Hezbollah says Iran nuclear agreement ‘rules out specter of regional war’


The leader of Lebanon's Hezbollah said on Monday that a framework nuclear agreement that Iran reached with world powers last week rules out the specter of regional war.

“There is no doubt that the Iranian nuclear deal will be big and important to the region,” Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said in an interview with Syria's al-Ikhbariya television.

“The agreement, God willing, rules out the specter of regional war and world war,” he said.

The tentative accord, struck on Thursday after eight days of talks in Switzerland, clears the way for a settlement to allay Western fears that Iran could build an atomic bomb, with economic sanctions on Tehran being lifted in return.

Nasrallah said the accord would prevent conflict as “the Israeli enemy was always threatening to bomb Iranian facilities and that bombing would definitely lead to a regional war.”

The Shi'ite Muslim Hezbollah was founded with Iranian help in the 1980s to fight Israel in Lebanon. It has grown into a powerful political and military force and is fighting alongside President Bashar al-Assad's army in Syria's civil war.

Israel is: A departing reflection


Israel is…

Where I visit once a year even though I have no family there. Where I found myself. Where I went from being Jew(ish) to a proud Jew. Where those around me share a similar family past of pogroms, emigrations, anti-Semitism, and perseverance.

Where I ate my first Bamba and learned the word “sababa”. Where I am treated as a younger sister by all, for better or for worse. Where I am welcomed into a new home every Shabbat. Where a former ambassador modestly asked me personally for PR advice. 

Where my Ethiopian friend’s family came first to seek refuge and now thrive as true Israelis. Where the red alert was called “shachar adom” (red dawn) until a seven-year-old child named Shahar came home crying to her mother because she heard her own name being used as a warning of an impending terrorist attack. Where we don’t think twice before revealing the intimate insides of our purses when entering malls. Where my friends spent an entire day trying to send food to hungry soldiers on the front lines. Where hopeful politicians meet to advance the peace process. Where if an alien landed on earth and read a newspaper, they could easily assume that this country is larger than the African continent. Where it takes fewer than six hours to drive from the very top of the country to the very bottom. 

Where I ran to the bomb shelter every time I heard sirens wail. Where children sing when the air raid siren goes off so they do not hear the boom of the explosion. Where the sound of ambulance sirens was changed so people could differentiate between the two emergencies. Where I heard fireworks and worried they were rockets falling. Where even in a state of war, life goes on because it has to.

Where over 30,000 people gather at a funeral of a soldier they never met. Where over 350 Israelis in one day visited the family of a murdered Palestinian teen to pay their condolences. Where a country channeled frustration into positive actions as they visited injured soldiers in hospital beds. Where a song created by terrorist intended to demoralize Israelis became the ironic hit of the summer. Where my friends had to go to two of their friends’ funerals in one day.

Where eighteen year-olds serve in the army and go back to school only once they know the meaning of risking their lives for their country. Where ex-pats sacrifice their financial desires for their ideological needs. 

Where meals begin with many salads and end with hot tea with spearmint. Where the rarity of bacon in the home is not only a religious, but also a traditional norm. Where Hebrew unites the atheists and religious alike. Where wine overflows the cup at the Shabbat table. Where the slippery Jerusalem stone beneath my feet reminds me of those who have walked in the Old City before me.

Where teenagers stay out until sunrise because their parents have bigger things to worry about. Where the non-existence of lines reflects an attitude of togetherness more than an attitude of individual survival. Where an assertive woman will preach her political views to the whole train. Where the history of the family’s hummus recipe can begin a heated political discussion of cultural appropriation. Where you understand the feeling of words like mamash, stam, and davka, but cannot translate them into definitive English words.

Where the record stands for the highest number of solar-powered water heaters, scientists, and engineers per capita. Where gay individuals are not condemned, but celebrated. Where seven year olds are trusted to lead their five-year-old brothers and sisters on the busses. Where the whole bus looks after these children as if they were their parents. Where one walks alongside an Armenian priest as the Muslim call to prayer fills the streets of the Old City. Where the shopkeepers in the markets can bargain in ten languages each. Where baby steps are made to move from tolerance to acceptance, and finally to understanding. Where I refuse to give up on the two-state solution even if it is on life-support.

This article was written based on Natalie Portman’s “Israel Is” excerpt from Alan Dershowitz’s book, “What Israel Means to Me”.

Eliana Rudee is a contributor to the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity. She is a graduate of Scripps College, where she studied International Relations and Jewish Studies. Follow her @ellierudee.

After the fog of war: An early assessment of the Israel-Gaza conflict


It is far too early to assess the impact of the latest war in Gaza, but still some preliminary thoughts are in order:

Anti-Semitism panic

Judging by what I have been reading in the press blogs and emails, it seems as if many Jews are in a panic about the rise in anti-Semitism. Once again, people are asking: Is this 1939? 1933? Even as distinguished a student of anti-Semitism as my revered colleague professor Deborah Lipstadt is quoted as saying that this may be 1934.

Permit me to dissent. 

Nothing fundamental has changed nothing.

In the United States, Judaism remains the most admired of America’s religions, and Jews are accepted, respected and empowered. The war in Gaza did not cause a spike in energy prices, as we experienced during the Yom Kippur War of 1973 or the oil crisis of 1979, or a drop in the stock market. It did not threaten global conflict, as in 1973. So no instability was introduced into the American economy or society. Political support for Israel has been strong, and while there are generational divides in such support, none of it translates into a reason to fear a dramatic rise in anti-Semitism. Support for Israel will be an issue on campuses this fall, and the divide between the human-rights community and the supporters of Israel will endure.

In Europe, the problem remains threefold: 

There is anti-Semitism “in Europe” but not necessarily “of Europe,” meaning that if the people living in Europe adopt European values, including pluralism and tolerance, then whatever their opinion about Israel’s practices in Gaza, they have no particular problems with their Jewish neighbors. 

However, a significant segment of Muslim populations living in European countries dwell in these countries — some for generations — without acculturating to European values. They live “in Europe,” but they are not “of Europe.” These non-European Muslim minorities respond to events in the Middle East — as they did at the beginning of the Second Intifada, the Passover attacks and the second Lebanon War  — with an outbreak of violence against Jews. 

Two factors are different this time: The governments of Europe have condemned, often in very strong terms, anti-Semitism within their own countries, and they have generally been far more supportive of Israel than in previous conflicts, thus depriving their local residents of the oxygen required to move opposition to Israel into license to attack local Jews.

What has not changed is that opposition to Israel on the left has given an intellectual “moral” veneer to primitive hatred. These Muslim inhabitants of European countries are not being assimilated into the lands in which they dwell; thus, their presence and their responsiveness to events elsewhere will persist. The problem will not go away, yet it is much larger than the Jewish question alone.

Fortunately, Muslim immigrants cannot find common cause with the other anti-Semitic elements in Europe — the far right — because the far right is deeply anti-immigrant. In France, for example, Marine Le Pen has muted her father’s anti-Semitism in order to strengthen her position with the voters. (Some might see this as analogous to the moves of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), though one must not equate former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) with Jean-Marie Le Pen.)

Parenthetically, this European problem should serve to warn against American proposals for a guest worker program or permanent residence permits for immigrants to America without a path to citizenship that would retain an ongoing non-Americanizing immigrant presence in the United States.

Such a policy is bad for America and even worse for the Jewish community.

Assessing the current situation is neither an excuse for complacency nor a reason not to condemn the expressions of anti-Semitism vehemently. One of the most significant dangers we face is the routinization of such anti-Semitism and the failure to disqualify the anti-Semites and their supporters from participating in the mainstream of European — or American — culture. Politicians must have the integrity to condemn anti-Semitism despite the growing presence of its supporters.

Problem for the right wing, the left wing, no return to status quo ante

The war has created a problem for Israel’s right wing as it demonstrated what security leaders of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), the Mossad and the Shin Bet — past and present — have long argued: There is no military solution to the conflict, at least not one that is compatible with Israeli values or with Israel’s willingness to sacrifice its young to reoccupy Gaza and thus more completely dismantle the infrastructure of Hamas. 

This summer, Israel faced almost optimal conditions for a maximalist solution, if it was willing to pay the price. Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian Authority would not have been unhappy to see Hamas thoroughly defeated. The United States and the European countries recognized Israel’s right to self-defense, and world attention was focused on the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine, the rapid gains of ISIS and President Barack Obama’s decision to defend the Kurds. Gaza was a second-tier story for much of the past month, and Hamas was as isolated as it has ever been, as it is discovering in cease-fire negotiations. Even then, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his even more hawkish Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon refused to move the IDF back into Gaza, unwilling to sacrifice IDF soldiers.

The war also demonstrated that the status quo, even the status quo ante, is untenable and thus may call into question some of the political judgments preceding the war, including the severity of Israel’s reaction to the unity government of Fatah and Hamas, its judgment of Mahmoud Abbas, and its lack of imagination and boldness in pursuing negotiations with him.

The confluence of interests among Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel should be tested as to whether it can yield political results.

The left wing also should take no solace from recent events as the furies of hatred against Israel and the Jews are intense, persistent and unyielding. 

The perceived rise in anti-Semitism comes as a shock to Zionists who believed that the foundation of an independent Jewish state would extinguish the flames of Jew hatred. For more than 40 years, we have seen that Israel can also fuel the flames of anti-Semitism.

Ironically, some French Jews are fleeing violence at home to face enemy rockets in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Perhaps Diaspora Jews need another type of Iron Dome.

Genocide

I have joined with other scholars of Holocaust and genocide studies to condemn the statements equating Israel’s actions in Gaza with genocide. On July 9, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, in a speech in Ramallah, accused Israel of “committing genocide.” On Aug. 1, on Al Jazeera’s English-language TV broadcast, Fatah foreign affairs spokesman Nabil Sha’ath described the situation in Gaza as “a Holocaust.” Also on Aug. 1, Turkey’s prime minister— now president-elect — Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Israel of “Hitler-like fascism.”

These comparisons are odious, especially so since Israel has the power to commit genocide and even the provocation to do so, but however overwhelming the destruction in Gaza, Israel’s response has been measured. Its use of power has been both restrained and horrendous.

Erdogan, who has amassed significant power within Turkey and who aspires to play a larger role on the world stage, must be led to understand that such outrageous thinking will marginalize him and the country he leads. His isolation from the cease-fire talks was not only warranted but required as a result of his utterances.

One may not condemn others without challenging our own.

I must also condemn not only the blog post offering a justification for genocide and the rabbi willing to justify the annihilation of Palestinians in Gaza, but also the proposals of the deputy speaker of the Knesset for advocating ethnic cleansing in Gaza. 

We Jews have been victims of ethnic cleansing many times in our history. We have been instrumental in outlawing ethnic cleansing in the aftermath of the Shoah, and we must retain our opposition, especially when we have the power to impose such a solution.


Michael Berenbaum is professor of Jewish studies and director of the Sigi Ziering Center for the Study of the Holocaust and Ethics at American Jewish University. Find his A Jew blog at jewishjournal.com.

Learning to argue on Tisha b’Av


As we approach Tisha b’Av, the State of Israel is at war. The day’s commemoration of sorrow and pain, and urgent calls for introspection and reflection, couldn’t be coming at a more needed time.

On Tisha b’Av we take upon ourselves the burden, and the grace, of our connection to all Jews past, present and future, in times of suffering, as in times of joy. Maintaining that solidarity isn’t easy, and it takes work, on Tisha b’Av itself, and the whole year through.

Jews love to argue, above all with one another. The higher the stakes, the higher the decibels, and at times, things can get ugly, and worse. This current war has fostered much consensus within Israel, but large arguments are not far beneath the surface, and outside Israel they are out in the open. Can we argue with one another and still remain whole?

From the Bible onward, death and destruction have been seen not only as challenges to overcome but as occasions for us to come to grips with our own flaws and responsibilities. The Second Temple, the rabbis of the Talmud famously said, was destroyed in 70 CE because of “sinat chinam,” literally free hatred, or hatred for no reason.

Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Hacohen Kook (1865-1935), the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of modern Palestine and the leading theologian of religious Zionism, famously said that the Temple will only be rebuilt through “ahavat chinam,” freely given love. But in light of current events, and the heated debates they have unleashed, it’s worth focusing on a different dimension of Rav Kook’s teachings — and that is how to fight with one another.

Today’s debates are ferocious, but so were the Jewish arguments of the last century.  Zionists, socialists, nationalists, Orthodox traditionalists, liberals and more argued intensely, often bitterly, over how best to secure Jewish physical and cultural survival. Kook, who made aliyah from Eastern Europe in 1904, found himself at the center of those debates and tried, with the aid of vast learning, theological daring and his own richly conciliatory personality, to find a way to forge some kind of peace while honoring the integrity of different positions.

In one of his reflections, he wrote, arrestingly, that three forces are at work within all people: “the holy, the nation, humanity.” The revolutionary changes of modern times have torn them apart, yielding, among Jews, three different, regularly antagonistic  currents — nationalism, liberalism and Orthodoxy.

All three have truth on their side, and must try to appreciate one another — not by wishing away disagreement but recognizing the integrity of each other’s positions: Nationalism’s rootedness in real love of one’s community, Orthodoxy’s rootedness in a flaming desire for God, liberalism’s rootedness in an ultimately divine perspective of all humanity as created in God’s image.

