Archive for the 'Israel and Palestine' Category

Apr 21 2015

Israel’s memorial day

Today is Yom Hazikaron (Yom Hazikaron l'Chalalei Ma'arachot Yisrael ul'Nifgaei Peulot Ha'eivah-  literally, "Day of Remembrance for the Fallen Soldiers of Israel and Victims of Terrorism"). This is Israel's Memorial Day.

Yom Hazikaron is the national remembrance day observed in Israel for those who fell since 1860, when Jews were first allowed to live in Palestine outside of Jerusalem's Old City walls. National memorial services are held in the presence of Israel's top leadership and military personnel. The day opens with a siren the preceding evening at 20:00 (8:00 pm), given that in the Hebrew calendar system, a day begins at sunset. The siren is heard all over the country and lasts for one minute, during which Israelis stop everything (including driving, which stops highways) and stand in silence, commemorating the fallen and showing respect.  Many religious Jews say prayers for the souls of the fallen soldiers at this time. The official ceremony to mark the opening of the day takes place at the Western Wall,  and the flag of Israel is lowered to half staff.

A two-minute siren is sounded at 11:00 the following morning, which marks the opening of the official memorial ceremonies and private remembrance gatherings at each cemetery where soldiers are buried. Many Israelis visit the resting places of loved ones throughout the day. The day officially draws to a close between 19:00 and 20:00 (7–8 p.m.) with the official ceremony of Israel's Independence Day at the national military cemetery on Mount Herzl when the flag of Israel is returned to full staff.

One of the government-owned television stations screens the names of all the fallen in chronological order (rank, name, Hebrew date deceased and secular date) over the course of the day. Names appear for about three seconds each. 

It is that last bit I would like you to think about. As of April 14 2015, Israel had lost some 23,320 of its servicemen and women, 116 of them in the last year alone – 67 of those soldiers killed during Operation Protective Edge. Some 35 wounded veterans passed away this year as a result of their injuries, and were thus also recognized as fallen soldiers. To put that number in perspective, it is the equivalent of almost 1 million lost Americans.

I just point it out because I will be traveling to Israel in a few weeks-and I always try to keep that in the back of my mind when I am working there. It is all tragic. It is all the backdrop with which they live, every day. It helps me understand their perspective a lot better.


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Mar 22 2015

The Israeli election

I wanted to provide some commentary on the Israeli election. I think it's needed-especially when you read the trash that passes for informed commentary in American outlets. Right wing outlets are crowing about the election as a "rebuke" for President Obama and they are calling it a "landslide" election for Likud. None of these things are true.

It does prove yet again one of my key beliefs, however-when it comes to Israel, most Americans are completely clueless as to what the country is really like.

Let's dispel a few things right now, shall we?

First, it was not a "landslide"-the term has no meaning in Israeli politics. No party ever wins an out right majority of 61 seats, ever. Their system is not set up that way. It is designed to ensure proportional representation and to that extent, it succeeds, albeit at a tremendous cost.

To really understand the facts of the election, one needs to look very closely at three things: the distribution of seats in the Knesset, the make up of the smaller parties, and the demographics of each of the major Israeli cities.

With all the votes tallied here are the final results of the election (click to see correctly):


(Picture courtesy of Haaretz).

Definitely a definitive victory-but hardly a "landslide". Americans can be such idiots sometimes.

How did Netanyahu win and were the pre-election polls wrong?

The answer to the first question is that he won stealing votes from the other right wing parties and by indulging in what can only be described as crass race baiting.

Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed everyone’s worst fears about him when he launched a last-minute fear campaign on Tuesday, warning that “Arab voters are coming out in droves to the polls” — and proving that he is perfectly happy to win an election using racism. Depressingly, predictably, Bibi’s “the-Arabs-are-coming” bugaboo worked like a dream on the Israeli public, shoring up his base by swinging the right-wing vote toward him.

The answer to the second question is, no the polls were not wrong. ( despite what the commentary may believe-they weren't).

Go back and look at the graphic again. Bibi was very successful in convincing people that a vote for any other right wing party was a vote for the Left. And it worked. The Zionist Union, which is really just the Labor party by a new name, was not able to do the same thing on its side of the aisle, in part because of the back story of many of the smaller center left parties, but also in part because the Zionist Union misplayed that strategy-they assumed that the voters on the right would do the same. They didn't.

And that is where the race baiting comes in at the last minute. Its important to remember that Netanyahu veered sharply to the right in the last week, renouncing a stated Israeli position on peace and catering to the worst fears of many Israelis.


This reminds me of a chilling comparison to the United States during World War II. At the end of its prolonged fighting with Japan, the United States saw no way of ending the war other than by using its doomsday weapon, and proceeded to drop atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, which decided the outcome of the war. Can such a comparison be made? Then it was a weapon of mass destruction and here it was a surprising electoral victory by the incumbent prime minister. Though Netanyahu did not threaten Israelis with a bomb, he did not hesitate to use his own “doomsday weapon.”

First Netanyahu removed the safety pin from the doomsday weapon by disturbing the fragile equilibrium of Israeli society while inciting against half the population. In Netanyahu’s eyes, Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni belong to the extreme left, working with Arabs to topple the Likud government. Voters for Zionist Union, Yesh Atid and especially Meretz were painted as potential conspirators with Arabs, the enemies of the state’s existence. We were supposed to believe that anyone voting for them would strengthen the link between the terrible left and the Arabs seeking Israel’s destruction.

On Election Day the weapon itself was trotted out. It wasn’t politicians to the right of Likud, like Lieberman or Baruch Marzel, but Netanyahu himself who began warning voters of massive Arab participation. His assistants talked of a three-fold increase in the number of Arab voters in comparison to previous elections. Twenty percent of Israel’s citizens were depicted by the prime minister as illegitimate, as a force from whom the right needs to be saved. Herzog, a Zionist with moderate positions, was portrayed as an extreme leftist who is collaborating with the Arabs to disrupt the Jewish-Zionist character of this country.

This weapon vanquished the enemy, but left the country bleeding and riven.


You have to remember that 4 smaller Arab parties banded together to form The Joint List. This was in direct response to an initiative of Avigdor Lieberman's, which raised the threshold for getting into the Knesset from 2 to 3.25% of the vote. It backfired on Lieberman-but it forced the Arab parties to make a choice: unite or be crushed individually. It worked for them-they are now the third largest party in the Knesset, but it also allowed Likud to target them as a group.

By taking to Facebook and the airwaves and stating that "the Arabs are coming out in droves-driven by NGO's", it swayed about 200,000 undecided voters. ( left unsaid was the implication that those NGO's were filthy leftists or worse).

It worked spectacularly.

Not everything is about you Americans.

American commentators, especially our buffoons on the conservative side of the aisle, are jumping up and down about how it "shows up Obama". It really does not. The opinion of the United States had nothing; let me repeat that,  NOTHING to do with the results of the election. Conservative buffoons tend to overestimate their influence anyway, but more importantly, the results of the election are not related to an invitation the Speaker of the House had no right to issue.

Americans would do well to remember, that when it comes to Israel-it is all about Israel. When you have been shot at, it tends to shape your perspective:

Despite the extensive media attention to Israel’s economic woes and social gaps, the security situation — mainly its implications for Israelis’ personal safety — remains the major consideration on Election Day.

It has been this way since the first intifada and the Oslo Accords. Here Netanyahu leads by a wide margin — the same Netanyahu responsible for the housing crisis and whose problematic personal conduct became a media mainstay in recent months.

It seems that the occupation’s moral and political implications, despite the myriad of articles published in Haaretz, aren’t the Israeli voter’s main concern. Security risks concern him much more, and this angst is well founded.

The cumulative impression is that most voters adopt the right’s conclusions on the security front — the responsibility for the negotiations freeze lies with the Palestinians too, not just with Israel — and the chances of resolving the conflict are slim at the moment. Plus the Palestinians are no longer the most burning issue in the Middle East. Even if a divine miracle quickly resolved the conflict, it wouldn’t erase the other threats.

