Saturday, June 14, 2008

Hamas gets set for suicide bombings, cross-border incursions

Israeli military leaders foresee a sharp escalation in the violence emanating from Gaza in the coming days, DEBKAfile’s military sources report. This week, the Palestinian Hamas mobilized several suicide bombers for missions to crash the Israeli border and seize Israeli civilian or military locales under the cover of scores of missiles and rockets.

Three attempts Thursday, June 12, were thwarted by Israeli forces. But Hamas’ mounting audacity highlights what many military experts are openly calling the bankruptcy of the static defensive tactics, restricted to the border fence, employed by defense minister Ehud Barak and chief of staff Lt. Gen. Gaby Ashkenazi. At some point, they expect Hamas will manage to break through.

Senior officers at the IDF Southern Command comment that, instead of beating Hamas back from the Gaza-Israeli border, the last six months have seen Israel forces fighting to hold the line against constant Hamas bludgeoning and its upgraded weaponry from Iran and Syria.

Two weeks ago, scores of Hamas mortar teams began pounding Israeli villages with newly-delivered 120mm shells; armor-plated vehicles have been handed out to suicide bombers for smashing through the border fence on their way to multiple-death operations. Southern Command officers note that official references to a looming “major terrorist attack” from Gaza are meant to disguise the real threat: Hamas is building up for an invasion and the seizure of an Israeli military position or civilian location. If this goes on, Hamas may realize its ambition to be the first armed Arab force to snatch a piece of sovereign Israeli territory, the officers warn.

DEBKAfile’s military sources report that several weeks ago, Hamas units began practicing cross-border incursions under the tutelage of Hizballah instructors, who flew in from Beirut to Cairo and made their way to the Gaza Strip, with the full knowledge of the Egyptian authorities.

A mobile legion of suicide, mortar, anti-tank and anti-air units are now standing by several hundred meters from the Israeli border. The anti-air weapons have not so far gone into action. The Israeli military has been held back from bombarding them so far because they are embedded in urban districts.

Friday afternoon, a bitter row burst into the open over in the Israeli government over responsibility for the deterioration on the Gaza front.

Defense minister Ehud Barak charged that were it not for Kadima’s preoccupation with its approaching leadership primary, a truce would have been in place in Gaza ages ago. (The corruption allegations against prime minister Ehud Olmert have forced his party to seek a replacement.)

Kadima’s Yitzhak Ben-Israel, a close Olmert associate, shot back: Barak is responsible for the impossible situation in the South. He is hoping to camouflage his failure by a phony deal with Hamas.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Another Journalist, Another Left-Wing Politician

Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu

Another left-wing journalist has joined politics. Haaretz correspondent Daniel Ben Simon follows the lead of Knesset Member Shelly Yechimovich, who worked for years as a Voice of Israel government radio reporter and television journalist, and the late Tommy Lapid. Ben Simon's switch lends weight to charges that most of the Israeli media leans left, and media personnel increasingly have openly admitted their bias. MK Yechimovich recently said on Voice of Israel government radio that she is proud that journalists used their positions in the media to influence Israel government policies, including the withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000. The retreat left a vacuum of power that gave Hizbullah a free hand to build up its military in southern Lebanon and wage the Second Lebanon War against Israel two summers ago.

Following the expulsion of Jews from Gush Katif and the destruction of their communities three years ago, many journalists admitted they protected former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon from too much criticism in order not to jeopardize his position and the expulsion plan.

Ben Simon, a member of Labor, wrote in his parting article from the newspaper that he "entered journalism to help shape Israeli society." He added, "I used any available platform to warn of the increasing inequality and loss of solidarity."

Lapid, who died last week, founded the fiercely secular Shinui party after a long career as a journalist. After studying in university, he wrote for a Hungarian language newspaper and then worked for Ma'ariv, where he later became a member of the editorial staff.

As a journalist, he continually derided the funding of religious institutions and publicly campaigned for separation religion from the government. He eventually quit and started the Shinui party, which garnered 15 mandates in the 2003 elections but then disintegrated.

MK Yechimovich admitted in a recent newspaper interview last year, "As a journalist I was also very political. I always viewed my job as a journalist as having to set an agenda. I aim to influence the political and social agenda."
As a journalist I was also very political. I always viewed my job as a journalist as having to set an agenda.

The Labor MK was openly leftist as a journalist although respectful of rabbis and Jewish tradition. She is known as a hard-working and intellectually honest politician who does her homework, similar to her reputation as a journalist.

MK Yechimovich also has stated that the Labor party should not have let itself become so close to Kadima. She was one of the first and most vocal Labor MKs to call on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to resign because of the ongoing criminal investigations against him.

Former Gaza Collaborators: Invade Gaza and Finish the Job

Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu

Former Gaza Arabs who aided Israel in the war against terror say the only way to end rocket attacks is to return to Gaza and clean out the weapons.