What synthesizes all three elements — religious commitment, national identity and ethical universalism — is, Kook continues, a sacred energy deriving from and driven by God.

Kook urges us to engage in a studied appreciation of our ideological opponents and the genuine values animating them, while also taking a genuine stand on behalf of the ideals in which we ourselves truly believe. He urges each one of us to recognize not only that our opponents are fellow human beings – and, in the context of intra-communal debates, fellow Jews — but also that they have a piece of the truth that may be unavailable to us. God and His truth are large, and He speaks as best He can in a tortured, fragmentary world.

Much has changed since Kook’s time: Party and ideological lines have shifted, and the Jewish people have been faced with crueler fates and more complicated dilemmas than he could have imagined, stemming both from ultimate victimhood and newfound power. But his ideas point toward a way of thinking, of arguing, passionately and heatedly, while keeping a sense of our ultimate solidarity alive.

There is one caveat: The ideological combatants with whom Rav Kook engaged were all, each in their way, passionately committed to Jewish survival, to the well being of other Jews, and were willing to live out their commitments and live with the consequences. When we urge our positions on our fellow Jews, that is the test we have to pass, the hard question we have to ask ourselves, on Tisha b’Av and every day.

(Yehudah Mirsky teaches at Brandeis University’s Schusterman Center for Israel Studies and is the author of the recently published “Rav Kook: Mystic in a Time of Revolution.”)

 

Why do people hate Israel?


We live in a bad world.

There is nothing new about that. The world has been pretty bad since its inception. That’s why God destroyed it and started all over again (with little to show for the new experiment, one might add).

From a moral perspective, look at the world since 2000.

North Korea remains an entire country that is essentially a large concentration camp. 

Tibet, one of mankind’s oldest cultures, continues to be occupied and destroyed by China.

Somalia no longer exists as a country. It is an anarchic state in which the cruelest and strongest (usually one and the same) prevail.

In Congo, between 1998 and 2003, about 5.5 million people were killed — nearly the same as the number of Jews murdered in the Holocaust.

In Syria, about 150,000 people have been killed in the last three years, and millions have been rendered homeless. 

In Iraq, there is a mass murder from terror bombings almost every week.

In Mexico, since 2006, approximately 120,000 people have been killed in the country’s drug wars.

Iran, a genocide-advocating theocratic dictatorship, is very near having the capacity to make nuclear weapons.

Christian communities in the Middle East are wiped out; Christians in Nigeria are routinely massacred.

Of course, the 20th century was even bloodier, but we are only in the 15th year of the 21st century. Nevertheless, showing how awful the world is for so many of its inhabitants is not my point. My point is that, despite all this evil and suffering, the world has concentrated its attention overwhelmingly on the alleged evils of one country: Israel.

What makes this so worthy of note is that Israel is among the most humane and free countries on the planet. Moreover, it is the only country in the world that is threatened with annihilation. 

This is the only time in history when people in free countries have sided with a police state against a free state. One cannot name any time in modern history — the only time in history when there have been free societies — when, in a war between a free state and a police state, the free state was deemed the aggressor. That’s because it never happened before Israel and its enemies.

The question, of course, is why?

Why, during a time when a Kenyan mall is blown up, Islamic terrorists massacre Christians in Nigeria and thousands more die in Syria, is the world preoccupied with 600-some Palestinians killed as a direct result of their firing thousands of missiles in order to kill as many Israelis as possible?

Why has obsession with Israel been the case since its inception, and especially since 1967?

It can’t be occupation. China occupies Tibet, and it merits virtually no attention from the world. And Pakistan’s creation, coming at the same time as Israel’s, led to millions of Muslim (and Hindu) refugees. Yet, that country, too, merits no attention. 

There are only two explanations for this moral anomaly.

One is the nearly worldwide embrace of leftist thought and values. According to this way of thinking, Westerners are almost always wrong when they fight Third World countries or groups; and the weaker party, especially if non-Western, is almost always deemed the victim when fighting a stronger, especially Western, group or country. Leftism has replaced “good and evil” with “rich and poor,” “strong and weak,” and “Western (or white) and non-Western (or non-white).” Israel is rich, strong and Western; the Palestinians are poor, weak and non-Western.

The only other possible explanation is that Israel is Jewish.

There is no other rational explanation because the fixation with, and the hatred of, Israel are not rational. Israel is a particularly decent country. It is tiny — about the size of New Jersey and smaller than El Salvador; and while there are more than 50 Muslim countries, there is only one Jewish one. She should be admired and supported, not hated to the extent that there are dozens of countries whose populations would like to see Israel annihilated — again, a unique phenomenon. No other country in the world is targeted for extermination.

As hard as it is for modern, rational and irreligious people to accept, Israel’s Jewishness is a primary reason for the hatred of it. 

Ironically, this fact — just as with the fixation on the Jew before Israel’s existence — confirms for this observer the divine role the Jew plays in history. Few Jews are aware of their role, and even fewer want it. But, other than the influence of the left, there is no other explanation for all the animosity toward Israel.


Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host (AM 870 in Los Angeles) and founder of PragerUniversity.com. His latest book is the New York Times best-seller “Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph” (HarperCollins, 2012).

Blaming Birthright for a Gaza death


Is Birthright Israel to blame for the death of Max Steinberg, one of two American Israeli soldiers killed in the war in Gaza?

That’s the assertion of Allison Benedikt, a senior editor at Slate, who first provoked Israel supporters in 2011 with an angry and rambling essay about how after her nefarious Zionist youth group (she doesn’t name it, but it’s Young Judaea) brainwashed her into liking Israel, she eventually learned better.

In Benedikt’s latest piece, she asserts that Steinberg’s decision to enlist in the Israel Defense Forces “seems like the ultimate fulfillment of Birthright’s mission” and asks in the story’s teaser “what makes an American kid with shaky Hebrew decide he is ready to die for Israel?” Not surprisingly, it has quickly sparked over 300 online comments. Meanwhile, the Times of Israel’s Haviv Rettig Gur has published a heated, point-by-point response.

Benedikt’s article isn’t the only Israel-Gaza conflict-fueled attack on Birthright. A darkly satirical Tumblr feed, “My Birthright Summer in Israel,” features perkily captioned photos of happy, partying Birthright participants superimposed over images of carnage and destruction in Gaza.

The war zone


As the hourly barrages of rockets continue from Gaza to Israel, I can’t help but focus simultaneously on my own personal challenge, though it be of little significance in comparison- my big, hot, third trimester of pregnancy, showing all the signs of “advanced maternal age,” according to my doctor.  Feeling helpless and a world away from the conflict, I’ve tried to channel my physical difficulties into sympathy for those living in and trying to protect the Jewish State. 

The impetus for making these connections came when I began feeling guilty for complaining about little things like being unable to reach an itchy mosquito bite on my ankle, or having to refrain from pretty much anything fluffy and white, anything that’s not protein or brown rice (I call it torture-rice) due to gestational diabetes.  I’m pregnant with my fourth child, an experience that has been a far cry from my first pregnancy, fourteen years ago when my husband and I were living in Jerusalem.  I had the body of a twenty-three-year-old, a baby having a baby.  But I know that however great my discomfort now, however swollen my feet, however sharp the pains in my joints and lower back, I am safe. My family and I live a peaceful life in America and in times like these, when all I can do is hope and pray, I feel guilty for living under this relative safety when the Israelis are under attack.

With the heat and humidity of late July setting in, and my abdomen growing into a formidable thing that generally enters the room about thirty seconds before the rest of me, I’ve forced myself to use the constant discomfort as a reminder of what our brothers and sisters in Israel are facing on a daily basis.  When my legs puff up and rub together from the humidity, I am reminded of the inescapable desert heat the IDF must fight through.  When I see people in the park exercising and recall that it’s been many months since I dutifully shook whatever I was supposed to be shaking in Zumba class, I feel a deep sense of jealousy.  But then I realize there are fellow Jews spending entire days running back and forth from bomb shelters, fearing for their very lives.

While I consider my body its own kind of “war zone” right now, I know where the big difference lies.  I can count the weeks I have left on one hand.  I know this physical discomfort is a mere blip in the scheme of this lifecycle.  I know with certainty that my blood sugar will return to its normal levels and hopefully I’ll remember my old work-out routines well enough to shout “Zummmmbaaa” on cue with the rest of the undulating chicas

I wish I could say the same for our beloved Israel.  If only we had some sort of imminent guarantee of finality of the fighting and unending terror attacks. Despite the tremendous Jewish unity, acts of kindness, and extra Mitzvos performed across the world in the merit of the soldiers and Israeli’s, there is still no end in sight.  But for now, even if only to console myself, prayer, along with these small attempts at sympathy, this seemingly trivial alignment of my pain with theirs, is all I’ve got.  Kind of like the State of Israel.  As Jews, it too, is all we’ve got.

Obama tells Kerry to broker ‘immediate’ cease-fire in Gaza


WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Obama told U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to push for an “immediate cessation of hostilities” between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

“As I’ve said many times, Israel has a right to defend itself against rocket and tunnel attacks from Hamas,” Obama said Monday in a brief news appearance as Kerry headed to Egypt to attempt to broker a cease-fire.

“And as a result of its operations, Israel has already done significant damage to Hamas’s terrorist infrastructure in Gaza. I’ve also said, however, that we have serious concerns about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths and the loss of Israeli lives. And that is why it now has to be our focus and the focus of the international community to bring about a cease-fire that ends the fighting and that can stop the deaths of innocent civilians, both in Gaza and in Israel.”

Obama said he wanted a return to the truce with Hamas brokered in November 2012, but Hamas has rejected such a return. Hamas has added demands including internationally monitored border crossings, prisoner releases and Israel staying out of Hamas-Palestinian Authority unity talks.

“I’ve instructed him to push for an immediate cessation of hostilities,” Obama said.

More than 500 Palestinians have died in the fighting, most of them civilians, while 25 Israeli troops and two civilians have been killed.

The honesty of war


There’s something about war that can make intelligent people look foolish. I’m thinking right now of all those smart people in Tel Aviv who analyzed the subtleties of peace at the Haaretz Peace Conference—only a few hours before Jew-hating terrorists from Hamas began firing rockets all over Israel. 

I wonder if they even considered having a session at the conference called, “What happens when people want to kill you no matter what you do?” That session might have included, for example, a panel of experts discussing the Hamas Charter, which calls for “the eventual creation of an Islamic state in Palestine, in place of Israel and the Palestinian Territories, and the obliteration or dissolution of Israel.”

But there was no such panel at the conference. Instead, they had exclusive contributions from important people like President Barack Obama, who expressed the well-worn mantra of the sophisticated man: “Peace is the only true path to security.” 

Well, maybe not, Mr. President. For the millions of Israeli residents now making sure they’re 15 precious seconds away from their bomb shelters, it’s more the other way around: “Security is the only true path to peace.” 

The Middle East is one of those places where you can’t always rely on the thinking of sophisticated, intelligent people – it’s a place where the brutality of life creates its own dynamic, its own logic, its own rules. 

Israel has struggled between these two impulses since its creation: The wordly “peace will bring security” camp versus the more primal “security will bring peace” camp. Both camps are well intentioned.

The cosmopolitan crowd at the Haaretz peace conference is surely in the first camp. They can’t afford to leave it. It is who they are. Moving to the “primal” camp would undermine their essence; it would put them in kinship with the bus driver in Dimona who barely has a high school education. 

We have a tendency to underestimate the importance of self-identification—how people like to think of themselves–when assessing someone’s worldview. We shouldn’t. Self-identification is a stubborn thing. If I think of myself as an educated gentleman, I must be a seeker of peace, no matter what. 

Ugly stuff like a Charter that calls for the destruction of a whole people just gets in the way of how I want, and need, the world to be.

That’s why there was no session on the Hamas Charter at the Haaretz peace conference. It would have spoiled the party. It would have poisoned the atmosphere. It would have introduced something raw, something primitive to an educated audience that prides itself on transcending the basic instincts of human nature. 

To be honest with you, I often try to be a part of that camp myself. It feels better. After all, what kind of life would it be if I had to succumb to my primal nature? How would that be considered progress? How would that be a life worth living?

But unlike my Israeli compatriots, my house in Los Angeles doesn’t need a bomb shelter. 

I suppose it’s in those bomb shelters, not the intellectual salons, that one gets a glimpse of Middle East reality. You can decide at a “peace conference” to avoid talking about the Hamas Charter, but eventually, the Hamas Charter will find you. If it’s not through a panel of experts, then it’s through a good old-fashioned rocket with your name on it.

It took less than 24 hours for those Hamas rockets to get a hearing with the attendees of the Haaretz peace conference. 

Now, it’s perfectly OK for the enlightened set to stick to their guns. There’s something in me that prefers they do, something in me that says, “We need you to keep pushing your world view.” In any event, they will not, they cannot, go down gently. Abandoning their self-identification as sophisticated people is not an option.

So, be prepared for the smart pieces analyzing the “weakness” of Hamas, the “overreaction” of Israel, the need to promote “moderate” forces, and, of course, the perennial meta message: The need “now more than ever” to keep pushing for peace, because, as President Obama himself said, it is “the only true path to security.” 

There’s something poignant, really, about how the brutal nature of the Middle East has prevented Israel from fully reaching the exalted status of the sophisticated state. 

