Monday, December 31, 2007

You Heard It Here First

The stalemate continues between the 900 Moslem pilgrims returning from the Haj in Saudi Arabia to Gaza and the Egyptian troops who have prevented their crossing through an Egyptian checkpoint to get back to Gaza. The Egyptians demand that the pilgrims go through an Israeli checkpoint.

The pilgrims include at least 10 well-known figures from the radical Islamic group Hamas - including Khalil al-Haya, a leader of the group - who fear Israel will arrest them if they cross through Kerem Shalom.

Israel, in turn, fears that if the pilgrims are allowed to return to Gaza through Rafah Hamas militants might get through and sympathizers could smuggle cash or weapons to Hamas in Gaza.

Israel Television’s Channel One’s Arab affairs reporter said on Sunday night that this was a move by Egypt to curry favor with the U.S. administration on the eve of U.S. President Bush’s visit to the region. He predicted that as much as the Israelis disliked the idea, they’d allow the pilgrims unfettered access to Gaza to keep the peace with Egypt.

Recently, Egypt has come under harsh criticism from the Israeli government that claim Egypt has turned a blind eye to smuggling of weapons, ammunition and contraband into Gaza.

In October, the Haaretz newspaper published a report stating that Israel is becoming increasingly worried that Egypt will allow more Palestinian terrorists to enter the Gaza Strip through the Egyptian-Sinai border.

In that report, Haaretz claimed the government and defense establishment were concerned over the closer ties Egypt and the Hamas government were forging in the Strip.

The paper also reported that an Israeli government and defense delegation to Cairo protested Egypt's allowing gunmen to enter the Strip from Egyptian territory. According to informed sources, in October Egypt allowed about 85 Hamas militants to enter the Gaza Strip from Sinai after a wait of a few months. The group was said to include experts in manufacturing bombs, rockets and mortars, who had undergone extensive training in Iran and Lebanon.

According to other sources, Israel continues to gather intelligence on smuggling from Sinai to the Gaza Strip. The IDF recently released information that 1,650 RPG rockets and some 6,000 bombs have been smuggled into Gaza since the beginning of the year. Since Hamas has taken over Gaza smuggling has increased drastically.

Yuval Diskin, the head of the Shin Bet security service, told a cabinet meeting in October that an estimated 73 tons of explosives have been smuggled into Gaza through tunnels since June. Millions of bullets for light weapons and tons of potassium, used to manufacture bombs, have also crossed the Gaza-Sinai border.

On the heels of this information comes a new report by the 17-member Knesset Foreign Affairs Committee that found the IDF’s high command committed a “grievous blunder” in not launching a full-scale ground attack into Lebanon during the last war.

According to the committee, the army’s planners "played into Hezbollah's hands, were seized by blindness, and lent strength to the enemy's logic."

The committee said the high command erred in delaying the ground offensive until the end of the war, since the object of the war was to stop the Hezbollah missile barrage that could only be done by foot soldiers.

The committee said the government’s long-standing policy of non-response had left the army weak and disorganized while allowing the enemy to entrench and strengthen. Some analysts saw this as a slap against both Ehud Barak, who was then Minister of Defense and Prime Minister, as well as Shaul Mofaz, the former Defense Minister. Both of these men had called for a scaling down of the IDF since they said no threats existed to justify keeping a large standing army, nor running expensive live-fire exercises.

Dancing deftly around assigning blame on the political establishment, committee chairman Tzachi Hanegbi, a known supporter of PM Ehud Olmert, said that it was the goal of the Winograd Committee to criticize the political sector, not the Knesset Committee. Some pundits thought this a disingenuous statement that permitted the committee members to criticize those who couldn’t retaliate against them.

However, the committee was in agreement that Israel must now face Hamas in Gaza in a head-on confrontation or suffer the same situation it endured when Hezbollah began firing rockets into Israel’s population centers.

Some analysts thought this was good news. That the tide was turning in the fight against radical Islam. Should the Hamas leadership be eradicated, this might send a message to other regimes that their end is also near. That the meteoric rise of Islamic fundamentalism is about to peak, burn out, and plunge harmlessly into the sea.

Another hint of this might be the ascendancy of Benazir Bhutto’s husband and son into the political limelight. Bhutto’s husband Asif Ali Zardari has shown courage in facing what pundits believe will be a series of attempts on his life. But by standing up to whomever was responsible, be it the Pakistani government afraid of her competition, or Al Queda and/or other Moslem extremists, the fact is the family has taken up the challenge. In a country known for Moslem extremism in the past, the Bhutto’s are stepping forward to make a case for democracy.

Couple this with French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s anger at Syria. After promising that his support for Israel would not affect France's relations with Arab states, Sarkozy announced the suspension of talks with Syria, whom he blames, like Jacque Chirac before him, for the unrest in Lebanon. Sarkozy had been trying to bring Syria into the world of western democracy, and Assad, analyst believe, had played him for a chump.