Approximately 80 families living in the rocket-battered city of Sderot are Arabs from Gaza who were collaborators for Israeli intelligence before the destruction of Jewish communities and the IDF withdrawal from the area three years ago. Many of them are now advising the Israeli government to return to Gaza and clean out the area of terrorists and their weapons in order to bring peace and quiet to the western Negev and Gaza Belt communities. One collaborator, who like his associates uses an alias and refers to himself as having been an "assistant" to the Israeli government, told the British Guardian, "When the Israelis ruled Gaza, people lived like kings. Only when the army goes into Gaza can they finish it."
Only when the army goes into Gaza can they finish it.

Another man, named Subhi, advised that "the only choice is an Israeli military occupation to clean the area of weapons." He added he does not "believe there can be real peace."

Subhi told the Guardian he arrived in Sderot 12 years ago and now runs a successful business, drives a BMW and wears gold jewelry engraved with Hebrew letters. Subhi told the Guardian he began as in informant not for the money but because he thought it was the right thing to do.

"Samir," who worked for Israel for 20 years, said he was very happy to help the government. He proudly recalled that he took revenge against Arab authorities who killed his brother, who was falsely accused of being a collaborator. His children now study at a Hebrew language school, and one of his four sons was an interrogator for four years for Israeli security forces at a nearby prison. He told the newspaper, "Everything is straightforward, not like with the Arabs. Here there is a law, and there are rights."

A nearby neighbor said his life in Israel is good and that if he ever were to return to Gaza, "They would make a kebab [meat pattie] out of me. They'd chop me into pieces." All Arab collaborators face the possibility of execution by both Fatah and Hamas political leaders. Last month, Islamic Jihad arrested several Arabs on suspicion of helping Israel and was planning to carry out public executions. Hamas persuaded them to turn over most of the alleged collaborators.

Fatah leader and Palestinian Authority (PA) chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who is considered a moderate by the Bush and Olmert administrations, previously ordered the execution of dozens of Arabs who helped Israel. Protests by human rights activists saved the lives of 24 men who were on death row last year.

The Israeli government has helped the former assistants build new lives in Israel. Many of them left children behind in Gaza, but trying to bring the issue to the attention of the public is complicated. "Their contribution is considerable, but the problem is we can't make public what they have done," according to Natan Shrayber, a lawyer who worked for Israeli security forces.

Obama's Clintonism: What He Really Meant by "Undivided" Jerusalem

Joel Mowbray
Friday, June 13, 2008

In what might have been his most hawkish speech to date on the Middle East, Barack Obama sought to shore up his shaky support in the Jewish community with a security-first, diplomacy-second blueprint. Compared to the speech given on the same stage just over 24 hours earlier by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Obama clearly positioned himself as the stronger champion of Israel.

What looked like a home run, though, likely will not be, as the candidate sounded a decidedly different note the very next day. Worse, it’s not the only set of mixed signals sent by Obama. Speaking to the 7,000-strong crowd at the annual conference for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in DC, Obama gave an important nod to Israel’s need for defensible borders. Rice did not.

Obama made no overt distinctions between Hamas and Fatah, and he even appeared to take a jab at the supposedly moderate Palestinian Authority government of President Mahmoud Abbas in attacking “government-funded textbooks filled with hatred toward Jews.” Rice, by contrast, lavished praise on Abbas.

Then there was Obama’s headline-making proclamation that Jerusalem “must” remain the “undivided” capital of the Jewish state. No such reference from the secretary of state.

As people spilled out of the packed hall, Obama had gained many newfound admirers, and he had reassured plenty of others. Merely a day later, though, he undid much of the goodwill he had accumulated.

Most damaging was the rather curious explanation about what he had actually meant by “undivided.” Anyone who follows Israeli politics understands “undivided” to mean that the eastern half of Jerusalem will remain under Israeli control and not serve as the Palestinian capital.

Apparently not Obama, however. An unnamed Obama advisor told the Agence France Press that Obama’s definition of “undivided” was strictly literal, that the holy city is “not going to be divided by barbed wire.”

If that was what the candidate had intended to convey, he failed miserably. In dozens of conversations immediately afterward either overheard by or involving this columnist, not one discussed Obama’s desire to avoid barbed wire fencing from running through Jerusalem.

Of all the knocks against the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, lack of clarity in carefully crafted speeches is not one of them. No wonder many cynics believe that Obama was pulling the equivalent of the old newspaper stunt of running the allegation on the front page, but burying the correction on page 32 the next day.

This latest flap only continues the confusion many in the Jewish community have about Obama. Several AIPAC conference attendees who otherwise like Obama cited as deeply troubling the reporting of blogger Ed Lasky about some of Obama’s advisors. Two in particular understandably cause angst: former national security advisor for Jimmy Carter Zbigniew Brzezinski and retired four-star general Merrill “Tony” McPeak.