Sadly, no amount of “Start Up nation” or avant-garde Israeli culture can cover up the ugly truth of Israel’s neighborhood. It is a truth that is bigger than dreams, bigger than life, bigger than success. 

It is a truth that says, simply: We don’t want you here. You’re a bone in our throat. The more successful you are, the more we despise you.

Oh, how we wish it were in our control to change those sentiments!

How we wish that dismantling the settlements would dismantle the Hamas Charter!

When the bombs fall—as they are falling right now all over Israel–you don’t look for answers in the salons of Tel Aviv; you look for them in the car shops of Dimona.

And in the Middle East, that answer is always the same: Israel can never afford to lose a war.

Obama does nothing while Middle East and Europe in chaos


Under President Barack Obama, the world is becoming unglued. Iraq is being overrun by Islamist terrorists, and the United States is now evacuating its Baghdad embassy. The Arab Spring has led to either civil war and mass slaughter, as in Syria, or new Arab dictators, as in Egypt. Libya is degenerating into a den of terrorists who have already murdered the American ambassador. Vladimir Putin is sending tanks into Ukraine and the thuggish Russian strongman bestrides the world like a colossus, unchecked by American will.

These facts are undeniable. The only question is whether President Obama is responsible.

Obama’s argument, as laid out in his 2014 West Point commencement, is that his first rule of foreign policy is, “Don’t do anything stupid.” Military action should be reserved only for the most extreme circumstances. Americans are war-weary after Iraq and Afghanistan. Our president believes in a minimalist approach.

The shallowness of this argument, however, lies in this simple fact. Yes, Americans are weary of entering foreign conflicts. The president is correct that we don’t want our boys dying to fight on behalf of Iraqi cowards who shed their uniforms at the first sound of gunfire. But we are even more wary of another 9/11 attack. And by allowing Iraq and Syria to degenerate into Afghanistan, we are all but guaranteeing another hit on the United States. A lawless world cannot possibly keep America safe.

I have contempt for Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Increasingly autocratic, he is even more guilty of gross ingratitude. Rather than show America any kind of thanks for all that we sacrificed to give his nation its freedom, he treats America with disdain. Who wants to help a man who is becoming a despot, hates democratic Israel and reaches out to America only when he fears being strung up by jihadists?

But, this isn’t about al-Maliki; it’s about America. If Iraq goes under, the chaos that will ensue will directly impact the security of the United States. An evacuation of Baghdad would be much worse than the shame of Saigon, because at least the North Vietnamese communists did not deploy a global army of terrorists who fly planes into buildings.
Al-Qaida does.

I visited West Point this week with my family, for the summer concert series. It was the 239th birthday of the Army, and the West Point Band put on a stirring and patriotic performance. President Obama had spoken at the cadets’ commencement just two weeks earlier. Ask yourself: How did these cadets feel when President Obama got up at their graduation and told them there is increasingly no substantive role for them to play in the world? Here were young warriors, trained to fight and protect the United States, being told that the use of force has little to no application. No wonder there was such tepid applause and a cold response. These bright young men and women must have been wondering why they don’t just land jobs in the State Department instead.

No one wants to see American troops die in foreign wars. Of course, our soldiers should never be sent needlessly into harm’s way. But the threat of American force must always be present, even if it’s not deployed. People must fear the United States. What President Obama is doing by not doing and by giving so many unnecessary speeches defending his belief in doing nothing is removing the deterrent of a credible threat. The world believes that the United States under President Obama has no stomach for a fight. And we’re watching the effects all around us. The inmates are running the asylum.

The Islamic world, especially, is in a deteriorating spiral that’s positively tragic to watch. Turkey, once a proud democracy, now boasts a prime minister in Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose own political aides violently attack peaceful protesters. Erdogan doesn’t even shy from harassing and shoving CNN reporters while they are live on the air. He no longer shows even the pretense of freedom. When I was in Istanbul, I was amazed to experience firsthand how YouTube is permanently blocked and Twitter was restored just two days before I arrived. The Turks were once a free people. How are they allowing this?

Syria is a giant killing zone, with President Obama’s red line against the use of chemical weapons being repeatedly violated without consequence. Iran sports the second-most brutal and vile government on Earth, after North Korea, and thinks nothing of stoning women, hanging gays from cranes and assassinating peaceful protesters in cold blood. Worse, they fund the bloodiest terrorists around the world. But that does not stop our president from negotiating with them and leaving them within a few months of nuclear weapons. Egypt is back to presidents who win elections with 95 percent of the vote. Nigeria’s Boko Haram is the filthiest terror group in the entire world, murdering children in large numbers and bragging about selling young girls into sexual slavery.

And who pays the biggest price for this lawlessness? Why Israel, of course, with three teenagers now kidnapped by what appears to be Hamas, an organization that the United States officially labels as terrorists, but whose joint government with Mahmoud Abbas we now recognize.

Through all this, Barack Obama drifts along, meditating on his mantra of,“Don’t do anything stupid.” But I have long believed that the true sins we are guilty of in life are not the sins of commission, the mistakes we make, but rather the sins of omission, the good things we fail to do.

Sometimes the dumbest thing is to fail to act because of the fear of doing dumb things.

Barack Obama is fiddling while the world is burning. Israel is already smoldering under its heat, and it won’t be long before America, too, is cindered.

Israel wages ‘war between wars’ as Mideast threats simmer


Watching old Arab enemies reel with sectarian insurgencies and international diplomacy capping the Iranian nuclear drive, Israel's military is confounded by a new challenge: quiet.

The relative tranquility, for Israel at least, poses its own dilemma for commanders tasked with preparing for an array of potentially unpredictable future adversaries while trying to stave off steep cuts to their budget.

With no hostile armies massing nearby, Israel's strategic position is “one of the best it has ever been”, military chief Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz told the IDC Herzliya college, venue for one of several security conferences held this week.

But Islamist guerrillas abound on its borders and the internal strife in neighboring Syriaand Lebanon often spills over, raising tinderbox incidents every few days, Gantz said.

Failure to douse these could bring blinding escalation on several fronts. Israel enjoys economic and democratic vigor rare for the region and in past conflicts public opinion quickly mobilized in favor of big, even outsized retaliation.

As an example of his quandary, Gantz mentioned a Katyusha fired by jihadis in Sinai – a largely lawless patch of Egypt, which is at peace with Israel – at Eilat resort this month.

The rocket fell harmlessly in the Red Sea. “But had it hit the Meridien (hotel), we would be in a different place right now,” Gantz said, apparently alluding to what would be a major bust-up with Cairo as Israel weighed hitting back inside Sinai.

So containment is key. Israel has fenced off its frontiers and is building an integrated missile shield with U.S. help. To deter foes, Israeli leaders frequently talk up their own military's prowess and sometimes resort to bold threats.

Air force commander Major-General Amir Eshel accused Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas of setting up “thousands of bases” in residential buildings and said Israel was poised to destroy them if provoked – despite the likely civilian toll.

“Whoever stays in these bases will simply be hit and will risk their lives. And whoever goes out will live,” he told the Fisher Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies.

WAR CHEST

Hezbollah is the most immediate menace to Israel. It fought an inconclusive war in 2006 and Israeli officials say the Iranian- and Syrian-backed militia's arsenal now includes some 100,000 missiles – up 30,000 from Israel's data last year.

Still, the timing of Eshel's broadside raised eyebrows as the Israelis believe Hezbollah may be too busy helping Damascus battle an almost 3-year-old Syrian rebellion to fight them now.

An Israeli source briefed on military planning suggested that Eshel and other top officers might be trying to justify the armed forces' high price to a thrift-minded government.

The defense budget is around 51.5 billion shekels ($14.74 billion), 6 percent of GDP, and the government wants wide cuts.

“It has been a year since our last round of fighting, so now there are questions about all of those defense projects that are worth billions,” the Israeli source said on condition of anonymity, referring to the November 2012 conflict in Gaza.

Fiscal pressure and Syria's surrender of chemical arms to foreign inspectors led Israel to stop issuing its citizens gas masks as of next month. In another sign Israelis do not fear imminent shelling of their interior, the Defence Ministry wants to shut the Civil Defence Ministry and take over its duties.

The most obviously expensive and so-far unrealized military mission has been the mooted war on Iran's nuclear program.

An interim deal between Iran and world powers put the brakes on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, though he condemned the accord as an “historic mistake” that eased sanctions while leaving Iran's nuclear infrastructure intact.

Breaking with Netanyahu's hard tone, Eshel – the man who would oversee any air strikes onIran – said the diplomacy appeared to have “a positive direction”. However, he added: “I don't know how it will end.”

In the absence of full-on conflagration, the Israeli military was now busy waging a “campaign between wars”, Eshel said, “to deal with the dangers before they form”.

This appeared to allude to covert strikes against targets as far-flung as Hezbollah-bound arms convoys in Syria or Iranian-supplied weapons depots in Sudan. The Israelis are also widely suspected of sabotaging Iran's nuclear computers – a capability Netanyahu proudly touted at a Tel Aviv cyber forum.

ENEMY'S ENEMY

Israel, believed to have the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal, finds cold comfort in not being uniformly threatened by regional Shiite and Sunni Muslims as they battle each other.

“The radical axis is at an all-time nadir. SyriaIran and Hezbollah are under a lot of pressure,” military intelligence chief Major-General Aviv Kochavi told the INSS think-tank.

He expressed hope the opposing “pragmatic Sunni axis” – countries like Jordan and Saudi Arabia – would help Israel curb al Qaeda, whose spread has been spurred by Syria's civil war.

There has been speculation in the media that Israel and Saudi Arabia might be cooperating behind the scenes on Iran. However, their lack of diplomatic ties and divisions over Palestinian statehood severly limit their room for maneuver.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who governs in the West Bank under Israeli occupation and hopes to turn that territory and Gaza into a Palestinian state, told the INSS in videotaped comments that he was doing his best to maintain security. Khalil Shikaki, a West Bank-based pollster, said most Palestinians did not want to launch another armed revolt.

Israel was unmoved, however, describing its West Bank military dragnets – with some 8 Palestinians arrested nightly on average – as key to keeping quiet and preventing the rise there of lslamist Hamas, which seized Gaza from Abbas in 2007.

That assertion, by Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon, did not augur progress in peacemaking. He said Israel preferred its proven tough methods to “naïve” Western diplomatic initiatives.

“When I'm told it's unsustainable, my answer is that it is sustainable if there is no alternative,” Yaalon said.

Netanyahu says ‘bad deal’ with Iran could lead to war


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned on Wednesday that a “bad deal” between global powers and Iran over its nuclear program could lead to war.

His government said an offer on the table for what Washington calls a “modest” easing of sanctions would in fact negate up to 40 percent of the sanctions' impact, reducing pressure on Tehran to give up a nuclear program that the West and Israel believe is aimed at building a bomb.

The Jewish state has been lobbying hard against a proposed deal, which would initially offer partial relief from sanctions in return for some steps by Iran to constrain its activities.

Negotiations between Iran and six U.N. powers – the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China – broke up without agreement in Geneva on Saturday but are scheduled to resume on November 20 with both sides saying they are optimistic.

Western diplomats involved in the process declined comment on the Israeli assessment of how a deal might affect sanctions, saying the terms of any accord were uncertain and still secret.

Iran says its nuclear program is peaceful. The United States and the European Union believe it is seeking a nuclear bomb and imposed tough oil and financial sanctions last year that have caused serious economic harm.

Addressing Israel's parliament in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said continued economic pressure on Iran was the best alternative to two other options, which he described as a bad deal and war.

“I would go so far as to say that a bad deal could lead to the second, undesired option,” he said, meaning war.

Israel, believed to be the sole nuclear power in the Middle East, has long said it reserves the right to use force to prevent Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon. However, many military experts doubt Israel has the capability to destroy Iran's nuclear sites without U.S. help.

Washington says it is important to seek a negotiated solution, especially since Iran elected a relative moderate this year as president, Hassan Rouhani.

The United States has maintained that any initial change in sanctions on offer would be modest and reversible, but Israel says the benefits to Iran would be greater than implied and the steps Tehran would take would do little to curb its ambitions.

Netanyahu's point man on Iran policy, Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, said the relief package offered to Iran as part of negotiations could be worth up to $40 billion.

NEGOTIATIONS SECRET

He said Israel believed the sanctions put in place by the United States and European Union last year cost Iran's economy around $100 billion per year, or nearly a quarter of its output.

“The sanctions relief directly will reduce between $15 to $20 billion out of this amount,” Steinitz said on Wednesday at an English-language event hosted by the Jerusalem Press Club.

He added that the proposed changes would also make it more difficult to enforce sanctions overall, providing a total benefit to Tehran of up to $40 billion:

“The damage to the overall sanctions, we believe, will be something between $20 billion and maybe up to $40 billion,” he said. “This is very significant. It's not all the sanctions. It's not the core sanctions about oil exports and the banking system, but it's very significant relief for the Iranians.”

Several Western officials contacted by Reuters declined to confirm or deny specific figures for the value of the sanctions relief on offer from the six powers and cautioned against revealing the terms of a possible deal at such an early stage.

“There is an offer on the table, and it seems to me that is considerable progress. We can't give any technical details and the day anything leaks out is the day someone wants the negotiations to fail,” said a Western diplomat.

A European diplomat said details were being withheld on purpose: “A decision was made to keep everything quiet, tightly held,” the diplomat said, “Because there are extreme positions on both sides that could use this to discredit the process and try to derail the negotiations.”