If one by one the other leading nations of the world stand up to the duplicitous leaders of countries like Syria and Iran, and despots like the leaders of the Palestinians, then perhaps the brakes can be put on the Islamic train riding full-speed across the globe. With the right switches pulled, the train can be sidetracked, and lead to a quiet station; or allowed to plunge into a deep gorge just like in the movies. The first steps have been taken. You heard it here first.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Did Bhutto Or An Idea Die?

An AP article that appeared in Friday’s papers seems to be a pretty good analysis of who killed Benazir Bhutto. The article points a finger at many suspects, but comes to no firm conclusion. Seems that the killer was connected to radical Islamic elements in the Pakistani security force, which is a known collaborator of Al-Queda. Pundits doubt Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf was involved, but not it is extremely convenient that his primary opponent is eliminated from the election scheduled for Jan 8. Those analysts with a literary tile think the entire tragic episode reads like the first act of a murder mystery.

The idea of assassinating an idea as represented by a person is a very narrow view of this issue. Many in the west believe that the idea can't be killed, just as many believe the soul never dies, only the body. Some intellectuals have reached the conclusion that ideas can indeed be killed if their primary promulgator is eliminated. Some wonder if Stalinism would have wrecked the havoc it did on Russia without Stalin. Others point out that although Chou En-lai was the real power in the early stages of Chinese Communism, himself an appointee of Stalin, it was really Mao who implemented the Stalinist policies showing a cruel egocentric bloodthirstiness none of his rivals displayed. Lastly they cite Adolph Hitler, who could have been eliminated in the early nineteen twenties. These scholars question if the ideas these despots espoused didn’t indeed die with these men? History sort of indicates the ideas did die, sooner or later. It seems that the idea fades as the force of personality that carried the idea evaporates, sometimes slowly. And the scholars point out they are only talking about the last century, but that human history is replete with such examples.

The test of Bhutto's legacy will be if someone else can manage to pick up the banner and ride with it to victory. Based on the assumption of these intellectuals of a leader's unique influence on the population, and the lack of anyone else in her party with her stature, most analyst doubt a replacement for Bhutto is on the horizon..

We all know about the rise of Islamic Fundamentalism as a movement. According to many analysts the radical Moslems view Pakistan as their next stop. The government is filled with radical sympathizers; the borders are replete with Al Queda and like-minded tribes, including the Taliban who are still looking for a new home. Pakistan is a dangerous place, made more so because they have the "Bomb." We all also know that it was a Pakistani scientist who passed his nations nuclear secrets to the Islamic world.

What we in the west are facing is to us a cancer that is spreading. Science has defined over 1,000 strains of cancer, but has only found the cure, or effective treatment, for a handful. Cures or treatments for each strain of cancer take time, a lot of time, and a bank full of money. What the radiation treatments do is try to burn away the cancerous cells, the drugs try to starve them or send other cells to destroy them. But none have yet figured out the root cause of the disease, because there is no one root cause. There are a thousand root causes, depending on any of the thousand strains of cancer, probably found in the mutation of stem cells.. The West has to find these stem cells of terrorism and stop them from mutating, and remove those that have already begun to mutate. But like the cures for cancer, these types of treatments are still a long way off.

To those with a diametrically opposed mindset, the west, and democracy are the cancer, and they, in this case the racial Moslems, are the solution,. They firmly believe that without this solution of ridding the world of western decadence the world will spin out of control and be destroyed by a vengeful God. To fundamentalist Moslems the idea of Benazir Bhutto as a prime minister was as abhorrent as an ultra-orthodox Jew accepting women in their “Minyan” making up the ten souls, or allowing a woman to lead the prayers or read from a Torah scroll; or imagining that the Messiah could be a woman.. The very idea is so revolting to the orthodox of both sects that they believe the heavens might just crumble, or at least they’d personally be denied entry into Heaven, for such abhorrent behavior.

As a consequence the radicals do whatever they think is necessary to keep the world spinning, even if it means spilling buckets, or lakes, even oceans, of blood. Even if it means murdering others of their own religious beliefs, but differing orientation: the Shia’s killing the Sunni’s for example. To these groups the other is the cancer, not only the west. Every side, it seems, believes they have God behind them. God, in all His wisdom, has not seen fit to make his own opinions known at this time.

Meanwhile the west is back to the standard procedures, arresting the terrorists when they can be identified, assassinating them, as Israel is doing in Gaza, when they can't be arrested. Still, these are only holding actions, like radiation therapy, and chemo, and only work to destroy certain strains, having only limited effect on others. And as science has learned to their dismay, one mutant cell left in a tissue after a tumor is excised by surgery is enough to rebound into a deadly mass.

