Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Syrian Sky

The Israeli air force’s reported attack against a Syrian target ten days ago is still making the new, although the Israeli government has yet to make an official comment. The night the news of the attack on Syria was reported, Israel TV cameras photographed Israel’s Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi with a big grin on his face.

On Sunday morning Knesset member Tzachi HaNegbi, a confidant of PM Olmert, said on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet that Israel’s policy of no comment was clearly working.

The international media was filled with reports on the purpose of the attack. The reports vary from Israel striking a shipment from N. Korea officially listed as carrying cement but really filled with parts for a nuclear reactor, to reports that the strike was on a uranium enrichment plant in the desert near Turkey constructed with the help of N. Korea. Some reports focus on the fact that the ship suspiciously changed its flag from N.Korean to S.Korean when it sailed towards Syria.

One report has as many as eight Israeli F-15I and F-16 jet fighters armed with Maverick missiles and 500lb bombs, as well as an UAV, Israel’s Ofek 7 satellite, sending pristine detailed pictures of the site, and Israeli special forces ground troops spotting for the laser-guided smart bombs, all taking part in the attack.

Syria denies it has a uranium enrichment plant. Syria claims Israel fired missiles in the desert and fled after Syrian planes chased them off. During the Syrian-Israeli war of attrition in the late 1970’s Syria reported it had destroyed all of Israel’s planes in a dogfight, when in fact Syria lost every plane it sent up in the sky. Israeli military observers say Syria is known for bombastic statements with little basis in fact.

According to the London Sunday Times, Israel had been considering an air strike against Syrian targets since late spring, following Mossad chief Meir Dagan’s briefing of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, presenting proof that Damascus was trying to buy a nuclear device from North Korea.

An Israeli official reportedly told the London Sunday Times that Dagan thought the nuclear device could be fitted on Scud-C missiles and used in future military conflicts with Israel. Some press sources speculate that this raid on Syria was a training exercise for Israel’s plan to destroy Iranian nuclear facilities.

U.S.Sec of State Condeleeza Rice is due in the region on Tuesday for preliminary talks on the issues for the upcoming Mid-East summit in November. So far her only statement on the Syrian matter is to reiterate the US position that no untrustworthy states should allowed to be in possession of nuclear arms.

Press reports speculate that other parts and materials for nuclear development by Syria were supplied by Iran and sent through the underground pipeline established by the disgraced Pakistani nuclear scientist caught selling secrets to Al Queda and other terrorist groups.

N. Korea has said it has stopped its nuclear program and the sales of nuclear materials to other countries due to the tough sanctions by the US. N. Korea denies any involvement in the Syrian adventure. Analysts believe this action puts both Syria and N. Korea squarely back in the ‘axis of evil.’ International law experts say Syria may find itself vulnerable to UN sanctions

The daring Israeli raid was also meant to bolster lagging confidence in Israel’s military. According to Israeli Military Intelligence Chief Major-General Amos Yadlin, Israel has regained its high level of deterrence against Syria and Iran.

The Jewish New Year celebration ended Saturday night. The two-day New Year celebration ended as the Sabbath began, making this a three-day event. Religious families ate two festive meals per day. By the end of the weekend the traditional Fast of Gedalia, when no food or drink is ingested from sunrise to sundown, was a welcome cleansing.

Non-religious Israelis flocked to the beaches, parks and the hiking trails, if they stayed in the country. Traffic accidents claimed the lives of nearly a dozen Israelis over the weekend. A record number of Israelis flew abroad for the holiday, taking advantage of package tours to sites in Greece and Turkey. Some Israelis even defied the government’s security warnings and took their chances vacationing in Egypt’s Sinai desert, long a popular spot for Israelis. This in spite of the terrorist bombs that have struck both Sharm-El Sheik and Taba over the last decade.

