EU eyes Israeli technologies for spotting militants online


European powers are looking to Israeli-developed technology to develop better means for spotting “lone-wolf” militants based on their online activity, a senior EU security official said on Tuesday.

Last week's truck rampage in France and Monday's axe attack aboard a train in Germany have raised concern about self-radicalised assailants who have little or no communication with militant groups that could be intercepted by spy agencies.

“How do you capture some signs of someone who has no contact with any organisation, is just inspired and started expressing some kind of allegiance? I don't know. It's a challenge,” EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator Gilles de Kerchove told Reuters on the sidelines of a intelligence conference in Tel Aviv.

Internet companies have begged off when asked to monitor their own platforms' content for material that might flag militants, De Kerchove said.

He said they had argued that the information was too massive to sift through and put into context, unlike child pornography, for which there were automatic detectors.

“So maybe a human's intervention is needed. So you cannot just let the machine do it,” De Kerchove said. But he said he hoped “we will soon find ways to be much more automated” in sifting through social networks.

“That is why I am here,” he said of his visit to Israel. “We know Israel has developed a lot of capability in cyber.”

Israeli security agencies once focused on “meta data”, or information regarding suspects' communications patterns. Now, beset by Palestinian street attacks, often by young assailants using rudimentary weapons and without links to armed factions, they have refocused on social media as a complementary means of gaining advance warnings from private posts.

TARGETED MONITORING

An Israeli military official who administers these methods said human intervention is required to set parametres such as age, religiosity, socio-economic background or links to known militants for the population being monitored. With the pool of potential suspects thus narrowed, the system can flag social media messages that may spell an imminent attack.

“We reassess our database daily, based on the changing security needs and what we have learned from terrorist attacks that took place or from captured terrorists,” said the official, who monitors Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the technologies.

The Israeli system distills the population being scrutinised through three stages, the official said. All are labelled “black” initially; those who match enough of the parametres to warrant extra attention are “gray”; and, of those, the ones whose conduct is deemed suspicious enough to trigger individual surveillance or a police arrest and interrogation are “white”.

“If the 'black' group were to number one million, I would anticipate the 'grays' numbering 20,000 and the 'whites' between 10 and 15,” the official said, giving hypothetical figures to convey the scale of the Israeli system's data filtration.

As De Kerchove was at pains to make clear to the conference, European standards of civil rights, such as privacy, make the introduction of intrusive intelligence-gathering technologies in the public sphere and aggressive police follow-ups difficult.

Israel's emergency laws give security services more leeway, but its intelligence minister, Yisrael Katz, called for cooperation with Internet providers rather than state crackdowns. He cited, for example, the encryption provided by messaging platform WhatsApp which, he said, could be a new way for militants to communicate and evade detection.

“We will not block these services,” Katz told the conference. “What is needed is an international organisation, preferably headed by the United States, where shared (security) concerns need to be defined, characterised.”

US Consulate in Jerusalem issues warning over gay pride march


The American Consulate in Jerusalem issued a warning to United States citizens to “exercise caution” at the city’s gay pride parade.

The warning about the Jerusalem Pride Parade comes as the city and police announced increased security measures for the march, scheduled for Thursday.

At last year’s parade, a haredi Orthodox man stabbed to death marcher Shira Banki, 16, and injured five others. This year’s parade is being held in Banki’s memory, and her parents in a public post on Facebook called on the public to join the march to support “tolerance and equality for all” and to stand “in resistance to violence as a way of solving any dispute or argument.” Their daughter was marching in support of her LGBTQ friends.

“The Consulate advises U.S. citizens participating in the march to exercise caution and to be aware that gatherings of large crowds can be a target for criminals, terrorists, and individuals motivated by nationalistic and political beliefs,” read the statement issued on Tuesday.

Marchers will only be permitted to join the march, both at the starting point at Liberty Park and at entrance points along the way, after undergoing a security check. No weapons will be permitted on the route, even to those with gun licenses.

Israeli police ban lawmakers, ministers from Temple Mount over Passover


Citing “security reasons,” Israeli police announced that Knesset members and government ministers are banned from visiting the Temple Mount during the eight-day Passover holiday, which begins Friday night.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld announced the rule Friday, the Times of Israel reported. Rosenfeld said that “the visits of tourists and Jewish visitors can continue normally.”

The Temple Mount, which is holy to Jews and Muslims, is adjacent to the Western Wall and is the one-time location of Judaism’s first and second temples. The site has witnessed numerous clashes between Jews and Palestinians in recent years, particularly during holidays.

Rumors that Israel planned to change the status quo that allows Muslims control on the Mount and prohibits Jewish prayer there sparked a surge of Palestinian violence that began in October. Israel has repeatedly affirmed its commitment to the status quo; however, a growing number of Israeli Jews who advocate for greater Jewish access to the site have in recent years visited the Temple Mount, which includes the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. Their visits, along with those by right-wing Israeli lawmakers, are viewed by Muslims and Palestinians as a provocation and threat to the status quo.

Rosenfeld said that 3,500 police will be on patrol in Jerusalem during Passover, an increase above the usual number. He declined to say how large an increase it represented, however.

“These forces are patrolling in all public places, bus stations, shopping malls, tram stations,” he said.

During Passover tens of thousands of Jews visit Jerusalem’s Old City.

Israel has also closed off all crossing points from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip for Friday and Saturday, fearing a wave of violence during the start of the holiday.

Security ramped up in Jerusalem in aftermath of bombing


Security has been increased throughout Jerusalem in the wake of the bus bombing on Monday that injured 21 people.

“Extra police units and border police are patrolling public areas,” Israel Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told the Times of Israel.

Rosenfeld cited bus stations and the light rail tram system in the city but did not specify how many reinforcements.

According to The Jerusalem Post, the municipality said the bombing will not alter plans for the tens of thousands of Jewish visitors expected to visit the Old City for Passover, which begins Friday night.

Meanwhile, one victim in critical condition may be the bomber, according to Israeli media reports. The person lost multiple limbs in the explosion, The Jerusalem Post reported Tuesday.

The reports have been neither confirmed nor denied by Israel Police and the Shin Bet security service, which are investigating the incident.

Two other victims remain in serious condition.

Rosenfeld confirmed to the Times of Israel that police officers would question the wounded and did not rule out the possibility of potential suspects among them.

“The investigation is looking to see how the explosive device was placed on the bus,” he said.

Remains of a bomb were discovered at the site of the bombing, according to the Post.

Police have placed a gag order on new details of the ongoing investigation.

The public bus was traveling in southern Jerusalem on Monday afternoon when it exploded, engulfing the nearly empty vehicle in flames. The flames scorched an adjacent bus, as well as a nearby car. The victims had burns on their upper bodies, as well as wounds from nails and ball bearings packed into the explosive device.

The attack follows a six-month wave of Palestinian stabbing and shooting attacks in Jerusalem, the West Bank and across Israel. The rate of those attacks had declined to normal levels, though Israeli officials remained concerned about a flare-up in violence surrounding upcoming religious holidays, including Passover.

Israel imposes partial closure on Ramallah


Israel’s military has imposed a partial closure on Ramallah, the West Bank city that is the seat of government for the Palestinian Authority.

The closure, which was imposed late Sunday night, is the first for a Palestinian city since the start of the current wave of Palestinian terror against Jewish-Israelis in October. It came hours after a Palestinian Authority police officer from Ramallah shot and wounded three Israeli soldiers at a security checkpoint near the city.

Under the edict, non-residents are banned from entering the city and residents are restricted from leaving.

The closure also was imposed due to security warnings for the area, Haaretz reported, citing an unnamed Israel Defense Forces official.

The unending cost of killing the Iran deal


In his 2006 book, “The Accidental Empire,” Gershom Gorenberg writes of Israel’s breathtakingly subtle, yet relentlessly evolving occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan.  He points out that a then young Amoz Oz warned of the “moral destruction” and corruption that comes to the occupier of a long occupation.  But he also quotes Moshe Dayan, speaking to the Palestinian Poetess Fadwa Tuquan of Nablus:  “The situation today,” Dayan says, “resembles the complex relationship between a Bedouin man and the girl he kidnaps against her will…You Palestinians, as a nation, don’t want us today, but we’ll change your attitude by forcing our presence on you.”  He also chronicles French philosopher Raymond Aron asking then Prime Minister Levi Eshkol if he was worried about rebellion in the West Bank, “No,” Eshkol replied, “This isn’t Algeria.  We can strangle terror in the occupied territories.” 

Really?  

The robust battle in the Jewish community over the negotiated Nuclear Deal with Iran has focused almost entirely on how good or bad it will be for Israel and the likelihood of Iran going nuclear at the Deal’s end, spiced, unfortunately by inflammatory talk of the U.S. underwriting Iran’s acquisition of the bomb and ushering Israelis to the doorways of crematoriums. The anti-Deal side also focuses on Iran’s profile as both a regional and international “bad actor,” and sponsor of terrorism.  Importantly, the latter is not denied by the pro-Deal side, but unlike the anti-Deal side, the pro-Deal people are the side thinking about how to mitigate that activity. 

