Sunday, September 03, 2006

September 3, 2006 Fix the World or Help Yourself?

September 3, ‏2006

At 7:00 A.M. parents stood with their children waiting for the school bus to arrive. The children stood with their school bags, waiting, some patiently, some excitedly. Nearly 2 million Israeli children returned to school today. As in the rest of the world this little fact changed the way the day looked for most citizens. Summer was over.

In Maalot, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, speaking to school children on their first day back, called on Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Signora to begin a Peace process with Israel. Meanwhile more UN troops arrived in Southern Lebanon. IDF officials said that if the UN troop buildup continues at the present rate, Israeli soldiers could be out of south Lebanon within two weeks.

Lebanon's Foreign Minister complained today about the air and sea blockade of Lebanon.The Foreign Minister said that the blockade is worse than the Israeli war. These statements came as a response to PM Olmert's call for a peace agreement with Lebanon.

Meanwhile the highly respected Haaraetz military columnist Ze’ev Shiff said today that Israel has discovered many underground bunkers holding short-range missiles in Lebanon. Shiff maintains that the fact these bunkers weren’t discovered before the war by Israeli intelligence services was a dire failure.

Shiff also said that if these intelligence services did indeed know of the bunkers, and didn’t share them with the proper authorities planning the war, that too needed to be immediately investigated.

According to Shiff, the rockets had been pre-positioned and aimed at their target before the war began. Reinforced cement launching pads were built up in farmer’s fields. These platforms were placed on pneumatic pumps that lifted the platforms when it was time to fire the missiles. The farmer upon whose land they were situated loaded the missiles into the launchers. The farmer detonated the missiles when given the orders by mobile phone. Once the missiles were fired, the farmer placed heat-retardant covering on the launchers to hide them from the Israeli Air Force searching for a heat signal. The launchers were then lowered back beneath ground level, and covered with camouflage.

Shiff maintains that these short-range Katyushas did considerable physical and psychological damage in Israel, and their deployment should have been prevented by proper intelligence. Meanwhile Israeli troops, still operating in Lebanon are uncovering and destroying bunkers every day.

Three men were arrested in the Wes Bank over the weekend reportedly for building an 8 kg missile to be fired from Tul Karem into Israel. The men said that Hezbollah had encouraged them to construct the homemade missile.
Kassam rockets began to fall again in the western Negev desert. One woman near an exploding rocket was treated for shock. The rockets continue to fall near their favorite targets, near the small development town of Sderot and the outskirts of the seaside city of Ashkelon.

Hamas held off the firing during the Lebanon War II. Israel, however, has taken advantage of the world’s press focusing on Lebanon and had launched nearly daily raids into Gaza in attempts to curtail the firing of the rockets. Over 200 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since the start of the Lebanon War II.

Hamas and the Palestinian Authority are now talking about a unity government. This comes as a result of the increasing international isolation of Hamas, the lack of funds coming into their coffers, and the increasing poverty evident in Gaza. The international community sees the relatively moderate Mohammed Abas (Abu Mazen), the head of the Palestinian Authority, as the legitimate head of the Palestinians. Once he is back in some semblance of power analysts expect the international community to begin transferring much-needed funds to the Palestinians.

The USA considers Hamas a terrorist organization and refuses to recognize their election as the head of the Palestinian government. On the other hand, the European Community does not view Hamas as a terrorist entity, but has honored the American boycott of the Hamas led government.

Israel radio announced today that Gilad Shalit, the soldier kidnapped near Gaza at the start of the Lebanon War II, is to be released. Some news reports speculate that he will be exchanged for as many as 800 Hamas men held in Israeli prisons. There has been no progress, so far, on the fate of the two soldiers captured by Hezbollah; even though the cease-fire was to have included their return to Israel.

The panels selected to investigate the Lebanon War II have not yet begun their work. The discussions are still on-going if the panels will be empowered to deal out punishment, or be toothless fact-finding committees.

Critics claim that Ehud Olmert should have already drawn the proper conclusions and resign from the government, but no political analyst expects that to happen. Olmert however may also be investigated for illegal and improper “patronage” appointments while he was minister of Trade and Commerce. His current Director-General of the Prime Minister’s office, Ranan Dinur, was Olmert’s DG in the Trade and Commerce Ministry. The Attorney General must decide if Olmert and Dinur are to be indicted.

Two other ministers in Olmert’s cabinet are already under investigation for improprieties. Former Justice Minister Tzachi HaNegbi is under investigation for charges similar to Olmerts. Both men allegedly paid off political supporters in the primaries with jobs and sweetheart contracts. Former Justice Minister Chaim Ramon is being investigated for improper sexual advances on female co-workers. He has had to turn over his Justice Ministry portfolio to Olmert, who appointed olmert supporter Meir Shitrit as interim Justice Minister.

To round out the corruption there are reports that Police Chief Karadi was appointed to his position by then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as a favor to leading underworld figures who supported Sharon in the last election. Karadi is allegedly linked to the Israeli Mafia.

Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, still in a coma after nine-months, has not been directly implicated in these scandals. However, his son Omri was sentenced to nearly a year in jail for improper appointments, a charge similar to Olmert’s and HaNegbis. Sharon’s other son Gilad was implicated in a scandal the involved then Tourism Minister Ehud Olmert. Allegedly, Olmert provided special favors to Israeli businessman David Appel, a staunch Sharon and Olmert supporter, in exchange for Olmert arranging meetings with Greek government officials. This “Greek Island” scandal never resulted in any convictions, but left a scent of corruption on the deal.

These then are the players who have been elected to run the country. International polls have determined that Israel is one of the most corrupt Democracies in the world. How this impacts on the way business is done, politicians are selected, and elected, is significant.

The 1998 book, “The Dark Side of Camelot” by Seymour Hersch, depicts the illustrious Kennedy years as glitter and glitz covering up immorality and corruption. Democracies, even like the United States, the leader of the western world, are not immune from the foibles of human nature. Part of politics, it seems, is how far the rules can be bent, and by whom, before the public reacts.

With Olmert under fire for his handling, or mismanagement, of the Lebanon War II, and now under scrutiny for other misadventures while in previous positions of power, pundits predict that it won’t be long before he is eased from power. Israel’s Defense Minister Amir Peretz, head of the Labor Party, is already fighting off those in his party trying to oust him from his position. Another committee of army generals is investigating Chief of Staff Dan Halutz. It must be pointed out that Halutz was criticized for selling out his stock portfolio a few hours before Israeli jets began bombing Beirut.

Some have asked about the level of morality required for politicians in today’s society. Critics have said that the higher quality people don’t go into politics, but rather into business. Money, not public service, they say, is the driving force. In a scene from the HBO movie "Warm Springs," aobut Franklin D. Roosevelt, portrayed wonderfully by Kenneth Branaugh, FDR told a gathering of poor farmers and their children in a one-room wooden shack functioning as a school, that he was taught at Groton that public service was the highest calling for a man. Today monetary gain and personal achievements are the goals of most youngsters, in Israel, and America. An MBA is highly prized, while an M.D. is no longer a laudable profession. Money, and self-aggrandizement are the goals, not “Tikun Olam”, fixing the world.

Given these prevalent values, who can blame Olmert for his actions, or Halutz, or those in this government, or any government? African politicians have long drained the resources of their impoverished nations for their personal comfort. The only difference between them and others is the Africans don’t make any pretence of being honest, or interested in the welfare of the poor.