Posting: August 25, 2008
What shall we call it? A lot of hot air? Declarations “signifying nothing”?
Barak said that Labor would resign the coalition if the budget were unsatisfactory. Shas ministers said they’d leave if child allowances weren’t increased. Olmert said he’d fire those ministers who voted against the budget. I see none of these things happening, at least yet.
After I wrote at midnight last night, the budget negotiations continued, way into the night, until a budget that a majority of the Cabinet would accept was arrived at. A razor thin majority: 13 for and 12 against, with Haim Ramon abstaining.
The majority was achieved when members of Kadima — Avi Dichter, Ze’ev Boim and Ruhama Avraham-Balila — and members of the Pensioners Party — Rafi Eitan and Ya’acov Ben-Yizri — who had been opposed were convinced to go along.
The seven ministers of Labor voted against, as did the four ministers of Shas.
It is worth noting that the single Kadima holdout was Shaul Mofaz, who accused Livni of caving under pressure for political reasons. Said he:
“Whoever wins the Kadima primaries will obviously have to bring about a new budget. It’s a pity that the budget passed due to ‘political’ reasons.”
That there is politics involved is indisputable. The Post reports that the five ministers whose reversal allowed the budget to be passed have been promised additional funding for their respective offices.
But, in spite of Olmert’s carrying on, it’s not all politics. There are genuine issues, primarily whether emphasis must be on social issues (and the economy) or on defense. Ironically, while the US economy is floundering, ours is vigorous, and there is concern that it not be sabotaged by a huge budget deficit. Similarly, there are genuine social issues to be attended to — welfare and education.
But in the face of what we are likely to be confronting in our north, as well as in Gaza — not to mention what may be involved with Iran — there is a solid argument to be made for putting defense spending first. This becomes an existential issue — not just for the nation, but also for individual soldiers in the field who require the best of training and equipment. If our nation is not properly defended, all the rest becomes moot.
Said Labor Secretary-General Eitan Cabel on Army Radio:
“… making this a political issue is a mistake. For the first time in a long time, Labor ministers presented a position, backed it, and did what they should have done in light of the harsh and bad budget proposal… This was not a political battle but a moral issue.”
Right now the vote has gone with a smaller allocation to defense and an eye towards the economy. Child allowances were not increased.
Olmert has no need to fire anyone, no matter his threats, because he achieved what he sought. Shas, which is always threatening, is unlikely to leave. And Labor? They’ll have to answer for why they remain in the government, if they do.
The bottom-line reality here is that it will be months before this comes before the Knesset for final approval. There will, presumably, be a Kadima primary before then. And it is not only Mofaz who believes many changes are likely to be made in this budget before it is actually finalized. There are those arguing that we can’t do justice to everything without allocating additional funds on the basis of anticipated economic growth, and permitting some deficit.
We let out 198 prisoners today in order to “bolster” Abbas.
Before they went on their way, they were all required to sign a document pledging never again to be involved in terrorism. That always blows me away. Has there ever been a terrorist who, though longing to get back into the violence, has declined to be involved because of signing such a document? Is there anyone anywhere who actually believes that this is how a potential terrorist might be dissuaded?
After the signing they all went to Ramallah for a joyous celebration.
And Abbas? He said that:
“There will be no peace without the release of all Palestinians imprisoned in Israel,. We will not rest until the prisoners are freed and the jails are empty… They all have a place in our heart, but there is a special one, senior brother Marwan Barghouti and the leading brother Ahmad Sa’adat, whom we hope to see soon.”
Barghouti, the big-time Fatah Tanzim terrorist, is serving five life sentences for his part in killing Jews. And Sa’adat is a leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and was a mastermind of the assassination of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Ze’evi.
The Palestinians were so happy about what we had done that some handful of them, at least, stoned an Israeli bus outside of Ramallah today.
So, why did we bother? Is this all for Rice?
The secretary of state has arrived here now — her seventh trip since Annapolis — and is conceding that an end-of-the-year peace deal is extremely unlikely. However, she is committed, she says, to continuing to promote small increments. She’s sounding a tad more realistic.
On her agenda, with the “peace process” are both Syria and Russia.
Exceedingly important with regard to the Palestinians is a piece by Daniel Hannan. a member of the European Parliament, in the Telegraph (UK), “EU aid to Palestine is funding the conflict.”
“… it is becoming increasingly clear that overseas aid is arresting a political settlement in the region. Palestinians receive more assistance, per capita, than any other people on Earth, and live in one of its most violent spaces. The two facts are connected.
“The idea that aggression can be buried under a landslide of euros sounds reasonable, but it is based on a false premise, namely that political violence is caused by economic deprivation.
“… None of this [stability, civil order, etc.] will happen, however, as long as Palestinians remain trapped in the squalor of dependency.”
I want to backtrack here for a moment and mention what I should have written about before: Mike Huckabee — former governor of Arkansas and former Republican candidate for president — was here visiting us this past week. What a marvel he is in terms of understanding our issues: the dangers of a Palestinian state at our border, the insanity of dividing Jerusalem. Would that more US leaders “got it” the way he does.
For a five- minute interview with him from IBA news on Israeli TV, see:
On orders from Defense Minister Barak, 300 police and Shin Bet forces on Saturday night raided the Al Aksa Institute offices of the Islamic Movement in Umm al-Fahm, which served as headquarters for the northern branch of the Movement. The offices were shut down, computers and documents were seized and some bank accounts were frozen after Al Aksa was named an “unlawful organization” because of evidence that it had connections to Hamas.
The point of connection with Hamas was found to be “The Union of Good,” an umbrella organization (a front) for Hamas foundations that was outlawed in Israel but operates in Europe and elsewhere.