Both have made unusually brazen claims about undue Jewish political influence. Brzezinski, who has no formal role but has been praised by Obama and has been asked to stand at the candidate’s side in public, last month accused “some people in the Jewish community” of being “McCarthy-ite.” He had made similar comments last year, only to be later embraced by Obama. McPeak in a 2003 interview appeared to lay blame for lack of peace in the Middle East on people who “vote here in favor of Israel” in “New York City” and “Miami.” Presumably knowing of these comments, Obama selected McPeak to serve as a military advisor and national campaign co-chair.

To his credit, though, Obama counts among his early backers staunch supporters of the Jewish state, such as Reps. Robert Wexler (D-FL) and Steve Rothman (D-NJ). On his staff, Middle East advisor Eric Lynn is solid and smart. And highly regarded pro-Israel advocates from Chicago who ostensibly have kicked Obama’s tires, such as AIPAC Treasurer Lee Rosenberg, maintain that a President Obama would be true friend of the Jewish state.

With the strong historical Democratic tilt of the Jewish community, Obama is still the odds-on favorite to capture the strong majority of those votes. But since McCain is not ceding that ground to him, Obama cannot rest.

Top on Obama’s to do list should be distancing himself from the likes of Messrs. Brzezinski and McPeak and other Jimmy Carter acolytes. Beyond that, Obama needs to be more careful—and more consistent—in discussing the Middle East, or otherwise he could find the Jewish community more “divided” than he’d like it to be.

Copyright © 2008 Salem Web Network. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Knesset Approves Early Version of Child-Expenses Law

Hillel Fendel

The Knesset approved a preliminary reading of a bill recognizing child-care expenses as tax deductible - in opposition to the government's stance.

The bill is designed both to ease the financial burden of caring for children and to encourage mothers to go out to work. Only families with both parents working full-time - or where the single parent responsible for the children works full-time - will benefit. Expenses for children up to the age of 5 will be recognized. The bill passed by a 48-33 vote, but it is still far from becoming law. It must be debated in a Knesset committee, approved in a first reading, passed back to a Knesset committee, and then passed again by the Knesset plenum.

The legislation was submitted by six Knesset members, both from the opposition and the coalition, including Ariel, Saar, Gal'on, Tirosh, Noked, and Hilu.

The bill is staunchly opposed by the Finance Ministry, and faces a tough battle before becoming law.

The haredi offensive against religious Zionism

Isi Leibler
June 12, 2008

Religious Zionism is under siege today. If it fails to confront and overcome its adversaries, it will become marginalized from Israeli society and Jewish life.

To this day the knitted kippot represent the badge of pride of those committed to their homeland and Jewish values, those who promote volunteerism and good citizenship in a society which has become increasingly consumed by hedonism and materialism. It is no coincidence that a highly disproportionate number of national religious serve as officers in IDF combat units.Regrettably, the political wing of religious Zionism was hijacked by misguided idealists whose one-dimensional, almost exclusive concentration on land settlement has resulted in a lamentable neglect of the people - and the soul - of the nation. This has led to the erosion of Jewish and Zionist values in the secular educational stream and the emergence of high school graduates whose ignorance of Jewish heritage is so abysmal that some are denigrated as Hebrew-speaking Canaanites.

Today religious Zionists are under attack from all quarters. Their greatest setback was the unilateral disengagement from Gaza, which devastated them ideologically and materially. To their credit, they behaved with extraordinary restraint, persuading most of their followers who were forcibly expelled from their homes to refrain from resorting to violence.

Simultaneously, the anti-Zionist haredim of the Lithuanian school, symbolically headed by 98-year old Rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliashiv, have intensified their ongoing efforts to undermine the role of religious Zionists in state institutions.

Political expediency has brought an end to the understanding of successive governments that religious functions of state would be directed primarily by rabbis from the national religious camp (Mizrachi). The chief rabbinate itself, formerly a bastion of the religious Zionist movement, is now occupied by a puppet of the haredim who publicly make a mockery of its jurisdiction.

Retaliating to National Religious Party opposition to the Gaza disengagement, the Sharon and Olmert governments took further steps to empower the haredim. As a consequence, haredi rabbis, many utterly unsuitable and selected on the basis of cronyism and family relationships, assumed control of the key state rabbinical institutions and courts.

This was initiated with a radical review of shmita, the sabbatical year when religious law requires that the land lie fallow. For nearly a century, since the days of the first chief rabbi, Abraham Isaac Kook, halachic sanction had been granted for the land to be sold during shmita to non-Jews to enable observant farmers to survive. This year, for the first time, under instruction from his haredi masters, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger gave approval for local haredi rabbis to restrict kosher certification to establishments exclusively using agricultural produce imported from abroad, or from the Palestinian Authority. Had this step been fully implemented, the economic consequences for farmers would have been catastrophic. Only after religious Zionist rabbis threatened to set up their own independent authority, and the High Court ruled against the haredim, was a disaster averted.

