s just wasting time,” Hamas deputy foreign minister Ghazi Hamad told The Media Line. “Israeli is trying to use the talks as an umbrella to continue its aggressive measures against the Palestinian people, especially in the West Bank and Jerusalem.”

Hamad said that in the days prior to the resumption of talks, Israel announced plans to build thousands of homes in areas that Israel captured in 1967.

“It is just a silly game,” Hamad said. “There are talks and negotiations but no outcome and no results. What we see on the ground is just the facts of the occupation: more settlements, more barriers, more checkpoints, more arrests, and more confiscation of land.”

Hamas, which controls the densely populated Gaza Strip, and Fatah, in charge of the West Bank, have been trying to hold “reconciliation talks” for several years to find a way to hold long-overdue Palestinian elections. The two factions signed an agreement in March 2011 that has yet to be completed or implemented to any degree at all. The “reconciliation talks” were supposed to resume the same day that the Israeli — Palestinian negotiations got under way, but were cancelled over the differences of opinion between the two rival camps.

“Reconciliation wasn’t on the horizon anyhow,” Ghassan Khatib, a former Palestinian spokesman and current professor at Bir Zeit University told The Media Line. “The effect on both sides will depend on the future of the talks. If they will show progress, this will empower Fatah and weaken Hamas. If they fail, it will help Hamas and weaken Fatah.”

Khatib said that he, like many Palestinians, is not optimistic that the negotiations will produce a breakthrough. The Israelis and Palestinians remain far apart on many issues, including final borders, Jewish “settlements” and the so-called “right of return” for Palestinians who left what is now Israel in 1948.  

“I’m not optimistic the talks will lead to anything,” Khatib said. “The Americans want them, and the parties cannot afford to say no to the Americans.  But the Americans can’t afford to make them productive,” he said, hinting the US must pressure Israel to make more concessions.

Hamas has been facing a growing financial crisis since Egypt began dismantling Gaza’s “tunnel economy” by sealing scores of underground tunnels through which nearly everything imaginable from weapons to food staples and even vehicles were brought in from the Sinai Peninsula. Hamas, which is considered a terrorist organization by the US and Israel, had also been using the tunnels to bring large sums of money into Gaza. It also levied taxes on goods coming through the subterranean routes. Sealing the tunnels is part of the Egyptian military’s campaign against Jihadists and terrorists in the Sinai.  

Ideologically, Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood and has always been close to that movement in Egypt. Under former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, Hamas saw its influence in Egypt growing. Last month when Morsi was ousted and the Egyptian army appointed a caretaker government, Hamas lost its ally atop the largest Arab nation, now ruled by those with little love for Hamas.

Tension is also rife in Hamas’ relationship with Iran over the Gaza-based group’s support for Syrian rebels fighting to overthrow President Bashar Al-Assad, a client of the Islamic Republic. While Shi’ite-majorit Iran, and its primary ally, Lebanon-based Hizbullah, have been supporting Assad in the Syrian civil war, Sunni Hamas has supported the Sunni rebels against the Shi’ite Hizbullah, and the Alawite (a break-off from Shi’ism) Assad.

Despite the tension, Hamas and Iran seem to be moving toward rapprochement. Hamas needs the money Iran can offer, as well as its political support.

“We are not jumping from this country to that country according to our mood,” Hamas official Ghazi Hamad said. “We are a Palestinian national movement and we are not in the pocket of any regime. If Iran is willing to support our people, okay. We are not interested in cutting off the relationship with Iran and we think we can overcome this crisis.”

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

House subcommittee set to OK $1 billion for Israel anti-missile programs


The U.S. House of Representatives defense appropriations subcommittee is set to approve nearly $1 billion for Israeli and joint Israeli-U.S. missile defense programs.

“This funding level is the highest ever appropriated in a single year for these life-saving programs,” Rep. Steve Rothman (D-N.J.), a member of the committee, said in a statement.

Some $680 million of the $947 million set to be approved Tuesday in a session of the defense subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee will go to the Iron Dome short-range anti-missile system, a result of legislation initiated by Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Howard Berman (D-Calif.), respectively the chairwoman and senior Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The bill was spurred by Iron Dome’s success in repelling a barrage of rockets from the Gaza Strip earlier this year and the Obama administration’s readiness to consider further funds for the project.

The remaining $269 million will go to the short-range David’s Sling and long-range Arrow anti-missile programs, representing a hike from the $100 million proposed earlier this year in the Obama administration’s budget.

Those programs are joint U.S.-Israel projects, while Iron Dome is an Israeli project, although congressional appropriators have expressed interest in obtaining U.S. proprietary rights to Iron Dome.

Gun is only way to fight Israel, Hamas head says


Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said in Iran that armed resistance is the only way to fight against Israel.

The “gun is our only response to the Zionist regime,” Haniyeh said Monday in Tehran, according to the semi-official Iranian Fars news agency.

“In time, we have come to understand that we can obtain our goals only through fighting and armed resistance, and no compromise should be made with the enemy,” he reportedly said.

