Saturday, January 09, 2010
...it has been widely reported that the issue of permanent borders would be the first one tackled in future Israeli-Palestinian talks - the idea being that once they are decided on, the contentious issues regarding settlement building would dissolve, and Israel would clearly be able to build in the settlements that would fall inside the negotiated border.
There have been reports of a US interest in solving the border issue within the next nine months, before the end of the construction moratorium in the settlements, so it would be clear afterward where Israel could and could not build.
But the problem with that approach, according to a senior official in Jerusalem, is that it would mean Israel relinquishing land and settlements without getting anything in return, and then having to begin discussing the more difficult issues of Jerusalem, refugees and the demilitarization of a future Palestinian state.
"In this case you give up territorial assets, and what have you done?" asked the official. "You haven't ended the conflict, and haven't dealt with refugees or Jerusalem. This idea is a nonstarter for all the ministers, from Left or Right."
The official said that from Jerusalem's point of view, the idea that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed must be the guiding principle in future talks, just as it has been in previous rounds.
Netanyahu ...said at the Likud faction meeting on Monday ...that Palestinian preconditions for talks had wasted precious time that could have been spent negotiating a real agreement, rather than a framework for talks.
"I believe that negotiations about the nature of negotiations have delayed the process enough and should be dropped," the prime minister said.
He said it was obvious that each side would be free to raise its positions around the negotiating table. But, he said, Israel insisted that the results of the negotiations be determined in talks at the end of the process, and certainly not by preconditions at the very beginning.
....Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman meanwhile met on Monday with visiting Quartet envoy Tony Blair and said that it was important to hold a "frank dialogue" with the Palestinians, without creating any illusions that would only cause more frustration and lead to violence.
Lieberman said it was unrealistic to solve the border issue in nine months, and - as the Palestinians are demanding - to set a two-year deadline for reaching a final agreement.
According to a statement put out by his office, Lieberman said that what was needed was to start direct talks without committing to a deadline.
Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein, who is the only resident of Judea and Samaria among the Likud ministers, said he warned Netanyahu on Sunday against going too far to bring about negotiations with the Palestinians. He said that he and other Likud MKs were "getting ready to fight" against diplomatic concessions, just in case.
MK Danny Danon intended to criticize Netanyahu on diplomatic issues in Monday's Likud faction meeting ...
Danon ...warned security cabinet ministers in meetings on Monday that "Netanyahu will end up leading us back to pre-1967 borders."
Friday, January 08, 2010
The IAF struck targets in the Gaza Strip Thursday night...apparently in response to the firing of a Katyusha rocket which landed near Ashkelon earlier in the night.
...The rocket landed in an open field, causing no casualties or damage. Air sirens sounded throughout the area, causing panic among the residents, who for the past year have enjoyed a period of quiet.
Earlier Thursday, terrorists in Gaza fired an anti-tank missile at IDF troops near the periphery fence. Soldiers returned fire toward the source of the attack. No casualties were reported.
That attack came after at least ten mortar shells launched from Gaza hit open areas in Israel's South. No one was wounded and no damage was reported in the mortar shell barrage. The Popular Resistance Committee claimed responsibility for firing the shells, saying they were in revenge for an IAF strike several days ago that killed two of the group's men.
Following the attacks, the Defense Ministry closed the Kerem Shalom border crossing until further notice. Dozens of aid-carrying trucks were waiting on the Israeli side to enter the Gaza Strip.
Also on Thursday, the Israel Air Force dropped several thousand leaflets over the Gaza Strip in several locations, warning residents of the Strip not to come within 300 meters of the border fence between Gaza and Israel and to avoid cooperating with terror operatives.
Another leaflet called on Gaza residents not to sit idly by while operatives digging tunnels under the Gaza Strip's southern border were putting their lives in peril. The leaflets contained a phone number and email address for Gazans to report those involved in digging the smuggling tunnels.
The mortar shell barrage came a day after OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant warned that the quiet in Israel's South may be temporary. It's true that we are after the first rains and the sun is shining - but one can see dark clouds in the distance," the general said during a tour with heads of regional councils marking a year since Operation Cast Lead....
Don't be fooled by ... the appearance of tranquility that seemingly prevails with respect to US-Israel relations......The current hiatus, during which Israel has been placed on the back burner, is due to the fact that President Barack Obama has had his hands full with other crises. Wrangling over health-care reform, dilemmas over how to handle Afghanistan and critiques about his disastrous policy of engaging with tyrants have dramatically eroded his standing even with liberal supporters. This applies especially to the degrading Iranian responses to the administration's groveling efforts to appease them.
INDEED, OBAMA'S recent pronouncements indicate that he may have internalized some of these issues and actually taken a few steps back. His Nobel Prize acceptance speech endorsing the need to combat evil and the obligation to use force, as exemplified in the war against Nazism, was an effort to modify his emerging portrayal in the media as an impotent pacifist.
...Although Congress has affirmed its support for the Jewish state, the administration has in no way signaled any deviation from its initial determination to publicly downgrade the special relationship maintained by former administrations.
In fact, new pressures are looming. European hostility is exemplified by the new EU representative for foreign affairs, Catherine Ashton, who in her maiden speech bitterly criticized the "Israeli occupation," described the temporary freeze as merely "the first step," referred to east Jerusalem as occupied territory, called for a lifting of the blockade of Gaza and expressed renewed opposition to the security fence. Her speech contained no condemnations of Hamas or calls on the Palestinians to cease their incitement. The Europeans are clearly maneuvering to force Israel to return to 1967 borders and negotiate directly with Hamas.