After four years of turmoil in the Arab world, with collapsing states and deranged terror groups spitting distance of Israel’s borders, voters are concerned. Most of them, despite Netanyahu’s drawbacks, think he knows better how to deal with those threats.

"Twas always thus, and Twas always ever shall be"  . Which leads into the second major point of the election: The Zionist Union may have had a good and logical message, it can't sell it outside of Tel Aviv and Haifa:

Zionist Union got the highest number of votes in 28 of the country's 33 wealthiest towns, while Likud enjoyed a decisive majority among Jewish local authorities in the middle- to lower-middle-class range; in 64 of these 77 towns, Likud came in first.

The Central Bureau of Statistics divides Israeli communities into 10 deciles based on variables like per capita income, the number of new cars, the percentage of students, the ratio of residents to unemployment, and more.

Segmenting the voting by socioeconomic levels reveals a major and probably decisive difference between Likud and Zionist Union; the former got lots of votes in wealthier communities, but the latter did very well almost solely in those richer areas.

There is probably some truth that secular center-left oriented Israelis are deluding themselves that their message is getting equal time when you have a country that is split into progressive Zionists and the living, ruling heirs of Meir Kahane. For the long term that is probably the most disturbing thing about the election, is the implications of what it means for the democratic Zionist vision of Israel's founders.

The threats to Israeli democracy are not crude or obvious: the media is free, voting is clean, there is vibrant debate. But there are more subtle issues that should cause real concern. Four problems, in particular, need watching. First, the continued settlement of occupied Palestinian land. Second, proposed laws to enshrine Israel as a Jewish state. Third, Israel’s increasing estrangement from western democracies. Finally, the intolerance and intimidation of those who question the national consensus on security and terrorism.


One of the main arguments for embracing a two-state solution to the Palestinian question has always been that formal annexation of Palestinian lands on the West Bank, as well as being illegal, would threaten Israel’s Jewish identity. The demographics of a “one-state solution” would mean Jews would make up only a narrow majority in such an expanded “Greater Israel”.


Despite this, an increasing number of voices on the Israeli right are open about their desire formally to annex parts of the West Bank. Faced with a choice between land and democracy, they seem inclined to choose land.

You can see this in the rhetoric that is present in some Israeli news outlets. Sheldon Adelson's abomination of a news paper, Israel Hayom ( Israel today) is pretty blatant about its right wing sympathies and support for people like Nafatali Bennett who combine expansionist aspirations with religious rhetoric ("There is no room in our small but wonderful God-given tract for another state,” Bennett said in a speech that stressed Israel’s Jewish religious heritage as a cornerstone of its society. “It won’t happen. Friends, before every discussion on the territories, we need to declare: ‘The land of Israel belongs to the people of Israel.’ Only then can we start the debate.”)

Israelis hate comparisons to apartheid South Africa, but more and more the similarities are hard to ignore-at least with respect to the rights of Arabs inside the occupied territories.  The rhetoric of Israelis and Afrikaners is starting to be a mirror image of each other. That in the long term threatens the egalitarian ideal envisioned by Ben Gurion and others.

So very well then, what should the US do about the results of the election?

First of all, it has to accept it. And then make an honest assessment of what fights are really worth picking. This is where I have to sadly conclude that the President is being sorely led astray by whoever is advising him to "pressure" Israel at this particular juncture. Its a mistake and will blow up in his face.

I am an Obama supporter, but this is really stupid. The President is being poorly advised here. When the results were announced he should have sucked it up, called Netanyahu and congratulated him, then made a public statement that whatever our private disagreements,  support for Israel is going to continue. It would help with politics at home-and recognize that like it or not,  this is the government of Israel. Obama is blowing it.

No one has to tell me what a pain in the ass the Israelis are to deal with-I live that dream every month. And truth be told-a big part of that comes from the fact that we have enablers, like the misguided freaks of the evangelical community who give the Israelis a free pass on activities they shouldn't. And we have enablers in Congress who can't tell any Israeli "no"-even when that is the correct answer. 

But that's exactly the problem Obama faces. To openly pick a fight with Netanyahu now, is to poison his efforts at winning what ever domestic victories he can with this current Congress full of nut cases. And in the end-it won't accomplish anything for the Palestinians , for not the least of reasons their problems are actually back burner now compared to those of Syria and Iraq and the mess our foolish invasion of Iraq created.

A lower public profile and more subtle methods would do both sides a big favor. Not to mention that picking a fight on behalf of the Palestinians simply puts rhetoric in the minds of the mouth breathers who still think Obama is a secret Muslim. The last thing the US needs is more teabaggers on the front page in the election year next year.

Not to mention that the Palestinians themselves have made some really boneheaded mistakes. Especially the radicalized loons living in Gaza with their rockets. This is not time to be climbing up on the moral high ground now.

In summary I will remind you what I think most Americans, and conservative Americans in particular forget-Israel is not like the United States.  It is a land of an eastern tradition, more similar to its Arab neighbors than it realizes-and in the aggregate, is not really as nice a place as they would have you believe it is. Imagine a United States where Mennonites actually constituted a powerful political block. They use language differently than we Americans do-and they don't view the world in a rational sense at all. And that is what got Bibi re-elected.

"The biggest losers in all of this, besides all the Israelis who did not vote for Netanyahu, are American Jews and non-Jews who support Israel. What Bibi did to win this election was move the Likud Party from a center-right party to a far-right one. The additional votes he got were all grabbed from the other far-right parties — not from the center. When the official government of Israel is a far-right party that rejects a two-state solution and employs anti-Arab dog whistles to get elected, it will split the basic unity of the American Jewish community on Israel. How many American Jews want to defend a one-state solution in Washington or on their college campuses? Is Aipac, the Israel lobby, now going to push for a one-state solution on Capitol Hill? How many Democrats and Republicans would endorse that?






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Dec 16 2013

The part of the story they leave out.

Published by under Israel and Palestine

This will be my last political post of the year. As is my custom-I will place a moratorium on politics starting tomorrow, preferring instead to honor the holidays by writing about fun things.

But I thought today I would follow up on a post by James Fallows over at The Atlantic. In a recent post he discusses the newly released book by Max Blumenthal , Goliath. Blumenthal's last book was American Gomorrah-which told the story of the GOP's opportunistic alliance with evangelical Christians. This  book is a discussion of Israel's immigration problem-with the influx of African immigrants coming Northward through Sinai and into Israel.  It is something that Israelis don't like to talk about-because it shows the Jewish State in a very less than flattering light. The book has come under considerable criticism in Israel. Nonetheless, from my own travels to the country, I suspect that Blumenthal has hit a neve-because what he writes is very much true.

The case against Goliath, summarized here, is that it is so anti-Israel as to represent not journalism or reasonable critique but bigoted propaganda; plus, that in being so anti-Israel it is effectively anti-Semitic. With a few seconds of online search, you can track down the now-extensive back and forth. The furor has certainly helped publicize the book, but to me those claims about it seem flat mischaracterizations. Goliath is a particular kind of exposé-minded, documentary-broadside journalism whose place we generally recognize and respect.

The purpose of this book is not to provide some judicious “Zionism at the crossroads” overview of the pluses and minuses of modern Israel. That is not the kind of writer Max Blumenthal is. His previous book, Republican Gomorrah, was about the rise of the Tea Party and related extremist sentiment within the GOP. In that book he wasn’t interested in weighing the conservative critique of big government or teachers’ unions or Medicaid. That’s Brookings’s job. Instead his purpose was to document the extreme voices—the birthers, the neo-secessionists, the gun and militia activists, those consumed by hatred of Barack Obama—who were then providing so much of the oomph within Republican politics.

That book was effective not because Blumenthal said he disagreed with these people. Of course he did, but so what? Its power came simply from showing, at length and in their own words, how they talked and what they planned to do. As Blumenthal pointed out in this week’s New America session, that earlier book argued, a year before the Tea Party’s surge victories in the 2010 midterms: These people are coming, and they are taking the party with them. His account wasn’t “balanced” or at all subtle, but it was right.

