Assad puts Syria on war footing; Righteous Gentile is Poland’s Nobel nominee

Assad puts Syria on war footing
Syria’s president said his country was bracing for a possible attack by Israel.Bashar Assad told a Kuwaiti newspaper last weekend that, in the wake of the Lebanon War, he believed Israel had no intent of pursuing peace talks with Syria.
“Syria expects Israeli aggression at any time,” he told Al-Anba. “Naturally, in the absence of peace, war can happen. Therefore, we have begun making preparations within the framework of our capabilities.”
Jerusalem officials, in response, reiterated Israel’s stance that it sought no confrontation with Syria. In Israel, Assad is regarded as having been frustrated by Syria’s inability to win back the entire Golan Heights through diplomacy. Israel rules out such preconditions for talks, and has called on Damascus to stop supporting Hezbollah and Palestinian terrorist groups if it is sincere about peace.
Israel condemns North Korean nuclear test
Israel joined the global condemnation over North Korea’s nuclear weapons test. After Pyongyang stunned the world Monday by announcing it had conducted its first controlled atomic blast, Israel’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the move was “irresponsible and provocative” and “could pose a serious threat to the stability of Northeast Asia and to global and international security.”
Israeli officials noted that a nuclear-armed North Korea was likely to help Iran attain its own atomic arsenal. Army Radio quoted a senior Israeli diplomat as calling for tough Western action against North Korea, including, if necessary, resorting to military force.
Supreme Court docket piques Jewish groups’ interest
Jewish civil liberties groups are looking forward to a relatively quiet U.S. Supreme Court session in 2006-07, with none of the major church-state issues that have roiled the community in recent years. Instead, Jewish groups are focused on two cases about issues that don’t directly affect Judaism as a religion, but that traditionally have held the attention of Jewish civil libertarians: abortion and segregation. The court will hear two cases Nov. 8 in which federal courts struck down parts of the ban on partial-birth abortion, which President Bush signed into law in 2003. In Gonzales v. Carhart and Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood Federation of America, pro-choice groups argue that the legislation does not have adequate health exceptions for women at risk, and bans such abortions as early as 13 weeks into gestation. Jewish groups opposed to the ban and filing friend-of-the court-briefs include the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the American Jewish Congress and the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW).
The other case capturing Jewish interest involves attempts to desegregate districts in Seattle and Lexington, Ky. Groups filing friend-of-the-court briefs include the ADL, the American Jewish Committee and the NCJW. The Jewish groups favor the municipalities.In both instances, the municipalities are introducing desegregation measures because natural demographic trends have rolled back desegregation efforts from the 1970s. In some cases, schools have become more than 85 percent minority.
Jewish interest was piqued because the Bush administration is backing parental groups that oppose the desegregation measures in the cases, Parents Involved v. Seattle and Meredith v. Jefferson County. The cases, which have been combined, will be heard in late November or early December.
New Jersey Federation as emergency training model?
New Jersey may become the first state to use its Jewish federation system to train citizens as emergency first responders. State police and homeland security officials met with representatives from each of New Jersey’s 12 federations on Oct. 4 to discuss how they could offer CERT training to their employees and others in the Jewish community.
The federation trainee programs, and those who pass through them, would join a network of trained citizen emergency first responders run out of the federal Office of Homeland Security, which has some 2,500 training programs nationwide.
The New Jersey training would be offered for free through county offices of emergency management, according to Paul Goldenberg, national director of the Secure Community Network, the organization that facilitated the meeting. The group operates a communications network that keep tabs on the security of the Jewish community and helps Jewish organizations with security matters.
Goldenberg, who has been talking with representatives from the United Jewish Communities (UJC) federation umbrella about getting the training into all of UJC’s 155 federations, said the Jewish community needs to be prepared to respond to emergencies in the post-Sept.11 world, especially after a shooting this summer at the federation in Seattle.