In Hebrew there is a saying, "Talmud Torah Neged Kulam," The teaching of the bible against everything. Or simply, education protects us. Perhaps that's the solution to stop the killing of well-intentioned people like Bhutto: education. Somehow reach the stem cells before they mutate, stop them from ever turning into malignant growths.

Leo Tolstoy's General Kutuzov, in fighting off Napoleon, waited in Moscow while the French approached, with the Russian winter racing in. "there is no more powerful adversary than those two: patience and time --- they will do it all."

One hopes Tolstoy's words are just as true today as they were when Napoleon was at Russia's gates.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Tunnels Under Gaza

Five Kassam rockets fell in the fields near Sderot on Wednesday but caused no injuries. This came as Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak met with his Egyptian counterpart, and then Egypt’s president, in the Sinai resort town of Sharm El Shek. This was Barak’s first journey to Egypt in his present position.

Barak was to have voiced his concern over the lack of Egyptian action in stopping the flow of arms into Gaza through underground tunnels that originate in Egypt. And to discuss the issue of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, now in his second year of captivity in Gaza.

The Egyptian Army has a force of approximately 750 soldiers patrolling the border, but they avoid any confrontation with the smugglers or Hamas, reportedly either for ideological or monetary reasons. A report in the Jerusalem Post last week stated that the Israeli defense establishment has distributed videotapes of Egyptian soldiers helping the smugglers.

Egypt has suggested increasing the number of troops to help stop the smuggling, but the Israelis are against any increase.

U.S. Senator Arlen Specter, a member of the US Senate Appropriations Committee, on a visit to Israel, said he was in favor of scaling back US aid to Egypt unless the Egyptian government was more proactive in stopping the flow of arms from Egypt to Hamas. Specter called Egyptian complicity in the smuggling “an intolerable situation.” According to the Jerusalem Post Specter said, “Egypt can do a lot more…and if they don’t, I think it would be appropriate to condition aid to them.”

According to the Israeli daily Yideot Achranot, the Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit blamed the Israeli lobby in the US for pressuring the American government to cut back on aid to Egypt, and souring relations between Egypt and Cairo, using the tunnel smuggling as the excuse. Egypt receives approximately $2 billion a year in US aid, including $1.3 billion in military assistance.

Defense Minister Barak also met with Egyptian president Hussnei Mubarak. According to the Haaretz daily newspaper the Egyptian leadership said that the Israeli construction in settlements around Jerusalem threatens peace. Recently Israel announced that it was building an additional 307 housing units in the southeast Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa. Mubarak reportedly echoed Palestinian demands that Israel cancel the project.

According to the Jerusalem Post, Mubarak told reporters after the meeting with Barak, “This settlement activity will hijack the only outcome of the Annapolis conference which was the re-launching of peace negotiations.” Mubarak blamed the settlement activity for the failure of the last two meetings between the Israelis and Palestinians.

A recent poll showed that most Israelis have little faith in the Annapolis summit producing any positive results.

The meeting between Mubarak and Barak reportedly was held in a pleasant atmosphere. Barak was expected to raise the matter of Gilad Shalit with Mubarak, the Iranian development of nuclear weapons, as well as the possible invasion of Israeli troops into Gaza to stop the constant Kassam shelling.

Explaining how they’d stopped smuggling, Egypt said it had arrested two smugglers last week and seized 200 kilograms of explosives. Israeli analysts speaking on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet said they believe this was just a token action taken prior to the meetings to show Barak and the world that something was being done. The same analysts said that Egypt could just as easily close down scores or even a hundred such tunnels.

The tunnels are used not only for weapons and explosives, but also for contraband, like cigarettes, which sell in Gaza for 60 shekels or about $15 a pack. Prostitutes from the former Soviet Union, and drugs, are also smuggled in the tunnels. A few Gaza families reportedly dig and control most of the tunnels and make appropriate payoffs to keep the arms and other goods flowing.

The Israeli press also reported that Iran announced it has been promised a steady supply of S-300 long-range surface-to-air missiles by Russia. The announcement was published on Wednesday in the Iranian Fars news agency, and quoted Iranian Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar on the deal. The S-300 is an anti-missile and anti-aircraft system, similar to the US Patriot anti-missile battery.

Russia has also agreed to deliver nuclear fuel to Iran’s Bushehr reactor, the Jerusalem Post reported on Wednesday. The paper quotes Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying the fuel deal makes it unnecessary for Iran to continue to enrich uranium.

U.S. President George W. Bush said last week that he supports the Russian fuel shipments, since they make take away the Iranian need for uranium enrichment. Israeli officials said last week that Moscow had no interest in seeing Iran reaching an independent nuclear capability.