A Thailand discount airlines plane crashed in the Thai resort island of Phuket. At least nine Israelis were reportedly among the over 70 dead or missing on the airline.The missing Israelis were reportedly Tal Feldman; Hila Gershoni of Holon; Hofit Eliya, 25, of Kfar Yona; Itzhak Biton of Kfar Yona; Rotem Naouri, 24, of Netanya; Adi Naim of Kfar Yona; Lily Alon of Jerusalem; Rachel Tofan of Jerusalem; and Michael Falcone, 26, of Yehud. The Thailand One-Two-Go Airlines plane skidded on a wet runway cracked in two then burst into flames during a landing in the heavy rain. Chabad said nearly 500 Israelis traveled to Phuket over the Rosh Hashana holiday bringing the estimated total of Israelis in Thailand to about 4,000. According to Chabad House Rabbi Nehemya Wilhelm, who flew into Phuket to help out after the crash, most Israelis first stop at the Chabad House in Bankok when traveling in Thailand. Chabad held Rosh Hashana services for over 1,000 people, mostly Israeli backpackers, during the New Year holiday. Chabad operates four centers in Thailand, all meeting points for Israeli travelers.

Early Sunday morning Israel switched to daylight savings time, setting the clocks back one hour. Some speculate the reason was to allow the religious men time to say their early morning “slichot” prayers and still manage to get to work at a reasonable hour. The official reason is to save money on Israel’s electric bill.

Israeli military observers say that Hamas is showing signs of collapse. This came after Hamas agreed to consider a cease-fire of rockets into Israeli territory. An unnamed Hamas official told the Yideot Achranot newspaper that Hamas had brokered a deal with other terrorist groups firing into Israel to hold their fire. The official said that Palestinian groups had agreed to consider not renewing their rocket fire unless Israel carried out targeted assassinations against senior gunmen.

Experts speculate the reason for the discussion of a ceasefire was the rocket attack on the Israeli Zikim army-training base that wounded nearly 70 soldiers. Hamas reportedly fears strong Israeli reprisals and is trying to mollify Israeli security forces before they launch a full-fledged attack on Gaza. On Sunday, Israel sent troops back to the Zikim base to resume training.

Meanwhile Palestinians fired Kassam rockets from Gaza into Israel, but there was no damage or injuries. Israel sent in troops and bulldozers into the southern Gaza strip in what the army said was a raid on a terrorist cell suspected of shooting rockets into Israel. Over thirty Palestinians were arrested for questioning.

Three Israelis were lightly injured when a sniper shot at their car on the West Bank, near the settlement of Karnei Shomron.

On Friday, Palestinians were kept out of the Temple Mount during the Jewish New Year festivities. In previous years militant Palestinians have heaved rocks down from the Temple Mount onto the Jewish worshipers at the Western Wall.

In the West Bank, Israel carried out its nearly weekly raids against suspected terrorist cells in Nablus. In Hebron a Palestinian man was killed when he opened fire on Israeli troops who had entered his neighborhood to break up a fight between feuding families. Israeli troops have become the de facto police force in the occupied territories, something that has been criticized in the past as one of the reasons for Israel’s poor showing when real combat was required in Lebanon.

According to the Haaretz newspaper, Hamas is planning a terrorist attack to disrupt the Mid-East Peace Summit scheduled to take place in November. PM Olmert and Palestinian president Abbas have kept a low profile as the talks approach. Neither man is considered strong enough to enforce any document signed at the conference.

The Israeli government on Sunday announced the formation of a National Emergency Administration, expected to be operational by 2008. The administration is expected to be the center coordinating activities between the various security and support elements of the country in times of a national emergency.

Pop star Madonna arrived in Israel just before the New Year with actress Demi Moor, fashion designer Dana Karen and other luminaries. Madonna was in Israel on a visit to the graves of Kabalistic rabbis, and to attend a Kabbala concert in Tel Aviv. Madonna is very interested in Kabala, even though she was born and raised a Catholic.

Israelis population is growing, and has reached over seven million people. The gross national product is higher than many countries in Western Europe. The U.S. Coastguard has stated that the Israeli ships are the safest on the sea. With a booming economy, a blossoming population. one can only be optimistic that the new year 5768 will be the beginning of a new age of peace and prosperity in the middle east.

Who knows? It just might. But don’t bet on it.