Showing some skin for the troops


Some support Israel’s troops with prayer; others support them by raising money. But some are supporting the troops by showing a little skin.

The Facebook page “Standing With IDF” was designed for women to show their support and boost soldiers’ morale with racy photos. The page features pictures of scantily clad women with messages of support to the Israel Defense Forces written on their bodies.

The page was unpublished by Facebook after a few days, and a new one with the same name has been created. It has spurred a slew of copycat pages.

Yafit Duer, the page’s volunteer moderator, said that she and her colleagues are working to get the original page up again.

The original page described its purpose as follows:

Fighting for the Israeli front. You’ll guard on top, we’ll guard your bottoms! We will win this battle of beauty for you.

Dear beloved IDF soldiers, we are here as an act of appreciation, you do not need to wait for 72 ugly virgins, you are our heroes. The beauty of Israel girls is waiting for you, here back home. Come back to us.

Additionally: among this page’s fans, we will have a monthly IDF soldier picked out for the special treatment… you know what they say, girls love heroes.

We would love to get your pics

Gavriel Beyo, the page’s creator, also started a similar page for men to post nude pictures. (That page was also removed, but it has not been replaced and hasn’t inspired copycats.)

Judging from messages posted to the “Standing With IDF” Facebook page, plenty of soldiers are enjoying it. “Thank you a thousand times, you girls are amazing me, and the paratroopers love you,” one soldier wrote.

But the page is not without its critics.

Jenny Kutner wrote on Salon that she hopes that “Standing With IDF has some deeper meaning I don’t see. Because a lot of people are dying, and that isn’t usually why people decide to show their boobs.”

Beyo, who has an advertising agency and runs an investment company, wrote to JTA: “You can say I was trying to romanticize IDF and Israel… [and] boost the soldiers sacrificing their lives and best years for us. I got reminded of the old days’ Pin-Up pictures of girls, you always see the soldiers looking at before battle, and thought that after a gloomy and scaring battle — that can serve as an ease.”

Beyo said he had received thousands of positive responses and was told that after returning from operations members of one unit look at the page before calling home, taking a shower or eating.

 

Israeli reservists frustrated, willing to fight in Gaza again


At 6:30 a.m. on Friday morning, two days after the current round of fighting in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Hamas began, the phone rang in Rafi’s house in Jerusalem, calling him up for reserve service in his combat infantry unit.

Rafi, 28, who, like all the reservists interviewed for this story asked not to use his last name, threw a few things in a duffel bag, left his wife and his biotechnology start-up company and reported to a pre-arranged assembly point in Jerusalem. The reservists boarded buses and were driven to their supply base. Within hours, they were down south, near Israel’s border with Gaza.

The reserve troops trained on Saturday even though it was the Jewish Sabbath when Orthodox Jews like Rafi do not usually drive, use electricity or fire a gun. But Israel’s rabbis have ruled that during a time of war, the religious laws may be violated. By Sunday, they were ready for the ground operation in Gaza.

“I thought it’s about time – [Hamas] had been firing a lot of rockets on the south and building up their weapons stocks, and Israel cannot allow that to continue,” Rafi told The Media Line. “We kept training on the specific tasks that my unit was assigned to – learning the map and studying the trail we’d be taking into Gaza.”

After four days, a cease-fire was declared and Rafi, along with the 50,000 other reservists who had been called up, was demobilized and sent home.

“For about 15-minutes I was boiling with anger, because I don’t think the cease-fire is going to hold. We had an important job to do that is not being done,” he said. “But after 15 minutes I started thinking of the bigger picture and realized that the government is considering other issues like Iran and Egypt. In the bigger picture, it was probably better to solve the problem outside the field of battle.”

Not all reservists are this sanguine. Shai, 44, a tank commander and the father of three boys, did not have to obey the mobilization order for his unit as soldiers are not required to do reserve duty after age 40. Yet, he volunteered, eager to join the expected ground operation in Gaza.

“All of us in the unit badly wanted to go inside Gaza because we wanted to stop the rocket fire and you can’t do that unless you bring in ground troops,” he told The Media Line. “We knew we would lose soldiers but we wanted to do it for our country and for quiet.”

Shai thinks the truce will not hold, and those called up were being used for political maneuvering in advance of Israel’s election. He says the soldiers were sent to the border just to scare Hamas, with no real intention of launching an actual ground operation. He feels it is only a matter of time until the rocket fire resumes and he gets another call-up.

“Next time, I and my friends might not come,” he says angrily. “Since we’re over 40 it’s not mandatory. If I were outside Israel on vacation, I wouldn’t come back to be used as a pawn in a political game.”

Reservists play a more important role in the Israeli army than in perhaps any other army in the world. While Jewish men are drafted at the age of 18 for three years, and women for two, many men continue to perform reserve through their thirties. According to army figures, there are 176,500 active personnel and 445,000 reservists. Many Israelis routinely leave their families and businesses for up to a month each year, often a difficult disruption.

“I missed five days of school, two tests and one assignment,” Aharon, 26, a paratroop reservist who is studying law and business told The Media Line. “It was a horrible waste of time.”

He added, however, that he would show up if he was called again.

University officials said they would make special accommodations for students who had been called up, and most workplaces are used to employees taking time off for reserve duty. Aharon’s response is typical, say Israeli military officials.

“In times of crisis, the reservists show up and this time more people turned up than were needed,” army spokeswoman Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich told The Media Line. “In my own unit, I called up two reservists and got dozens of phone calls from people who wanted to come and serve.”

Some military analysts say reservists’ frustration with what they saw as an inconclusive end to the fighting is natural, and will diminish over the next few months.

“They were called in to fight – they left their families and businesses and wanted to achieve victory,” Ami Ayalon, the former head of Israel’s Shin Bet domestic security service and former commander of Israel’s navy, told The Media Line. “We did not achieve victory or unconditional surrender the way wars used to end in the past century. You finish your training and then the operation is cancelled – it’s very frustrating.”

Other military analysts say that soldiers should be grateful that the ground operation was canceled.

“A wise soldier is never angry about not fighting and an experienced soldier does not feel bad if something was canceled,” Major General Emanuel Sakal, the former head of Israel army ground forces, told The Media Line. “With or without the reservists the story of Gaza will repeat itself again and again. There is no simple solution and the frustration the reservists felt is the same frustration all Israelis feel.”

Israeli cabinet authorizes mobilization of up to 75,000 reservists


Israel's cabinet authorized the mobilization of up to 75,000 reservists late on Friday, preparing the ground for a possible Gaza invasion after Palestinians fired a rocket toward Jerusalem for the first time in decades.

Tel Aviv, Israel's commercial centre, also came under rocket attack for the second straight day, in defiance of an Israeli air offensive that began on Wednesday with the declared aim of deterring Hamas from launching cross-border attacks that have plagued southern Israel for years.

Hamas, the Islamist group that runs the Gaza Strip, claimed responsibility for firing at Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Israel said the rocket launched toward Jerusalem landed in the occupied West Bank, and the one fired at Tel Aviv did not hit the city. There were no reports of casualties.

The siren that sounded in Jerusalem stunned many Israelis. The city, holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians, was last struck by a Palestinian rocket in 1970, and it was not a target when Saddam Hussein's Iraq fired missiles at Israel in the 1991 Gulf War.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a four-hour strategy session with a clutch of senior ministers in Tel Aviv on widening the military campaign, while other cabinet members were polled by telephone on raising the mobilization level.

Political sources said they decided to more than double the current reserve troop quota set for the Gaza offensive to 75,000. The move did not necessarily mean all would be called into service.

Hours earlier, Egypt's prime minister, denouncing what he described as Israeli aggression, visited Gaza and said Cairo was prepared to mediate a truce.

Officials in Gaza said 29 Palestinians – 13 militants and 16 civilians, among them eight children and a pregnant woman – had been killed in the enclave since Israel began its air strikes. Three Israeli civilians were killed by a rocket on Thursday.

The Israeli military said 97 rockets fired from Gaza hit Israel on Friday and 99 more were intercepted by its Iron Dome anti-missile system. Dozens of Israeli bombing raids rocked the enclave, and one flattened the Gaza Interior Ministry building.

In a further sign Netanyahu might be clearing the way for a ground operation, Israel's armed forces announced that a highway leading to the territory and two roads bordering the enclave of 1.7 million Palestinians would be off-limits to civilian traffic.

Tanks and self-propelled guns were seen near the border area on Friday, and the military said it had already called 16,000 reservists to active duty.

Netanyahu is favorite to win a January national election, but further rocket strikes against Tel Aviv, a free-wheeling city Israelis equate with New York, and Jerusalem, which Israel regards as its capital, could be political poison for the conservative leader.

“The Israel Defence Forces will continue to hit Hamas hard and are prepared to broaden the action inside Gaza,” Netanyahu said before the rocket attacks on the two cities.

Asked about Israel massing forces for a possible Gaza invasion, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said: “The Israelis should be aware of the grave results of such a raid, and they should bring their body bags.”

SOLIDARITY VISIT

A solidarity visit to Gaza by Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Kandil, whose Islamist government is allied with Hamas but also party to a 1979 peace treaty with Israel, had appeared to open a tiny window to emergency peace diplomacy.

Kandil said: “Egypt will spare no effort … to stop the aggression and to achieve a truce.”

But a three-hour truce that Israel declared for the duration of Kandil's visit never took hold.

Israel Radio's military affairs correspondent said the army's Homefront Command had told municipal officials to make civil defence preparations for the possibility that fighting could drag on for seven weeks. An Israeli military spokeswoman declined to comment on the report.

The Gaza conflagration has stoked the flames of a Middle East already ablaze with two years of Arab revolution and a civil war in Syria that threatens to leap across borders.

It is the biggest test yet for Egypt's new President Mohamed Morsi, a veteran Islamist politician from the Muslim Brotherhood who was elected this year after last year's protests ousted military autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood are spiritual mentors of Hamas, yet Morsi has also pledged to respect Cairo's 1979 peace treaty with Israel, seen in the West as the cornerstone of regional security. Egypt and Israel both receive billions of dollars in U.S. military aid to underwrite their treaty.

Mursi has vocally denounced the Israeli military action while promoting Egypt as a mediator, a mission that his prime minister's visit was intended to further.

A Palestinian official close to Egypt's mediators told Reuters Kandil's visit “was the beginning of a process to explore the possibility of reaching a truce. It is early to speak of any details or of how things will evolve”.

Hamas fighters are no match for the Israeli military. The last Gaza war, involving a three-week long Israeli air blitz and ground invasion over the New Year period of 2008-2009, killed more than 1,400 Palestinians. Thirteen Israelis died.

Tunisia's foreign minister was due to visit Gaza on Saturday “to provide all political support for Gaza” the spokesman for the Tunisian president, Moncef Marzouki, said in a statement.

The United States asked countries that have contact with Hamas to urge the Islamist movement to stop its rocket attacks.

Hamas refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist. By contrast, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who rules in the nearby West Bank, does recognize Israel, but peace talks between the two sides have been frozen since 2010.

Abbas's supporters say they will push ahead with a plan to have Palestine declared an “observer state” rather than a mere “entity” at the United Nations later this month.

Additional reporting by Maayan Lubell, Jeffrey Heller and Crispian Balmer in Jerusalem; Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Giles Elgood and Will Waterman

Who’s winning the foreign policy debate?


It is often assumed that foreign policy is a field in which deeds matter more than words. But looking at the two presidential candidates in the 2012 election cycle, Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney, one might end up with the opposite impression: It is words, not deeds, that make their foreign policies seem different. 

When it comes to what to do in the world, the differences between them seem minor and occasional, and the specifics are not always easy to identify. Romney says he wants tougher sanctions on Iran, but does not share with his audience his prescription for getting there. And, in the end, his policies might end up being quite similar to Obama’s. For his part, Obama, for a very long time, has been in the business of advancing peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians without ever managing to prescribe a viable remedy to that familiarly adamant sore. His policies, rhetoric aside, have ended up not far from where Romney’s stated policy might take us.

When it comes to what to say to the world, though, the contrast between Obama and Romney suddenly becomes clearer. “I believe that if America does not lead, others will,” Romney said two weeks ago, bluntly presenting a vision of a United States that is ready to be confrontational in a world-leadership role. Obama, a couple of months before being elected president, had a very different vision: “The world,” he said, “is waiting for the United States to re-engage,” and the U.S. would find it “very difficult for us to meet these 21st century challenges unless we get more effective partnerships with our allies in other countries overseas.” Romney wants the United States to lead, whether the world likes it or not; Obama thinks that for America’s leadership to succeed, it is essential that the world likes it.

 Next week, in their third and final debate of the season, the two candidates will engage in a foreign-policy battle in Florida. This will hardly be the first time for either of them to present their respective philosophies to the public. 