Haniyeh also said the Israeli presence “inside Palestine” is “the root of all regional problems.”

On Sunday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told the Arab League at a meeting in Cairo that he will resume efforts in United Nations agencies to recognize a Palestinian state if Israel does not agree to his conditions for resuming peace negotiations.

The conditions, which Abbas said he will send in a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, include basing talks on the 1967 lines, a halt to construction in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem, and the release of Palestinians in Israeli jails.

Abbas also called on the Arab League to organize an international peace conference.

In response to Abbas’ statements, Netanyahu said, “Instead of entering into negotiations that will lead to an end to the conflict, Abbas prefers to join forces with the Hamas terrorist organization—the same Hamas that is embracing Iran.”

Under a Palestinian unity agreement signed between Abbas’ Fatah Party and Hamas, an interim government will be formed under the leadership of Abbas, with elections to be held later this year.

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

Report: Iran cuts Hamas funds over Syria


Iran reportedly has withdrawn some funding from Hamas over the Gaza terrorist group’s refusal to hold rallies supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Reuters cited diplomatic sources claiming that intelligence briefings show that Iran has cut its funding to Hamas over the last two months. Iran’s actions, the sources said, is due to Hamas leaders’ refusal to throw rallies in Palestinian refugee camps in Syria in support of Assad, an ally of Iran.

Last week, Hamas dispersed 150 protestors demonstrating against the Syrian military’s bombings of the Al-Ramel Palestinian refugee camp during its attack on the Syrian port city of Latakia. The attack sent thousands fleeing the western coast, and the camp was deserted, according to reports.

The sources also claimed that funds to Hamas from Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood also have dried up, as the Brotherhood has switched its focus to funding uprisings related to the Arab Spring.

WikiLeaks: Iran providing Hamas with smuggle-ready rockets, says IDF


Iran is manufacturing special missiles for Hamas that can be smuggled through tunnels into the Gaza Strip, according to the report of a conversation between Israel Defense Forces Deputy Chief of Staff Dan Harel and U.S. ambassador to Israel James Cunningham.

A cable on the discussion, which also involved senior officials of the U.S. State Department and Defense Department who came to Israel in February 2009, was sent from the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv on February 19 and is part of the WikiLeaks documents Haaretz is exclusively reporting.

Harel, who has meanwhile retired from the IDF, spoke at the meeting about Katyusha, Grad and Fajr rockets. The Katyusha was originally manufactured in the former Soviet Union, and was developed before World War II. It comes in diameters of 107 millimeters and 122 millimeters, with a range of up to 40 kilometers.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Senate letter urges Obama to keep talks going


A letter is circulating among U.S. senators urging President Obama to keep the Israelis and Palestinians at the negotiating table.

The letter, initiated by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.), thanks Obama for restarting direct peace talks and notes the threat to their success from what it calls “enemies of peace” Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran.

The letter praises Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for sticking with the talks after Hamas terrorists killed four Israelis in the West Bank as the talks were about to be launched on Aug. 31.

“We also agree with you that it is critical that all sides stay at the table,” the letter says. “Neither side should make threats to leave just as the sides are getting started.”

The letter is dated Sept. 24, meaning it is to be sent two days before Netanyahu’s temporary freeze on some settlement building is due to expire.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has threatened to bolt the talks if the freeze is not extended. Netanyahu wants the Obama administration to press Abbas to stay.

NATION/WORLD BRIEFS: Durban Changes, Iran Strategy, Clinton to Speak


U.S. Says Durban Changes Welcome But Insufficient

The United States commended changes in the draft document for “Durban II” but said more was needed to entice it into joining the anti-racism conference.

Jewish groups had welcomed the U.S. decision earlier this year not to attend the event reviewing the original U.N. conference in Durban in 2001. The South Africa parley had devolved into an anti-Israel and anti-Jewish free-for-all, and the review conference April 20-24 in Geneva promised more of the same. Earlier versions of the “draft outcome document” singled out Israel and called for measures against “defamation of religion,” seen as a nod to Islamist extremists who seek to marginalize their critics.

After the Obama administration announced its decision to stay away, European diplomats worked to soften the document. Rumors have swirled in Jewish community circles in recent days that the Obama administration would do an about-face and attend the conference.

The State Department statement released late Monday night suggested, however, that there was a way to go before the United States would reconsider its decision. Significantly, it repeated a demand that first gained currency in Jewish groups: the draft document must not even implicitly endorse the first Durban conference through any generic approbation of its outcome.

“The U.S. believes any viable text for the Review Conference must be shortened and not reaffirm ‘in toto’ the flawed 2001 Durban Declaration and Program of Action (DDPA),” it said. “In addition, while references to ‘defamation of religion’ have been removed from the current draft text, we cannot support restrictions on freedom of expression that could result from some of the document’s language related to “incitement” to religious hatred — a concept that the United States believes should be narrow and clearly defined and made consistent with human rights obligations ensuring freedom of expression.”

The statement commended other changes in the draft document.

