Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Israel Today

On Friday, the police will again question Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Meanwhile the Israeli police have said they’ll allow Olmert’s friend Moshe Talansky to leave Israel this week, shortly after he finishes his last round of questioning. However the prosecutor’s office has petitioned the court to prevent Talansky from leaving the country.

Police sources leaked the latest results of Talansky interrogation and revealed that Olmert received envelopes of money long after he was out of the race to become Jerusalem’s Mayor. Olmert had claimed the money was campaign contributions for his mayoral candidacy. Talansky’s testimony apparently revealed that the money was transferred even while Olmert was the Minister of Trade and Commerce. Olmert reportedly also wrote letters of recommendation on official stationary to help Talansky, and others, in their business dealings.

Press reports state that Talansky is the key witness against Olmert, although another witness, Olmert’s driver in New York, also reportedly testified that on a number of occasions over the years he personally picked up envelopes of cash from Talansky and delivered them to Olmert in a New York hotel.

Olmert has denied any wrong-doing, and said the money was for his election campaigns, either as mayor, or the run-up to a primary to chose the party’s Prime Minister’s candidate. Given his track record of slipping out of the noose, Olmert might just slip out of this one, too.

Olmert’s views on the peace process and the Palestinian question came out in an article in the press. Reportedly Olmert stated some time ago that both he and former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon realized that if Israel doesn’t cut itself off from the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, Israel would ultimately wind up swallowed whole by the Palestinian population, forcing Jews to live in a Palestinian run state, or move abroad.

Speaking to Atlantic Magazine reporter Jeffery Goldberg, Olmert was quoted as saying that Israel had no alternative but to stop the settlements and allow the Palestinians a state. Goldberg wrote that any well-meaning American who thinks otherwise doesn’t understand the realities on the ground. According to Goldberg Olmert agrees that the continued existence of the settlements is only going to prevent Israel from drawing realistic borders containing a Jewish majority.

There are those who think that Talansky was incensed when he realized this was Olmert’s view on the `settlements, and began to leak information that found its way to the police. Talansky was a long-time Likud supporter, and reportedly a right-winger. Olmert’s new outlook was more akin to left-wing Meretz than the nationalist Likud world-view. Olmert took supporters from Likud and brought them to Sharon’s Kadima party. Not all of them, apparently, agree with Kadima’s current direction.

The latest diplomatic development deals with Syria. A “Jerusalem Post Online” headline announced today that “Israel and Syria officially announce peace talks.” Reportedly Turkish diplomats are functioning as go-betweens in attempts to broker a peace agreement with Syria. Some Israeli media analysts consider this a new spin by Olmert’s public relations specialists to deflect attention from the latest sinkhole he’s stuck in.
One analyst wrote that even if Olmert is sincere in his desire to hold formal peace talks with Syria, he could never get an approval to sign an agreement from the Israeli political system and public

Another analyst wrote that Olmert’s trouble were a boon to U.S. President Bush, who could point to Olmert’s internal problems as an excuse why the grand White House plan for Middle East peace begun at Annapolis will not take place before Bush’s term in office ends.

On another front Israel has finally decided to test Rayethon’s C-RAM, “Counter-Rocket, Artillery, Mortar” initiative. According to Wikipedia, the sea-born version is called the Phalanx short-range missile defense system. The Phalanx consists of a sophisticated 20 mm M61 Vulcan Gatling-type rotary cannon spewing out a cloud of up to 6,000 tungsten armor-piercing bullets a minute at an incoming rocket. The gun is linked to a radar system for acquiring and tracking targets. The Phalanx’s bullets travel three times faster than the current rockets Hamas is firing into Israel. Variations on the system, originally developed as an anti-ship missile system, have been in use since 1978.

The heart of the Phalanx is the CIWS which can detect missiles from 1 to five nautical miles away. The gun mount swivels rapidly, and is fully automated. The CIWS has two radar systems that work together to engage targets. One analyzes the threat; the other acquires the target if it is deemed a threat. The kinetic projectiles are designed to pierce and explode an incoming missile warhead. More explosive shells might destroy the body of the missile but allow the enemy warhead to continue. The tungsten shells are fed into the gun using a two conveyor belt systems, one belt brings in the fresh rounds, the other removes the spent cartridges.

The C-Ram was deployed in Iraq in the summer of 2005. This system protects the forward operating bases and other high-value sites in and around Baghdad and is deployed by the British in the south of the country. The C-Ram fires HEIT-SD (High-Explosive Incendiary Tracer, Sel-Destruct) ammunition that explodes on impact with the target, or upon tracer burnout.

The Haaretz newspaper’s print edition ran a story on page two this morning. In the ariticle it was written that an individual system using only one gun costs approximately $8 million, and fires 3,000 rounds a minute. The use of two synched up guns fire 6,000 rounds a minute and costs $20 million. According to Haaretz, both Defense Minister Barak and vice-Defense Minister Vilnai are against the use of these systems, saying they won’t do the job necessary. Both men prefer the Iron Dome and other systems still in development.

However, one Defense Ministry official managed to convince his bosses to bring in a model of the C-RAM for trial in Israel, after seeing the gun in action in a USA test. Experts say the guns could stop 80 per cent of the missiles coming out of Gaza. Should this gun work, even at 80 per cent effectiveness, it would severely cripple the Hamas threat from the south, and perhaps the Hezbollah threat from the north.

Should the Hamas threat of rocket attacks be removed, Hamas would essentially be a toothless dog locked behind a tall fence. But pundits speculate how long it would take Hamas to find another weapon to replace the simple but effective Kassam and Grad missiles.

On a brighter note, Steven Ballimer, CEO of Microsoft, was in Israel setting up a new R&D facility in Herzliya. Ballimer was quoted as saying that Microsoft is more Israeli than American, and called Tel Aviv a second Silicon Valley.

What with Ehud Olmert dodging political missiles of his own, and the world’s economy trying to decide to leap forward or melt down, one wonders how important silicon valley is in the scheme of things, unless of course some genius figures out a way to stop terrorism quickly, cheaply, and efficiently, without loss of innocent lives.

As we’ve seen in China, acts of nature can kill and maim as well. 40,000 dead, who knows how many injured, and an estimated 5,000,000 homeless. Touring China one was struck by the shoddy building methods in all but the newest urban high-rise buildings. Brick buildings without reinforced concrete frames were the rule not the exception in the Chinese countryside. The town of Lijiang was nearly destroyed in an earthquake over a decade ago, and rebuilt to resemble what was, using the same methods.

Repeating mistakes can only cause a repetition of tragedies. Looking left when traffic is coming from the right is a recipe for disaster. With industrial giants like Ballimer and Warren Buffet investing in Israel, the economic future is bright. As President Shimon Peres said years ago when he was trying to convince Israel to export software made from brainpower, which he considered Israel’s natural resource, rather than hardware made from brawn, not Israel’s strongpoint, that Israel can become a world-leader in technology and finance if only allowed to flourish. Eliminating the threats from Hamas and Hezbollah and even Iran are only temporary. Another anti-Semitic, anti-Jewish, anti-Israeli enemy will always be there, coming out of the wood work. There always were, and there probably always will be.

Still, Israel deserves a chance to contribute to the world’s progress. And while some parts of Israel, like some parts of China, hum along smoothly, others, are fraught with dangers and disappointments. Good government is needed to keep Israel from getting blasted out of existence. One wonders where that will come from, and when.