For Romney, there is a problem in any such debate: his lack of a record. All he has is speeches, and one never knows whether he really intends to pursue the policies he now advocates. One never knows if he would really “recommit America to the goal of a democratic, prosperous Palestinian state,” as he said two weeks ago — especially so, because just last summer Romney stated that the Palestinians are not culturally fit to have a prosperous state and that chances for any such coexistence are slim. 

For Obama, there is a mirror-image problem: His record of the past four years is full of tactical achievements, but coherent strategies are rare. Yes, he was the president blessed with the opportunity to send troops to kill Osama bin Laden — arguably his greatest achievement abroad — but that achievement doesn’t say much about Obama’s policies, even as he deserves credit for having the courage and the resolve to make the decision. Obama also deserves credit for making good on many of his pledges — gradually disengaging in Iraq and Afghanistan are the prime examples. However, his policies have had mixed results at best. A stable Egypt was lost on his watch (to be fair, there wasn’t much he could do to stop that). Confidence in America’s resolve diminished (that is where his unceremonious abandonment of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak did play a role). And one never quite knows if Obama has learned the proper lessons from his failures, if he has finally realized that getting the Nobel Peace Prize was premature, and remains so. 

In his “Mantle of Leadership” speech on Oct. 8 at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Va., Romney advocated for several policies — actual policies — that are different from Obama’s: He said he is reluctant to withdraw troops from Afghanistan based on decisions attached to the calendar. He wants more aid sent to the Syrian rebels, a point repeated by Paul Ryan in the vice presidential debate. He would have warm relations with the Israeli government — while Obama rightly argues that his relations with “Israel” are just fine, the “government” is another matter. Romney would also take a tougher position on missile defense, paying the consequent price of tenser relations with Russia. And he would spend more on defense — his only pledge that signals a difference that is both strategically significant and reasonably credible. 

Oddly, as the Asia-Pacific region emerges as an area of much importance — an area that Obama celebrated in 2009 by calling himself America’s “first Pacific president” — neither candidate has thus far engaged in serious statements on the proper policy going forward in that region. The Middle East — the bloody, sticky, rioting, chaotic, treacherous Middle East — is again dominating the foreign agenda. From the blunder over the terror attack on the American embassy in Libya — an embarrassment the Obama administration can’t reasonably escape, but that, in the end, has very little strategic meaning — to Egypt, where Romney would like a more conditional approach “to urge the new government to represent all Egyptians, to build democratic institutions, and to maintain its peace treaty with Israel,” to Syria, where Romney wants more aid for the rebels — a move that Vice President Joe Biden claimed is already in the works by the current administration. 

“We are working hand in glove with the Turks, with the Jordanians, with the Saudis and with all the people in the region attempting to identify the people who deserve the help so that when Assad goes  …” Biden said during the vice presidential debate. He also bluntly and accurately answered the question of why intervention was justified in Libya and is not U.S. policy in Syria. Accurately — although not when it comes to some of the details. In the heat of debate, the knowledgeable vice president mixed up his facts when he spoke about geography and population density in the two countries. Alas, Biden got it right when he spelled out the theme that has been evident to all observers of the Obama policies for quite a while: This administration doesn’t do grand strategy in the Middle East — not since its initial strategy of “engagement” collapsed in Iran and in Syria and everywhere else. What the Obama team does is crisis management. Sometimes more successfully, sometimes less so; sometimes based on a solid analysis, sometimes more on something resembling a hunch. 

In Egypt, the Obama administration decided to side with the revolutionaries, but in Bahrain, it turned a blind eye when Saudi forces crushed any attempt to advance reforms. In Libya, it intervened — leading “from behind” — but in Syria, it has not. In Iran, it pushed for tough sanctions, but refrained from more actively supporting demonstrations against the regime. All in all, it did not make many mistakes as it was watching the old order of the Middle East crumble. That’s an achievement of sorts. On the other hand, its stance was to watch events unfold — not to lead, not to initiate and, in the end, not to have much impact.

Thus, the actual policy differences between Obama and Romney — over aid, security, timetables and budget — pale in comparison to their different outlooks on what America’s leadership role should be in the world. Obama wants his policies to soothe, to cajole, to help him make friends. Romney wants to make a stand, to convey a message of strength. Although both candidates are internationalists, and both say they want America to lead the world, the kinds of leadership they are talking about sound quite different. Obama keeps arguing that his soft-spoken approach has enabled him to gain allies, and even reluctant rivals, on board in his quest to isolate Iran. Romney keeps arguing that isolation is a means to an end — stopping Iran from nuclear armament — which the Obama administration has not achieved. 

When it comes to what their policies for the next four years might look like, the two candidates, in fact, are not as far apart as one might think. When it comes to projecting an image of leading America, they are. And in foreign policy — both seem to think — image counts no less than deeds.


Shmuel Rosner is the Senior Political Editor. He is the author of “Obama vs. Romney: A Jewish Voter’s Guide” (Jewish Journal Books), available at amazon.com.

Securing Syria chemical weapons may take tens of thousands of troops


The United States and its allies are discussing a worst-case scenario that could require tens of thousands of ground troops to go into Syria to secure chemical and biological weapons sites following the fall of President Bashar Assad’s government, according to U.S. and diplomatic officials.

These secret discussions assume that all of Assad’s security forces disintegrate, leaving chemical and biological weapons sites in Syria vulnerable to pillaging. The scenario also assumes these sites could not be secured or destroyed solely through aerial bombings, given health and environmental risks.

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity to explain the sensitive discussions, said the United States still had no plans to put boots on the ground in Syria. President Barack Obama’s administration has, in fact, so far refused to provide lethal support to the rebels fighting to oust Assad’s regime and the Pentagon has played down the possibility of implementing a no-fly zone anytime soon.

“There is not a imminent plan to deploy ground forces. This is, in fact, a worst-case scenario,” the official said, adding U.S. forces would likely play a role in such a mission.

Two diplomatic sources, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said as many as 50,000 or 60,000 ground forces may be needed if officials’ worst fears are realized, plus additional support forces.

Even a force of 60,000 troops, however, would not be large enough for peacekeeping and would only be the amount required to secure the weapons sites – despite some of the appearances of a Iraq-style occupation force, the diplomatic sources cautioned.

It is unclear at this stage how such a military mission would be organized and which nations might participate. But some European allies have indicated they are unlikely to join, the sources said.

The White House declined comment on specific contingency plans. Spokesman Tommy Vietor said that while the U.S. government believes the chemical weapons are under the Syrian government’s control, “Given the escalation of violence in Syria, and the regime’s increasing attacks on the Syrian people, we remain very concerned about these weapons.

“In addition to monitoring their stockpiles, we are actively consulting with Syria’s neighbors – and our friends in the international community – to underscore our common concern about the security of these weapons, and the Syrian government’s obligation to secure them,” Vietor said.

The Pentagon declined to comment.

POTENTIALLY DOZENS OF SITES

While there is no complete accounting of Syria’s unconventional weapons, it is widely believed to have stockpiles of nerve agents such as VX, sarin and tabun.

The U.S. official said there were potentially dozens of chemical and biological weapons sites scattered around the country.

Securing them could not be left to an aerial bombing, which could lead to the dispersion of those agents, the official said.

“There could be second-order effects that could be extremely problematic,” the official said of aerial bombing.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said last month that it was important that Syrian security forces be held together when Assad is forced from power, citing, in particular, their ability to secure chemical weapons sites.

“They do a pretty good job of securing those sites,” Panetta said in an interview with CNN in July. “If they suddenly walked away from that, it would be a disaster to have those chemical weapons fall into the wrong hands, hands of Hezbollah or other extremists in that area.”

The United States, Israel and Western powers have been discussing the nightmarish possibility that some of Assad’s chemical weapons could make their way to militant groups – al-Qaeda style Sunni Jihadi insurgents or pro-Iranian Shi’ite Lebanese fighters from Hezbollah.

Some Western intelligence sources suggested that Hezbollah and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, both close allies of Syria, might try to get hold of the chemical weapons in the case of a total collapse of government authority.

Syria began to acquire the ability to develop and produce chemical weapons agents in 1973, including mustard gas and sarin, and possibly also VX nerve agent.

Precise quantities and configurations of chemical weapons in the Syrian stockpile are not known. However, the CIA has estimated that Syria possesses several hundred liters of chemical weapons and produces hundreds of tons of agents annually.

The Global Security website, which collects published intelligence reports and other data, says there are several suspected chemical weapons facilities in Syria.

Analysts have also identified the town of Cerin, on the coast, as a possible production site for biological weapons.

Editing by Warren Strobel

Israeli troops foil terror attack on Egypt border


Israeli troops thwarted a terror attack on Israel’s border with Egypt.

During a routine patrol on the Israel-Egypt border to prevent smuggling, Israeli soldiers stopping a smuggling attempt witnessed a man leave a bag on the Israeli side of the border and flee back to Egypt. The bag was found to contain a “powerful explosive device,” according to a statement from the Israel Defense Forces.

Army sappers detonated the device in a controlled explosion.

According to the IDF, terrorists likely were planning to use the explosive device as a roadside bomb against Israel soldiers patrolling near the southern border.

“This incident is a reminder that the smuggling routes along the Israel-Egypt border are constantly being used by terror organizations to execute terror attacks against the citizens of Israel and IDF soldiers,” said the IDF statement, which also praised the soldiers’ alertness.

Israel arrests troops for anti-Palestinian vandalism


Three Israeli soldiers were arrested on Tuesday for suspected involvement in pro-settler vandalism and arson, the military said, following a series of attacks in the West Bank that have exacerbated tensions with Palestinians.

Mosques have been torched, graffiti daubed, and Palestinian trees chopped down in the “Price Tag” attacks, so called because they seek to make Palestinians pay for violence against Israelis and the Jewish state pay for its occasional curbs on settlement activity.

Fearing a flare-up in violence, Israel has ordered a police crackdown on the suspected far-right Jewish groups behind the attacks which have also targeted some of Israel’s West Bank garrisons, slashing vehicle tires and defacing property.

Channel Ten TV said the three soldiers were suspected of damaging both Palestinian and Israeli military property.

The arrests are a rare example of conscript troops’ involvement in the Price Tag campaign and a military spokeswoman declined to detail allegations against them, saying that an investigation was under way.

But she said they were taken into custody following the arrest by civilian police on Sunday of a woman and six girls, some of them settlers, for incidents including vandalism of Palestinian trees and army property.

Channel Ten TV said one of three lived in an unauthorized settler outpost, adding that one was also a combat soldier.

Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Ben Harding

The Arab Spring and Iraq


The Arab Spring, as a moniker for the revolution that seemed about to sweep the Middle East earlier this year, has given way to far less cheerful seasonal metaphors — from long, hot summer to dark, dismal winter. In Egypt, where “people power” toppled Hosni Mubarak’s corrupt dictatorship, the dream of freedom has morphed into a nightmare of mob violence and military crackdown. In other countries whose dictators have been more willing to use extreme savagery to hold on to power, the opposition is getting slaughtered — except for Libya, where Western intervention has made the difference.

What lessons should we learn from these depressing developments? And should these lessons include a reassessment of the war in Iraq?

The first lesson is that when it comes to world politics, cynicism is, alas, a safe bet. A few months ago, people who cautioned that the upheaval in the Mideast could lead to the rise of dangerously radical regimes were commonly labeled as paranoid naysayers if not bigots. When Sen. John McCain sounded such a warning last February, the leftist Web site ThinkProgress.com lambasted him for negativity toward a movement pursuing “freedom and self-determination.”

Concerns about politicized Islamic fundamentalism were dismissed because the victorious anti-Mubarak activists were mainly young and modern. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof shrugged off Islamism as a “bogeyman,” asserting that the Coptic Christians he interviewed in Egypt were baffled and offended when he asked if the revolution might end in a more oppressive society.

What would those Copts say now when their community faces escalating aggression? A recent protest by Christians demanding a stop to the violence was brutally dispersed by soldiers, leaving 25 dead and hundreds injured. Youssef Sidhom, editor-in-chief of the Coptic newspaper al-Watani, tells Reuters that “the new emerging faction of Islamists and Salafists [Muslim ultra-fundamentalists] has created havoc since the January revolution.” Nearly 100,000 Christians have fled Egypt.

Other pessimistic predictions, too, are looking prescient. The upcoming parliamentary elections are almost certain to make the Muslim Brotherhood Egypt’s single dominant party — and the military is poised to indefinitely delay full transfer of power to civilians. Meanwhile, measures to stop weapons smuggling to Hamas across the Egyptian border have been virtually discontinued.

