Monday, January 09, 2012


The Shamgar Committee, which had been charged with establishing guidelines on how the government should respond if terrorists abduct Israelis in the future, has completed its work and submitted its report to Defense Minister Barak last Thursday. It is being said that the goal of the protocol that is recommended is to guide Israelis to abide by a "national moral code," as well as to send a message to the enemy that it will not be profitable to kidnap Israelis.

Credit: YNet

According to Israel Radio, the report is currently classified "top secret," and while parts of it may remain confidential, parts may ultimately be published.

Apparently the entire issue was examined, including everything from deterrence to how much should be paid for an abductee. What is known about the recommendations is that they call for a toughening of the stance of the government:

Explained Meir Shamgar, the former High Court president who headed the committee, "We didn't only discuss the question of how to conduct negotiations over prisoner swaps, but also the question of whether to hold negotiations at all, and who should be the one to lead them. We recommend that the issue of saving hostages be under the rule of the defense minister, the prime minister and the government." There is informed speculation that the Committee recommended appointing a permanent committee to deal with abductions and that special envoys no longer be utilized.

"The issue of secrecy is an integral component of our recommendations," said Shamgar. "It is preferable to keep certain things secret, so information will not be leaked to hostile elements."


After receiving the report, Barak said:

"It's important that we have solidarity, that we see that we are able to pay a heavy price when necessary and, most importantly, that we have set guidelines and expectations from the beginning so that this can impact the expectations of the other side."

Not quite sure what he has in mind when he refers to "a heavy price when necessary," but the issue of solidarity that he mentions is of considerable importance. There's no question in my mind that the price for Shalit went up because people in Israel eager to see him released were publicly lobbying the prime minister. The members of Hamas are not fools -- they saw the pressure Netanyahu was under.

And the existence of guidelines -- which, in broad terms, must be public knowledge -- are critical. Potential terrorist-captors must know before the fact that what Israel will offer in return for a hostage -- if anything at all -- has a very definite limit.


Apparently Barak will now discuss these guidelines with the prime minister. He will then either institute what is recommended or go to the Knesset to seek appropriate legislation.

I'm all for that legislation, so that negotiators are bound by law and cannot suddenly concede more than is wise when under pressure.


According to a report from Israel Hayom at the very end of December, the Forum of Eight (senior ministers, including the prime minister, foreign minister and defense minister) decided unanimously that if another soldier is abducted Israel will go to war.

"The era of self-restraint is over," one senior government official said. "Anyone who kidnaps an Israeli will have to pay, possibly with the end of his rule."

Observed Netanyahu, "Reality is forcing us to change the rules of the game."

At about the same time, MK Zevulun Orlev (Bayit Yehudi) declared that many MKs and ministers now regret having released so many terrorists for Shalit. He announced intention to introduce legislation that would limit the authority of the government to abrogate the sentences of terrorists for the sake of a policy objective.


This is a switch that merits a "finally," as well, I think:

Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz recently addressed "the rising potential for a multi-arena event" -- by which is meant war on several fronts. "Facing in several directions as we are...we can't afford to stay on the defensive and must come up with offensive measures."

About time it was said!


I'd like to say "finally" about this, too, but I don't know that I can:

US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and the US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey gave an interview to CBS News; it was intended to demonstrate how rough and tough the US will remain in spite of military cuts made by Obama that are both horrendous and exceedingly ill-advised.

Declared Panetta, "our red line to Iran is to not develop a nuclear weapon. That's a red line for us."

That should be a "finally," a badly needed definitive statement. However...

General Dempsey, when asked how difficult it would be to take out Iran's nuclear capacity, answered:

"I'd rather not discuss the degree of difficulty and in any way encourage them to read anything into that."

That merits a groan. Why didn't he say that it doesn't matter how difficult it is, because the US military can do it? Instead, he explained:

"But I will say that -- our -- my responsibility is to encourage the right degree of planning to understand the risks associated with any kind of military option... in some cases to position assets, to provide those options... in a timely fashion. And all those activities are going on."

Talk about a statement lacking in certainty and clarity! And this wasn't the end.

When asked about whether the US could take out the Iranian nuclear capacity without using nuclear weapons, Dempsey replied:

"I certainly want them to believe that that's the case."

He actually SAID this on national TV? This is a direct quote, provided by YNet. Hey guys, if the leaders of Hamas are not stupid, neither are the leaders in Iran.

Sorry -- spin this as you may, as deliberate disinformation or whatever -- I am underwhelmed, and definitely not reassured.


Let's look for just a moment at our "peace partners" in the PA/PLO:

Last week, after the meeting in Amman, I reported that, while the PA negotiators had submitted their proposals, the Israeli proposals for borders and security requirements that had been requested by the Quartet had still not been submitted.

According to Herb Keinon, who cited "Western diplomatic officials" in the JPost last Thursday, Israel did submit something. However, "the just a rough outline of issues that need to be discussed, and did not present in any detail Israel’s position on the matters."