Bethlehem was booming this Christmas. Reportedly more tourists visited Bethlehem this year than any time since the second Intifada began, approximately seven years ago. Observers believe this is a sign that some stability has come to the region, especially in the relationships between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government. This year has also been a record year for tourism in general as relative peace has attracted millions of visitors to Israel.

The Israel Defense Forces announced that in the last month they had busted a Hamas terrorist ring in Nablus, in the west bank, even though Hamas claims not to be exporting terrorism out of Gaza.

The terrorists admitted that they perpetrated several shooting attacks against
Israeli targets in Nablus and in the surrounding areas, including the
Oct 24, 2007 shooting attack at the west bank’s Ariel junction, in which an Israeli civilian was lightly wounded and an IDF soldier was seriously wounded. The terrorists also admitted responsibility for the Jan 7, 2005 shooting attack near Migdalim in
which two IDF soldiers were killed

According to the IDF Abdallah Kuka, 19, admitted he drove the vehicle; Amin Kuka, 32; and A'mar Tanbur, 23, admitted they were the other two Nablus terrorists who perpetrated the attack. Other members of the terrorist cell who admitted involvement in the attack were Riad Arafat, 34, who said he functioned as the reconnaissance observer, and Suhil Kuka, 21, who admitted aiding the cell after the attack was carried out.

The IDF believes that by uncovering this cell they prove that Hamas is planning attacks on Israelis in the west bank, Gaza and Israel proper, and is trying to take over as “the leader of Palestinian terrorism.”

Given that the rockets continue to fall on Israel from Gaza, and that Hamas controls Gaza, it is not a big reach to conclude that Hamas is behind the Kassam missiles, as well as other terrorist attacks. But, according to military analysts, unless Hamas bombs begin exploding again on a daily in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, the IDF will be slow to invade Gaza, relying more on diplomacy and back channel meetings.

The same analysts believe, however, that if the tunnels from Egypt aren’t sealed up its only a matter of time until Hamas begins importing Iranian long-range missiles which can hit Ashkelon, Ashdod, and even Tel Aviv.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Iron Dome Over The Ghetto

Two Kassam missiles struck Ashkelon’s industrial area on Sunday causing little damage and no injury. These missiles are evidence of the improved Kassam rockets which previously had a shorter range and usually fell on Sderot or in open fields just across the Gaza security fence.

As if on cue, the Israeli cabinet today approved the “Iron Dome” missile defense system, to be manufactured by Israel’s Rafael military industries. The missile shield is to be operational within two and a half years and cost upwards of NIS 800 Million (@$200 Million.)

Meanwhile, the Israeli government has announced it will send out pamphlets to every Israeli household with advice on how to best prepare for missile attacks.

Some political analysts see this as a ploy by Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Prime Minister Olmert to sow uncertainty and fear in the public and thus deflect their attention from more pressing matters, like corruption in high office, and failure on the battlefield during the War in Lebanon II.

Other pundits see it as a justifiable and reasonable precaution in the event that Syria, Hezbollah or Iran begin a missile attack on Israel in the future.

Last July, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss 582-page document reported on failures his office had found in the conduct of the top political and military echelons regarding the safeguarding of the civilian population in the home front during last summer's Second Lebanon War. Pundits see this latest barrage of information as a response to Lindenstrauss’ attack on the government’s lack of preparedness.

Meanwhile Israel continues to strike at Hamas targets in Gaza. According to sources in the Prime Minister’s office, Olmert believes that the Hamas-led government in Gaza is now calling for a cease-fire because of the effectiveness of Israel’s military action. Analysts say that Olmert is unwilling to give up this advantage and take the pressure off of Hamas just because they are starting to suffer.

"Whoever accepts the Quartet principles will, in principle, be a partner for negotiations," Olmert said. "Whoever isn't willing to do so, to our regret, cannot be a partner for dialogue with us. This policy will not change."

The Jerusalem Post published a graphic on Sunday that had appeared as part of the Palestinian Authority’s publicity for the 43rd anniversary of the establishment of the Fatah movement. The graphic shows the state of Israel covered by a Kafyeh, calling the entire area Palestine.
Some observers are saying that Palestinian Authority President Mohammed Abbas is copying his mentor Yassir Arafat b saying one thing to the Arab population and something completely different in English to the US and Israel.