The anti-Deal side states the Deal could be better.  Senator Schumer says he’s against the Deal and that we should go back and negotiate a better one.  But if the Deal included, let’s say, only half of Iran’s frozen $100 billion in assets to be released let’s say, in the first five years, and a cap on Iran’s annual oil sales, and reduction of the poorer quality centrifuges from 6,000 to 1,000, we all know that Israel and their backers here in the U.S. would never sign off on it.  True, better it would be, but still not good enough, because it would not be perfect.  Only perfect will do for the anti-Deal side, and perfect is the well-known enemy of the good, and in this case, the unachievable.  Perfect cannot be achieved here.  And if good goes down here in obeisance to the perfect, the result will be an increase in bad actor activity.  You can take that to the bank. 

Israeli security exports are already on the record as saying that rather than new negotiations convening, Russia and China will move to subvert further sanctions.  Already, we read that Quds Force General and master terrorist Qassem Suleimani has been to Moscow.  Russia’s sinking economy needs foreign sales.  China is rapaciously seeking influence worldwide.  The worst of Iran’s international adventurism has been muted during negotiations.  But when the deal falls apart, what really then?  Curiously it is Israel itself that has the most close-up and historically comprehensive view of what is likely to happen.  The precursor test case for failed negotiations is the continued occupation of the Palestinian Territories and what that has wrought.   

When Israel emerged victorious from the ’67 War, it moved inexorably  – albeit under a cloud of indecision and international ambiguity – to settle and occupy the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights.  It’s stated position is that it would have returned those areas for a peace treaty, and perhaps it would have.  But that treaty, that perfect Deal, never happened, and those areas – unlike Sinai which was returned to Egypt, under a treaty that was perhaps less than a perfect but has ensured a lasting peace – well, those areas fifty years down the road have evolved into a seething miasma of intifada, terrorist activity, repeated war, and constant lone wolf mayhem, not to mention an international public relations nightmare, isolating Israel ever further.   As if that weren’t enough, the situation has bred an armed Jewish terrorism on the Right, the depth and scope of which can no longer be brushed under the rug – particularly after the recent killings.  In short, an attempt to keep a people “bottled up” has instead metastasized into an explosion of lethal chaos that cannot be strangled no matter how great the effort. 

Now let’s acknowledge that Iran is no sleepy agrarian and small-town West Bank and isolated Golan of back in the day.  No, it is an oil-rich, country of 80 million people with an army, an air force, a navy, and a nascent nuclear program and sophisticated operatives throughout the Middle East, Africa, South America, and probably everywhere else.   Iran has been under the stricture of international sanctions of one sort or another since 1979.  Before that we gave them the brutality of the Shah and his CIA-trained Savak.  They made a UN-sanctioned deal with the six “great powers” that many in Israel argue is a good deal, and if we kill it, if we try to “bottle up” and uni- or multi-laterally continue to try and “force our presence” on Iran; worse, if we bomb their nuclear facilities, what Gaza and the Occupied Territories have become, what Iran has shown itself capable of in Beirut, Buenos Aires, and Baghdad will quite likely become the world-wide future for not just Jews, but Americans and American interest everywhere. And it could (and probably will) go on for generations. 

This is what no one will talk about, particularly the war hawks beating their drums.  Iran is not Iraq.  There will be consequences for everyone, not just the men and women who go to fight and their particular families, which means, among other things, be prepared once again for the newly energized dialectic about the “Jewish Lobby,” and how it drives U.S. foreign policy.  Families that lose loved ones to a war or terror that didn’t need to happen for the perceived sake of that lobby, what will their attitude be toward their Jewish friends and neighbors, toward Jews in general, and toward Israel in particular?   

Now if you ask Benjamin Netanyahu, he will say he doesn’t care.  He’ll say this is a price that needs to be paid to save the state of Israel, despite dozens of Israeli security officials’ disagreement.  And he will tell you – in messianic, not practical context, because that’s the only way it makes sense – that the existence of the state of Israel is more important than how the world feels about Jews (and of course the Evangelical community agrees).  Will civilians rise up against Jewish targets, the way they did against Arab targets after 9/11?  Who knows?  One thing thought is certain.  An escalation of the policies of aggression and repression, and the hatred it engenders, will only and always redoubt to the detriment of Jews and Israel.  On the other hand, Israel can exist and engender good will as well if it will prove itself amenable to the reasoned argument of diplomacy and not subvert its future to apocalyptic speculation.

Mitch Paradise is a writer and producer living in Los Angeles.

Ex-Israeli generals target Netanyahu’s security image


Against a soundtrack of dramatic music, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lists his government’s security accomplishments, declaring over the shouts of opposition lawmakers that his Likud Party has stopped terrorists, stood up to Iran and secured Israel’s borders.

Released Wednesday, the video is the latest in a string of Likud campaign ads to hammer home a single message: When it comes to Israel’s security, no leader is as trustworthy as Netanyahu.

Israelis apparently agree. Polls show that on the defense issue, Israelis trust the prime minister more than his chief opponent, Isaac Herzog of the center-left Zionist Union.

Commanders for Israel’s Security is hoping to change that thinking. The group — a collection of 186 retired generals, including former chiefs of the Mossad and the Israel Defense Forces — says nothing would be worse for Israel’s defense than a Netanyahu victory in Tuesday’s election.

Members charge that Netanyahu missed a key opportunity to improve Israel’s security posture after the conflict in Gaza last year, and say he lacks the mettle to handle the dispute with the Palestinians and improve relations with the United States.

“Bibi in his whole life hasn’t made decisions, doesn’t initiate anything,” said Brig. Gen. (ret.) Asher Levi, using Netanyahu’s nickname. “At the end of Protective Edge we had an extraordinary chance to make some kind of regional pact with the Gulf states, Saudi Arabia and Egypt to fight Iran and extremist Islam. He didn’t do it.”

Despite his efforts to portray himself as the leader best poised to ensure the security of Israel, Netanyahu has had to fend off increasingly vocal criticism from former leaders of the defense establishment.

At a rally in Tel Aviv last week, Dagan issued a harsh rebuke of Netanyahu’s leadership before a crowd of 40,000. Yuval Diskin, the former director of the internal security service Shin Bet, has come out against Netanyahu’s handling of the Iranian nuclear threat and the Palestinian conflict. Former Shin Bet director Yaakov Peri, former IDF Intelligence Commander Amos Yadlin and former head of the IDF Southern Command Yoav Galant have all joined opposing parties ahead of the election.

“Israel is today at a low point unlike any since the state’s founding,” former Mossad director Shabtai Shavit says in a video released in late February by Commanders for Israel’s Security. “Eternal war is not a strategy.”

The group came together last year to praise Netanyahu’s “level-headed leadership” in the Gaza conflict and urge him to leverage the cease-fire to convene a regional peace conference. When Netanyahu ignored their advice, the group turned on him.

Commanders for Israel’s Security says Israel needs to set a final border with the Palestinians, cooperate on common interests with Arab states and improve relations with the United States.

“The job of a prime minister is not just to win the next war but to prevent the next war,” Levi said. “Bibi is doing nothing with that. The only serious ally we have is the United States. Bibi Netanyahu has done everything to mess up relations with the United States.”

Likud has brought its own security credentials to bear in standing its ground against the generals. Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, himself a former army general, said the group offered false hope “that always costs us in blood.” He further claimed that the anti-Netanyahu generals weren’t familiar with the particulars of Israel’s current security challenges.

“This secure calm isn’t a given,” Yaalon said at a news conference Wednesday. “It’s a function of responsible leadership and thoughtful policy. It’s not a result of inaction. It’s a result of much action. And they give us so many suggestions — why aren’t we negotiating? And then, when we do negotiate, they blame us unfairly.”

Despite its opposition to Netanyahu, the generals insist they are not a partisan group. It’s also unclear how much influence they hold over an electorate that polls show is more focused on socioeconomic issues.

“The sense of security is high, so the feeling is that Israel isn’t in immediate danger,” said Tamar Hermann, a senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute senior fellow and an expert on Israeli public opinion. “People think [Netanyahu] didn’t deal poorly with security, and it doesn’t seem to be the most important issue.”

In new Israeli elections, security issues returning to fore


This government was supposed to be different.

During the last election campaign in 2012, Israelis seemed to tire of the existential issues that have plagued the country for decades. Barely anyone talked about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Long-simmering social tensions over the rising cost of living and the economic burdens of the underemployed haredi Orthodox community were going to finally get their due.

The Knesset’s arrivistes — former television personality Yair Lapid and technology millionaire Naftali Bennett — swept into government by championing middle-class concerns. As members of the coalition, Bennett’s Jewish Home party and Lapid’s Yesh Atid worked on a number of social and economic initiatives, including efforts to lower dairy prices and curb growing housing costs.

Though Jewish Home vehemently opposed Palestinian statehood and Yesh Atid supported it, both agreed that haredi Orthodox men should be drafted into the army and integrated into the workforce.

Less than two years later, the partnership has broken up over the very issues that the parties had downplayed. Bickering over peace talks began in the spring and the shouts grew only louder after this summer’s war with Hamas. The recent crisis in American-Israeli relations further fanned the flames.

The rifts came to a head last week with the Cabinet’s adoption of the so-called nation-state law —  a measure to enshrine Israel’s Jewish character into law. Bennett supported the bill, while Lapid, the finance minister, and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni were opposed.