Israel opens pious maternity ward
An Israeli hospital unveiled a maternity ward designed for ultra-Orthodox Jews. The five new delivery rooms at Jerusalem’s Bikur Cholim Hospital feature a special partition that allows the birthing mother to see her husband sitting beside her, but not for him to see her, Ma’ariv reported Monday. This provision satisfies Orthodox requirements of modesty. The rooms also have the options of stands for women’s wigs and piped-in Chasidic music.
According to the newspaper, the renovations cost Bikur Cholim some $1.3 million, most of it donated.
“The delivery rooms are the hospital’s flagship,” said hospital director Barry Bar-Tziyon.
Sukkot record crowd at Western Wall

A record number of Jews turned out for Sukkot services at Jerusalem’s Western Wall. An estimated 65,000 worshippers attended Monday’s prayers at Judaism’s most important site, which included the traditional blessing of the Cohanim, or high priests.
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, director of the Western Wall and Holy Places authority, described it as the largest turnout in a quarter-century.
Righteous Gentile Is Poland’s Presidential Nobel nominee
Polish President Lech Kaczynski has nominated a Righteous Gentile for a Nobel Peace Prize.
Ha’aretz reported that Irena Sandlar, 96, was a member of the Polish underground group, Zegota, which was dedicated to saving Jews during the Holocaust. In 1965, she was recognized by the Yad Vashem Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Authority for smuggling Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto. The children were either adopted by Christian families or sent to convents, but Sandlar recorded their real names so that they could eventually be reunited with their Jewish families, according to Ha’aretz. She would become the first Righteous Gentile to receive the prize.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency

To Bomb or Not to Bomb Iran?

The extreme Islamist president of Iran has lobbed all sorts of verbal bombshells at Jews and Israel in recent weeks: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad repeatedly reiterated his desire to wipe Israel off the map, and he implied that the Holocaust is a myth.

All of this was bad enough, but there’s also the matter of actual bombshells, and the fact that Iran’s hardline regime may be perversely fervent enough to lob a few of those — at Israel, at U.S. forces abroad, or at any other real or perceived enemies.

And with a little bad luck, those bombshells could even be nuclear.

Some experts and Israel government officials fear that Iran may be just months away from being able to produce a nuclear bomb, and a fierce debate is raging in Israel over how to react.

The critical date could come in March, when a series of developments will converge:

• It will be too late to stop Iran from making a bomb, according to Israel’s chief of military intelligence, Maj. Gen. Aharon Farkash-Ze’evi.

• The International Atomic Energy Agency is due to issue a report that month on Iran’s nuclear drive that could lead to sanctions against Teheran or highlight the international community’s inability to act in concert on the issue.

• Israeli elections are scheduled for March 28, with the Iranian nuclear threat already shaping up to be a hot campaign issue.

As if to underscore that things are coming to a head, the London Sunday Times reported this month that Israel has ordered elite forces to be ready by late March for a possible strike against Iranian nuclear facilities.

Both Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s office and Israeli defense officials dismissed the Sunday Times story as a “baseless fabrication.”

At the same time, Sharon says Israel will not be able to tolerate a nuclear Iran and that the Jewish state has the capability to act to prevent it.

“We have the ability to deal with this and we are making all the preparations to be ready for such a situation,” he declared in an early December news conference.

But does Israel really have a military option against the Iranian nuclear threat? And can it go it alone, as it did against Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981? Most leading Israeli pundits are skeptical. And some fear election rhetoric could compromise Israeli policy, hurt Israel’s international standing and generally prove counterproductive.

Iranian statements over the past few months underline just how dangerous the threat to Israel could be.

In October, Iran’s hard-line President Ahmadinejad said Israel should be “wiped off the map,” and earlier this month he said Israel should be dismantled and re-established in Europe.

He followed that up with his assertion about the Holocaust.

“Today, they have created a myth in the name of the Holocaust and consider it to be above God, religion and the prophets,” Ahmadinejad said in a speech in the southeastern Iranian city of Zahedan. Officials of the regime, instead of backing down through a “clarification,” stood firm.

“Westerners are used to leading a monologue but they should learn to listen to different views,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said over the weekend. “What the president said is an academic issue. The West’s reaction shows their continued support for Zionists.”