Mazel tov! Anyone who follows the actions of this Israeli Arab organization, the Islamic Movement, has long understood that they are up to no good. Just the day before the raid there was a major rally in Umm al-Fahm because Al-Aksa mosque on the Temple Mount was said, again, to be in danger. “With blood and fire we’ll redeem Al-Aksa,” cried Raed Salah, head of the Islamic Movement’s northern branch.
Guaranteed we haven’t heard the last from them.
Jeff Daube, who is heading a new Israeli office for ZOA, wrote a piece in the Post last week concerning potential security measures for Sderot — via the US Nautilus/Skyguard system — that have not been seriously considered yet.
This eye-opener is well worth reading:
Posting: August 24, 2008
Budget is always connected to politics, but this time around it seems more so than usual — because of the instabilities of our current situation. As I write this, after midnight Israel time, the Cabinet, after 12 hours of deliberation, is deadlocked on budget issues. This has the potential to bring down the government. Whether it actually will, remains to be seen.
A key issue is cuts demanded of the Defense Ministry, which Barak is fighting for all he’s worth (which, in this instance, whatever the politics, I do not fault him for). Tension between Barak and Olmert is exceedingly high, with Barak threatening to quit if his ministry doesn’t get the funds it needs and Olmert threatening to fire him if he doesn’t vote for the budget.
Then there’s Shas, which is opposed to a budget that doesn’t increase child allowance sums, a key issue for its haredi constituency with its large families.
So convoluted are the issues at present, that there have even been suggestions from Labor that Finance Minister Roni Bar-On is sabotaging his own budget in order to bring down the government for Livni’s sake.
So it will be an Obama-Biden ticket…
Joe Biden is getting mixed reviews here. Viewed as a friend of Israel in many regards, he is, none-the-less causing concern because of his positions on Iran (which may also give us a hint as to how he might position himself with regard to Iranian proxies Hezbollah and Hamas).
In 1998, Senator Biden was one of only four senators to vote against the Iran Missile Proliferation Sanctions Act, a bill designed to act against foreign companies or other entities that sent Iran sensitive missile technology or expertise. In 2007, he was one of only a handful of senators to oppose the bipartisan 2007 Kyl-Lieberman Amendment labeling the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization. In a December 2007 debate, Biden said “Iran is not a nuclear threat to the United States of America.” On MSNBC’s “Hardball,” Biden said he “never believed” Iran had a weapon system under production.
Oh joy! Condoleezza Rice is due here tomorrow afternoon.
During her visit of just over 24 hours — during which time she will meet with Barak, Olmert, Livni, possibly joined by Qurei (as Livni’s negotiating counterpart), and then Abbas and Fayyed in Ramallah — she is expected to check on the state of, and attempt to advance (i.e., push) “peace negotiations.” She is reportedly seeking a document that states what each side has agreed to so far and where differences remain, in order to demonstrate that progress has taken place. There are rumors that she wants this not just by the end of the year but almost immediately so that it can be presented to the opening session of the UN on September 18; US officials are denying this.
According to Israeli officials cited in the Post, Tzipi Livni, our chief negotiator, is opposed to such a document and hopes to dissuade Rice to forget it. Her concern is that it would make it harder for Kadima to win an election.
Got that everyone? Livni doesn’t want the nation to know what she has already verbally agreed to, as the people would not be happy about it.
Just a brief mention here of the “Free Gaza” ships, which came into Gaza yesterday. The ships carried a group of over 40 left-wing “activists” with an agenda that conveniently ignores Hamas terrorism; they claimed to be intent on “breaking the Israeli blockade of Gaza.” While Israel was entirely within its rights to stop the ship before it reached the Gaza port, a decision was made to let them through as long as it was known that they were not carrying weapons. That decision was based on the awareness that the group would have promoted a PR free-for-all had they been stopped.
Hopefully more details soon, and a bit more background.
Posting: August 22, 2008
Never mind that Israel isn’t flexing her muscles to the maximum that she might, she is, in no regard a superpower. And when the dynamics between the superpowers shifts, and tensions ignite, it ultimately has an effect — or several effects — on us here.
It is still too soon to know how it will all play out, but this is some of what we’re seeing:
Israel had been selling weapons to Georgia, but stopped with the current crisis, afraid that we would incur unnecessary wrath from Russia (which subsequently played down concerns). At the same time the government invited domestic criticism for abandoning a victim of Russian aggression.
In moves reminiscent of the cold war, the US this week signed a defensive pact with Poland that will place 10 US interceptor missiles in that country just 115 miles from the Russian border. A retaliatory response from an infuriated Russia — possibly in the Middle East — was seen as a possibility, and the following scenario then enfolded:
Syrian President Bashar Assad went to Russia Thursday and met with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Assad, who had been taking a totally pro-Russian line during the Russian-Georgian hostilities, invited the Russians to place the sophisticated Iskander missile system — with a range that could reach all of Israel — on Syrian soil. He suggested that both because of the US deal with Poland and Israel’s relationship with Georgia, this might appeal to Medvedev.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Russia was thinking of responding to Assad’s invitation, but qualified this by saying only defensive weapons would be supplied, which would “not harm the region’s strategic balance.” But even defensive weapons — presumably anti-aircraft missiles — would have an effect if Israel found it necessary to fly over or attack sites in Syria, as was the case when we took out the reactor.
Amidst a flurry of protests, acting Russian ambassador to lsrael Anatoly Yurkov told Ynet, “Why in the world would we need to deploy our missiles here? Against whom? We have no enemies in the region.” And Medvedev placed a “business as usual” call directly to Olmert.
Finally Assad, likely thinking better of it, denied he had made such an offer. But withdrawal of an offer to place the Iskander system in Syria does not necessarily mean that Assad will walk away empty-handed; he went hoping to buy Russian military equipment.