Global pressure is now also mounting to implement the secret and unauthorized offers extended by former prime minister Ehud Olmert to the Palestinians in the dying days of his tenure, when he desperately sought to end his term with a dramatic breakthrough on the peace process. The deal, which PA President Mahmoud Abbas rejected, included ceding all territory gained in the Six Day War, with a few land swaps to retain the major settlement blocs. Olmert even offered to hand over control of the Temple Mount to an international body controlled by Arabs. The lame-duck prime minister initiated this without reference to his cabinet, the Knesset or any other group - and the Netanyahu government has from the outset been adamant that it considers itself in no way obligated to honor these extraordinary unauthorized initiatives.
CURRENTLY, ABBAS appears intent on doing nothing, relying on the international community to continue beating up Israel and extracting unilateral concessions. He even proclaimed that he would not resume negotiations until the international community affirmed that the Palestinian state would adhere to the 1967 borders. However, should he come to his senses and agree to renew discussions, he has repeatedly insisted that the opening benchmark of future negotiations must be based on the offers extended to him by Olmert, despite having previously rejected them. He also seems confident that in order to boost his standing against Hamas, the Americans would press Israel to make further concessions.
There is said to be an internal debate within the US administration whether or not to publicly announce a plan which would probably be similar to the European plan. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has already referred to an independent Palestinian state "based on 1967 lines and agreed swaps." That would certainly result in a major confrontation with the Israeli government.
These pressures are likely to impact us simultaneously with new initiatives by our enemies, who will undoubtedly exploit the Goldstone report to further demonize and delegitimize us. The UN and other foes of Israel will soon be launching major campaigns calling on the International Criminal Court to charge Israel with crimes against humanity as well as intensifying efforts to indict individual political and military leaders for war crimes.
WE SHOULD have no illusions. The situation is grave. Tough days lie ahead, and we are probably more isolated today than at any time since the birth of the state.
Netanyahu has offered the Palestinians an independent demilitarized state and a settlement freeze - far more than Yitzhak Rabin was willing to concede. Yet he is rebuffed by the Palestinians and accused of being intransigent by the global community, while the Americans, at best, sit on the sidelines. In fact, Obama went so far as to relate to the neighborhood of Gilo in Jewish Jerusalem as an area of contention, complaining that construction in the area "embitters the Palestinians in a way that could end up being very dangerous."
We must prepare ourselves...
Thursday, January 07, 2010
- the shortcomings of Jewish leadership during the Holocaust and continuing through to the present;
- the threat posed to Israel by Iran;
- the complicity of European nations who are providing parts for Iran’s nuclear program; and
- the position taken by world Jewry today.
...if a Holocaust victim could rise up from one of the mass graves for ten minutes and speak, he would ask three questions:
- One, Why didn't the Jews of the world move heaven and earth to stop the massacre?
- Two, Why was so little done to bring the Nazis to justice after the Holocaust?
- Three, Why didn't we as Jews have the self-respect as a people to find the mass graves, to discover where and how the Jews were killed and to say Kaddish?
...American Jews during World War II were not without power and resources – they could have made a lot more noise. At the very least, they could have pushed for one bombing run on the tracks to Auschwitz. But they didn’t.
Today, American Jews are more powerful than we were in 1939 and arguably more powerful than at any time in the past two thousand years. We are powerful because the Jews of the Diaspora have a voice in the United States and Europe, and we are powerful because of Israel’s military strength.
And yet, today we are facing enormous threats to Israel that are every bit as serious and in some ways more frightening than in 1939, with the potential for devastating consequences. One nuclear device can do the unthinkable in an instant. Israel’s very existence could be at stake if Iran attains a nuclear weapon.
...I don’t believe we’ve learned our lessons from 1944. ...We need to do everything in our power to raise the alarm. We need to speak up, to agitate, to make the world take notice. At the same time, we must respect Israel’s autonomy, its right to steer its own course and make its own decisions.
I believe that American Jewry is in danger of repeating mistakes of seventy years ago in the way it is responding, or rather not responding, to the current American administration’s position ....
...this administration is putting unusual and unwarranted public pressure on Israel. American Jewry’s attachment to pacifism is often admirable, but currently is not in Israel’s best interest. There are many critical lessons to be learned from World War II. One is that sometimes it takes war to end evil, as it did with Hitler. The lack of visible action to date vis-à-vis the Iranian threat – as a community and as individuals – suggests that we have not yet integrated these lessons.
The Iranian threat
Today we have cause for fear. A nuclear Iran is looming on the world’s horizon. Iran has made no secret of its intent, which is to exterminate Israel. Because of its size, Israel could be obliterated with one bomb, which means it could be imperative that Israel attack preemptively.
I believe that when Ahmadinejad declares that “Israel must be wiped off the map,” he is declaring his intention, just as Hitler made his intention clear in Mein Kampf in 1925. When Hitler declared that his aim was to destroy the Jews, he meant it. He spelled out his intention. And nobody listened.
When Hezbollah’s Nasrallah says that it’s good that Jews are gathered in one place, in Israel, because, “it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide,” he means it.
When Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said, on Iranian television in 2000: “Iran’s position...is that the cancerous tumor called Israel must be uprooted from the region,” he meant it.
...The lesson learned from World War II is that waiting is not the answer. Imagine how many lives would have been spared, how much sooner World War II would have ended, if the United States had gone to war against Hitler in 1939, instead of waiting two years and two months until Pearl Harbor. ...instead, the isolationists in both parties held sway, much as they are today.
Europe and the United States
One of the most important questions to consider in the event of a crisis facing Israel is whether the free world will stand with Israel today, or whether it will abandon the Jews as it did seventy years ago.