Additional reporting by John Irish and Richard Mably; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Alastair Macdonald

The Torah of drones: Examining the complex morality of drone warfare


In 2009, an Israeli drone flying over the Gaza Strip transmitted back to its command station an image of a telltale rocket trail streaking toward Israeli territory. Many kilometers away, a young Israeli operator, Capt. Y, quickly maneuvered the unmanned aircraft to get a look at the young Palestinian who had just launched the deadly missile. Y’s drone squadron already had authorization to take him out. In an instant, a rocket struck the hidden launch site, followed by a flash of fire.

When the smoke cleared, Y saw images of the shooter lying flat on the ground. Twenty seconds passed. And then Y saw something even more remarkable — the dead man began to move.

Severely wounded, the Palestinian began to claw his way toward the road. Y could clearly see the man’s face, and in his youth and determination Y must have recognized something of himself. So, now Y and his team had a decision to make: Would they let the wounded terrorist escape, or circle the drone back and finish him off?

Y told me this story in the lobby of the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills. He is 23, wiry and intense. When I arrived for our interview, arranged through the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, Y was sitting in a small atrium, getting in a last smoke.

For security reasons, I cannot use his real name, so I agreed to refer to the captain as Y, and to his fellow drone operator, a lieutenant, as M.

M is calmer. She is 25, has large blue eyes and wears her blond hair pulled back into a ponytail — Scarlett Johansson’s tougher twin sister.

Unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, as drones are otherwise known, have been in use militarily since World War I. In 1917, the Americans designed the Kettering “Bug” with a preset gyroscope to guide it into enemy trenches. In World War II, the Nazis deployed “the Fritz,” a 2,300-pound bomb with four small wings and a tail motor. But it is only in the past few years that UAVs have made almost-daily headlines. These days, the United States, in particular, has widely employed UAVs in the far reaches of Pakistan and Afghanistan in its fight against terrorists. As recently as Nov. 1, a U.S. drone strike killed Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud, demonstrating once again the deadly effectiveness of, and the growing reliance upon, these weapons of war.

But like all revolutionary new weapons, this success comes at a price, and it’s a price we in America prefer not to check. Just a day before I met with the two Israelis in late October, two influential human rights groups released reports asserting that the number of civilian deaths resulting from America’s largely secret “drone wars” was far greater than the government had claimed. Human Rights Watch reported that since 2009, America’s anti-terrorist drone strikes in Yemen had killed at least 57 civilians — more than two-thirds of all casualties resulting from the strikes — including a pregnant woman and three children. In Pakistan, Amnesty International found that more than 30 civilians had died from U.S. drone strikes between May 2012 and July 2013 in the territory of North Waziristan.

To Americans, news of anonymous civilians dying in faraway places may not resonate deeply, even if we are the ones who killed them. But these two humanitarian groups’ reports point to the rapid increase in the United States’ use of unmanned aerial vehicles as weapons of war, and they underline the lack of clear international ethical codes to guide that use.

Who gets to use drones? How do commanders decide whom to target, whom to spy on? If a drone operator sitting in a command room in Tampa, Fla., can kill a combatant in Swat, in northern Pakistan, does that make downtown Tampa a legitimate military target, as well?

I wanted to learn more about the morality of this advancing technology, so I talked to people who have studied drones, who have thought about their ethical implications, and who, like Y and M, actually use them. I hoped that through them I might come to understand how we, as a society, should think about the right way to use these remarkable, fearsome tools. 

I wanted to know if there exists, in essence, a Torah of drones.

From 12,000 feet up, the Heron drone Capt. Y was piloting that day during Operation Pillar of Defense offered a perfect view of the wounded Palestinian.

“You see everything,” Y told me. “You could see him lying on the ground, moving and crawling. Even if you know he’s the enemy, it’s very hard to see that. You see a human being who is helpless. You have to bear in mind, ‘He’s trying to kill me.’ But, in my mind, I hoped somebody would go help him.”

Y’s father is French, and his mother is Israeli. He lives in Beersheba, where his wife is a medical student. Y’s brother was killed in the Second Lebanon War by a Hezbollah rocket while he was piloting a Yasur combat helicopter. Y was 18 at the time.

“I believe some of the way to mourn is to go through the same experience of the man you loved,” Y said.

Lt. M’s parents both are French immigrants to Israel, staunch Zionists, and, she said, she always knew one day she’d be an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) officer.

In Israel, those who cannot complete pilot-training very often enter the drone corps. It may not hold the cachet of becoming an Air Force pilot, but both of these soldiers believe drones are the future.

“I like the idea that every flight you do, you’re helping your fellow citizens,” M said.

“We feel we contribute more than other people,” Y said. “But today, in the modern day, you don’t have to take risks. If you risk your life, it doesn’t mean you contribute more.”

In the United States and Israel, where the reluctance to put boots on the ground is at a high point, the fact that drones offer significant military capabilities with far less risk accounts precisely for the tremendous increase in their use.

Israel, in fact, has led the way. Its effective use of drones during the 1982 Lebanon War rekindled American interest in UAVs. During America’s first Gulf War, in 1991, the U.S. Navy bought a secondhand Pioneer drone from Israel and used it to better aim heavy artillery. At one point during that war, a squad of Iraqi soldiers saw a drone overhead and, expecting to be bombarded, waved a white sheet. It was the first time in history soldiers had surrendered to a drone.

Today, the United States increasingly uses drones for both civilian intelligence — as in Yemen and Pakistan — and militarily. Currently, some 8,000 UAVs are in use by the U.S. military. In the next decade, U.S. defense spending on drones is expected to reach $40 billion, increasing inventory by 35 percent. Since 2002, 400 drone strikes have been conducted by U.S. civilian intelligence agencies. 

At least 87 other countries also have drones. Earlier this year, Israel announced it was decommissioning two of its combat helicopter squadrons — to replace them with drones.

“We’re at the very start of this technological revolution,” Peter Singer, author of “Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century,” told me by phone. “We’re in the World War I period of robotics. The cat’s out of the bag. You’re not going to roll it back. But you do want to set norms.”

Singer’s book, first published in 2009 when the public debate over drone ethics was nonexistent, is still the best road map to a future we all have reason to fear, but must face, in any case.

I called Singer to see where he stands on the ethical issues raised by civilian drone deaths.

Actually, he pointed out, his book dealt largely with military use of these technologies. Even he wouldn’t have predicted such widespread use of drones by surveillance agencies that are unversed in the rules of war and that operate without the safeguards built into military actions.

That, for Singer and others who parse the ethics of drones, is the rub. In the military, there are rules of engagement. There is the risk of court-martial. Strategic training is better in the military than in intelligence agencies.

“One group goes to war college,” Singer said, “the other doesn’t. And it’s very different when you’re a political appointee, rather than a military officer. Some tactics would not be allowed in a military operation.”

I asked Singer for an example. He chose one from the CIA operations just now under scrutiny by human rights groups.

“Double-tapping,” he said. “That would never make its way past a military officer.”

Double-tapping is when an aircraft, manned or not, circles back over a targeted site and strikes a second time — either to finish off the wounded or to take out forces that have rushed in to help. Exactly the ethical question Capt. Y. faced.

When Y saw that he hadn’t killed the Palestinian the first time, he and his team faced one of the most difficult, urgent questions of drone combat: Should they double-tap?

Ethical issues in drone combat come up all the time, M said — in training, in operations and, afterward, in frequent debriefing and analysis.

“I have so many examples of that, I can’t count,” Y told me.

A landmark Israeli Supreme Court decision on targeted killing provides the ethical framework for IDF drone operators.

In 2009, the court found there is nothing inherently wrong with a targeted killing — whether by an F-16, Apache helicopter or unmanned drone.

But, the court added, in order for the action to be acceptable, the soldiers must satisfy three questions:

The first is, what is a legitimate target? The target, the court said, must be an operational combatant seeking to do you harm — not a retired terrorist or someone you want to punish for past sins.

Second, has the target met the threshold level of intelligence? The drone team must have a deep knowledge that its target meets the first condition, verified by more than one source.

Finally, who is the supervising body? There must be independent oversight outside the hands of the drone operators and the IDF.

To professor Moshe Halbertal, these three conditions form the basis for the moral exercise of deadly drone force.

Halbertal is a professor of Jewish philosophy at Hebrew University, the Gruss Professor of Law at the New York University School of Law and one of the drafters of the IDF’s code of ethics.

Shortly before Halbertal came to Los Angeles to serve as scholar-in-residence Nov. 1-3 at Sinai Temple, I spoke with him about Israel’s experience with drones. From what he could tell, he said, Israel has a more developed ethical framework.

In the American attacks, Halbertal said, “The level of collateral damage is alarming.”

In Israel, he said, “There is a genuine attempt to reduce collateral killing. If this were the level of collateral damage the IDF produces, it would be very bad.”

The fact that drones are less risky is not what makes their use more prone to excesses, Halbertal said.

“Because military operations involve more risk, there is more care in applying them,” Halbertal said. “But, on the other hand, soldiers make mistakes out of fear in the heat of combat that drone operators don’t.”

The danger with drones, he said, is that because the political risks of deploying them, versus deploying live troops, are much less, they can be used more wantonly.

I asked Capt. Y if he’d had experience with collateral damage.

“It’s happened to me,” he said. “We had a target and asked [intelligence officers] if there were civilians in the area. We received a negative. Later, we heard in the Palestinian press that there were casualties. We checked, and it was true — a father and his 17-year-old son. What can we do? I didn’t have a particular emotion about it.”

The people who know the people getting killed do have emotions about it. And that grief and anger can work to undo whatever benefits drone kills confer.

“I say every drone attack kills one terrorist and creates two,” Adnan Rashid, a Pakistani journalist, told me. In the Swat Valley, where he lives, the fear of American drones and the innocent lives they’ve taken has been one of the extremists’ best recruiting tools, Rashid said.

If that’s the case, better oversight and clearer rules for drones may be not just the right thing to do but in our self-interest as well.

No war is ever clean. But that doesn’t mean drone use should increase without the implementation of the kind of national, and international, norms Singer now finds lacking.

If the United States doesn’t adopt the kinds of oversight Israel already has in place, at the very least, Singer believes, we should move the drone program from the intelligence agencies to the military. 

It’s a call that has increasingly vocal support from America to Pakistan. Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as well as the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services, argued Congress could exercise better oversight of a drone program operated by the military.

 “Since when is the intelligence agency supposed to be an Air Force of drones that goes around killing people?” McCain said recently on Fox News. “I believe that it’s a job for the Department of Defense.”

Pakistani protesters from United Citizen Action shout anti-U.S. slogans during a protest against the Nov. 1 killing of Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud in a U.S. drone strike. Photo by S.S. Mirza/AFP Photo/Newscom

 “The killing is creating more anger and resulting in the recruitment of more people to pursue revenge,” former Pakistani Minister of State Shahzad Waseem told me. “The minimum you can do is to come up openly with some kind of treaty or set of rules to give it a legal shape, mutually accepted by all sides.” 

Will Americans rise up to make a stink over this? That may be a tall order for a populace that seems to take each revelation of intelligence community overreach — from drone deaths to National Security Agency spying — with a collective yawn. Will the international community begin to create a framework that at least sets standards for drone use and misuse? 

Unfortunately, humans, particularly in developing technology, have a way of advancing faster on the battlefront than on the legal or moral fronts. It took the Holocaust, Singer pointed out, for humanity to come up with the Geneva Conventions of 1949. What fresh hell must befall us before we at least attempt to codify behavior for the Age of Drones?

And even if we set standards and nations abide by them, it seems inevitable that the very nature of drones one day will allow non-state actors — the likes of al-Qaeda — to follow the lead of Hezbollah in using them, as well.

If, in the 1940s and ’50s, the best and the brightest scientific minds went into nuclear physics — and gave us the atomic bomb — these days, those talents are all going toward artificial intelligence. At the high end, a future filled with autonomous, intelligent killing drones awaits us.

At the low end, consider this: Singer also serves as a consultant for the video game “Call of Duty,” for which he was asked to envision a homemade drone of the not-too-distant future. He and others came up with a Sharper Image toy helicopter, controlled by an iPad and mounted with an Uzi. A promotional team actually made a fully functional version of this weapon for a YouTube video, and 17 million hits later, the Defense Department telephoned, perturbed.

“Unlike battleships or atomic bombs,” Singer told me, “the barriers to entry for drones are really low.”

That doesn’t mean we should give up on establishing ethical norms for nations — or people — but we do need to keep our expectations in check.

We may be heading toward a world of what Halbertal describes, in the Israeli context, as “micro wars,” where each human is empowered with military-like capacity and must make his or her own ethical choices on the spot.

Cap. Y made his own moral choice that day during Operation Pillar of Defense. He watched as the wounded Palestinian man managed to get to the road, where a group of civilians came to his aid.

Why didn’t Y “double-tap”?

 “He was no longer a threat,” Y told me, matter-of-factly. “And several people gathered around him who weren’t part of the attack.” That was that: The rules of engagement were clear.

In a micro-war, a soldier in combat — not just generals at a central command — must determine in the heat of battle who is a terrorist and who is a civilian, who shall live and who shall die.

In his book, Singer envisions a future in which artificial intelligence will also enable us to provide ethical decision-making to the machines we create. It would be our job to program Torah into these machines — and then let them do with it as they will.

