Wednesday, January 31, 2007

When is a kiss more than a kiss?

In the biblical Song of Songs, written by King Solomon, the second sentence goes: “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine.”

Not for Chaim Ramon, it isn’t. Israel’s Justice Minister now faces up to three years in prison for forcing a kiss on a young female soldier after she’d asked him to pose with her in a photograph.

The soldier, identified in the trial only as “H,” is shown with her face blurred beyond recognition. According to “H,” a young soldier finishing her army service in the office of the then Justice Minister, she'd wanted a picture hugging the 56-year old Ramon. After the picture, according to “H,” Ramon put his hand to her cheek and pressed his lips to her, forcing his tongue in her mouth.

According to Ramon, the photographer left the room, and so did he and “H.” They returned a few minutes later and Ramon kissed the willing young woman. This is different in substance from “H’s” version.

“His mouth is most sweet: yea, he is altogether lovely. This is my beloved, and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem.” (Chapter 5, line 16)

Clearly, this was written neither by “H,” nor the three-judge panel sitting in the Jerusalem coutrroom, that decided Ramon’s guilt. The judges decided that “H” had a different and more believable tale to tell. Namely, that Ramon had crossed the line forcing his intentions on the young woman.

The judges also said essentially that Ramon had tried to ‘spin’ his way out of the charges, blaming the girl and changing the events to suit himself. This attempt at worming out of the charges really angered the judges, two of whom were women.

The implications of the conviction are that this type of behavior, long accepted in the Israeli corridors of power, will no longer be tolerated. Ramon must now give up his cabinet position as a minister in Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s government. A shake-up of the cabinet will result in a sort of ministerial musical chairs.

Ramon is the second Kadima Party member to be ousted from the Justice Ministry. Ramon took over the post from Knesset Member Tzachi HaNegbi, who had to excuse himself from that position as a result of an inquiry into influence peddling while on the job.

Then there is the case of Israel’s First Citizen President Moshe Katzav, who was forced to leave his office at least until his "rape" trial is over, which may take years. Katzav packed up his belongings on Tuesday Jan 30 and left the President’s Residence in Jerusalem for his native Kyriat Malachi.

The charges against Katzav are much more grave than those against Ramon. Katzav is about to be indicted on three counts of rape. So far his spin-meisters have defended him in the press with charges that “A” had been a stripper, a call girl, and a close confidant of Likud Party Central Committee members, out to get Katzav because he refused to grant pardons to convicted criminals tied to the Central Committee.

Maybe. But even if the woman was a stripper, and even a hooker, if he raped her, he committed a serious felony and will probably be convicted.

It is unlikely that either Ramon or Katzav will go to jail. Ramon is planning an appeal, and in all likelihood will get off with a light sentence, probably involving community service.

Katzav apparently had been offered a deal early on in the investigation: 'Resign from the Presidency, and the charges will be dropped.' This in an effort to save the country the embarrassment of having their “First Citizen” accused, and perhaps convicted, of rape.

Katzav reportedly turned the offer down. He held stubbornly to the idea that the storm would abate and he would remain in office. But he guessed wrong.

Lastly, on the agenda of corruption, we have the tax scandal. The investigation into the head of the tax authority and his cronies goes far beyond the few who have made the news so far. The ramifications of this investigation, coupled with the conviction of Justice Minister Ramon and the indictment of President Moshe Katzav may well spell a new morality in Israel. Maybe.

Meanwhile, rumors still abound concerning Prime Minister Olmert’s lack of honesty. One source quoted another source, who said he’d seen Olmert come into Israel with suitcases filled with money. Is this true? Nothing has even been hinted of such a thing in the press, but the source claims his source ‘knows what he’s talking about.’

Anyone entering Israel through the red or green lines knows that the customs officials aren’t exactly hawk-eyed. They’re good at catching people with extra bottles of whiskey visible in red and white duty free boxes atop their suitcases, and are happy to charge 250 per cent fine on each bottle and another 250 per cent tax.

But one finds it hard to believe they’d stop Ehud Olmert and open up his suitcases. So perhaps he has been smuggling in money. Who knows? Given that the tax authorities are suspected of high-level corruption, one could imagine a scenario where a few phone calls are made, on a regular basis, to ease the passage through customs of ‘friends’ of the right people. Perhaps even PM Olmert. Such is the way of the world, at least in the Middle East.

Then we have the issue of the Winograd Commission investigating the Second War in Lebanon. Chief of Staff Dan Halutz resigned, and his position was taken by the popular general Gabi Ashkenazi. Halutz then went before the Winograd Commission and blamed his bosses, Defense Minister Amir Peretz, and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, for the failures of the military in the war.

According to Halutz the order to call up the reserves wasn’t given immediately upon the outbreak of the war, nor was a massive troop invasion devised until the third week of the war. Others giving testimony claimed that Halutz himself was not interested in a ground offensive, believing the Air Force could destroy Hezbollah. It took weeks for him to admit his mistake, according to testimony of other generals. Halutz now blames Olmert and Peretz for that indecision.

A petition was recently circulated in the Israeli media showing the signatures of fifty Israeli Army generals calling for the resignation of Amir Peretz as Defense Minister. One former head of military intelligence said that Peretz, Olmert and Halutz did more in one month to damage Israel’s image as a fierce military power than anyone else had done in the last thirty years.

Lebanese Hezbollah leader Sheik Nasrallah has been mocking Israel’s military strength in public. He claims to have badly defeated the greatest superpower in the Middle East with a few hundred men and a lot of rockets.

Waiting in the wings is former Prime Minister, Defense Minister, and Chief of Staff, Ehud Barak. Polls show that Barak is now the number one choice for Defense Minister. Most Israelis want someone with proven experience in the position.

When a radio interviewer asked the former military intelligence chief why a civilian Minister of Defense, like those in Britain and the USA, wasn’t preferable, the ex-chief answered, “They don’t have to fight wars for their survival. We do.”

He also cited the lack of success US civilian heads of the military have had going back to Viet Nam and up to Iraq.

Taking all of the above in perspective, it seems that Israel is in the midst of a maelstrom of change. The winds of winter blustering around the streets of Jerusalem may well bring with them not only spring flowers, but a new approach to how Israel is governed.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

When is a President not a President?