Can Israel count on the Europeans? I have my doubts....Historically anti-Semitic, the European masses are largely anti-Israel and I believe there is a very thin line – probably no line at all – between today’s anti-Israel sentiment and yesterday’s anti-Semitism. Europe’s rising Muslim population and its complete dependence on Arab oil indicates that these European countries will not play any meaningful or constructive role regarding the Iranian threat to Israel....
American Jewry’s commitment to liberalism
...the majority of the Jews, and I count myself among them, have remained loyal to the platforms of the left. This despite the fact that the evolution of the American right has become more philo-Semitic and more pro-Israel. And the hawks and evangelicals among them are the most fervent and committed supporters of the State of Israel. From the perspective of our own survival, we should gravitate towards those who wish us well and support our standing in the world.
Let me make my position clear. An attack on Israel is effectively an attack on the Jewish people. When they’re coming to chop our heads off, the items that Jews care about as a matter of political heritage and tikkun olam – issues such as women’s rights, reproductive rights, universal health care, separation of church and state, education, diversity, the arts, and all other agendas must come second. The sanctity and security of the well-being of the State of Israel and the well-being of its citizens are what count and are of paramount importance. ...It is not our intellect, not our Nobel prizes, not our supposed financial acumen. ...the only antidote to Auschwitz is Israel – and its military might. As such, Israel is fighting not only for itself, but for all Jews – and I would argue that by extension it is fighting for the well-being of the Western world and its values.
Jewish leadership during World War II
Looking back, the failure of American Jewish leadership during World War II is no doubt due in part to a desire to hold onto the relatively newfound security of living in America, a safe haven and an ocean away from the turmoil of Europe.
...There were other groups trying to rescue Jews and they were also essentially silenced by America’s mainstream Jewish leadership.
...I would argue that in some Jewish circles, with some minor differences, we are in a similar situation today.
...Jewish leadership failed us during the Holocaust and it’s failed us since. We had a rare success with Soviet Jewry and we should learn from that.
Soviet Jewry movement
But even with the success story of the Soviet Jewry movement, the establishment did not lead. ...It took a grassroots uprising ...for the establishment to finally step up. When it did, the establishment was extremely effective – we witnessed the possibility of unified action, the potential of the Jewish community to influence the course of history. We need to do it again, and we need to do it now.
Today’s Jewish leadership
What of today’s Jewish leadership? Has it learned from World War II? From the Soviet Jewry movement? ...Throughout history, we’ve had court Jews who did what they thought was best for the Jewish community. Today is no exception. Today’s agenda in the White House is being set by people who ...believe they are the authorities on what is good for Israel and that they know better than Israel’s elected officials, who face down rabid enemies every waking moment of their lives.
And this conviction of knowing what’s best for Israel is not limited to our leaders. ...while seventy-eight percent of American Jews voted for Obama and believed he felt strongly about Israel’s safety, a recent poll found that only four percent of Israeli Jews believe that Obama’s policies are pro-Israel. This disconnect between the perceptions of American Jews and Israeli Jews points to a disconnect between Jews on the front line and Jews in America.
Israel’s right to self-determination
All signs are pointing to a near future in which Israel will face many difficult choices regarding Iran. ...Those of us sipping cappuccinos at Starbucks on the West Side of Manhattan, drinking cosmopolitans in Chicago, bicycling in the Bay Area, sunning ourselves in Miami, or praying in Borough Park are not qualified to impose our political will on Israel. ...the Israelis know a bit more about the neighbourhood they live in than do the policy wonks in Washington.
Israel has the right to make its own decisions.
...At this point, we hope that President Obama will be successful, and if he isn’t that he will change direction quickly. For our part, though, I hope that we have learned our lesson from 1944 in this regard, which is that if the United States is not doing the right thing, and Israel is in danger, then we must protest, as our grandparents should have done in the 1930s and ’40s...
So, what lessons can we learn from 1944?
...If we behave as we have in the past, during World War II and in many of our crises throughout history, we are in deep trouble.
Second, the world should not appease tyrants. Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement policy was disastrous, yet the western world went along with him ...Today the West is appeasing terrorist regimes. Stop. It won’t work.
Third, Jewish leadership has failed us in the past. It is failing us now in Iran. ...We need to light a fire under our leaders.
Fourth, presidents are not infallible. When Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a popular and revered president, took a stand on not bombing Auschwitz, on not providing havens for escape, on not letting the SS St. Louis dock and unload its passengers, he was wrong. The eventual result was that millions died. If President Obama, another popular president, pushes his own agenda in the Middle East, and we believe that it may be detrimental to our people, we have a duty as American citizens and as Jews to challenge him and his administration.
In conclusion, for the Jewish people, Israel is our haven and to many of us, central to our beings as Jews. Yet Israel is also the canary in the coal mine – as goes Israel, so goes world Jewry and the values of the Western world. We must make Israel and the survival of the Jewish people the raison d’être of our political activity. Whether we agree with Israel’s politics or not, each of us has a personal stake in the outcome. We need to reach within ourselves to find the grit we had in 1948, not the complacency of 1939...
...Shortly after he came to office as Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper said that unfortunately in some countries, hatred of the Jews is still preached from religious pulpits and still proclaimed from political podiums.
“There are still people who would perpetrate another Holocaust if they could. That’s why we must resist the error of viewing the Holocaust as a strictly historical event. It’s not good enough for politicians to stand before you and say they remember and mourn what happened over six decades ago. They must stand up to those who advocate the destruction of Israel and its people today. They must be unequivocal in their condemnation of anti-Semitic despots, terrorists and fanatics, because those who attack Israel and those who sponsor such attacks do not seek merely to gain some leverage or to alter some boundary or to right some wrong.”
