Thursday, May 17, 2007

Gaza erupting

From The Washington Post, EDITORIAL May 14, 2007 ....

A battleground in Gaza

Don't be surprised if you wake up one morning and learn that the Gaza Strip has become a lot like Lebanon was last summer. Gaza looms as a major battleground in the larger global struggle with jihadism, with the Israeli military squaring off against terrorist proxies of Iran and Syria in addition to al Qaeda factions burrowing into the region. Hamas has built in essence a 12,000-man militia -- two to three times the size of the Hezbollah force in last summer's Lebanon war. Gaza is crawling with hundreds of terrorists affiliated with the al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, part of Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah organization; Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and the Popular Resistance Committees, an amalgamation of terror groups in Gaza.

The buildup of Gaza's jihadist network has proven to be a largely cost-free exercise for Tehran and Damascus, which provide funding and weaponry but remain largely immune from substantial Israeli military retaliation. Many of the terrorists in Gaza have trained with Hezbollah, Iran's proxy, and much of their funding and weaponry is smuggled from Egypt into Gaza through tunnels under civilian homes. Israeli intelligence agents estimate that more than 50 tons of TNT have been smuggled into Gaza during the past year or two -- enough to build and produce tens of thousands of rockets in the small arms shops in Gaza.

Palestinian and Israeli security officials said last week that there are 15 active tunnels in the Rafah area of Gaza being used to move arms, drugs and agents between Gaza and Egypt. The tunnels are controlled by powerful family clans who operate independently of the PA. Almost every day there are rocket firings into Israel, and/or gun battles involving the clans, terrorist factions and Palestinian security services. Over the past few months Islamists, some apparently affiliated with al Qaeda, have attacked video stores, Internet cafes and an elementary school in Gaza to protest "un-Islamic" behavior.

As Gaza descends into chaos reminiscent of Afghanistan under the Taliban, Israel, which withdrew all of its soldiers and civilians from there two years ago in the hope that the Palestinians would respond by building a viable independent state), has difficult decisions ahead. The government must decide whether to conduct major military operations against Gaza-based terrorists who are expanding their capability to attack neighboring Israeli towns. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's center-left government wants desperately to avoid a large anti-terror ground operation that could include reoccupying parts of Gaza, but the Israel Defense Force chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, says bluntly that the only solution to the continuing problem of Palestinian rocket fire into Israel is an army ground operation....

.... When the Jewish state withdrew from Gaza almost two years ago, tens of thousands of Israeli civilians were within range of Palestinian rockets in Gaza; today, that figure is 200,000 and growing.

The situation is likely to become more dire. The rockets smuggled into Gaza, like those produced inside Gaza, are of much higher quality than the rockets of a year ago, enabling terrorists to create a stockpile. This poses a dilemma for Israeli officials who understand that delay creates ever more peril on their southern border.


Security cabinet authorizes 'harsh' response to Kassams

Israel will respond in a "harsh and severe" manner to the barrage of Kassam attacks on Sderot, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert decided Wednesday, essentially putting an end to Israel's policy of restraint that has been in effect for more than six months.

The decision to significantly ratchet up Israel's response was made at a high level meeting Olmert convened with Defense Minister Amir Peretz, Foreign Minster Tzipi Livni, Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Yuval Diskin and senior IDF and security officials.

Defense officials said after the meeting that targeted assassinations would be renewed, though at this point they would not be directed against Hamas political leaders, but rather against those actively involved in terrorism. ....

...During the meeting Olmert said that Israel could no longer show restraint in the face of the recurrent attacks. "The Hamas government is behind the terrorist action, and it is inconceivable that at the same time it is trying to get international recognition and financial assistance," he said.

Israel's response to the Kassam attacks was already felt Wednesday when the Air Force bombed a Hamas military installation in Rafah, the first such air strike since Israel accepted the Palestinian ceasefire in November. At least four Hamas members were killed and 30 others were wounded, some buried under the sandy rubble. Later in the day, IAF missiles struck a car carrying a Kassam squad moments after it had launched rockets at Sderot. At least one Hamas operative was killed.