The point is not that any revolution in a Muslim country is likely to slide into violent fanaticism; rather, revolutions in general are liable to fall into the hands of the worst factions, be it communists or Islamists. (Even the much-praised secular activists who helped bring down Mubarak are probably more likely to be Che Guevara lovers than classical liberals.)

Critics of the Arab Spring have been accused of supporting democracy in other countries only when those countries do what the West wants. That’s a crude caricature, but it is related to a pesky fact: Peaceful transition from dictatorship to democracy is more likely when the revolution is friendly to America and its allies. This was evident in Eastern Europe after the fall of Communism. Today, of the Arab Spring countries, the most encouraging situation is probably in Tunisia: While a moderate Islamic party is set to lead in the upcoming elections, it is a party that pledges to respect secular law, boasts female candidates who don’t wear the veil and promises expanded trade with the United States.

Unfortunately, Western and American involvement is no panacea either. We do not know whether the Libyan rebels effectively backed by the United States will bring about positive change or a Taliban-style fiasco: despite their professed liberal values, some of their leaders have jihadist ties and are evasive on whether they favor a sharia-governed Islamic state. Now, foreign-policy interventionists lament the West’s failure to help rid Syria of its homicidal tyrant, Bashar al-Assad. But who or what will follow in his wake?

In a recent column, Washington Post deputy editorial page editor Jackson Diehl suggests that the woes of the Arab Spring cast the now-reviled Iraq war in a better light: Today’s Iraq, where violence has quieted and rival groups are learning coexistence, is a model for “what Syria, and much of the rest of the Arab Middle East, might hope to be.” Yet the road to this peace lies through several years of strife that took more than 100,000 lives — and it’s not all in the past: An outbreak of violence against Christians took dozens of lives less than a year ago.

Diehl argues that if Syria’s Assad falls, the sectarian and tribal violence could be even worse, without American and allied troops to curb it. Most controversially, he concludes that the invasion of Iraq has been somewhat vindicated — and that “Syrians may well find themselves wishing that it had happened to them.”

There have been predictable cries of outrage at the claim that anyone would welcome a U.S. invasion. But that’s not an outrageous notion unless one wears left-wing blinders: For all the hardships in Iraq, polls consistent ly show about half of Iraqis supporting the 2003 invasion. Still, another Iraq with its human and social costs on both sides is now unthinkable. Too many roads to hell have been paved by humanitarian intentions.

Today, democracy promotion tends to be viewed as naively arrogant: Who are we to bring freedom to other countries? One answer is that “we” — the United States and other industrial democracies — are, for all our flaws, the possessors of the only working model of a free society, as well as a civilization with unmatched economic, cultural and military power. There is no arrogance in seeking to advance the universal values of liberty and human rights — as long as we do so with a sense of realism, and of our own limitations.

Cathy Young is a contributing editor at Reason magazine and a columnist at The Boston Globe. She is the author of “Growing Up in Moscow: Memories of a Soviet Girlhood.”

U.S. to pull out of Iraq nearly nine years after war began


President Barack Obama said on Friday he would pull U.S. troops from Iraq this year, almost nine years after the U.S. invasion, after he failed to convince Iraq that several thousand troops should remain in part as a balance against neighboring Iran.

After months of negotiations with officials in Baghdad failed to reach an agreement to keep perhaps thousands of U.S. troops in Iraq as trainers, Obama announced he would stick to plans pull out entirely by year’s end.

“As promised, the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year. After nearly nine years, America’s war in Iraq will be over,” Obama told reporters.

The full withdrawal of American troops, with the exception of around 160 soldiers who will remain behind under State Department authority to train Iraqi forces and a small contingent of soldiers guarding the U.S. embassy, marks a major milestone in the war that started in 2003 and resulted in the removal of Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.

An estimated 4,479 U.S. troops were killed in the Iraq war.

View a timeline of the Iraq war

Obama spoke after a video conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and said the two were in full agreement about how to move forward.

Both Obama and Maliki said the removal of the approximately 40,000 remaining troops would allow the two nations to move to a new phase in their closely intertwined yet complicated relationship.

“The two sides’ points of view were identical in terms of starting new phase of our strategic relations … after achieving withdrawal at the end of the year,” Maliki’s office said in a statement.

But the announcement underscores the gaps that remain between U.S. and Iraqi priorities and political realities.

Earlier this week, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said American and Iraqi officials were continuing discussions that might permit U.S. soldiers to stay beyond a Dec. 31 deadline.

In the end, the two countries were apparently unable to reach agreement over legal protections for any remaining U.S. soldiers.

For months, Iraq’s fractured political elite was at odds over whether American soldiers should stay as trainers. Baghdad rejected any legal immunity for U.S. soldiers, and Washington said that meant no deal.

The U.S. military role in Iraq has been mostly reduced to advising the security forces in a country where levels of violence had declined sharply from a peak of sectarian strife in 2006-2007, but attacks remain a daily occurrence.

Senior Iraqis say in private they would like a U.S. troop presence to keep the peace between Iraqi Arabs and Kurds in a dispute over who controls oil-rich areas in the north of Iraq.

Yet as the Obama administration frets about the influence of Baghdad’s neighbor Tehran, the U.S. presence will remain substantial. U.S. officials say the embassy in Baghdad, an imposing, fortified complex by the Tigris River in Baghdad’s Green Zone, will be the largest in the world.

Reporting by Tabassum Zakaria, Deborah Charles, Alister Bull and Matt Spetalnick in Washington and Patrick Markey in Baghdad; Writing by Missy Ryan; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Jackie Frank

Timeline of Iraq war


President Barack Obama said on Friday the United States will remove the remainder of its troops from Iraq by the end of the year and that “after nearly nine years, America’s war in Iraq will be over.”

Here is a timeline of major events related to the war.

Oct. 11, 2002: The U.S. Congress votes overwhelmingly to authorize President George W. Bush to use force against Iraq, giving him a broad mandate to act against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The Bush administration had argued that Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction posed an immediate threat to U.S. and global security. Bush said that “the gathering threat of Iraq must be confronted fully and finally.”

Feb. 6, 2003: U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell sought international backing for military action against Iraq in a presentation before the U.N. Security Council, using satellite photos and communications intercepts to try to show Iraq’s deceptions over weapons of mass destruction.

March 20, 2003: U.S.-led forces invade Iraq from Kuwait to oust Saddam Hussein. The U.S.-led effort crushes the Iraqi military and chases Saddam from power in a span of weeks.

April 9, 2003: U.S. troops seize Baghdad. Saddam goes into hiding. Lawlessness quickly emerges in Iraq’s capital and elsewhere, with U.S. troops failing to bring order.

May 1, 2003: President George W. Bush declares that “major combat operations in Iraq have ended” and that “in the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.” As he spoke aboard the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln, a banner behind him stated, “Mission Accomplished.”

Summer 2003: An insurgency arises to fight U.S.-led forces. U.S. forces fail to find weapons of mass destruction.

Dec. 13, 2003: U.S. troops capture Saddam, bearded and bedraggled, hiding in a hole near Tikrit.

Jan. 28, 2004: Top U.S. weapons inspector David Kay acknowledges to the U.S. Congress that “we were almost all wrong” about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.

Spring 2004: Insurgency intensifies with violence in Falluja and elsewhere in the mainly Sunni Muslim Anbar province as well as violence by followers of Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in major Shi’ite cities in the south. The United States also faces international condemnation after photographs emerge showing abuse of detainees at the Abu Ghraib jail.

Feb. 22, 2006: Bombing of a Shi’ite shrine in Samarra sparks widespread sectarian slaughter, raising fears of civil war between Iraq’s majority Shi’ite and minority Sunni Muslims.

June 7, 2006: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al Qaeda’s leader in Iraq, is killed by U.S. forces.

Dec. 30, 2006: Saddam Hussein hanged by masked executioners after receiving a death sentence from an Iraqi court for the killings of 148 men and boys in a northern Iraqi town in 1982.

January 2007: Bush formulates and announces a new war strategy including a “surge” of U.S. troops into Iraq to combat the insurgency and pull Iraq back from the brink of civil war.

June 15, 2007: U.S. military completes its troop build-up to around 170,000 soldiers.

Aug. 29, 2007: Moqtada al-Sadr orders his Mehdi Army militia to cease fire.

Nov. 17, 2008: Iraq and the United States sign an accord requiring Washington to withdraw its forces by the end of 2011. The pact gives the government authority over the U.S. mission for the first time, replacing a U.N. Security Council mandate. Parliament approves pact after negotiations 10 days later.

Feb. 27, 2009: New U.S. President Barack Obama announces a plan to end U.S. combat operations in Iraq by Aug. 31, 2010.

June 30, 2009: All U.S. combat units withdraw from Iraq’s urban centers and redeploy to bases outside.

Oct. 4, 2011: Iraq’s Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki wins support from political blocs on keeping U.S. troops as trainers, but they reject any deal that would grant U.S. troops immunity as Washington had requested.

Oct. 21, 2011: Obama says the United States will complete a withdrawal of all its remaining troops in Iraq by the end of 2011 after the two countries failed to reach a deal to leave several thousand U.S. troops behind. The Pentagon said there have been more than 4,400 U.S. military deaths in Iraq since the 2003 invasion.

Compiled by Will Dunham; Editing by Jackie Frank

Iraqis fret about security after US withdrawal


Iraqis fretted about the ability of their armed forces to protect them from violence after U.S. President Barack Obama said on Friday all U.S. troops would withdraw by the end of the year.

Washington and Baghdad failed to agree on the issue of immunity for U.S. forces after months of talks over whether American soldiers would stay on as trainers more than eight years after the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

Obama’s announcement prompted worries among Iraqis over the stability of their country and a possible slide back into sectarian violence.

“I would be very happy with this withdrawal if our military and security forces are ready to fill the gap of the American forces. But I don’t believe they are. We can’t deceive ourselves,” said Baghdad shoe shop owner Ziyad Jabari.

“Our forces are still not capable of facing our security challenges. I’m afraid this withdrawal will allow al Qaeda and the militias to return.”

A stubborn Sunni insurgency tied to al Qaeda and Shi’ite militia still carry out lethal attacks in Iraq, where bombings and killings happen daily even though violence has dropped from the height of sectarian fighting in 2006-2007.

At least 70 people were killed last week as a series of attacks rocked the capital Baghdad.

In September, 42 Iraqi police and 33 soldiers were killed, according to government figures.

Iraqi security forces have been the prime target of attacks this year as insurgents seek to undermine security in the country ahead of the scheduled U.S. withdrawal by year-end.

“As an Iraqi citizen, I say to Mr. Obama, you will leave Iraq without accomplishing your mission,” said Munaf Hameed, a 47-year-old account manager at a private bank.

“No security, an unstable political regime, sectarian tensions and weak security forces, that’s what America will leave behind,” he said.

POLITICAL STABILITY

Some Iraqi leaders say in private they would like a U.S. troop presence as a guarantee to ward off sectarian troubles and keep the peace between Iraqi Arabs and Kurds in a dispute over who controls oil-rich areas in the north.

Iraqi and U.S. forces have said Iraq needs trainers beyond 2011 to develop its military capabilities, particularly its air and naval defences.

The country’s power-sharing coalition made up of Sunni, Shi’ite and Kurdish blocs is also caught in a political stalemate many Iraqis fear could worsen without a U.S. buffer.

“I think the fighting between the political blocs will increase because the U.S. presence was a safety valve for security and political issues,” said Muntadhir Abdel Wahab, 44, a Baghdad merchant.

But some Iraqis applauded the decision by Obama and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and said the withdrawal of U.S. troops would help stabilise the country’s fragile political situation and quell sectarian tensions.

Many Iraqis still have memories of abuses committed by U.S. troops and contractors during the more violent years of Iraq’s conflict. That made securing immunity tricky for Maliki.

Iraqi lawmakers backing anti-American Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose political bloc is a key part of Maliki’s coalition government, said they would disrupt the power-sharing government if he agreed to keep U.S. forces.

“Iraq’s people will realise the necessity of living together in one country despite differences in religion, sect and nationality,” said engineer Mahdi Salim, who was visiting family in Kirkuk. “America tried to drag us into civil war.”

Additional reporting by Muhanad Mohammed and Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad and Mustafa Mahmoud in Kirkuk; Writing by Serena Chaudhry

Report: Israel to allow more Egyptian troops in Sinai


Israel will allow more Egyptian troops to be deployed in the Sinai in order to keep order in the increasingly chaotic peninsula, according to a report in The Economist.

Ehud Barak said that Israel would allow thousands of Egyptian troops into the peninsula, the magazine reported. The report said that the new deployment could include helicopters and armored vehicles but not tanks.

Military deployments in the Sinai are limited by the peace accords under which Israel had returned control of the Sinai to Egypt.