He said, “they seek what they and those like them, have always sought, the destruction of Israel and the destruction of the Jewish people.” Why? “A thousand complicated rationalizations, but only one simple reason: because the Jews are different, because the Jews are not like them. And because Israel is different and alone in a complicated part of the world, it is too easy to embrace the rationalizations and to ignore the truth. But our government believes that those who threaten Israel also threaten Canada because, as the last World War showed us, hate fuelled bigotry against some is ultimately a threat to us all and must be resisted.”
....We have articulated and implemented a zero tolerance approach to anti-Semitism. What does this mean? It means that we eliminated the government funding relationship with organizations like for example, the Canadian Arab Federation, whose leadership apologized for terrorism or extremism, or who promote hatred, in particular anti-Semitism.
We have ended government contact with like-minded organizations like the Canadian Islamic Congress, whose President notoriously said that all Israelis over the age of 18 are legitimate targets for assassination. We have defunded organizations, most recently like KAIROS, who are taking a leadership role in the boycott. And we’re receiving a lot of criticism for these decisions. I can’t recall how many times I’ve been sued for some of the decisions that we have taken, but we believe that we’ve done these things for the right reasons and we stand by these decisions.
We have shifted our program of multiculturalism ...to focus precisely on integration towards liberal democratic values to remove any confusion that may have existed that our approach to multiculturalism justifies abhorrent cultural practices and the expression of hatred.
And I need to commend our parliamentary colleagues for their tremendous work in forming the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition Against Anti-Semitism, and for launching an inquiry which is undergoing its hearings in Parliament through this month and next. A tremendous opportunity for us to bring to light the threat of the new anti-Semitism across Canada.
At the international level, we have tried to give practical expression to our profound concern about the new anti-Semitism in many ways. We did so by being the first government in the world to announce that we were removing funding for the Palestinian authority following the election of Hamas because of the essentially anti-Semitic nature of that organization. We have robustly stood by the right of the state of Israel to use the means necessary to protect its innocent civilians from attacks, terrorist attacks motivated by hatred, committed by organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas.
At the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, we have called for the continuation of a unique and particular focus on anti-Semitism in the Office on Combating Anti-Semitism, recognizing uniquely durable and pernicious hatred that is anti-Semitism. And at multilateral organizations like the Francophonie and at the United Nations General Assembly, we have consistently opposed anti-Israel resolutions that seek to scapegoat this step, democratic state amongst all others. We have taken that position at the United Nations Human Rights Council. ...during our initial three-year membership, on issue after issue after issue, on resolution after resolution, Canada was the only country, or one of the only countries, to consistently oppose unbalanced anti-Israel resolutions.
We have provided political, diplomatic and moral leadership in efforts to isolate the hateful regime of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. We have led the efforts of the United Nations’s successful efforts to maintain a resolution condemning the reigning regimes human rights violations, including their violations of the rights of the religious minorities. And our Prime Minister led the world in the United Nations General Assembly walk out for the odious speech given by President Ahmadinejad at the UN earlier this year.
And of course, ours was the first government in the world to withdraw from the tainted Durban II process. We did that because our analysis was that it was like the impossible to repeat, to avoid a repetition of some of the notorious expressions of anti-Semitism that we all saw at Durban I and we believe that our decision was vindicated.
Now some have said that our government, in taking these positions, have some abandoned Canada’s traditional position of neutrality or balance in international affairs. That we have somehow undermined Canada’s international credibility and reputation on the world stage by taking these positions. I suppose these are the people who believe that there is some neutrality between tolerance and hatred, between terrorism and counter terrorism. Our government believes that in point of fact, we are reclaiming and giving new real expression to our historically grounded values. Canada was involved in the creation of the human rights process at the United Nations and we do not believe that those institutions, that the principles of the UN Declaration on Human Rights were meant to be perverted and used against democracies, were meant to be used by regimes who prey on an ancient hatred in order for their own political reasons.
We believe those trends have been in perversion of the true vocation, the true meaning of those international institutions and we believe that Canada is restoring our true belief in ability to make moral distinctions between hatred and tolerance between terrorism and counter terrorism. And we will continue to take that position.
Finally, let me say that we are working with the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to combat anti-Semitism with the hope and expectation of hosting in 2010 the next Conference of the Inter-Parliamentary Conference Combating Anti-Semitism....
THE salient strategic fact in the Middle East today is the Iranian drive for regional hegemony. This Iranian objective is being promoted by a rising hardline conservative elite within the Iranian regime, centred on a number of political associations and on the Iranian Revolutionary Guards corps.
This elite, which is personified by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has received the backing of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
Their aim is a second Islamic revolution that would revive the original fire of the revolution of 1979. They appear to be aiming for the augmenting of clerical rule with a streamlined, brutal police-security state, under the banner of Islam. Building Iranian power and influence throughout the Middle East is an integral part of their strategy.
The Iranian nuclear program is an aspect of this ambition. A nuclear capability is meant to form the ultimate insurance for the Iranian regime as it aggressively builds its influence across the region.
This goal of hegemony is being pursued through the assembling of a bloc of states and organisations under Iranian leadership. This bloc, according to Iran, represents authentic Muslim currents within the region, battling against the US and its hirelings. The pro-Iranian bloc includes
- Hezbollah in Lebanon,
- Hamas among the Palestinians, and
- the Houthi rebel forces in northern Yemen.
- Saudi Arabia,
- Bahrain and
The rivalry between these two camps now informs and underlies all-important developments in the Middle East. It is behind the joint Israeli-Egyptian effort to contain the Iran-sponsored Hamas enclave in the Gaza Strip. It is behind the fighting in north Yemen, as Saudi troops take on Shia rebels armed and supported by Iran. The rivalry is behind the face-off between pro-American and pro-Iranian forces in Lebanon. The insurgencies in Afghanistan and in Iraq are also notable for the presence of weaponry traceable to Iran in use by insurgents against Western forces.
