Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Welcome to Israel

Years ago when Ariel Sharon was appointed Defense Minister by then Prime Minister Menachem Begin many ‘moderate’ Israelis thought the world was ending. Begin himself was quoted as saying that he was worried that one day he’d find the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament, surrounded by tanks, with the barrels aimed not away from but towards the building.

When Ariel Sharon became Prime Minister more grumbling by moderates who thought the time had come to abandon the Zionist dream that had apparently abandoned them and find greener pastures.

Few Israelis acted on their grumblings. Most opted to say put and continue grumbling.
This was not the USA in the Watergate era when it seemed as if America was no longer the home of the free and land of the brave but rather a right-wing military-industrial-complex conspiracy out to seize the reigns of power. Not a few Jewish Americans left the confines of the USA seeking a place that still had ideals they shared. They came to Israel.

Statistics show that 85 per cent of those immigrants to Israel from the West who are not Orthodox Jews return to their native lands. However the figures are reversed for Orthodox Jews, only 15 per cent return to their native lands. For those who stay the
benefits of living in a Jewish state where Jewish holidays are national holidays, where arcane rules like the ‘eruv’ around towns and cities is a given, where supermarkets are 100 per cent kosher, where synagogues are found every few blocks in most neighborhoods.

And by and large the immigrants who fell into that category were right-wing. Were conservative, not in the meaning of a stream of American Judaism, but rather in their outlook on life, religion, and politics. The fact that 80 per cent of American Jews living in Israel voted for the Republican Mitt Romney in the last US presidential election was not an anomaly,  but rather an accurate representation of the mindset of the majority of Americans who immigrated to Israel over the last thirty years. Mostly religious, mostly staid and conservative in their outlooks. Many children of Holocaust survivors who are painfully sensitive to any flutter of anti-Semitism in the wind.

The elections for the new Israeli Prime Minister are on the horizon. The Likud party held their primary votes this week, and the right-wing factions swept into the top positions, leaving the moderates without a safe seat on the ticket.  The Israeli system is not like the American system. Each party runs as a block. For every 50,000 votes or so, a seat on the Knesset is allotted. If a party doesn’t get the minimum of 50,000 seats, that party is no longer in the Knesset. Should the party get 20 seats, 1,000,000 votes, than the first 20 people on the list get to be members of Knesset. If someone is number 21, tough luck.

Israel has 120 Knesset seats. The first party to assemble a coalition of 61 or more Knesset seats becomes the ruling party. The remainder becomes the opposition. Since the late 1970’s the Likud party has been the dominant player. For a while the Likud stars rebelled against the old ways. That’s when Ariel Sharon bolted Likud and started his own party, Kadima. With Sharon’s defection, the Likud then fell into disarray. No longer could the Likud get 20 or 30 seats in an election. They couldn’t even get 15. And they kept slipping. Until the present Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu ran again for Prime Minister and won. Now he is the longest serving Prime Minister in Israel’s history. Israelis are like everyone else. Just people. And people like security. Safety. Quiet. A steady economy. That’s what has happened under Netanyahu. The recent ‘Pillar Of Defense” action against Gaza was a blip on the screen many will ignore.

However, pundits think that ‘Bibi’ has lost control of the helm. That the right-wing members of his party are going to steer the government towards more extremist and conservative positions. One radical right-winger is Moshe Feiglin who once led protests against liberal moves in government by having protesters block Israel’s main roads. Feiglin, who is modern Orthodox, said yesterday that now perhaps the government will see fit to build the Third Temple, replacing the Second Temple destroyed 2,000 years ago by the Romans.

Former Labor party leader Ehud Barak surprised many when he announced that he was resigning from politics. However, as Jason Robards said in ‘All the Presidents Men’ he gave a “non-denial denial” when asked if he was going to return to politics in the future. Barak has always been enigmatic, all the way down to his tight lips and occasional goofy smile. But he was an outstanding defense minister. He knew how to pull the right strings in the mammoth defense establishment and get things done. Not an easy task.