Incomprehensibly, in the face of all of this, the government is continuing to pursue indirect negotiations with Syria via Turkey.
MK Gideon Sa’ar (head, Likud faction) criticized this, saying that it gave Syria increased international legitimacy.
Another rejection: According to Channel 10 news, the US has refused a request by Barak to buy the Boeing 767 aircraft, which can be used for refueling mid-air, reportedly because this would appear to give assistance to Israeli plans to hit Iran.
Israel already has planes that have a mid-air refueling capacity, as well as jets that can reach Iran without refueling.
According to a Palestinian news agency, Ahmed Qurei, head of the PA negotiating team, speaking at a Fatah gathering in Ramallah, said that he didn’t believe a final agreement with Israel would be possible in 2008.
“We [will not] accept less than a Palestinian state with the 1967 borders (sic) with East Jerusalem as its capital. [And including] a just solution of the issue of the refugees based on the international resolutions and the right of return.”
Saying that eastern Jerusalem must be the spiritual, economic, and geographical center of the Palestinian state, Qurei stressed that there would be no partial deal — that everything had to be agreed upon “in one package.”
This is good news for us. If the PA will not consent to signing on to a partial deal (with Jerusalem still unresolved) it becomes considerably less likely that Olmert will commit to paper formally what Israel is willing to concede.
Hamas also agrees that Jerusalem is critical to Palestinian interests, but it, of course, is not promoting a final “one package” deal. Said Ismail Haniyeh:
“… no one can cede Jerusalem, the city from which the Prophet Muhammad ascended to the heavens. [Note: this is not from the Koran, which never mentions Jerusalem by name, but from later legend.]
“Jerusalem will be retrieved to the Palestinians not through negotiations or by hugging and kissing the enemy, but by way of jihad, blood, shahids and resistance. With Allah’s help, Jerusalem will be returned.”
Haniyeh, it must be noted, added this:
“… the Israeli-Arabs are safeguarding the Al-Aksa Mosque; it is as if they are inside the belly of a whale. They represent the Islamic nation. We send them our regards, especially to Sheikh Raed Salah.”
Sheikh Salad is founder of the Islamic Movement in Israel, a radical Islamist group of Arabs with Israeli citizenship working against the wellbeing of Israel.
As happens on a regular basis, fallacious and inflammatory claims by Arabs regarding Israel’s intent to destroy the Al Aksa Mosque on the Temple Mount have again been circulating. These charges serve at one and the same time to incite against Israel and rally various Arab factions together in a common cause.
Mohammad Al-Saqer, who is the parliamentary president of Kuwait, has just called upon the Arab League and other Arab groups to combat an Israeli scheme to divide the Al Aksa Mosque, so that it is half for Jews, half for Muslims.
He said that the Israeli digging under the Mosque has reached a dangerous stage. This charge about digging is ludicrous. For the remains of the Temple lie under the Mount and all digging is strictly forbidden by the Israeli Antiquities Authority and all rabbis. But let’s not get confused by facts.
Much is being made, as well, of the anniversary of a fire set at the Al Aksa Mosque in 1969, which caused damage to one wing. And here, too, reality is obscured, for the fire was set by an Australian tourist, Michael Dennis Rohan, of the Worldwide Church of God, who told the police he hoped this would hasten the second coming of Jesus. That the fire was quickly put out by the Israelis is forgotten as the libel spreads that Israel paid Rohan to do it.
And in the face of all of this, what does foreign minister and candidate for Kadima leadership Tzipi Livni have to say?
Given the increasing power of extremists, time is of the essence to reach an agreement with the Palestinians. The only possibility for reaching an agreement is with the leadership that exists now in the Palestinian Authority.
This is the stuff of nightmares. Rather than rushing, we should be pulling back and reassessing.
Can it truly be that she doesn’t understand? The increasing power of extremists has already infected the Fatah party, which is moving towards a more radical (and Islamist) line. It renders the so-called moderates impotent, so that they would not be able to honor any agreement with us.
Contrary to recent reports that she might go to elections if she secured victory in the Kadima primary, she is now calling for a unity government.
Interestingly, even though she continues to lead in Kadima polls, her lead weakens — Mofaz gets stronger — if the question is asked who would be preferred in time of national crisis. Apparently those responding with a move toward Mofaz, given this hypothetical situation, don’t understand that we are in crisis now.
Investigators are questioning Olmert for the sixth time today.
An attempt is being made by Israeli law enforcement officials to secure US immunity for Talansky for testimony he might still give here. He is in trouble with the FBI for what he has already revealed, and thus is afraid to come back and say more.
We have been on guard for some time — and the government has warned Israelis traveling abroad to be watch for kidnapping attempts — but now a warning has come from a sheikh in Hezbollah that they are coming close to time to exact revenge for the assassination of Imad Mugniyah in February.
“The revenge will be shocking and huge surprises are in store,” he said. He spoke about all-out war, as Israel would respond to this attack.
Even though all precautions without reservation must be taken, I cannot help wonder how much of this is bombast. Why would they warn of an attack rather than using the element of surprise?
Khaled Abu Rakaiek of the Tel Sheva local Bedouin Council in the Negev has been indicted in Beersheva court for attempting to make contact with an agent of Al Qaida and Global Jihad, with the intent of starting a cell to carry out terrorist attacks in Israel.
Abu Rakaiek was formerly a student at the Technological College of Beersheva, where he acquired computer knowledge that allowed him to surf the Internet, make contact with radical groups, and download information on preparing belts.
According to a new Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs report by Lt. Col. (res.) Jonathan Dahoah Halevi, off-shoots of Al Qaida — Jaish al-Islam (army of Islam), Army of the Umma, and Fatah al-Islam — have freedom of movement in the Hamas-ruled Gaza. In fact, Jaish al-Islam has been officially recognized by Hamas as a legitimate armed movement in Gaza.