“Substantial improvements have been made, including shortening the document, removing all language that singled out any one country or conflict, and removing language that embraced the concept of ‘defamation of religion’ and that demanded reparations for slavery,” it said.

Further changes might bring about a shift in the U.S. position, the statement said.

“We hope that these remaining concerns will be addressed, so that the United States can re-engage the conference process with the hope of arriving at a Conference document that we can support,” it said.

U.S. reportedly changing strategy on Iran

The Obama administration reportedly is changing its strategy on negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program.

The New York Times reported that the United States and its European allies will insist that Iran must gradually open up its nuclear program to full inspection, but would allow Tehran to continue enriching uranium for some period during the talks. That differs from the Bush administration approach, which demanded that Iran stop enrichment, at least for a short time, at the beginning of negotiations.

Unnamed officials involved in discussions said it isn’t clear how long Iran would be able to continue operating its facilities, but said the Europeans believe that Iran will not accept an immediate shutdown of its activities at the start of negotiations. The officials reiterated, though, that the ultimate goal is for Iran to cease enrichment.

Bill Clinton to Speak at Holocaust Museum Opening

Bill Clinton will be the keynote speaker at the opening of the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center.

The former president will be joined at Sunday’s ceremonies in Skokie by Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, foreign dignitaries and Holocaust survivors. In 1993, Clinton as president spoke at the dedication ceremony for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.

“President Clinton’s participation in the dedication of this world-class institution truly sets the tone for what we want the museum to be,” said Richard Hirschhaut, the museum’s executive director. “Not only does President Clinton’s attendance underscore the urgency of our mission, but also the important role we must all play in combating intolerance and genocide throughout the world today.”

The program will feature a video presentation, a candlelighting by survivors of the Holocaust and other genocides, and musical performances by the Israeli hip-hop violinist Miri Ben-Ari and others.

Beyond the atrocities of Nazi Germany, the $45 million, 65,000-square-foot facility will explore issues of genocide and human rights around the world and throughout history through its public programs, traveling exhibits and “Voices of Conscience” lecture series.

Berman: Hamas Could Scuttle Rejoining IPU

Congressman Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys) said he will advise against rejoining the Inter-Parliamentary Union if it does not provide assurances that Hamas will not attend its meetings.

Congress sent an observer mission last week to the union’s annual meeting, taking place this year in Ethiopia, to reconsider its decision in 1999 to leave the international body of lawmakers. Republicans at the time controlled both houses.

“After the U.S. observer delegation completed its participation in the main assembly, it was discovered that two members of Hamas were at the IPU meeting and were registered officially as ‘advisers’ on the Palestinian Delegation,” Berman, the chairman of the House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Committee said in a statement. “The Hamas ‘advisers’ and the Iranian delegation disrupted the speech of Israeli delegation head Silvan Shalom, Israel’s deputy prime minister.”

Berman noted that it was the policy of the Quartet, the body guiding the Middle East peace process comprised of Russia, the United States, the European Union and the United Nations, not to deal with Hamas until it renounces violence and recognizes Israel.

“Unless the IPU can assure us that Hamas will not participate as part of the official Palestinian delegation at any future meetings before the Quartet conditions are satisfied, I will be recommending to my colleagues that the U.S. House of Representatives not rejoin the IPU,” he said.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

‘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.

‘When there’s life, there’s hate’: Q & A with ADL’s Abe Foxman


Abe Foxman is director of the Anti-Defamation League. Born in Poland in 1940, he survived the Holocaust in Lithuania.

Foxman joined the ADL in 1965 upon graduating from New York University Law School and was appointed director in 1987.

Under his leadership the organization has gained a reputation as one of the nation’s preeminent human rights organizations, going after neo-Nazi groups and winning passage of groundbreaking hate-crime legislation. It has also been a magnet for controversy and criticism for its outspoken stands on issues ranging from Mel Gibson’s film “The Passion of the Christ” to the Armenian Genocide.

A week before coming West for the ADL’s annual meeting, Foxman spoke by phone with the Jewish Journal’s Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman.

Rob Eshman: The Republican Jewish Coalition ran a series of ads implying Sen. Barack Obama is anti-Israel and soft on terrorists. If those charges were true, it seems the ADL should have weighed in on Obama.

Abe Foxman: We don’t weigh in on political charges.

RE: But if you truly thought he was all those things, you’d be compelled to weigh in.

AF: We don’t weigh in one way or the other, except when there were rumors very early on which started before it became a major issue, floating in the Jewish community that Obama was a Muslim, went to a madrassa, was sworn in on the Koran. We did our own research, ascertained none of it was true, posted it on our Web site before it became an issue. Whether he is or isn’t [pro-Israel], nobody knows; that’s an opinion, a political opinion. And there’s a whole debate about William Ayers — that’s an opinion. That’s not an issue we would get an involved in.

RE: You released a statement saying the downturn in the economy has increased anti-Semitic invective. But your evidence is online message boards, which consist of crazy people posting on the Internet. How worried are you about this problem?