Now the Labor party will have their primary elections. Their list will be formed. These are not the days of luminaries like David Ben Gurion filling the rosters. The heroic  generals like Yitzchak Rabin and Moshe Dayan are long gone. Now the leaders are former journalists and lawyers. However well-meaning they do not have the stature of those who built the state. Nor the confidence that they can keep the country safe, the economy on an even keel, and the ship of state sailing ahead with a steady hand at the wheel.

So it looks as if the Likud and the coalition of right-wingers will get to form the next government. Foreign Minister Leiberman has melded his ultra-right-wing party into the Likud. Ultra-Orthodox Shaas, the Sephardi party, has made it clear that they would support the Likud. Other smaller parties further to the right will also sign on to the Bibi bandwagon.

And the American immigrants. Gone are the Golda Meirs. Now it would be Golda with a wig and separate seating in the synagogue. No, the Americans will vote for Bibi just as they voted for Mitt Romney. The Palestinians may get a state, but they’d probably find, sooner rather than later, that Moshe Feiglin had finally succeeded in building that Third Holy Temple smack dab in the middle of the Temple Mount in East Jerusalem. And knowing how these guys think, Feiglin might just put a neon sign on the building, “Welcome to Israel.”

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Pillar of Defense: The Ceasefire

A total of six Israelis - two soldiers and four civilians - were killed throughout Israel's Gaza offensive. In Gaza, at least 160 Palestinians were killed, both civilians and militants. 

Both sides claimed victory.

Israel flew over 1,500 missions, killed Hamas military chief-of-staff, and another 30 Hamas/Islamic Jihad fighters, destroyed Hamas’ bank, ministry of the interior building, and police center, as well as gas storage depots, the sports stadium used as a rocket launching site, and over 200 tunnels used to smuggle weapons.

Israel also thought that by involving Egyptian president Morsi as the mediator in the conflict helped Israel re-establish ties with the Egyptian government. Pundits are quick to say that Morsi’s arm was twisted painfully by U.S. Sec. of State Hilary Clinton, acting on orders from U.S. President Barak Obama. Morsi didn’t need to be reminded that the USA gives Egypt over $2 billion a year. Some cynics say that if Morsi is anything like his predecessor Husnai Mubarak, a nice chunk of that money will wind up in a private bank account for Morsi’s retirement.

Hamas leaders claimed that sending Israelis scurrying to bomb shelters for 8 days was a victory in itself. And the fact that Hamas gained legitimacy by becoming a center of discussion between Israel and America and Egypt.

The fighting officially stopped at 9:00 PM Israel time on Wednesday Nov 21, 2012.
Hamas continued firing rockets until about midnight, but commentators said that this infraction was expected.

One commentator, discussing the aftermath on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet said he didn’t understand why Israel launched the offensive in the first place if all they achieved was getting back to where they started. Well-connected commentator Amnon Abramovich on the top-rated Channel 2 news, said that Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak was essentially a dove. He would prepare for a battle and then find reasons not to have it. Abramovich said that Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu was gun-shy since his mistake during his last term as Prime Minister when he allowed Ariel Sharon to walk onto the Temple Mount, an act that ignited the second Intifada. “Bibi” said Abramovich, “wasn’t going to order troops into battle if there was a way out.”

The Israeli media also speculated that perhaps the reason for the entire operation was simply to test the Iron Dome missile-defense system in preparation for an attack on Iran. Should that attack ever take place, Israel would be hit by missiles from Hamas in the south, Hezbollah in the north, and probably Iran.

According to Channel 2 news, the Iron Dome destroyed over 400 missiles out of the 1,000 sent at Israel, with only 47 falling in population centers, about 4 percent of the rockets fired. The success of this defense system is undisputed. The Israel government, long dragging their feet in funding the system, has now agreed to supply another 750 million shekels to build more systems. (@$200 million). Israel needs at lest another 18 systems to cover the skies. And probably other types of systems for the 7 kilomet short-range mortars.

Most Israeli analysts are skeptical that the cease-fire will last. Fragile is the way most discuss it. And then, at what point, they ask, will Israel decide to respond? When one missile is fired? Two? If a missile hits an open field? A small town like Sderot, accustomed to such attacks, or only when a major target like Tel Aviv is hit? These are all unanswered questions.