The Jerusalem Post reported that the speaker of the Knesset, Reuven Rivlin, instructed the Israeli parliament’s legal adviser to examine whether a move to allow the deployment of Egyptian troops in the Sinai would require Knesset approval.

“It is quite possible that the permission to allow the introduction of Egyptian forces in Sinai, which is defined as a demilitarized zone as part of the peace agreement, will require the approval of the Knesset,” Rivlin said. “It is not enough that there is an agreement between the defense minister and prime minister, without the approval of the government.”

Over the past year, Israel has repeatedly allowed additional deployments of Egyptian troops to the Sinai in order to quell disturbances and keep order. The latest news comes a week after terrorists infiltrated Israel via its border with Egypt and killed eight Israelis.

The August 18 incident also strained Israel’s ties with Egypt when five members of Egyptian security forces were killed amid the clashes between the terrorists and Israeli troops.

Israel on Thursday agreed to jointly investigate with Egypt the deaths of the Egyptian security personnel, Reuters reported.

“Israel is ready to hold a joint investigation with the Egyptians into the difficult event,” Israeli national security adviser Yaakov Amidror said in a statement issued by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office, according to Reuters.

Previously Israeli officials had said Israel would investigate the deaths and report back to Egypt on the findings.

Demonstrators in Cairo on Friday held what was billed as a “million-man” demonstration calling for the expulsion of Israel’s ambassador to Egypt. According to The Jerusalem Post, hundreds of demonstrators showed up.

Also on Friday, the Arab League’s secretary-general, Nabil Elaraby, who was previously Egypt’s foreign minister, reportedly said in a television interview that the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt is not sacred and could be amended or annulled if breached.

Israeli troops kill Palestinian approaching border


Israeli troops shot and killed a Palestinian man who entered a security zone near the Gaza-Israel border.

The man, 22, approached the border on Tuesday night between Israel and Gaza where, according to the Israel Defense Forces, terrorists often plant bombs or attack Israeli patrols. It is not known if he had any weapons or explosives with him.

The shooting death occurred less than a day after Israeli airstrikes hit four targets in the Gaza Strip in retaliation for a rocket attack on Beersheba, killing a Palestinian man. The Israeli Air Force on Tuesday morning also struck a squad of terrorists preparing to fire rockets at Israel, thwarting the attack, the IDF said.

Israeli troops kill 3 nearing security fence


Israeli soldiers shot and killed three Palestinians in Gaza who were approaching the security fence in an attempt to plant explosive devices, the Israeli military said.

The Israeli military said the men were approaching the fence in the northern Gaza Strip.

Palestinian sources quoted in international media identified the three men, in their 20s, as fishermen.

About 100 terror-related incidents took place in 2010 near the security fence surrounding the Gaza Strip, an average of an incident every three days, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

The IDF said in a statement that it keeps the area adjacent to the security fence free of people because terrorist organizations have used the presence of civilians in the area as a cover for terror activities, including planting remote-controlled bombs meant to injure Israeli soldiers on patrol.

On Feb. 14, as the military’s new chief of staff was being sworn in, a Kassam rocket was fired from Gaza into southern Israel.

Israeli troops go on alert amid Lebanon’s political turmoil


Israeli troops on the border with Lebanon went on high alert following the collapse of Lebanon’s government.

No additional reservists have been called up, however, according to reports.

Military officials reportedly are concerned that Hezbollah, whose exit from the government caused its collapse, would initiate a disturbance on its border with Israel in order to deflect attention from the political crisis.

The opposition Hezbollah party and its allies resigned Wednesday from the cabinet of Prime Minister Saad Hariri, bringing down the government on the same day that Hariri met with President Obama in Washington.

The resignation comes as a United Nations special tribunal is set to release a report that sheds light on the assassination of Hariri’s father, Rafik, in 2005 when he was the country’s prime minister. The report is expected to point the finger at senior Hezbollah members.

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Raouf Sheibani said in a statement sent to media outlets Thursday that “sabotage and obstruction by America and the Zionist regime,” referring to Israel, caused the collapse of the Lebanese government.

Iranian Jewish kids fill care packages for troops, JFS honors goodness of Goldstines


Iranian Jews Fill Care Packages for Troops

More than 50 local Iranian and other L.A.-area Jewish volunteers of various ages gathered at the Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills on May 25 to celebrate Memorial Day and prepare more than 300 care packages for U.S. troops based in Afghanistan and Iraq. Volunteers included parents and children, as well as mentors and mentees from the Los Angeles Jewish Big Brothers Big Sister’s organization, who stopped by waiting stations to fill their boxes with magazines, coffee, pocket fans, toiletries, sun block, nuts, beef jerky and new socks that had been requested by U.S. troops fighting overseas.

“As much as we are Iranian Jews living here in U.S., we are Americans who love this country,” said Jacob Hanaie, the event’s coordinator and a Nessah Synagogue volunteer. “We wanted to not only show our wonderful soldiers our appreciation for their efforts but to also show our immediate community that it’s very important to say thank you to our wonderful soldiers for their efforts and for their sacrifices to help keep us safe here.”

A few local non-Jewish Iranian Americans also participated in the gathering after hearing about it in on local Persian-language radio programs.
Volunteers on hand also drew pictures and wrote letters of appreciation to U.S. soldiers, which were included in the care packages.

Nessah board members said they were encouraged to organize the event again after the success of a similar 2006 event that resulted in an influx of thank-you letters from American troops stationed in the Middle East.

— Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer

JFS Honors Goodness of Goldstines

When Roz and Abner Goldstine see a void, they fill it. Noticing that the aging Holocaust survivors living in Los Angeles lacked adequate care, the Goldstines established the Abner D. and Roslyn Goldstine Fund for Holocaust Survivor Services through Jewish Family Service (JFS), which provides essential care to survivors and helps them live with dignity and comfort.

For their commitment, the couple were honored with the Spirit of Humanity Award at Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles’ 15th annual gala on May 22, where 650 guests filled the ballroom of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel and raised $767,000 (an agency record) to provide vital services to L.A. residents, regardless of ethnicity or religion. Rabbi David Wolpe introduced and praised the couple, who are members of Sinai Temple and also serve on its board.

Another compassionate couple, Susan and Jonathan Brandler, were also honored at the dinner with the Anita and Stanley Hirsh Award for their tireless commitment to JFS.

Rabbi Joel H. Myers Receives Acheivement Award

American Jewish University’s (AJU) Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies presented Rabbi Joel H. Myers with the Simon Greenberg Award for outstanding achievement in the rabbinate. Myers, who is executive vice president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly and serves on the boards of major communal and professional organizations, was bestowed with the honor during AJU’s ordination ceremony held at Sinai Temple on May 19. With this honor, Myers joins the company of previous recipients, including Rabbis Elliot Dorff, Jacob Pressman and Harold Schulweis.

In which our loyal readers take us to task for various and sundry


Spoof Cover

As the former creative director for Primedia for nearly 10 years and the publisher of Blvd Magazine, I was responsible for dozens of magazines, their content and their covers. In my weekly staff meetings, I never would have turned to any of you losers for cover ideas if the Purim spoof covers was your claim-to-fame (Cover, March 2). I wouldn’t have hired any of you.

Take a minute the next time your “‘creatives’ who make it all possible” come-up with another great idea. Go to the waiting room of one of the Jewish cemeteries or a market outside of Beverly Hills, like Chino Hills where I live, and look to see how your “genius” covers look to the real world. I cringe!

Elliot Gilbert
via e-mail

Truth About Peace Now

In his letter, Nathan Wirtschafter is misleading the readers by claiming as fact something that is patently false (Letters, Feb. 23). Readers may be unaware that Peace Now was established by 348 Israel Defense Forces officers and reservists in 1978. They were not pacifists and neither is the movement, which soon grew into the largest grass-roots movement in Israeli history. Peace Now believes strongly in Israel’s military deterrent and use of force, when necessary.

Peace Now’s goal is to help Israel establish permanent, defensible borders with her neighbors and ultimately negotiated peace agreements that solidify Israel’s security and its Jewish and democratic character.

David Pine
West Coast Regional Director
Americans for Peace Now

Support Our Jewish Troops

Thank you for publishing Jane Ulman’s article about Jewish soldiers in World War II who celebrated Purim with a liberated Jewish family in Belgium (“When a Holiday Turned the World Right Side Up,” March 2). Demographics notwithstanding, there are Jews who serve on active duty in the United States today. Whatever your politics, it is nice to show them some support.

Last year, generous minyan regulars from Pasadena Jewish Temple & Center, including Rabbi Joshua Levine-Grater and Rabbi Emeritus Gilbert Kollin, shipped greeting cards, kosher salami and tefillin to our appreciative Jewish troops. If your readers would like to provide our Jewish soldiers, sailors and Marines with kosher food this Passover, please consider a donation to the JWB Jewish Chaplains Council 520 Eighth Avenue, New York, NY 10018 (www.jcca.org/jwb).

Anita Susan Brenner
Pasadena

Sorry, I Don’t See Any Eggshells

I am writing to respond to the closing quote in Tom Tugend’s article on the firing of Craig Prizant (“Federation Might Face Suit Over Fundraiser’s Firing,” March 2). I’m responding because this quote refers to me, as I am a 12-year member of the campaign staff at The Jewish Federation. In my view, the quote makes very incorrect assumptions about the mood in our department.

At this time, I find an incredible “esprit de corps” and lots of hard work happening on the campaign floors. Contrary to the anonymous board member who was quoted in the article, I have not heard anyone speak of fear of losing their job. It seems to me that staff has been invited to speak out and share their opinions more than ever before. It seems to me that morale is high during this busy time of year for us.

Our mission of tikkun olam continues moving forward with a group of amazing, passionate fundraisers and our entire staff doing an incredible job. There are great things happening here at The Jewish Federation.

With all apologizes to the anonymous board member you quote, I haven’t seen any eggshells scattered around anywhere.

Gwenn Drucker-Flait
via e-mail

Not-so-Kosher Guide

I am a Jewish Persian woman who has lived in Los Angeles for the past 30 years (“A Guide to Jewish Tehrangeles,” Feb. 23). I was glad to see you reporting on Persian Jewish Communities in Los Angeles and showing all people we are educated people who contribute and enjoy living in the United States.

I just had issues with your article written by Sara Bakhshian, under the heading “Handy Guide to Jewish Tehrangeles,” because I thought it was extremely misleading and wrong.

If this is a Jewish Journal, it should not have included nonkosher restaurants and bakeries and represented them in your magazine. It can be misleading for a lot of other Jewish readers that read your magazine and think if it is listed under this heading they must be kosher. Darya is a nonkosher restaurant, for example.

I have nothing against a nonkosher establishment. I just though it was wrong to put any food or eatery that does not observe Jewish laws in your list.

Mojy Lavi
Beverly Hills

Dear Mr. Suissa

I have heard eulogies by clergy who did not know the deceased, or barely knew the deceased as a congregant, and here David Suissa, a person who did not know Laura, and was not required to eulogize her, wrote a most moving eulogy (“Death in the Hood,” Feb. 23).

I am Laura’s father. Laura’s mother and I thank you for a most moving tribute, which we, Laura’s extended family and her friends, will treasure.

Yours was a tribute not only to the person, but also to the religious, ethical and moral values by which she and her husband Steve attempted to conduct their lives.

Laura and her brother, Gunnar, followed my trade and became divorce lawyers. Of course, my pride is not only in their professional accomplishments, but also in the ethical values they brought to their practices.

To the Aish community, Laura is being remembered, as is appropriate, by her contributions to that community. What helps us in the healing process is that we have no regrets about anything Laura did. We have only pride for her contributions to her family, her community and her profession.

I will be looking for other writings by you on-line. You write exceedingly well.

Analysis: Jewish silence on Iraq continues


Congressional Democrats and President Bush are on a collision course over plans to increase the number of U.S. troops in the conflict, an issue that will dominate the 110th Congress and the early days of the 2008 presidential race.

But don’t look for much of a response from the organized Jewish community.

The reasons normally talkative Jewish groups have been struck dumb are varied. But one potential consequence is becoming clearer by the day: Israel, smack in the middle of a destabilized Middle East, could pay a big price for U.S. failures in the war — and for the failure of Jewish leaders here to speak out against those policies.

There’s never been doubt about where the Jewish grass-roots has stood on the war. Even before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, polls showed majority opposition to military action in Iraq, and that opposition has only grown since Saddam Hussein was toppled and Iraq began its sickening descent into civil war and sectarian mayhem.

But no major Jewish group spoke out against Bush administration policy until November 2005, when the Union for Reform Judaism passed a cautiously worded resolution calling for troop pullouts to begin a month later and for a clear exit strategy by an administration that didn’t seem to think it needed one.