And here we sit?
Posting: August 20, 2008
I cannot think of a better word to describe the current international situation, which seems only to be worsening over time. We’ve got Russia moving in an expansionist, cold-war direction again, a nuclear Pakistan headed the wrong way, and Iran continuing on its belligerent path of nuclear development, missile testing and aggressive posturing.
What is worrisome is that the response of the world is all too weak in countering these multiple threats. Just at a time when there should be firm resolution to be strong, there is appeasement and backtracking and ideological confusion. Not to mention short-sighted, self-serving national policies that bring long-term risks to the international community, and more than a bit of hypocrisy, with leaders declaring one thing and doing another.
I have in mind, for example, German declarations of special commitment to Israel, coupled with the German readiness to do business with Iran. And the initiation by Jordan of meetings with the terrorist Hamas — appeasement if I ever saw it, with Jordan undoubtedly afraid it may have Hamas at its border. Not to mention the Bush administration’s reversal of its previous War on Terror policy, and a readiness to sit with Iran.
If there is a note that is encouraging, it is the lead now taken by McCain over Obama in a major poll — encouraging because it is Obama who is the more ideologically confused and eager to appease.
Once a month, Reuters/Zogby does a poll of likely presidential voters. In July Obama was ahead by 7 points. Now McCain is shown leading 46% to 41%. May the trend strengthen.
The current world state of affairs, of course, impinges upon Israel in a number of ways.
Thus you might want to read a serious and somber assessment of the situation with Russia, “The Russian-Georgian War: Implications for the Middle East,” by Ariel Cohen at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
Among the significant points Cohen makes:
“U.S. intelligence-gathering and analysis on the Russian threat to Georgia failed. So did U.S. military assistance to Georgia, worth around $2 billion over the last 15 years. This is something to remember when looking at recent American intelligence assessments of the Iranian nuclear threat or the unsuccessful training of Palestinian Authority security forces against Hamas.”
In her piece, “Georgia, Israel, and the nature of man,” Caroline Glick also draws some very pertinent lessons for Israel from the current international situation:
“In recent years, the understanding that the only guarantor of Israel’s survival is Israel’s ability to defeat all of its enemies decisively has been forgotten altogether by most of the country’s leaders and members of its intellectual classes. “Since 1979 and with increasing intensity since 1993, Israeli leaders bent on appeasing everyone from the Egyptians to the Palestinians to the Syrians to the Lebanese have called for Israel’s inclusion in NATO, or the deployment of Western forces to its borders or lobbied Washington for a formal strategic alliance. They have claimed that such forces and such treaties will unburden the country of the need to protect itself in the event that our neighbors attack us after we give them the territories necessary to wage war against us…
“If nothing else comes of it, the West’s response to the rape of Georgia should end that delusion. Georgia did almost everything right. And for its actions Georgia was celebrated in the West with platitudes of enduring friendship and empty promises of alliances that were discarded the moment Russia invaded.
“Georgia only made one mistake, and for that mistake it will pay an enormous price. As it steadily built alliances, it forgot to build an army. Israel has an army. It has just forgotten why its survival depends on our willingness to use it.
If we are unwilling to use our military to defeat our enemies, we will lose everything… “
I would be hard put to think of a more important lesson for Israel’s leaders to learn now. If only…
Precisely how short sighted our appeasement policies are is brought home by an article yesterday by Khaled Abu Toameh in the Post. Abu Toameh writes:
“It’s hard these days to find one Palestinian who regards Israel’s decision to release some 200 Palestinian prisoners as a ‘goodwill gesture.’ It’s also hard to see how the release of the prisoners would ‘boost’ the popularity of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas among his people.
“The argument that the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails strengthens the ‘moderates’ has never proven to be correct…
“Ironically, in some cases the released prisoners turned out to be a big headache for the ‘moderate’ Palestinian leadership.
“Shortly after the signing of the Oslo Accords, Israel freed hundreds of Fatah security prisoners…
“But many of the released prisoners soon became involved in various criminal activities ranging from armed robberies, extortion, theft and arms trafficking…
“Others later joined Hamas and other radical groups…
“They also became a financial burden on the shoulders of the PA, which had to put the local ‘heroes’ on its payroll…
“… it’s highly unlikely that Abbas would benefit from the release of the [current 199] prisoners because many Palestinians don’t give him credit for the move. Rather, these Palestinians see the decision as an attempt on the part of Israel to improve its image on the international arena and extract political concessions from Abbas and his colleagues in Ramallah.”
Not only have we agreed to release the 199 in our prisons, but our doing so has permitted four other murderers of Israelis to now also go free. This is fairly incredible:
Just a little over a year ago, we released to Jordan four Jordanian prisoners who had been convicted of killing two Israeli soldiers in 1990, before Israel had a peace treaty with Jordan. We let them go ostensibly so that they might serve their life sentences in a Jordanian prison, closer to their families.
However, according to a 2007 release by the Jordanian News Agency, Petra — which Aaron Lerner has now put up on IMRA — the agreement between Jordan and Israel said the prisoners could be released after “… 18 months of their prison term in Jordan or if the Israeli authorities release other prisoners, who are convicted of similar [crimes].”
The murderers got out today, and Jordanian Islamist trade unions planned a festival to celebrate.
Olmert, on the other hand, made a most interesting comment with regard to how prepared we will be to take on the Lebanese if hostilities again break out again (which everyone assumes they eventually will). He explained:
In the Second Lebanon War, we had much greater means and capabilities, which we avoided using since we fought against a terror organization and not a country. In this context, if Lebanon turns into a Hezbollah state, we won’t restrain our response.”