In announcing Tuesday that the coalition had faltered, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cited three areas of disagreement: building in eastern Jerusalem, demanding Palestinian recognition of Israel’s Jewish character and maintaining a strong stance against Iran.

Netanyahu also singled out Lapid and Livni for their criticism of government policy after firing them from their Cabinet posts. The next government, the prime minister vowed, would be like the previous one — a stable coalition of hawkish, conservative parties.

Following the collapse of peace negotiations, the kidnapping and murder of three teenagers in June, the 50-day war in Gaza over the summer and the recent violence in Jerusalem — including the killing of four Jewish worshippers and a Druze policeman at a Jerusalem synagogue last month — politicians are focusing again on the issues that have always preoccupied them. After elections, now scheduled for March 17, everything old will become new again.

“The 2013 campaign was after relatively quiet years,” said Tal Schneider, author of the respected political website Plog. “Israel is not used to having such a length of time without any terror attacks. We’re back to normal, [but] last time it wasn’t on the agenda.”

Recent polls predict the elections will be good for parties on tיe far left and right that have made the Palestinian conflict their principal issue. Surveys show Jewish Home jumping from 12 to 16 seats, even 19, and the far-left Meretz, which went from three to six seats in the last election, rising to nine. Every survey shows Yesh Atid losing seats.

Meanwhile, Likud’s historic chief rival, the left-wing Labor party, has returned to its dovish roots, electing as chairman Isaac Herzog, a former corporate lawyer who strongly supports peace talks with the Palestinians. Herzog replaced Shelly Yachimovich, an assertive former journalist who stayed all but silent on the Palestinian issue in the 2013 elections.

And that shared agenda of integrating haredim into the army and workforce? The realities of parliamentary politics will almost definitely make that a thing of the past.

If he wins again in March, Netanyahu has vowed to ally again with haredi parties who seek to roll back the law passed earlier this year requiring some haredi men to serve in the army. Even a left-wing government would likely need haredi support to form a parliamentary majority.

Israelis, of course, still care about housing prices that have soared 80 percent since 2007 and growing income inequality. An as yet unnamed party founded to address those concerns, headed by former Likud minister Moshe Kahlon, is expected to draw plenty of votes.

But Israelis aren’t pitching tents on the street to protest economic policy as they did in 2011. This year, they have massed to support soldiers fighting in Gaza, pray for the kidnapped teens, oppose the nation-state law and protest the torching of a Jewish-Arab school.

“People vote by security,” Schneider said. “They may say in the polls that they’re more into the housing crisis, but it’s really never about the economy.”

Call for protest spurs Arab groom, Jewish-born bride to hire security for party


An Arab man and his Jewish-born bride hired 14 security guards for their wedding celebration in Israel in response to an anti-intermarriage Jewish group’s call for a protest rally at the hall.

Mahmoud Mansour, who is Muslim, and Morel Malka, who recently converted to Islam, reportedly are concerned for their safety at Sunday’s event in Rishon Lezion after the group, Lehava, posted photographs of their invitation on social media and urged protesters to rally outside the hall with megaphones and banners, the NRG news site reported.

Police said they will send personnel to the area to prevent any disturbance.

The couple is already legally married, according to Haaretz; the Sunday reception is merely a celebration. The groom’s parents and bride’s mother reportedly support the union.

Bentzi Gupstein, the chairman of Lehava, told NRG that his group was particularly upset about the wedding because of this summer’s escalation in tensions between Hamas and Israel.

“We are still at war and she is marrying a member of the enemy,” he said.

Mansour, of Jaffa, is an Israeli citizen. Gupstein said he was also angry that the wedding is taking place in Rishon Lezion, one of many cities targeted by rockets from Gaza this summer.

The father of the bride told Israel’s Channel 10 in an interview that he did not know about the relationship until recently and that he plans to boycott the wedding, the Times of Israel reported.

“I never dreamed that my daughter would marry an Arab,” he said. “I’m not going, period.”

The banquet hall management said several people have called to criticize the hall for hosting the event, while others have made threats, Haaretz reported.

With Islamic groups replacing traditional foes, Israel faces long-term instability on its borders


Three weeks ago, militants in Gaza landed a rocket near the Israeli city of Ashkelon.

Two weeks ago, Egypt raised its state of emergency in the Sinai Peninsula, warning of an increase in jihadist activity there.

Last week, a rock thrown by a West Bank Palestinian critically wounded a 3-year-old Israeli girl.

And this week, Israel plans to ask the United States for support should it strike Syrian weapons convoys en route to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Along both its northern and southern frontiers, Israel faces more political instability than it has in decades — conditions that some security experts fear could open a door to greater terrorism.

The upheavals of the Arab Spring may have reduced the threat of a conventional war with a neighboring state, but the prospects for peaceful borders — let alone full normalization with the Arab world — have dimmed, forcing Israeli military planners to prepare for long-term uncertainty.

“For the first time in decades, we have four active borders that have terror activities: Lebanon, Syria, Sinai and Gaza,” said Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, the director of military intelligence for the Israel Defense Forces. “The change that’s happening is deep and foundational. The central characteristic of this change, even if it seems banal, is instability and uncertainty.”

Kochavi was speaking last week at the Herzliya Conference, an elite policy and security gathering dominated this year by concerns about terrorist activity on Israel’s frontiers. Kochavi said terrorists are “filling the vacuum” of unstable states. While the consequences have been minimal, officials say the danger of an attack is growing.

“Not a week goes by, not to say hardly a day, when I don’t have to deal with an issue that you didn’t even hear about, that could have resulted in a strategic threat,” IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz told the conference.

Of particular concern to defense officials is the Syrian border, beyond which a civil war has been raging for two years — one that is threatening to spill over. Israel has begun building a fence on the perimeter of the Golan Heights and in January bombed a weapons convoy it feared was being shipped from Syria to Hezbollah operatives in Lebanon.

The possibility that Syrian arms, including stockpiles of chemical weapons, could wind up in the hands of terrorist groups is among the primary security concerns facing Israel. But the threats go deeper.

As secular strongmen have vanished from the stage — first in Egypt, and potentially in Syria — Islamists are rising in their place. It's a development that could recast the Arab-Israeli conflict in religious rather than geopolitical terms.

“We’re seeing a decline in national identity and a rise in religious identity” in the Arab world, said Dan Meridor, Israel’s outgoing minister of intelligence. “The old paradigm of war is changing its face.”

On the whole, religiously inspired terrorist groups can be difficult to deter. Generally they are less susceptible to diplomatic pressure than nation states. And unlike the dictators they appear to be replacing, the groups enjoy more popular support.

“We used to have three or four enemies,” Meridor said. “Now we have 10,000 or 20,000. Our enemies are greater and are not necessarily states. How do you deter a group that’s not a state?”

Beyond the problem of deterrence is the question of victory. Israel's recent skirmishes with terrorist groups — notably its 2006 war against Hezbollah and its 2009 and 2012 campaigns against Hamas in Gaza — have led to something closer to stalemate than the decisive victories achieved in past conventional wars.

Lurking behind a few of the non-state actors, though, is a state with which Israelis have become all too familiar: Iran. The Islamic Republic is Hezbollah’s primary funder and one of the few remaining allies of the teetering Assad regime in Syria.

Kochavi said that Iran and Hezbollah have organized an army of 50,000 in Syria and are trying to increase their influence there.

“Iran and Hezbollah are both doing all in their power to assist Assad’s regime,” Kochavi said. “Iran and Hezbollah are also preparing for the day after Assad’s fall, when they will use this army to protect their assets and interests in Syria.”

Experts said that in the face of four insecure borders, Israel’s best bet is to stay alert and hang tough. But Danny Rothschild, director of the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya’s Institute of Policy and Strategy, told the conference that Israel needs to be proactive in directing the Middle East toward peace and prosperity.

“Israel needs to be more involved in shaping the future of the region, even in a quiet way,” he said. “I have a feeling events will make it deal with issues, even if it hasn’t intended to.”

Oren says ‘Gatekeepers’ makes his job harder


Israel's U.S. ambassador,  Michael Oren, said the Oscar-nominated documentary “The Gatekeepers” complicates his mission.

The movie compiles interviews with six former leaders of the Shin Bet, Israel's internal security service, and records their perceptions of how successive Israeli governments missed opportunities for peace.

“This is a good movie that presents a narrative of 45 years of occupation but is completely devoid of information on Israel's peace plan offers — (Ehud) Barak's Camp David attempts, then [Ehud] Olmert, from the unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the rocket fire on us,” Oren told Ynet in a story posted Sunday. “Whoever views the movie without knowing the background can leave feeling that Israel is to blame and didn't do a thing.”

Oren said he hesitated to criticize the movie for fear of being attacked as limiting speech freedoms, but added that he felt that Israel was “on the defensive” in its effort to explain its right to exist.

Danish Jews angered by request not to display Israeli flag


The organizers of a Copenhagen event celebrating diversity asked Danish Jews refrain from displaying the Israeli flag “for security reasons.”

The request came during preparations for the city-sponsored Mangfoldigheds festival held early last month, according to the Copenhagen-born Jonas Herzberg Karpantschof, former chairman of the European Union of Jewish Students.