Even in the Reform movement, though, activism lagged, reflecting the nation as a whole; despite widespread doubts about administration policy, the antiwar movement failed to gain traction in Middle America.

In part, that was a function of the inability of war opponents to offer plausible policy alternatives. And the antiwar movement seemed dominated by radical forces with other agendas, including the neo-Stalinist, anti-Israel International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism).
Among Jewish leaders, there was also uncertainty about where Israel’s leaders stood on the war.

In 2003, some Israeli officials privately expressed qualms that a U.S. invasion could create new fault lines in the region. But others insisted the removal of Saddam would only help Israel, and last November Prime Minister Ehud Olmert came to Washington and said that U.S. policy is bringing “stability” to the region — despite U.S. intelligence estimates saying just the opposite.

The administration boxed Jewish leaders in by repeatedly saying the war was being fought, in part, to protect Israel. Jewish leaders here never bought that argument — but it made it harder for them to publicly challenge the policies of an administration that said it wanted to help Israel.

Some Jewish leaders also feared that criticizing an embattled Bush could cool his pro-Israel ardor and lead to retaliation against the Jewish state.

For all those reasons and more, Jewish groups, with the exception of the Reform movement, have remained mute. But with the debate over the war moving into a new phase as the new Democratic Congress looks for ways to force a change in administration Iraq policy, that silence has created problems on two levels.

At home, it has strained relations between Jewish groups and their traditional liberal coalition partners, which see Iraq as the seminal issue of our era.

The fact that a large majority of Jews opposes the war but their communal representatives refuse to speak out may accelerate the estrangement of so many from organized Jewish life, especially among younger Jews.

And that reticence can only reinforce the false charge that Israel and the Jewish community actively lobbied for the war, a conspiratorial perspective that is gaining traction in the political mainstream as the Iraq death toll mounts.

The refusal of even liberal groups to speak out may also be setting the Jewish community up for a worse backlash if President Bush decides to pursue military action against Iran.

On the broader world stage, the eerie silence, viewed by some as a way to protect Israel, may actually have the opposite effect by encouraging policies that threaten the Jewish state.

As last year’s National Intelligence Estimate revealed, U.S. policy in the war is increasing Mideast stability, breeding new terrorism and strengthening Iran, Israel’s most dangerous adversary.

“We’ve already gravely damaged Israel’s security; the war has done that,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), one of the strongest House opponents of administration policy and a leading pro-Israel voice in Congress. “We took away the balance of power in the region, liberated Iran to be an even greater menace.”

Privately, some top Jewish leaders concede that even if going to war with Iraq was a good idea, the way it has been conducted has resulted in a more dangerous Middle East. But these leaders refuse to speak out, even though their silence is, in effect, a de facto endorsement of administration policies that may be hurting the Jewish state.

That silence may also be read by a besieged administration as support for U.S. military action against Iran — action that could be even more damaging to Israel if it turns out as badly as the war in Iraq.

The big con about Iran


Despite all the skepticism, the United States and Israel do have a military option in Iran: pre-emptive nuclear annihilation.
 
The United States and Israel, or the United States by itself, or maybe even Israel by itself, can destroy Iran and its 69 million people, probably in a matter of hours or even less, and then nobody in the world will have to worry about those crazy maniacs getting the bomb. Things would be sort of weird afterward, it’s hard to say what the consequences might be, but the Iranian threat would be behind us.
 
Other than that, though, there is no military option in Iran. If we didn’t learn this from the Americans’ ongoing experience in Iraq, we should have learned it from Israel’s recent experience in Lebanon.
 
Many people think it’s possible to wipe out Iran’s nuclear facilities, or at least cripple them, from the air. But did Israel manage to wipe out or cripple Hezbollah’s weapons from the air? Incidentally, Iran is about 150 times the size of Lebanon. And Hezbollah’s underground military bunkers were built by the Iranians; imagine what they’ve built for themselves at home.
 
But I don’t want to misrepresent the case for an air attack on Iran’s nuclear works; those in favor allow that it might well require commandos and maybe small infantry units to ferret out the nukes and make sure they’re destroyed.
 
When I hear this, I think of American soldiers roaming around Iraq looking futilely for weapons of mass destruction, then I remember that Iran is four times bigger than Iraq, with more than twice the population, and a military that dwarfs what Iraq had when the United States invaded in 2003.
 
I think, also, of how small units of Israeli infantry went into south Lebanon at the start of this summer’s war, and how everyone soon realized that those soldiers wouldn’t be enough — which happened at about the same time everyone realized the Air Force wouldn’t be enough, either — and that instead, a massive ground invasion would be necessary.
 
And all that was just for tiny little Hezbollah and south Lebanon. How many troops and how big a war effort would be needed to take on Iran?
 
No one knows. How long would the soldiers have to stay in Iran before the nuclear threat were removed, if it could be removed? How would Iran fight back? Would it fire missiles at Israel? Would it use chemical and biological weapons? How far beyond Iran would the war spread? How many soldiers and civilians would die?
 
Again, nobody knows. And on the basis of what we’ve seen in Iraq and Lebanon, nobody can even make a decent guess, least of all the calm, confident generals and politicians who are so good at promising “victory.”
 
But I think people know by now that before a country goes to war, it has to be prepared to weather the worst possibilities, not just the most blissful ones. I don’t think anybody will believe the same sort of pie-in-the-sky predictions about fighting a war in Iran that they believed about fighting one in Iraq and in Lebanon. And I suspect the non-believers include George W. Bush and Ehud Olmert, no matter what they say publicly.
 
I figure they know that trying to take out Iran’s nuclear facilities by conventional means requires a huge military commitment and huge risks with no guarantee of success. It means being prepared for a much bigger war than the United States has been fighting in Iraq for the last three and a half years, and counting.
 
America won’t do it. No way on earth. With the United States so hopelessly out of its depth in Iraq, the American people will as soon let Bush start a war in Iran as they’d let him bring back the draft, which would be necessary to fight such a war. So forget it. America might be up for a quick little in-and-out operation, something like it did in Granada or Panama, but that’s not a military option with the likes of Iran.
 
And what is Israel going to do? It would be nice to have maps and satellite photos of a big, vulnerable Iranian nuclear reactor sitting out there on the ground in plain sight, so a few jets could fly over, bomb it to hell and fly back in time for dinner, just like they did in Iraq in 1981. But that isn’t an option this time, either. Iran’s nuclear facilities, wherever they all might be, are spread out, underground, thickly defended — and the element of surprise is long gone.
 
So with no quick, painless solution available, is Israel willing to start the kind of war necessary to even have a chance of getting rid of Iran’s nuclear potential — to start the kind of war America clearly won’t?
 
No, Israel isn’t willing. For a war of choice, this is too big and dangerous, and that’s what it would be — a war of choice. Israelis may have convinced themselves that Iran will nuke us once they get the chance, but while this is a possibility — a remote one, I think — it is by no means an inevitability, and to treat it as such is hysterical, which is what Israelis, inevitably, have become over Iran.
 
I’m not saying Iran, especially a nuclear Iran, is nothing to worry about. Iran is plenty to worry about, but as for what to do about Iran, how to stop it from getting nuclear weapons, neither the United States nor Israel nor anyone else has a conventional military way to go about it.
 
There are all sorts of diplomatic pressures that can be applied to Iran and its arms suppliers, but if Iran gets the bomb, which I think is likely, we are going to have to learn to live with it like we lived with Stalin and Mao having the bomb. They weren’t any less fanatical than the Iranians, and when it comes to genocide and conquest, the Iranians talk about it, but Stalin and Mao did it. So there’s good reason for worry, but not for hysteria.

When the Dust Settled


Last week’s portion ends with a ferocious battle; this week’s begins with the after action report and the distributing of medals. We learn the names of those killed
and those rewarded and then all the troops are mustered and counted, to see who remains alive from the fighting.

The counting tells us something else, as well. We are told that aside from Caleb and Joshua, no man remains alive of the generation of the desert, the generation that had rebelled against God and Moses some 40 years earlier.

The generation that knew Egyptian slavery, that had experienced redemption, that stood and witnessed at Mount Sinai, but who cavorted with Molten Calf anyway, was now dead. The generation that had been brought to the very borders of Canaan but refused to enter died in the wilderness.

Only one more of that generation was set to die: Moshe himself, and Moshe knew it. In Numbers 27:12, God tells Moshe that he is to ascend to the top of Mount Abarim and see the land that he will not enter, and that when he sees the land from that place, he will be gathered to his ancestors. We don’t know for sure what Moshe thought as he contemplated gazing at the land and then dying.

We don’t know what he thought about those ancestors to whom he would be gathered.

It is almost certain that as he prepared for his death, he gazed at the array of Israelites camped around him. Shaping their spirits around the call of Torah so that they would begin the transmission of that shaping of lives and spirits to subsequent generations — eventually down to us and the generations that follow us — had been his life’s work.

If his life’s work was to have any meaning, it had to be passed down to another. The Torah does not tell us what Moshe thought, but we are told what he said. As he thought about his death, Moshe asks God to appoint his successor.

God tells Moshe to take Joshua, “a man in whom there is spirit,” to ordain him with his own hand in the presence of the entire assembly. And then God utters a strange phrase: “And you shall take from your hod and place it upon him, so that the witnessing community of Israel shall hear and hearken” (Numbers 27:20).

This is the only occurrence of the word hod, normally translated as “majesty” or “splendor” in the entire Torah. Commentators on the Torah give us a range of thoughts on this word. One very terse but telling comment is given by the Ba’al Ha-Turim (Jacob ben Asher, 1270-1343, author of the Arba’a Turim – one of greatest legal minds after the Talmud).

The Ba’al HaTurim writes, “Me-hod’kha – b’gematria — ha-sod. Lomar lakh she-masar lo sod ha-merkavah u-ma’aseh breisheet.”

Free, explanatory translation: From your “Hod” (the term “your hod” in the gematria where each Hebrew letter has a numerical value — M.F.) adds up to 75, as does the Hebrew term “ha-sod.” Ha-sod means “the secret” — this means that Moshe taught to Joshua the secrets of Jewish mysticism — the mysteries of the realm of the Divine Throne and the mysteries of the Creation of the World.”

n this short space, we won’t go into the mysteries of the Divine Throne or Creation, but we say this: Those who do study that material feel that they have entered into the realm of ultimate reality. They find there the ultimate root and reason, ground and cause of all that happens — the truths that are the foundations of the world of righteousness.

Those wno descend into this world come to know how these truths are manifested in this world, and they even come understand the wars that have to be fought in this world for the realm of truth to hold firm.

Perhaps the Ba’al Ha-Turim was saying that as Moshe contemplated his own death, he asked himself: What can I say to my successor? Every true leader who leads not for the sake of power but rather for the sake of a vision knows of the world of truth in which that vision is rooted. Moshe had to pass on to Joshua not just the Torah itself, and not just the mantle of leadership, but some deep knowledge of what truly was at stake — the sense of Divine urgency for lives shaped around the truth of Torah.

And Moshe’s deepest prayer is that we should all blessed with a measure of Divine spirit — knowledge of the holy, and the will to bring that holiness into all parts of our lives. Torah is passed down through the generations not for sake of heritage – that would be a shallow tautology “we pass it down so that it may be passed down.” We pass it down because Torah links us to the Divine mysteries — of the self, the soul and the truths by which we ought to shape our lives.

Worst Fears Come to Pass for Foes of Gaza Pullout


Librarian Stephanie Wells so opposed Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from 21 Jewish settlements in Gaza last summer that she moved to the disputed territory just three weeks before troops moved in. She stayed to the bitter end.

Among the most committed in the fight against the withdrawal, the Los Angeles resident said she flew halfway around the world and took a two-week leave of absence from her job to show her support for the settlers. She’d hoped that taking a stand, both literally and physically, would help derail the planned evacuation. She believed that pulling out of Gaza would embolden Palestinian terrorists and go down in history as one of Israel’s gravest mistakes.

Less than a year after Israel’s withdrawal, Wells and other Los Angeles-based disengagement opponents view what’s happening in Gaza as their worst fears coming to pass. Far from acting as a catalyst for peace, they say, Israel’s “abandonment” of Gaza has been greeted with Qassam rocket attacks, terrorism and the murder and abduction of Israeli soldiers. The Palestinians have elected a government headed by Hamas, a party committed to Israel’s destruction and classified as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department. Israel last week re-entered Gaza to quell violence emanating from a crowded and impoverished territory teeming with Islamic extremist and other terrorists.

“We had people who were willing to be the front line in Gush Katif, and now the front line has moved into Israel proper,” Wells said. “And what did Israel get for [the unilateral withdrawal]? Hamas is in charge, and Israel is being shelled daily.”