Well, it’s not really “IF Lebanon turns into a Hezbollah state,” because for all practical purposes it already has. Earlier this month, Lebanon’s parliament approved a national unity government — with Hezbollah having veto power — and declared a policy of supporting “resistance.”
Olmert says that any future war would be fought in as quick and efficient a manner as possible to maximize the military advantages and to ensure a minimum of losses.
All our wars should be fought this way, with victory and safety for our own boys the priorities. That Olmert says this is good. Better still will be that when the time comes, either in the north or in Gaza, that we will behave this way, with military strength, and the political factions not holding us back out of fear or indecision.
The “ceasefire” with Hamas in Gaza, which is euphemistically referred to as “fragile,” truly doesn’t exist. For we keep getting hit with rockets and mortars — now on close to a daily basis. In response to this, Defense Minister Barak order crossings into Gaza closed for two days, at which point he will re-evaluate.
Sorry, this is not exactly being tough. In fact, it’s pathetic.
According to a MEMRI dispatch, Iran is threatening, if attacked, to close the Straits of Hormuz, through which millions of gallons of oil move daily.
It has made news in an Italian paper, Corriere della Sera, that a former Italian president, Francesco Cossiga, admits that for a period of time some years ago the Italian government had a deal with Palestinian terrorists: they could roam freely in Italy and use Italy as a base of operations, as long as nothing was directed against the Italians. Real appeasement. And while here it is being admitted openly, this sort of thing has occurred in many countries.
There is considerable concern, at long last, about water shortages here in Israel. What is not well enough known is how much water has illicitly been siphoned off by Arabs, especially in Judea, south of Jerusalem: 3 million cubic meters a year. Until now nothing was done about this — why?? — but finally the Civil Administration is beginning to act.
The theft takes place when Arabs hook piping to the main lines used to transport water to Jewish communities. Some 50,000 kilometers of piping have been confiscated, and that’s a small percentage of what exists.
Some political game-playing: Kadima activists David Schwartz and Hussein Suleiman have filed a petition with Kadima to stop the primary for party leader that was to be held in September because of irregularities in how the decision to hold the vote was originally taken. Party leaders are saying this is a technicality only and a re-vote on the election will be taken so that matters can proceed.
Suleiman, who is close to Olmert, admitted freely that a chief goal in doing this was to keep Olmert in office longer.
In polls Livni is running well ahead of her closest contender, Shaul Mofaz, to head the Kadima party next. Both Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter and Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit have entered the race but are far behind. Olmert — who is passionate in his hatred for Livni at this point — has declared Sheetrit as his first choice to succeed him as party head. Suleiman was reportedly hoping to buy time for Sheetrit to garner strength in the party campaign.
There are speculations that if Livni wins leadership of the party she might opt to go to elections. For the first time recently she has come out ahead of Netanyahu in some polls.
Hurray for us! Israeli sailor Shahar Zubari won a bronze medal in men’s windsurfing in the Olympics today.
This too, announced by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is lovely: A 2,600 year old clay seal impression (bulla) bearing the name Gedaliah ben Pashur has recently been uncovered completely intact during archeological excavations in Jerusalem’s ancient City of David, located just below the walls of the Old City near the Dung Gate. The name appears in the Book of Jeremiah (38:1).
“It is not very often that such a discovery happens in which real figures of the past shake off the dust of history and so vividly revive the stories of the Bible,” said Dr. Eilat Mazar of the Hebrew University who is leading the dig.
Posting: August 18, 2008
The list of the 199 prisoners to be released has been finalized and published, and it is likely that they will be released at the end of the month.
The Shin Bet (Israeli security) is extremely unhappy about what is taking place. Security agents work diligently to put these terrorists behind bars, only to find their work undone when they are released early for political reasons.
According to correspondent Shlomo Tzena, writing in the news publication Yisrael Hayom (Israel Today), neither the Shin Bet nor the IDF were consulted before the Cabinet made its decision, but were instead informed after the fact. According to Tzena, the decision was made in a matter of minutes, so that those arriving late missed the vote.
Shalom Harari — a senior research scholar with the Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya and previously a senior adviser on Palestinian affairs to the Defense Ministry — has expressed the opinion that this release will not really benefit Fatah anyway. Saying that Fatah was in an extremely vulnerable state, he predicted that the release would likely be “forgotten after two days.”
Based on what he’s seen in the past, Harari is not encouraged that we are likely to meet positive attitudes from Fatah for what we are doing:
“On the morning after the [previous] release, we heard Fatah blaming Israel. Whatever happens, they will blame Israel and fault everyone except for themselves.”
He explained that while many may not take up terrorism again, they present another risk:
“… while these terrorists may not go back to fighting, many will go back to indoctrinating others into terrorism, and creating a terror-supporting environment. Some will recruit on campuses, others will become so-called ‘journalists,’ while others will be integrated into institutions or sent abroad.”
Because two of the terrorists released fit into the category of having blood on their hands, there is particular outrage about what is going on.
The two are Ibrahim Mahmoud Mahmad and Said Atbari. Atbari killed Tzilia Galili when he planted bombs in a market in Petah Tikva. Mahmad killed yeshiva student and soldier Yehoshua Saloma in Hevron. He then killed a second person — an Arab whom he suspected of being a collaborator for Israel — while in prison. He sounds like a particularly vile man.
This does not mean the rest of those slated for release are exactly nice guys. The group includes 26 convicted of attempted murder and 47 of shooting at people. Still others were convicted of planting bombs and kidnapping for the purpose of murder.
You can see that the issue of “blood on their hands” is in part a question of “luck” — whether they succeeded in killing anyone — and not lack of intent.
Meir Indor of the Almagor Terror Victims Association has told Arutz Sheva that his group will be filling a suit in the High Court to stop the releases.