As of now the “quiet” is supposed to give the sides time to work out a formal written cease-fire agreement. Israel TV’s Channel 1 political affairs correspondent Ayala Hasson said she didn’t think the paper would ever be signed. The “quiet” would just continue until it didn’t.

Other commentators have said the signed agreement isn’t important since the Palestinians have never honored any agreement they ever signed, even the one witnessed by Bill Clinton and signed by Yassir Arafat.

So the flea has bitten the elephant and the whole world got a chance to see it. But not many. Sky, the BBC, French TV, all spent more time on fighting in the Congo. Still, commentators in Israel said Hamas reportedly had to stop fighting because the Palestinians in Gaza were getting tired of being bombed, wounded, and watching friends and family killed. They were losing the street. And the world didn’t really care.

In Israel, some of the 50,000 soldiers ready to invade Gaza, and residents of the south who had suffered rocket attacks, demonstrated against the cease-fire, wanting a battle with Hamas to settle once and for all the idea that Israel had to live with rockets falling on civilians.

But most Israelis breathed a sigh of relief. Israeli boys wouldn’t have to die fighting in Gaza, again. The Iron Dome gave the citizens a sense of calm. US support was greatly appreciated.  Calm will prevail, until it doesn’t, again.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Pillar of Defense Day 8: Did They Or Didn’t They?

Over 20 Israelis were injured, some seriously, when the Tel Aviv bus #66 exploded near
the corner of Weizman and Namir streets, across the street from the Tel Aviv court, Beit Asia and down the street from  Ichilov hospital.

Reportedly, a heavy-set man is suspected of planting a 3 kg bomb on the nearly empty bus. As of now Israel has closed off roads leading to the West Bank in attempts to find the man.

Israel Television Channel 2’s police reporter Moshe Nussbaum reported that Hamas has strongly denied any connection to the bombing. Some analysts see this as a dual game by Hamas, others think that the Arab street from the west bank is growing restless and may start another intifada since PA president Abu Mazan has become irrelevant in the current situation.

The respected Haaretz newspaper’s Arab affairs reporter, Danny Rubenstein, said that the terrorist more than likely came from the West Bank since Gaza is hermetically sealed. Rubenstein also said that the PA leader Abu Mazen has lost his credibility in the West Bank. He also said that pro-Gaza demonstrations have begun in the West Bank. Palestinians have also started to throw stones at Israeli cars and army vehicles traveling in the West Bank. His conclusions was that no leader of Hamas has managed to execute an attack on the heart of Israel even one as small as this bus bomb.

The attack comes as U.S. Sec. of State shuttles between Israel and Egypt trying to broker a cease-fire. Meanwhile Hamas continues to fire rockets at Israel. Over fifty have been fired today, some causing serious damage. Yesterday two men were killed by rocket attacks, one an IDF soldier from a religious soldiers’ group.

Ehud Yaari, Israel Television’s Channel 2 Arab affairs reporter said as part of the continuing coverage of the conflict that the bus bombing was condemned by influential Arab journalists from Saudi Arabi, Qatar, and Egypt. He said that these highly respected journalists claimed that Hamas was dragging the Middle East into a conflict that was in no one’s interest except Iran. Yaari said that Gazans have suffered greatly in this current conflict and that Egypt doesn’t want more damage to the civilians living in the Gaza Strip. In Yaari’s view Hamas is losing credibility in the Arab world. However Hamas still has support in the streets of Gaza and the West Bank.

Yaari said that Egypt had long ago lost patience with Hamas. Egypt warned Hamas not to escalate the conflict with Israel, but Hamas ignored Egypt’s orders. Hamas not only fired Fajr rockets from the Sinai into Israel, but then shot RPG rockets at IDF positions, and increased the number of rockets fired into Israel.

Yaari said that Egypt wanted an immediate halt to the hostilities, and then discuss a cease-fire. Hamas’ spokesmen have reportedly said they’ve agreed to a cease-fire. Other pundits wondered what was stopping the pause in fighting from going into effect.

Israel TV’s Channel 2 Military reporter Ronny Daniel thought Israel should invade, and occupy Gaza for as long as it took to clean out the rockets and depose Hamas. Small groups of Israeli demonstrators have appeared around Israel espousing the same views. Israel’s tens of thousands of soldiers are still poised on the border waiting the command to attack.