Who is winning in this ongoing Middle East cold war? The rhetoric of the Iranians, of course, depicts their advance as unstoppable. The reality is more complex, and the past year has seen gains and losses for both sides.
First, within Iran the electoral victory of Ahmadinejad and the subsequent backing given to him by Khamenei represented a major advance for the Iranian hardline conservatives. Ahmadinejad subsequently confirmed his victory by forming a cabinet that is packed with conservatives and Revolutionary Guardsmen.
But the refusal of large sections of the Iranian people to accept the possibly rigged election and the unprecedented scenes of opposition in the streets of Iranian cities in recent weeks have severely tarnished this achievement.
The ongoing unrest in Iran probably does not constitute an immediate danger to the regime. But it surely indicates that large numbers of Iranians have no desire to see their country turned into the instrument of permanent Islamic revolution and resistance envisaged by the hardline conservatives. The domestic unrest thus hits significantly at the emerging regime's legitimacy, and their ability to promote their regime as a model for governance to the Arab and wider Muslim world.
Iran made major advances in Lebanon last year. The formation of the new Lebanese government in November in essence confirms Hezbollah's domination of the country. Hezbollah is the favoured child of the Iranian regime and its partner in subversive activity globally. There is now no serious internal force in Lebanon able to oppose its will.
In Gaza, the Iranian-sponsored Hamas regime is holding on. The Iranian investment is central to Hamas's ability to stay in power. The movement just announced a budget of $US540 million [$AU590m] for 2010. Of this, just $US55m is to be raised through taxes and local sources of revenue. The rest is to come from "aid and assistance". Hamas does not reveal the identity of its benefactors. But it is fairly obvious that the bulk of this funding will come from Iran. The Palestinian issue remains the central cause celebre of the Arab and Muslim world. The Iranian regime's goal is to take ownership of it.
But there have been setbacks here too. The Iranian resistance model failed in a straight fight with the Israeli Defence Forces in the early part of the year. Hamas's 100-man "Iranian unit" suffered near destruction in Gaza. The Hamas regime in Gaza managed to kill six IDF soldiers in the entire course of Operation Cast Lead. This is a failure, recorded as such by all regional observers.
In addition, someone or the other appears to be trying to demonstrate to the Iranians that the use of terrorism as an instrument of state policy is a two-way street. Hence the killing of 29 Revolutionary Guards in a bombing in October near the Iran-Pakistan border, and the mysterious explosion in Damascus last month that killed a number of Iranian pilgrims.
So at the beginning of 2010, the lines are clearly drawn in the Middle East cold war, and the contest is far from over.
Ultimately, like other totalitarians before them, the Iranian hardline conservatives are likely to fail through overreach. The inefficient, corruption-ridden and oppressive state they are coming to dominate is likely to prove an insufficient instrument to sustain their boundless ambition. Still, this process probably has a long way to run yet. Much will depend on the sense of purpose, will and resourcefulness of the Western and regional countries that this regime has identified as its enemies.
This is a contest for the future of the region. It has almost certainly not yet reached its height.
*Jonathan Spyer is a senior research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs Centre in Herzliya, Israel.
Wednesday, January 06, 2010
China does not plan to hold debates on more sanctions on Iran's nuclear program during its Security Council presidency this month, despite US demands for tougher sanctions, the Chinese ambassador to the UN said on Tuesday.
Ambassador Zhang Yesui told reporters Tuesday "this is not the right time or moment for sanctions" and that diplomats need "more time and patience" to try to bridge differences.
He said his January agenda will focus on Afghanistan, Somalia, Nepal, Ivory Coast, Kosovo, Sudan and the Middle East.
The Obama administration and its international partners had imposed an end-of-2009 deadline for Teheran to accept a UN-drafted deal to swap most of its enriched uranium for nuclear fuel. Iran dismissed the deadline.
Iran said Tuesday it welcomed US comments and that there was no hard-and-fast deadline for starting nuclear dialogue.
Some members of seven ministers' forum estimate Abbas will opt to delay resumption of peace talks, while Netanyahu and Barak hope Mubarak's involvement will convince him to return to negotiation table.
Jerusalem is awaiting the results of Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit and Intelligence chief Omar Suleiman's visit to Washington for meetings with senior Obama administration officials.
According to reports confirmed by Egypt, the current outline of the peace plan calls for an Egyptian-hosted summit to announce the resumption of the peace talks and negotiations that will be limited to two years. The talks will be based on Israel's return to the 1967 borders, including a land swap.
However, Abbas continues to insist on a complete halt to Israeli settlement t construction as a precondition for his return to the negotiation table.
Some members of the seven ministers' forum, including Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, believe this demand will hinder the negotiations.
'He wants to bide his time'
Netanyahu and Barak estimate that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's involvement, coupled with Israel's decision on a temporary settlement construction moratorium, should lead to the start of negotiations soon.
"(Palestinian President Mahmoud) Abbas wants to delay the resumption of the peace negotiations. He is comfortable in his role as the wretched leader who receives 'hand outs' every now and then," a senior Israeli minister told Ynet Tuesday night...
Also from JPost, Jan 4, 2010:
Netanyahu denies bending on key issues
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said in a closed door meeting on Sunday he has no intention of restarting negotiations with the Palestinians on the basis of the pre-Six Day War lines, throwing cold water on Palestinian claims to the contrary.
The prime minister also characterized as inaccurate media reports that he has recently shown flexibility regarding negotiations over Jerusalem and refugees.
In Sunday's meeting, according to a government source, Netanyahu reiterated his position that the negotiations with the Palestinians should begin without preconditions, and that once they began, everything could be discussed.