But the most shameful and explosive incident was a brutal edict from Rabbi Avraham Sherman, head of the haredi Rabbinical High Court. Sherman, whose stringent outlook is exemplified by a recent ruling stipulating that a deaf person cannot be converted, accused Rabbi Haim Druckman, the respected head of the Conversion Authority, of expediting fraudulent conversions. The charge was accompanied by foul remarks from hostile dayanim defaming Druckman. At the same time, Sherman proclaimed that the conversions of those who failed to observe Jewish rituals could be retrospectively revoked even 15 years later - a cruel and virtually unprecedented ruling in Jewish law.

He went further, proclaiming that conversions undertaken by Zionist rabbis like Druckman were invalid and should be annulled. To his credit, Sephardi Chief Rabbi Amar, supported by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, opposed this shocking edict, which is currently under review by the Supreme Court.

But what brought the already outraged national religious camp to the boiling point was a subsequent decision by the Prime Minister's Office to retire Rabbi Druckman on the pretext of his "advanced age" - a transparently shameful effort to appease the haredim and cooperate in the dismantling of the Conversion Authority, a body which the government itself had sponsored to work around ultra-Orthodox intransigency. Chief Sephardi Rabbi Amar was so shocked by the decision that he allegedly threatened to resign from his post unless the government reinstated Rabbi Druckman - which it has yet to do.

This onslaught finally convinced rabbis from the national camp of the need now to publicly confront haredi extremism.

Rabbi Benjamin Lau, the charismatic head of Beit Morasha, did not mince his words when he observed that "Religious Zionism has so far been restrained in its criticism of the ultra-Orthodox, out of a feeling of respect for Torah sages and a desire to maintain a united religious camp. No longer! In honor of the state's 60th birthday we must free Israel, strengthen the Zionist camp and establish religious services and religious courts that are fundamentally linked with the values of the country in which they operate….

"There is no logic in allowing the ultra-Orthodox to run the rabbinical courts.… There are many rabbis in Israel who serve in the army, send their children to the army, and are full partners in all the challenges of Israeli society.

"The country deserves to have religious court judges who are committed to its future and its fate, and to free itself of judges estranged from the public."

Rabbi Yehuda Gilad, a leader of the religious kibbutz movement and a former Meimad MK, summed it up: "Enough with the ultra-Orthodox hegemony. We need another leadership, a moral one with national responsibility."

The long-term national repercussions of the conversion issue have made this a defining moment for religious Zionists. In recent years their concentration on land settlement diverted them from their former creative initiatives to devise halachic solutions for harmonizing a Diaspora-based Judaism with the requirements of a modern state. Instead, indirectly paying homage to haredim, they concentrated primarily on making ritual observance more rigorous.

The conversion issue can be resolved only by courageously employing a halachic flexibility which takes account of national priorities - deemed irrelevant and regarded with hostility by some haredim. To move forward will thus involve a frontal confrontation with anti-Zionist religious forces.

Religious Zionists must aggressively distance themselves from anti-Zionist haredim who concentrate almost exclusively on promoting their own parochial interests, refusing to assume the obligations of citizenship. They must also condemn both the snowballing haredi draft exemptions and haredi unwillingness to earn a livelihood as being contrary to Jewish religious values. They should demand that haredim at least be obliged to participate in some form of national service.

If religious Zionists are to be constructive partners in state-building and avoid relegating themselves to isolated enclaves, they must take positive steps to preserve and promote the Jewish character of the nation without coercion. It is also imperative that questions of personal status such as marriage, divorce and conversion be reviewed with halachic flexibility, compassion and humanity to provide maximum accommodation and dignity to all sections of society, as befits a Jewish democratic state.

Bush is reconciled to a nuclear-armed Iran

In an interview with the London Times , June 11, US president George W. Bush said his aim now was to leave his successor a legacy of international diplomacy for tackling Iran. Regarding the Israeli minister Shaul Mofaz’s recent assertion that a military strike on Iran’s nuclear installations was “unavoidable”, the US president commented that this “really should be viewed as the need to keep pressuring” Iran. On a farewell trip to Europe, Bush added: “We ought to work together, keep focused” regarding Iran’s nuclear program.DEBKAfile’s informed sources report that President Bush was also clearly bidding farewell to the option of an American strike against Iran’s nuclear program. With six months left of his presidency, his message to the Iranians was: They can either face isolation or they can have better relations with us all.” No third option, of a punishing military strike, was mentioned.

Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad shot back by saying: “I tell him… your era has come to an end. With the grace of God, you won’t be able to harm even one centimeter of the sacred land of Iran.”

DEBKAfile’s Iranian sources report that Tehran is driving hard to attain a weapons capability by September or October this year, before Bush leaves the White House.