His ambition in Goliath is similar. He has found a group of people he identifies as extremists in Israel—extreme in their belief that Arabs have no place in their society, extreme in their hostility especially to recent non-Jewish African refugees, extreme in their seeming rejection of the liberal-democratic vision of Israel’s future. He says: These people are coming, and they’re taking Israeli politics with them. As he put it in a recent interview with Salon, the book is “an unvarnished view of Israel at its most extreme.” Again, the power of his book is not that Blumenthal disagrees with these groups. Obviously he does. It comes from what he shows.

The issue of African immigration is a big one in Israel right now. It is made even touchier by the fact that Israel brought in a lot of Ethiopian Jews in the 90's-and they have never been fully accepted into the Israeli society, all protestations to the contrary. Of course there is justifiable concern about the economic impact -but in Israel there is always another concern: preserving the Jewish majority in terms of their demographics. This leads to some pretty ugly attitudes on the part of many Israelis. Watch this video to see what I am talking about:



My skills in Hebrew are limited-nonetheless I understand enough to assure you the translations in the video are correct.

Is the video one sided? Yes it is-nonetheless, it is a worthwhile documentation of some really ugly attitude in Israeli society. I've seen it first hand in my travels and walks through Tel Aviv. Its real-and it continues. Israelis don't like it being talked about because it does not portray the image of the country they want.

Nonetheless, it reinforces a point I have been making , and will continue to make. Most Americans do not understand Israel as it really is -rather than the idealized viewpoint so many American supporters have. I have a lot of respect for Israel and I count myself as a supporter. But I do not side with those who give the country a blank check to dictate American Foreign Policy. The interests of Israel and the US will not always align. And the US needs to be paramount.

And in this case-there is a distinct irony. Because in their invocations of exclusion, they are indulging in the exact same tactics the Arabs advocated during the Palestinian Mandate in the 20's and 30's. That should be of concern for many reasons.

It is a complicated problem-but Americans should understand the story has more than one side.

I'll let Fallows close this post:

The other point, familiar to anyone with even modest exposure to Israeli discussion, is how broad the range of debate on Middle Eastern topics is within Israel itself, compared with the usual range in the United States. Israeli writers, politicians, citizens, etc., say things about modern Zionism, the “peace process,” the future of their country, and everything else that would seem dangerously inflammatory in U.S. discourse. In part that’s natural: We feel free to criticize our own but don’t like outsiders doing it. Yet Blumenthal had an illustration of its odd effect. In its English version, the Jewish Daily Forward excoriated his book: “Max Blumenthal’s Goliath Is Anti-Israel Book That Makes Even Anti-Zionists Blush.” Whereas the Yiddish edition of the Forward has a review that (I am assured by someone who can understand it) is quite respectful of the book and the importance of such criticism.

Maybe Blumenthal’s  perspective and case are wrong. But he is documenting things that need attention; no one has suggested that he is making up these interviews or falsifying what he's shown on screen. If he is wrong, his case should be addressed in specific rather than ruled out of respectable consideration. If he's right, we should absorb the implications.

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Nov 24 2013

The chance of precipitation just went up.

Not rain falling, but bombs. Dropped from Israeli planes.

The western powers signed an interim agreement with Iran last night. As expected a certain, rather stubborn group of folks is not happy about that one bit:

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu characterized the agreement signed with Iran early Sunday morning as a historic mistake.

Directly contrasting US President Barack Obama who praised the agreement as opening a "new path toward a world that is more secure,"  Netanyahu – speaking at the weekly cabinet meeting — said the world has become more dangerous as a result.

"What was agreed last night in Geneva is not a historic agreement, it is a historic mistake," he said. "Today the world has become much more dangerous because the most dangerous regime in the world took a significant step to getting the most dangerous weapon in the world."

For the first time, he said, the leading powers of the world agreed to uranium enrichment in Iran, while removing sanctions that it has taken years to build up in exchange for "cosmetic Iranian concession that are possible to do away with in a matter of weeks."

Netanyahu said the consequences of this deal threaten many countries, including Israel. He reiterated what he has said in the past, that Israel is not obligated by the agreement.(emphasis mine)

That last sentence is the key one. The whole last week I was on travel, the Israeli press was having kittens over the idea that the west might do anything less than bomb, bomb, bomb, Iran. Which never made much sense to me. For one thing-Iran is the size of Europe, its a big country, and the chances that the Israeli Air Force can get all the things it needs to in one strike ( which is all they would realistically get) are low indeed. Secondly the idea of getting us to do the dirty work for them is full of traps and problems for the US.  Not to mention that starting a 4TH war in over a decade is just plain stupid. Thanks GWB, Thanks a lot. Because of your stupid wars-we are in this mess to begin with.

The interests of the US and Israel do not always align. This is going to be one of those times. And Israel will just have to accept that fact.

But I am convinced they won't. They will continue to push and prod to get their way. That's how they do business.

"And by the way, we still expect our over 4 Billion dollars in US aid next year. Got that?"

The apocalyptic rhetoric started in Israel almost immediately:

The deputy speaker of parliament, Likud MK Moshe Feiglin, said on Saturday the interim agreement signed between Iran and the Western powers was tantamount to the Munich Agreement of the late 1930s.

“Like Czechoslovakia at that time, which was not party to the discussions that effectively sentenced it to death, Israel today watches from the sidelines how its existential interest is being sacrificed by the Western powers,” Feiglin said.

“Any rational person understands that we are in the midst of a process leads to a nuclear-armed Iran,” he said. “For years I have warned about the dangers of the strategy adopted by Israel towards the Iranian nuclear threat.”

Feiglin said that entrusting foreign powers to secure Israel’s defense interests is “disastrous” and “much worse than that which led to the Yom Kippur War.”

The lawmaker called on the Israeli government to declare an immediate end to all contacts with the West over the Iranian question and to make clear that it would not be bound by the agreement signed.

I can't wait to see what our group of AIPAC funded  whores Congressional stooges has to say about it on Monday.

Some problems are just tough-and there are no easy solutions, especially military ones-and its even tougher when over 60 years of stupidity has gone into the problem of relations with Iran, who are not Arabs.

I will say this again, two things actually. First, one can admire and respect Israel and its citizens-and give them support-without agreeing with everything they ask for. And that leads to my second point, most Americans do not understand Israel at all. They think they do-and they think its a transplanted version of America in the Levant. Trust me,  its not-its a different society. They use language and view their situation in a very different way than we do. And they always will. Furthermore-Israel is indeed a melting pot of cultures-and not all of those cultural traditions are ones we would like if we knew the details. That still does not stop us from being supportive-but supportive does not mean, contrary to what Rev Hagee and the members of AIPAC believe, a blank check.

So buckle up boys and girls, 2014 is going to be an up and down ride.

"The Lord is our Shepherd says the psalm, but just in case, its Iran we gotta bomb!"


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Aug 29 2013

No upside-only down sides.

To attacking Syria. All the usual suspects are lining up telling us how we have to "do something" in Syria. I really don't understand why. Apparently a lot of other Americans don't understand why either, judging by polls that say a majority of Americans are opposed to any intervention in Syria.

It may be tragic and a lot of Syrians are being killed-but that is their problem not ours. Foreign Policy has to be about a narrow and ruthless focus on what is in America's long term strategic interest.

What I'm most bothered by (aside from the rapid pace of escalation), is I can't, looking at a map of Syria, figure out what the hell anyone advocating for [military action] thinks will be the strategic benefit.

Syria is surrounded by unstable states. Egypt, Iraq, Iran, even Turkey. To the South, you have Jordan, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

When we entered Iraq 10 years ago, [as recommended by] the Project for a New American Century, we were facing a series of relatively stable dictatorships and despots. The PNAC wanted to remake the Middle East in favor of American interests. Those were likely to be the best conditions to enter a confrontation, because at the least, these were at the time, allied despots and their countries were, again, relatively under control.

Looking at Syria now, what is to be gained? We prop up an opposition movement that has no capacity to actually hold its country. That's the best case scenario. But even if we do this, what happens in the rest of the region? Our allies are put into further peril because the conflict while perhaps never reaching our borders, will reach theirs. That means, for the sake of [averting] calamity in one region, we will not be able to contain it reaching Jordan or Israel or Saudi Arabia.