But, the official said, Netanyahu said that the idea that he was somehow accepting Palestinian positions on issues such as the pre-June 5, 1967, lines, refugees and Jerusalem just to enable negotiations was "simply not true."
According to Netanyahu, the Palestinians' current position was that Israel should accept their positions, and then the negotiations could take place.
"That is not going to happen," he said.
A Gaza gunman has been killed and four others wounded in an Israeli airstrike in Khan Younis.... the gunman killed in the strike was identified as Jihad Smyre, a regional commander of the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC).
...Abu Mujahed, the spokesman for the Hamas-allied PRC, said militants opened fire on Israeli forces on the Israeli side of the border. An Israeli aircraft then fired a missile at the gunmen.
Palestinian Health Ministry official Dr. Moaiya Hassanain said one militant was killed and four were wounded.
Israel has pledged to retaliate against any attacks from Gaza. Militants this week fired several mortars at Israel....
Monday, January 04, 2010
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Does the tactical political value of the Netanyahu government’s ten-month moratorium on new building in the West Bank justify its diplomatic and security costs? It seems to be so because limited costs are better than risks of disaster. Analysis suggests that postponing and possibly avoiding a fight with the Obama administration was the main reason for Israel’s decision, and that ten months from now the Israeli prime minister will be in a better position to resist US pressures.
Some Israelis have supported the so-called settlement building “moratorium” while others have opposed it in reasonable terms – noting, for example, how nearly impossible it will be to end the freeze if negotiations with the PA begin before it expires. However, a sizeable group of Israelis have been quite intemperate in opposition – speaking of Netanyahu and the ministers who supported the temporary freeze as traitors to their commitments to the voters and calling for ministers to resign, and for civil disobedience against implementation of the government decision.
While the Prime Minister has justified the decision as a measure to restart negotiations with the PA, it is unlikely that his real motivation was an expectation that productive negotiations are possible or will be advanced by his action. So there is little point in discussing whether the temporary freeze is a useful part of any concern for negotiations. It seems likely that the decision to announce a ten-month building moratorium in the settlements needs to be evaluated on entirely different considerations.
One consideration is the recognition that there is an absolute diplomatic need to maintain what pretends to be actions and policies aimed to advance negotiations, even when because of political conditions in the Palestinian and Arab worlds there are no immediate prospects for successful negotiations. That is, the demand for a “peace process” is independent of – and sometimes harmful to – realistic pursuit of peace. Israeli governments have little choice but to participate in the pretense of such exercises.
The Political Background
...Although Obama continues the long-term American commitment to Israel’s survival... The president apparently believed that Israel was the main obstacle to peace with the Palestinians and that the US should compel Israel to make the concessions necessary to achieve such peace. He chose to use the issue of settlement expansion as the first step toward implementing his policy – partly because settlements are a divisive issue among American Jews and among Israelis.
The US very roughly and publicly told the Israeli government that it should permanently stop all construction (new and in process) in all of Judea and Samaria and in the parts of Jerusalem acquired in 1967, because this was a necessary step toward implementing the Saudi proposal for peace. This was the problem Netanyahu faced as his government came to power.
Netanyahu understood that the Obama program would be a disaster for Israel, with no hope of achieving a peace in which Israel’s survival was reasonably protected, and that Obama’s initial demands would adversely affect Israel’s negotiating position and were politically unacceptable within Israel. Above all, it would have been completely inconsistent with Israel’s self-respect to agree to such demands.
It was clear that private discussions with the Obama administration stood no chance of convincing them of the realities of the Middle Eastern political situation. The administration, for example, was mistakenly convinced that substantial progress toward Israeli-Palestinian peace was a necessary first step toward successful negotiations with Iran.
Therefore Netanyahu had two basic alternatives. He could flatly reject Obama’s demands, conduct a public campaign to demonstrate the errors of the thinking behind the demands, and engage in a political fight with the US to prevent Obama from compelling Israel to accept American demands. Or he could try to negotiate a compromise with the US on their demands.
Netanyahu flatly rejected any limits on Jewish construction within Jerusalem. It was clearly a mistake by Obama to demand such an extreme measure. The move gained Netanyahu a good deal of support, as many were convinced that the US was placing unreasonable demands on Israel. In general, the extreme Obama position combined with his deliberate display of his intention to change the way the US related to Israel from previous practice by both parties, convinced Israelis that they needed to fear Obama and therefore to support the Netanyahu government – especially after Netanyahu’s BESA Center/Bar-Ilan University policy statement creatively seized the center of the Israeli foreign policy debate.
At this point, when it was clear that the US had overreached, Netanyahu could have chosen to fight Obama with some chance of success, or at least with an initial positional advantage. But that would have been a risky decision. Israel’s diplomacy and defense is dependent on US political support. .... So Netanyahu chose to prevent Obama from the embarrassment of being forced to retreat from an untenable position, by negotiating an agreement in which both sides agreed to Israeli acceptance of a small portion of the original US demand.
The freeze was temporary, not permanent. Israeli agreed to a moratorium on new construction, but demonstratively went ahead with some 2,500 previously-approved apartments and projects. No construction was stopped in Jerusalem. In principle the freeze had exceptions for “normal life” rather than being absolute, as demanded. In other words Israel made concessions which, while painful and arguably ill-advised, were compatible with Israel’s self-respect as an independent and sovereign country.
The Obama administration decided that getting a small part of its initial demands was better than pushing Israel further at the time – particularly in view of political reactions to the extremity of the original US demands.