The Danish Zionist Federation displayed the Israeli flags despite the requests. Several verbal confrontations occurred in front of the federation’s stand but they did not escalate into physical violence, Karpantschof wrote in a report for the website of CRIF, the umbrella organization of French Jews. Karpantschof said that “in reality, it [the request] was an attempt to block the group’s participation.”

Other groups also displayed country flags at the event, the Copenhagen Post reported, and had not been asked to refrain from displaying them.

One of the event organizers, Pernille Kjeldgaard, told the Post, “It is not that there is a flag policy. Specific associations were asked not to display their flags as a safety precaution.” His group, TaskForce Inklusion, had been tasked by the municipality to organize parts of the event.

Max Meyer, head of the Danish Zionist Federation, was quoted as saying, “It is a shame that one group is discriminated against, especially at a diversity celebration.”

In the festival, participants were supposed to offer visitors food and culture connected with their ethnicity. The festival featured a Kurdish stall and three Palestinian organizations, Meyer wrote. Jews, Muslims and Christians shared one stall at the event.

It was the first time that the Danish Zionist Federation participated in the festival.

Israel seeks to expand powers on phone, computer tapping


Israel’s Ministry of Justice is seeking to expand the number of government agencies that may track citizens for investigation purposes, Yediot Achronot reported.

The measure would grant such agencies as the Antiquities Authority, Nature and Parks Authority and the Environmental Protection Ministry permission to tap Israelis’ phones and computers.

Expanding a 2007 law, it would also apply to those suspected of misdemeanors, not just felonies, Yediot reported.

Opinion: Iron Dome, an Israeli necessity, American priority, strategic imperative


For years, Sderot was a city under siege, the target of non-stop rocket attacks launched by Palestinian terrorists from Gaza. School was halted, synagogues were silenced and in a community defined by courage, the fragments of rockets and mortars – the vehicles of attempted murder aimed at innocent Israelis – were plain for all to see. Sderot became a living museum of terror.

Witnessing the horror, U.S. lawmakers pledged that the joy of Israeli living would return   vigor to Sderot and to other communities facing bombardment at any time of the day or night.

Our word was backed by a promise to help fund Iron Dome, a game changing rocket defense system fundamentally altering the strategic calculus in the region. For Israelis, this was a necessity; for Americans, a priority; for everyone, a strategic imperative.

Only four years ago, an informal Israeli-Hamas cease-fire collapsed and Palestinian extremists in Gaza began firing a relentless barrage of rockets into Israel aimed at the heart of Israeli population centers. In 2008, more than 3,000 rockets and mortar shells landed on Israeli territory, putting about 15 percent of Israel’s population at risk. Israel was left with no choice but to defend itself and went to war in Gaza in December 2008.

Unavoidably, many died in the ensuing warfare, most of them terrorists. But predictably, many in the international community condemned Israel for its necessary defensive war, including through the issuance of the notoriously biased Goldstone Report. The Obama administration did the right thing by defending Israel at the United Nations, but both Jerusalem and Washington became precariously isolated in the court of public opinion.

Fast forward to March 2012. Again a massive barrage of rockets was fired from Gaza at Israeli population centers by Islamic Jihad and its terrorist cohorts. But this time, Israel wasn’t defenseless. The development and deployment of three Iron Dome rocket and artillery interceptor batteries—funded in part by the United States—had changed the rules of the game. According to the Israel Defense Forces, Iron Dome intercepted a remarkable 90 percent of incoming rockets aimed at population centers.

This time there was no need for Israel to enter Gaza defensively. There were no Gazan civilian casualties, no international protests, and no isolation for the U.S. and Israel.

Only three Iron Dome batteries are now operational. Israel was lucky this time because it was only attacked on the Gaza front. But Israel is also vulnerable in the north of the country, where just across the border, Hezbollah has its own arsenal of Iranian-provided rockets laying in wait.

A two-front rocket war is a distinct possibility in the future. And the collapse of law and order in the Sinai, from which a rocket was recently fired at Eilat, adds an ominous new threat.

As Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., has written, “For America, as well as for Israel, an investment in the Iron Dome system is an investment in diplomacy — helping to create the conditions conducive to peace.”
In the U.S. Congress, where bitter partisanship and political brinksmanship has become all too common, funding for Iron Dome enjoys strong support among Democrats and Republicans. Legislation I’ve introduced, the Iron Dome Support Act, is the embodiment of that bipartisanship, backed by congressional members spanning the political spectrum.

This is an important week in Congress, demonstrating that the promises made to Sderot and surrounding communities will be kept. On Wednesday, the House of Representatives will vote on the United States-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act, which includes a strong statement of support for Iron Dome. It should pass overwhelmingly. The same day, the House Armed Services Committee in Congress will further approve $680 million dollars funding for additional Iron Dome batteries to protect the entire Jewish homeland.

Iron Dome is no guarantee that Palestinian extremists won’t pick a fight with Israel. But it makes it much more likely that Israel will only commit its soldiers to combat when it alone chooses.

The Iron Dome system enhances stability in Middle East. That’s why the United States is behind its further development and strongly supports Israeli efforts to build more.

U.S. Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-California) is the top-ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. This oped first appeared in haaretz.com.

Israel confirms visit by Mohammed Merah


Toulouse killer Mohammed Merah visited Israel in late 2010, Israeli officials said.

Confirming French media reports, the officials said Monday that Merah, who claimed responsibility for the murders in southern France of four Jews and three soldiers, crossed into the West Bank from Jordan in September 2010 before leaving the same way three days later.

Merah passed an Israeli security screening at the Allenby Bridge border crossing, the officials said, but it remained unclear whether his visit included Israel as well as Palestinian areas.

Merah, who jumped to his death from a window amid a hail of gunfire by French police on March 22, claimed to have belonged to al-Qaida. He visited Afghanistan in November 2010.

During a 30-hour standoff with police, Merah admitted to the killings of the Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse and the three soldiers in nearby Montauban.

Israel takes concerns about Iran to key partner China


Israel on Friday took its concern about Iran’s nuclear programme to one of Iran’s main partners, China, and hinted it could launch a preemptive attack on the Islamic Republic despite repeated calls by China to allow diplomacy to take its course.

China, which has close energy and trade ties with Iran, has urged a negotiated solution to the dispute over Iran’s nuclear ambitions and long opposed unilateral sanctions on Iran.

Iran insists its nuclear energy programme is purely non-military and has been adamant it will not abandon it under external pressure.

“For us, it’s crucial to explain our position to our Chinese partners,” Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told reporters on a visit to Beijing.

“It’s crucial to clarify our position to China in the hope they understand our concerns, our problems,” he said, adding that Israel would “continue the dialogue” with China.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao warned Iran in January against any effort to acquire nuclear weapons but apart from that, China has shied away from speaking out strongly against Iran.

That position on Iran underscores the tricky path China is trying to steer between pressure from the United States and its allies and, on the other hand, expectations from Iran, which looks to China as a sympathetic power and a big oil customer.

But an increasingly tough-talking Israel is threatening to take military action, with or without U.S. support, if Iran is deemed to be continuing to defy pressure to curb its nuclear projects.

Speculation is growing that Israel could launch some form of strike against Iranian nuclear installations, which Israel sees as a threat to its existence.

“We prefer that the international community will resolve the Iranian issue through talks, P5+1, through some negotiations, sanctions etcetera,” Lieberman said.

“But if not, I think it’s our right to protect ourselves, to defend ourselves,” he added. “As I mentioned, we keep all options on the table.”

The P5+1 group, made up of the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany, accepted an offer last week from Iran for new talks on its nuclear energy programme.

Lieberman said Israel was hopeful of “positive progress” at the talks.

But despite Western sanctions inflicting increasing damage on Iran’s oil-based economy, Israel had not seen “readiness from the Iranian side to give up their nuclear ambitions or to stop their enrichment”, he said.

China has also resisted Western efforts to exert pressure on Iran by imposing sanctions on its oil exports, much of which flows to China.

Editing by Ben Blanchard and Robert Birsel

Israel Police on high alert ahead of Yom Kippur


Israel Police have been holding talks with Israeli Arab representatives in bid to diffuse tensions ahead of Yom Kippur, after the burning of an Upper-Galilee mosque earlier this week. Police hope that calm will be restored in time for Yom Kippur on Saturday.

Security forces sealed off the West Bank on Thursday at midnight, and the blockade will last for 48 hours until Yom Kippur at midnight. The blockade can only be lifted for humanitarian or medical reasons and with the permission of the civil administration.

The Taba border crossing and the Yitzhak Rabin and Jordan River border crossings to Jordan will shut down at noon on Friday and reopen on Saturday at 9 P.M. The Allenby terminal will close at 11 A.M.

Air traffic to and from Israel will halt from 1 P.M. on Friday to 9:30 P.M. on Saturday and the border crossings to Jordan and Gaza will close down. The weather forecast bodes well for fasters, with comfortable temperatures.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Halt Gaza flotilla, Israel’s Security Cabinet orders military


Israel’s Security Cabinet ordered the Israel Defense Forces to prevent the upcoming flotilla to Gaza from reaching the coastal strip.