Much like Someone has done with us.

In public shift, Israel calls for Assad’s fall


Israel wants to see Syrian President Bashar Assad toppled, its ambassador to the United States said on Tuesday, in a shift from its non-committal public stance on its neighbor's civil war.

Even Assad's defeat by al Qaeda-aligned rebels would be preferable to Damascus's current alliance with Israel's arch-foe Iran, Ambassador Michael Oren said in an interview with the Jerusalem Post.

His comments marked a move in Israel's public position on Syria's two-and-1/2-year-old war.

Though old enemies, a stable stand-off has endured between the two countries during Assad's rule and at times Israel had pursued peace talks with him in hope of divorcing Syria from Tehran and Iranian-sponsored Hezbollah guerrillas in neighboring Lebanon.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had long avoided openly calling for the Syrian president's fall. Some Israeli officials now worry that radical Sunni Islamist insurgents fighting Assad will eventually turn their guns on the Jewish state.

But with Assad under U.S.-led condemnation for his forces' alleged chemical attack on a rebel district of Damascus on August 21, Oren said Israel's message was that he must go.

“We always wanted Bashar Assad to go, we always preferred the bad guys who weren't backed by Iran to the bad guys who were backed by Iran,” Oren said in the interview, excerpted on Tuesday before its full publication on Friday.

Assad's overthrow would also weaken the alliance with Iran and Hezbollah, Oren said.

“The greatest danger to Israel is by the strategic arc that extends from Tehran, to Damascus to Beirut. And we saw the Assad regime as the keystone in that arc,” he said.

Oren said that other anti-Assad rebels were less radical than the Islamists.

Israel believes around one in 10 Syrian rebels are Sunni militants sworn to its destruction. Assad's Alawite sect is closer to the rival Shi'ite Islam of Iran and Hezbollah.

Oren, a Netanyahu confidant, did not say in the interview whether or how Israel was promoting Assad's fall.

Netanyahu casts Iran's disputed nuclear drive as the main menace to Israel and world stability.

Israel, which is widely assumed to have the region's sole atomic arsenal, has played down any direct Syrian threat to it but is concerned that a weak Western policy towards Assad could encourage Iran.

The Israelis have conferred closely with Washington as it first threatened military reprisals over the Damascus gas attack and then struck a deal with Russia for placing Syria's chemical weapons under international control.

Netanyahu has urged Syria be stripped of such arms, while insisting that his government was not getting involved in Assad's feud with the rebels.

Writing by Dan Williams, Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Angus MacSwan

History and the war in Syria


While the bloody civil war in Syria rages on, Israel keeps a watchful eye on the Israeli-Syrian border, making sure the fighting between the rebels and Assad’s forces doesn’t spill over into the Golan Heights.

One of the rebel groups calls itself the Martyrs of the Yarmouk Brigades. Yarmouk, it should be noted, is a very loaded word in this region’s ethos. It was on the Yarmouk River, a major tributary of the Jordan River, south of the Golan Heights, where, in August 636 C.E., the Arab forces of the Rashidun Caliphate defeated the Christian forces of the Byzantine Empire, opening the way to a series of Muslim victories over Christianity.

It was surprising, therefore, to hear a spokesman of the group — which is suspected of having links to al-Qaeda — talk over the phone to correspondents of the Times of Israel, promising that “[t]he Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade has no international aspirations; we are only in conflict with the Assad regime.” The spokesman, Laeth Horan, even went a step further: “There is nothing between us and Israel. We only have demands of Assad, even after the war.”

Only time will tell if this is true, but in the meantime, Yarmouk has more to remind us, this time in the Palestinian context.

In the summer of 1970, Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) Chairman Yasser Arafat, in one of his most reckless gambles, challenged the Jordanian regime by trying to establish a “mini Palestine” in northern Jordan. In “Black September” of that year, King Hussein’s loyal Bedouins crushed the Palestinian uprising and kicked Arafat and his followers to Lebanon.

Refusing to learn the lesson, Arafat repeated the same mistake in Lebanon, shattering the already fragile equilibrium between the various religious communities of the country. In 1976, his Yarmouk Brigade was fighting Christian forces in the Tal-al-Zaatar Battle. Robert Fisk of the Independent told the L.A. Weekly in 2002 that the Palestinian troops “were given permission to surrender with a cease-fire. But at the last moment, Arafat told his men to open fire on the Christian forces who were coming to accept the surrender. I think Arafat wanted more Palestinian ‘martyrs’ in order to publicize the Palestinian position in the war.”

All this came to an end in 1982, when Israel had enough of the Palestinian harassment coming from Lebanon. In the First Lebanon War, the Israel Defense Forces defeated the Syrian and Palestinian forces (including the same Yarmouk Brigade) and kicked the PLO leadership out of the country.

Our next stop in the Yarmouk tour is Baghdad. When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1991, Arafat rushed to congratulate him in his palace in Al-Yarmouk neighborhood. This turned out to be the most expensive kiss in history, because when Kuwait was freed, it retaliated by expelling 400,000 Palestinians who had worked and lived there (need we mention that some lived in Al-Yarmouk neighborhood in Kuwait City?).

We can go on forever with this historical “Yarmouking,” except that in the meantime there is a human tragedy going on near Damascus and, more precisely, at the Yarmouk camp, the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Syria. According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which since 1949 has been trying to alleviate the living conditions of the Palestinian refugees, 130,000 Palestinian refugees have fled their homes in Yarmouk since December 2012, and the remaining 20,000 are being crushed between the forces fighting each other in Syria.

I don’t envy Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. What hope can he offer his brothers and sisters in Yarmouk, or in the other refugee camps in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza? That they would some day return to the homes they left in 1948, in Jaffa and Haifa? Like his predecessor, Arafat, he knows perfectly well that this is impossible.

Abbas, however, is more sincere than his predecessor (which is not saying much); while Arafat was always talking about the refugee issue from both sides of his mouth, Abbas, who had fled his hometown of Safed (in northern Israel) in 1948, told Israeli Channel Two Television in November 2012 that he wanted to visit Safed: “It’s my right to see it,” he said. But then he added the highly significant words: “but not to live there.”

Then he went on to outline his vision: “Palestine now for me is the ’67 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital. This is now and forever ‭. ‬. . . ‭ ‬This is Palestine for me. I am [a] refugee, but I am living in Ramallah. I believe that [the] West Bank and Gaza is Palestine and the other parts [are] Israel.”

This is where we can see a ray of hope. Let Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agree on a Palestinian state with the ’67 borders, with a fair land swap to compensate the Palestinians for the Israeli settlements that will remain in Israel’s territory. Then a new, ambitious Marshall Plan to settle the Palestinian refugees can be launched. When Syria calms down, the refugees in Yarmouk, supported by generous funds, can decide whether they want to stay in Syria, move to the Palestinian state or regroup in another country. This is not a humanitarian move only; it is in the best interests of Israel: When the kids in Yarmouk refugee camp have a future, my grandchildren will be safer.

Yarmouk can then stand for other things, not for bloodshed and misery only — for example, a soccer game between Maccabi Haifa and the Kuwaiti Al-Yarmouk club; a discussion of the Arab League Peace initiative in Al-Yarmouk district in Riyadh; a cooperation agreement between the Technion and Yarmouk University in Irbid, Jordan; and more. Insh’Allah!


Uri Dromi blogs at

Hezbollah takes Syrian center-stage, yet remains in shadows


The voice crackling over the Hezbollah radios was clear and authoritative, and the guerrillas poised to attack the Syrian border town of Qusair recognized it immediately.

“As I promised you victory before, I pledge you victory now,” Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said, launching a battle in which his fighters decisively defeated rebels trying to topple President Bashar Assad.

Nasrallah told his troops that God was fighting alongside them, one of the fighters told Reuters. “When we heard his voice, we were ready to fight the whole world,” he said.

It was a trademark coup de theatre from the reclusive Nasrallah, who has bred an aura of mystique around a force which grew from a shadowy Iranian-backed Lebanese militia into an outfit powerful enough to confront regional superpower Israel.

Hezbollah's victory across the Syrian frontier in Qusair highlighted its pivotal role in Assad's fightback against rebels and yet, as in most of its military operations, it has given few details of its role – or where its next battle may be.

“Wherever we need to be, we will be…. There is no need to elaborate,” Nasrallah said in a televised speech on Friday, delivered as ever from a secret location because of fears for his security since Hezbollah fought a war with Israel in 2006.

The need for ambiguity is greater than usual, with Shi'ite Hezbollah's open intervention in a foreign conflict against Sunni Muslim rebels fuelling sectarian tensions and shattering its status across the Arab world as an anti-Israeli champion.

But the movement has always tried to keep its enemies guessing about its strengths.

Estimates of the number of fighters it committed in Qusair vary from the hundreds to several thousand, although most observers put the figure at between 1,500 and 2,500.

Hundreds of other Hezbollah fighters are also deployed in Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. They are stationed around the Shi'ite shrine of Sayyida Zeinab near Damascus with dozens more in two Shi'ite towns in the northern province of Aleppo – mainly training and advising – and in the Zahra quarter of the city of Homs, it says.

The British-based anti-Assad monitoring group says 156 Hezbollah fighters have been killed so far in Syria, most of them in the battle for Qusair.

A security source in Israel said he believed Hezbollah had 4,000-5,000 fighters in Syria and had lost between 180 and 200.

STRONGER THAN BEFORE

Hezbollah's overall strength is also unclear, although analysts and defense experts agree it has grown substantially since it fought the inconclusive 34-day war with Israel seven years ago, firing rockets deep into the Jewish state.

Those kind of cross-border salvoes mean that much of the focus on Hezbollah's military power in the past has been on its missiles, which Nasrallah said last year could hit targets anywhere in Israel.

Its fighters are as well-armed as some regional armies, using anti-tank missiles, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars. Hezbollah flew a drone over Israel last year and in the 2006 war was able to hit an Israeli warship off the Mediterranean coast.

But with no shortage of weapons in Syria, Hezbollah's main contribution to Assad's war effort is military expertise.

The movement's military structure is based on an elite force backed by a full time militia and a large corps of part-time reserves who undergo rudimentary weapons training – often in Iran – but have jobs outside the group.

One analyst, who asked not to be named, said that altogether the total force including the part-time men, known as Saraya, reached 50,000, of which 10,000 to 15,000 were elite forces.

A source in Lebanon who has contact with Hezbollah gave a lower figure, saying that top frontline forces and rocket and artillery units combined added up to just 4,000. The force excluding the Saraya was about 10,000 fighters, with a similar number of support personnel.

Since the start of the Syrian crisis, Hezbollah has stepped up recruitment and training for the Saraya, sending thousands of men aged from the 20s to their mid-50s to Iran, say residents in its south Lebanon heartland close to the border with Israel.

“The reality is that Hezbollah is a very dynamic organization,” said Ayham Kamel, Middle East analyst at consultancy Eurasia Group. “Over the years in their war with Israel they've been able to mobilize in different ways and adapt their tactics.”

UNTESTED IN BATTLE

Aram Nerguizian of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies said Hezbollah's forces in Qusair were more disciplined, used superior tactics and communications, and were better coordinated than the Syrian rebels there.

Nevertheless, he said the loss of between 70 and 110 fighters in the first week of the offensive, according to anti-Hezbollah sources, pointed to the fact that many were untested in battle despite their good training.

Those casualties, if confirmed, would be roughly similar to Hezbollah's weekly losses under a blistering onslaught of the Israeli army in the July-August 2006 war.

“The high initial death toll (in Qusair) may also point to the Syrian rebels' use of some of Hezbollah's own sniping and booby-trapping techniques,” Nerguizian said. The Shi'ite group shared these techniques with Hamas, a Sunni Palestinian organization which now opposes Assad and which may have passed on the know-how to the rebels.

Fighting away from their “home” turf in south Lebanon is an additional problem for Hezbollah fighters; long accustomed to battling for territory they know intimately.

But the guerrillas have a reputation for learning fast. “This lack of familiarity should not be exaggerated,” said an Israeli official, arguing that Qusair was close enough to the Lebanese border for Hezbollah to have had access to the area.

“Elsewhere in Syria, Hezbollah is operating largely alongside local Shi'ite communities, so it has guides with an excellent local knowledge,” he said, adding that he believed several thousand from a total Hezbollah fighting force of 10,000 were operating inside Syria.

“They are from the best units, with the best equipment – the kind of fighters who Hezbollah would usually consider its vanguard against Israel,” he said. Sources in Lebanon dispute that, saying only a small minority of the Qusair combatants were from the cream of Hezbollah's military units.

The Israeli official said Hezbollah used “standard small arms”, anti-tank rockets and even operated Syrian army tanks in the battle for Qusair.

Their presence across Syria, from Damascus to Aleppo in the north, underlines Hezbollah's strategic commitment to Assad, and Kamel said the militant group was likely to play some role in the eventual Syrian army effort to recapture the northern city.

But for now, Nasrallah is unlikely to show his hand. “Every day we increase our numbers and our weapons,” he said at the start of the Syrian conflict. “We are tens of thousands of fighters, trained and ready for martyrdom.”

“The enemy does not know us, and we will surprise him.” 

Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem and David Cutler in London; editing by David Stamp

Syrian military threatens Israel following border victory


Syria’s military threatened Israel after reportedly capturing the town of Qusair on the Lebanon border.