Disengagement proponents respond that terrorism has been an ongoing problem and did not suddenly appear after Israel’s evacuation. They also dispute the argument that Palestinians voted for Hamas as an endorsement of the group’s terror tactics. Instead, they say, Palestinians had tired of the then-ruling Palestinian Authority’s corruption and turned to Hamas to send a message of frustration and as a signal of the need for a government they believed would be more responsive and competent in serving their needs.

Leaving Gaza also made sense morally, said Daniel Sokatch, executive director of the Progressive Jewish Alliance.

“For Israel to remain a democratic and Jewish state, it cannot occupy and control millions of Palestinians indefinitely,” he said.

The Israeli consulate in Los Angeles declined to comment for this article.

The majority of Israeli and American Jews believed that the occupation of Gaza came at an unsustainable political, economic and moral price. And despite the “I told you so implications” of some who opposed the move, there is no widespread public support for going back into Gaza.

Nevertheless, many opponents of the withdrawal here in Los Angeles and elsewhere look upon the unfolding events in Israel as a tragic consequence of last year’s pullout.

Jon Hambourger, founder of L.A.-based SaveGushKatif.org, at one time the biggest U.S. organization committed solely to keeping Gaza in Jewish hands, believes that nothing good has come from the withdrawal. He believes it has boosted the standing of Hamas and other terrorist groups in Palestinian society, which claim that suicide bombers and Qassam rockets forced the Jews to retreat in fear. With Israel out of Gaza, new terror groups have moved in to fill the vacuum, including Al Qaeda, Hambourger said.

“The unilateral withdrawal didn’t bring peace, it brought war,” he said.

Hambourger, like many of the mostly Orthodox Jewish members of his organization, believes God entrusted the Jews with stewardship over Gaza and the West Bank, which they call Judea and Samaria. As such, Hambourger largely opposes the concept of trading land for peace, especially since he so distrusts the Palestinians.

Still, he thinks Israel made a terrible strategic mistake by giving away Gaza without demanding anything in return. At the very least, Hambourger said, the Jewish state should have insisted that the Palestinians cease publishing officially sanctioned newspapers and school textbooks brimming with anti-Semitic invective.

Wells, the L.A. resident and SaveGushKatif member who moved to Gaza, believes an Israeli school where she spent some time during her stay in Gush Katif has since become a terrorist training camp.

For settler advocates, the aftermath of the Gaza pullout has only intensified their opposition to ceding another inch of Israeli territory — disputed or otherwise — to the Palestinians, whom they consider an implacable foe bent on Israel’s destruction.

“The lesson is obvious: A pullout from Judea and Samaria will result in another terrorist state within Israel,” said Larry Siegel, a SaveGushKatif member, who in 2003 raised $140,000 for Israeli terror victims.

“The Israeli government is basically in a state of war right now for having given away Gaza,” added Shifra Hastings, another SaveGushKatif partisan. “There is no justification for giving away any more.”

 

Musical Journey in Time


Ah the ’60s. Those were the days when Geula, Aliza and Hedva would prance around in their khaki skirts in the Israeli military band — they were the highlight in entertainment for the young and na?ve Israel. After their army stint, they continued performing, singing passionately about the Western Wall and the Kineret and were young, beautiful and adored.

But today? Geula Gil, Aliza Kashi and Hedva Amrani — three of the most successful Israeli female singers of their time — no longer frequent the Israeli stage. And although they might not openly admit it, it is clear that over the years, Israel became a bit small for their ambitions.

All three women married Americans; they now live in beautiful villas in Bel Air, Beverly Hills and Westwood. And not surprisingly, all three share intense and passionate memories of old Israel, the place where they grew up and where their international careers were launched.

I recently spent long and enchanting afternoons with each of them in their homes, with the smell of eucalyptus and the private pools, the old magazine covers and the moving stories from the past. The three were part of a country that had “artists” instead of “talents.” The army bands controlled the music scene and dictated songs with national and Zionist context.

Unlike today, singers would not express personal feeling and mostly sang someone else’s words. The wars, especially the glory of the triumph of the Six Days and later the shame and doubts of the Yom Kippur tragedy were eminent in many of the songs.

The highlight of a career was performing in front of troops in the battlefields. America’s influence on Israeli culture was not yet to be found: No commercial TV or radio, no McDonald’s or Nike, no big cars or Hummers. Instead, there was the open Jeep, the Kol Israel broadcast with its pathos-filled news announcements and the embroidered dresses.

For me it was a journey back in time; for them a glimpse at an old photo album. For both, a look at Israel that some believe doesn’t exist anymore.

Geula Gil

It is lunchtime and Gil stands in her lovely kitchen, facing the Seinfelds’ Bel Air home. (“Jerry is a lovely man, but his little daughter can’t stop nagging, like a Jewish yenta,” she says.) She prepares a light meal with a precision rare to be seen; it is the same seriousness she always applied to her career.

“What can I do?” she shrugs while cutting the sweet papayas she got from the farmers’ market that morning. “I’m a perfectionist.”

In the background, a small waterfall trickles and gathers into a petit turquoise pond. Sometimes, deer come running down the hill and gaze at their home, Gil says. It’s a far cry from Lahakat Hanahal, the famous military band and hothouse for many of Israel’s top entertainers that Gil was part of 50 years ago.

“I miss the band,” she says quietly more than once during the interview.

Everybody always thought the beautiful Geula was Yemenite, because of her tanned, dark skin and large black eyes. But her parents came to Israel from Russia. She joined the army in the late ’50s and was accepted to the prestigious lahaka (band) almost by default.

“I was in Kibbutz Dafna in the northern part of the country, and I hitchhiked to Tel Aviv in the back of a pickup truck, when the rain started pouring on me. By the time we got to the big city, I was miserable as a dog, and my hair was frizzed out like a ball.”

Dubi Zelzer, the leader of the band, took pity on her and made her a hot cup of tea. “Well, after that, he couldn’t refuse me, of course, and I got a part in a musical production that they were working on at the time.”

Zelzer’s tea developed into a hot romance, and the two married. The well-known composer, responsible for some of the biggest hits of the ’60s, such as “Ya Mishlati” (“My Base”) and “Hora Heachzut” (“The Dance of the Settlement”), wrote songs for Gil that made her a superstar: “Kineret Kineret,” “The Western Wall,” “Why Does The Zebra Wear Pajamas?” and, especially, “Talk to Me in Flowers,” one of the greatest romantic Hebrew ballads of all time. Later, when she finished her military service, the couple toured the United States and South America as part of the Oranim Zabar trio, playing to packed venues — mainly Jewish crowds.

“Gil’s voice competes with her beauty — and that’s no easy task,” an American critic wrote after watching her show.

Gil was the first Israeli singer to tour the former Soviet Union in a set of historical performances in front of Refuseniks, Jews who were denied the right to immigrate to Israel and practice their faith by the communist regime.

“Those were probably the most moving performances of my career,” she says. “I’m still moved to tears when I remember the people who saved a whole month’s salary just to get a ticket to see us. They grabbed me, tore my chiffon dress out of excitement and yelled ‘Geula, Geula, Geula!’ You could see the desperation in their faces, and I just couldn’t stop crying.”

Later on Gil fell in love with New York and left Israel for good. Her marriage to Zelzer went downhill, and, finally, they divorced. Gil performed in Jewish clubs in New York, and from time to time was invited to appear on TV, including on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” She was even nominated for a Tony for her role in the musical, “The Grand Music Hall of Israel.”

In the late ’70s, she made one more attempt to attract an Israeli audience. Her brush with the then more commercialized Israeli entertainment business disappointed her.

“Let’s just say that promises weren’t kept, and the whole attitude by music producers in Israel toward me was not fair,” she says. “And my second husband [producer Richard Cohen] just couldn’t understand why people were driving in Israel the way they do and why they kept trying to con us. It was a culture shock for both of us.”

She keeps feeding me all afternoon with her homemade baked oatmeal cookies, while we look at pictures of her with such celebrities as Bill Cosby, Kim Novak Charles Aznavour and Salvador Dali. Finally, before I leave, I ask her one more time if she plans to return and perform in Israel one day.

“Maybe,” she smiles coquettishly. “If there was a serious offer that would be well executed. I’ve been thinking about it a lot, and I would like very much to try one more time.”

Aliza Kashi

Just after she sang gracefully about a dovecote [“Sho, sho, shovach yonim”], Kashi spread her wings and left Israel to see the world. That was in the mid-60s, and Kashi has hardly looked back since. When she did come back to visit Israel, it wasn’t always pleasant.

But we’ll get to that in a second.

Because first, her elegant husband, Marvin Spatt, 85, pours more wine into the glasses and opens another bottle of red, which he pairs with terrific Gouda cheese. And you can hardly bring up scandals when everybody is toasting and giggling in their colorful Westwood home.

Kashi, who retired from the stage five years ago, even agrees to sing “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav” (Naomi Shemer’s famous “Jerusalem of Gold”) for us in her very own dramatic interpretation. Nobody sings like that anymore — with pathos, bravado, arms in the air and all.

Kashi started in Lahakat Hanahal slightly after Gil did in 1959. A singer with a distinct voice and charm, she became the soloist in hits such as “Ya Mishlaty” (“My Base”) and “A Desert Lullaby.”

“We were young and beautiful, and it was lovely,” she says. “I had a boyfriend in the group, and we kept hiding so we could kiss. But they kept finding us. How embarrassing.”

Kashi’s civilian career took off soon after her release from the army, and she became a soloist in Green Onion, one of the top bands of the ’60s. Then came her biggest hit, “Night Comes,” which won the national singing contest and put her right at the top. But Kashi wanted to see the world and moved to Argentina.

“Two agents came to see me and invited me for a two-week tour. I left for a moment — and was gone forever,” she laughs.

Kashi performed all over South America before landing in New York. Ed Sullivan, the TV show host, sent a representative to the Israeli nightclub Sabra to scout for talent for his show. He picked Kashi, more for her spunk than for her vocal abilities.

“I was crrrrrazy back then,” she says with her rolling R. “And he wanted me to fool around with him and with the audience. So I did.”

During her first appearance, she turned to the crowd and yelled, “Hello peoples!” Her mistake in English later became her signature entry in many guest appearances to come — 78 by her own count.

“Did I miss Israel?” she asks rhetorically. “Of course I did. But my life in the Big Apple blossomed, and I didn’t want to stop the ride.”

She came back to perform in Israel during the Six-Day War and once more during the Yom Kippur War, when she made an offensive remark about Arabs on live TV. The newspapers highlighted the story, and the public broadcast authorities, then the only network airing in Israel, were shocked and vowed never to invite Kashi to appear again. That decision insulted her deeply.

“I was very sad that day because my nephew was killed in that war. So after finishing my song, I said what I said without being aware that the microphone was still on, and everybody could hear me. So what? That was what my heart cried out at that moment.”

She went back to New York, performed with Jack Benny, Bob Hope, Milton Berle, Jerry Lewis and others and refused to get married for years, until she met Spatt in 1980, who became her personal manager and companion. Then, in 1996 just before retiring for good, she made one quick comeback in Israel and sang on TV. This time the event was successful.

Kashi is nostalgic; her house is filled with collages of pictures from the past. She does still perform these days, although rarely and mostly for charity concerts. She visits her sisters and nephews in Israel occasionally, but says she doesn’t miss the stage.

“The music business today is so different, and that’s not my style anymore. I had my time, but now I prefer living tranquilly here in sunny L.A., just the piano and Marvin and me. ”

Hedva Amrani

Quietly, unannounced, she goes alone to Israel every couple of months, stays with her cousin and chooses material for her next Hebrew album, the comeback album. The one that, she hopes, will bring her back into Israeli hearts.

After almost 20 years of separation from the Israeli crowds, Amrani feels it’s time to try again. The graceful Yemenite singer, who burst onto the music scene in Israel with megahits, such as “One Heart” (better known as “Salam Aleicom”) and “I Dream of Naomi,” believes it’s time to remind people back home who she is.

“I know the older people in Israel still remember me,” she says as we sit in her Beverly Hills living room filled with ornaments and statues, where she lives with her husband, Dr. Dudley Danoff, a urologist. “But the younger generation doesn’t.

“They know the songs but don’t connect my face to them at all. I want to change that. And I miss the crowd so much. But I’m also very scared of discovering they won’t throw their arms around me after all these years,” she says.

Her career took off during the ’60s, when she performed with singer David Tal as Hedva and David. They sang together for almost 10 years. Their most famous hit, “I Dream of Naomi,” made it all the way to Japan, where it won first place in a prestigious singing contest, prompting a two-year Japanese career. They finally broke up in 1973. Tal died six years ago, after a long battle with drug addiction.