AF: We’re worried because there is a spike. You call them crazies. I call them bigots. Maybe every bigot is crazy or not. It’s not a surprise that bigots use a crisis situation to spew forth their venom, their hatred, their anti-Semitism. What is of concern is the quantity. What you call crazy or I call bigot out there can communicate his anti-Semitism instantaneously, in nanoseconds, if you will. We don’t know how far it reaches, into whose home, into whose institution, into whose school. We want people to be aware that it’s out there, and we’ve reached out to the servers, those who provide the platforms for it, and at this point they have been responsive. Some of the horrendous stuff is removed, but it doesn’t take very long for it to come back in another forum on another server, so we take it very seriously.

RE: Have you seen any signs that the hate has gone beyond the Internet?

AF: I don’t care what category you put it in, [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad stands in front of the world and declares that the economic downturn is the result of Zionist Jewish control of finances. Hamas declares the same thing on its media. Yeah, it crosses into mainstream.

RE: You believe extremism in Iran is the most important issue facing Jews today?

AF: I think it’s the most important issue facing the free world. I think that … when Iran obtains nuclear power, it will first blackmail the Middle East. Then it threatens freedom and democracy in Europe, it will threaten trade, it will threaten oil supplies, etc. But, yes, I do see it as a greatest threat to the Jewish people, because here is a state in our lifetime that threatens the destruction of the Jewish state. It’s one thing for him to use words, and we believe words can kill, but he is developing the ability to deliver on his words.

RE: Your biography is so striking, so emblematic of the plight of Jews under anti-Semitism. But now there have been two or three generations who have no first-hand experience like you have. Do you worry that they simply won’t feel the urgency on these matters that you lived through?

AF: There are so many people working for the ADL; they are not all Holocaust survivors; they are not all of my age group. What’s happening now, unfortunately, is that … many who felt they would be handing over to our children and grandchildren a different experience wake up in the year 2008 and see that they better become concerned with anti-Semitism, looking at what’s happening in France and in Great Britain and in the Middle East and in Latin America. So this has nothing to with the fact that Abe Foxman is a Holocaust survivor.

RE: Yet the ADL seems to have an image problem. Do you agree with that?

AF: Tell me what that image is?

RE: You had someone like Joey Kurtzman write on Jewcy.com and Joe Klein write in Time that the ADL engages somewhat in fear-mongering.

AF: They have their own interests and axes to grind. I respect it. I disagree with it. I work for an organization that is as quick to say that it’s not anti-Semitism as we are to say when something is anti-Semitism. So, in fact, if you want, why don’t you look at the statistics of our sister agency, The American Jewish Committee, who finds in their polls that Jews see anti-Semitism as the greatest threat to them in the United States? I’m not even talking about abroad. Because when you take Iran or you take Europe or you take the Middle East, it has grown exponentially in the last six to eight years. But I think what you will find is that we are an institution that when it’s up, we say it’s up, and when it’s down, we say it’s down.

RE: During the height of controversy over Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion,’ we ran a Purim spoof cover showing Mel Gibson thanking you at the Academy Awards for drawing so much attention to his movie. Of course, it’s easy for us to make fun. How do you balance drawing attention to anti-Semites versus letting them blather in obscurity?

AF: We never have the luxury of ignoring anti-Semitism. By the way, I believe — I don’t think I should say it, I think you should say it — I believe I’ve been vindicated by the very fact that we raised issues about Mel Gibson and his film. We raised concerns, and I never called him an anti-Semite until he himself stood up and exposed himself publicly as the anti-Semite that he was. But you always ask the question, ‘If you talk about it, do more people know about it?’ ‘Is it worth it?’ etc.

My justification, if you will, is to say to you and all those who had a good time on Purim, take a look. Mel Gibson was an icon in this county. When this issue and debate began, Mel Gibson was the people’s choice. He was the most popular actor, producer, director, moneymaker in Hollywood. OK? And when we spoke up, people said, shocked, ‘He’s an icon.’ Well now look, several years later. In the interim, he did his film, he made his money and then he revealed himself for what he was. That’s the beauty of America. Where is he today? He’s still around; he’s no longer an icon. He’s no longer the most popular guy to run after. Where is he? He is where he needs to be. Because this country, the good people of this country did make consequences for him. It happens to politicians in this country; it happens to commercial enterprises. It’s not foolproof; its not 100 percent, and that’s what encourages me to stand up and speak out.

RE: When you see that anti-Semitism is up, around the world, when we thought anti-Semitism would end after the Holocaust and now it’s going on in Iran and in Europe, you have to wonder — is it just built into the civilization? Is it immortal in some ways?

AF: Hatred has been around since Cain and Abel. I’m not a philosopher; I’m not a sociologist. I don’t pretend to be. But they used to say, ‘Where there’s life, there’s bugs.’ When there’s life, there’s hate.

We’re into the age of DNA. The greater hope in our business is DNA, because if we can eventually map and find and isolate these DNA that makes people good, love, courageous, altruistic verses hate, greedy, jealous, etc., we may be able to change the universe.