Did Hamas send the bomber to Tel Aviv or didn’t they? Does it matter? The problem now rests in the hands of Israel’s government. Agree to a pause in the fighting or give the army the green light.

Most experts expect a cease-fire within a day or two.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Pillar of Defense Day 7: Stretching the Point

Pillar of Defense Day 7: Stretching the Point

Israel suffered a torrential downpour of rockets from Gaza today as if Hamas
was trying to empty their warehouses and fire everything they could at Israel before a cease-fire was called.

One Israeli was killed when a missile landed near his car. Two other rockets smashed into homes, one in Ashdod and one in Rishon LeZion on the outskirts of Tel Aviv. 88 rockets were fired at Beer Sheva.

The Iron Dome succeeded in destroying most of the  more than 200 missiles that
were fired at Israel, but as U.S. Sec. of State Hilary Clinton said in a press conference tonight in Jerusalem sharing the stage with PM Netanyahu, even the best system isn't perfect and missiles get through.

Israeli analysts speculate that Clinton flew in to twist arms, both for Egyptian
President Morsi, and PM Netanyahu, to get a cease-fire. So far Hamas is waving a cease-fire at Israel like a tasty morsel in front of a hungry rancher.

Some pundits even think that Hamas' goal is to keep stretching out the time when they will agree to a cease-fire giving themselves the chance to strike at more targets, and perhaps even draw Israeli forces into Gaza.

Should the IDF enter Gaza there is no telling what this will bring. Israel might wind up stuck in the Gaza mud for months, fighting house to house trying to unseat Hamas while searching and destroying the rockets that are fired into Israel.This while playing into Hamas' hands by allowing the media to broadcast the bloody, messy, horrible results of this Israeli action against the people living in Gaza.

Angry Israelis are demonstrating in front of  homes hit by rockets calling for the Israeli invasion of Gaza. Many say that Israel’s mistake is not attacking Gaza  after the first missile fired, not wait months and let the firing go on unanswered.

.However, other pundits believe both sides want a cease-fire. Tuesday was supposed to have been the day for the cease-fire, since United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon,  the Foreign Minister of Germany, and now Sec. of State Clinton, were all planning to be in Cairo for the signing.

Just as Israel lulled Hamas military commander Jabri out in the open thinking there was a break in Israel's search for him, so Hamas is lulling Israel into the hope of a 
cease-fire when in fact none is on their game plan.

Still, most agree that the cease-fire will take place either Wednesday or Thursday.
But Israeli analysts are wary, since nearly every  one of them wonders how long the cease-fire will last. None think the cease-fire will lead to a peace agreement, rather just a pause before Hamas begins firing again at Israeli civilians.

Those analysts who think outside the box wonder if perhaps the solution doesn't have a medical comparison. When a person is infected, tests are carried out to discover which virus or bacteria is infecting the body, and then treat the disease with medicine, sometimes surgically removing a part of the body that is the root of the problem.

In this case the root of the problem is Iran. The Soviet Union has collapsed. Russia isn't interested in fighting any wars. Syria is busy with a civil war. Egypt is concerned with the $2 billion a year in US aid. Only Iran is the active player, supplying weapons, military advisors, and money, to keep Hamas, and Hezbollah in Lebanon, active as front-line forces against Israel.

Removing Iran from the equation would cure the problem. The cost would be enormous. The Allies would have to agree to cooperate in putting boots on the ground. This is a far-fetched notion. But without Iran, and with the Iron Dome neutralizing missiles, Hamas would evaporate, and Hezbollah might just shrivel up.
Moreover, international terrorism, today supported and encouraged by Iran, might also plummet.

Historians believe that Islamic Fundamentalism gathers momentum and peaks, then recedes. Analysts say that decrease in activity is usually helped along by a military effort against the fundamentalists.

Perhaps the time has come to realize that removing Iranian radicalism from the world would be a good thing, and even something that might just cause fundamentalism to begin a downward dive.