A 70-year-old Sderot woman was seriously wounded Wednesday evening after three Kassam rockets were fired into Sderot with one scoring a direct hit on her home. Magen David Adom medics also treated several residents who were suffering from shock. The elderly woman was evacuated to Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon......

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Chirac retires, dogged by scandal

From The Australian, May 16, 2007 , by Emma-Kate Symons, Paris ....

FRENCH President Jacques Chirac will relinquish power to Nicolas Sarkozy in a ceremony at the Elysee Palace today [mazal tov!!!... to all of us - SL]....

...The outgoing President, best known internationally for his opposition to US "hyperpower" and sometimes dubbed "Chirac of Arabia", was scheduled to deliver his final televised address bidding farewell to the French people early this morning.

Despite some residual affection for Mr Chirac, who resumed French nuclear testing in the Pacific at the start of his first term, and led the boycott of the US-led invasion of Iraq, he is likely to be dogged into retirement by a corruption scandal.

The affair dates back to his days as Paris mayor... from 1977 to 1995 .... He has been accused of involvement in an illegal party funding racket. Under the "false jobs" scheme, fake posts were created for staff from his RPR party, who were paid out of Paris's mayoral coffers.

...Judicial leaks suggest Mr Chirac would be questioned by investigating judge Alain Philibeaux soon after his presidential immunity runs out on June 16.

.....Questions have been asked about why [Chirac and his wife], who own multiple properties in France, must live rent-free at the luxury apartment of their friends, the Hariri family. Assassinated former Lebanese opposition leader Rafik Hariri was close to Mr Chirac, but his inner circle have denied there is anything untoward in the retirement arrangements.

Mr Chirac's domestic political legacy is unimpressive, with unemployment still high at more than 8 per cent, and youth unemployment running at about 25 per cent or more in the poorer immigrant-dominated suburbs.

...The end of Mr Chirac's political career began in May 2005, when the referendum he championed for an EU constitution was rejected by the French.

On foreign policy, Mr Chirac had many enemies in US neoconservative and Israeli politics, owing to his staunch opposition to the Iraq war and sympathy for the Palestinian cause. Mr Chirac was often accused of being too close to Arab dictators and corrupt regimes, including Saddam Hussein's before the first Gulf War....

Islamists funds monitored

From The Australian, May 16, 2007 , by Cameron Stewart ....

ISLAMIC extremists in Australia are being starved of money by an unprecedented crackdown on the secret flow of funds from Saudi Arabia.

ASIO and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have quietly spearheaded the disruption of funding from Saudi charities and Saudi nationals, reducing it to only a trickle after concerns the money could be used to fund terror plots in Australia. The Government's push has robbed local extremists of a traditional source of funding from a country that has invested more than $120 million into Australia's Islamic community since the 1970s.

Saudi Arabian money has been used to build mosques and schools in Australia but it has also helped to promote extreme Wahabist interpretations of Islam. Saudi Arabia has been accused by the US Government of tacitly funding extremism via quasi-government charities that promote Wahabism. Washington says Saudi government-sanctioned charities have secretly bankrolled the Indonesian terrorist group Jemaah Islamiah, responsible for killing 92 Australians in the two Bali bombings.

Despite this, Australia has won strong Saudi government backing for its crackdown here, with Riyadh instructing its embassy in Canberra to alert DFAT to any Saudi funds flowing into Australia....

The Australian understands that ASIO has issued confidential reports opposing the proposed use of Saudi funds to build mosques in Belmore in Sydney in 2004 and the Park Holme mosque in Adelaide this year. The ASIO assessments prompted DFAT to express concern to the Saudi Government, which promptly cut the flow of Saudi funds for the projects. The "tip-off" agreement between the two countries was initiated by Foreign Minister Alexander Downer in 2004 after a visit to Saudi Arabia.

"As a result of my visit to Saudi Arabia, they introduced a new system of transparency,' Mr Downer told The Australian yesterday. "Prior to that system we don't know what funding they provided so we can't compare what was done before with what is done now, but we do know that they now report (to us)." Saudi Arabia's co-operation with Canberra on the issue of funding is part of its renewed global effort to rebut allegations that its charities are used as fronts to provide funding for extremists around the world.