The inner cabinet, which is made up of senior members, on Monday also directed the Foreign Ministry to continue its diplomatic efforts to stop the flotilla from setting sail. The flotilla of about 10 ships is scheduled to leave from ports as early as Tuesday and meet in the Mediterranean Sea before continuing on to Gaza.

The decisions come a day after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a meeting of the entire Cabinet said he would not allow the flotilla ships to breach Israel’s maritime blockade of Gaza.

Meanwhile, Israel’s Navy has prepared for various scenarios should its commandos be required to board any of the flotilla ships, as they did in May 2010. The ensuing violence aboard the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara that year resulted in the deaths of nine flotilla participants.

Israel has said it will take any humanitarian aid directly to Gaza if the flotilla ships are brought into an Israeli port. Israel also has secured an agreement from Egypt’s interim government to allow the flotilla ships to unload their aid in the El Arish port and take it into Gaza.

Also Monday, Netanyahu instructed the “responsible authorities to formulate a special procedure regarding foreign journalists that participate in the flotilla and arrive in contravention of the Entry into Israel Law,” according to a statement issued from his office.

Members of the Israeli media and international journalists will be embedded in Israeli Navy vessels “in order to create transparency and credible coverage of the events,” the announcement said.

The head of Israel’s Government Press Office threatened to ban foreign reporters from the country for 10 years in a letter sent Sunday to Israel-based foreign journalists.

Along with threatening the ban, Orel Helman wrote, “I implore you to avoid taking part in this provocative and dangerous event, the purpose of which is to undermine Israel’s right to defend itself and to knowingly violate Israeli law.”

Ross: Turmoil sharpens Israeli needs for security guarantees


The recent Middle East turmoil has sharpened Israeli needs for tangible security guarantees in exchange for concessions to the Palestinians, Dennis Ross said.

Ross, President Obama’s top Middle East adviser, told the Anti-Defamation League’s annual leadership conference in Washington on Monday that security guarantees sought by Israel toward a peace deal with the Palestinians were critical, “particularly during a time of change.”

The Palestinians, in turn, “need to see that they can have an independent state that is viable and contiguous” as well as “signs the occupation is receding.”

Ross outlined the Obama administration’s approach to the “Arab Spring,” the push for democracy roiling the Middle East: Assist those governments ready to transition to democracy and oppose those that increase oppression in the face of protest, sometimes with military force, as with Libya.

Ross said that the unrest sweeping the region could result in democratic regimes structurally more likely to ensure peace with Israel—but could also prove a bonanza for Islamists hoping to exploit the turmoil.

He implied that progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front would help facilitate the former scenario. Democrats in the region “need to see that negotiations cannot only take place, they can produce,” he said, and then he cited Israeli-Palestinian talks as an example.

Ross reiterated the Obama administration position opposing Palestinian attempts to obtain recognition of statehood before striking a deal with Israel.

“We have consistently made it clear that the way to produce a Palestinian state is through negotiations, not through unilateral declarations, not through going to the U.N.,” he said.

Ross said the U.S.-Israel defense relationship was “better than ever,” with greater depth and substance than under previous administrations.

He quoted from remarks two weeks ago by Robert Gates during the U.S. defense secretary’s visit to Israel.

“I cannot recall a time during my public life when our two countries have had a closer defense relationship,” Gates had said. “The U.S. and Israel are cooperating closely in areas such as missile defense technology, the Joint Strike Fighter, and in training exercises such as Juniper Stallion—cooperation and support that ensures that Israel will continue to maintain its qualitative military edge.”

Separately, Defense News reported Monday that Israel and the United States are planning a “massive exercise” that would allow both countries to function as a wartime joint task force.

Israel beefs up troops on Egyptian border


Israel’s military has increased its presence on the border with Egypt over fears that terrorists and migrants will take advantage of the unrest in Egypt to cross into Israel.

The army and Border Police also are concerned that large groups of Bedouin living in the Sinai will attempt to flee into Israel.

On Monday, Egypt moved 800 troops into the Sinai to quell Bedouin riots, Haaretz reported, part of the demonstrations throughout the country calling for the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The movement of troops into Sinai, which is a violation of the peace accord between Israel and Egypt, reportedly was undertaken with Israel’s permission.

At least 250,000 protesters gathered Tuesday in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, with about 1 million assembling throughout the capital and tens of thousands more throughout the country for the planned million-man march calling for Mubarak to step down.

Soldiers surrounding the square checked protesters for weapons but otherwise have not interfered, following a pledge Monday not to use force on protesters, according to reports.

Also Tuesday, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood said it would not negotiate with Mubarak or members of his government, and called for Mubarak to leave the country, Al Jazeera reported.

Some pro-government protests also are gaining momentum, according to Al Jazeera.

WikiLeaks release not a problem for Israel, Netanyahu says


The secret documents released by WikiLeaks will not negatively affect Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

Israeli leaders can feel comfortable with what was revealed in the first batch of documents made public Sunday, Netanyahu said, because there is very little difference between what they said in private discussions with United States leaders and what they told their citizens.

“Usually there is a gap between what is said in public and what is said in private, but regarding Israel this gap is not large,” he said Sunday afternoon. “Regarding other countries, the gaps are extremely large.”

The documents did show that what many Arab leaders said privately and publicly, particularly on the subject of Iran, was significantly different. For example, many Arab leaders called on the United States, in some cases repeatedly, to attack Iran.

“More and more countries realize that Iran is the central threat, but the countries in the region have a gap because they publicly are attached to the Israeli-Arab conflict but privately they realize that this narrative is not true,” Netanyahu said Sunday during a speech before an editors’ conference in Tel Aviv. “They realize that the central threat is from Iran and now this has been revealed even though it was known.

“It can eliminate the theory that Israel is the obstacle to peace and show that we have mutual interests.”

The United States briefed several of its allies on the documents over the weekend. Israel already had been told by the U.S. last week that it could be mentioned in the release of classified U.S. documents.

The WikiLeaks website, which publishes classified documents from anonymous sources and leaks, released about 250,000 secret diplomatic cables on Sunday.

Netanyahu said he was not told in advance the specifics of what was said in the documents.

State Department legal adviser Harold Koh released a letter to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange saying that the publication of the documents is illegal and demanding a halt to their publication.

The publication of the documents will “place at risk the lives of countless innocent individuals,” ‘‘place at risk on-going military operations” and “place at risk on-going cooperation between countries,” the letter reportedly said.

The letter called on WikiLeaks to return the documents to the United States and destroy any copies.

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.

Obama administration must pursue Mideast peace


Across America, the Jewish community is joining with the rest of the nation to congratulate our next president. President-elect Barack Obama ran a campaign promising change, and Americans have made very clear that they are anxious to take him up on that promise. He will enter the White House at a time of great uncertainty, however, and those who would see real change take root will have to be very clear with the administration about their hopes for the future — particularly regarding the Middle East.

Many in our community have long prayed for Israeli-Palestinian peace, and in his acceptance speech, Obama sounded a promising note. “To those who seek peace and security,” he said, an hour after winning the election, “we support you.” As a lifelong advocate for a fair resolution to the conflict, I know the importance of such words — and know even more the importance of action.

The past eight years have seen an unprecedented level of diplomatic neglect on the part of the United States government, as President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said all the right things but have done very little to back up their words.

As a result, rather than move forward toward the resolution that all sides have already agreed must be our goal — a mutually acceptable two-state solution — Israelis and Palestinians remain locked in despair, and among both people, frustration has reached new heights.

Oddly, the current president seems to have forgotten that Israelis and Palestinians are not the only people who need an end to their entirely resolvable conflict — America needs it, too. Consider the blow it would be to Iran, Hezbollah and extremists across the globe if America were to mediate an end to Arab-Israeli fighting.

In the course of his campaign, Obama turned to the Jewish community to declare his support for Israel, saying that Israel’s security is “paramount.”

But if he really believes this to be true, he will have to understand that words of support are not enough. He will have to work to achieve the one thing that can bring the Jewish state true security: true peace.

If the newly elected president truly wants to advance Israel’s security, he will engage in genuine diplomacy from his very first days in office. He will vigorously pursue an agreement, appointing an envoy with the international credibility to do the hard work involved in negotiation. And he will make very clear to all parties that agreements made are to be honored.

It’s hard to believe this will happen, though, unless the new administration has gotten clear indication that it will be supported in its efforts by American Jews. To that end, the more than 85 percent of us who have said that we back a two-state resolution of the conflict have to take it upon ourselves to tell President Obama unequivocally: We will stand by you as you pursue a just, durable two-state solution. We will make our positions known in the House and the Senate, and we will communicate them to the American public. Because we are pro-Israel, we will advocate for peace.

American leaders have long turned to our community for guidance on the question of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and for that reason, I recently signed an open letter addressed to the president-elect, calling on him to dedicate himself to achieving a viable two-state agreement by the end of his first term.

Spearheaded by Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace, the letter has been signed so far by some 700 members of the American Jewish clergy, all of whom know that our highest calling is to “seek peace and pursue it.”

The potential costs of failing to achieve a just two-state solution to this bloody conflict are too awful to consider. We must apply ourselves to seeing to it that the decades of death and fear are brought to an end, and a new era begins. Tell President-elect Obama and those he names to his government: The time for peace is now.