According to the Jerusalem Post, “The underlying message of the poster is that Fatah, like Hamas, does not recognize Israel's existence. The emblem is in violation of Fatah's declared policy, which envisions an independent Palestinian state alongside, and not instead of, Israel. By including a rifle in the poster, Fatah is sending a message to the Palestinian public that it has not abandoned the option of "armed resistance," despite current peace talks with Israel. “
Some political analysts think that Abbas is merely staking out a radical platform in order to further undermine the popularity of Hamas.
But based on Olmert’s statements, pundits question if Abbas has not now become one of those people with whom Olmert will no longer consider a partner in negotiations?
A month ago that Palestinians wouldn't recognize Israel as a Jewish state since "no state in the world connects its national identity to a religious identity." A few days ago Latin Patriarch and Catholic Archbishop of Jerusalem Michel Sabbah, who since 1987 the highest Catholic prelate for Israel, Jordan, Cyprus and the West Bank and Gaza, said . |There is discrimination linked to the nature of the state. Israel says simply 'I am a Jewish state’ and that creates discrimination with regard to non-Jews."
According to the Jerusalem Post, “The first Palestinian to serve as Latin Patriarch, Sabbah was following the line of the Palestinian elite regarding the innate illegitimacy of Jewish self-determination.”
As early as the 1970’s one of the previous Latin Patriarchs was caught at the border crossing from Lebanon into Israel with a trunk filled with weapons meant for Yassir Arafat’s then PLO organization.
In the Union of Orthodox Rabbi’s weekly English language “Torah Tidbits”, passed out at Synagogues in Israel had an interesting tidbit indeed. According to that journal the first Ghetto in Jewish history was in the land of Goshen, in Egypt, during the time of Joseph. According to the journal, historians agree that Jews have voluntarily lived in Ghettos, forming them for self-identification, and separation from the non-Jewish surroundings. Sometimes the host countries put up walls and gates to keep the Jews in the Ghettos, like the famous one in Venice, immortalized by Shakespeare.
In that regard, Israel too is one big ghetto, separating the Jews within her borders from the outside world, keeping a Jewish culture alive and vibrant. In Israel Jewish holidays are national holidays, the major as well as the minor. Supermarkets are primarily filled with Kosher products, not a few shelves stuck in a dark corner.
The other major difference between other Jewish ghettos, from those silk-stocking ones in Long Island, to the enclaves in upper New York, is that Israel is an armed ghetto, soon to have its own Iron Dome. Assimilation, the bane of Jewish existence outside of Israel, is nearly non-existent within Israel’s borders. While Israel may face existential threats to its very existence, there are ways to try to protect the population.
During this period in history, the erosion of the Jewish population outside of Israel is not caused by anti-Semitism or pogroms but by the good life and the nice people met and married when hormones rage and the body screams out to procreate.
Given these variable, it is not unusual that Hamas wants peace, and Abbas and Sabbah want a country without a Jewish majority. It is also more the reason why Israel will, according to most analysts, not do anything to change the unique Jewish character of the country that, according to sociologists, will have the majority of the world’s Jewish population by the year 2020.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Boston Legal

An episode of Boston Legal that appeared recently on Israel’s HOT cable network had a scene with William Shatner playing the buffoon who runs an important law firm, and his younger alter-ego colleague played by James Spader. The two were ostensibly sitting on a balcony of their opulent offices overlooking Boston, smoking thick dark expensive cigars, discussing modern diplomacy and the US part in it. Bomb Iran, said Shatner, in the staccato dialogue that flies across the airwaves laden with innuendo and political commentary.

But was this show a commentary of how the US public thinks, or just the writers, or both.
In Argentina the Justice Department prosecutor Dr. Alberto Nisman revised an earlier ruling and issued a report that Iran, through its Hezbollah proxy, aided by Syria, was in fact responsible for the Buenos Aires bombings in the early 1990s that killed scores of people. In 1992 a bomb laden pick-up truck ran into the Israeli Embassy entrance, killing 29 and wounding 242, mostly Argentineans, including children, and Catholics in an adjacent church.

In 1994 a bomb destroyed the Asociacion Mutal Israelit Argentina (Argentine Israelit Mutual Association or AMIA) killing 85 people, injuring hundreds, in Argentina’s deadliest bombing in the worst anti-Semitic attack outside Israel since the Holocaust. Reportedly Iran was furious over Argentina's cessation of nuclear cooperation with the Islamic Republic.

Juan Jose Galeano, the original investigating judge, concluded that Iran was not responsible for the blasts, but rather a local maniac were tossed out when it became known the judge had paid $440,000 to a policeman to give false testimony. Testimony that exonerated Iran, and put the blame elsewhere.

Needless to say, if the judge investigating the case was making payoffs to cops, it was logically assumed he was dipping deep into Iranian oil money to line his own pockets. Nisman has received the okay from Interpol to issue arrest warrants for several leaders in Teheran, including former president Hashemi Rafsanjani for ordering the bombings. Former Argentinean President Carlos Menem is also under investigation for his part in the cover-up.

In an interview quoted in the Jerusalem Post, Nisman said Tehran “..was incensed that Argentina, under former president Carlos Menem, had suspended and ultimately stopped what had been close cooperation with the Iranian nuclear program, including the training of nuclear technicians and the transfer of nuclear technology. At first Teheran tried to cajole Argentina into reconsidering, he said. Then it issued threats. And finally, it employed terrorism.”