....However, Australian authorities remain wary about the possibility of private funds flowing into Australia without the knowledge of either government.

The Government carefully monitors the activities of Saudi diplomats in Australia, who are believed to directly pay the wages of selected imams in Australia. One of these imams, Mohammed Swaiti, was removed this month as the spiritual head of Canberra's Abu Bakr Mosque amid claims he was too radical in his teachings.

In January, the reconstruction of Adelaide's Park Holme mosque was halted when planned Saudi funding was withdrawn by the Saudi Government after DFAT expressed concerns about the project. The mosque is considered Adelaide's most radical prayer centre. It was frequented by an Australian Iraqi Kurd, Warya Kanie, who was captured in Baghdad in October and detained for engaging in anti-coalition activities.

Similarly, Saudi funding of Sydney's Belmore mosque was halted in 2004 after concerns were expressed about the mosque's links with radical sheik Abdul Salam Mohammed Zoud.

The Saudi embassy did not return calls from The Australian yesterday.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Restricted Nazi archive to be opened

From THE JERUSALEM POST, May. 15, 2007, by Associated Press...

Diplomats from 11 countries agreed Tuesday to bypass legal obstacles and begin distributing electronic copies of documents from a restricted Nazi archive, making them available to Holocaust researchers for the first time in more than a half century.

The countries governing the archive, kept by the International Tracing Service, voted to begin transferring scanned documents as soon as they are ready so that receiving institutions can begin preparing them for public use. The decision circumvents the requirement to withhold the documents until all 11 countries ratify the 2006 treaty amendments that enabled the unsealing of the documents. Ratification is still pending in four countries, and Tuesday's vote was likely to shave several months from the distribution timetable.

Yad Vashem, which sent a representative to the meeting, welcomed the decision. "I am delighted to see this project moving forward," said the memorial's director Avner Shalev.
Until now, the files maintained in the central German town of Bad Arolsen have been used to track missing people, reunited families, and later to validate restitution claims. The Tracing Service is an arm of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Three countries, the United States, France and Germany, pledged to donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to offset costs for preparing and transmitting the papers, said the delegate.
The decision to expedite the transfer to national archives in the 11 nations was meant to avoid further delays in allowing Holocaust survivors to find their own stories and family histories, and for historians to seek new insights into Europe's darkest period.

The archive contains Nazi records on the arrest, transportation, incarceration, forced labor and deaths of millions of people from the year the Nazis built their first concentration camp in 1933 to the end of the war. It also has a vast collection of postwar records from displaced persons camps. The name index refers to 17.5 million victims, and the documents fill 25 linear kilometers of shelves. But the archive is indexed according to names, making it difficult to use them for historical research.

Seized by the Allies from concentration camps and Nazi offices after of the war, the files were closed under a 1955 agreement to protect the privacy of survivors and the reputation of the dead who may have undergone humiliating medical experiments or been falsely accused of crimes. Last year's amendments to the 1955 accords, reached after years of negotiation and resistance by several members, stipulated that some privacy guarantees remain. A single copy of the documents would be available for each of the 11 member states to be used "on the premises of an appropriate archival repository."

Each government was expected to take into account "the sensitivity of certain information" the files may contain, the new agreement said. But some US survivors expressed dismay that the documents will remain restricted to a single place, namely the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, and that they won't have unfettered access.

"I'm anxious, because 105 people from my immediate family did not make it. I am the only survivor," said David Schaecter, of Miami, Florida. "How do I obtain what I am rightfully entitled to obtain (to know) what happened to these 105 people," he said.

Earlier at the meeting, delegates worked out a detailed arrangement for historians to use the original files at their home location in Bad Arolsen, where there is no facility to assist outside researchers. The archive is subject to German privacy laws, which are more strict than laws in the United States and some other countries.

In addition to the United States, Israel and France indicated they also would seek copies.
The seven countries that have ratified the treaty amendments are the United States, Israel, Poland, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Britain. Endorsement was awaited from Luxembourg, Greece, Italy and France.

Hamas Kindergarten saga continues

From Cox & Forkum, 14/5/07 ....