RE: But the same technology could be reversed to take good people and inject them with hate.

AF: Absolutely. There’s always a risk in science. Take a look at the Internet. Great use for education and information, great use for bigots.

This interview has been condensed and edited

Obama sounds both hawkish and dovish themes in Israel, Jordan


SDEROT, Israel (JTA)—During his stops in Jordan and Israel, presidential contender Barack Obama stressed both his backing for tough Israeli security measures and his commitment to advancing the peace process.

In meetings with several Israeli leaders Wednesday, Obama reaffirmed his commitment to Israel’s struggle against terrorism and other violent threats, including Iran’s suspected pursuit of nuclear weapons.

“I don’t think any country would find it acceptable to have missiles raining down on its citizens,” Obama said during a stop Wednesday at the police station in Sderot, the Israeli city that has been deluged by rocket fire from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

“If someone was sending rockets on my house where my daughters were sleeping at night, I would do everything to stop it, and I encourage Israel to do same,” addded the U.S. senator from Illinois, speaking in front of shelves filled with mangled Kassam rockets fired by Palestinian militants.

Obama’s trip comes as his presidential campaign has stepped up its outreach efforts to Jewish voters, and as it tries to shore up the presumptive Democratic candidate’s image with the general public as a potential commander in chief.

Over the past few weeks the Obama campaign has set up Jewish outreach committees in various cities, many with the help of Jewish lawmakers who either backed Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) for president or stayed neutral in the Democratic primary campaign.

This week’s trip also presented Palestinian officials and several Israeli politicians who aspire to succeed Ehud Olmert as prime minister with an opportunity to forge a relationship with a possible future U.S. president—not a small thing in a country where voters place a high premium on strong ties with the United States.

In addition to discussing security issues in his meetings with Israeli leaders, Obama also talked about negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians. On Tuesday in Jordan, Obama said that as president he would begin working on an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal from his first day in office.

“There’s a tendency for each side to focus on the faults of the other rather than look in the mirror,” Obama told reporters in Amman before heading to Israel and the West Bank. “The Israeli government is unsettled, the Palestinians are divided between Fatah and Hamas, and so it’s difficult for either side to make the bold move that would bring about peace.

“My goal is to make sure that we work, starting from the minute I’m sworn into office, to try to find some breakthroughs,” he said.

In Jerusalem the next day, Obama met with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, President Shimon Peres and opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu. Obama also visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, where he donned a white kipah and penned an entry in the visitors’ book.

“At a time of great peril and torment, war and strife, we are blessed to have such a powerful reminder of man’s potential for great evil, but also our capacity to rise up from tragedy and remake our world,” Obama wrote.

The Democratic candidate then went to Ramallah to meet with Palestinain Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. P.A. officials said Abbas briefed Obama on progress in the peace process. Obama was slated to meet later in the day with Olmert.

Israeli sources said Obama’s discussions with Barak turned to the recent launch of Turkish-mediated negotiations between Israel and Syria.

Obama, according to one source, described the efforts to achieve peace as important, but said that as president “he would never put pressure on Israel to take steps that could put its security at risk.”

The senator apparently was referring to Syria’s demand for a full return of the Golan Heights, the strategic plateau Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed.

As for Iran, Obama described the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program as “the most important challenge facing the international community right now,” Israeli sources said, adding that it would top the agenda of Obama’s meetings later this week with the leaders of Germany, France and Britain.

Obama drew criticism from the Republican Jewish Coalition and some conservative bloggers over some of the comments he made in Jordan.

Terrorism, Obama said, is “counterproductive, as well as being immoral, because it makes, I believe, the Israelis want to dig in and simply think about their own security regardless of what’s going on beyond their borders.”

Obama immediately added that “the same would be true of any people when these kinds of things happen and innocent people are injured.”

“On the other hand, I think that the Palestinians have to feel some sense of progress in terms of their economic situation, you know, whether it’s on the West Bank or Gaza, if people continually feel pressed, where they can’t get to their job or they can’t make a living, they get frustrated,” Obama said. “It’s hard for them if they see no glimmer of hope to then want to take a leap in order to make impressions.”

In response to the comments, the RJC issued a statement criticizing Obama for what the organization described as “asking Israelis and the American Jewish community to put terrorism in context.”

Ira Forman, the executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, responded with his own criticism of the RJC.

“I can only imagine that the head of the RJC put on one of those hats with horns on it that Shamans might wear,” Forman said. “Then they must have proceeded to whip themselves into a fury dancing around a fire pit stoked with acacia wood. Then by pouring the blood of a red newt over the Obama statement and reading the statement by the light of the acacia fire, they could somehow divine an anti-Israel message out of what appears, to everybody else, to be a pro-Israel statement.”