Rabbi Arnold Rachlis is the spiritual leader of University Synagogue in Irvine; a past president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association; chair of MAZON – A Jewish Response to Hunger; and a member of the Rabbinic Cabinet of Brit Tzedek v’Shalom. He has served in Washington, D.C., as a White House Fellow and as a senior foreign affairs adviser in the State Department.

Flag Day


What a weird week.

The presidential race, instead of focusing on the best energy policy, the best Mideast policy, the best health care policy, wasall about moose and pigs and pitbulls. The financial companies that once defined stability have teetered or collapsed. The stock market is on the verge of a nervous breakdown, a hurricane ate our Gulf Coast refineries and, by the way, is anybody noticing that Pakistan is imploding?

Meanwhile, over at the Israeli Consulate, they’re planning a massive, pull-out-the-stops effort to … raise the Israeli flag?

That’s right. On Sunday, Sept. 28, thousands of people are expected to rally outside the Israeli Consulate on Wilshire Boulevard to watch as the blue and white national flag is raised permanently in front of the building.

You would think there are more important things to focus on right now. To be honest, when Consul General Jacob Dayan first told me his idea, that was my gut reaction — which I kept to myself. The world is going nuts, and that’s what you want us to do — raise a flag?

But I’ve let the idea percolate; I’ve turned it over in my head, and sure enough, I’ve changed my mind. It’s the perfect thing to do. It’s brilliant.

Neither Dayan nor the building’s owner, Jamison Services, will discuss why until now no Israeli flag has been allowed to stand in front of the otherwise nondescript office tower at 6380 Wilshire Blvd.

But let’s hazard a wild guess: security.

Building owners and Israeli ambassadors themselves regularly cite concerns over protests and terrorism as the primary reasons so few Israeli diplomatic stations display their country’s flag.

It’s not an unreasonable concern. From 1969 to the present there have been at least 30 attacks on Israeli embassies, according to Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. (The ministry actually lists and details the attacks on its Web sites, which could not have made Dayan’s job convincing his landlord any easier). The most recent one occurred this past February, when a group calling itself “al Qaeda in the Magreb” fired shots at the Israeli Embassy in Mauritania, wounding three local residents.

It’s a fact of life: Israel’s blue and white is a red flag for the fanatics. Wave it, and they are likely to charge.

Sometimes, the reaction is horrific, as at the El Al ticket counter several years ago, when a man opened fire by the flag. Sometimes, it is boringly predictable, as at those Hezbollah rallies in Lebanon, where they actually have to make their own Israeli flag just to destroy it. Sometimes, it is pathetic: In the Mea Shearim neighborhood of Jerusalem last spring, a 50-year-old Orthodox Israeli man waving his flag on Israel’s Independence Day was set upon and beaten by members of the anti-Zionist Naturei Karta Jewish sect.

Given these reactions, it’s only wise and natural to be cautious, to fear the fanatics and abide by their rule: Don’t you dare display your flag.

And now, Dayan is offering his response: tough.

In his book, “A Case for Democracy,” Natan Sharansky offers up a test to determine whether a society is truly free and democratic. He calls it his Town Square test:

“If a person cannot walk into the middle of the town square and express his or her views without fear of arrest, imprisonment, or physical harm, then that person is living in a fear society, not a free society. We cannot rest until every person living in a ‘fear society’ has finally won their freedom.”

I suspect the default reflex of Jews is to rest inside a fear society. Centuries of persecution have conditioned us to cut our losses and accept a base level of fear and intimidation, so long as our families and livelihoods are not immediately threatened. Our mental public square has always been inhabited by thugs: We have grown comfortable with them.

The establishment of the State of Israel was supposed to have freed us from the physical ghettos in which Jews found themselves and from these psychic ones, as well. A free people in a free land could not be bullied, need not live in fear.

The physical and psychic shackles cracked in 1948, when the Israeli flag was first raised over the independent, sovereign Jewish state, and they broke in 1967, when the country swept to victory in the Six-Day War and the flag flew over a united Jerusalem.

But that was then. Now, with terror at our doorsteps and Israel still in peril, most of us are content to lay low. It turns out we are less butterfly than hermit crab. Survival teaches us that rather than float free, better to run from shell to shell.

But if we let our city fail the Town Square test, we delude ourselves in thinking we can forever be safe off the square, in our synagogues, at our schools. Whether we fly the flag or not, those who would do us harm will find us anyway.

In the Age of Google, there is no way to hide. We can be better or worse targets, but we are still targets.

The vast majority of us want to live in a world where disagreements don’t demand violence. We don’t want the crazy few determining how we live our lives, demonstrate our loyalties, express our identity. We want a thousand flags to fly (including, yes, the Palestinian one). We want to be free.

That’s why I love Dayan’s vision. He saw reality and raised it — hell, he went all in. Once he received approval to fly the flag, he could have just quietly run it up one morning and left it at that. But no: He has arranged to close off Wilshire Boulevard between San Vicente Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue. He has invited schools, synagogues and churches to come out and show their support. There will be a stage, speeches (short, he promises), dignitaries and performance by a recording artist Macy Gray.

The Israeli flag is going up on Wilshire Boulevard; attention will be paid, and I, for one, will be there.

Report from Beijing: Security, it’s not just for airports anymore


BEIJING (JTA)—Security checks no longer just for airports in Beijing

Olympic security is no easy task. It’s not just about the sports venues — attention must be paid to the entire city’s infrastructure, hot spots and transportation systems.

One of the transitions that I think Beijing residents have done with few complaints is adjust to bag x-ray security checks at the entrance of every subway station. This measure was added at the end of June as part of a three-month campaign to secure the city for the Olympics and Paralympics, yet even now, there are still a few stray stations where a guard manually looks in your bag for lack of a scanning machine.

Want to ride the subway? Let’s see what you’re packing.

This is the kind of treatment one might be used to in Israel, but not in freewheeling China.

When I ate at Dini’s kosher restaurant two nights before the Opening Ceremony, I was greeted by a 20-year-old Chinese guard in a reflective security vest with the Hebrew word “Bitachon” (security) on the front and a scanner wand in hand. My Israeli security check flashbacks returned — although I never spoke in Mandarin to the guys who checked my bag at the entrance to Jerusalem bars.

I don’t think China has quite reached the “chefetz chashud,” or suspicious object, level of alertness that one might find in Israel (and lately in the United States as well), where seeing an abandoned bag or anything out of the ordinary would merit a call to the authorities.

Maybe they are more vigilant out in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, where Muslim separatist sentiment is strong and there have been both thwarted and actualized attacks in recent months. This story shows how the Chinese decided to rely on a low-tech approach to sounding the alarm – with a whistle.

All jokes about whistles aside, many Chinese people I have talked to in Beijing have insisted how Chinese terrorists, usually referring to Xinjiang or sometimes Tibetans, are “really fierce.” I wonder whether this is based on fear-mongering by the domestic media or not. On the one hand, 16 officers were killed and another 16 were injured in the western capital Kashgar this week when two men rammed a dump truck and hurled explosives at a group of jogging policemen. But of course, this kind of incident is used to crack down on individual freedoms and the rights of the press, who are not being afforded all the openness that was promised for the duration of the Olympics as evidenced by the recent beating of two Japanese journalists suffered while covering the most recent Xinjiang incident

The Israeli Embassy will have an event on Monday, Aug. 18 to commemorate the most fatal breach of Olympic security, the 1972 Munich Games where 11 Israeli athletes were killed after a terrorist infiltration of their Olympic Village accommodations. This tragedy was commemorated even earlier this year in Beijing, at the Chabad Purim party, which was Olympics-themed but included several placards and handouts about the athletes who died in ‘72.

With such a sobering legacy of Israeli Olympic participation, you would think that security would be more intense for the Jewish state’s athletes as compared to other delegations in the village. Yet Ephraim Zinger, the secretary-general of the Israeli Olympic Committee and chief of misson, says the Israelis are on the list of countries with the most sensitive security issues, but “we aren’t the only ones, and we aren’t at the top of the list either.”

From security to the environment — L.A. and Israel exchange ideas


image

L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa at the Western Wall. Photo courtesy the Mayor’s Office

Last week’s emotion-packed visit to Sderot by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, along with a delegation of senior city officials, leaders of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, the Israel Leadership Club and several Los Angeles clergy might have received much of the trip’s media coverage during the group’s weeklong stay in Israel. However, it’s the meetings between city and Israeli experts in homeland security, counterterrorism and green technology that could have a significant effect on the way Los Angeles and Israel protect their citizens, institutions and natural resources.

Security and anti-terrorism personnel held working meetings at Ben-Gurion Airport and at the Israeli National Police Training Center, while energy experts shared expertise at Tel Aviv’s partially cleaned-up Yarkon River and during a CleanTech roundtable that showcased the best in Israeli green ingenuity.

At Ashdod Port, the clearinghouse for almost all goods imported to and exported from Israel, officials from the Port of Los Angeles explained to their Israeli counterparts how they have significantly reduced air and water pollution.

Although most members of the Los Angeles team began their trip in stiff business attire, the combination of intense heat and the laid-back Israeli style of conducting business prompted many to doff jackets and remove ties.