Implications of the Freeze
The critical point is that a ten month pause in Israeli construction in Judea and Samaria does not cause permanent harm to Israel. It causes some serious personal costs and injustice to some of the people involved. It looks in the wrong direction for negotiations with the Palestinians. And it makes it somewhat harder for Israel to make the case it needs to make to various publics about Israel’s legal and moral rights and the justice of its position. But temporary measures will not decide the outcome of Israel’s long struggle. In a few years practically all traces of this concession will have disappeared. On the other hand, while a major political fight with Obama might have produced positive results for Israel, it would have risked a fundamental, and perhaps even decisive harm to Israel’s position. Such risks should be undertaken only in dire necessity.
The real problem about the temporary freeze is that Netanyahu has to assume, and probably does, that when the ten-month moratorium comes to an end, the US will try to insist that Israel make it permanent, or at least extend it for another period. A permanent freeze – especially one made without a major compensating concession from the Palestinians – would do serious damage to Israel’s security and to its ability to defend its moral position. And Israel cannot accept Palestinian willingness to restart negotiations as a substantial concession. Therefore Netanyahu has to expect that some ten months after his decision to negotiate a compromise with Obama, he will again be faced with the choice between a major political fight with the US administration or acceptance of a major reduction in Israeli security.
The basic justification for Netanyahu’s decision to accept a temporary freeze is that it both postpones the fight with Obama and gives a chance that the fight will be unnecessary because Obama might be too busy with other things to put as much effort into the Middle East as he was willing to in the early months of his regime.
Obama will be substantially weaker politically next fall than he was when he first came to office. Factors contributing to this decline include his failure to decrease unemployment, his great increase in the government’s debt, widespread public rejection of his health care proposals, the beginnings of resentment of his foreign stances, significant division within the Democratic Party on Afghanistan, and sharply reduced approval ratings. There is good reason to expect that his slide will continue, and next summer he will be in a critical election campaign. Even if Obama believes he could win a major political fight with Israel when the freeze expires, he might well decide that would be more prudent to conserve his political capital for the fights that he cannot avoid. And if a fight is necessary, Israel will have a much better chance next summer.
Apart from Obama’s growing weakness, international developments could change the US administration’s strategic assessments and priorities in the Middle East next summer. Failure in Iran (except for the decisive new internal weakness of the Iranian revolutionary regime, for which US policy gets no credit), lack of Palestinian or Arab willingness to move toward compromise, and increasing involvement in Afghanistan, may lead the administration to put its program for Israeli-Palestinian peace in the short-term on the back-burner. If so Netanyahu would have succeeded without having to face the dangers of a major political fight with the American president.
In brief, the wisdom of the decision to accept a temporary construction freeze depends primarily on whether the real but limited costs of the freeze are justified by the advantages of postponing and perhaps thereby avoiding a major conflict with the Obama administration. This is clear example of the kind of tactical issue which a government has to make, and which has nothing to do with its loyalty to its principles and its commitments to its voters. Nor does it say anything about Netanyahu’s ability to stand up under pressure. Regardless of his strength as a leader, a prime minister should make prudent tactical adjustments to avoid major dangers...
All of the above depends on Netanyahu’s readiness and ability to resist excessive US pressure at the end of the ten-month period. But it seems fair to say that we learn nothing about that critical question from his tactical decision about the temporary freeze.
*Dr. Max Singer is a senior research associate at the BESA Center, and co-founder and senior fellow at the Washington-based Hudson Institute.
The ongoing demonstrations in Iran are testimony to the continued strength and resilience of Iranian civil society. They make a mockery of the Islamic Republic's ambition of offering a model for successful Muslim governance to the world.
The next major manifestation of the protests is likely to be February 11 - the 31st anniversary of the Islamic revolution. The seventh and 40th days following the deaths of those killed this week are also likely to witness dramatic scenes.
Still, the overheated punditry of the last week predicting the imminent demise of the regime, claiming that this is the beginning of the end for the Islamists in Teheran and that a "tipping point" has been passed is misleading and should be questioned.
Two parallel movements exist in Iran, each of which seeks to change the nature of the Islamic Republic as it has existed since 1979.
The first of these has been much in evidence this week, in the protests and demonstrations that have rocked Teheran and other cities. This is the so-called "Green movement." It has no clear ideology beyond a deep dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs. Within its ranks, one may find supporters of the reformist wing of the current regime, including former presidential candidates Mir-Hossein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi, and reformist ex-president Mohammad Khatami. The protest movement also undoubtedly includes individuals and groups with a far more determined and radical agenda, who would like to see the end of the regime established in 1979. But no credible, organized revolutionary leadership with a clear program for toppling the regime can yet be identified from within the broad mass of this movement.
THE SECOND "movement" exists within the regime itself. This is the trend whose most visible representative is President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The coalition of hard-line conservative political associations which produced Ahmadinejad, along with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, have been steadily advancing in the institutions of the Islamic Republic over the last half-decade. Unlike their opponents in the Green movement, this group has a clear and unifying set of ideas and goals. Their aim is a "second Islamic revolution," which will revive the original fire of 1979. What they are aiming at is the replacement of clerical rule with a streamlined, brutal police-security state, under the banner of Islam. This state will be committed to a goal of building regional hegemony - through possession of a nuclear option and the backing of radical and terrorist movements.
This year has been mixed for the Iranian hard-line conservatives. On the one hand, the electoral "victory" of Ahmadinejad and the subsequent backing given to him by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei represented their biggest advance yet. Ahmadinejad later reinforced his victory by forming a cabinet packed with hard-line conservatives and Revolutionary Guardsmen. This cabinet is currently administering Iran.
There were gains further afield, too. The closest regional allies of the hard-line conservatives - Hizbullah - have become the effective governing force in Lebanon. Iran's Palestinian clients, Hamas, are maintaining power in Gaza, as well.