FOX News reported May 8: Hamas 'Mickey Mouse' Wants Islam Takeover....
Hamas militants have enlisted the iconic Mickey Mouse to broadcast their message of Islamic dominion and armed resistance to their most impressionable audience -- little kids.

....An Israeli organization that monitors Palestinian media, Palestian Media Watch, said the Mickey Mouse lookalike takes "every opportunity to indoctrinate young viewers with teachings of Islamic supremacy, hatred of Israel and the U.S., and support of 'resistance,' the Palestinian euphemism for terror."

Hamas later announced that it would remove Jihad Mickey, but it didn't last long. FOX News reported this weekend: Hamas Continues Running Kids TV Show Featuring 'Mickey Mouse' Look-Alike Preaching Terror....

A weekly children's show on a Hamas-run TV station featuring a Mickey Mouse lookalike preaching Islamic domination was broadcast as usual Friday, two days after the Palestinian information minister said it would be suspended immediately...... the station's manager, Hazem al-Sharawi, said on Friday the show called "Tomorrow's Pioneers" has an educational message and will not be canceled.

Little Green Footballs has followed all the ins and outs of the story and has video (links start with oldest):

Classic anti-Semitism is alive and well in Europe

From JPost, May. 14, 2007 by JPOST.COM STAFF ...

Thirty-nine percent of Europeans believe Jews have too much power in the business world, while 44% think Jews have too much power in international financial markets, according to the results of a survey published by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) on Monday.

The survey of five European countries - France, Italy, Germany, Spain, and Poland - showed that a large number of Europeans continued to harbor anti-Jewish attitudes, holding on to the classical anti-Semitic canards and conspiracy theories that have haunted Jews through the centuries.

The survey also showed that large portions of the European public continue to believe that Jews still dwell too much on the Holocaust. Overall, 47% of those surveyed thought the statement was "probably true."

In addition, 51% said they believed Jews were more loyal to Israel than to their country and 20% of those surveyed continue to blame Jews for the death of Jesus.

Meanwhile, 25% said that their opinion of Jews was influenced by Israel's actions and of those, 52% said their opinion of Jews was worse as a result of the actions taken by Israel.

Nevertheless, while sympathy for the Palestinians' predicament seemed to persist, strong attitudes against Iran and Hamas were also shown, with a majority believing Iran is developing a nuclear weapon, and most supporting sanctions against Iran.

Fifty-one percent said they believed Iran's nuclear program was being developed for military purposes, and 16% said they thought it was both a weapons program and a nuclear energy program.Only 14% believed it was solely for nuclear energy.

Also, a majority identified Hamas as a terrorist organization and supported the European decision not to provide foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority government until Hamas abided by the Quartet's conditions.

Overall, the opinion survey of 2,714 adults - slightly more than 500 in each of the five countries - found an increase in negative attitudes toward Jews or in some instances no change, from its 2005 findings.

In response to the findings, ADL National Director Abraham H. Foxman said: "Millions of Europeans continue to accept a wide range of traditional anti-Semitic stereotypes and conspiracy theories, including the charge that Jews are more loyal to Israel than to their home country. These attitudes help incite and legitimize anti-Semitism, including violence against Jews, and give us great concern."

Monday, May 14, 2007

Crisis brewing in Turkey

From The Economist print edition, May 3rd 2007 by AP [Note that this story now has heightened significance in the wake of the Sarkozy win in France and the consequent frustration of Turkey's EU ambitions - SL]...

ANKARA AND ISTANBUL: A military coup was avoided, but an early election looms. Turkey's problems are postponed, not solved

ITS prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said it was “a shot fired at democracy.” Others labelled it an “e-coup”. Whatever you call it, a threat to intervene against Turkey's mildly Islamist government posted on the general staff's website on April 27th has hurt democracy and deepened the chasm between the secular and the pious. A defiant Mr Erdogan has called for an early general election. It may take place in July, instead of the scheduled date, November 4th. Opinion polls suggest that his AK Party will again beat its secular rivals.

How would the army respond to that? Seasoned Turkey-watchers who once scoffed at the notion of another coup say that it now can't be ruled out. Many admit that the European Union is partly to blame. EU dithering over Turkish membership has dented enthusiasm: when Olli Rehn, the enlargement commissioner, scolded the army for its meddling, few paid attention.