At Ben-Gurion Airport, the country’s bustling hub of incoming and outgoing civilian traffic, Nahum Liss, director of security planning, control and projects for the Israel Airport Authority, noted how two fatal terror attacks at the airport in 1973 and 1976, respectively, led to today’s stringent security measures.

“I was sitting about 30 meters away when a terrorist blew himself up, along with one of the women doing a security check,” Liss recalled, his ordinarily booming voice growing quiet.

As tragic as this and other attacks have been, they have added to the learning curve, the airport executive stressed.

“We can tell you how to prevent such cases,” Liss told Gina Marie Lindsey, director of the Los Angeles World Airport, LAPD Deputy Chief Terry Hara and others. “The challenge is finding ways to minimize the hassle to passengers and disruptions to airport operations.”

Liss said Ben-Gurion’s new arrivals terminal “was planned from day one with security personnel.”

While leading a tour of the sparkling facility, a huge open space with soaring glass windows on the entry side, he pointed out the absence of the kind of armed personnel you see in many major American airports. Starting from the sidewalk and ending with the section where security officers hand-searched the luggage of a youth sports team, Liss noted the absence of armed personnel.

“We’re fighting for every tourist and don’t want to remind them of what they saw on CNN the day before,” he said. Nor are there any sniffer dogs, Liss pointed out, “because they remind many Israelis of concentration camps during the Holocaust.”

Instead, Liss said, airport security is almost invisible.

“There are layers of security,” Liss said, glancing at a clean-cut plainclothes guard with short, cropped hair loitering just outside one of the entrances to the terminal. “There are personnel stationed outside watching the cars and passengers,” he said, as well as structural precautions like concrete balustrades preventing cars from getting too close to the terminal and shatterproof glass enmeshed with steel on the windows.

The airport also employs the most advanced technology, from cameras to luggage scanners, and relies heavily on the intuition of security personnel, who believe someone carrying a bomb behaves differently from other passengers. Which is not to say that even the most innocent of passengers is not occasionally subjected to a thorough interrogation.

“We have much to learn from you,” Villaraigosa said, clearly impressed, just before signing a memorandum of understanding that will bring Israeli airport experts to Los Angeles for regular inspections, beginning in the near future.

“It’s not lost on us that Michael Chertoff,” head of U.S. homeland security, “signed an agreement with Israel to share technology and methods to improve homeland security,” the mayor said. Lindsey, however, admitted that Los Angeles International is more difficult to secure than Ben-Gurion Airport.

“We have nine terminals, and whereas Ben-Gurion has one central concourse and the baggage area is more centralized, we have several,” Lindsey said. “Even so, we hope the Israelis will share their experience on how to better secure the airport’s periphery.”

Israel: A work in progress


From the birth of the Zionist movement more than a century ago through its 60 years as a Jewish state, Israel has come of age amid a vastly changing world: two world wars, the technological revolution and economic globalization with all its attendant challenges.

The creation of Israel is a paradigm for the way people without sovereignty embrace and transform their history through freedom. That ongoing struggle of humans trying to find their place in the universe unfolds over time, but it requires a place.

Israel also represents a unique laboratory — and not just for defining itself for its residents but also for addressing global crises. Every problem on this planet is refracted and amplified here: Having resettled and grown in the land, how can we conserve its environment? Can we halt our addiction to oil and achieve energy independence? If we level the field in information and technology, can we overcome the limitations of size and space and become a player on the global stage? If Israel can answer questions like these, it will achieve a secure position among nations and obtain its peace.

As President Shimon Peres said, the objective of this 60th anniversary year should be to bring Israel to the world and the world to Israel. Our experiment, through shifting events and the failures and challenges they bring, is one that results in the covenant renewed. And looking back through the decades from our founding, we can find four lessons that resonate globally. They also inform 21st century hopes for our survival, based on the merging of ancient truths with the ever-present task of national renewal. These are lessons that will sustain all global communities from the chaos of our times:

Lesson 1: Diasporas need homelands.

Today, the United Nations reports that more than 300 million people in this world live in Diaspora communities that struggle to maintain homeland ties. The Rwandans, the Armenians, the Guatemalans and, yes, the Palestinians long for their place among the nations. For many nations, Diaspora remittances are sometimes far greater than foreign direct investment, portfolio flows and foreign aid combined. The contributions of Israel’s Diaspora and its transformation through the creation of the State of Israel have been a lesson well studied by others.

Lesson 2: Nations need security.

Imminent threats, beginning before the Holocaust, informed not only the Zionist movement but also the Jewish concept of state defense. No nation can survive while its people live in exile.

The captive Hebrews in Babylon lamented, “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” In revolting against its history, Israel rejected centuries of subjugation and developed a national defense based on the doctrine that homeland building can tolerate many risks for peace — but never the catastrophic risks that unite senseless hatred with regional imperialism.

This is what links the Eichman trial to Entebbe to Osirak to last fall’s strike against the Syrian reactor facility. Yet the world has seen genocide spread to Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur. The lesson of homeland security is ignored at great peril.

Lesson 3: Language and cultural revival are key.

Jewish cultural identity — expressed through art, music and, most important, through the revival of Hebrew from its strict liturgical usage to an official state language — has been key to our national renewal and rebirth. Where else in the world has a language no one spoke, but which was common to all, emerged as a national language?

Like archaeological discovery and conservation of cultural capital, the protection of language is essential for national cultures throughout the world. While not promoting linguistic exclusivity (Israel, after all, has three official languages), the protection of communal language promotes a multilingual access and a cultural infrastructure, encourages the safekeeping of minority languages and culture and their ultimate restoration as part of our international heritage.

Lesson 4: Unity exists in diversity.

From the microcosm of Israel’s rebirth as a modern nation, this is perhaps the most profound lesson for a global future. Israel’s Jewish-majority population can boast more than 120 nations of origin, along with significant local minorities of Palestinian, Druze and Bedouin Arabs. As a result, Israel is one of the most diverse countries in the world.

Integrating this pastiche into a democratic republic that protects and celebrates diversity through unity remains a remarkable achievement. It is also becoming a common challenge for nations around the world.

Absorption is the means to achieving true national self-interest. It puts the emphasis on integration, rather than on full assimilation and the triumphalism of a majority. In Israel, frankly, there is no majority — not Ashkenazim, not Sephardim, not political, not religious. It is our challenge to grow from the particular to the universal without comprising the richness and uniqueness of diversity.

Ultimately, these lessons underscore the celebration of Israel’s rebirth. Let us reaffirm our particular attributes as a nation by reaffirming our universal values. That was the lesson of the prophets.

These lessons and inspiration place Israel, a small country, on the global stage in a unique way. They offer enormous advantages in global trade and provide the basis for both military power and peace incentives. They provide the basic formula for an open society, global ties and national security. They enable Israel to renew and repair both itself and an endangered world in troubled times.

Glenn Yago is director of capital studies at the Milken Institute.

Israel faces grim intelligence estimate


Last week�(tm)s terrorist attack at a Jerusalem yeshiva and the new Israeli national intelligence assessment presented to the Cabinet on Sunday underscore the acute security problems Israel faces this year and beyond.

The terrorist shooting spree in the Mercaz Harav yeshiva, which left eight students dead, raised questions about the vulnerability of Jews in western Jerusalem to terrorists emanating from the mostly Arab eastern part of the city. The gunman was from Jabel Mukhaber, a Palestinian village on the southeastern outskirts of the capital.

While the new intelligence assessment downplayed the risk of war in 2008, it painted a gloomy picture of an Iranian-sponsored missile buildup by Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas. It also said Iran is expected to pass the point of no return on creating a nuclear bomb in 2009.

As if all this were not enough, Israelis had another, more immediate concern: Did the terrorist attack in Jerusalem herald the start of a third Palestinian intifada?

Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter and the intelligence assessment say no. Dichter says there is no evidence of it, and the assessment says the probability of a widespread, sustained Palestinian uprising in the West Bank is low.

But the report added an important caveat: A new intifada could erupt if Jewish extremists attack Muslim holy sites on Temple Mount, or if new Israel Defense Forces actions in the Gaza Strip cause a high Palestinian death toll.

The fact that last week�(tm)s gunman was from eastern Jerusalem has been especially concerning here. There are no barriers or checkpoints to stop Jerusalem�(tm)s Arabs from crossing into western Jerusalem.

Since Israel officially annexed the eastern portion of Jerusalem in 1968, Arabs from eastern Jerusalem carry Israeli ID cards, making it easier for them than for West Bankers to slip through police or army cordons. That is why Jerusalem often is seen as a soft target for Palestinian terrorism.

On the flip side, the Palestinian standard of living in Jerusalem is higher than in the West Bank. Moreover, as Israeli residents, the Palestinian Arabs in eastern Jerusalem receive Israeli health care and unemployment services. Many are loath to put their relatively comfortable lifestyle at risk with a campaign of terrorism.

Nevertheless, 20 percent of Jerusalem�(tm)s 220,000 Palestinians have been involved directly or indirectly in terrorism, according to Israeli police sources.

The special status of Palestinian Arabs from eastern Jerusalem makes measures against would-be terrorists difficult. Dichter says he would deport to the West Bank all Jerusalemites involved in terrorism and their accomplices. But legal experts say that because the Arabs in eastern Jerusalem qualify as Israeli residents, Israeli law does not allow such deportations.