The recent US report that the Iranians are not trying to develop a nuclear weapon sounds like chalk screeching on a blackboard. As one analyst wrote, with Iran awash in oil, gas, and coal, why do they need nuclear energy? The investment will never be returned. The Iranians have not shown themselves to be tree-hugging liberals worried about the environment. So what, the analysts ask, is the Iranian motive in racing to develop nuclear energy if not to siphon off the uranium for nefarious purposes?

While Israel frets over this latest turn of events, Kassam rockets continue t fall on Sderot. On Thursday a boy was injured when a Kassam rocket fell on his school, crashing into his classroom. A few days earlier a woman suffered from shock when a Kassam smashed into her home.

Israel, under the leadership of Defense Minister Ehud Barak, has gotten rougher with those firing missiles from Gaza. On Monday Israeli missiles destroyed a car carrying one of the leading Islamic Jihad commanders, and six of his cohorts. Every day the IDF is responding to the missile threat with surgical strikes by helicopter and missiles, or by pilotless drones targeting known militants. The IDF has also conducted a number of raids into Gaza, pulling back into Israel with Islamic Jihad or Hamas prisoners.

Hamas has said it is ready for a “Hudna”, a cease-fire. Israel has spurned this entreaties. Pundits believe that Israel has heard enough of Hamas’ good intentions, which are more in word than deed. Israel and the US have tried to isolate Hamas, ignoring the terrorist group and their leaders as if they don’t exist. The PA’s Mohammed Abas is made out to be the leader of the Palestinians. He is to receive hundreds of millions of dollars from the US and the EU for the Palestinians. Hamas is to receive nothing.

Experts as how realistic is this approach? Hamas won an election, and now controls Gaza with an iron fist. The PA was easily defeated. The Palestinians, according to most surveys, still distrust the PA, believing it to be an ‘old boys’ network out to keep each other rich and in power with little or nothing filtering down to the people in the streets.

However a recent poll showed that Hamas was losing favor among the population. While Hamas began as a grass roots movement aimed at alleviating the suffering and poverty of the Palestinians, it is now perceived, much to the joy of the Israelis and US, as a ruthless dictatorship bent of controlling Gaza at any cost.

Yusuf, a Palestinian handyman from the Hebron area, said even under Arafat there
Arabs didn’t kill Arabs. But today Hamas kills anyone who disagrees with the party line.
The Palestinians in Gaza, according to the poll, who do not support Hamas now live in fear. The soup kitchens and charity work that made Hamas popular has stopped. Reportedly only Hamas activists receive the largesse dolled out by the party.

Does this mean a revolution is in the wings? Not likely. There is no one other than the Israeli army to take on Hamas. And Israel is of two minds about dealing with Hamas. Some politicians want to talk to Hamas, others want to invade Gaza and destroy the place.

Lebanon meanwhile simmers on the back burner of international attention. Hezbollah is still powerful, controlling the events in the south. Syria is still blamed for the assassinations of leading Lebanese politicians opposed to Syrian involvement in their country. So far nearly a dozen legislators have died violently, including the late Prime Minister Harriri. Anyone who tries to oppose Syrian moves in Lebanon is in danger of assassination, and they know it.

Iran is still a major force in the region, supplying military advisers, weapons and supplies to those who oppose Israel and the US. Some believe that Iran is the real catalyst to the disruption in the Middle East and would like to see a regime change.

William Shatner may even had been expressing his own views when he said, “Bomb Iran,” but with a neutralized Iran the flame under the boiling kettle called Islamic Fundamentalism would go down to a flicker, and the stuff inside the simmering pot may just well evaporate.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Is the end of Israel near?

With Iran a potential producer of nuclear arms, is the future of Israel in “existential” danger?

Frankly, the jury is out. And no one knows the real answer, no matter what they say. But if sixteen U.S. intelligence agencies claim that Iran stopped their attempts to produce nuclear weapons back in 2003, then who has the data to dispute it?

Israel’s military intelligence does. They loudly dispute the U.S. conclusions.

Since the release of the report, the Israeli press has been filled with the analysis of the U.S. spy agencies findings. Former U.S. Ambassador to the UN Bolton, a hawk who has begun to criticize the Bush administration, believes the report and its release is more political than either strategic or diplomatic.

By announcing that Iran neither possessed nor strive to possess a nuclear weapon after 2003, the Bush administration has in effect taken away a cause for the USA to strike at Iran. The Bush White House has simply pushed the attack on Iran onto the next President’s agenda.