Further, where exactly do we plan to be stationed once we [are drawn into] to a major confrontation? What allied nation will we expose, in the midst of this instability, to bear a brunt not just put forward by Syria or Iran, but very possibly by Russian forces, or at the least, Russian armaments. What exactly is the hope here, that former Soviet States will volunteer as shipping stations and endanger their current relationship with Russia? That Russia and Iran won't get involved? That this will be an isolated incident? That there will be no Assad loyalists after a few precision campaigns? That we will bomb for show of force and then just leave regardless?

I mean, let's say our worry was stability, we would actually be propping up Assad, not his opposition, because Assad has a better chance of maintaining long-term control than they do.

So, we're not after stability. We're not, I'm assuming, [trying for] a winnable war unless someone can explain to me how the United States by giving limited assistant to the rebels will not only topple the government but ensure the complete irrelevance of the loyalists…. Are we going to commit ground troops when things get worse and Assad isn't gone?… Even if everything somehow magically goes according to a plan that no one even has yet, then what? Syria's opposition becomes what, exactly? Syria is a stable state? How?

There is a rush to go to war now being advocated by people who are ready to play with the ripped and shaken up pieces of a jigsaw puzzles as though they were flat and in place. But these men aren't gods and they don't see all the angles they think they do.

I also agree with James Fallows, Obama should be doing more to get Congress on board before he does anything. He's not Ronald Reagan and does not have the same type of Congress Reagan had in 1986-nor is this the same type of situation as the Libya strikes. The President has time-and he sure as hell does not need to hand the House of Representatives, some of whose members are just chomping at the bit to impeach him, anything that looks like an excuse. Sometimes a tragedy is just a tragedy, but we have to be more cold heartedly focused on our own interests. And unless we are prepared to go in full bore and take down Assad and destroy the nation of Syria, we have no business striking there at all.

And for the Galtian overlords who are advocating striking Syria while at the same time telling me how the debt is "crushing our children". Go and politely fuck yourself.

I mention this only because, well, Congressman Tom Marino is very sorry, Grandma, but you'll be eating some Fancy Feast for Thanksgiving.

"It's going to take two decades – even if we start now – to try to eliminate this debt," he said. "Folks, we do not have the money. The revenue is not there. How are you going to pay for it?"

But $30 million to blow stuff up? Absolutely. We're like a drunk on payday.


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Jun 19 2013

Some recent thoughts on Israel

I spent the last two weeks in Israel pretty much covering the country from Beersheba to the Sea of Galilee. So there was little time to post. It was a good trip-and I will have to post my pictures soon. I also, in my spare moments was attacking two different books. The first was, This is My God, by Hermann Wouk. I read this in a major effort to understand the modern tenants of Judaism-which I think is important to understand the link Israelis make as a whole of their Jewishness with their nationality. In no other religion is nationality so bound up in a particular faith. I do not understand it-even after finishing the book.

The second book was a re-read of a book I bough about 14 years ago, called Mandate Days by Dr. A.J. Sherman. Its an examination of the 30 years of the British Mandate and how the British tried to please both Arabs and Jews and in the end alienated them both. I found it especially pertinent after visiting the Etzel ( Irgun) museum in Tel Aviv. ( You can get a 2 for 1 ticket that works for both the Irgun and IDF history museums-the IDF museum is just across the street at what used to be the old Jaffa train station. Well worth a visit).

I found the Irgun museum more than a little disturbing. Because basically,  it is celebration of outright terrorism-the same exact type of terrorism that Israel decries every day and has had to deal with. Yet in telling the story of the Irgun, it does not just lay out the facts,  it glorifies the terrorist acts they committed against the British. And it ignores a basic fact, namely that the Arabs and specifically Islam were in Palestine for a longer period than the sons of Judah. The dome of the Rock has been on temple mount for 1300 years, longer than either the first or the second temples. And then, due to Zionism in the 20th century-along came waves of Jewish Immigrants-waving a Bible and the Balfour Declaration and demanding that both the British and the Arabs step aside.

That was the dilemma that the British faced in pre-World War II Palestine. After the war-the tragedy of the holocaust, coupled with the knowledge that the Allies, in general,  and the US State Department in particular, had turned a blind eye to clear cut evidence that the tragedy was taking place. Actions could have been undertaken that would have saved lives-in particular going after the camps with bombing raids and loosening up US immigration quotas. The pressure to provide the promised Jewish Homeland was enormous.

But did that actually justify mindless acts of violence in response? I tend to think not. While I was going through the museum, I couldn't help but think-how would I react, if I were in Baghdad, and saw exhibits that glorified the bombings of Americans; stating that they helped drive out the American occupiers?

This is not to say I want to undo the past. Israel exists and it thrives today and has made Palestine on the whole a much more productive place than other nations in the region. But it also drove home to me that the historical story is not as one sided as our Israeli friends sometimes wish to portray. The truth, as it always is, just a bit blurrier.

Whatever-both books are worth a read, especially if you spend a great deal of time in Israel.

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Jan 22 2013

Meanwhile-over in the land of Milk and Honey.

Neither of which, interestingly enough, I have ever really found in my journeys through Israel. For some reason, it is always imported from some where else.


Today is Election Day in Israel. Since the results of the election will have a direct impact on the complexity of my job in the next few months, I thought this column by one of my favorite Haaretz authors-was quite appropriate for today.


If you're in Israel today, vote as if your life depended on it. It does.

Over two terms, we've learned that Netanyahu will do anything and everything to stay in power. Including nothing. Especially nothing.



I intend to vote the hell out of this election. I intend to vote us the hell out of the occupation. I intend to kick Netanyahu in his kitsch and his slime and his cowardice and the way he'll hold on to the leather chair until we the people pry it from his cold, dead hands.

We. The people of this country who want to see peace – the two thirds of the population who want to see two states bring an end to one endless crippling Israel-killing occupation.

I intend to vote the hell out of this election, and the one after that, which could come sooner than anyone – especially Bibi – thinks. I intend to vote because I've been disenfranchised by the one in 25 Israelis who lives in settlements. I intend to vote this time and the next, and the time after that, because the government of this country has been hijacked by the spirit and the waste trail and the living, ruling heirs of Meir Kahane, and because Netanyahu just sits by and watches and fools himself into thinking that he's co-opting them, because, above all, he's scared shitless of them.


One of the best parts about my job today is that I have gained an real appreciation for how complex politics are in Israel. And only Israelis could make it as complex as they do. In America its pretty simple-you are either on the side of the selfish or not. In Israel, all the players are selfish-its just what they are selfish about.

Netanyahu, 63, is now the second-longest serving Israeli prime minister after David Ben-Gurion. After tomorrow’s expected debacle for Likud-Beiteinu, he will no longer be considered an electoral asset by his subordinates. What’s more, he will be lagging behind them politically; with the arguable exception of Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin, every single Knesset member in Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu and Naftali Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi – the presumed bulk of the next coalition – will outflank Bibi on the right. He will be the new government’s “liberal.” That still probably won't stop him from attacking Iran-which will fuck up my work life royally, but one can always hope. Plus as long as Netanyahu remains Prime Minister, one will have to deal with wacko American evangelicals thinking he is paving the way for them to the rapture and Armageddon. Uh, no, thank you. We can skip that-and more settlements in Judea and Samaria are not the way forward for American Christianity or Israeli Judaism.

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Nov 20 2012

Better to laugh than to cry.

At least in Israel anyway-its a way to keep one's spirits up till Hamas finally gets the message that shooting missiles at Israelis is a shitty way to advance their cause.

I am a daily reader of Haaretz.  ( I have also been struggling to learn Hebrew, but the less said about that little adventure, the better).