SANA, Syria’s state news agency, said the Syrian army on Wednesday took control of Qusair from rebels who had been fighting government forces and Hezbollah volunteers for more than two weeks as part of Syria’s two-year civil war. Qusair had been in rebel hands for more than a year, according to reports.

“The victory that was achieved at the hands of our brave soldiers sends a clear message to all those who are involved in the aggression against Syria, on top being the Zionist enemy and its agents in the region and tools on the ground. Our armed forces will remain ready to face any aggression against our dear homeland,” read a statement from the General Command of the Syrian army issued Wednesday, Reuters reported.

Also Wednesday, two rockets exploded near Israel’s border with Syria on the Golan Heights. It is unclear on which side of the border they fell.

In addition, two Syrian citizens who were injured during fighting on the border between the army and rebels were taken to a northern Israeli hospital. One died on the way and the other was admitted with shrapnel injuries, according to the Times of Israel.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon on Monday told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that the Israel Defense Forces is caring for wounded Syrians at a field hospital set up on the border and transferring the severely wounded to Israeli hospitals.

Budget, Iran top priorities for new Israeli government


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new government will face the immediate task of passing an austerity budget and the time-sensitive challenge of preventing what it believes is Iran's drive to develop nuclear weapons.

Following is a list of the coalition's main priorities as Netanyahu started his third term in office on Monday:

PASSING A BUDGET

After clinching coalition agreements last week, Netanyahu said his government's first task would be “passage of a responsible budget” – shorthand for widely expected spending cuts and tax rises.

The budget deficit rose to 4.2 percent of gross domestic product in 2012 – double the original target. It was cabinet infighting over the 2013 budget that led Netanyahu to call an early election.

Netanyahu now has 45 days to put together a budget and win parliamentary approval, or face another general election. Parliament could, however, use special legislation to extend the deadline to 120 days.

IRAN

Netanyahu has said his government's “paramount task” would be “to stop Iran from arming itself with nuclear weapons”.

Last year, Netanyahu announced a “red line” for Iran's nuclear program, saying Tehran should not be allowed to obtain 240 kg of 20 percent enriched uranium, a point it could reach, he said, by spring or summer of 2013.

It was another heavy hint from Netanyahu that Israel could attack Iran's nuclear sites. But officials and analysts say Iran has slowed its mid-level uranium enrichment to stay beneath the Netanyahu threshold.

U.S. President Barack Obama, in an interview with Israel's Channel Two television last week, said it would take Iran more than a year to develop a nuclear weapon. Tehran denies seeking atomic arms.

SYRIA

Israel is closely watching Syria's civil war, with occasional spillover mortar fire into the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Netanyahu has voiced concern that Syria's chemical weapons and other advanced arms could fall into the hands of the Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah and al Qaeda.

In January, according to a Western diplomat and a source among Syrian rebels, Israeli planes bombed a convoy near Syria's border with Lebanon carrying weapons to Hezbollah.

ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN PEACE

Netanyahu has said that Obama's visit this week would put the Israeli-Palestinian peace issue on his new government's agenda earlier than expected.

Beyond an oft-repeated call to the Palestinians to return to peace talks they abandoned in 2010 over Israeli settlement-building in the West Bank, Netanyahu has not voiced any new ideas on how to restart the negotiations.

Israel's new housing minister, a settler himself, said on Sunday the cabinet would keep expanding settlements to the same extent as Netanyahu's previous government.

Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Robin Pomeroy

Letters to the Editor: Gaza war, “Lincoln” and Special Needs


Hope for Peace With Hamas
 
When David Suissa wonders “If Hamas had the ability to murder thousands of Jews, wouldn’t they?” he is letting stereotypes get in the way of helpful analysis (“Pogroms Interrupted,” Nov. 23). He is also, in effect, arguing that Hamas is not an organization with which peace and order can be reached.
 
I believe he is wrong on both counts. Hamas gets much more political mileage from holding Israelis hostage than from killing them. The Gilad Shalit kidnapping is an indication of this. It is both a tragedy and a very big opportunity for peace that Israel and the Palestinians keep each other hostage. Their rising and reliable ability to kill each other — although on different scales — is precisely what ought to motivate leaders to negotiate peace, so that the killing does not recur. 
 
Barry H. Steiner
Professor of political science
California State University, Long Beach
 
 
 
David Suissa Responds:
 
That's right, professor. The 12,000 missiles that Hamas has sent into Israel were not intended to kill humans, but to capture hostages. Is that a serious comment? If you want to talk about hostages, just look at the Palestinians in Gaza who are forced to live in misery under the oppressive rule of Hamas despots and Jew-haters.”

Israeli Efforts Reduce Casualties

Israel spends $90,000 per Tamir rocket to shoot down a projectile (sometimes two) fired by Hamas toward Israeli civilian areas (“What Now?” Nov. 23). The projectiles may cost $200 to $5,000 to produce.
 
It would be quite simple to use Iron Dome to send a $200 mortar shell or shells right back to that originating point. However, Israel chooses instead to attempt pinpoint strikes on Hamas with airplanes, drones, etc. at a much higher cost and risk.
 
I know of no other country in history that has gone to this extent to avoid its own civilian casualties, reducing the likelihood of all-out war and its consequences on both sides, and the casualties on the other side’s civilians.
 
David Schechter
Los Angeles

‘Lincoln’ Twists History

Tom Teicholz perpetuates a number of errors and myths in his recent article “Lincoln, in the Abrahamic Tradition” (Nov. 16). He comes up with a fanciful theory that Lincoln had Jewish ancestry — something that has eluded great Lincoln biographers like Carl Sandburg and David Donald. It’s entirely based on unreliable, unprovable anecdotes.
 
Teicholz is mistaken when he states that Lincoln “lobbied the House of Representatives to pass the 13th Amendment.” In truth, as Lerone Bennett Jr., author of “Forced Into Glory: Abraham Lincoln’s White Dream” (Johnson Publishing Co.: 2000), states: “There is a pleasant fiction that Lincoln … became a flaming advocate of the amendment and used the power of his office to ensure its passage. There is no evidence, as Donald has noted, to support that fiction.”
 
Bennett was executive editor of Ebony magazine for several decades, and spent more than 20 years researching and writing his book. Bennett argues that it was Lincoln who was literally forced into supporting the amendment by other politicians, not the other way around as portrayed in the Spielberg film.
 
The scriptwriter, Tony Kushner, along with director Steven Spielberg, are spinning the same sort of mythology in their movie — and distorting the historical record in the process — as in the days of the Hollywood studio system, when the moguls Teicholz so admires twisted historical facts into pretzels in period movies.
 
Joseph Dostal
Van Nuys


 
Special-Needs Inclusion Exists
 
I would disagree with Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi’s assertion that little to nothing has been accomplished to include children and adults with disabilities into our Jewish community (“The Sound of the Breaking Dam,” Nov. 23). Since I was a bar mitzvah, I volunteered every Sunday for six years at Valley Beth Shalom’s Shaare Tikvah program, which is designed to give kids with special needs a chance to engage their Jewish identities as they learn about Jewish holidays, study the Hebrew language, sing Jewish songs and develop strong bonds with other kids, thus establishing their permanence and acceptance in the wider Los Angeles Jewish community. 
 
There is certainly a public awareness of this program, as KABC 7’s “Eyewitness News” recognized the amazing accomplishments of Shaare Tikvah and singled me out for my volunteer work. The news crew interviewed me at Camp Ramah in California, where I was working as a counselor, because Camp Ramah contains another amazing program for special-needs kids called Tikvah, in which many of my students were enrolled from the VBS Sunday school. The program gives an opportunity for these kids to engage in all of the typical summer camp activities and actually be a part of the sleep-away environment. Some of the older kids actually have various jobs throughout the camp. I can speak from personal experience that going to Jewish camp was a huge part of solidifying my role in the Jewish community, and that is exactly what these kids are getting as they, too, became a part of Camp Ramah. 
 
The Los Angeles Jewish community, of which I am a proud partner, creates an accessible environment for children with special needs to grow into their Jewish identity and make themselves an integral part of the Jewish community as a whole. 
 
Arye Lavin
USC sophomore, neuroscience major 

A call from Tel Aviv: Freaked, at first


Is this a war?

It’s so hard to know these days. Wars used to happen on things called battlefields, where armies met, fought and met again.

What’s going on in Gaza and Israel is far murkier than that. In Israel, the rockets rain down on apartment buildings, fields, schools. The retaliation into Gaza, for all Israel’s careful targeting, must of necessity strike neighborhoods, homes, children.

This is not a war of tanks in the Sinai or dogfights over Damascus. It is a war of families huddled in stairwells, of bodies spilled out of cars. The wars of Israel get more intimate as the home fronts and battlefronts merge.

My friend Simone left a message on my cell phone when the fighting began. She had moved to Tel Aviv from Los Angeles less than a month ago, when her boyfriend, Wes, got a high-tech research job there. “You’ll love it,” I’d told her. “Most fun city in the world.”

“Rob,” Simone’s voice quavered. “I know it’s 3:30 in the morning, but we just heard explosions over Tel Aviv and I’m freaking out.”

Is it an existential war for Israel?

At first read, no: As of Monday, Israel has suffered just three casualties. Hamas is using weapons that are several rungs below conventional. No enemy armies are poised to invade, no enemy aircraft will — or perhaps even can — take to the skies.

But appearances are deceptive. No country can be expected to tolerate, as Israel has, its people being subject to unremitting terror from the skies. No country would accept that as “the price of doing business.” No economy or tourist industry or education system can function indefinitely under the constant threat of missile attack. As long as Hamas continues to procure, store and use rockets, Israel’s survival is at stake. Gaza 2012 is the latest battle in a war that began in 1948, when Arab nations rejected the Jewish sovereignty in Palestine, escalating in 1967 when Arab armies threatened to wipe Israel off the map, and again when Egypt sought its revenge in 1973. 

“The problem for the 1 million (out of a total of 7 million) Israelis who live in the southern part of the state closest to the Gaza Strip has been the ongoing unleashing of Hamas rockets against these southern communities,” Jerusalem Report writer Robert Slater wrote in an e-mail to friends. “Though casualties have been few, those 1 million Israelis live in constant dread that a rocket will fall on them.”

And it’s not just the south: Slater’s family in Jerusalem had to rush into a bomb shelter when air raid sirens went off there. Several rockets exploded near or above Tel Aviv.

We hear of all this instantly. The air raid sirens go off in Tel Aviv, and seconds later a push notification pops up on my iPhone. We Skype my brother-in-law as he sits with his daughter in a Tel Aviv cafe, waiting for the next round. I listen to live reports on Galei Tahal and Reshet Gimel, via an app called Israel Radio, as if I’m driving on the Ayalon Highway. My e-mail inbox fills up with first-hand accounts and cell phone video clips. My Twitter feed shows photos of friends in shelters, and of Palestinian children in Gaza mangled by Israeli retaliation. In intimate wars, there is no escaping the battle, or the images.

“Why is Hamas doing this?” a friend asked — because everyone sees the inevitable and fearsome retribution Israel is able to inflict.

The simplest answer is, because it’s Hamas. If Hamas cared about Palestinian children, it would cease its fire. If its warriors didn’t want to paint themselves in the blood of innocent women and children, it would stop. If it wanted to build the Gaza economy, with Israel as a partner, it would quit. But it can’t: Hamas is the heir to the same dead-end ideology that has compelled Arab nations to reject and battle Israel from the beginning of the state. This current conflict is one more skirmish in that longer war. Israeli tanks rolled across Gaza in June 1967 to thwart an Egyptian army advance — and the battle goes on.

Israel captured and then occupied Gaza for decades, then withdrew unilaterally to allow Palestinians to shape their own future. But Hamas decided the future lay in … 1967.

Israel, of course, is not what it was then. It has rockets that can intercept and shoot down rockets midair. It has cities and an economy far more resilient than it had decades ago. It has people who know — intimately — what it takes to live next to a neighbor who wants to destroy them.

By the time I checked back in with Simone, she had endured several air raid sirens, several fast walks to the shelter or reinforced hallways, where people brought their laptops and their dachshunds, and stood around and talked.

She told me she was now embarrassed to think how frightened she was in her first message to me.

“You kind of get used to it,” she said.

Economic costs of Gaza fighting


Last Friday, Moshe Ahituv (not his real name) received another call-up from the Israeli army. A captain in the home front command, he had already completed 43 days of army reserve service this year.

Moshe, 40, is an English teacher and the father of two toddlers. His wife is a physical therapist and they are about to purchase their first apartment in Jerusalem. He says the emotional cost of the fighting in the Gaza Strip has already taken a toll.

“The kids aren’t sleeping well, and my three-year-old daughter is behaving badly at nursery school,” he told The Media Line. “It’s also frustrating for me. I spend a lot of time on buses getting from home to my base. I could be home with the kids then or working to bring home money to my family.”

There is also an economic toll. While the government will pay for his missed days at work, he will not receive compensation for the private tutoring hours he has been forced to cancel, which amounts to $400 per week.

Israelis and Palestinians are paying a heavy economic price for the cross-border fighting in Gaza. From orange trees in Gaza damaged during an Israeli airstrike to small restaurants in southern Israel who have no customers, to tourists cancelling trips to Israel and Bethlehem, to destroyed buildings in Gaza, the economic costs on both sides is astronomical.