Does this new position by the U.S. administration mean that they want Israel to go ahead and strike at Iran single-handed? Hard to tell. Let’s look at the activity in and out of Israel recently. The Chief of Staff of the U.S. Armed Forces is planning a visit to Israel. U.S. President Bush is planning a trip to Israel. Other U.S. big shots have been coming and going.

What’s all the fuss about? Is this a precursor to Israel striking Iran? Israel needs codes to fly over enemy territory, codes that let the enemy know that Israel isn’t after them; codes that let the Americans know that the Israeli jets in the sky are friendly, and not out to strike an American aircraft carrier or army base. Are these US big shots coming into Israel armed with battle plans and codes which Israel needs to fly over Jordan, Syria and Iraq without getting shot out of the sky by US warplanes? Are they armed with information on the location of the nuclear facilities that they plan to pass on to Israel?

If anyone knows the answers, they’re not talking, yet.

But Israelis are not convinced that Iran has turned into a passive witness to history. Polls in Israel show a distinct distrust for Iran. Polls in America also show that no one really believes Iran is not developing weapons.

"The American report ... is the last thing that will allay Israel's fears," said Israeli cabinet minister Eli Yishai, at the outset of the weekly cabinet meeting. "The Iranian threat is real, and Iran's intentions will never change. We must not allow ourselves to lower our level of alertness.”

According to informed sources, Israel is now concerned that the pressure by countries like China and Russia to impose sanctions on Iran will recede. Israel believes Russia, China and the Gulf States should impose penalties on Iran for continuing its nuclear program. Even U.S. Defense Secretary Gates has called for imposing penalties on Iran.

According to published reports, China and Russia, both members of the United Nations Security Council, have said that the need for sanctions against Iran should be reevaluated in light of the report.

So what is this new report all about? A few months back President Bush was talking about World War III. Now he’s supporting the report saying Iran is a toothless tiger.

According to the Haaretz newspaper, “U.S. observers from the right and left have told Haaretz that the report, released a week ago, would have no impact on U.S. public opinion or its effect will erode, adding that its deficiencies would become increasingly apparent.”

Haaretz added that US experts are also split on the issue. “The experts discuss whether the report's authors formulated it as they did because they want to stop the Bush administration from attacking Iran, or because they were simply unaware of the way the report would be received.”

Meanwhile, International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei said that Iran had been cleared of blame to a certain extent, and that the report gives Iran a window of opportunity to solve the crisis.

But the Israeli press says that the Israeli diplomatic effort will focus on preserving a united international front against Iran, and ensuring that the front does not crumble in the wake of the U.S. report.

"Even if there is a 10-percent chance of Iran attaining a nuclear bomb in 2009, we need to view this with the utmost seriousness," a government source in Jerusalem said.

Some analysts say that the report snatches the political agenda out of the hands of Israel’s opposition leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, of the Likud. Netanyahu has been blasting away at Iran in the press, claiming that only a strike against Iran could protect Israel. The report neutralizes Netanyahu, making his rivals, Ehud Barak of Labor and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Kadima more popular should elections come about suddenly, which seems highly unlikely.

Some pundits say that the US assessment of Iran’s nuclear capabilities takes the pressure off of Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians. The logic is that if the US has backed off of pushing Iran to stop their lethal nuclear program, Israel can back off implementing the “road map” discussed last week at Annapolis.

So, in some ways this US report strengthens PM Olmert’s hand. He is now free to ignore the US on the Palestinian issue, since they are ignoring Israel’s deep concern about Iran’s nuclear plans. Also, by the USA stepping back from an imminent strike against Iran, this eliminate the risk of a war between the US and Iran and who knows who else that might have joined in the fray, Olmert now finds himself free to carry out domestic plans, strengthen his position in the Knesset, and continue a slow but steady rise in the popularity contest.

Some also believe that the new US position, stepping back from rhetoric most thought would lead to an attack on Iran, would send the price of a barrel of oil back to a reasonable level and succeed in calming now jittery financial markets in Israel, the US and around the world.

Will Israel strike Iran without the US approval? Certainly not. Is the US about to give that approval? Maybe. Can Israel succeed in a strike against Iran without the US behind it both in words and deeds? Certainly not. So, unless President Bush changes his mind, again, the odds of a strike against Iran during the remainder of the Bush Presidency are not favorable.

But given that Israel is prone to surprise attacks, and plans that are so audacious no one would ever conceive of them but some cowboys in a basement in the Ministry of Defense in Tel Aviv, the truth is, anything is possible. But not everything is probable.

Most analysts agree that if Iran doesn’t stop its progress to a nuclear weapon today, Iran will get stopped, one day. Except now the Iranians have time to breath a little before the blast comes, and contemplate their options.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

My Man Mao

Political survivors are dangerous. This is easily discerned in “Mao, the Unknown Story” by Jung Chang,( who wrote the popular novel “Wild Swans: three daughters of China”,) and Jon Halliday. This thick well-researched book, tells the ruthless rise to power of Mao Zedon (Mao Tse-Tung), who was the dictatorial leader of the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) from its establishment in 1949 until his death in 1976.