The row began when Mr Erdogan nominated his foreign minister, Abdullah Gul, to replace President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, who steps down on May 16th. Mr Gul once flirted with political Islam; his wife wears a headscarf (as do 55% of Turkish women). That was deemed to pose an existential threat to the secular republic. Deniz Baykal, the leader of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), succeeded in blocking Mr Gul's election in a first parliamentary vote on April 27th, claiming, dubiously, to the constitutional court that parliament lacked a quorum.

It was up to the court to decide if Mr Baykal was right. But the generals were taking no chances. In their ultimatum, delivered before the 11 judges gave their verdict on May 1st, the army listed examples of how the government was supposedly allowing the country to drift towards an Islamic theocracy. When the court then ruled in favour of the opposition, nobody was surprised.
Nearly a million secularist Turks gathered in Istanbul on April 29th, to stage their second mass protest against the government in a fortnight. That makes it hard for Mr Erdogan and his AK Party to dismiss the crisis as a brazen attempt by the army to reassert its influence. Chanting “no to coups” and “no to sharia” the demonstrators said their free-wheeling lifestyles were under threat. Many were women who say they are the most vulnerable of all. Some cited attempts by the AK to create “alcohol-free zones”, others a bid to outlaw adultery. Many declared that an AK president, prime minister and parliamentary speaker was more than they could bear....

...The present rumpus could have been averted had Mr Erdogan picked a presidential candidate outside his party. Now the prime minister suggests changing the constitution to let the people choose the head of state themselves. That might be a step forward, but sceptical liberals say Mr Erdogan's views on democracy are selective. “Where was he when Kurdish politicians were being arrested and beaten and Nokta [a dissident magazine] raided by police?” asks one.

The government's response to the army's ultimatum was unusually crisp. Cemil Cicek, the justice minister, called it “unacceptable” and reminded the generals that they were constitutionally bound to take their orders from the prime minister, not vice versa.

It is not just the army's taste for politics that is worrying. The top general recently said a military attack on Kurdish rebels based in northern Iraq was “necessary” and “useful”. Though he agreed that the constitution gave parliament authority over the armed forces, many fear that the army may decide to attack all the same. “They are itching to,” whispers a westerner who observes Turkish security. This may explain why America's response to the political crisis has been so lame. “The last thing they want is a quarrel with the Turkish military,” a European official observes. The nightmare for America is Turkish and American soldiers exchanging fire in Iraq. Based on the past week's events, nothing can be ruled out.

...and from BBC News, Sunday, 6 May [just remember, it's the BBC reporting - SL]...

Q&A: Turkey's political crisis

Pro-Islamic groups have taken to the streets, as well as secularistsTurkey is in turmoil, with a presidential election in disarray, demonstrators on the streets, and financial markets wobbling violently. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has asked parliament to call an early general election and proposed changes to the way the president is elected.

What triggered this crisis?
It has arisen from the attempt to elect a new president, as the term of the current president Ahmet Necdet Sezer, draws to a close.
The election process has sparked a new round of tensions between the country's nationalist, secularist establishment and the ruling AK Party, which has Islamist roots.
On 6 May, Turkey's parliament failed for a second time to elect the governing party's candidate for president, Abdullah Gul.
....The military has flexed its muscles, issuing a statement describing itself as a "staunch defender of secularism" and saying it would make its position clear "when it becomes necessary".

So is this a power struggle between Islamists and secularists?
Not exactly. The AK Party is descended from the banned Welfare Party... however, that the party may have a hidden agenda to steer the country away from the secular roots laid down by its founder, Kemal Ataturk. Hence the Istanbul protest attended by hundreds of thousands [actually a million - SL] of demonstrators on Sunday 29 April.

Why is the presidency such a sensitive post?
The AK Party has been in government since November 2002 and has made a point of not provoking secularists. For example, it has avoided relaxing Turkey's laws banning the wearing of the headscarf in government buildings.
But a prime minister from the AK Party is one thing, and a president another. The Turkish president is also the chief of the armed forces - he appoints the chief of general staff .....