Israel’s beleaguered President Moshe Katzav, who is reportedly about to be indicted for rape, held a long press conference today laying out why he was not prepared to resign from the Presidency and complaining that up until now he has been tried and convicted in the media before any charges were ever filed against him.

President Katzav spoke from the Israel President’s official residence. He detailed his long career in public service, enumerating his positive contributions, and underlining his complete cooperation with the police since the investigations began.

President Katzav claimed in his speech that the three women who have testified against him all had ulterior motives. One was fired from his offices years ago, and another continued to call him asking for his blessing on her birthday.

President Katzav’s Attorney Amram Shomron, issued a claim today that the primary complainant against President Katzav, the mysterious Miss “A”, was a blackmailer, and had a history of prostitution. The lawyer, interviewed on Israel Radio’s Army channel, said that he wondered why it had taken the woman years to come forward wth a complaint.

President Katzav claimed that as early as last September Israel’s Attorney General Moshe Mazuz had already issued press reports that Katzav was guilty and should resign from his position. Katzav complained to the audience at the press conference that Mr. Mazuz was out of line in this accusation, since the investigation had not yet been completed, nor any charges filed against the President.

The president earlier asked the Knesset to agree to a leave of absence. He pledged not to succumb to calls for his resignation, which he said would be the easy option. So far nearly 30 Knesset members have signed a petition asking for Katzav’s resignation.

Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, himself under investigation for influence peddling, called on President Katzav to resign. Olmert was speaking at the at the annual Herzliya Conference, where Israel and some international leaders gather to discuss the most pressing issues of the period.

Olmert earlier called on the world to confront the Iranian nuclear threat.

In his speech President Katzav singled out the media, saying he has survived the past six months and a "media lynch" because he believes in his own innocence, despite a "media court" that has not sought the truth. "I have survived because truth is on my side," he said.

He accused members of the Israeli media ignoring their work ethic by not investigating if perhaps the charges against him were false.

Katzav’s speech was emotional. He looked tired, and drawn with black raccoon rings around his eyes. He has reportedly been under enormous pressure, even suffering chest pains, and undergoing a brief hospitalization.

Attorney General Mazuz decided in principle on Tuesday that Katsav would face charges for rape, sexual harassment, obstruction of justice, fraud and breach of trust, pending a hearing on the issue.

The four women whom Katsav is accused of sexually assaulting include three past and present employees of the President's Residence and one who worked under Katsav during his tenure as tourism minister, in 1998-1999.

Attorney General Mazuz also plans to charge the president with giving away items that belonged to the President's Residence at private events, as well as with obstruction of justice and harassing a witness, for trying to pressure one of the President's Residence employees to retract her complaint against him.

The news media circus that has surrounded Katzav’s difficulties includes journalists calling anyone they could to add any credence possible to the claims against Katzav. One radio journalist on Wednesday phoned an employee in the Ministry of Tourism to try to get something on Katzav.

The woman said she had never seen Katzav do anything to any women, and he had not done anything to her. When pressured, she did admit that she’d heard rumors about Katzav, and other Ministers, making sexual advances on women in the Ministry of Tourism. The journalist pressured her to go into these rumors. She was vague, saying that many women were afraid to go public against a minister or a President.

Other reporters visited Katazav’s hometown of Kyriat Malachi, where he had once been mayor. Different people interviewed claimed that Katzav had a long history of using his position for sexual favors. They claimed that it was common knowledge in Kyriat Malachi, that if a woman wanted a job, she had to ‘come across.’

However, these rumors have no substance in court. According to many people interviewed, this type of behavior was common in Israel for many years, in the government, and in the army.

President Katzav, however still claims that he was set up. One of the outbursts Katzav made during his press conference was against Israel Television’s Channel 2, and their news moderator Gadi Sukenik. President Katzav claimed that Channel 2 went overboard in attacking him, belittling him, trying him in the press, even to the point of spilling his blood in public. President Katzav claimed that Channel 2 once called to cancel a scheduled interview with him to interview Mohamed Dahalan, the PA security chief. “They chose Dahalan over the President of Israel.”

Channel 2 News chief Shalom Katan, said that his department had acted according to the highest standards, and wouldn’t hold President Katzav guilty for his anger during these difficult times.

In truth, however, the President has a point. Until he is charged in court, he shouldn’t be convicted in the press. This type of media lynch has ruined many lives well before the verdict has been given in a court of law. It is possible that the women accusing Katzav of sexual assault have their own agenda, as he claims. It is also possible that political interests are at work that wants to embarrass or unseat him.
What is clear is that this trial has been conducted in public long before it has reached the courts. If nothing else the issue puts into harsh relief the power the media is currently wielding in the political arena, a media, which one must remember, is essentially interested in high ratings to help them raise the fees they can charge for advertising. They have no legal right to try a man in public.

The replacements for Moshe Katzav have already lined up. Dalia Itzik, the current Speaker of the Knesset, is slated to take over the position temporarily. Veteran Israeli politician Shimon Peres has also said he would run for the presidency.

Katzav, a long time Likud member, was perhaps the last example of the Likud legacy. Once the underworld and other undesirables entered the political arena, and the quality politicians left for private practice, the current rash of accusations, indictments and convictions was inevitable.

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Way of the World

Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres, the veteran politician, has thanked Iranian President Achmadinejad for uniting the world against the Iranian goals of possessing nuclear arms.

According to one analyst, agreeing with Peres, if Achmadinejad didn’t exist, someone would have had to invent him. Only a monomaniacal leader like Achmadinejad can unite the western world in a common cause.

The powers that be are now bartering for the future of Israel’s top Army job, with Israel’s beleagured Minister of Defense Amir Peretz throwing his support behind Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi. It is known that Peretz favors Ashkenazi, who has been his liason to the Army for months.

However, the jury is out as to the wisdom of that choice. Others have recommended Gen..Moshe Kaplinksy, who is the assistant Chief of Staff, as the replacement for Gen. Dan Halutz, who recently resigned his position.

According to informed sources, Kaplinsky may be a better choice, however Peretz is flexing his muscles, showing that as Minister of Defense the ultimate decision on the Chief of Staff is his.

To complicate matters Peretz’s competitors are split as to the importance of a quick appointment to the Chief of Staff post. Some, like Knesset Member former Admiral Ami Ayalon, a hopeful in the leadership race for the labor party, has said it is imperative to appoint a Chief of Staff as quickly as possible.