They published a cute article today about life under the rocket fire in Israel. Want to impress your girlfriend? Take her on an "Iron Dome Date":

The Iron Dome batteries are the hot spot of every city they are deployed in, the "'in place to be" is next to the Iron Dome missile defense units. Even knowing they're supposed to take cover during missile attacks, there are thrill-seeking "war tourists" who are camping out next to the missile batteries in the daytime and in the evening, staring and photographing. There are even reports of Iron Dome dates – couples taking a pizza and a bottle of wine and sitting next to the batteries waiting for them to fire. Seems like a pretty extreme measure to impress a girl. Sitting out in the open while missiles are flying seems like an incredibly stupid thing to do,and violates every Home Front Command order – but the spectators interviewed on television shrug it off and say watching the Iron Dome helps them "feel safe and protected." So grateful are residents of the southern cities for the rocket-busters that they come offering gifts and food to the troops manning them. One man in Ashdod even set up a full barbecue grill next to the Iron Dome today to cook lunch for the soldiers, and told his television interviewer he was "building a fire under fire." The food is often more than the soldiers can eat; they give the leftovers to the journalists who are also crowded there.


And of course, there is the awful inconvience of ill timed rocket attacks, which evidently have caught some Israelis, in flagrante delecto

After five days of war, there was finally a short but hilarious satiric segment by the folks at “Eretz Nehederet,” Israel’s equivalent of “Saturday Night Live,” with spot-on impressions of the grandstanding news correspondents and politicians, and a sketch on the embarrassing situations in a Tel Aviv stairwell during missile attacks – people seeing their neighbors in various states of undress, sheepishly taking shelter with their one-night stands.

And of course, after the fact-there are always the insurance companies to deal with. You think hurricanes are a problem? Try inquiring with your insurance company to see if you have "rocket insurance":

The barrage of missiles causing property damage in a swath of southern Israel will prompt questions over what compensation the government provides for those affected. Amir Dahan, who heads the Tax Authority's compensation department, provides some answers.

What is the actual role of the compensation department in the current Operation Pillar of Defense?

"We are responsible for identifying damage to civilian property, compensating residents and repairing the damage. When something happens and we receive a report of it, we immediately go to the scene. Our teams consist of a Tax Authority employee and an appraiser or engineer, who come to the site where a rocket has landed, access the damage and, together with the victim, fill out a claim form."




And finally,  there is the not so  well timed sports joke:

"So the IDF bombed a soccer stadium in Gaza where they were storing and firing missiles. Unfortunately, I have to note that this was the only victory that Israel has had on a soccer field this year."

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Sep 19 2012

Can’t believe I missed this.

Neo-con (knee-o-kon), -a person or persons having a warped and antiquated viewpoint of the world, who,- when in a position of power- commits your country to a seemingly endless series of wars. Each one more disastrous than the one that preceded it. Said neo-cons never seem to know how to finish said wars, but love to spout phrases again and again like, " We only need to stay the course, if you oppose the war you are an enemy of freedom, the surge worked and that's why we need another surge, and the ever popular: Iraq was a success story".  Neo-cons come in all shapes, sizes , colors and genders. Can f*ck up a nation's foreign policy regardless of religious belief.


I have been busy! Can't believe I missed this little tidbit earlier this week.

For over a decade, "neocon" has been argumentative shorthand used by the Left for "conservative Jew." "Slither" – well, anyone who even has a paper-thin reading of the history of anti-Jewish propaganda can understand that.

Mr Drum, call your office:

I know, I know: it's Commentary. What do you expect? But can't we ever put a stop to this? Neocons exist. They're neither shadowy nor conspiratorial. They're part of an actual political movement with a very visible public profile. They tend to be hawkish, solicitous of Israel's right wing, hostile toward Arabs, and they played a big role in committing the United States to a disastrous war in Iraq. That's just reality, and the mere fact that many neocons are Jewish doesn't give them a magic shield that protects them from criticism.

There's nothing anti-Semitic in Dowd's column. She just doesn't like neocons, and she doesn't like the fact that so many of the neocons responsible for the Iraq debacle are now advisors to Mitt Romney's campaign. Pretending that this makes her guilty of hate-mongering toward Jews is reprehensible.

I quite agree. And that, my dear Phibian, is what is really a FULL STOP.

Neo-con as an anti-semitic slur? Best joke I've read all week. I'll have to remember it's a slur the next time I read it Haaretz. ( They use the word neo-con every day. Wonder if it affects their primarily Jewish circulation any?).

Sometimes a snake in the grass is just a snake in the grass. Or a Neo-con.

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Apr 30 2012

Why I disagree with Mr. Jacobson

Ok, I admit it-I snapped. When I followed the Memorandum link to Mr. Jacobson's  blaming of Obama for "losing" the Middle East, I lost my temper. And with good reason too-I expect better logic and a better perspective on the history of the region-and an understanding of the peoples that lie within.

Sadly, Mr Jacobson showed neither. And probably with good reason. His post had nothing to do with the reality on the ground in the Middle East-but everything to do with finding yet something else to blame Obama for.

Should Obama celebrate the raid on Bin Laden a year after the fact? Probably not-but then again its also quite a stretch to say that he is "losing" the Middle East.

The current situation in the region has a lot of fathers-most of them reside in Arab countries, not in the White House. If one follows the entire history-our current lack of influence can be traced all the way back to 1945-or at the least to 1956 when we refused to support the British and the French during the Suez War. The only President who has displayed any common sense about the region is George H.W. Bush-especially when he made the decision to declare victory and go home at the end of Desert Storm.

Certainly, however though-a great deal of the blame for our current position in Afghanistan and Iraq lies at the feet of George W. Bush. His decisions to go to war in Iraq in 2003, and in order to do so sideline Afghanistan and allow our window of opportunity in that country to close.

It is really a loss of one's senses though,  to believe that we could have done anything concrete to stop the path of action in Egypt, Bahrain or any other place that the Arab Spring has touched.  That's quite simply giving us too much credit-and not recognizing that the multi-polar world is rising and US influence is on the wane. You wanted democracy in the region? Well now you have it-and guess what? Arabs can vote stupidly just as their American counterparts can ( and did in 2010).

There are 4 major trouble spots in the Middle East. About Israel I have written a lot-and pointed out well the flaws of the American point of view towards that country.

Iran-which is doing what it perceives to be in its best interest to counter the United States, and btw-thanks to our invasion of Iraq, ended up stronger than it would have been without that event.

Egypt and Syria-about which little can be done, save for feeling sorry for the almost 11,000 Syrians that have died. That said -there is no concrete case to be made for intervention-anymore than there was in Libya. 

And finally the Arabian Peninsula and Iraq-which are going through their own troubles. Iraq is due to our misguided adventure there and their own stupid tribalism, the Arabian Peninsula because of the inability of Saudi Arabia to stop the forces of progress. ( They may be able to slow them down for one more generation-but no longer. When the King dies-it will be interesting to see what happens).

If you want to blame someone for the failure of America's wars-how about blaming the Iraqis and Afghans themselves? They both deserve the lion's share of the blame-for being the screwed up societies they are. Where the US failed-and I believe it was a disaster to go to war in Iraq-was not recognize that up front. Arabs can be counted on to screw up any good deal given them. Its in their DNA. ( Spend a few weeks negotiating with them and you will see what I mean).

I strongly believe that most of the United States problems currently can be laid at the feet of two decisions made by George Bush. The invasion of Iraq and the failure to recant the tax cuts to pay for it.

Which brings me back to the group of blogs that Legal Insurrection is a part of. His blog is part of the "group" that one can see any day on Memeorandum: Legal Insurrection, Gateway Pundit, the really abominable John Hinderaker with Power Line, Hot Air, Michelle Malkin, Weasel Zippers……..the list is long and not distinguished. Here at Far East Cynic HQ-we monitor them and mock them as needed. ( As do some much bigger blogs than mine).

On any given day-their theme is always the same. If Obama says the sky is blue-they will say its not. It is a tiresome rant-and as I stated earlier, becomes a dangerous one,  when you consider the size of their readership.  Together,  they continue to pour gas on the blazing fire that is American politics these days-and do their level best to prevent any accommodation and progress towards fixing these problems. Obama is not the best President we have ever had-but he's certainly a heck of lot better than the gray hair-and comments like Obama lost the Middle East do nothing to help the situation. It was wrong then-it is still wrong now.

The United States did not lose the Middle East. The world has changed-and we have yet to recognize that fact.

When it comes to the Middle East, less is definitely more. We need to scale back-turn our attention to our own needs, and watch the drama play out.