Danny Yatom, a member of the Labor Party and former Mossad chief, advocates building a fence between Jerusalem�(tm)s Jewish and Arab neighborhoods. But right-wing critics say that would be tantamount to acquiescing to divide Israel�(tm)s capital.

In the wake of last week�(tm)s deadly attack, the situation in Jerusalem is even more volatile due to the nature of the target.

Mercaz Harav yeshiva, founded in 1924 by then-Chief Rabbi Avraham Isaac Hacohen Kook, is religious Zionism�(tm)s most influential theological seminary. It is one of the prime sources of messianic Jewish settler ideology, which sees Jewish settlement of the West Bank and Gaza as a holy mission.

Its rabbis and students are highly critical of Ehud Olmert government�(tm)s attempts to negotiate a territorial settlement with the Palestinians, which they believe flies in the face of the divine order.

That strong anti-government sentiment was reflected in an angry confrontation Sunday with Education Minister Yuli Tamir, who was jostled and heckled when she visited the yeshiva to offer her condolences. Tamir left quickly after some students called her “murderer.”

Prime Minister Olmert later was told by yeshiva leaders that he, too, would not be welcome at the school.

Israeli police fear right-wing extremists might take the law into their own hands and wreak vengeance against eastern Jerusalem�(tm)s Palestinians. Already this week, police blocked right-wing activists from heading to the terrorist�(tm)s mourning tent in Jabel Mukhaber.

The alienation of religious Zionists from government — both because of Olmert�(tm)s willingness to negotiate with the Palestinians and perceived past government betrayals, including Ariel Sharon�(tm)s withdrawal of troops from Gaza in August 2005 — have Israeli police worried about Jewish right-wing violence.

Jewish threats aside, Israeli security�(tm)s main focus is on the external threats to Israel. They were summed up harshly in the intelligence assessment on Iran.

The Israeli estimate is that without any preventative measures, Iran will be capable of producing a nuclear weapon in late 2009 or early 2010. This, the intelligence agencies agree, constitutes the gravest existential threat Israel faces.

In addressing the threat, the agencies suggest Israel is more or less on its own. They do not expect any U.S. military action against Iran, and they argue that international sanctions are having no effect on the pace of Iran�(tm)s nuclear program.

The assessment has a wide regional sweep, providing a country-by-country and issue-by-issue accounting of the updated “threat map” as seen by Israel�(tm)s intelligence agencies.

The main points include:

  • Lebanon: The Lebanese government is tottering and a real danger exists that Hezbollah will take over the country. If that were to happen, Israel would find itself facing a significantly enhanced Iranian forward base on its northern border. In any event, Hezbollah is preparing for another missile war against Israel, possibly on two fronts: Lebanon in the north and Gaza in the south.
  • Gaza: Hamas is building up its rocket capacity, training personnel in Iran and preparing for a showdown with Israel.
  • West Bank: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas needs to be able to show his constituency achievements on the ground, such as the removal of Israeli checkpoints, if he is to make progress in peace talks with Israel.
  • Israeli Arabs: There is a worrying radicalization among Israeli Arabs, evident in demonstrations and stone throwing in response to Israeli military operations against Hamas rocket crews in Gaza.
  • Syria: The regime is stable, with President Bashar Assad firmly in control. Assad is focusing on a long-range rocket buildup in an attempt to reach a measure of strategic parity with Israel in the event of peace negotiations between the two countries. He may be ready to break with Iran and the axis of evil in return for a peace deal with Israel that entails the return of the Golan Heights to Syria and massive U.S. economic aid.

    The probability of war this year with Syria is low, even though Damascus may still seek revenge for the reported Israeli raid last September on an alleged Syrian nuclear facility.

  • Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia: Despite ongoing radicalization in the Middle East, there is no threat to the stability of these so-called moderate regimes.

Tzachi Hanegbi, the chairman of the Knesset�(tm)s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, described the threat map as the “most serious in Israel�(tm)s history.”

Still, Olmert told his Cabinet he is confident that Israel can meet whatever challenges it faces.

“We have answers for all future threats,” he said.

Ashkelon is the new front line in the war with Gaza


The Second Lebanon War — one year later


One year after the Second Lebanon War, Israel’s northern front is quiet, U.N. forces are patrolling the border area and Hezbollah fighters have been pushed back deep inside Lebanese territory.

That’s the good news.

On the other side of the equation, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is still under pressure to resign for his poor conduct of the war, home-front defenses are suffering from neglect, Hezbollah is re-arming with bigger and better rockets and there have been no signs of life from the two Israeli soldiers whose abduction on July 12, 2006, sparked the 34-day conflict.

One year later, these questions remain: How has Israel’s performance in the war affected its standing in a hostile environment? Is U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, which brought the fighting to an end, proving effective? What are the chances of a prisoner exchange? What has been done to bring the Israel Defense Forces up to speed and to bolster home defenses? On the political front, can Olmert survive as prime minister?

In the fighting, 119 soldiers and 44 civilians were killed. Israeli forces proved unable to stop daily Hezbollah rocket barrages on civilian population centers. National leadership was indecisive. Ground troops did not perform well. The captured soldiers, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, were not freed.

Most experts maintain that on balance, the war hurt Israel’s deterrent capacity. The problem is particularly acute on the Syrian front, where President Bashar Assad has been building up his arsenal of ground-to-ground, anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles.

The Israeli concern is that Assad, given his perception of the Israeli performance in Lebanon, may miscalculate his military strength relative to Israel’s and start hostilities. In recent months, the Israeli government has sent Assad two clear messages: Israel has no intention of attacking Syria, and if war does break out, Syria would be far more vulnerable to Israeli firepower than Hezbollah because of its state apparatus and infrastructure.

Israeli intelligence believes the messages were received, but no one on the Israeli side is discounting the possibility of another war in the north this summer.

In the immediate aftermath of the war, Olmert presented U.N. Resolution 1701 as a major strategic gain. It placed a “robust” U.N. force of more than 13,000 troops in the border area previously occupied by Hezbollah, creating an effective buffer between Israel and the Shiite militiamen.

In the year since the war, Hezbollah has not fired a single shot across the border. An isolated rocket attack on Kiryat Shemona in mid-June was attributed to a radical Palestinian faction. Hezbollah fortifications near the border have been destroyed, and arms and ammunition found there have been confiscated.

Olmert says the days are gone when Hezbollah forces near the border, with more than 10,000 Katyusha rockets trained on civilian, military and strategic targets, could hold Israel captive.

A late June report released by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, however, paints a more somber picture. According to Ban, Hezbollah continues to receive vast quantities of arms from Syria and Iran in blatant violation of 1701.

Most of the weaponry comes overland across the Syria-Lebanon border and includes rockets with a range of more than 150 miles. Hezbollah, according to the report, apparently is building new positions outside the U.N. zone from which it would be able to launch rocket attacks against Israel. Israel has complained several times about the porous nature of the Syria-Lebanon border, but no one seems to be doing anything about it.

Israel also is concerned about the possible military coordination among Iran, Syria and Hezbollah. For example, if Assad were to launch hostilities later in the summer, Israeli intelligence believes Hezbollah would join in, and Iran would provide more weapons and logistical support.

Ban’s report on the fate of the two Israeli captives is equally downbeat. He is sharply critical of Hezbollah for not providing any sign of life from the two soldiers and says concerns about their fate are growing.

Israeli officials believe that during the abduction, one of the men may have been badly wounded. Contacts between Israel and Hezbollah through a German intermediary are continuing, but nothing has been revealed about the soldiers’ conditions. Bargaining over a prisoner exchange apparently has yet to get off the ground.

The most dramatic change since the war has occurred among Israel’s military forces. Following the criticism of its performance, the army set up more than 40 internal panels to analyze shortcomings and recommend improvements.

As public protest swelled, Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, an air force man, resigned and was replaced by Gabi Ashkenazi, a seasoned infantry general. Ashkenazi introduced key changes in doctrine and training. The notion that modern wars could be won by firepower alone was replaced with the classic IDF doctrine of firepower and ground force maneuvers combined.

Training of ground forces and reserves was increased significantly in light of the modified doctrine. In late May, the IDF carried out joint exercises on a scale not seen in years.

There also has been new thinking on home-front defenses. Dan Meridor, a former minister for strategic affairs, recently produced a detailed report, “The Home Front as Battlefield,” in which he argues that in modern rocket warfare, civilians are as likely to find themselves on the front line as soldiers, and that it is incumbent on the government to prepare them psychologically and provide the funding for their protection.

Gaps in levels of security for rich and poor could harm national resilience, Meridor said. But there has been little government action on building new shelters, making old ones more habitable and providing funds for the construction of reinforced rooms in private homes and apartments.

The big political question in the wake of the war is whether Olmert can maintain his hold on power much longer. The Winograd Commission, the main panel investigating the overall conduct of the war, issued a scathing interim report in April that was particularly critical of the prime minister’s performance.

By moving quickly to close ranks in his Kadima Party, Olmert managed to survive. Pundits say, however, that if the committee is as or more scathing in its final report expected in August, the prime minister may have to go.