Nonetheless, the US president has shown no sign of departing from the current course of diplomacy and international sanctions against Iran, although it has in no way inhibited Iran’s race for enriched uranium which advances unchecked. This was implied by his reference to a possible successor: Bush voiced concern that the Democratic nominee Barack Obama might “open cracks in the West’s united front towards Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.” But, he hoped that after is successor assesses “what will work or what won’t work in dealing with Iran,” he would stick with the current policy.”

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Israel and Hizballah: 2006 and 2008

Featuring Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff
First posted-June 10, 2008

On June 4, 2008, Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff addressed a Policy Form at The Washington Institute. Mr. Harel, a military correspondent for Haaretz, and Mr. Issacharoff, the newspaper's Arab affairs correspondent, discussed the balance of power between Israel and Hizballah since the summer 2006 war. The two Tel-Aviv-based journalists also debuted their book 34 days: Israel, Hezbollah, and the War in Lebanon, which has just been translated into English. Almost two years have passed since Israel's war against Hizballah in 2006, and the balance of power is far from positive from an Israeli point of view. One of the major remaining questions is that of deterrence. Although the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) performed disappointingly during the war, the army's image and its deterrent capability is not as bad as some might perceive. This conclusion is supported by two events that have taken place since the war: the September 2007 Israeli air force attack on the alleged Syrian nuclear reactor; and the February 2008 bombing in Damascus that killed Hizballah terrorist, Imad Mughniyeh. Neither event drew a reaction from Syria, raising the question of why Bashar al-Asad did not respond. One can only assume that the reason was the performance of the Israeli air force during the war. The air force was very effective and precise, supported by good intelligence, and able to destroy Hizballah's long-range rockets in the early days of the war.

Although the war was not a total mistake, it could have ended after the first three or four days instead of continuing for over a month. If Israel had followed up with a ground invasion after the initial air strikes, perhaps there would have been a better outcome. As it turned out, when the ground forces were sent in at the end of the war, they did not perform well, leading to the current examination of the IDF.

It was clear that the IDF had insufficient training to fight a conventional war. Over the years, it had become superior in fighting terrorism in the West Bank and Gaza, but when it came to conventional war, the military lacked the tools and training to succeed. One general was even quoted as calling the IDF an army of "mediocrity." Funding had been focused on counterterrorism operations and not conventional warfare. As a result, entire units that had not practiced for years were deployed at the start of the war. There was also a surge of denial: since the army had been so successful in fighting terrorism, it could not accept its apparent lack of preparedness for conventional war. The IDF also suffered from a lack of experience from the top down, from the prime minister to the soldiers. This led to deep feelings of remorse and failure in the army, but not necessarily in the government.

Looking at Hizballah and Israel two years later, there are differences on both sides. For Hizballah, it no longer has outposts along the Israeli border and has been forced to relocate much of its personnel and equipment further north. However, it has acquired longer-range rockets than it had before the war, and has a much larger presence in Beirut. For Israel, it has begun to train and prepare its soldiers and reservists with much more intensity and vigor. If there is another war, Israel does not want the "who won" question; it wants a decisive victory, and it is preparing for that outcome.

On August 14, 2006, Israelis started to rebuild and return to their homes. It was the end of a thirty-four-day war, and for many, it was a time to start over. Hizballah, on the other hand, was celebrating. It was clear from the reporting and celebration in Lebanon that Hizballah felt like it had won. Despite its cheer, Hizballah, from a military perspective, was badly damaged by the war. It lost many weapons and bunkers, and finally understood that Israel had incredibly accurate intelligence pinpointing its medium- and long-range missiles. There was also the large economic and social impact on the Shiite population, forcing Hizballah to invest billions of dollars in infrastructure and housing. The organization also had to compensate many Shiites who were badly hurt by the war.

However, Hizballah is now said to be stronger than ever. It has more short- and long-range missiles than ever before, and in many ways, has a better army. Economically speaking -- thanks to the Iranians -- Hizballah has been able to invest heavily in its communities. It managed to reconstruct not only the houses that were lost, but also its image in the eyes of the people.

Hizballah's public image is something that needs to be looked at more closely. After the war, there was lengthy discussion of who won. In Lebanon, although the people felt that Hizballah had won the war, the conflict also prompted much discussion over the disarmament issue. Today, there is little open criticism of Hizballah since the Doha agreement. However, because of the recent fighting in Lebanon -- when Hizballah took up arms against other Lebanese -- the group lost much off its public credibility.

Unfortunately for Lebanon, there has not been a leader capable of challenging Hizballah. The Doha agreement basically gave Lebanon to Hizballah because no one wanted to stand up to it. Since that agreement, there is an understanding that Hizballah has gained the upper hand: it has enough cabinet seats to veto government decisions, there is no talk anymore about disarmament, and it has more outward and legal power than ever before.