Others, however, like former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, also making a bid for leadership of the Labor Party, says that there is no rush to appoint a new Chief of Staff.
It is clear that the issue has taken on more steam as potential candidates link their fortunes to the issue of the Chief of Staff’s appointment.

Meanwhile, the debates go on. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said that he would veto any candidate he deemed unfit for the post. Reportedly he has agreed to the Ashkenazi appointment.

Olmert is embroiled in other problems, like the Bank Leumi affair. Olmert is under investigation for improper use of public office in securing a favorable bid for one of his cronies. Both the crony and Olmert deny the charge.

The prestigious Herzliya Conference began on Monday. One of the speakers was Dr. Dan Schueftan, deputy director of the National Security Studies Center at the University of Haifa, who told the gathering that a document recently released by Israeli- Arab leaders called for "nothing short of the destruction of Jewish national state."

The Arab Israeli document espoused a bi-national state, which most Israelis find unacceptable. Dr. Schueftan also said that the Israeli Arab population was not as hostile to Israel’s neighbors as the Jewish population.

Schueftan said: "The signal is that even if inequality is bridged, it won't solve the problem. The lack of legitimacy of the national Jewish state is the source of the problem."
According to Schueftan the only solution the Arabs will ultimately accept is the destruction of the Jewish state.

The tragedies continue to unfold between the Arabs and the Jews. A ten-year old Arab girl was buried yesterday. Her family claimed she was killed by an Army bullet. An autopsy discovered she was killed by a rock. The girl was a bystander to a violent clash between Palestinians and the Israeli Army. Still, she did lose her life.
One analyst wonder what it will take for both sides to realize that living together is better than dying together?

But then, that is a hope that has long been on the poker table, but never seems to be the winning hand.

In Gaza the tension is still palpable as both Hamas and the PA vie for the hearts and minds of the population. PA president Mohamed Abas has gone to Damascus to meet with Hamas political leader Mashal.

Hamas leader Khaled Meshal agreed yesterday to focus on ending internecine fighting among Palestinian factions and to continue talks on forming a unity government. However pundits believe this is simply a move by Meshal to get the flow of European money flowing again into Hamas coffers.

Israeli Army sources report that the Hamas sponsored flow of arms from Egypt into Gaza is continuing unimpeded. Rockets still continue to fall on Israel’s Southern towns and kibbutziem, despite a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. Recently Hamas announced it had a new rocket which could reach to Ashkelon, Israel’s Southern port town, and beyond.

The debate over Israel’s withdrawl from the Gaza Strip settlements has attracted the attention of Hollywood.

The announcement of the Oscar nominees tomorrow will tell whether the Israeli "Storm of Emotions" is to be included among the five finalists contending for the best full-length documentary award.

The movie, directed by Yael Klopmann, is among 15 short-listed candidates, chosen from an initial pool of 81 documentary films. It documents preparations for the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, and the withdrawal itself, in August, 2005, through the eyes of four Israeli policemen.

This film was noticeable for another reason: the filmmakers didn’t receive any money from any of the various film funds that ostensibly support filmmakers in Israel. The “sour-grapes” comments of filmmakers who are passed over for grants by the Israeli film foundations may have some substance. Cries of ‘old-boy networks,’ and ‘it’s not what you know in Israel but who you know,’ are often heard in filmmaking circles.

A report published within the last few weeks criticized the film funds for taking public monies and investing it in stocks and bonds and other vehicles until the filmmakers are ready to make their production. In Israel the filmmakers receive their money in stages. Sometimes the productions take much longer than anticipated. The film funds find themselves with money in their hands, and invest it, not always wisely, according to the report.

But as one sage commented, if those complaining would receive some money then you wouldn’t hear a peep out of them.

The way of the world. Or is it the way of Israel?

Thursday, January 18, 2007

A Retired Plumber Speaks Out

A retired plumber thought he had the cause of the present security and political boondoggle in Israel. This home-spun philosopher and street-wise political analyst claimed that the former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was ultimately to blame.

“Its all that Greek Island thing,” he said. “Sharon tried to cover it up, brought in Olmert, who was involved in it, to keep him quiet, even started that nonsense in the Gaza strip to distract the public’s attention from any indictment. For him and his sons. And it worked. So then what happened? Yaalon (Gen. “Bugi”Yaalon, former Chief of Staff) quit over the Gaza withdrawl.

“And Haalutz was brought in. Then Sharon gets sick, and Olmert steps in. He has to keep the coalition intact, so he gives Peretz the Ministry of Defense, which he deserves about as much as Achmanejad deserves the Nobel Peace Prize. These morons go to war. Now we’ve got this corruption coming out. Like Sharon didn’t know about it? He brought in Olmert, you understand. Now we’re stuck with this mess. It’s all Sharon’s fault.”

Not exactly Eric Hoffer, but folksy none-the-less, and a fairly accurate assessment of the public’s mood. And not everything can be blamed on former Prime Minister Sharon. Much of the corruption and old-boy network way of doing things has been going on in Israel for decades.

Back in the 1970’s, when the Labor party held nearly unrivaled power in the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament, the scandals were in the headlines. The problems are not indigenous to any one party, but are spread across the political spectrum.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is currently under investigation for yet another scandal, one that has been discussed in the past. Olmert is suspected of manipulating bids for the purchase of Bank Leumi so that one of his cronies won the tender.

Last week Olmert’s secretary was arrested for helping cronies get breaks on their tax bills. The level of corruption seems to have reached a level unprecedented in Israel. Most Israelis think that this corruption has affected the way Israel conducts wars.

Ze’ev Shiff, Haaretz’s veteran military correspondent, has laid the blame for the last war on the door step of former Chief of Staff Dan Haltuz, who resigned two days ago, Defense Minister Amir Peretz, and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Shiff suggests that all three of them resign.

The new Chief of Staff is usually selected by the Defense Minister, in this case Amir Peretz. However Prime Minister Olmert has stepped in and said he wants to approve the appointment.

Ze’ev Shiff has pointed out that none of the “troika” have military experience. Former Prime Minister Sharon did, and could off-set Halutz’s relative inexperience. Ehud Olmert can’t, according to Shiff.

So the question is now, who else will go in Dan Halutz’s wake? The Israeli media speculate that Amir Peretz is on his way out. Some people in the Israeli street, like the retired plumber, believe Peretz would have better served his country and himself by taking the Social Welfare portfolio, for which he was better suited, since he had been the Chairman of the Histadrut, Israel’s labor federation.