Another meeting is scheduled for tomorrow. An adviser to Abbas said they will respond to this outline at the meeting.


Ehud Barak, who is always pumping for a "peace process," now readily concedes that the chances are very slight that any significant progress will be made during these talks.

However, he sees the talks as having benefit, none-the-less:

"Good faith negotiations with the Palestinians can impede attempts to isolate Israel. It's important that it be clear that Israel is active in a real way. It can hinder the effectiveness of attempts to isolate us internationally."

Is Netanyahu taking his cues from his buddy Barak? This is his "play-the-game" policy.


Meanwhile, speaking of playing a game, Mahmoud al-Aloul, a member of the Fatah Central Committee, said in a speech on behalf of Abbas in Ramallah that the first meeting in Amman was very disappointing because the Israelis came without any new proposals. Of course, the PA proposal, that demanded negotiations based on the '67 line, was just loaded with new ideas, right?

Just listen:

"The Palestinian leadership has spared no effort to seek peace and has complied with all initiatives. But all our efforts have been in vain...The Israelis are not prepared for any solutions."

The Israeli response? That it had been decided at the meeting that neither side would make statements about the negotiations and that the Jordanians would be the spokespersons. In other words, al-Aloul was out of line.


Meanwhile, according to the reliable Middle East Newsline, Fatah is currently wracked by infighting because of Abbas's failure to succeed at the UN. This faction is definitely not of one mind with regard to the Amman meetings. Even if there were no other problems with regard to the "negotiations," the ambivalence of Fatah would be the kiss of death.


There continue to be events in this part of the world that are shifting so rapidly that I wonder if I need a spread sheet to keep track of it all. I've said this before: these are extraordinary times, with shifting alliances, roiling dynamics. Truly impossible to adequately call very much of what will happen -- events can only be monitored as they unfold. A couple of mentions here will suffice for now:

Last Thursday, US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland stated that the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt had given the US assurances that it would honor Egypt's peace treaty with Israel. Various parties have given "good guarantees," she said.

On Saturday, Essam al-Erian, deputy head of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice party, speaking to Al-Hayat, an Arabic paper in London, said that the accords "are under the responsibility of the people and state institutions, and it would not be right for anyone to speak on behalf of the Egyptian people....We are not in a position to give assurances."

By that point, Rashad al-Bayoumi, the Brotherhood's second in command, had already told Al-Hayat that "the Muslim Brotherhood will not recognize Israel under any circumstances and might put the peace treaty with the Jewish state up to a referendum.

"[The Brotherhood] did not sign the peace accords… We are allowed to ask the people or the elected parliament to express their opinion on the treaty...We will take the proper legal steps in dealing with the peace deal. To me, it isn't binding at all. The people will express their opinion on the matter."

But at almost the same time that al-Erian's statement was published, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon made a statement on the subject: "The peace treaty with Egypt is not in danger." All the main players in Egypt understand the benefits of retaining the treaty, he maintains.

Could be. Could be that the hedging by the Brotherhood is just political blather, or that their representatives are covering their rears because they intended their reassurances -- that Nuland so blithely announced -- to be kept quiet.

Could also be that the Brotherhood itself isn't sure yet what it will do.


I have not been tracking the horrendous situation in Syria, in which some 5,000 have been killed by the government in the last 10 months, but this is another case in point: Will Assad come down soon or not? In spite of everything it is not at all certain that he will.

On Friday, Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby met in Cairo with Hamas politburo head Khaled Mashaal, and asked him to appeal to the Syria government to halt the violence. Mashaal cannot have been happy with this assignment -- Hamas is in a bit of a tight situation in Syria and, as I have indicated, is seeking a home elsewhere. Not sure how much clout Hamas has with Assad at this point.

And how does the situation in Syria impinge upon Hezbollah? Right now there is less assistance to that terrorist group because Assad is drained and otherwise occupied. And if a new regime enters the picture? Muslim Brotherhood in Syria refused assistance from Iran because it has been a supporter of the Assad regime. Losing the Assad connection could be a big blow Iran's goals in this area.

Watch it play out...


Iran is obviously hurting, as sanctions squeeze its economy -- its currency rate is at a record low. But will those sanctions be levied with enough seriousness to do the trick?

Is Ahmadinejad's threat to close the Straits of Hormuz more than a threat? Should he actually do so, it might be seen as a casus belli in the West.

More to watch...


Please see this excellent piece, "Israel is our land," by Naftali Bennett, Director General of the Yesha Council.

"...As long as we keep on utilizing practical arguments while leaving the arena of justice to the Palestinians, we shall lose. The time has come for the Israeli government to go back to the simple truth: The Land of Israel belongs to the people of Israel.",7340,L-4172316,00.html


And just up on YouTube: A flash mob in Beit Shemesh on Friday: 250 women dancing in the old city square -- an open expression of their refusal to be barred from the public domain by ultra-Orthodox. What fun. Three of my granddaughters danced.

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