Criticism of Hizballah from the pragmatic Arab countries (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and the UAE) is now fading away. With their acceptance of the Doha agreement, they are basically stating that Hizballah can take over Lebanon. They did so because there was simply no other option. Challenging Hizballah further or pushing the March 14 camp to fight Hizballah are even worse outcomes because they would lead to a violent takeover of Lebanon.

With all the recent discussion about a possible Israeli-Syrian peace deal, people are wondering how that would factor into the Hizballah equation. Even if there were an Israeli-Syrian peace agreement, the Hizballah-Iranian connection is much stronger than the Hizballah-Syrian connection, and the organization would continue to not only promote terror, but also get weapons and funding directly from Iran.

All these factors call into question the identity of Hizballah. Is it Lebanese Shiite or Iranian Shiite? Since the Doha agreement, many seem to believe Hizballah is more Iranian than Lebanese. Because of this, many non-Shiites may leave Lebanon, making the sect's presence in Lebanon even stronger. Shiites and Hizballah will be the major powers in Lebanon over the next decade, making Lebanon a different place from what everyone has known in the past.

This rapporteur's summary was prepared by Gerri Pozez.

View this PolicyWatch and enjoy streaming audio of this event on our website at


Yoram Ettinger, Ynet, June 10, 2008

The current indicators of the presidential race bode well for Barak Obama, provided that he deduces the proper lessons from previous campaigns.

In 2004, the Iraq War and the loss of industrial jobs to the Far East eroded President Bush’s popularity, and paved the road for a potential Democratic victory. However, Senator Kerry was unable to rid himself of the liberal, dovish haughty label. Bush (43rd) won a second term. In 1988, IranGate plagued President Reagan’s approval rating and the public became increasingly disenchanted with a two term Republican in the White House. Governor Dukakis led Bush by 18%, but he managed to re-entrench his liberal-dovish-cold image, whose patriotism was supposedly in doubt. Bush (41st) won.

In 1972, Democratic candidate, Senator McGovern, rode the wave of a nation-wide protest against the Vietnam War, which deteriorated the level of national optimism to its lowest ebb. However, McGovern played into the hands of those who cautioned that the presidency cannot be entrusted to an extreme leftist, liberal-dove. Nixon won.

In 1960, JFK was elected the first – and so far the only – Catholic President. He avoided the mistakes of Catholic Governor of New York, Al Smith, who ran in 1928 as a Catholic candidate and could not attract sufficient Protestant votes.

Will Obama follow in the footsteps of Kerry, Dukakis and McGovern, or will he adhere to JFK’s tactic and become the first Black president in the history of the USA?

Is Obama capable of leveraging the rare combination of political-economic-security circumstances, which constitute a unique opportunity for a sweeping Democratic victory? The US electorate reflects no-confidence in the values and performance of the current Republican leadership, and therefore aims for a change in the White House and an increasing Democratic majority on Capitol Hill. The recent Democratic gain of three House seats (Illinois, Mississippi and Louisiana), previously held by Republicans – and the accelerated retirement by Republican legislators – could be a symptom of a pending Tsunami in the House and Senate.

Moreover, US constituents prefer to limit each party to two presidential terms, as evidenced by the post Truman, Eisenhower, Johnson, Nixon and Clinton campaigns. In addition, the current economic crisis is hurting every sector in the US; the crisis of the credit card companies and the rise in unemployment loom around the corner; all time high gasoline prices are constraining the long-cherished American freedom of movement, and the rising cost of food and health services has particularly hurt the middle class, which is critical to winning the November election. Finally, irrespective of the enhanced military performance in Iraq, most Americans oppose the war and hold Republicans responsible.

Will Obama be able – through his impressive intelligence and communications skills – to overcome the steep hurdles in the race against McCain, a 72 year old Young Turk, known for his defiance of Republican leadership? In a San Francisco campaign statement, he alienated micropolitan America (towns with populations of less than 50,000 residents). But, in 2004, Kerry won metropolitan America, while Bush won micropolitan America, which ushered him into the Oval Office. During the Democratic primaries, Obama lost all “Blue Collar” States, such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky and South Dakota - which are crucial to his victory in November - and did not participate in the “Blue Collar” Michigan primary. Some of the “blue collar” constituents belong to the “white angry vote”, which cannot digest a black, liberal, dovish president. The young and inexperienced Obama will, also, have to overcome the inherent rivalry between Blacks and Hispanics. The latter hold the key to a victory in California, Texas, Florida, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico. They accord McCain preferential treatment, due to his position on illegal aliens, and they respect tradition, patriotism and military service. Obama’s record of Senate voting and speeches – and the identity of his advisors – suggest a liberal-dovish world view, including opposition to tougher sanctions against Iran and willingness to negotiate with terrorist regimes. Moreover, it requires a sophisticated effort to prove that his 20 year intimate association with the racist, anti-US and anti-Semite Pastor Wright has not impacted his world view.