The business information company IDI estimates the fighting in Gaza will cost the Israeli economy $75 million dollars per day in lost productivity. Many small businesses in southern Israel, in particular, are suffering.

“Usually on the weekends we are full, but this past weekend we had just two tables – both of journalists,” Elad Zaritsky, 35, the owner of Linda, a bistro restaurant in the Mediterranean coastal city of Ashqelon, told The Media Line. “We’ve already lost thousands of dollars and we simply can’t continue like this. If the fighting continues much longer, we may have to close.”

Zaritsky says small businesses like his operate with only a narrow profit margin. He says the restaurant has been open for five years. Four years ago, during Cast Lead, Israel’s last major ground operation in Gaza, his business also suffered. The government did give him compensation, but he says it did not nearly cover his losses.

Tourism in Israel is also beginning to suffer, although this is the low season for tourism, between the Jewish holidays of the fall; and Chanuka and Christmas in a few weeks.

“Incoming groups for the near future are down 10 percent and individual bookings are down 15 percent,” Ami Etgar, the general director of the Israel Incoming Tour Operator Association told The Media Line. “But groups that are already here have not left.”

Across the border, inside Gaza, life has virtually come to a standstill. While most residents keep a stock of food supplies including flour, oil, sugar and tea in their homes, most shops and businesses remain closed.

“Banks are closed and ATM machines are running out of cash,” Azzam Shawwa, the general manager of the Quds Bank told The Media Line. “But who wants to risk going out when there are airstrikes?”

Shawwa said there is also concern about the electricity supply to Gaza. While Israel has continued to provide power to the 1.7 million Palestinians in Gaza, the electricity must go through transformers to change the voltage. Some of those transformers have been destroyed in Israeli airstrikes, and the spare ones are already being used, he said.

“Even before this, some places only had electricity for 12 hours a day,” Omar Shaaban, an economist at Palthink, a Gaza-based think tank told The Media Line. “Now some places only have electricity for six hours a day. Some of us have generators, but there is a shortage of fuel for the generators. I just turned my generator on to answer some emails, but I’m going to have to turn it off soon.”

Shaaban says it’s too early to assess the economic damage caused by the Israeli airstrikes, which have killed at least 95 Palestinians and wounded hundreds. Dozens of buildings in Gaza have been completely destroyed.

“Our economy is losing at least $2 million dollars per day,” Shaaban said. “And that’s in addition to the agricultural sector which has already lost $25 million dollars. The economy has been completely suspended. Agricultural products were supposed to be exported this week from Gaza, but now that didn’t happen.”

Back across the border in Israel, more people seem to be staying home, even in areas that have been relatively free of missile strikes.

“There are many fewer passengers going from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” Raof Basila, an Arab citizen of Israel who drives a shared-taxi between the two cities. His colleague, Fadi Abu Katish, agrees. He told The Media Line that while fifty drivers normally transport more than 1,500 passengers each day, the drivers are now alone in their vehicles.

Basila added a pensive note. “People are afraid to go out,” he said. “It is not good for either side. Both sides need peace.”

Truth and consequences: When Hamas targeted The Holy City


Jerusalemites have an age-old custom of ushering in the holy Sabbath earlier — a full 36 minutes before sunset — than anywhere else in the world. So, last Friday evening, I rushed through the Old City’s Arab souk, weaving my way past Christian pilgrims, Korean tourists and Israeli bargain hunters to reach the Kotel, aka the Western Wall. There, under the joyful supervision of Jerusalemite Rabbi Chaim Cheshin, I was about to usher in 25 hours of cellphone- and Facebook-free bliss.

At the Wall, Friday night prayers are all about joy, singing and — yes, even dancing — black- frocked Chasidim commingling with freshly scrubbed North American students. Lekhah Dodi is the poetic tefilah that welcomes in the Sabbath Queen.

“Come in peace … come in joy accompanied by you faithful …” rings out its final line.

In a nanosecond, any thoughts of peace or spirituality were erased. First a siren, followed by escalating bullhorn pleas from police for the hundreds of the faithful to rush for cover at the entrances to the ancient Kotel tunnels.

For this Friday night at least, the profane defeated the holy. Hamas had chosen to expand its deadly rockets to target the city holy to three faiths.

Later, when I reached my daughter’s place in Rehavia, in West Jerusalem, we adults had some explaining to do to my five grandchildren. “Why did Bubbe and Ema rush us to the bottom of the staircase?”

“Why are the sirens so loud?”

“When will the next azaka [alert] come?”

“Why are they trying to hurt us?”

Why, indeed.

Go explain Hamas to a child in Sderot, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Beersheba and, yes, even in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Go ahead, adults — explain to them how in the hell did the world allow these religious thugs to amass thousands of rockets, deploy them from among their own civilians? How is it that NGOs, Christian activists and tenured professors continue to bestow the mantel of victimhood on thugs who hide behind the skirts of women and in bunkers under hospitals? How come so many in the international media depict suicide bombings and thousands of Hamas rocket attacks as legitimate responses to Israeli “occupiers” who occupy not one millimeter of the Gaza Strip?

Most of all, explain to those children the source of Muslim Brotherhood-inspired hatred of Jews and Judaism not seen in the world since Nazi Germany.

But this not 1938 or 1942. Today, the Jews have a democratic state and a military that deploys drones, not to indiscriminately kill the innocent and guilty, but to efficiently target mass murderers and terrorists.

Israelis have had enough. They see what is happening in Syria, and right, left and center, Israelis have come together to tell the world they will not subcontract the safety of their kids or mortgage their future to the whims of a cynical and uncaring international community.

It’s an important message surgically delivered by the Israel Defense Forces.

We can only hope and pray that Israel does what it has to to remove Hamas’ terrorist threat once and for all — whatever it takes.

On Shabbat morning, I was speaking to a friend of mine who is the maître d’ at the King David Hotel. I asked him what his Friday night was like in East Jerusalem. He told me how his granddaughter started shaking with fright when the sirens went off.

There we were, two grandfathers looking at each other for a long moment, silently reflecting on the same question: What will it take for our grandchildren to be able to live in peace?

I have no magic formula, but this past Shabbat in Jerusalem underscored one uncomfortable but unshakable truth: Peace will never be possible in the Holy Land unless and until the evil that is Hamas is uprooted.


Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.  He spent the last ten days in Israel.

Pogroms interrupted: The era of Jews fighting back


As I’ve been watching images of Hamas rockets falling on Israel, I’ve asked myself: If Hamas had the ability to murder thousands of Jews, wouldn’t they? And if Israel didn’t have a strong army, wouldn’t we surely witness another pogrom? 

Since the destruction of the Second Temple some 2,000 years ago, has there been a more physically abused people than the Jews?

How many Crusades and Inquisitions and pogroms have been recorded where Jews were virtually helpless to defend themselves?

Oh sure, we always managed to survive and pull through. We were strong with our values, our Torah, our culture and our wits in adapting to whatever limits were imposed on us.

But physically? We were always at the mercy of our landlords.

My ancestors in Morocco survived only because they knew their place. You never heard of a Moroccan Jew fighting for the same rights as Moroccan Arabs. Jews were the dhimmis, the second class citizens of the state. And still, there were stories of pogroms against Moroccan Jews.

The physical abuse of Jews reached its darkest and most murderous hour with the Holocaust.

In Alcoholics Anonymous, they say you have to reach your own bottom before you can turn things around. Well, the Holocaust was our absolute bottom.

Perhaps not coincidentally, within a few years we were blessed with our own sovereign state. What would happen now? Would our enemies still come after us?

Indeed they did, but this time, something weird happened.

The Jews fought back.

A ragtag band of Jews fought mano a mano against five invading Arab armies and won.

That miraculous victory saved Israel and signaled a new era in the story of the Jews.

The era of Jews Fighting Back.

We’ve been in that era now for 64 years, and the truth is, we’ve become pretty good at it.

This has shocked our enemies. After 2,000 years of seeing Jews cower so as not to get slaughtered, they've seen these weak Jews transformed into fighting warriors.

This doesn't seem very “Jewish.”

Even among Jews, this success has created a lot of handwringing and intellectual agony: What shall we do with all this power? Are we using it responsibly? Will it corrupt us?

I have to confess, I’ve had very little agony over this. The Jews’ ability to finally fight back has been a source of great satisfaction for me.

Of course, I’d be a lot happier if we were at peace and didn’t have to fight in the first place– if we weren’t surrounded by enemies trying to destroy us.

I wouldn’t have to shed tears when I’m alone in my car, thinking of Israel at war, or talk to my daughter in Herzliya about bomb shelters.

But if Israel is destined to live, at least in the near term, surrounded by enemies, what are we to make of this dark circumstance?

Is it possible that all this fighting might be serving an additional purpose, beyond the essential one of defending the country?

As I’ve been reflecting on all this, the thought occurred to me that maybe Israel is more than a country.

Maybe it’s also a statement.

An official statement that says to the world: The Jews will never go away.

This statement of strength after 2,000 years of weakness is so astonishing that it needed a singular, dramatic instrument to make the point.

And what better instrument than a strong country?

A country so powerful it has managed to thrive on so many levels despite being virtually under siege for 64 years.

So, that is my Jewish take on all this ugly fighting: Our enemies need to see, once and for all, that the Jews will never go away.

Maybe only then will there be peace.

The other night, at a Technion event at the home of Frank Lunz, our Consul General, David Siegel, said: “Our enemies have tried for thousands of years to destroy us, but they’ve always failed.”

The difference now is that we’re surviving on our own terms, not by cowering but by holding our heads high.

I’m sure some people will find this tone of defiance a little unseemly, not very nuanced.

But there’s no nuance in hatred. There’s no nuance in the desire to murder Jews. There never has been.

The statement that the Jews will never go away is a statement that must be made. We can thank Israel for making that statement in the most compelling way possible, even at the risk of upsetting a world not used to seeing Jews fight back.

At the Technion event, they played a video showing some of Israel’s global accomplishments, such as finding renewable energy, curing diseases and helping crippled people walk.

We can thank Israel for that statement, too: A world in which the Jews survive is not just good for the Jews, it’s also good for the world. 

Iranian warships dock in Sudan, report says


Two Iranian warships docked in Sudan on Monday, Iran's official IRNA news agency reported, less than a week after Khartoum accused Israel of attacking an arms factory in the Sudanese capital.

Two people were killed after fire broke out late on Tuesday at the Yarmouk arms factory in the south of Khartoum. Sudanese Information Minister Ahmed Belal Osman said four military planes attacked the Yarmouk plant and Israel was behind it.

Asked by Israel's Channel Two News about Sudan's accusations, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said: “There is nothing I can say about this subject.”

IRNA said the helicopter carrier Khark and the destroyer Shahid Naqdi were carrying: “the message of peace and friendship to neighbouring countries and were ensuring security for shipping lanes against marine terrorism and piracy”.

Iran's semi-official Fars news agency said that the vessels docked in Port Sudan on the Red Sea and the fleet's commanders were scheduled to meet Sudanese navy commanders.

Sudan, with close ties to Iran and Sunni jihadis, has long been seen by Israel as a conduit for weapons smuggled to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, via the Egyptian Sinai desert.

In May, Sudan's government said one person had been killed after a car exploded in the eastern city of Port Sudan. It said that explosion resembled a blast last year it had blamed on an Israeli missile strike.

Israel declined to comment on the May incident or the 2011 blast, which killed two people. It also neither admitted nor denied involvement in a similar incident in eastern Sudan in 2009.

Iran said in June it had plans to build more warships and increase its presence in international waters, particularly to protect its cargo ships around the world.

Pirates in the Gulf of Aden in January hijacked an Iranian ship carrying 30,000 tonnes of petrochemical products to a North African country.

Preparing for war, Israel’s North looks to lessons from 2006


When missiles rained down on northern Israel from Lebanon six years ago, surgeons at Rambam Hospital in Haifa worked, terrified, on the building’s eighth floor.

That summer, missiles had struck fewer than 20 yards away, endangering the staff and patients of northern Israel’s largest hospital and the central facility for treating soldiers injured in the fighting.

“There wasn’t even a bomb shelter because we thought they’d never bomb a hospital,” said David Ratner, Rambam’s spokesman. “We weren’t ready. The message we got was that we needed to become a hospital that could treat people under attack.”

The experience has pushed Rambam’s wartime operating room a dozen stories down, to the third level of an underground parking garage that will become, should bombs fall again, one of the world’s largest emergency hospitals. At 645,000 square feet, the three stories will house 2,000 medical stations — enough to care not only for those wounded physically or psychologically from the war zone, but also for the most critically ill inpatients and outpatients needing regular treatments like dialysis.

“This changes us from a laid-back hospital to a machine,” Ratner told JTA. “People aren’t going to stop having babies” during a war.

As tensions between Iran and Israel heat up, and amid fears that Syria’s civil war could spill over into Israel (in a first since the war began, Syrian shells landed in Israel’s Golan Heights last month), Israeli cities and institutions like Rambam are planning for a potential repeat of the missile fire seen during Israel’s 2006 war with Hezbollah.

Any war with Iran is expected to prompt retaliatory strikes by Hezbollah, the Iranian proxy militia in Lebanon, and possibly by Hamas, which controls Gaza and has received funding and weaponry from the Islamic Republic.