Ironically, it was only after moving to Los Angeles in the late ’70s that her solo career in Israel really took off. She began going back and forth — setting up a home and a family with Danoff and their two children here and promoting her singing back in Israel. It almost paid off in 1978, when her song, “One Heart,” tied for first place with “Abaniby” in the pre-Eurovision contest, once the top showcase for pop culture in the country.

The committee debated and finally, to her dismay, decided to send Izhar Cohen’s “Abaniby” (which means “I love you” in gibberish lingo) to represent Israel in the international Eurovision contest. Cohen won first place, became a European sensation for a couple of years and Amrani stayed home, somewhat embittered.

“I don’t wish to harp on this anymore,” she says today. “Just one thing I don’t get: How did ‘Abaniby’ win Eurovision? What is this song about — can you explain this to me?”

Amrani returned to compete in the pre-Eurovision contest two more times. She didn’t win, but added another huge hit to her resume, “The Two of Us Together,” before settling in the good life here for good.

“I was na?ve to think that I could go back and forth forever. And in my last contest, they started taunting me that I am a yoredet [a derogatory term for a person who left the country]. And once I started raising my kids here and taking care of my ailing parents, it was clear that my career takes a backseat.”

Now she is hoping for a comeback but only something small.

“I can’t go back to Israel for good; there is no way. It’s impossible,” she says. “I have my life here, and in my profession you cannot make a decent living, especially in Israel.

“So everything I own here is from my husband. I’m just hoping I could get a small condo in a nice area in Israel, perhaps not far from the beach, so I could come visit once in a while, perform, then open the door and smell the fresh air of the Mediterranean Sea and feel I am home again. That will be wonderful,” she said.

Israel’s Future — Not Terrorism — Won in Gaza


After the dust has settled and Israel concludes its unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, a key issue will be whether the move will enhance its security or not. Will it be perceived as a “victory for terror” as the right wing has claimed, or a “base for Islamic terror” as former Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has said? Or will it enhance Israel’s overall security posture? There is absolutely no question at all that from a security perspective this move will in the short, medium and long run only enhance Israel’s security.

The Gaza settlements were a strategic dinosaur. They were built in the early 1970s as a buffer between a hostile Egypt and a hostile Gaza. Israel has been at peace with Egypt for almost three decades. The nearest Egyptian gun or tank to the border with Israel is on the other side of the Suez Canal, hundreds of kilometers away. Given the massive military outlay in protecting the 8,000 or so settlers, Gush Katif had turned from a strategic asset to a strategic burden.

Only about 800 of the 8,000 people living in Gush Katif were involved in agriculture, with all the actual work being done by Thai laborers and a few Palestinians when the security situation allowed. Many of the others were either yeshiva students, regional council officials — many jobs were created specifically to bring people to live in the area — or people who worked in Israel proper and came back home to a nice, almost rent-free home by the sea.

These 8,000 lived as an island in a sea of 1.3 million Palestinians. The settlements themselves took up 30 percent of the land and 50 percent of the water in the most populated piece of real estate in the world, which also has one of the fastest-growing populations on earth. In order to ensure the safety of the Jewish settlers as much as possible, special roads were built and patrolled, and thousands of Palestinian homes were bulldozed 30 meters to either side of the road, causing Israel’s international image enormous damage, not to mention the human suffering to those who lost their homes, which can only lead to deeper hatred for Israel and the creation of new potential suicide bombers.

There are those who argue that by pulling out of Gaza unilaterally, Israel has damaged its deterrent image. The opposite is true. The last thing the Palestinians wanted was this unilateral pullback that sheds Israel of 1.3 million Palestinians, muting the demographic clock and its potential threat to Israel as a Jewish democratic state. The pullout leaves Palestinians with no independent state. By acting unilaterally, Israel has demonstrated that no matter how complicated the move — and uprooting 8,000 people from their homes is no easy matter — it will do what is in the country’s best interests.

Having thousands of troops in Gaza protecting, for example the tiny settlement of Netzarim, which is almost in the middle of Gaza City, was sapping the country’s security mechanisms; they were already overloaded fighting a four-year war against terror. Israel’s security forces were needed on the streets of Jerusalem and Netanya and Tel Aviv — not in Gaza.

As for the claim that Gaza will become a terror base: It always has been. The settlers in Gush Katif were pounded with thousands of mortars and Kassam rockets, incidents happening almost every day. Kassam rockets have been fired at the Negev town of Shderot periodically. Even Netanyahu would agree, one supposes, that it is much easier for the Israeli army to deal with the terror threat in Gaza without 8,000 Jews running between their legs. If it does become a base of terror attacks against Israel in a significant way, Israel has the force to deal with it.

Another very important consequence of the move is that now Gaza and Egypt have a joint border without Jewish settlements separating them. Many fear that this will lead to a massive smuggling in of weapons once the Israeli forces leave what is known as the Philadelphi Axis, which separates Palestinian Gaza from Egypt.

The truth is that Israel was never able to stop the smuggling of weapons into the Strip, as witnessed by the almost daily mortar and rocket attacks. While the Jews were in Gaza, the several dozen Egyptian policemen guarding the Egyptian side of the border were always open to a little baksheesh (bribery), and Egypt had little or no incentive to do much about the situation. Now Egypt, faced with a huge problem of terror against its tourism infrastructure in the Sinai, has every interest in ensuring that the border is as hermetically sealed as possible. The police have been replaced by several hundred crack troops and the Egyptians, Israelis and Americans have cooperated well in working out mutually acceptable security arrangements.

A final reason why Israel has come out of this experience stronger is that democracy won over theocracy. Less than 100 of the 15,000 Israeli troops and other security personnel employed in enforcing the pullback heeded the call of some West Bank rabbis to disobey orders, and chose instead to do the will of the majority. Thirty percent of the Israeli officer corps is Modern Orthodox, many of them from West Bank settlements themselves, and had they listened to the rabbis, Israel would be a very different country today. It would have started being destroyed not by the enemy in Gaza, but by the enemy within.

That the enemy from within has been defeated is probably one of the most important consequences of this whole painful — but eminently worthwhile — exercise.

Hirsh Goodman, a senior fellow at the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, is the author of “Let Me Create a Paradise, God Said to Himself: A Journey of Conscience From Johannesburg to Jerusalem” (Perseus Books, 2005).

 

Good Old Days


On a sleepy, spring-like Sunday in Orange, California, it is easy to forget about it.

We parked near the historic district and went for lunch at Watson Drugs & Soda Fountain (founded 1899). The jukebox played Patsy Cline and the Shirettes, and the placards of the wall urged us to buy Nehi and war bonds. This is where Tom Hanks filmed scenes for his 1950’s-era movie, "That Thing You Do," and it was all too easy to sit back, order a malted and pretend these are the good old days.

Later that same day in Orange, we popped in to some of the antique shops that radiate from the central plaza. In a world of eBay, even antique stores seem antique. In one store, I thumbed through a stack of old advertising posters, and out fell a red-white-and-blue sheet, the size of a movie theater lobby card, depicting a silhouette of a soldier against an American flag, printed with the words "Operation Desert Storm 1990-1991." It was $7.50.

The fact that relics of the last war are already collecting dust alongside World War II-era Japanese ammo belts ($60) and war bonds calendars ($24) made me wonder how, 10 years hence, we’ll regard Gulf War II. Will it resonate with world-shifting portent that World War II mementos do? Or will it seem by comparison to today’s war somehow small, eclipsed in our mind by more immediate threats and darker developments?

As soon as we returned to the car and turned on the radio, the answer seemed clear. U.S. soldiers had encountered some fierce resistance — several had been killed, many others taken prisoner. By Monday, there were reports of more missing, of Iraqi troops using guerilla tactics to inflict casualties. Areas that the Army initially announced in coalition control were now in the midst of firefights — I know, because I’ve watched several unfold on TV with surreal intimacy.

By Monday afternoon, the government’s announcements about the war had shifted in order to lower our expectations. There is no question that part of the American public’s initial approval of the war rose from the sense that it would be a cakewalk. Gulf War I, after all, exacted a relatively small price, and this time around we heard expert commentator after expert commentator describe the Iraqi army as even more demoralized and ill-equipped, and Saddam’s hold on power as even more tenuous. But as the initial shock and awe gave way to shock and awfulness, our doubts increased about how quickly the coalition would come, see and conquer.

Israelis, it’s revealing to note, were less shocked than Americans by the ferocious response of Iraqi fighters and many in the Iraqi population. For many years now they have been at war with desperate people who are fed one-sided propaganda by cynical leaders. The American people, wrote Avraham Tirosh in Israel’s daily, Ma’ariv, "got several awful examples of what awaits it. Not a deluxe war, which it was perhaps mistakenly led to expect, not an easy drive to Baghdad, with the main adversary being the dust and the sand. But dead, wounded, missing, helpless captives and victims of murder."

Writing in Yediot Aharonot, Israel’s biggest-selling Hebrew daily, Alex Fishman contended that to win this war, President George W. Bush would have to conduct a much more bloody campaign. "The Americans want to show humanitarian warfare that is careful about human life," he wrote. "But they have no intention of losing the war either. To win it, from now on, they are going to need to destroy en masse the members of the Republican Guard and anyone near them."

If indeed we are in for a long, drawn-out war, followed by a long, drawn-out occupation, there is every indication that this conflict will prove to be as momentous a turning point in modern history as we will witness. Friendly Arab regimes will be in danger of collapse as their already restive populations become enraged by the war. Israel, which many have assumed would benefit from the disposal of Saddam, may find that anti-West feelings strengthen the fanaticism of the regime in Iran, which has long posed Israel’s gravest threat. And here at home, bitter feelings about a bloodier war will lead to more violent dissent, along with homeland terror.

We can hope and pray for a quick and successful resolution of this war. Because if not, what happened this week will indeed seem like the good old days.

Gaza/Bethlehem First — and Last?


Reports of the death of a gradual Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire plan may be premature.

A lot of evidence surfaced this week that the initial skepticism that greeted the "Gaza/Bethlehem First" plan was justified. But there were also facts to buttress the optimistic view that the plan might reduce nearly two years of violence.

The strongest evidence that the plan would not hold came Wednesday, when Israeli forces staged a raid to thwart a suspected arms smuggling operation, blowing up at least one container off the Gaza coast. The raid, in which Israel took control of a large stretch of beach, came after Palestinian mortar fire reportedly blew the roof off a nursery school in the Gaza Strip settlement of Gush Katif late Tuesday night.

Citing both the suspected shipment and the school attack, Israeli Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer canceled a security meeting with the Palestinian Authority’s interior minister, Abdel Razek Yehiyeh.

Earlier in the week, Ben-Eliezer insisted that the plan was not being put into deep freeze, despite a decision to hold off a possible Israeli army withdrawal from Hebron at least until after the High Holidays, which begin in early September. Meetings on ways to progress with the cease-fire plan will still be held this week, the Defense Minister’s office said Sunday.

But in adopting the army’s recommendation not to pull troops from Hebron for the time being, Ben-Eliezer cited security warnings and concern that terrorist groups there might exploit the holiday period to launch attacks. Comments from the Israel Defense Force chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya’alon, publicly confirmed the army’s point of view — and the unlikelihood of the cease-fire plan actually working.

Addressing a conference of rabbis on Sunday, Ya’alon said a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza Strip would be seen as submission to terrorism. He added that the Palestinian Authority’s adoption of terrorism as a tactic reflected its refusal to accept Israel’s existence. Israel must decisively defeat the intifada so the Palestinians don’t conclude that terrorism pays, Ya’alon said.

Ben-Eliezer also noted that Israeli troops could withdraw only if it was clear that the Palestinian security forces taking responsibility for maintaining order were capable of doing so. Israeli security officials gave a negative review of Palestinian efforts to halt terror attacks in the Gaza Strip in the week since the accord was signed, the Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported.

Israel has been waiting for evidence that the Palestinians are serious about stopping terrorism in Gaza, where the Palestinian Authority security apparatus is largely intact. Israeli military officials said P.A. security organs have yet to take serious steps to crack down on Palestinian terrorist groups, Ha’aretz reported.

For his part, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the Israelis are stalling. "What I can describe the situation to be is nonmovement, as if the consistent position of the Israeli government is to keep the status quo," Erekat was quoted as saying.

But not all the news is negative.

Israel agreed to begin lifting restrictions on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip due to a drop in violence. The move was agreed upon in a security meeting Monday night between Israeli and Palestinian security officials, Ha’aretz reported.

The Israeli army also announced it began easing restrictions on Palestinians in the West Bank city of Bethlehem starting Wednesday. The measures include letting Palestinian workers into Israel, lifting travel restrictions on teachers and permitting clergy to travel between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, the paper said.