The last lap of the campaign marathon will start after Labor Day, and then we’ll find out whether Barak Obama has realized, or has wasted, an unprecedented opportunity in US political history.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Blessing

Here in Israel, we have just completed the holiday of Shavuot, which -- marking the receiving of the Torah at Sinai -- is the culmination of the Exodus from Egypt celebrated at Pesach. (Outside of Israel, the holiday extends for yet another day.)

It is customary on this holiday to study all night long. And the blessing is this: After dinner with friends last night, we had a discussion as to where each of us had chosen to go for shiurim -- study sessions. The marvel is that there are so many places to choose from within an easy walk. And then, once out on the street, at midnight and beyond, we encountered many others walking here and there to places of learning. Truly a blessing, that this should be the situation here in Jerusalem.
I now enter a period of several days away from my computer. This is likely the last posting for some two weeks. Should there be an occurrence of significance, I will try my best (bli neder, as it is said: "without an oath") to post on my website:


The most likely occurrence of significance to take place before I return to regular postings is a military operation in Gaza. But, if multiple reports are true, how shamefully it is shaping up. Not an earnest effort to take down Hamas, but some nonsensical effort to teach Hamas a lesson. This is reported to be the plan shared now by Barak and Olmert. The clamoring for action in Gaza is strong, but they are inclined for a variety of reasons to go with a ceasefire. So, they will do a "medium strength" action to take Hamas down a peg or two and not let them gloat that they had it all their way. Then a pull-out and a ceasefire that is coupled with release of Shalit. (This is not my idea, but the government's, I assure you.)

No guarantee that things will actually play out this way, but it is, for me, embarrassing to even describe this plan. It seems as if they are telling Hamas in advance: Don't get too upset, guys, because we won't hit too hard, and when we're done you can have that ceasefire. Even if this is their plan, why speak of it at all?

The political ramifications here are enormous. I hasten to note that Abbas is very much opposed to a major action in Gaza, which he fears would backfire on him.

It must be noted, as well, that there is nothing spelled out regarding a cessation of arms smuggling.

But the IDF is ready, and awaiting the go-ahead from the political echelon. Decisions reportedly to be made within days. Reportedly.


Then, too, there is the wonderful news that Rice is due back here shortly. Presumably to assess the progress of the "peace process."


Regarding that process, chief Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qurei announced recently that the parties have begun drafting a document. This, however, does not mean agreement (apparently there is no agreement yet on any of the core issues), but rather that the position of each side if being committed to writing for the first time. Qurei is also saying that the parties have agreed that all issues must be resolved -- there can be no partial agreement, such as borders but no decision on Jerusalem. But, says Qurei, all of the issues are being discussed.

Olmert's office is playing down the significance of this preliminary document. And, indeed, Qurei has said it would take a miracle to reach an agreement by the end of the year.


Members of the opposition are stating clearly that if an agreement is reached, they will not honor it when a new government is formed. I myself have some questions about this, because the legality is complicated, but apparently there is precedent.


61% of Israelis think Olmert should resign.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Fitzgerald: Omar Sharif's condescension

What an impression Omar Sharif apparently made, in his filmic glory. Schoolgirls liked to play their favorite record -- the "Lara Theme" -- endlessly, and imagine her (that is to say their) Slavic (Egyptian) lover, the quietly passionate Dr. Zhivago, as played by Omar Sharif. Schoolboys, on the other hand, dreamed of the cheekbones of La Skulastaya, Julie Christie. Adults who already knew that the Slavic Soul was something special, and so unlike that of shallow Westerners, could now become acquainted with, and fall in love with, the Russian countryside. Those special Russian snows, that endless Russian plain through which a choo-choo or kukushka would chug, taking Dr. Zhivago somewhere, somewhere.... Unfortunately, that endless Russian plain, and those special Russian snows, were filmed not outside Moscow, perhaps on the field of Borodino, but rather an hour or so outside Madrid, in the Sierra Nevada. It wouldn't surprise me to find out that even the indoor scenes, those palaces and apartments all lit by flickering romantic candles or half-light, and the mock-Smolniy, or the mock-Winter Palace (I don't remember if I even saw the movie and certainly can't remember the details), may have been filmed in Rome, at Cinecitta.

Deceptive, those film-makers, aren't they: pulling that wool over our eyes by giving us Phalangist instead of Bolshevik snow to swoon over, and Roman rather than Russian interiors.

What was it that Yeats wrote for that special Dr. Zhivago edition of Variety? Yes, I remember:

"How can I, that girl standing there/My attention fix/On Roman or on Spanish/or on bogus Russian pix?"

There are the mislineations of memory. And I may also have transposed a few words. It has been known to happen.

In any case, in his recent interview, Omar Sharif makes the following statement:

"I lived in America for a long time. Only 10% of all Americans have a passport. In other words, 90% never left America," said Sharif. "They don't know anything."