Obama press conference in Sderot

 

Video headlines from Israel: 2008-07-11 — Did Olmert double-bill? Shalit talks continue


Video headlines from Israel: 2008-07-11—Did Olmert double-bill? Shalit talks continue

Iran files complaint over Mofaz threat, Hamas claims 2002 bombings


Iran Files Complaint Over Mofaz Threat

Iran filed a U.N. Security Council complaint after an Israeli official threatened to attack its nuclear facilities. Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, a former defense chief, told the daily Yediot Achronot last week that Israel would have no choice but to attack Iran given the failure of U.N. Security Council sanctions in curbing its nuclear program. The comments contributed to a record 9-percent hike in the price of oil, though they were disavowed by Jerusalem. Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, Mohammad Khazaee, wrote to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon demanding a Security Council condemnation of Israel.

“Such a dangerous threat against a sovereign state and a member of the United Nations constitutes a manifest violation of international law and contravenes the most fundamental principles of the Charter of the United Nations, and, thus, requires a resolute and clear response on the part of the United Nations, particularly the Security Council,” Khazaee wrote.

Ban’s office had no immediate response.

Egyptian Jews Seek U.N. help

An Egyptian Jewish group asked the United Nations to help it recover the community’s historic archives. The Historical Society of Jews from Egypt says the government has refused to release the documents due to fear of restitution claims, the Jerusalem Post reported. The society has written to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization asking it to intervene in the matter.

“It’s our history, everything we own going back hundreds and hundreds of years,” said Desire Sakkal, the society’s president.

The Egyptian Embassy would not comment on the matter. The society’s letter was prompted by comments from Egyptian Culture Minister Farouk Hosni, who said last month that he “would burn Israeli books myself if found in Egyptian libraries.”

Hosni, who hopes to become the next head of UNESCO, subsequently claimed the statement was hyperbole and that he did not condone the burning of books. A UNESCO spokesperson said the organization had not yet received the society’s letter and could not comment.

Hamas Claims 2002 Bombings

Hamas claimed responsibility for two Palestinian suicide bombings in Israel in 2002. The Islamist group’s armed wing issued a statement over the weekend saying it was behind two suicide bombings that killed 26 Israelis in 2002. The first, in May of that year, took place in a Rishon Lezion pool hall. The second, four months later, was on Tel Aviv’s Allenby Street. Israel blamed Hamas for the attacks, but the group declined to confirm its involvement. Both suicide bombers had Jordanian citizenship, suggesting that Hamas wanted to avoid drawing censure from Amman. In its statement, Hamas also claimed responsibility for Hebron-area shootings that killed six Israelis, as well as attempts to bomb a fuel depot and rail line inside the Jewish state.

Diplomat Documents Shanghai Jewish Community

An Israeli diplomat in China is compiling a database of Shanghai’s historic Jewish community. The Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum, a former synagogue in the Hangkou District of the city, has begun documenting the influx of tens of thousands of Jews fleeing Nazi persecution in Europe. Many of the refugees were Austrians who received emergency travel visas from Ho Fengshen, the Chinese consul general in Vienna in the late 1930s who ignored orders from Beijing to desist. The database project is being led by Uri Gutman, Israel’s consul general in Shanghai, with help from survivors and descendants of the city’s Jewish community, most of whom immigrated to Australia, Israel or the United States after World War II.

“This is a vanishing generation,” Gutman said.

Playwright Roisman Dead at 70

American poet and playwright Lois Roisman, who wrote frequently on Jewish themes, has died. Roisman, who was active in progressive Jewish causes, died June 2 at her home in Lyme, N.H. She was 70. Roisman’s plays included “Nobody’s Gilgul,” which won the Outstanding New Play award at the 1993 Source Theater Festival in Washington, D.C., and was anthologized in the book “Making A Scene: The Contemporary Drama of Jewish Women.” Born in Texas, Roisman lived for many years in Washington before moving to New Hampshire in 1995. She was the founding executive director of Jewish Funds for Justice, a group that sought to expand Jewish philanthropy beyond its traditional concerns. One of its first grants was to a young Chicago activist named Barack Obama.

At the time of her death, Roisman was a research associate at the Brandeis Women’s Institute at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., and was completing a series of poems she described as a personal dialogue with the tales of the Chasidim.

British Jewry Increasingly Haredi

One-third of British Jews under age 18 are ultra-Orthodox, according to a new study. A study published Friday by the umbrella group of British Jewry, the Board of Deputies, found that the British haredi community has grown at an annual rate of about 4 percent over the last two decades. The study, by demographers David Graham and Daniel Vulkan, estimates the current size of Britain’s “strictly Orthodox” population at between 22,800 and 36,400 people. There are an estimated 300,000 Jews in Britain. Although the ultra-Orthodox represent just 10 percent of the overall Jewish population in the country, one-third of British Jews under age 18 are ultra-Orthodox, the study noted.

“This is an exceptional statistic given the oft-heard assertion that British Jewry, like many Diaspora communities, is in a permanent state of decline,” Graham said.

Al-Qaeda Terrorists Arraigned

Five al-Qaeda terrorists accused of involvement in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks refused lawyers at their arraignment. The 10-hour session held Thursday before a military tribunal at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay was the first time the five defendants have been together in the five years since their capture. Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, told the tribunal’s chief judge, Marine Col. Ralph Kohlmann, that he wanted to die as a martyr.