“We do not expect to win, but we have been told by people high up in the system that if it were not for our protests and petitions to the Supreme Court, many more terrorists, guilty of very serious crimes, would have been freed… ” “We plan to take the law into our hands, in the positive sense of the phrase. We have had bitter experience with the 180 victims of terrorism who have been killed by terrorists freed in one exchange or another. We will gather information on every single convicted terrorist, find out which jail they are in and which luxuries they receive in prison, and we will be in contact with the families of those they have murdered, and we will thus keep this matter in the public awareness.”
More power to Indor and his Association!
Indor had especially hard words for Shas, which remains in this reprehensible government:
“… they make all sorts of protests, and vote against, but they remain in the government and refuse to bring it down, because they think that getting money for their Torah schools justifies all. I debated a Shas official on the radio; I told him that I had always learned that when it comes to pikuach nefesh, life-threatening situations, one must close his Talmud and take action.”
Let me add here that it’s not just money for schools Shas is after, but increases in child allowances. Arutz Sheva cited Shas MK Nissim Ze’ev:
“We must consider the matter [of pulling out] after the [summer] break. The budget is the central matter as far as we are concerned. And as for releasing terrorists, I understand it as if we must once in a while bribe the underworld; that is what the release of terrorists is – if we don’t want Abu Mazen to start a new intifada, then we must pay him off.”
With regard to prisoner trades, a senior defense official speaking anonymously to the Jerusalem Post had this to say:
“The government realized it could not do a southern hostage deal, so it went with the northern hostage deal to reduce public pressure on it. The government knew that they [Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser] were no longer alive. They figured that [child-killer Samir] Kuntar had been in prison for many years, and went for the deal.
“Hamas is demanding 450 heavyweight prisoners who took part in recent terrorist attacks. The memories of the victims’ families are still very raw. I don’t believe the government can go ahead with this.”
The cynical, self-serving machinations of the government are so apparent, that there is nothing for me to say…
Posting: August 17, 2008
Bad, bad news: According to Maya Bengal in Maariv today, Olmert has submitted a proposal on Jerusalem to Abbas in an effort to reach an agreement before he leaves office. Reportedly this entails Israeli control of Jewish neighborhoods, Palestinian control of Arab neighborhoods, and the issue of the status of holy sites — including the Temple Mount and Mount of Olives — to be tabled with administration of these places by a joint Israeli-Palestinian body until there is final resolution, which, since there is no timeline, could be indefinitely.
There is so much wrong with this, beyond the simple fact that Jerusalem is ours and should remain undivided:
The Jewish and Arab neighborhoods are so intertwined that dividing jurisdiction according to Jewish and Arab residency simply won’t work. Not to mention that it would put terrorist-prone Palestinians within easy shooting distance of Jewish neighborhoods.
Plus, tabling the most sensitive issue, control of holy sites, and calling it a “deal” is a cop-out that would only lead to continuing lack of resolution and growing tensions.
Lastly, assigned shared jurisdiction over these most sensitive areas is an invitation to a situation that would be nightmare from hell. It is simply not workable.
The PA is demanding all of Jerusalem beyond the Green Line. That means Jewish neighborhoods built since 1967 and all of the Old City. They are not going to settle for Jewish neighborhoods outside the Green Line to remain under Israeli jurisdiction, with the Old City issue unresolved, and call this a “deal.” I don’t believe they’ll even remotely consider going for it. They’ll scoff.
What is much more to the point for me is where Shas is in this. They said they would pull out of the government if Olmert negotiated on Jerusalem.
What makes it even more certain that the PA would not sign on to a deal with us is something else just reported by Ben Caspi, also of Maariv. He says that Israel has submitted security requirements for a final deal to the US. These include:
1. Demilitarized Palestinian state not to have tanks, cannons, rockets or air force. 2. Security pacts prohibited between the Palestinian state and other nations. 3. Israeli warning stations on the mountain ridge. 4. IDF presence on the Jordan River. 5. Israeli control of airspace. 6. Israeli access to routes going deep into Judea and Samaria
Now there’s more in the Caspi article, and I ask all Americans to pay special attention here:
“In the meantime it turns out that one of the two presidential candidates, who visited Israel sent emissaries and special messages to president Al Assad in Damascus and Abu Mazen [Abbas] in Ramallah, with an interesting message: continue the negotiations with Israel, any progress is welcome, I want to jump into the conflict immediately upon my entry onto the position and the more advanced the negotiations are the better.”
That presidential candidate was Obama, clearly, and this constitutes a sort of meddling that is outrageous.
The message I have consistently communicated here is that Egypt — in spite of having a peace treaty with us — is not only not our friend, but often works against our interests.
The most glaring example of this is the failure of the Egyptians to stop the smuggling of weapons into Gaza in spite of commitments to do so. MK Yuval Steinitz (Likud), former head of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, has over a period of time vociferously proclaimed Egypt not trustworthy. It was he, in particular, who pointed out how ridiculous is Egypt’s lament that they’d like to stop the weapon smuggling but can’t find many of the tunnels used by the terrorists. If they were sincere, he pointed out last year, all they would have to do was make a no-man’s land in the Sinai a kilometer or two before the border with Gaza, and stop all vehicles traveling the sparsely-used roads in that open desert area well before they reached the tunnels.
Not long ago I sat with an Arabic-speaking researcher who explained that as much as the Egyptians dislike and fear the radical influence of Hamas (which is an off-shoot of the Muslim Brotherhood and sponsored by the hated Iran), they dislike and fear Israel even more. Thus they have been willing to foster a situation that makes trouble for Israel.
I will add here that there is enormous and virulent anti-Semitism in Egypt. While, for all their suspicions of Hamas, the Egyptians have strong cultural and linguistic bonds with members of Hamas, not as Hamas per se but as Muslim Arab residents of Gaza. Egypt controlled Gaza from 1948-1967 and there was considerable interaction. Culturally, the ties between Gazan Palestinians and Egyptians is said to be stronger than the ties between Gazan and West Bank Palestinians.