In Bethlehem, Palestinian security forces have displayed good intentions, according to Ha’aretz. But the Palestinian security apparatus in the West Bank faces a formidable task of rebuilding physical structures, personnel and morale.

Palestinians say it will take them time to rebuild their security forces before they can take effective measures on the ground. Israeli skeptics say that is the Palestinians’ way of signaling that they will continue to allow terror attacks, while disclaiming responsibility.

In the meantime, the Palestinian Authority’s interior minister, Gen. Abdel Razek Yehiyeh, called on Palestinian militias to rethink their strategy of armed struggle. He urged them to abide by P.A. decisions and the rule of law, and called on Palestinian factions to renew a dialogue toward formulating a united strategy.

But the militant groups, ranging from the fundamentalist Hamas and Islamic Jihad to the Al Aksa Brigades of P.A. President Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement, rejected any cease-fire and urged continued warfare against Israel.

Earlier, the "Intifada leadership council" issued a statement in the West Bank calling on the Palestinian Authority to cease security contacts with Israel, including the cease-fire plan.

Marwan Barghouti, head of Fatah in the West Bank, told a Kuwaiti newspaper that he opposes agreements with Israel unless it ends its "occupation, recognizes an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital" and accepted the "Right of Return" for millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants.

Currently in an Israeli jail, Barghouti is slated to go on trial next month for allegedly masterminding terrorist attacks that killed scores of Israelis.

Violence — and Israel’s anti-terror operations — continued this week, albeit at a slightly slower pace.

Four armed Palestinians were killed in weekend clashes with Israeli troops. Two died while attempting to infiltrate an Israeli settlement in the Gaza strip last Friday night, while the other two died in a firefight with Israelis soldiers patrolling in the West Bank city of Jenin on Saturday.

On Sunday, Israeli troops nabbed a suspected suicide bomber and two alleged accomplices near Jenin.

Israeli troops continued arrest operations throughout the West Bank. Among those detained was another Palestinian allegedly connected to the Jerusalem-based Hamas cell captured a week ago that is blamed for at least eight terrorist attacks, including the July 31 Hebrew University bombing.

On Monday, Israel arrested local Hamas leader Jamal Abu Haji during a raid in the Jenin refugee camp. In Tulkarm, troops demolished the home of a Palestinian suspected of involvement in terrorist attacks that killed eight people.

Seven Israeli Arabs have been arrested on charges that they assisted in an Aug. 4 suicide bombing that killed nine people and wounded 50. According to information released for publication Monday, seven members of a Galilee clan were arrested several weeks ago and have confessed to allegations regarding the attack in northern Israel.

Two of the principal suspects, Ibrahim and Yassin Bakri, allegedly helped the Palestinian bomber choose a bus to bomb and drove him to the stop where he boarded. Other family members allegedly gave the bomber shelter.

Israeli army plans to demolish the East Jerusalem homes of two suicide bombers were delayed Sunday when the terrorists’ families appealed to the military prosecutor in the West Bank.

In the Dec. 1 attack, the two bombers blew themselves up among Saturday night revelers on Jerusalem’s Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall, killing 11 people and wounding more than 180.

Whether the "Gaza/Bethlehem First" plan has any chance of preventing such attacks in the future remains anybody’s guess.

High Morale


As Israeli-Palestinian violence hits the six-month mark, Israeli military officials report that soldiers remain motivated to serve in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Senior military officials report that reservists, who account for 70 percent of the army’s 639,150 troops, are reporting for duty at higher rates than before the intifada began. This contrasts with past years, when reservists often found excuses to evade service.

According to Brig. Gen. Avinoam Laufer, head of the Israel Defense Force’s (IDF) planning and logistics division, about 95 percent of reservists who have recently been drafted have reported for duty.

This compares to about 85 percent who reported for duty before Palestinian violence began last September.

“The feeling among reservists, like in the public at large, is that something must be done,” Laufer said, adding that in recent years soldiers’ motivation has tended to rise when times got tougher.

The army does not yet have clear indications about how the intifada is affecting new recruits or conscripted soldiers.

Soldiers currently being drafted were polled about their attitudes last year, before the wave of violence began.

Those polls indicated that there had then been a 4 percent decline in the motivation of young Israelis to serve in combat units.

That decline came against the backdrop of political developments in which Israel appeared to be on the brink of peace deals, Laufer said.

“When there is a feeling that we are moving toward a good peace, motivation tends to decline,” he said. “When the situation deteriorates, motivation goes up.”

Nevertheless, Laufer admits that during the first intifada, between 1987 and 1993, there was a clear deterioration in the motivation of reservists to serve as the conflict dragged on and soldiers were called repeatedly to police the Palestinians.

The apparent increase in motivation, as measured in terms of reserve turnout, comes amid a rising death toll.

Since the violence began in late September, 67 Israelis — 38 civilians and 29 soldiers — have been killed by the Palestinians.

Israel has killed at least 348 Palestinians over the same period.

For Israel, the death toll is very high when compared with the number killed by Hezbollah gunmen during the last five years of the Israeli presence in southern Lebanon.

Between 1995 and 1999, about 25 Israeli soldiers were killed in Lebanon. Even that death toll was enough to break the Israeli consensus over maintaining a presence there.

Palestinians were jubilant when Israel withdrew from Lebanon last year, citing Hezbollah’s war as a model the Palestinians themselves should follow.

Israeli military officials, however, said the Palestinians were making a “crude miscalculation” if they hope to copy Hezbollah tactics and wear down Israeli society and military morale through a war of attrition.

If the Palestinians concluded from the Lebanon case “that with a big enough pile of bodies we will go home or go somewhere else,” they misunderstood Israeli policy, said one military official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“If that’s the logic, if they think they will pile up the numbers and get a Lebanon outcome, it’s a historic confusion of the accidental and the existential,” the official said.

Military assessments of Israel’s staying power come amid reports that the Palestinians may be reassessing their strategy.

Some Palestinians are said to be calling for public protests with a lower level of violence, alongside the guerrilla-style warfare by armed militias that has been the staple in recent months — and that has cost the Palestinians a degree of international sympathy.

As recently as Sunday, however, another Israeli was wounded in a drive-by shooting in the West Bank.

While the continued violence appears to have rallied Israeli soldiers and society behind the national unity government’s refusal to negotiate under fire, there are some signs of cracks in the consensus.

Yesh Gvul, the movement that supports soldiers who refuse to serve in the West Bank or Gaza Strip, says it has handled 10 cases of conscripted soldiers and fielded calls from up to 80 reservists who refuse to help suppress the current intifada, including a “high proportion” of junior officers.

Yesh Gvul — Hebrew for “there’s a limit” — was created to protest Israel’s presence in Lebanon.

The group says 168 reservists went to prison during the 1982 Lebanon War for refusing to serve, while another 200 went to prison during the 1987-1993 Palestinian intifada.

Even the relatively small numbers are significant, however, since in the past, young conscripted soldiers almost never dared to challenge military discipline by refusing to serve, according to Peretz Kidron, a Yesh Gvul activist.

Kidron also said that most reservists who refuse to serve in the territories have been given other assignments instead of jail time, as the army wants to avoid public controversies that might affect morale.

“Outright refusal is the tip of the iceberg, and that has an enormous impact on army morale far beyond the numbers involved,” Kidron said. “They know that every time they throw one guy in jail, another 10 get the idea.”

Kidron also said Yesh Gvul has found in the past that many reservists will heed the call of duty the first time around but will think twice if called up again.

Tamar Hermann, director of the Tami Steinmitz Center for Peace Research at Tel Aviv University, said Israelis from across the political spectrum are rallying around the flag.

“Even those Israelis who supported unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon are now much more skeptical of such a move so close to home in the West Bank,” she said.

But Hermann’s polls also show that while Israelis have a high level of confidence in the IDF, 50 percent of the respondents do not believe there is a military solution to the current conflict, compared with only 41 percent who think more force would help.

“Israelis think some force should be used to suppress rising Palestinian violence, but they do not see it as a way out of the conflict,” she said.

Leaving Lebanon


Israel signed the Oslo peace agreement with itsold enemy, Yasser Arafat, because by 1993 the alternatives had becomeinsufferable. The Palestinian intifada, a revolt of thestreet, was sapping the morale of the Israeli army, fighting a futilesix-year battle with one hand tied behind its back. Nightlytelevision footage of soldiers in combat fatigues, chasing teenageboys wielding slingshots and petrol bombs, was undermining Israel’sdeterrent credibility in its confrontation with the Arab states aswell as its international moral case.

Something similar is happening now over Israel’smilitary presence in Southern Lebanon. Israel keeps a few hundredtroops dug into a narrow 75-mile long “security belt” from theMediterranean to the foothills of Mount Hermon, varying in depth fromtwo and a half miles to eight miles, alongside its surrogate SouthLebanese Army. Others enter on day and night patrols. But they havefewer and fewer answers to an increasingly sophisticated foe, thehighly-motivated Shi’ite Muslim Hizbollah militia. And the Israelipublic, inspired by a campaigning group of soldiers’ mothers, is nolonger convinced that the price of this war of attrition is worthpaying in the lives of its young conscripts.

Last year 39 soldiers died in combat north of theGalilee border and 93 were wounded. A further 73 were killed when twotransport helicopters collided on their way to the battle zone. Sofar this year, the army spokesman has logged four dead and 36wounded.

The Iranian-sponsored Hizbollah plays hit-and-runwith missiles, mortars and roadside bombs, then melts into the hillyscrublands of southern Lebanon or hides behind the civilian shield offriendly villages. Israel, which has burned its fingers there in thepast, is inhibited about using the full weight of its firepower –tanks, artillery and air strikes — against a guerrilla opposition.Once again, Israel is being made to look vulnerable.

Hizbollah rubs salt in the wound by sending videoteams in with its raiding parties and distributing the footage to thelocal and international networks. Israel television’s two channelsare their best customers.

Binyamin Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition hasconcluded that the time has come to get out of the quagmire. Israel,it insists, has no territorial ambitions in Lebanon. The purpose ofthe security belt was and remains to protect the towns and villagesof Northern Israel from harassment by Hizbollah and hostilePalestinian militias.

Now, Netanyahu, supported by the defenseestablishment and ex-General Ariel Sharon, who sent the tanks intoLebanon in 1982, is seeking a way to do the same job from south ofthe border. The question is how. Can the Lebanese army be persuadedto deploy in the south and restrain Hizbollah, as it did with themyriad militias that flourished during the civil war of the ’70s and’80s? Israel believes the army is strong enough now for the task. Butwill the Syrians, who maintain close to 40,000 troops of their own innorth-eastern Lebanon and call the shots in Beirut, let it?

Senior Israeli and Lebanese officials have beenmeeting discreetly in Europe to explore the options. The French (asthe former Lebanese colonial power) and the Americans are offeringdiplomatic support. The United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan,is probing. The Lebanese are interested. The Israeli “occupation” isan affront to their sovereignty. The instability threatens theirambitious economic recovery program. But they are not masters intheir own land.

Damascus has signaled its opposition to anegotiated evacuation. President Hafez Assad’s prime interest is toget Israel out of the Golan Heights, a Syrian plateau which itconquered in 1967. He would like nothing better than to trade peacein Lebanon for land on the Golan. If the Israelis won’t deal, heprefers to make them sweat.

In the absence of Syrian approval, Israel isdebating alternative scenarios. Lebanon may be too weak to sign astructured deal on its own, but it has hinted that if Israel went,its troops would fill the vacuum. It has also suggested that it wouldnot accept a Syrian veto as Assad’s last word. There is too much atstake for Lebanon.

Would an unwritten understanding satisfy Israel’ssecurity needs along the northern border? Defense Minister YitzhakMordechai, and Israel’s veteran Lebanon troubleshooter, Uri Lubrani,think it might. A credible deal with Lebanon might prompt theAmericans, with the backing of the United Nations, to persuade Assadto acquiesce.

Ariel Sharon is not convinced. Instead, theInfrastructure Minister has proposed that Israel pull outunilaterally in stages, then announce that any attack on Israel’sborder communities, or on its South Lebanese Army allies, would evokea massive response – not only against Hizbollah, but against theLebanese civilian infrastructure and the Syrian garrison.

Both approaches are on the agenda, though criticsfear that the Sharon plan would risk a broader conflagration with theSyrians. The Prime Minister is encouraging Mordechai and Lubrani totest the ground, however long it takes. Last weekend, the Cabinetadded its seal of approval.

The boys will not be home for Pesach, but for thefirst time Israel is arguing not about whether to pull out, but how.As Ron Ben-Yishai, a military commentator, put it in themass-circulation Yediot Aharonot: “Something is starting tomove.”