The questions one hears these days is what are the leaders thinking? Do they care at all about the country, or simply about staying in power? Apparently the latter. The Haaretz newspaper reported on Thursday that no motions have been brought in the Knesset by any party to dissolve the government and call for early elections. Prime Minister Olmert has apparently managed to weather this storm, so far.

The other Ehud, however, is fast on his heels. Ehud Barak is making a strong bid for the Labor Party leadership, running on his military record. He was also deeply involved in peace negotiations with both the Palestinians, and the Syrians. He knows the turf.

Lastly, there is the issue of Syria. The latest reports to come out of Israeli media are denials by both Israel and Syria that peace talks had taken place at any level. However, it seems as if Syria’s leader Basher Assad is indeed earnest in wanting peace. Assad reportedly fears his country being overrun by Hezbollah, swallowed whole by Iran. Assad sees Israel and the United States as his natural allies in this struggle to keep Syria from turning into an Islamic state.

Robert D. Kaplan, a respected editor at the Atlantic Monthly, and former colleague of this reporter, seems to agree. In a recent article in the Los Angeles Times, Kaplan, who spent a few years living in Israel after making Aliya, did say that the Syrian Alawite sect was Shiite, while the Israeli papers say that it is Sunni. What is the difference? The Iranian Mullah’s and Imams and revolutionary leaders are Shiite. The Saudi’s, Jordanians, and other ‘moderate’ Arab states are Sunni. These two groups are bitter enemies, as can be seen by the endless conflicts in Iraq.

The following weeks should prove very interesting, as the State unravels its case against Prime Minister Olmert, his secretary, the President of the country Moshe Katzav, and others. It may even happen that the Attorney General Manny Mazuz will lose his job. Mazuz has already said he can’t take on the case against Olmert as it will be a conflict of interests. One wonders if upon closer scrutiny it won’t come out that Mazuz should have also excused himself from other cases, like that against former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

“These old boys, they just keep scratching each other’s backs,” said the retired plumber. “But this time they may have gotten past the fur and drawn blood.”

Friday, January 12, 2007

Israel at the Abyss?

Israel's Army Radio reported Friday morning that the two soldiers captured in
Lebanon, Ehud Goldvasser and Eldad Regev are alive and well. According to
reports from Lebanese officials the two will be released within a couple of
months. .Miki Goldvasser, the mother of Ehud, was informed that her son was
alive and well by the Army Radio moderator during a live broadcast. She was
happy to hear the news, and hoped that the Israeli public pressure would
continue for the soldiers' release.

In retrospect it is strange the Army didn't contact her before she heard the news on live radio. Perhaps she did. She certainly didn't seem overwhelmed by the news, sort of took it in stride. But it made me happy. Best news in a long time. Most Israelis assumed they were dead.

The newspapers also carried the latest polls, detailing the slide of the ruling Kadima party from 29 seats garnered in the last election to an estimated 12 if elections were held today. Labor would pick up 19. According to the poll the Likud would take Kadima’s place with 29 seats, up from 12 in the last election. According to the poll only 20% of those who voted for Kadima in the last election would do so today.

One of the reasons, according to analysts, is the public’s lack of faith in Kadima leader Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and his ability to lead. His public approval rating has shrunk to 14%. Another reason is that four members of Kadima are currently under investigation for various illegal activities. The recent tax scandal implicated Finance Minister Hirschson. The papers report that the Attorney General is considering an indictment against Prime Minister Olmert for his involvement in influence peddling over the sale of Bank Leumi. Kadima former Justice Minister Chaim Ramon is in the last stages of a sex harassment trial.

Likud’s former Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu would lead the Likud ticket with a 50% rating, over his rival Silvan Shalom who comes in at about 18%. Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, favored by 40% of Laborites, is now the favorite to take over the Labor party, with former Admiral of the Navy Ami Ayalon a distant second. Current Labor party leader Defense Minister Amir Peretz is far down the list of favorites to lead the party.

Ami Ayalon is a fresh face in the Labor party, and he is running on a peace platform. He has formed an association with a well-known Palestinian intellectual Professor Sari Nusseibah, President of Bir Zeit University in Ramallah. The two of them have a petition signed by 170,000 Palestinians who want peace.

According to a recent interview in the Jerusalem Post, Ayalon says that peace with the Palestinians is possible. That the vote for Hamas was a protest vote against Palestinian Authority corruption. That most Palestinians, 70% by his polls, want a two-state solution with Israel. He firmly believes a dialogue and solution are both possible. He says his polls show that most Israelis would accept a two-state solution with the Palestinians.

Ayalon also says that Israel can militarily withstand Arab military assaults for 400 years, but that some peaceful solution to the Palestinian conflict is a necessity for Israel’s quality of life. He is also, of course, highly critical of Israel’s leadership, and their behavior during the last war. According to Ayalon, before the first war in Lebanon the army spent 18-months preparing and discussing. This war was launched with 2-hours of discussion, and the results show it. As a fresh face with military leadership experience, Ayalon will give Barak a run for who will lead the Labor party.

One Kadima party official, Yaacov Edri, defended Kadima, saying that the polls reflect today’s opinions, but the elections are not for another four years. He suggested that the public wait until the various indictments and trials are over before drawing conclusions. The implication was if those accused are found innocent the public’s support for Kadima might return.

Then there is the on-going public debate if there is or isn’t going to be a war this summer with Hezbollah in Lebanon. Thursday night Gen. (ret.) Amos Yaron, director-general of the Defense Ministry, appeared on Israel Television detailing how the Hezbollah was taking its time rebuilding its arsenal. He said that many advisors to various heads of different military intelligence branches give their own opinions about what is going on, but no one has a definitive answer if there will be a war or not.

He also said that there may be talk of peace with Syria but so far it is only talk about talk about peace. He said that Syrian leader Bashar Assad has said he may be willing to talk about the terms for a discussion, but that is a long way from agreeing that he would talk about peace, or about a peace treaty.

According to Israel’s Army Radio Hezbollah fighters have doffed their uniforms and are meandering in Southern Lebanon in street clothes, so as not to attract the attention of the UNIFIL troops. The radio said that intelligence reports state that new weaponry supplied by Syria and Iran are being placed into new bunkers all around Lebanon.