And so, the news from the very reliable Khaled Abu Toameh in the Post today came as a bit of a surprise: A Hamas official is now saying they’ve been told by Egypt that they won’t open the crossing at Rafah (between Gaza and Egypt) until Hamas releases Gilad Shalit to Israel.
What is more, Egypt is saying that when it does permit the crossing to be opened, it will be under the supervision of the PA, and not Hamas. This is in accordance with the arrangements made under extreme pressure by Rice, after Israel pulled out of Gaza three years ago. We were supposed to stay in Rafah, but she pushed hard for us to leave and the PA to take over. The PA remained in charge, more or less, in a highly unsatisfactory arrangement, until Fatah was routed by Hamas in June of last year.
This feels like a shift: an Egypt willing to take positions amenable to Israeli, US, and PA stipulations and requirements, at the expense of Hamas. One must ask what is going on behind the scenes to foster this.
Needless to say, Hamas is declaring this to be a totally unsatisfactory scenario. They maintain that Egypt is supposed to open Rafah because of the ceasefire and regardless of the situation with Shalit. However, they neglect to mention that the ceasefire itself included a stipulation that they were to speed up negotiations on Shalit. What has actually happened is the reverse — a slowdown, with Hamas complaining that Egypt, which acts as the negotiating go-between, is favoring Israel by not applying enough pressure with regard to release of prisoners.
The issue of who supervises Rafah when it is opened is considered critical: Hamas is trying to establish a veneer of legitimacy as the governing power of Gaza that is undercut by Egypt’s position.
One facet of Egypt’s current position echoes its long-standing desire to make trouble for Israel, however: The Egyptians are saying that when the crossing is opened it will be for personnel only. Fuel, food and other humanitarian supplies would have to come exclusively via crossings from Israel — for Israel, and not Egypt, is responsible for Gaza.
It never ends. Remember the recent promise by Olmert to Abbas to release at least 150 prisoners as a “good will gesture”? Well, the cabinet today approved the release of 200, including two with blood on their hands. Transportation minister Shaul Mofaz and the three Shas ministers in the cabinet voted against, 16 voted for. A ministerial committee, headed by Haim Ramon, will finalize details, with release expected next Monday.
Tzipi Livni defended this decision, saying that:
“When Israel releases prisoners only to groups that exert force, it sends out the message that it gives in to pressure and that the use of violence and kidnapping are [effective] ways of acting against Israel.”
This is going to “strengthen” Abbas, you see, by showing he can be moderate and still get something.
That’s just great. Let’s not only grant prisoner releases in exchange for something. Let’s let out murderers and those associated with terrorist acts just for the doing of it, with nothing received in return.
Criticism with regard to this has been strong from many quarters.
As MK Yisrael Hasson (Yisrael Beitenu) so aptly put it:
“The government insists on ‘fixing’ the damage it causes by inflicting significantly more damage. A government that would not have given in to Hezbollah and Hamas demands in the past, would not have to give in to Fatah today, by releasing prisoners in return for nothing.”
Shas’s Eli Yeshai (Trade and Labor Minister) predicted that this would cause us problems with the negotiations on Shalit: If we give away prisoners for nothing, then Hamas will want even more in an exchange.
There was an outcry from MK Binyamin Netanyahu (Likud, head of opposition), and from National Union-NRP.
Are officials of the PA happy with this Israeli generosity? Don’t be silly. Said PA Prime Minister Fayyad:
“We welcome the release of any Palestinian prisoner. It is considered a victory for Palestinians. We ask Israel to change its conditions for releasing prisoners and we ask for the release of all prisoners without exception.”
Have you noticed that they always demand more?
Hamas, meanwhile, is saying that Israeli’s projected release of Fatah prisoners is designed to widen the rift between Fatah and Hamas. Not sure exactly how that is, actually.
Realize how surreal the situation is, as Fatah and Hamas have established a rivalry based on who can get us to release more of their prisoners.
While the claim is that this is being done to strengthen Abbas, there is another factor that must be noted: Rice is due here again soon, to see progress on the “peace negotiations.” She is breathing down the necks of the Cabinet, you can be sure.
I’m a bit vague on when she will arrive, because her trip here may be delayed by matters concerning Russia.
Speaking of Russia, I would like to share this quote from the Middle East Newsline:
“What does the Russian-Georgian war have to do with the Middle East?
“Everything. Moscow’s invasion of Georgia has tested Western intentions toward Russia and its allies, particularly Iran. The United States, a sworn friend of Georgia, did nothing to save Tbilisi from Russian troops. European Union countries, particularly Germany, prostrated themselves to Russian Prime Minister Putin. This is not the kind of Western alliance that will save the Gulf Cooperation Council and Israel from a nuclear Iran.”
And another take, from Scott Peterson at the Christian Science Monitor:
“American criticism of Russia’s military action in Georgia is almost certain to jeopardize a very different U.S. strategic objective: stepping up pressure on Iran with another layer of UN sanctions. ‘This will make any hope of cooperative effort on Iran much more difficult,’ says Michael McFaul, a Russia and Iran expert at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. Support on Iran, he says, is ‘without question’ the biggest strategic casualty of the renewed U.S.-Russia tension. Iran is ‘the one place… of high national security interest to the United States where Russia plays a direct role in what we are trying to do. In that sense, it towers over all these other things.'”
The chief of the Iranian air force today declared that it has war planes capable of flying 3,000 kilometers without refueling — enough to reach Israel and return.