Meanwhile, Israel waits. Will there be a cease-fire, or will Israeli boys be forced to go back into Gaza, again, to stop rockets from falling on Israeli citizens.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Pillar of Defense Day 6: The Longbow

If Israel can neutralize the threat of rockets then Hamas and Hezbollah become non-entities. The Iron Dome works, but so far only five batteries exist. Experts say that Israel needs about 23 of them to cover the whole country. Now that the system has proved itself money will pour in to build more systems, quickly.

So,like the long bow that changed the course of warfare when the English began to use it, the Iron Dome will change the course of warfare against mice like Hezbollah and Hamas who continue to attack the elephant next door.

The Iron Dome, according to experts, has allowed Israel the leisure to strike from the air while neutralizing the attacks from the rockets. The Iron Dome destroyed about 350 missiles launched at Israel out of over 1000.

This ground-breaking system detects a missile launch, calculates if the missile will land in an open area or a population center, and only then launches a rocket against the Hamas missile. Only about 13 percent of the Hamas rockets launched have struck Israel, and then ususally the residents have taken shelter.

The Iron Dome has allowed Israel to post-pone attacking on the ground, a bloody, messy, and extremely dangerous operation.

Neutralizing the only weapon Hamas has will neutralize Hamas. Any one who can bring about this state of affairs is doing Israel a favor, if they know it or not. This applies to any and all of the diplomats and world-leaders, UN mediators, or Arab emissaries, who are trying to help negotiate a cease-fire, something that both Israel and Hamas want.

Of course the world is unfair. Israel is defending herself against terrorist attacks and has pushed Syrian atrocities off the front pages. Collateral damage, however unwanted and horrible, from Israeli air strikes are only a minuscule fraction of the casualties and deaths occurring daily in Syria. But them's the breaks. Israel is held to a higher standard. Why? Go figure.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Pillar of Defense Day 5: A New Idea

Listening to a former intelligence officer interviewed on Israel's Channel 1.
He said that Egyptian President is trying to broker a peace to show Obama and the
world he's a moderate and responsible leader.
The discussion turned to a ground invasion.
The officer echoed what most have said, not a good idea.
However, he then expanded his ideas, saying that should Israel
be forced to go in, because a cease-fire wasn't in the works, or
wasn't working, then Israel had to go all the way in, and depose Hamas, dismantle
their government and organization, and sit in Gaza as occupiers. However, he said
the solution was the PLO. If the PLO would return to Gaza to run the place then
Israel would be able to have a viable partner to help keep the peace. He said,
"It won't be easy. The PLO wouldn't want to go into Gaza on the bodies of
Palestinians killed by the IDF. It would take a long time. Months would pass.
But ultimately the PLO would be able to run Gaza as they are running the W. Bank.
Of course the PLO is running the W. Bank with the IDF's help. Perhaps that's
what he meant.
Meanwhile over 70 rockets fell today. A few direct hits on buildings.
Damage to property. Injury to people.
Perhaps this former intelligence officer's idea isn't so far-fetched.

This while a siren sounds for the second time today in Tel Aviv. Live footage of the Hamas rocket met and destroyed
by the Iron Dome missile.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Pillar of Defense Day 4

Pillar of Defense

We heard a siren in Jerusalem just before Shabat. First one since 1991's Gulf War. Rockets caused no damage or injury. Then tonight another siren in Tel Aviv, but the rocket was destroyed mid-air by the Iron Dome anti-rocket system. This system captures about a third of all the incoming rockets, and then only those aimed at dense population centers, not aimed at those projected to fall in open areas.

As for Gaza, I think Israel is hoping the Egyptians, with US prompting, will call for a cease-fire to take effect in a few days.
Israeli government officials, like Minister of strategy Boogie Ayalon have hinted strongly at this. Ayalon says Israel has a list of targets it is checking off its list as the hours pass and the jets continue their work. He hinted that once these targets are destroyed Israel will have competed the plans it has for this operation. However he also said should Hamas not back down then Israel was prepared to continue the operation and expand it. A call up of 30,000 reserve soldiers is meant, he hinted, to prepare for an expansion should it be necessary, but the impression was this was not something Israel wanted to do. Also, all the politicians surprised me by saying they weren't interested in toppling Hamas. Ayalon said the Palestinians chose Hamas and it was up to them to replace them if they wanted. Hamas was in the hearts of the Gazans, as Hezbollah was in the hearts of the Lebanese. If that's the government the Palestinians wanted, then the results would be what is currently happening. Asked where the Hamas leadership was Ayalon, hiding a slight smirk, said that Hamas' leadership was now hiding, just as Hezbollah's Shiek Nasrallah was hiding.