Why is the military so bothered about politics?
The Turkish military regards itself as the guardian of Turkey's secular constitution. To this end, it kicked governments out of power in 1997, 1980, 1971 and 1960.
In the last few years its political powers have been whittled down. The national security council now contains more elected civilians, and the civilian government can now audit military accounts. Last year, military courts lost the power to try civilians.
But the European Commission noted in a report last November that the armed forces still exercise "significant political influence".

What will happen about the presidential election?
Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul failed to be elected president in the 6 May re-run of the disputed first round of the ballot.
Two-thirds of the 550 members of parliament needed to turn out for the vote to be valid, but that quorum was not reached. Mr Gul has now said he will withdraw his candidacy.
There is also very little time before the end of President Sezer's term on 16 May, so he is expected to stay in office until the new general election expected in July.
Correspondents say the key question is who the ruling party will nominate as its new candidate and whether it will now seek a compromise figure who is not associated with political Islam....

....and finally (for now), from an analysis from UPI, May. 11, 2007, by RAYMOND J. MAS [my emphasis added - SL]....

WASHINGTON, May. 11 (UPI) -- The confrontation between Turkey's ruling Islamist party, the AKP, and those who view themselves as defenders of the nation's secularist tradition reveals a schism in Turkish society that runs deep and threatens to challenge the basic assumptions that have governed this state since its founding in 1927.

Modern Turkey is the successor to the Ottoman Empire, whose collapse after World War I created an enormous power vacuum in the region that is still felt today. Unlike Turkey's tightly controlled ethnocentric, nationalist state, the Ottoman Empire was a multiethnic, multinational, multi-religious state. At its height in the 16th and 17th centuries, it held sway over vast territories that stretched from the Balkans to Central Europe to the Middle East and North Africa. At a time when Europe was mired in religious wars, intolerance and persecution, Turkey was an example of religious harmony and cooperation, albeit in the firm control of its temporal and spiritual ruler, the sultan.

But the rise of Europe's mercantilist trading nations, together with rapid developments in industry and technology, and a concurrent Ottoman suspicion of European influence, ensured that the Ottomans began a slow inexorable decline in power and influence. By the 19th century, Turkey had been dubbed the "Sick Man of Europe," and Europe's powers began chipping away at the empire, successfully backing Greek and Balkan independence movements. Ultimately, after World War I, the allies succeeded in carving up the empire into small states, with much of Turkey's Aegean territory going to Greece, including Istanbul (Constantinople).

This death by a "thousand cuts" left a deep scar in the Turkish mentality, which to this day believes that there is an international conspiracy to weaken and divide Turkey -- the latest case in point being the rise of a proto-Kurdish state in Iraq and the fears (not entirely unjustified) that Kurds in Turkey will want to secede and join this state.

Into this devastating, humiliating defeat, Mustafa Kemal (later known as Ataturk or "father of the Turks") a Turkish general who gained fame in the disastrous defeat of ANZAC troops at the battle of Gallipoli, led a military campaign that pushed the Greeks to the sea, regained Istanbul and western Turkey, and created indisputable "facts on the ground" that the European powers had little choice but to recognize.

The Turkish nation without a doubt owes its existence to the powerful personality and iron will of Ataturk. Faced with the calamitous dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, Ataturk devised an entirely new Turko-centric state. Minority rights and privileges granted by the Ottomans were eliminated, and many were expelled in large population exchanges with Greece and other states.
...Ataturk was an admirer of Europe, its science and technology. To him the Ottoman Empire was fatally weakened by an oriental despotism mired in religious superstition and distrust in the advances of science. Ataturk strove to fashion a state that embraced science, technology and modern education while rejecting "backward" religious practices. He closed madrassas (religious schools) and outlawed numerous Sufi spiritualist sects. He put the state in firm control of the mosque, where it continues to this day. He eliminated Arabic script and adopted the Latin alphabet. He also granted women the right to vote and banned all but Western clothing. Ataturk did not use the dictatorial repression of his Soviet atheist contemporaries, but he clearly viewed religion as antithetical to "progress," and this served to marginalize religion in the civic culture.