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Apr 05 2012

Shalom odds and ends

Published by under Israel and Palestine

Well I have finally gotten out from under the crush of work that always awaits you when you get back from two + weeks on the road. While I was in Israel I had meant to pass along some of my observations of the country and the things I saw on this last trip. In no particular order here they are.
First and foremost-while Israel is a beautiful country and much more modern than its neighbors, one should not be fooled into think it’s the same level of modernity, as say –Singapore. I had a chance to prowl Tel Aviv quite a bit this trip, and part so the city are quite spectacular-an interesting mix of the historical with the modern. Other parts, however-especially as you get closer to Yafo- are to put it mildly, really dumpy. Right there on par with some of the lesser neighborhoods I have seen in Bucharest, or for that matter Turkey. Most Israelis would take umbrage at that statement but its true.
Now when you get away from Tel Aviv to some of the cities up North, the modernity factor actually rises-most particularly in Haifa ( which I got to this trip).
When talking with my American counterparts back in the states, I remain astounded at the naivete that so many Americans exhibit about Israel. Let me make this clear again: Israel is not America or Europe transplanted to the Levant. It is a unique culture, very much influenced by its history, its language ( which effects how Israelis communicate in other languages) and its underlying ethos as a unique country founded not on secular nationalism,  but a religious identity. If Israel were just a secular state there would be peace tomorrow-but you must never forget that its not; even if individual Israelis are quite secular.
In particular, I am finding myself less and less able to continue to stomach the “ Israelis are industrious-Palestinians are lazy freeloaders” meme that seems to have taken hold in a certain segment of the American population. To be sure, I am no fan of Arabs and their culture-but to just cling to this straw is to really misunderstand the nature of the current state of play between the Palestinians and Israelis in Israel. Especially since the wall was constructed and the movements of Palestinians severely restricted. ( Which has the additional benefit of making the streets of the major cities in Israel much, much safer to walk on and visit night life in-which, from my perspective, is a great thing). And it is true the Palestinians have squandered several opportunities to work out a settlement. But at the same time, it’s also necessary to recognize the restrictions on their ability to advance under the current status quo.  As I noted in a post last year, instead of Israel being “surrounded”-the reality is that Israel surrounds a hell of a lot of pissed off people.
Most American audiences look at the situation as I once did-the Arabs can just move. Closer examination and study-as well as two opportunities now to see the “barrier” up close and personal have convinced me that the idea of the Palestinans moving is just wishful thinking. The road to Eretz Yisrael is going to be long and bumpy:
What makes the two-state solution unachievable is the fact that since 1967 Israel has settled close to three quarters of a million Jews in the territories it captured from Jordan (emphasis mine)in 1967. About one-third of those are in the area Israel defined as Jerusalem and annexed in 1967, declaring it to be non-negotiable. Of the remaining five hundred thousand, the lowest estimate of the number that would have to be removed in order for a viable, territorially contiguous Palestinian state to be set up in the West Bank is one hundred thousand. This is a task that no Israeli government, committed as it may be to the two-state solution, would be able to carry out, politically. To this day no Israeli government has removed even one of the West Bank “outposts” that are illegal by Israeli law (all Jewish settlements in the occupied territories are illegal by international law), despite promises to the US and several decisions by Israel’s own High Court of Justice.
The declared purpose of the settlement drive in the West Bank (as in the other occupied territories) was to change demographic realities in order to make Israel’s withdrawal from those territories impossible. This purpose has been achieved. Not only are the settlers, their family members and their supporters an electoral power block that cannot be ignored, settlers and their supporters now make up a significant proportion of the command structure of Israel’s security forces, the same forces that would have to carry out a decision to remove the settlers.
To counter this argument, critics may point to the withdrawal of Jewish settlements from Gaza in 2005. That example, however, actually supports our argument. In order to remove 8,000 Jewish settlers from Gaza, an easily isolated region of no religious significance to Jews, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, a military hero idolized by both the settlers and the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) had to deploy the entire man and woman power of all of Israel’s security forces. Moreover, the Gaza withdrawal was not done in agreement with the Palestinians, or in order to facilitate peace with them. It was done unilaterally, in order to make Israel’s control of Gaza more efficient. Judging by this example, removing 100,000 settlers from the West Bank, in order to enable the establishment of a Palestinian state, would be an impossible task.
Instead of pursuing the mirage of a two-state solution, would-be peace makers should recognize the fact that Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories in fact constitute one state that has been in existence for nearly forty-five years, the longest lasting political formation in these territories since the Ottoman Empire. (The British Mandate for Palestine lasted thirty years; Israel in its pre-1967 borders lasted only nineteen years). The problem with that state, from a democratic, humanistic perspective, is that forty percent of its residents, the Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza, are non-citizens deprived of all civil and political rights. The solution to this problem is simple, although deeply controversial: establishing one secular, non-ethnic, democratic state with equal citizenship rights to all in the entire area between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River.
A one state solution is a recipe for either apartheid or the loss of Israel’s identity as a Jewish State-either of which is a disaster for Israel. The Arabs are not going anywhere-so what are they to do? It would appear for the immediate future anyway, the answer is to simply muddle through.
 One of the most annoying things in dealing with Israeli’s is their continuing trend to answer a question with a question. I suspect it’s not really intentional-but rather an uptick of a culture that assumes everything is a negotiation. As an American-who just wants to know the bottom line up front, its more than a little disconcerting.  Also too, equally annoying is-after having told them in no uncertain terms: “No”-they ask the same question in a different way. Repeat.
I am also amazed at the numbers of Filipinos working in Israel. It’s a lot. I went to a nightclub one night and I almost thought I was back in Hong Kong. ( sigh). I looked up from the bar and felt my senses quickening in the same manner I would in Wanchai. Fortunately-I recalled my status in life and went back to sulking over my Goldstar. Interesting that, in at least one way-Israelis now have something in common with the Gulf State Arabs ( and the Chinese). They only give them one day off a week-if they’re lucky.
The Hebrew language really fascinates me. Every time I make a trip I try to decipher more and more of the alphabet. I’ve gotten to where I can read the letters ( after a fashion). And when in Israel I have learned to condition myself to the right to left reading scheme. Like in Japan, its really not so hard once you get used to it-once you understand the rules of the road. However, I think I would love to learn the spoken language-not that it would prove of any use to me. But it has to be easier to learn than Japanese was.
It would probably consistent with my overall language learning experience to date. I know German and Japanese-languages that are limited in the areas where they are useful. So Hebrew would only add to the list. :-)
And finally-don’t try to leave Tel Aviv on the same day as: the Tel Aviv marathon and the day Israel goes to daylight savings time. ( Because Friday evening begins Shabbat-they do it on Friday morning at 2AM.) Suffice it to say it makes getting a taxi to Ben Gurion a challenge to say the least.

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Feb 25 2012

What would John do?

The folks over at Foreign Policy Magazine have a pretty interesting article up-pointing out that in a lot of ways, the current situation Vis a Vis Iran is similar to that which John Adams faced: A foreign power creating headaches for American policy and a distinct segment of the US population clamoring for a war. Adams faced the latter group down-albeit at great political cost to himself-and in so doing may have saved the young Republic from real disaster.

In the summer of 1798, U.S. President John Adams faced the gravest crisis of his time in office. Hostilities with the revolutionary, expansionist regime in France had been rising since his election, with French privateers seizing American merchant ships off the Atlantic coast. Adams's effort at diplomacy had backfired. The envoys he had sent to France had been met with extortionate and insulting demands; the publication of their dispatches, in what came to be known as the XYZ Affair, had provoked a firestorm of outrage and war fever, the likes of which the young republic had never before known. The public, led by Adams's own Federalist Party, was demanding a declaration of war. Adams himself had stoked those public passions. But now, in the summer, he hesitated between belligerence and yet more diplomacy.