At this juncture, with a far off but still real threat of nuclear attack by Iran, and a closer threat of a conventional war with Hezbollah and perhaps Syria, Israelis are living once again closer to the edge of the abyss. Israel is a strong vibrant country, compared to its Arab neighbors Israel is a model of efficiency, honesty, and economic success.

These attributes must be measured against the danger Israel faces. Wars are like jurys; no final verdict is a slam-dunk. Anything can happen in a jury room just as anything can happen during a war. Expectations can be dashed, as they were in the War in Lebanon II.

Israel’s enemies have not gone away, nor will they, until their lust for vengeance and justice, at slights real or imagined, is appeased. Each war has seen them grow in military sophistication. Hard as Israel tries to stay ahead of the technological curve, something vital when facing vastly superior numbers, there is no assurance that technology can replace leadership, determination and good planning.

The last war was a draw. Israel succeeded in neutralizing Hezbollah’s long-range missiles within the first 30-minutes of fighting. But underestimated the effect of the 4,000 short-range that wrecked terror and destruction on the million people in the north.

Had these long-range missiles fallen on Tel Aviv as well as Haifa, the entire face of the war would have been different. The military is now reporting that Hamas in the South of Israel is developing missiles that can go past Ashkelon, and are working with Iran on missiles that can hit Tel Aviv. In the next war Israel may be bombarded from both sides.

A technological breakthrough in missile defense could well neutralize these threats, defeating Israel’s enemies in their ambitions to wipe Israel off the map, something espoused by Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas. They’d go back to the drawing board if they could see missiles wouldn’t help them. Israel should be putting all its resources into finding an anti-missile defense. This would also work to neutralize the Iranian threat.

Perhaps, with a real modern defense, and practical leadership, Israel would be given another decade of relative quiet, until Israel’s enemies discovered some new weapon, or strategy. With a change from governments of self-interest, power mongering, and the old-boy payoff network to one of self-sacrifice, idealism, and even patriotism, Israel can withstand the latest existential threats.

Meanwhile, Israel is sort of like Harrison Ford in one of the Indiana Jones films; over there a few miles in, still on the flat part of the land, faced with a horde of killers out for blood coming at them, with a five hundred foot gorge behind him.

Israel is not yet at the edge of that gorge. Israel is still in the flatland. If a way can be found to keep the enemy back, Israel might continue to grow, and prosper.

If not, nothing is certain.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

To Believe or not to Believe, that is the Question.

A recent article in the London Sunday Times claimed that Israel was preparing a limited nuclear strike on Iranian targets. The report went on to claim that Israeli air force squadrons were training to attack the different sites in Iran attempting to produce materials for an Iranian atom bomb.

A Sunday morning interview with an expert on Israeli weaponry on Israel Galei Tzhal radio channel dissed this report as just more sensational hype by the Sunday Times.

The expert said that the Sunday Times has frequently made claims over the years which captured the imagination of the reader but had little if any substance in fact.

This expert went on to say that the real attack at this point may well be psychological, launched by the Israeli military intelligence in an effort to rattle the cage and courage of the Iranians.

Another report on Israel TV recently explored the difficulties Israel would have striking Iran. The report focused on the Iraqi strike in 1981 in which a squadron of Israeli jets flew to Iraq and destroyed the nascent nuclear reactor. In that instance there was only one reactor, and it was above ground.

The comparison to the Iranian scenario is vastly different. Iran has reportedly over 300 locations scattered around the country developing different aspects of the process needed to make a bomb. Many of these locations are deep underground beneath steel or cement protection. It is also widely assumed that Iran has many locations that are as yet unknown.

Former Prime Minister, now Deputy Prime Minister, Shimon Peres, has said that Israel will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons in the Middle East. It must also be remembered that Tehran is close enough to Israel that nuclear fallout might be blown into Israel. Also, since no other nation has exploded a nuclear weapon since the US used the bomb to force the Japanese to surrender in WWII, it is highly unlikely that image conscious Israel would be the only the second country in history to use the 'bomb.'

Then there is the retribution. Iran has a large army, including an airforce, navy and ground forces. Coupled with Hezbollah on the Lebanese border, and supported by Syria, Iran could begin a conventional war against Israel, invading from both Syria and Lebanon. Syrian missiles in both Iranian and Hezbollah hands would rain down on Israel, this time the longer range N. Korean missiles, probably tipped with chemical and/or biological warheads. And as the Sunday Times reports, there would be the other moves by Iran, including strikes against US and Jewish targets inside and outside the Middle East.

In short, no one is rushing to attack Iran, neither the Israelis nor the Americans.

A recent article in the Jerusalem Post pointed out that over the last two years accidents have befallen the Iranian military leadership. A little over a year ago a small business jet carrying a number of the highest ranking Islamic Revolutionary Guard officers crashed, killing all aboard. The head of the Iranian missile program was one of those killed. The second crash took out many high-ranking Revolutionary Guard officers. Some speculate that the accidents weren't accidents. However both crashes did gouge a hole in Iranian military efficiency.

One Israeli military analyst has strongly suggested that Tehran's nuclear program will not be operational for a few years. As usual, the Israeli intelligence community is split on this, with the Mossad saying one thing and Military intelligence saying something else. This traditional rivalry between the two branches does nothing to calm the unease in the country. During the 1973 Yom Kippur War the Military Intelligence branch of the Army repeatedly ignored reports and then urgent warnings of an imminent Egyptian attack. Some speculate that the legendary Israeli arrogance might again be overlooking obvious facts in place of preconceived notions.

Reportedly two separate and distinct armies exist in Iran, the formal army and a shadow army answerable to the Islamic leaders. The latter is called the Revolutionary Guard. The latter supports President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The supreme ruler of Iran however is Sheik Kamani, who reportedly is not as gung-ho about destroying Israel and the Jews, nor fighting with the American devil, as the fiery president. It must be remembered that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was one of the radicals who captured the US Embassy staff in 1979 in Tehran.

Israelis are worried by the threats made by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Israel's former PM Netanyahu has said repeatedly he takes the Iranian President at his word when he says he wants to destroy Israel. Given Iran's clear support of Hezbollah in last summer's war, this seems like an obvious conclusion.