According to Jung Chang, Mao was responsible for up to 70,000,000 Chinese deaths, through purges, murders, assignations, uprisings, and intrigues. To say that Chang dislikes Mao is an understatement.

What becomes clear even in the earliest pages of the book is Chang’s beliefs, all well documented, that Mao cared little for peasants, philosophy, or ideology, but rather for his own aggrandizement, comfort and power.

Mao, according to this book, was a clever manipulator who used every event that crossed his path to his own benefit. A scholar and grade school teacher Mao discovered that success lay in politics. He aligned himself with whichever party was ahead in the race. At first it was the Nationalists, who were vehemently against the interference of the new Soviet Union, but accepted Soviet aid and advisors in order to overthrow the feudal lords ruling China..

But when he saw his upward mobility thwarted in that party he switched sides, joined the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) receiving even more money and ammunition from the Soviet Union, and rode that horse to the finish line. Along the way he swindled his comrades in arms out of their positions, intrigued to steal an army away from a Nationalist general even though Mao knew little or nothing about things military. He actually started his rise to power by lying to some officers saying he was and taking the men to a battle but rather led them to the mountains where he joined them up with bandit gangs that using bandit gangs to establish a foothold in the remote province of Jiangxi..

During his foray with the bandits he discovered, according to Chang, his love of blood and violence. Not one to fight himself, Mao reveled in the spilling of blood, in terrorizing his victims, in ruling by fear.

According to Chang when he first arrived in the province 130,000 Chinese resided there; when he left only 30,000 survived. Mao fed his rag tag army on anything he could steal from anyone he felt like, rich or poor. A peasant was just as likely to lose his chickens as a landowner his villa. The only ideology Mao followed was increasing his own power by whatever means necessary.

Jung Chang and Jon Halliday claim that victims were subjected to a red-hot gun-rod being rammed into the anus, and that there were cases of cutting open the stomach and scooping out the heart] The estimated number of the victims amounted to several thousands. Through the so-called revolutionary terrorism, or red terrorism, Mao secured his authority and domination in Jiangxi.

And who encouraged Mao? Joseph Stalin. In those days Stalin was in charge of the Russian support of the Chinese revolution. When Mao reported razing an entire village, Stalin reportedly encouraged him with a message, “Burn, burn, burn.”

Mao later said that it was okay to use bandits to achieve one’s goals, but then the bandits had to be killed as ‘counter-revolutionary.’ Read it also as eliminating the possibility of these same bandits coming back and going against Mao if they felt like it.

Mao was a mass murderer. He was supported by Stalin, another mass murderer. Add Hitler to the mix, because at one time Stalin and Hitler were partners, and you have three mass murderers in league, each scheming how to kill the other and take over the world.

Luckily, none of them succeeded completely. But the question comes up, what were they really after? A better world through Communism or National Socialism? Not Mao. Not according to Chang and Halliday. Mao was only after what was good for Mao. Other historians claim Stalin was only after what was good for Stalin. Staying in and expanding the position of power became the real motivation. Sort of like a contest of will, how far could an athlete jump, how low could a golfer score, how much money could a businessman make? Not an ideological goal, but rather one of testing one’s destiny.

One wonders at the public who stands by, cowering, or supporting such men. What nerve in the human psyche do these self-aggrandizing despots y touch that allows dictatorships to flourish? Fear? Awe? Hoped for glory by osmosis?

Some politicians actually mean to do the right thing. Some are ideologically driven. Do these men succeed? Are they made of firm enough stuff to withstand the cruelty and hypocrisy which takes place under their rule? Or are the truly fine men and women left behind at the starting gate, while the manipulators, the survivors, the wily coyotes take the reins of power.

One can only stand in awe watching Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert dance through the minefields and come out unscathed. Annapolis came and went, promise of a state for the Palestinians discussed yet again, the PA chief Abu Mazen saying in English that he would never recognize a Jewish State, and that the capital of the Palestinian State was Jerusalem. The same tune he’s been playing to the Arab audiences since Camp David when Arafat refused the Clinton Plan.

The amazing political acumen shown by Olmert indicates he’ll be in power for years to come. Olmert claims to believe a Palestinian State is necessary in order for a Jewish State to survive. He is probably right, but one wonders if this isn’t just a bunch of words tumbling off his lips onto the ears of people who want to hear just that message, or if he really means anything he says?

Judging from the other successful politicians who imposed their will on a susceptible population, skepticism seems the order of the day. Still, one can only stand in awe at the accomplishments of skilled manipulators, and wonder what the overall purpose of life is: truth, justice, or merely personal success at any cost?