The United States is now locked in conflict with Iran, another revolutionary, expansionist power. It is not yet summer 1798, but it's getting close. Today's president, Barack Obama, as firmly committed to the principle of engagement as Adams was to the principle of neutrality, is still giving diplomacy a chance. But the bugles are sounding. Israeli officials openly and urgently talk about the need for military action; Iran has apparently responded with a barrage of assassination attempts abroad; and polls show that a majority of Americans are prepared to use force to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. The president is under pressure, not from his own party, but from his adversaries, to issue an ultimatum to Iran. We may be only one stupid mistake away from the point where an attack becomes unavoidable.

Just like the lies being spread around Washington in the present day-so too were lies spread about Adams by his political opposition. Adams well understood the threat, just as Obama does now. However Adams also knew that a war would be a disaster for the new Republic.


Unlike Bush, however, Adams did not want war, and neither, it turned out, did France. Once Charles M. de Talleyrand, France's foreign minister, saw that the United States was preparing for war, he began authorizing intermediaries to tell influential Americans that France had no wish for hostilities and would accept a new envoy with none of the onerous conditions (including the payment of adouceur, or bribe, to himself) imposed on the previous mission. Adams began hearing from private citizens and diplomats, including his son John Quincy, then minister in Berlin, that France wanted peace. None of this was publicly known, and opinion remained no less inflamed. But Adams concluded he had to take a risk on Talleyrand's bona fides. In February 1799, he appointed his minister to the Netherlands as envoy to France. And in October 1800, the two sides signed a peace treaty known as the Convention of 1800.

Of course there are some very big differences. 1) Adams did not have the albatross of Israel draped around his neck-which Obama does. Iran may not want war with the US ( I firmly believe the Iranians are not that stupid-what they want is regional dominance, but not national suicide), but they haven't come to terms with Israel's existence yet and that's a problem. They also have not grasped the true ability of Israel to retaliate against them-nor the commitment that the United States has to Israel. 2) Mahmoud Ahmadinejad  can hardly be considered a rational actor-unlike France's Talleyrand. 3) There is the wild card of Iranian leadership's commitment to the apostate religion of Islam-whereas in 1798 religion was in its proper place, on the sidelines. And Adams had time and distance on his side-Obama doesn't,  thanks to the march of technology.

Kind of sad, really. The people of Iran have great potential. However they are being led to the trough through accidents of history and a revolution gone badly wrong. One might hope that eventually there will be a reckoning with the Mullahs. But don't kid yourself that's not happening anytime soon. " It may be, in short, that Iran will stop at nothing to reach at least the capacity to build a bomb. And then Obama or his successor will have to choose, not between war and diplomacy, but between war and containment. And in that case, it will take much more political courage to stick to a policy of patience and restraint."

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Oct 26 2007

Girls with guns.

Published by under Israel and Palestine

piece_in_the_middle1.jpgIs a whole fascination thing I never understood. However there are some guys who just get breathless thinking about the idea of a girl toting an Uzi. Me? Its just another woman out there who now has a way to inflict yet more pain on men and in the process settle whatever longstanding grudges are lodged deep in her soul. That’s just plain scary.

Leave it to the Israelis (H/T to the Canadian Skippy for finding this) however,  to figure out a way to use that fascination as a marketing ploy.

Now anybody who has been to Israel knows they have some really smoking women over there-with big breasts. I think they put something in the water. When I was visiting my Israeli friend in a little town called Zikron Yakov- 30 clicks south of Haifa-he invited me to a party. At the party was a guy and his wife- who was of Yemeni descent, but had been born in Israel of a Yemeni mother and and European father. She was, knock you over, jaw dropping, not an ounce of wasted skin on her body, beautiful. The whole time I was talking with her and her husband, I had a hard time concentrating because all I could think about in the back of my mind was that this guy was going to take her back to wherever-and knock the bottom of her. And I was going back to Daron’s tiny little guest room with its sleeping bag-alone. Man! I can still picture her today, 15 years later.

Or as my more well versed counterpart would point out:

Attracting tourists is further complicated by the small matter of whenever you turn on the television, you find out that a suicide bomber has just blown up a bus in Haifa. That’s pretty off-putting. Particularly when you consider that if you want to die in a commuter mishap, Minnesota is much cheaper. Last I checked, they still have a few bridges that haven’t fallen down. But they could. I spent an afternoon in Minnesota once and I would have welcomed a bridge falling on top of me.But I digress. This was supposed to be about the serious business of tourism.

And Israel has finally figured it out! They now seem to understand that only a lunatic is willing to get themselves blown up on a bus just to see where Jesus was born. But pretty much everyone will get blown up for quality poontang!

I gotta go take a shower…………….

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Jul 20 2006

Proxy War- Part II

Published by under Israel and Palestine

Yesterday I talked about how George Bush and Syria’s President were in agreement about what to do about Hezbolah in Lebanon. Talk a good game, but do nothing to stop the fighting. Today I’ll examin why George Bush will do nothing in Lebanon till Israel has put a dent in Hezbolah.

From his perspective, the Katushya attacks are a God-send. Since the begining of the GWOT, he has had a to walk a fine line about preserving perceptions in order to keep Arab allies in line and try to stay on the moral high ground. This is about bringing terrorists to justice, not about promoting an agenda that furthers Israels interests. Tough job for one of the most pro-Israel presidents since Harry Truman. Just as in Gulf War I, preserving the coalition depended on keeping Israel in the box. Thanks to the attacks he does not have to any longer. He gets to give Iran’s ally a balck eye and it costs him nothing but 3 billion a year in aid to do so. Plus from his perspective its a two-fer; since Hezbolah ios backed by Iran, they get a black eye. That is especially helpful since, thanks to the continuing drain of the Iraq war on the US military and the SECDEF”S obsession with down sizing it, the military is no position to start a 6th war any time soon. (Homeland Defense, Iraq, HOA, PI, deterrence of North Korea). And to be blunt, this is a fight we should stay out of , and benefit from.

Benefit from you ask? The US, gets to watch Hezbolah and by extension Iran get a punch in the nose, a labeled terrorist organization get hurt and as a weekend bonus, see Israel do some tactical development and research on all the weapons we have sent them, for free. (Free to us at least, the Israelis pay a price.) For both President Bush and the Israeli Prime Minister the clock is ticking. Once again from Stratfor:

Two of the realities cannot be changed. Nothing can be done about geography or demography. Culture can be changed. It is not inherently the case that Israel will have a technological or operational advantage over its neighbors. The great inherent fear of Israel is that the Arabs will equal or surpass Israeli prowess culturally and therefore militarily.
If that were to happen, then all three realities would turn against Israel and Israel might well be at risk.That is why the capture of Israeli troops, first one in the south, then two in the north, has galvanized Israel. The kidnappings represent a level of Arab tactical prowess that previously was the Israeli domain. They also represent a level of tactical slackness on the Israeli side that was previously the Arab domain. These events hardly represent a fundamental shift in the balance of power. Nevertheless, for a country that depends on its cultural superiority, any tremor in this variable reverberates dramatically. Hamas and Hezbollah have struck the core Israeli nerve. Israel cannot ignore it.

Embedded in Israel’s demographic problem is this: Israel has national security requirements that outstrip its manpower base. It can field a sufficient army, but its industrial base cannot supply all of the weapons needed to fight high-intensity conflicts. This means it is always
dependent on an outside source for its industrial base and must align its policies with that source. At first this was the Soviets, then France and finally the United States. Israel broke with the Soviets and France when their political demands became too intense. It was after 1967 that it entered into a patron-client relationship with the United States. This relationship is its strength and its weakness. It gives the Israelis the systems they need for
national security, but since U.S. and Israeli interests diverge, the relationship constrains Israel’s range of action.

The Israelis know they can never win the public opinon battle about this invasion. They really don’t care. If Israel is going to be attacked anyway, it might as well achieve its goals. So long as the patron is happy, and they would have to do a lot make George Bush happy, they feel they have room to maneuver. In this instance the US has a lot of incentive to give them that freedom. More STRATFOR analysis:

Therefore, this is one Israeli action that benefits the United States, and thus helps the immediate situation as well as long-term geopolitical alignments. It realigns the United States and Israel. This also argues that any invasion must be devastating to Hezbollah. It must go deep. It must occupy temporarily. It must shatter Hezbollah.At this point, the Israelis appear to be unrolling a war plan in this direction. They
have blockaded the Lebanese coast. Israeli aircraft are attacking what air power
there is in Lebanon, and have attacked Hezbollah and other key command-and-control infrastructure. It would follow that the Israelis will now concentrate on destroying Hezbollah — and Lebanese — communications capabilities and attacking munitions dumps, vehicle sites, rocket-storage areas and so forth.