The introduction of nuclear arms into the Middle East will set off a race. Egypt and Saudi Arabia have already made it clear they'd seek nuclear weapons if Iran develops them. Should Israel go public with their nuclear arsenal, this too would be a spur to a Middle Eastern nuclear arms race. In view of these issues, it is unlikely Israel will use nuclear weapons if and when an attack is launched against Iran.

How much of what is now in the Israeli and international press is disinformation, and how much fact, is open to speculation and interpretation. A faint glimmer of hope appears now and then when some 'resistance' group appears in Iran supposedly in opposition to the hard-line Islamic regime.

The legendary Israeli ability to strike hard and fast has clearly been blunted over the last several decades, as witnessed by Israel's performance in the last War in Lebanon. It is unclear if Israel can still pull off those same stunts that captured the world's imagination, like the bombing of the Iraqi reactor, the hijacking of the missile boats at Cherbourg, or the pre-emptive strike against the Egyptian Airforce in 67.

If they do manage to resuscitate the old mix of Israeli bravado and intelligent planning and somehow neutralize Iran's nuclear capability, the Western world will certainly thank them.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Hamlet in Israel

You didn’t have to be Hamlet to realize something was rotten in Denmark
Theoretically, everyone living there knew it. If not they didn’t read the newspapers.

Wednesday morning’s Israeli papers were filled with the latest scandal. Shula Zaken, the office manager of the Prime Minister’s office was under house arrest for bribery and fraud. Tax Authority director Jackie Matza and his predecessor, Eitan Rub, were also arrested on Tuesday on suspicion of widespread bribery and fraud at the authority, as well as Yoram Karashi and Kobi Ben-Gur, two high-powered businessmen, among others.

Yoram Karashi, a Judaica dealer and former Jerusalem councilman, is the brother of Shula Zaken. She reportedly pushed for Matza’s appointment at the behest of her brother Karashi. According to police reports these businessmen have been influencing their tax assessments for years, as well as having a say who was hired and fired in the Tax Authority’s offices.

Shula Zakin started out as a secretary in Ehud Olmert’s law office, and moved up the ladder with him. She was his office manager when he was Mayor, Finance Minister and now Prime Minister. Reportedly, she used these offices to finagle tax deals for favored personages, arranged through Jackie Matza, who was appointed by Olmert as Director of the Tax Authority.

The rot may go much deeper. The current Finance Minister Hirschson is now under investigation for knowing these deals went on and looking the other way at some shady practices dealing the the Nili charity. Reportedly Hirschson received a new Volvo S80 from “Nili” non-for-profit charity. Hirschson had been the Director of the charity, but was no longer employed when he received the Volvo. He is suspected of not reporting misdeeds he knew about to the police. Does he have an excuse? Probably. Time will tell how good it is.

There’s a lot of looking the other way going on. Reportedly the Attorney General Mazuz knew about the wrongdoings in Nili as well, and didn’t press charges. Mazuz was a Sharon appointee. Is he involved?

So far no one has included PM Olmert in the investigation, at least not that the media has discovered. This story broke when Israel Television’s Channel 10 found out about the investigation into Shula Zaken, and broke the story. According to Channel 10 the story did not impede the investigation. The police haven’t commented.

The way it seems, the police got onto Zakin’s influence peddling, and tax reduction deals. No one has yet reported exactly how, but it’s likely that someone in one of the various departments blew the whistle. Reportedly Zakin, her brother, and his predecessor made certain that only those willing to go along with the tax break scheme were hired or promoted within the tax authority.

The rot is so deep in the government that untangling the various threads that lead from one government ministry to another might well cause the whole fabric to disintegrate.

Serious stuff.

The implications are widespread. Did this old boy look the other way syndrome spread into the Defense Ministry? Has the greed and corruption so eroded the idealism that cronies are appointed to the highest government jobs despite their lack of ability. Pundits are now wondering if perhaps this cronyism might have been responsible for Israel’s failure in the last war.

A recent Israel TV report seems to be a prime example. Jerusalem-Magazine has cited it before. Five years ago an American-made trenching tool that could dig 15 meters down, and a couple of meters across was suggested to the Ministry of Defense as a perfect tool to stop the plethora of tunnels dug from Egypt into Gaza, and/or Gaza into Israel. The tool expose the tunnels, allowing the army to seal them off.

The tool was presented to then Israeli Chief of Staff ‘Boogie’ Yaalon, who thought it was perfect for preventing infiltration and weapons smuggling from Gaza. He suggested its purchase. The tool was brought to the attention of then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who also suggested its purchase. Then the Ministry of Defense got a hold of the issue. They dithered, dallied, put the tool out for competitive bids, ultimately a good ol’ boy who was a frequent MOS (Ministry of Defense) supplier.

A few years later the guy who brought the tool to the MOS was told they’d purchased from the other supplier and that the tool didn’t work. He went to see the one that didn’t work. It was a cheaper 7-meter trenching tool, not 15 meters. Most tunnels were dug at a depth of 10 meters. Shortly after this discovery, Palestinian militants snuck under the border planted explosives at an Israeli army outpost near the border, and killed and injured soldiers. Not long after that another tunnel was dug, emerging behind the tank unit of Gilad Shalit, killing more people, and resulting in the kidnapping of Shalit.

Was the rot responsible for this malfeasance, or was it simply stupidity?

The culture of corruption in Israel seems to be replacing the culture of nation building and accomplishment. The petty bureaucrats not only rule with narrow-minds, it appears, but eyes towards a payoff. In a banana republic, despotic African regimes, or on some isolated atoll in the South Pacific this kind of behavior is standard fare, but for a country faced with nearly constant existential hostility, either in word or deed, it is intolerable.

Analysts are now wondering if the rot hasn’t become so pervasive that it has spread deep into the military. In a country where defense isn’t a joke, the feeling of unease among Israelis is growing. The latest revelations will do nothing to make Israelis sleep any easier.

The real question, though, is what can be done about this culture that has shifted so drastically from idealism to materialism, from self-sacrifice to self-aggrandizement, that the good, perhaps even the very survival of the country and its citizens has apparently become an afterthought?