The defendants, in refusing their right to counsel, said they only recognized Islamic law. The five, who had been held in secret CIA custody, were transferred to the Cuban military prison in September 2006. Charges include murder and various counts of terrorism. The men were indicted in May. Prosecutors have requested a September start for a trial, though it is likely many more months away.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telgraphic Agency.

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 new reality


The death of Ronnie Yahia, 47, an instructor at the Sapir College for Liberal Arts in Ashkelon and a father of four, was a bitter reminder of the threat Israel is facing on its 60th anniversary.

It is the same reminder the Israeli army faced in Southern Lebanon in July 2006 during the tragic Second Lebanon War. And perhaps the same one it first identified in January 2002, when Karine-A, a ship loaded with 50 tons of bullets, missiles and mines, was caught in the Red Sea, consolidating the long-suspected link between the (Shiite) Islamic Republic of Iran and (Sunni) terror groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Palestinian Authority. The lesson has become clear: Israel is no longer dealing with a localized Palestinian threat seeking to plant bombs in the heart of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. It is immersed in a larger battle against fundamentalist Islam, which ironically bridges inter-Islamic differences in an effort to destroy the Jewish State.

The agenda linking Hassan Nasrallah, the Shiite leader of Lebanese Hezbollah; Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Shiite Iranian president; and Ismail Heniyeh, the Sunni leader of Hamas and the de facto prime minister of the Gaza Strip is simple: remove the “cancerous cell” called the State of Israel from the Middle East. Ahmadinejad and Nasrallah have reiterated this message out loud; Heniyeh’s Hamas Constitution explicitly calls for this objective. The goal is self-evident. As for the means, anything is legitimate.

From Israel’s perspective, the implications are defending itself at any price, as costly and as tragic as it may be. The reality Israelis face today is unheard of according to any Western standards. In the northern front, 1 million Israelis were displaced in the Second Lebanon War from Haifa and above, due to an incessant rain of missiles emerging from Hezbollah outposts in Southern Lebanon. With an average of 150 missiles a day falling on its citizens for more than a month, Israel had no choice but to target the very villages in which Hezbollah was hiding, taking refuge among civilians. In the Southern front, the citizens of Sderot and the Western Negev have been living under the Qassam missile attacks for the past seven years. The Qassams, coming from the heart of the Gaza Strip, have forced the Israeli government to be brutal again and target the leaders of Islamic Jihad and Hamas in the Strip. How would you have reacted if San Francisco and Boston were being hit on a daily basis with an average of 50 missiles a day?

As an Israeli citizen and an ex-soldier in the Israel Defense Forces, the Second Lebanon war opened my eyes to the new reality Israel is facing. The reality of fundamentalist Islam, in the heart of which the Jewish state is physically located, has several implications. Whereas the Israeli government has not yet formally acknowledged these implications, I believe the day will soon come when it does. The major implication is that the days of the “Palestinian-Israeli conflict” are over. Questions such as the refugee right of return and the fate of Jerusalem have lost, in my view, their immediate relevance to the Israeli security problem. As we say in the Israeli intelligence community, it is not that these questions are not important; they are simply less urgent. Resolving the Palestinian conflict by withdrawing from the West Bank, for example, seems a negligible issue compared with the other threats Israel is facing. Terminating the “occupation” of the West Bank (as Israel did in Gaza in 2005) is not going to change the magnitude of the threat we are dealing with, neither on the Sunni nor on the Shiite front. I contend that the Palestinian issue has long ceased being the “fuel” of the conflict; the Sunni Wahabis and the Shiite revolutionaries will not suffice with the end of the “Palestinian occupation.” They will not suffice until they see the end of Israel itself.

Israel has acknowledged its need to withdraw from Arab territory. Its possession of Arab territory has never been out of sheer pleasure or entertainment, but out of cost-efficient security considerations. Its withdrawal from the 20-mile “Security Belt” in Southern Lebanon in May 2000 proved counter-productive. It brought Hezbollah 20 miles closer to our northern borders. Its withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in August 2005 was fatal. With long-range missiles, neither the residents of Sderot, not Ashkelon, nor my parents in Tel Aviv, can sleep peacefully at night.

The threat on the State of Israel (which is smaller in size than New Jersey) will continue to grow as countries like Syria and Iran increase their missile capabilities. Israel is not going to respond by asking for anyone’s help. Out of no-choice, it will rely on itself, and solely on itself. The price is going to be high on both sides. The solutions for the new threats are no longer so clear.

Shira Kaplan is a Harvard student. She is currently completing her thesis on Iran’s crisis behavior in the post-revolutionary era. She served in the Israel Defense Forces for two years before coming to Harvard.

Can Olmert and Abbas deliver at high-stakes Annapolis summit?


In the final run-up to the Annapolis peace parley, leaders on all sides are emphasizing the burning need for success and the potentially huge price of failure. Although the focus is on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, all the main players see it as only a small part of a much bigger regional drama: the ongoing battle for regional sway between the moderate Middle Eastern camp, led by America, and the radicals, led by Iran.

