Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Huey Long and the Iron Dome

More Kassam rockets fell in the Western Negev on Tuesday. One struck a kindergarten in Sderot however no injuries were reported. Kassam rockets have been falling in the Negev nearly every day.
The IDF has been actively reacting to these Kassam attacks. On Monday the IDF fired a missile from an Israeli aircraft that killed six Hamas terrorists traveling in a car in central Gaza. The military said they had been targeted because they’d been involved in terror activities. Palestinian sources said the vehicle was leaving a Hamas military installation when Israeli aircraft attacked it. According to the IDF spokesperson's office, the men in the car were members of a rocket-launching cell that earlier on Monday had fired a Kassam and a number of mortar shells towards Israeli towns.
On Tuesday three Hamas activists were killed in an IDF aircraft strike as they approached the security fence 600 yards from the Kissufim crossing. The Army spokesman’s office said that the gunmen killed were all part of a cell that targeted IDF combat engineers operating near the security fence separating Israel from Gaza. According to press reports the three men were in possession of sniper’s rifles.
The ongoing battles continue well away from the newspaper headlines. In the West Bank the Associate Press reported that IDF troops killed a PFLP member in Nablus. The Army said that IDF soldiers operating in al-Ein refugee camp saw a Palestinian gunman who fired at them before they returned fire and hit him. Observers say that the activities of the IDF have stepped up since Ehud Barak took over as Defense Minister.
There has been much discussion in the press about the “Iron Dome,” a sophisticated defensive shield to protect Israel from rocket and missile attack. Last week the IDF announced that it did not have the budget to implement the “Iron Dome” defensive anti-rocket and anti-missile system. The Iron Dome was touted as one of the solutions to the airborne attacks on Israel from Hamas in Gaza to Hezbollah in Lebanon, and even Syria and Iran. Some pundits speculated that this announcement could be a ploy by Defense Minister Ehud Barak to get more money for the military.
But the beleaguered head of Israel’s Home Front Command, Major General Yitzhak Gershon said that it was demagoguery to plant in the public’s mind that an anti-missile system would protect Israel from a direct Kassam rocket.
Major General Gershon was testifying before the Knesset State Control Committee, answering accusations made in the State Comptroller's Report about failures in the conduct of the Home Front Command during the War in Lebanon II.
Gershon claimed that all the issues raised in the report have been corrected. However he said that there was still much to do. According to a report in the Haaretz newspaper, Gershon blamed the local authorities for not doing enough to provide adequate bomb shelters for civilians. But in contrast to his statements, the Home Front Command announced yesterday that it wasn’t going to demand bomb shelters in newly renovated Kibbutz structures.
As if to underline the need for more vigilance, and money, Defence Minister Ehud Barak told the media on Monday, in his first press conference since taking over two months ago, that the IDF needs to be bigger and much better equipped in order to deal properly with future threats.

Barak told told military correspondents that without a multiyear force-building plan, it will not be possible for the army to implement Israel's basic defense doctrine, which is based on deterrence, early warning and victory in battle.
Barak said that the shortcomings he found in the defense establishment stemmed from the budget cuts of the past few years. Pundits point out that ironically it was Barak who as Prime Minister and even Defence Minister in a previous administration was one of the men responsible for those cutbacks.

Barak's new defense doctrine relies on the Iron Dome active missile defense system that can intercept all types of missiles. Barak also wants to increase the number of ground troops and reactivate two reservist divisions that had been disbanded.
According to Haaretz, “The defense minister emphasized that tanks must be equipped with technologically advanced, active protective systems capable of dealing with the threats that emerged during the Second Lebanon War. During that war, IDF tanks fell prey to advanced antitank missiles fired by Hezbollah fighters.”

Barak stressed that live-fire training must continue at the brigade and division levels, just as in the past. "There cannot be a recurrence of the situation in which a division commander first witnesses his division in action during wartime. Live-fire training is the closest approximation of wartime conditions, even if the psychological element is missing," Barak said.

Barak also wants to develop a "long reach" that would allow the army to operate "far from its borders, with the ability to strike accurately and painfully."

As if to underline Barak’s new plan, tank carriers competed with summer vacationing Israelis for space on roads in the Golan Heights during the last weeks. Live fire training exercises could be seen by travelers going from one tourist site to another. According to some reserve soldiers this was the first time they’d touched a tank’s cannon shell in five years. A debate is now raging within the army to decide if the air force should be scaled back at the expense of increasing the size of the ground troops.

Corruption is still in the news in Israel. According to press reports the Israeli police now plan to interrogate bank executives who were involved in questionable loans to the Heftsiba building company. The police suspect that bank officials colluded with Heftsiba to provide unorthodox financing that contributed to the company's collapse. Heftsiba’s CEO Boaz Yona has fled the country and his wherabouts are unknown. His company has left hundreds of buyers who paid for their homes without a place to live, since the apartments were either not completed,or not even built. The police have discovered that monies paid to purchase apartments were purloined by Yona and placed in his own bank account. The result was that the buyers were left without any guarantees on their investments. According to the Haaretz newspaper, the police suspect that bank officials received bribes to approve the schemes. Heftsiba owes the four leading Israeli banks nearly $200 million, and another $200 million to other sources. Police suspect that Boaz Yona recently diverted about $30 million to his own account before fleeing the country.

Not long ago the head of the Ministry of Finance, Avraham Hirchson was forced to resign amid accusations that he’d embezzled money. The long-time secretary to Ehud Olmert also resigned in a scandal over income and purchasing tax breaks to businessmen; the police investigation reached as high as the heads of the income and property tax department. According to press reports this culture of dishonesty has come under criticism lately, since many analysts now think that the country as a whole has lost its moral compass.

Yideot Achranot’s highly respected columnist Nachum Barnea made this point when discussing payments to Holocaust survivors. He wrote about a TV report that showed how Holocaust survivors in Berlin lived in large homes, whereas those in Israel barely had bread on the table. Barnea thought that the message was clear: “Survivors who settled in Germany did well, survivors who moved to Israel ended up as suckers.”
It reminded one analyst of the actor Richard Dryfus’ comment that had he worked on more films he’d have a bigger house, as if the size of the house marked the level of success in life. The TV program prompted Barnea to ask, “Are there no Holocaust survivors who built a villa in Israel? Is it really that bad here? Does living in a Jewish state no longer have any meaning? Is it only the size of one's villa that's important?”
According to Barnea, the answer depends on the individual. Then he touched the raw nerve: “But the genre of mistreatment, in both political and media circles, acts differently. It develops, each day, every night, the concept that the State of Israel only exists to deprive, steal and corrupt.” Barnea is cynical about the government’s big noise about the pensioners since the issue is, “just a ploy by the Treasury. Within five years, they will no longer be around. It's much cheaper to deal with them than to concentrate on the real problem.”
In Israel today it is cheaper to worry about the size of a Holocaust Survivor’s home in Berlin, than about the missiles that can come crashing down from Iran, or the serious social problems inherent in Israel today. Observers all agree that a change is necessary if Israel is to weather the storms brewing around her. But as long as opinion leaders, even TV reporters, are more concerned with the size of their homes and bank accounts than the long term financial, physical and military health of the country, the odds of Israel enduring are growing as thin as plastic wrap. What good will a nice house be when, God forbid, an Iranian, Syrian or Hezbollah missile punch through the iron dome that has turned to brittle rusty metal due to cheap materials or worse, incomplete implementation? What if someone gives a company like Heftsiba the contract for the “Iron Dome?” Huey Long allowed cronies to build government structures that collapsed on the unsuspecting public. Israel can’t afford a Huey Long. But that doesn’t mean Israel won’t get one.