Compared to Israel, it is starting to look as if Hamlet’s Denmark was a model of government.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Hitler Was A Jew

Hitler was a Jew. That’s it. Now we’ve heard everything. According to the Israel’s daily Yideot Achranot Newspapers this outrageous statement was made by a top advisor to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The advisor, Mohammad-Ali Ramin, a chief aide to Ahmadinejad, told the Iranian webzine Baztab that Hitler's paternal grandmother was a Jewish prostitute and his father even kept his Jewish name until finally changing it to Hitler when he was 40. Ramin also claimed in that Nazi leader Adolph Hitler's parents were both Jewish and that Hitler himself was one of the founders of the State of Israel.

Can you believe this stuff? Where do these people come up with these outlandish statements? Answer: from old Holocaust deniers. Reportedly, according to Ynet, the Yideot webzine, “Ramin cites a 1974 book by Hennecke Kardel titled 'Adolph Hitler: Founder of Israel', which alleges that Hitler strived to create a Jewish state as a result of being influenced by his Jewish relatives and his cooperation with Britain – which also wanted to drive the Jews out of Europe.”

Once years ago a Palestinian worker explained that the Shin Bet, Israel’s FBI, was so all pervasive that anyone anywhere could be working for them. Paranoia rules the Arab world. Just trying to get one’s mind around this ridiculous statement requires tremendous effort. Worse than anything, though, is that apparently guys like Ramin believe it, and probably so does his boss Ahmadinejad. One wonders if they really believe if Elvis is dead? Maybe he’s hiding out somewhere in Tehran after all.

But legendary former Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek did die, of a “difficult illness,’ which in Israeli newspeak means Cancer. Kollek was 95 years old, overweight his entire life, had a penchant for good food and fine cigars, and eschewed exercise; the most he got was commandeering a cab from people about to get in the vehicle when he thought he needed it at that moment.

Kollek was a secretary to Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion, was an active member of the Haganah, whose assignment was as head of procurements, and establishing ties with the US intelligence services. Repotedly, among his other duties Kollek served as a bag man between the American gangsters like Bugsy Seigel and Meyer Lansky, and the pre-State government.

Kollek reportedly raised the funds for the purchase of the first ships Israel bought for the illegal immigration of refugees into pre-state Israel, (then called Palestine, a name thought up by the British a few decades earlier. Actually the word first appears when the Romans briefly named the Holy Land Palestina, but the name disappeared until some British scholar dug it up and remodeled it in the 20th Century.)

Ralph Goldman, another legendary figure in modern Jewish history, former head of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, told an interviewer that he was involved in carrying money for the ships purchase; meeting Teddy when he was sitting with the gangsters in a New York City nightclub, and transporting the cash in a suitcase to the hands that would pay for the boats.

Teddy was asked by Ben Gurion to take the Jerusalem Portfolio in 1965, which he did. Kollek was elected Mayor and served for 28-years. Following the 67-Six Day War Kollek convinced David Ben Gurion not to tear down the old city’s walls. Ben Gurion didn’t want the city divided after 67, even by those 500 year old walls. Teddy found other ways to unify the city.

A life-long dove, Kolleck never-the-less went along with right-wing Premier Menachem Begin in the late 1970’s and helped implement the government’s decision to build a ring of new neighborhoods around Jerusalem; including Pisgat Zev, Ramot, French Hill, East Talpiot,and Gilo, even though Kollek reportedly objected on political grounds to those neighborhoods being built.

A life-long Zionist, Kollek was born in Vienna, Austria in 1911, served as an usher to the Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland in 1923, immigrated to Israel in 1934, where he was one of the founders of Kibbutz Ein Gev. He served as Director-General of Ben-Gurion’s office from 1952 until 1964.

Kollek made Jerusalem his cause, helped reopen the Hebrew University on Mt. Scopus, helped build the Hebrew University’s Givat Ram Campus, the Israel Museum, Hadassah Hospital, and the Teddy Stadium, used by Jerusalem’s soccer teams.

Teddy was charismatic, charming, brash, energetic, famous for falling asleep even at the feet of sultry movie star Marlena Dietrich. Once as Mayor he fell asleep during a TV interview, and the crew was asked to wait until he woke up to continue to interview. His press spokesman explained that Teddy had just over-indulged in a big lunch.

Teddy kept the various ethnic groups in a semblance of harmony. He was proud of the fact that more Yeshivot, rabbincal seminars, existed in Jerusalem than even in the history of the Jewish people, including the golden age of Eastern European Jewry.

The religious, however, frequently found themselves at odds with Teddy; they grew angry when he refused to close a road on the Sabbath, or some other infraction of ultra-Orthodox law. Once Teddy was set upon and beaten by ultra-Orthodox men while touring the open-air market in the ultra-Orthodox Bucharin quarter. He spent several days in the hospital.

Teddy was finally defeated in his bid for mayor at the age of 83. He spent the rest of his life continuing to raise money for Jerusalem. There is no way to detail all of the contributions he arranged for Jerusalem. He managed to entice money through his Jerusalem Foundation from the stars of Hollywood, like Frank Sinatra, Barbara Streisand and Gregory Peck. Hollywood star Kirk Douglas personally dedicated parks and other buildings in Jerusalem. The Hollywood elite helped build the Jerusalem Cinematheque. There is hardly a modern structure in Jerusalem’s civic or social life that wasn’t one of Teddy’s projects.

In many ways he was the modern King of Jerusalem. After him, every other mayor seemed only to be a manager.

Teddy Kollek is survived by his wife of over 70 years Tamar, and his son Amos, a well-known film maker.

If Teddy was around to hear the Iranians say that Hitler was a Jew, one can only suspect he’d growl like a big bear, and utter a one-word epithet that would sum up the situation with wisdom and wit.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year 2007

Unease in the world. Uncertainty in the USA, confusion in Israel.

2007 began quietly, for some, bloody for others.

A bomb went off in Bangkok killed two and wounded more than thirty people.

More bombs went off in Iraq. The 3,000th American died in Iraq just as 2007 rang in.

Saddam Hussein was hanged on Saturday morning at six A.M., and buried on Monday beside his two sons in Tikrit, their hometown.

Sunday was the fast of the Tenth of Tevet, commemorating the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzer some 2,500 years ago. What’s the connection?

On the 10th of Tevet of the year 3336 from Creation (425 BCE), the armies of the Babylonian emperor Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem. Thirty months later -- on Tammuz 9, 3338 -- the city walls were breached, and on Av 9th of that year, the Holy Temple was destroyed. The Jewish people were exiled to Babylonia for 70 years.

