Monday, August 16, 2010

"One Thing and Another"

Arlene Kushner

Whom does Abbas fear more?

Eleven "militant" groups in Syria -- including the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine -- met at the home of Hamas politburo chief Maashal Khaled to discuss the pressure being put on Abbas to agree to direct talks. Warning against "concession and compromise," they came out (as would be expected) solidly against those talks. In a joint statement they released, they charged that "the U.S. and the 'Zionists' were aiming to wipe out the national rights of the Palestinians and to cover up the practices of the occupation, settlement expansion and Judaizing the land."

Putting aside for a moment the actually physical danger to Abbas from an infuriated member of one of these groups, should he agree to talks, consider how he would appear to the Palestinian street: As a sell-out, a traitor, someone who cooperated in wiping out Palestinian national rights.

And consider, even beyond this, whether he would have any sort of latitude whatsoever to actually negotiate a deal in this climate.

Abbas has met with an assistant to George Mitchell, and plans to meet with the PLO Executive Committee, either later today or tomorrow, before making his decision.


Defense Minister Ehud Barak has made a decision (to be brought to the Security Cabinet) to purchase F-35 Joint Strike Fighter planes from the US. The F-35 is a fifth generation stealth jet that reportedly is able to evade all radar and anti-aircraft missile systems.

Said Barak, "The F-35 will provide Israel with continued air superiority and help retain its qualitative military edge in the region."

The Pentagon has agreed to sell us 75 planes, but for the first stage, we will be purchasing 20, at a price tag of $2.75 billion, including simulators, spare parts and routine maintenance. Delivery is expected to begin in 2015.

This purchase has been a long time in coming: a major stumbling block was the opposition of the US to integration into the planes of Israeli systems. The first stage of planes that will be delivered will be configured roughly according to US Air Force specifications, but planes in the second stage will be designed according to Israeli specifications, and will include Israeli designed and manufactured systems.


The purchase of the planes will be offset by an agreement by the US to purchase $4 billion worth of military supplies from Israel.


While Israel will be the first foreign country granted permission to purchase these planes, but it is anticipated that in time nations such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt might also be permitted to purchase them. Thus there are those in the Air Force who favored the deal because this was deemed necessary for maintaining our strategic balance.

However, there is another perspective advanced by some critics: If Saudi Arabia and Egypt might also have these stealth jets in time, it might be more important for us to spend money designing a system that would provide defenses against this plane.


Speaking of selling weaponry to Saudi Arabia, Lee Smith writing in Newsweek , addresses the upcoming sale by the US of additional F-15s. At one time, he says, this would have been greatly distressful to Israel. But now, once we were assured that the planes would not be equipped with certain long-range offensive capabilities, we "relented.":

"The balance of power in the Middle East has changed and may yet change again before long. If Israel and Saudi Arabia aren’t exactly headed toward rapprochement, the old enmities are not what they used to be."

And the bottom line here is mutual concern about Iran:

"A few months ago, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal explained to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that sanctions against Iran did not offer the immediate solution required to stop the revolutionary regime’s push for a nuclear weapon. This sentiment was echoed a few weeks back by the United Arab Emirates’ ambassador to Washington, Yousef Al Otaiba, who calculated that bombing Iran was preferable to an Iranian bomb. Even as the ambassador later backtracked, the Middle East’s worst-kept secret was now in the public record: the Arabs are even more concerned than the Israelis about an Iranian bomb. After all, the Jewish state allegedly has its own nuclear deterrent, while Arab nations finally depend on Washington to protect them—no matter how many arms we sell them...To preserve the American-backed regional order, Arab nations expect us [the US] to stop the Iranians, a security arrangement that has been clear since the Carter administration. What’s new is that if we don’t step up, the Arabs’ unlikeliest ally, Israel, may have to do it."


This echoes what I've encountered from a number of sources, including the editorial in today's JPost, which says that "Israel and the Saudis are on the same page as far as Teheran is concerned." The JPost cautions, however, that "it should not have to fall to Israel to act alone on behalf of Saudi-US-Israeli interests."

Indeed, but what "should not be" and what may yet be are not necessarily the same.


Hezbollah is in the news in couple of different contexts:

The IDF is continuing to release information on Hezbollah's new border deployment, in which it is setting up a network of bunkers, arms warehouses, and fighters in command posts in villages in south Lebanon (where, according to UNSC Resolution 1701, it is to have no presence). This reflects a change in strategy for Hezbollah from the 2006 war, when it operated mainly in wooded rural areas.

Just a month ago, we released details of a Hezbollah takeover of the village of Khiam, and now the IDF is making similar charges regarding the village of Aita al-Shaab. According to an officer in our Northern Command, several civilian buildings (perhaps most notably a home for mentally handicapped children) are being used as guerilla command posts -- with fighters able to move between buildings via underground tunnels.

According to this officer, the guerillas now have 5,000 fighters between the border with Israel and the Litani River, and an arsenal of some 40,000 rockets.


There is speculation that this information is being released for two reasons: First to let Hezbollah know exactly how much intelligence we have. And then, to let the world know that if hostilities break out civilians will die because of these actions by Hezbollah.

Scant documentation is being provided by the IDF because this would compromise its sources -- although some maps and photos were released with regard to Khiam. Information probably comes from surveillance flights, spy satellites, and Lebanese agents.

UNIFIL, unsurprisingly, says there is "no evidence" for the Israeli charges.


Meanwhile, Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-Israeli Middle East analyst, has written a piece regarding his sense that "something ominous is in the air, involving Hezbollah." It may that Hezbollah is gearing up for a confrontation with Israel, but it may be something else very different: "the Shi'ite organization could be about to launch a domestic power grab...Hezbollah has the military capacity to do this, as it's the only militia in Lebanon."

See the analysis in detail here:


I've gotten a large number of enraged e-mails concerning what appears to be Harvard's divestment from all Israeli companies, as reported by Globes. The full picture seems to be more complex, however, than what one might assume at first glance. (There is certainly an anti-Israel atmosphere prevalent on many US campuses, and Harvard's predilections in certain regards seem consonant with this atmosphere.)

The story, however, as it's come to me from reliable sources, is this: The Harvard fund in question -- MSCI fund for emerging markets -- is one that invests in "developing nations." Since Israel joined the OECD, it is no longer "an emerging market." The Harvard investment fund still has Israel holdings in its developed markets sections that were not covered by its recent filing to the US Securities and Exchange Commission -- which is what Globes was reporting on.

(With thanks to Bob G. for the informative running commentary, and research, on this.)


"The Good News Corner"

Because we desperately need to hear good news.

[] Five physicians and 12 nurses who were trained in Jerusalem in a collaborative effort, are now doing circumcisions on adult males in South Africa for HIV prevention. Circumcised males are considerably less likely to become infected with HIV.

[] It has been known for some time that dogs can be trained to sniff out cancer because of certain molecules created by a tumor are exhaled in a person's breath.

A researcher at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology has developed an "electronic nose" -- which is very close to a dog's olfactory system -- that is able to detect early stages of lung, breast, colon and prostate cancer. Not only can the device accurately detect minute amounts of chemicals emanating from tumors, it can also track improvement in patients' condition as they undergo treatment.

The value of this device is now being recognized, as it was described in the British Journal of Cancer; it has potential to save many lives.

In both of these instances, it occurs to me how something very simple in conceptualization can make an enormous difference.


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