Every time it seems the situation could not become more incredible, it does:
We’ve known from the beginning that Resolution 1701, which ended the Lebanon War in 2006 and put a UNIFIL force into place that was to stop Hezbollah from re-arming was going to be a joke. And we’ve seen evidence that the re-arming was indeed taking place at a furious level.
But now we have a statement, made last Thursday at the UN in New York City, by UNIFIL commander Maj.-Gen. Claudio Graziano. Israel Air Force forays over Lebanon, he said, constitute a “permanent violation of 1701.” We’re violating Lebanese airspace.
But he leaves out the reason why we do this: To monitor the re-arming of Hezbollah. Without those flights it would be hard to keep track. Apparently General Graziano doesn’t think there’s any need for such forays, for he says that UNIFIL enjoys excellent relations with Hezbollah.
“At this moment Hezbollah is one of parties that agrees with 1701.”
According to him, no one south of the Litani River is armed except the UNIFIL forces, the Lebanese army and hunters.
So, he’s not only turning a blind eye to the re-arming of Hezbollah, he’s covering for this terrorist organization and attempting to block Israeli efforts to expose them.
Luckily, not everyone is either crazy or totally corrupt. There is the internationally-based Lebanese Committee for the implementation of 1559, which refers to the UN Security Council resolution that calls for the disarming of militias in Lebanon and sealing the border between Syria and Lebanon so that no weapons can get to Hezbollah; this is incorporated in 1701. This group acts as a consulting body of the UN, and monitors the implementation of relevant UN resolutions.
Says Tony Nissi, the general coordinator of the group:
“… Hezbollah is violating 1701 big time
, and not only by hiding its weapons in warehouses in the south. Also, we haven’t seen any weapons coming out of the south after the war of 2006, so did Hezbollah throw its weapons used in the 2005 war into the sea?
“[UNIFIL is] coordinating with Hezbollah and not with the Lebanese government. [Resolution] 1701 says clearly no arms south of the Litani. No militias south of the Litani. That is why UNIFIL is there.
“Is the UNIFIL mandate to coordinate with Hezbollah or to kick Hezbollah out south of the Litani?”
Nissi acknowledged that UNIFIL is stymied in its ability to function because its mandate requires it to receive approval from the Lebanese army for actions against Hezbollah, and the army isn’t giving that approval (another part of this complex story). However, he said, UNIFIL should either request the UN for a mandate change so that it can operate or leave Lebanon, rather than coordinate with Hezbollah.
~~~~~~~~~~ Posting: August 15, 2008
That title might apply to most of what’s happening these days, I realize, but I have one particular situation in mind:
On Wednesday, Haaretz revealed that the US has rejected a request by Israel for military equipment that would enhance our ability to attack Iran. They reportedly — and we’ve had suggestions of this before — see our readiness to do so as undermining US interests in the area.
It was in the context of this rejection that the Americans then offered to boost our defensive capabilities against incoming missiles — which I wrote about recently.
The lesson for us, as spelled out by Aaron Lerner of IMRA:
“A stunning reminder to Israel why it is so important to continue developing and maintaining the Israeli arms industry.”
Bottom line: Friends, shmends, each nation ultimately acts in what it perceives to be its own best interest. Unfortunately, the US has a history of abandoning allies in the clinch — which works against genuine long term American interests, even if those who are making the decisions are too blind to see it.
We here in Israel will do as we deem appropriate for our own security. Military action would be handicapped, however, by US refusal to allow us to fly over Iraq to get to Iran. While it seems we cannot count on it, it would be nice to think that, when push comes to shove, the US would at least back us up after the fact. The Americans may have no choice, precisely because their interests will be involved.
Just to keep everything in broader context: At no point has the US said the military option was off the table. They maintain they are holding it as a last resort, if all else in the way of sanctions and diplomacy has failed. They interpret our request for these arms as a sign that we will act in a manner that they believe is precipitous — before other efforts have run their course. While we are watching the narrowing of the window for stopping the Iranians before they develop capacity to build a nuclear weapon, and are mindful of the danger of waiting just a bit too long.
Could sanctions work? Absolutely, if the entire international community was serious about this and put Iran in an economic stranglehold. But since each nation acts in what it perceives to be its own (often very short term) interest….
Appropriate here is a brief consideration, at least, of the entire (also exceedingly disconcerting) Russian action in Georgia.
The broad parameters are clear — with Russia acting with naked power, a la the old Soviet Union. Implications are vast and still being debated. Everything connects to everything else.
There is in several quarters fear of confronting Russia too sternly precisely because Russia is needed as an ally in standing strong against Iran. But, the failure of the world to act against Russian aggression will not be lost on the leaders of Iran. We are speaking here about the power of deterrence.
And, there is also the fact that Georgia is a western-tilting democracy that might have expected international assistance at a significant level. (Speaking of responses to allies.)
There are some very sharp minds currently analyzing what Georgia might have expected from the international community and how appropriately George Bush is responding. (Keep in mind that Georgia supported US efforts with troops in Iraq.)
Please see Jeff Jacoby on this, in his piece “Back in the USSR.” He covers a great deal of territory very incisively:
JINSA points out, in “Hammers and Nails,” that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is touted as an expert on Russia, has been so busy focusing on solving the “Palestinian problem” that she dropped the ball totally with regard to Russia:
JINSA also discusses some possibilities for how Russia should be responded to, which does not necessarily or realistically include military action:
Oil is an additional factor, as Russia is an oil exporter. See Lenny Ben David for an effective analysis of this:
On a slightly different note, with significance for US politics, is the matter of how the two contenders for the presidency responded to the issue of the Russian aggression.
Obama began by calling for “restraint” on both sides, which call would do precious little to stop Russia’s naked aggression, and which implies the sort of outrageous moral equivalency that we here in Israel are so familiar with.
McCain, on the other hand, put out a statement that included reminders of the moral parameters the situation and calling fo