This remark is not only condescending, but wrong. It is not necessary to have a passport, nor to travel, to discover certain things. The greatest Foreign Minister of 19th century England, Lord Palmerston, never left England.

Nor is it sufficient to have travelled. I know, I have met, I have seen on site, all kinds of Americans, from Junior-Year-Abroad Junior-Leaguers in Paris, at Reid Hall, thinking they are soaking up Paris, to the kind of professors who are on their fourteenth trip to Japan to discuss something -- Total Quality Management, Just-in-Time Delivery of Supplies, whatever is the latest HBS fad -- but who have never sunk beneath the surface of life.

One has to be well-prepared. One has to be able to make sense of things. John Esposito has been to the Middle East many times. So has Robert Fisk. So what?

Those who haven't used their passports may, or may not, have learned something, even quite enough, about the nature of Islam. It depends.

Omar Sharif shows, in his dismissal of the knowledge that Americans possess, an unseemly condescension. Does he think that the well-traveled necessarily are more intelligent? Does he think, for example, that the peoples of Western Europe, constantly moving about within Europe and to exotic climes and resorts, have a better grasp of the Middle East, which means a better grasp of the one thing that he, Omar Sharif, does not dare to mention or to label, that is, Islam?

For if people in the Middle East do not understand or support the idea of democracy, it is because the spirit and letter of Islam goes against democracy, for the Muslim is seen not as a citizen, expressing his will at election time, exercising his rights, but as a "slave of Allah" who is used to, who is encouraged in every way to, submit to the authority of Allah, and then to other authorities, those despots who, as long as they are good Muslims, must be obeyed.

This is what Omar Sharif, ne Shalhoub, cannot dare to say. But he can say something that is true. And that is that Bush and others in the Administration were remarkably self-assured, though remarkably ignorant, in their messianic sentimentalism.

That he's got dead right.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Iran Complains to UN Security Council about Israel's Threat

Hana Levi Julian and Hillel Fendel

Iran appealed to the United Nations Security Council on Saturday for protection from Israel after Transportation Minister Sha'ul Mofaz commented that Israel would move to end the nuclear threat if necessary.

The former Defense Minister was quoted Friday in the Hebrew-language Yediot Acharonot newspaper as saying that military action might necessary in order to stop Iran's from achieving nuclear power."If Iran continues with its program for developing nuclear weapons, we will attack it," Mofaz said simply. "The sanctions are ineffective. Attacking Iran in order to stop its nuclear plans will be unavoidable."

The threat is not new, however. In a meeting with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice exactly one year ago, Mofaz suggested that Israel might use military force against Iran. "If sanctions don't work within half a year," Mofaz said, "we will have to consider other ways, including the military option."

Mofaz Blamed for Soaring Oil Prices
Mofaz's words drew criticism and reactions from several angles. Globes reported that American analysts blamed Mofaz's threats for record oil prices, with rates reaching $138 a barrel. The thinking is that his words reminded the oil market participants of the fear of war in the Middle East.

MK Yuval Shteinitz (Likud) accused Mofaz of irresponsibility. "It is sad that the political needs of Mofaz and Olmert cause them to unleash the sharpness of their tongues regarding issues that should remain quiet," he said.

Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai (Labor) similarly said, "The worst thing is when narrow political interests affect strategic issues of the first-degree."

White House spokesperson Donna Perino said, "The U.S. understands Israel's concern regarding the Iranian nuclear program," but said that President Bush remains committed to a diplomatic solution "without ever having removed any other options from consideration."

IAEA Responds, Admits Iran is Uncooperative
The head of the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohammed El-Baradei, had indirect criticism for Mofaz - as well as the Islamic Republic. El-Baradei told the German Der Spiegel newspaper that "with unilateral military actions, countries are undermining international agreements... We are at a historic turning point."

The head of the nuclear watchdog agency noted, however, that "the readiness of Iran's side to cooperate leaves a lot to be desired." He added that the Iranian government "is sending a message to the entire world: We can build a bomb in a relatively short time."

Sanctions Not Working
International sanctions against the Islamic Republic have failed to impact the country's uranium enrichment program, which continues apace despite a UN Security Council mandate demanding Iran cease its nuclear development activities.

Israel, the US and a number of other nations are convinced the Islamic Republic is engaged in building a nuclear weapon, which Jerusalem believes would be used to annihilate the Jewish State.

Iran Complains Against Israel
"Such a dangerous threat against a sovereign state and a member of the United Nations constitutes a manifest violation of international law and contravenes the most fundamental principles of the Charter of the United Nations, and thus, requires a resolute and clear response on the part of the United Nations, particularly the Security Council," read Iran's complaint to Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.

The letter, released Saturday by Iranian UN Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee, said that Israel "poses the most immediate and serious threat that the world and the region are facing."

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has vowed repeatedly to "wipe the Zionist entity off the map," most recently during a June 2 speech in which he promised Israel "will soon disappear off the geographical scene."