Reportedly Saddam considered himself a modern version of Nebuchadnezzar, with his sons part of the new Babylonian dynasty. The long dreamed of Hussein dynasty went with him into the graves in Takrit. Had he succeeded in his vision, Saddam may well have accomplished what the Babylonian emperor did 2,500 years earlier, destroy Jerusalem, take the Jews captive. But he was stopped.

Others will try to take his place. Some Islamists think that the Iranian leader Achmanejad is the Messiah. He is trying his best to live up to that rumor. According to Jewish legend the Messiah, son of Joseph, whom the Christians consider the anti-Christ, will precede the Messiah the son of David, whom the Christians consider Jesus. Don’t ask how the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe fits into this scheme.

No one knows which of these legendary figures applies to Achmanejad, if any. However, Jewish legend states that the war between Gog and Magog will precede the coming of the Messiah. Scholars say that both Gog and Magog were in the north of Israel. Is Iran one of those modernized forces? Who knows? Has the vast and rich history of the region dizzied the imagination of Achmanejad? Or the Lebanese leader Nasrallah? Was the War in Lebanon II the Gog and Magog? Who knows?

In the Middle East, anything is possible, but as Chaim Weizman, Israel’s first President said, not everything is probable.

Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier captured by Hamas, is not yet free, although the press is ablaze with reports of his imminent release in exchange for 1,000 Palestinian prisoners. These reports of his imminent release have been circulating for months. It must drive his poor parents crazy.

The negotiations over his release are stalled, or not stalled, depending on which report you read. The Israelis will release prisoners with blood on their hands, or only those who committed misdemeanors, depending on with report you read. Israel is holding nearly 10,000 Palestinians prisoner. Each has to be housed, fed, and guarded. Maybe more than 1,000 should be released. Think of all the money Israel would save.

No one is talking about the other two soldiers, Regev and Goldwasser, captured by Hezbollah at the outbreak of the War in Lebanon II. Its not even clear if they’re still alive. Last reports were that one of them was wounded when captured. Ron Arad, the Israeli co-pilot who was captured over twenty years ago in Lebanon’s first war, has never been heard from since then, but people still talk about finding him.

The Taliban attacked an Afgani office and captured the police chief. Is the Taliban back on the rise in Afghanistan? Does anyone remember the rage at the Taliban after 9/11, and the swift success toppling the Taliban regime? Is that success now about to be reversed? Is the Taliban going to insinuate itself back into power in Afghanistan, topple the weak leadership in Kabul, overpower the warlords who in reality rule the country, and instill yet another Islamic state in Afghanistan? And who will stop them if they want to do this?

Syrian’s President Basher Assad has sent out feelers that he wants peace talks with Israel. Is he serious? Media reports state that Assad is also ready to wage a guerilla war against Israel, much as Hezbollah did. When a play works, say the coaches, keep running it until the defense figures out a way to stop it. Hezbollah mounted an effective campaign against Israel. Syria and other states will now try to copy it. Can they be stopped? Is it war or peace? Who knows?

Qassam rockets continue to fall every day in Sderot and other areas of the Western Negev in Israel, in spite of the cease-fire with Hamas. Can Israel stop these rockets? Did the then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon expect these rockets to fall on Israel once he pulled out of Gaza, and did he care? A new report in the Haaretz Newspaper states that Sharon’s son Gilad was the one who brought the disengagement plan to his father. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice reportedly presented the idea to Sharon’s then advisor Dov Weisglass, who presented it to the younger Sharon, part of his father’s innermost circle.

At the time Prime Minister Sharon was getting it from all side; an investigation into his doling out land to some cronies at a kibbutz in the north, illegal fund-raising for which his older son Omri was convicted, and an investigation into Gilad’s land deal with a high-powered Israeli building contractor. Sharon, known for bold initiatives, saw the plan as an opportunity to take the pressure off, and get out of troublesome Gaza settlements at the same time. He pulled out of more settlements than he’d planned, but the country supported him, and the ploy, if it was a ploy, worked. He was nearly home free, until his series of debilitating strokes.

But surely Sharon, the great strategist, knew of the Qassams. They were already starting to fall on the Gaza settlements before the pullout. Seemingly, he expected what is happening today, and considered it just another part of life in Israel. Reportedly Sharon never expected to make Peace with the Arabs, nor trust a peace that was made. On two separate occasions Sharon reportedly said that the greatest accomplishments the Arabs have made was their ability to urinate standing up. For all his faults, Sharon inspired confidence as a leader. Would he have ever really honored the road map espoused by the US government, or merely elegantly sidestepped it using his unique style of creating a diviersion.

David Horowitz, the editor of the English language daily Jerusalem Post, wrote a column that essentially put his finger on the way Israelis feel today. They don’t trust their leaders, he claimed, not to make the right decisions, not to protect them, not to guide the country in the future.

The recent Shomron commission investigating the army’s role in the War in Lebanon found none of the army’s officers to blame for the loss of battles and lives. The commission even recommended that Chief of Staff Dan Halutz stay on for another year until his term runs out since if there is another war he has now the experience from the last war to win on the battlefield. As my late Aunt would say, “Go figure!”

The families of those soldiers killed in the War in Lebanon II wanted to know that if Israel won that last war, which is one of the findings of the commission, how come they lost their sons. No one has the answer.

At a small New Year’s Eve dinner in Jerusalem the host, a well-respected manager of a large American Jewish Charity, asked the guests what was going on with Syria? Are the anti-government demonstrators still in the streets against the Siniora government in Lebanon? And then said he thought that Iran was ‘scary.’

Then he looked at the table, and said, ‘We’re in deep sh.. aren’t we?” He went on: “Peretz can’t be Defense Minister. I don’t understand Halutz at all. And Olmert is out only to save his own reputation. So who cares about us?” We drank a toast to the New Year anyway, a nice Yarden red, and got up to leave. 10:00 pm. It was Israel, after all.
He stopped us at the door. “We’ve been here too long to celebrate New Years,” he said, and wished us Happy New Year anyway.
At home the New Orleans’s Saints lost to the Carolina Panthers, and Larry Johnson rushed for a record number of carries against Jacksonville.
At seven A.M. Israel time the ball fell from it’s height in Time’s Square, and the neon sign read 2007.
A million people gathered in the center of Manhattan, and no bombs went off. All that happened was they left a mess..
At least that was something. That mess can be cleaned up.

Happy New Year.