Reports so far that Hamas has sent over 550 rockets into Israel. Most either landed in open fields or were shot down by the iron dome. Three people killed yesterday in Kyriat Malachi when the rocket slammed into their apartment building. All were part of the Chabad community.
Egypt's Prime Minister visited Gaza today to show support with Hamas.
The Western World still supports Israel, understanding no normal country can suffer daily rocket attacks on their population. Israel's patience wore thin. The current action is a result. Where it leads is anyone's guess.
Rockets falling in Tel Aviv are upsetting the population that makes decisions. My kids were there. My son reported hearing a bomb. The army won't say exactly where the missiles land because then the enemy.

This is response to an e-mail referring to a link to a NYTimes article.

Most Israelis agree that Hamas isn't going to back down. Ideology and Arab pride won't allow a cessation any time soon. But also, that no matter what the Arab professor said in Beirut, a place that hosts no friends of Israel, Israel has no options but to defend itself. This isn't the old which came first the chicken or the egg. Both Hamas, a terrorist organization by international standards, and the Palestinian Authority, that was kicked out of Gaza by Hamas, have turned down generous proposals for a peace agreement. Once an Palestinian told me in an interview that the Palestinians are like the cat waiting and watching on the ground for the pigeon in the sky to tire, come to ground, and then the cat would pounce. Unfortunately, what seems obvious now is what the former IDF air force commander said, Israel has no choice but to keep flying, and when it tires and comes to ground, comes down armed and ready for battle.

Update over 700 rockets sent at Israel. 31 today near Beer Sheva, 16 shot down. Israel has flown 350 missions against Gaza.

Now it seems as if a cease-fire is on  the near horizon.

Meanwhile, Israel TV reported that a leading Islamic Jihad commander in Rafiah, Gaza Strip,
was attacked by an Israeli missile in his car and killed. Also, during the day, the Hamas headquarters in Gaza was razed by Israeli bombs a few hours after the Egyptian Prime Minister visited the building.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Post-Election Thoughts

Obama made a good acceptance speech. Charles Krauthammer  said that
the talk of revising the Republican orientation was misguided. Romney, he felt, almost won had it not been for SuperStorm Sandy, and a few other delicate points. He said that the Republican platform is sound This from one of the Conservative Republican theorists. I humbly disagree. I think the Tea Party platform pulled Romney unnaturally to the right and the result was his loss.

 I wonder if a new Liberal Republican, in the old Rockefeller mold, wouldn't be more appropriate. One commentator said that the elephant in the room was George W. Bush. His politics, and policies still had an irritating echo, said the commentator. Obama may now get a chance to make Supreme Court appointments that may change the complexion of the  way the USA is headed. Curtailing the effect of SuperPacs, stopping them from donating a staggering $3 billion to the Presidential campaign, and another $3 on the Congressional and Senate campaigns. A new Supreme Court might
steer the US away from the Conservative and 'Neo-Con' attitudes. Time will tell.

The Tea Party is a disaster tearing apart the fabric of America.The American public needs to tell  Fox News and any media enterprise that have become so bi-partisan that they nearly become seditious, and that these organizations, either slanted towards the  Republicans or Democrats, need to take a long hard look in the mirror.

The American public has to be made aware of the fact that ratings, and the money earned from them, drives the political opinions of these organizations, as much if not more than ideology. For America to work the Blues and the Reds have to forget the fringe ideology and unite for the common good. Reasonable men like Mitt Romney should be
able to run on their own agenda without inventing one that placates the radical extremists of the party.

While zealots steer the course of history, frequently, as the world has seen to its chagrin, that course often leads to disaster.

Moderation in all things, as the Preacher stated in Ecclesiastes, is the wisest course.

And for those with nothing else to get them excited about other than fringe political issues, perhaps their lives would be fuller doing volunteer work that helps rebuild and improve rather than staking out positions that only divide and open up the door to conquerers.