In 2006, northern Israel was caught largely unprepared for war. For six years before that, following Israel’s 2000 withdrawal from Southern Lebanon, the region enjoyed relative quiet. But more than 4,000 missiles were fired at Israel during the 34-day 2006 war, prompting massive numbers of residents to flee their homes and leaving 163 Israeli soldiers and civilians dead. On the Lebanese side, there were more than 1,000 dead.

In the six years of quiet that have followed the war, area residents say they have remained on guard. Nahariyah, a city of more than 50,000 on Israel’s northern coast situated less than 10 miles from the Lebanese border, suffered hundreds of rockets and two deaths in the 2006 war.

Since then, the city has improved its emergency services by renovating its bomb shelters and implementing its part of a national attack alert system. Nahariyah’s hospital, like Rambam, has an emergency underground wing. But Izik Moreli, manager of Nahariyah’s security division, said the unpredictable nature of a terrorist threat means that the city may never be fully prepared for war.

“I think we’re much more prepared,” Moreli said. “But I hope we don’t encounter things we don’t expect, like we did in 2006.”

Security officials in the North credit Israel’s streamlined Home Front Defense Ministry, part of the Defense Ministry, for spearheading the improvements, including the national alert system, drills to prepare for crises, and improved oversight and evaluation of emergency preparedness.

In mid-September, the Israel Defense Forces conducted a surprise drill in the Golan Heights simulating a response to an attack there.

The Home Front Command, created in 1992 after Scud missiles hit Israel during the 1991 Gulf War, reflects the IDF’s view that “the home front is no less a battlefront than any other location,” Eytan Buchman, an IDF spokesman, told JTA.

The National Emergency Authority, a division of the Home Front ministry, will run a national disaster simulation drill on Oct. 21 that will cover interruptions in communication and mobilization of forces that also would activate during wartime.

American Jewish communities have supported the National Emergency Authority’s efforts through the Jewish Federations of North America. Since 2006, U.S. Jewish federations have raised $350 million for the North, much of which has gone to renovating bomb shelters — for air conditioning, light fixtures, water coolers, toilets and television sets in the underground spaces. The funding also has provided for social, economic and educational programs according to Lee Perlman, JFNA’s managing director of program and planning for Israel and overseas.

The Gulf War also brought widespread distribution of gas masks to Israel amid fears that Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein would launch biological or chemical attacks against Israel. This summer, gas mask distribution accelerated again as Syria’s government indicated it would consider using its stockpile of chemical and biological weapons in the event of a foreign attack.

Some Israeli politicians still worry that the country is unprepared for war, and they’ve been critical of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for seeming to move the country closer to an attack while Israeli cities are left exposed. Bomb shelters in northern Israel can hold only 60 percent of the local population, and almost half of Israelis do not own gas masks.

“Israel has failed to learn from the Second Lebanon War,” said Ze’ev Bielski, chairman of the Knesset’s Subcommittee for the Examination of Home Front Readiness, according to the Times of Israel. “The bomb shelter situation is still dire for millions of Israelis.”

But according to Meir Elran, director of the Homeland Security Program at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies, the statistics are not cause for grave concern. He said that while the number of bomb shelters is not ideal, the situation is manageable because people will be safe as long as they remain inside a building. Building bomb shelters for every citizen would cost too much money and take too much time, he said.

“It doesn’t make sense that there would be a bomb shelter for everyone,” he said. “It’s a question of cost and benefit. No one on the world has this, and it doesn’t make sense for here.”

Elran added that providing gas masks to the entire population also is cost inefficient, especially given that “the other side understands very well that if it uses chemical weapons, our reaction will be very severe.”

Sometimes, Elran suggested, the best defense is a good offense.

“The shorter the war is and the more severely the other side will be hurt,” he said, “the better it will be for Israel.”

Israel says Syrian mortar strike was attack on NATO


Israel's Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor said on Thursday a deadly Syrian mortar strike on a Turkish town had to be considered an attack on a member of the NATO alliance.

Israel is technically at war with Damascus and occupies the Golan Heights that it seized in the 1967 war and later annexed, but it has generally taken a cautious line on the uprising in its Arab neighbor.

“One has to say that according to the NATO treaty, it was an attack on a member of NATO, and that means France,” Meridor told reporters during a visit to Paris, referring to France's membership of NATO.

Syria and Israel have not exchanged fire in three decades, and a parliamentary briefing in July by the Israeli armed forces chief about the risk of “uncontrollable deterioration” in Syria were interpreted by local media as a caution against opening a new fighting front with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Meridor said he did not want to go into details about the incident but said the deaths in Syria had to end.

“Syria is in a horrible situation, a civil war. Each day men, women and children are being killed and it must be stopped,” Meridor said after meeting France's foreign and defense ministers.

“We are in a process that isn't finished. We don't see the end for now.”

Turkey's government on Thursday said “aggressive action” against its territory by Syria's military had become a serious threat to its national security and parliament approved the deployment of Turkish troops beyond its borders if needed.

Immediately after the incident, Ankara, which has the second-largest army in NATO, called a meeting of the organization's North Atlantic Council.

Syria has apologized through the United Nations for the mortar strike in Turkey and said such an incident would not be repeated.

Israel has been particularly worried that Hezbollah, the Iranian-inspired Shiite militia in neighboring Lebanon, may gain access to the chemical weapons should Assad's grip slip amid a 18-month-old insurgency.

Assad, from the minority Alawite sect, considered an offshoot of Shia Islam, has close ties both with Shi'ite Iran and Hezbollah, which was originally set up to oppose Israel.

“The alliance with Iran is extremely worrying (for us). Iran on one side, Hezbollah on the other, with Syria in the middle. For us, it's very important that this unholy alliance is broken,” Meridor said.

“If the Assad regime were to fall, it would be a vital strike on Iran,” he said.

Reporting By John Irish

Clinton urges Egypt, Israel to talk about Sinai


U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Egypt’s foreign minister to keep lines of communication open with Israel amid tensions over an Egyptian push against militants in the neighboring Sinai desert, the State Department said on Thursday.

Clinton spoke with Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr on Wednesday and stressed the importance of acting transparently as Cairo deploys aircraft and tanks in Sinai, for the first time since a 1973 war with Israel, to pursue Islamist militants blamed for killing 16 border guards in an August 5 attack.

“This call was in keeping with a series of contacts we’ve had in recent days with both Egyptians and Israelis encouraging both sides to keep the lines of communication open,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

Israeli officials have expressed concern over the Egyptian deployment, saying the vehicles’ entry into the Sinai was not coordinated and was in violation of a 1979 peace treaty.

But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has not lodged a formal protest, preferring to try and resolve the issue in quiet contacts including U.S. mediation to avoid worsening ties with Cairo, already strained since Hosni Mubarak was toppled by a popular revolt last year.

Nuland said the Sinai security situation should be addressed “in a way that first and foremost strengthens Egypt’s security but also has a positive impact on the security of neighbors and the region as a whole.”

Nuland declined to say whether the United States believed Egypt had been insufficiently transparent or failed to keep Israel informed.

“Our view is that effective mechanisms do exist and that they just need to continue to be used,” she said.

The U.S.-brokered 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel sets strict limits on military deployment in the Sinai, which is designated as a demilitarized buffer zone.

But Israeli media have speculated that coordination with Egypt may suffer after a shakeup this month of Egypt’s military, including Islamist President Mohammed Mursi’s dismissals of officials Israel had long been in contact with.

Reporting By Andrew Quinn; Editing by Vicki Allen

Peres says Israel can’t go it alone in Iran, trusts Obama


Israeli President Shimon Peres on Thursday came out against any go-it-alone Israeli attack on Iran, saying he trusted U.S. President Barack Obama’s pledge to prevent Tehran from producing nuclear weapons.

His comments appeared to challenge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who have both raised the prospect of a unilateral Israeli strike, despite assurances from Washington it will not let Iran get the atomic bomb.

“I am convinced this is an American interest. I am convinced(Obama) recognizes the American interest and he isn’t saying this just to keep us happy. I have no doubt about it, after having had talks with him,” Peres told Channel Two television.

“Now, it’s clear to us that we can’t do it alone. We can delay (Iran’s nuclear program). It’s clear to us we have to proceed together with America. There are questions about coordination and timing, but as serious as the danger is, this time at least we are not alone.”

[Related: Israel minister: Possible war with Iran could be month-long affair]

A flurry of comments by Israeli officials and media reports over the past week have put financial markets on edge by appearing to suggest an attack could be launched before the U.S. presidential election in November.

An unidentified top “decision maker”, widely believed to be Barak, told Haaretz newspaper last Friday that Israel “cannot place the responsibility for its security and future even in the hands of its greatest ally”, a reference to the United States.

Peres said in the interview that he did not believe Israel would launch an attack on Iran before November.

As president, Peres, 89, has little political power in Israel. But he has won the respect of many Israelis while serving in the post and his opposition to any unilateral action poses an additional challenge to Netanyahu.

A political source close to Netanyahu issued an angry response to Peres’ comments shortly after the president’s interview was aired.

“Peres has forgotten what the role of Israel’s president is. He has forgotten that he made three major mistakes in regard to Israel’s security … his greatest mistake was in 1981 when he thought bombing the reactor in Iraq was wrong and, to the fortune of Israel’s citizens, Prime Minister Begin ignored him,” he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

In 1981 Israeli warplanes destroyed the Osirak nuclear facility near Baghdad.

Israel’s prime minister at the time, Menachem Begin, had cautioned that a nuclear-armed Iraq under Saddam Hussein would pose a threat to the existence of the Jewish state and ignored then opposition leader Peres’ warnings against the strike.

AMERICAN PRESSURE

At a news conference in Washington on Tuesday, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said it was important that military action be the “last resort”, adding that there was still time for sanctions and diplomatic pressure to work.

“I don’t believe they’ve made a decision as to whether or not they will go in and attack Iran at this time,” Panetta said.

During a visit to Jerusalem at the start of the month, he made some of his strongest comments yet on curbing Tehran’s nuclear project. “We will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. Period,” he told reporters.

In parliament on Thursday, Barak said Israeli deliberations on a course of action were continuing.

“There is a forum of nine (ministers), there is a (security) cabinet, and a decision, when it is required, will be taken by the Israeli government,” Barak said.

“This doesn’t mean there aren’t differences. The issue is complicated, but the issue is being deliberated,” he added.

Israeli officials have told Reuters that the prime minister’s cabinet was split on the issue, while the top military leadership was believed to be opposed to any mission that did not have full U.S. support.

“Over the past several months, a wide-ranging and unbridled public relations campaign has been conducted in Israel. Its only aim has been to prepare the ground for premature operational adventures,” said opposition leader Shaul Mofaz, who pulled his Kadima party out of the ruling coalition in July.

Iran rejects Israeli and Western allegations that its nuclear program is aimed at producing atomic weapons, and has threatened wide-ranging reprisals if attacked – retaliation that could draw the United States into the conflict.

Additional reporting by Maayen Lubell; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Alison Williams

Israel: Syria Government Still in Control of Chemical Weapons


The Syrian government is still in full control of its chemical weapons stockpiles, a senior Israeli defense official said on Tuesday.

Israel’s foreign minister warned separately that the Jewish state would act decisively if Syria handed over any chemical or biological weapons to its Hezbollah enemies.

“The worry, of course, is that the regime will destabilize and the control will also destabilize,” the defense official, Amos Gilad, told Israel Radio.

But he added: “At the moment, the entire non-conventional weapons system is under the full control of the regime.”

Western countries and Israel have voiced fears that chemical weapons could fall into the hands of militant groups as the authority of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad erodes.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has said Israel would consider military action to ensure those weapons did not reach Assad’s Hezbollah guerrilla allies in Lebanon. Israel says Hezbollah has some 70,000 rockets in its arsenal.

But Israel appeared to harden its line on non-conventional weapons reaching Hezbollah when Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said at a news conference in Brussels on Tuesday that decisive action would have be taken against such a move.

“The moment we see Syrians transfer chemical and biological weapons to Hezbollah this is a red line for us. And from our point of view it is a clear casus belli. We will act decisively and without hesitation or restraint,” Lieberman said.

On Monday, Syria acknowledged for the first time that it has chemical and biological weapons and said it could use them if foreign nations intervened in the 16-month-old uprising against Assad’s rule.

Additional reporting by Justyna Pawlak in Brussels, Writing by Jeffrey Heller, Editing by Angus MacSwan

Arab lawmaker: compulsory national service ‘an act of war’


Forcing Israeli Arabs to do mandatory national service, which is being debated in the Knesset, is “a declaration of war” an Arab Knesset member has told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“We shall strongly resist. [Arab] youth will not obey mandatory national service,” Balad Knesset member Jamal Zahalka told Netanyahu, according to Ynet. “The attempt to force compulsory service on Arab youth is a declaration of war on the Arab sector.”

Netanyahu announced on Thursday that “Arab citizens, along with the haredim, must carry their equal share of the burden,” Ynet reported.

The prime minister and deputy prime minister Shaul Mofaz are to meet today to complete a plan to gradually integrate Arabs and haredi Orthodox Jews into the Israel Defense Forces or to perform some form of national service.

A leading Islamic leader in the country also forcefully rejected the call for compulsory national service for the country’s Arabs.

“The Islamic Movement will not accept the proposal to enlist Arabs into national service because it will pave the way for IDF service which we will not be part of it,” Ynet reported Sheikh Kamal Khatib, deputy head of the Islamic Movement’s northern branch, as saying.

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