The stakes are high: the price of oil, the future of Iran’s nuclear program and America’s exit strategy from Iraq are all part of the wider equation.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are well aware of the stakes; but, for domestic reasons, both are too weak to deliver a peace agreement that would spell unqualified success at Annapolis.

Instead, both are looking for a formula that papers over their political difficulties and keeps the momentum going. They have therefore agreed to redefine Annapolis as a launching pad for intensive negotiations rather than a forum for the end game.

For lack of choice, the United States is going along with the low-key approach. But the Americans remain keenly aware of the underlying regional issues that they were hoping the parley would help them shape.

Speaking in Jerusalem Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made the connection between violent ideologies sponsored by Iran or linked to Al Qaeda and success or failure on the Israeli-Palestinian track. She warned that if Palestinian leaders are unable to deliver on hopes for an independent state, then “the moderate center could collapse forever and the next generation of Palestinians could become lost souls of unbridled extremism.”

“If we don’t act now to show the Palestinians a way forward, others will show them a way forward,” she declared. Therefore, she concluded, “failure is not an option.”

When President Bush launched the Annapolis initiative in mid-July, he had hoped for more. The idea was that a deal between Israel and Palestinian moderates would mobilize a grand coalition of moderate Arab and Muslim countries, from Egypt to Indonesia, to help turn the tide against the radicals, facilitate a U.S. exit strategy from Iraq and increase pressure on Iran to freeze its nuclear weapons program.

Now much will depend on the degree to which the United States is able to sell the more modest Israeli-Palestinian peace effort as a significant breakthrough.

For Israel, success will be simply to keep the process going. Olmert’s dilemma is how to do enough to keep the Palestinians interested without alienating the hawks in his coalition. For now he seems to have come up with a winning formula:

“All the fundamental questions, the substantive issues, all the historical questions burdening our debate, are on the agenda,” he declared, which is music to Palestinian ears. To reassure the hawks, he insisted that there would be no prior agreements, and that Annapolis itself would only be a launching pad for an intensive negotiating process, the outcome of which was not guaranteed.

Then again, he intimated that the aim would be to wrap up a peace deal before Bush leaves office in January 2009, giving the Palestinians something akin to the timetable they have been insisting on.

Success on the Israeli-Palestinian track would mirror the wider regional picture and hurt Palestinian radicals, says Ami Ayalon, a minister without portfolio and former head of the Shin Bet Security Service. He estimates that it could even lead to a split in the radical Hamas, with some Hamas leaders trying to get aboard the peace train.

On the other hand, should the Annapolis process fail, Abbas may have to turn with cap in hand to Hamas, or even lose his job. Hamas would become the major force in the West Bank, as well as Gaza. To prevent this dangerous outcome for Israel, Ayalon proposes an intensive six-month negotiating process with both sides determined to reach a permanent peace deal that would make Hamas virtually irrelevant.

The Iranians are doing all they can to torpedo the processes that could hurt them and marginalize their proxies. U.N. observers recently confirmed that they have supplied Hezbollah — now ensconced in central Lebanon behind the Litani River — with long-range missiles that can reach Tel Aviv and beyond. The Iranians also continue to supply massive arms to Hamas and Islamic Jihad and are training their militiamen.

The game-breaker could be Syria. The biggest coup for America and Israel would be to pry Damascus away from the Iranian-led radical axis. After months of consistently dismissing Syrian overtures as immature or insincere, both Israel and the United States seem to be reappraising their approach.

Rice met Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Mualem in Turkey on her way to Jerusalem, presumably to urge the Syrians to come to Annapolis. More importantly, Israeli intelligence now says Syria’s President Bashar Assad is “psychologically ready” for peace with Israel. Even the Mossad, which until recently advised the government against opening talks with Damascus, says that ever since the early September bombing of a nuclear facility in northern Syria, Assad has been displaying a newfound maturity.

Syria moving across to the moderate side of the equation would fundamentally alter the moderate-radical balance. It would have major ramifications for the Iranian, the Iraqi and the Lebanese theaters.

One of the signs that things on the Israeli-Palestinian track could be more serious this time is the fact that after years of quiet, right-wing settlers have again started demonstrating. Although there have been no deals with the Palestinian moderates as yet and Olmert has promised nothing more than to negotiate in good faith, the settlers are convinced that major Israeli concessions are in the offing.

Annapolis and the months following will tell how good the settlers’ antennae are. They realize the importance the Americans attach to the wider regional developments and the linkage they are making between them and the Israeli-Palestinian track. Therefore, the hawkish folks maintain, Olmert is walking straight into a trap: Either he will be forced to succumb to American pressure for concessions or be blamed for failure.

Doves and hawks see opposite sides of the big picture: For the doves, progress with the Palestinian moderates is the key to regional stability; for the hawks, the attempt to engage the moderates is bound to fail and to exacerbate regional tensions.

Next year, 2008, will put both overarching theses to the test.

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