Israeli officials say a bomb in the hands of leaders with ideas like these adds up to a rogue regime with a predisposition and the means to destroy Israel.

Israel’s dilemma is acute: how to get the international community to act without seeming to be goading it into action; or alternatively, how to act itself without incurring international opprobrium or aggravating the situation.

Powerful voices in the international community are cautioning Israel against attacking. In Norway to receive the Nobel Peace Prize over the weekend, the IAEA’s director, Mohammed ElBaradei asserted that force simply wouldn’t work.

“You cannot use force to prevent a country from obtaining nuclear weapons,” he told the Oslo-based Aftenposten. “By bombing them half to death, you can only delay the plans. But they will come back, and they will demand revenge.”

It is precisely because of the complexity of the issue that Sharon has been keen to put it on the election agenda. His message is plain: Labor leader Amir Peretz is too inexperienced to handle it, and Likud nominee Benjamin Netanyahu too unreliable.

Indeed, Netanyahu seemed to play into Sharon’s hands by declaring that if he became prime minister, he would bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities the way had bombed the Iraqi reactor under Menachem Begin. This drew a sharp editorial response from the Israeli daily Ha’aretz: “Whoever publicly recommends an Israeli military option sins doubly. He incites the Israeli public unnecessarily; presents Israel as pushing the U.S. into a major new war; drags this sensitive subject into the overheated rhetoric of an election campaign; and invites Iranian threats and various anti-Israel reactions.”

Official Israeli policy remains deliberately vague.

On the one hand, Israeli officials insist that for now the policy is to help mobilize international pressure on Teheran, but they refuse to rule out a future Israeli military strike.

“At the moment, in the current phase, the focus is in the sphere of international diplomacy,” Amos Gilead, head of the Defense Ministry’s strategic policy team, explained on Israel TV. But then, commenting on the Sunday Times story, he said he denied “the specifics” of the report, including the timetables and the Israeli intelligence operation in northern Iraq. But, he added, “it’s impossible to say in advance that all the options will be ruled out.”

Leading Israeli pundits, however, doubt whether Israel really has a military option. Writing in the Ma’ariv newspaper, analyst Ben Caspit pointed out the chief difference between Iraq in 1981 and Iran today: Whereas Iraq’s nuclear capacity was concentrated in one weakly guarded reactor, Iran’s fuel enrichment program is via centrifuges housed in several well-protected sites across the huge country.

“To attack, we would need a lot of intelligence, multiple strikes, the ability to hover over Iran for long periods and in large numbers, lots of luck, lots of bunker-busting bombs, and with all that, the chances of success would be slight,” Caspit wrote.

The former commander of the Israeli air force, reserve Maj. Gen. Eitan Ben-Eliyahu, said that if there is an attack some time in the future, Israel would only be part of a larger force — partly because the job is just too big for Israel to handle alone.

There would be too many targets, each target would need several fighter-bombers, protected by fighters, accompanied by rescue planes to pick up crew members who might be shot down.

“Maybe,” Ben-Eliyahu said, “there will be a joint decision for joint action one day, involving countries like the U.S., Britain, Germany and Turkey.”

Reuven Pedatzur, a strategist at the Netanya Academic College, said he doubts that any such joint action will ever materialize. Nor is it likely that Israel or any of the other players will take action to stop Iran alone.

“Iran may well come to possess nuclear arms,” he said. “And if that happens, Israel will have to learn to live with the Iranian threat and to neutralize it by means of credible deterrence.:

Israel’s deterrent capacity is impressive. Its Arrow anti-missile defense system is the most advanced of its kind in the world. Israel, according to foreign sources, also has an impressive second-strike capability: F-15 fighter bombers that can reach Iran without refueling, Dolphin submarines that can launch nuclear weapons from the sea and long-range missiles of it own. Theoretically, an Iranian nuclear attack on Israel could be blocked by the Arrow system, while an Israeli second strike could destroy Iran.

That equation, strategists like Pedatzur believe, should be enough to deter Ahmadinejad and the ayatollahs who effectively rule Iran, if or when they do finally manage to produce a bomb.

Additional reporting by Journal staff.