But on the other hand, 2009 is also the year in which the limitations of the hard-liners and their ideas became apparent.
The ongoing unrest in Iran may not constitute an immediate danger to the regime, but it surely indicates that large numbers of Iranians have no desire to see their country turned into the instrument of permanent Islamic revolution and "resistance" envisaged by the hard-line conservatives. The domestic unrest thus hits significantly at their legitimacy and their ability to promote their regime as a model for governance to the Arab and wider Muslim world.
More tangibly, the Iranian hard-liners have not had it all their own way over the last year in the field most dear to them - the practice of political violence.
Their resistance model failed in a straight fight with the IDF in the early part of the year. Hamas's 100-man "Iranian unit" suffered near destruction in Gaza. The client Hamas regime in Gaza managed to kill six IDF soldiers in the entire course of Operation Cast Lead. This is a failure, and has been recorded by all regional observers as such.
In addition, there appears to be an attempt to demonstrate to the Iranians that the use of terrorism as an instrument of state policy is a two-way street. Hence the killing of 29 Revolutionary Guards in a bombing near the Iran-Baluchistan border in October, and the mysterious explosion in Damascus last month which killed a number of Iranian pilgrims.
These are significant setbacks. Still, the bottom line remains that for as long as they maintain the loyalty of the Revolutionary Guards Corps, the Basij militia, and the patronage of Khamenei, the control of the hard-line conservatives is not in danger.
Should a real challenge to the power of the hard-liners emerge, the likely prognosis would be for prolonged civil strife, rather than their swift departure. This is not a tired and decaying elite, parallel to the East European communists in 1989. The Iranian hard-liners and their allies regard themselves as the wave of the future, only now ascending to the pinnacles of power. They will not go quietly.
So the prospect is for a long struggle in Iran. The Iranian people are not about to enter the stage like a deus ex machina, with one stroke destroying the Islamist regime and solving the agonizing problem of the Iranian nuclear program.
The most determined revolutionary current in Iran remains the hard-line conservatives. Their eventual failure is a near certainty, because they are likely to fail in building the real-world basis - political, social, economic and military - which alone could support their boundless ambition. Even then, much will depend on the will of the Western and regional enemies of the regime in confronting them.
But contrary to some of the more overexcited opining this week - the playing out of all this still has a way to run. The end is not yet at hand.
*Dr. Jonathan Spyer is a senior research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, Herzliya, Israel
Israel in 2009, as well as from 2000, proved to be one of the best places to invest money. The popular Tel Aviv 25 index soared 75 percent in 2009 and now is only 8 percent from its all time high of 1,166 of two years ago, while popular averages in the United States climbed by less than 29 percent last year.
If an investor had put 1,000 into the TA 25 average at the beginning of the decade, he would now have more than $2,000. The same money in the Standard & Poor's 500 would be worth only $918 today, according to S&P analyst Howard Silverblatt.
...The strong business climate has led Bank HaPoalim and Bank Leumi to predict that the stock market record is within range. Israel's largest companies traded in Tel Aviv and in New York range from
- Teva Pharmaceuticals, the world’s largest generic drug maker, to
- Elbit Defense Systems,
- fertilizer exporters Israel Chemicals and Makhteshim-Agan as well as
- the technology sector.
Foreigners invested $1.2 billion in the Israeli stock market in 2009 following withdrawals of $2.8 billion in the second half of 2008, according to the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange.
While Israeli stocks have made profits for many investors, the indices in many Middle East countries declined last year, with Bahrain off 16.4 percent, Jordan down by 13 percent and Kuwait off 5.7 percent.
Sunday, January 03, 2010
The Ministerial Committee for Legislative Affairs is slated to discuss a controversial motion on Sunday which will bring the question of Arab MKs' loyalty back to the center of the public debate.
The proposal, by Chairman Knesset's Constitution, Law and Justice Committee MK David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu) demands Basic Law: The Knesset, be amended in a way that requires every Israeli MK declaring loyalty to the "State of Israel" to add the words "as a Jewish, Zionist and democratic state, and to its symbols and values".
Rotem's fellow faction members MK Robert Ilatov, MK Moshe Matalon and Mk Alex Miller also signed the motion.
Rotem told Ynet: "In recent years there has been an unacceptable phenomenon of MKs acting against the Knesset's values, and at times even against laws and rules legislated by the Knesset."
He added that "anyone who heard or saw MKs El-Sana and Zahalka's slanderous comments in recent days against the defense minister, and even allowed Israel's greatest enemy Ismail Haniyeh to speak to the public using a mobile device which is the property of the Knesset and the State, understands that there is a need to take steps to make MKs loyal to the State."
Aides close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said of the matter, "This is a change to a basic law. According to coalition agreements, this requires the consent of the entire coalition. The matter has yet to be discussed. According to our estimates, Labor is expected to object to it, and the law may not go to a ministerial committee." ...
IAF planes attacked three targets in the Gaza Strip overnight Friday and on Saturday morning, a day after Palestinians fired Grad-type rockets at Netivot.
The IAF bombed a number of smuggling tunnels in southern, central and northern Gaza. ...
...the IDF confirmed the strikes, stating explicitly that the reason behind the targeting of Gaza was Thursday night's rocket attack on Netivot. There were no casualties or damage reported in that attack.
According to Palestinian eyewitnesses, IAF fighter planes attacked an open field near a neighborhood east of Gaza City. Early Saturday morning, IAF fighter planes also attacked an area near Khan Yunis, which is in the southern part of Gaza. No injuries were reported.
Also Saturday morning, Israel Navy ships lobbed a number of shells at several armed Palestinians near the Jabalya refugee camp in central Gaza. No casualties were reported...