Most important, Israel is calling up its reserves. This is never a symbolic gesture in Israel. All Israelis below middle age are in the reserves and mobilization is costly in every sense of the word. If the Israelis were planning a routine reprisal, they would not be mobilizing. But they are, which means they are planning to do substantially more than retributive airstrikes. The question is what their plan is.

George W. and Condi will take their time finding out, that is for sure. In the meantime Israel has the freedom it needs to move. Witness a recent e-mail add from the Jersulaem Post (I suscribe electronically to the paper):

Like the pig and breakfast, Israel is totally committed!

There are of course risks, particularly if Israel kills large numbers of Lebanese. It will provide a proganada field day and another excuse for the Iranians to stir up trouble someplace else (Like attacking Americans in Iraq…..). But that’s to be seen. For the future, the watch word with Bush is- WAIT!

And since its not us doing the bombing, that’s probably a good thing.

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Jul 19 2006

Proxy War-Part I

Published by under Israel and Palestine

Another day another 200 killed, maimed, or fleeing in Lebanon. Familiar news headlines that start with “Israeli warplanes bomb (fill in the blank)” or “Hezbollah declares it hatred of the Zionists. Bombs set off in (fill in the blank).”

And the US Navy, one of whose missions is to evacuate American citizens and show large grey, gun and missile toting hulls off the coast, is outsourcing its role to cruise ships from Cyprus and car carriers from Norway. Guess we are not going to see this anymore:

USS New Jersey “sending a message” off Lebanon in 1984.

Now in the world I grew up in 100,000 tons of lots of US ships could send a message to both sides to rachet things down a notch or two……….now we just outsource it to the Europeans at first, since the US is too busy to send an LHA to the region right away because all the Marines are involved in fighting in (fill in the blank). (And yes I know USS Iwo Jima and her strike group is on their way! However in a proper world with a proper sized Navy they would have been on station anyway…..).

I digress however……….

I read an interesting theory this weekend that said in essence: that both the US and Syria want the fighting between Hezbollah and Israel to continue. For different reasons but similar end states. Lets look at Syria first:

Hezbollah’s decision to increase operations against Israel was not taken lightly. The leadership of Hezbollah has not so much moderated over the years as it has aged. The group’s leaders have also, with age, become comfortable and in many cases wealthy. They are at least part of the Lebanese political process, and in some real sense part of the Lebanese establishment. These are men with a radical past and of radical mind-set, but they are older, comfortable and less adventurous than 20 years ago. Therefore, the question is: Why are they increasing tensions with Israel and inviting an invasion that threatens their very lives? ……

Hezbollah had a split personality, however; it was supported by two very different states. Iran was radically Islamic. Syria, much closer and a major power in Lebanon, was secular and socialist. They shared an anti-Zionist ideology, but beyond that, not much. Moreover, the Syrians viewed the Palestinian claim for a state with a jaundiced eye. Palestine was, from their point of view, part of the Ottoman Empire’s Syrian province, divided by the British and French. Syria wanted to destroy Israel, but not necessarily to create a Palestinian state. From Syria’s point of view, the real issue was the future of Lebanon, which it wanted to reabsorb into Syria, or at the very least economically exploit.

The Syrians intervened in Lebanon against the Palestine Liberation Organization and on the side of some Christian elements. Their goal was much less ideological than political and economic. They saw Hezbollah as a tool in their fight with Yasser Arafat and for domination of Syria. Hezbollah strategically was aligned with Iran. Tactically, it had to align itself with Syria, since the Syrians dominated Lebanon. That meant that when Syria wanted tension with Israel, Hezbollah provided it, and when Syria wanted things to quiet down, Hezbollah cooled it. Meanwhile the leadership of Hezbollah, aligned with the Syrians, was in a position to prosper, particular after the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon.That withdrawal involved a basic, quiet agreement between Syria and Israel. Israel accepted Syrian domination of Lebanon. In return, Syria was expected to maintain a security regime that controlled Hezbollah. Attacks against Israel had to be kept within certain acceptable limits. Syria, having far less interest in Israel than in Lebanon, saw this as an opportunity to achieve its ends. Israel saw Syrian domination under these terms as a stabilizing force.

What follows from the Statfor analysis is chilling. After pointing out that the events in Lebanon last year precipitated a Syrian withdrawal, and a resultant lack of control, the analysis goes on to point out:

Now, do not overestimate the extent of the withdrawal. Syrian influence in Lebanon is still enormous. But it did relieve Syria of the burden of controlling Hezbollah. Indeed, Israel was not overly enthusiastic about Syria’s withdrawal from Lebanon for just that reason.Syria could now claim to have no influence or obligation concerning Hezbollah. Hezbollah’s leadership lost the cover of being able to tell the young Turks that they would be more aggressive, but that the Syrians would not let them. As the Syrian withdrawal loosened up Lebanese politics, Hezbollah was neither restrained nor could it pretend to be restrained. Whatever the mixed feelings might have been, the mission was the mission, Syrian withdrawal opened the door and Hezbollah could not resist walking through it, and many members urgently wanted to walk through it.

At the same time the Iranians were deeply involved in negotiations in Iraq and over Tehran’s nuclear program. They wanted as many levers as they could find to use in negotiations against the United States. They already had the ability to destabilize Iraq. They had a nuclear program the United States wanted to get rid of. Reactivating a global network that directly threatened American interests was another chip on the bargaining table. Not attacking U.S. interests but attacking Israel demonstrated Hezbollah’s vibrancy without directly threatening the United States. Moreover, activities around the world, not carefully shielded in some cases, gave Iran further leverage.

Thanks to the great leader in North Korea, that last line may be exactly correct.

However the immediate benefit to Syria has to be obvious. Israel does not want nor need another Islamic state spouting death threats. That plate is full. They are also hoping that Israel gets bogged down again in Lebanon. It could then turn to Syria to relieve it of its burdens. This gets Syria regime preservation and the opportunity to reclaim Lebanon.

Which makes a real problem for Westerners in Lebanon. Because as Hezbollah gets pushed to the wall…….watch out!:

So now the question is: What does Hezbollah do when the Israelis come? They can resist. They have anti-tank weapons and other systems from Iran. They can inflict casualties. They can impose a counterinsurgency. Syria may think Israel will have to stay, but Israel plans to
crush Hezbollah’s infrastructure and leave, forcing Hezbollah to take years to recover. Everyone else in Lebanon is furious at Hezbollah for disrupting the recovery. What does Hezbollah do?In the 1980s, what Hezbollah did was take Western hostages. The United States is enormously sensitive to hostage situations. It led Ronald Reagan to Iran-Contra. Politically, the United States has trouble handling hostages. This is the one thing Hezbollah learned in the 1980s that the leaders remember. A portfolio of hostages is life insurance. Hezbollah could go back to its old habits. It makes sense to do so.

It will not do this while there is a chance of averting an invasion. But once it is
crystal clear it is coming, grabbing hostages makes sense. Assuming the invasion
is going to occur early next week (this was written last week, Israeli troops crossed the border today) — or a political settlement is going to take place — Western powers now have no more than 72 hours to get their nationals out of Beirut or into places of safety. That probably cannot be done. There are thousands of Westerners in Beirut. But the next few days will focus on ascertaining Israeli intensions and timelines, and executing plans to withdraw
citizens. The Israelis might well shift their timeline to facilitate this. But all things considered, if Hezbollah returns to its roots, it should return to its first operational model: hostages.

Which by the way, is why a US ship is named Higgins. Unfortunately, its a little bit busy now and the Sixth fleet is a fleet in name only…..all the ships are elsewhere. Not to worry though, we can outsource the evacuation. Better business practices and such. Can’t let protecting Americans get in the way of protecting Iraqis after all.

Tomorrow: Why the US wants to sit on its hands for a while……..

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