This marginalization has been the hallmark of Turkish nationalism, and Turkish secularists, including and especially the military, who view themselves as the guardians of "Ataturkism."

The late Turgut Ozal, who is considered by many Turks today as the nation's second-greatest leader after Ataturk, changed this dynamic. Pro-Western (he was a good friend of George H.W. Bush), vigorous and enormously charismatic, Ozal dispensed with Turkey's state-controlled economy, eliminating regulations and barriers to trade and investment, both domestic and foreign. Ozal unleashed Turkey's dynamic entrepreneurial spirit, which has been the engine of the nation's dramatic growth.

Ozal, who had Kurdish roots, was also a devout Muslim and saw no contradiction in being both religious and modern. He loosened many of the restraints on religion and sought to integrate religion into the civic culture in much the same way as it exists today in the United States.

In this new climate, religion found a way to make its mark .... Religious parties were formed. However, little political headway was made, and the Turkish military and the secularist judiciary managed to have most of these parties successively banned. In 1997 all that changed when Turkey's first female prime minister, Tansu Ciller, cut a power-sharing deal with an Islamist party (predecessor to the current [ruling] AKP).

This brought to power Necmettin Erbakan, shaking Turkey's secular roots to the core. ...he made his first foreign visit to international pariah Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and suggested that ties with Israel (long an ally of Turkey) might be cut. In going to the Libyans, Erbakan was clearly signaling that he wanted to take Turkey away from its Western proclivities and toward an alliance with Eastern and Islamic nations. That was enough for the generals. The tanks took to the streets, and Erbakan got the message. No shots were fired in this "soft coup," but it seemed that the one chance Islamists had to prove themselves had been blown, and few predicted a quick return to power.

Erbakan's downfall was followed by a succession of weak governments plagued by scandals, spiraling inflation and political squabbles. Meanwhile, the latest incarnation of the Islamists, the AKP, was going through a period of retrenchment and soul-searching. A younger generation of leaders came to power, and a new, more moderate message was crafted. They embraced Western democratic ideals and even supported Turkey's EU entry. They set out to rebuild their traditional power base in the more religious interior and the fast-growing lower-middle-class suburbs of Istanbul. They offered social services not covered by the country's creaky welfare system, job retraining, and even small-business loans. But they also sought out Turkey's intelligentsia, who were looking for an alternative to corrupt party politics.

Today the AKP dominates Turkish politics and has held comfortable control of the Parliament. Moreover, Prime Minster Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who as mayor of Istanbul made a name for himself as a populist and effective administrator, remains enormously popular in the country, and in the recently called elections his party stands to gain even more power.

But when he assumed power in 2002, Erdogan had a lot to prove to a highly skeptical nation and a very nervous military. His arrest in 1998 for reading an Islamist poem at a political rally, an action considered tantamount to sedition in secular Turkey and for which he served several months in jail, did not help....

...The military continues to mistrust the motives of Erdogan and the Islamists, and is convinced of a hidden agenda to create an Islamic state. The candidature to the presidency of his internationally respected foreign minister, Abdullah Gul, was perhaps a final straw. Although the president's position is largely ceremonial, it has become a bully pulpit for secularism and has been viewed by the secularists as a check against feared Islamist excesses.

The secularist political parties, fractured by personality-driven cliques and burdened with a reputation for dishonesty, are unable to field a unity candidate who can effectively challenge the Islamist's hold on power. The 1 million Turks who took to the streets in Istanbul a few days ago are therefore denied an effective political voice for their views. The danger is that they will turn to the military to do what their politicians cannot fairly do, an option Turkey has sadly turned to far too often....

Unless there's change, Israel will act

From the Sunday Age on 13 May, by Colin Rubenstein, executive director of the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council...

...Unfortunately, there are signs that Israel may soon need enhanced political wisdom and military skill if the situations in Lebanon and Gaza do not change soon.

In Lebanon, Hezbollah is re-arming rapidly, thanks to Syrian and Iranian munificence, and may soon have more rockets than it had before the outbreak of war on July 12 last year.

...The Winograd and other criticisms in Israel of the war are of the failure to respond effectively enough, not of the war's legality or morality. Nonetheless, by the August 14 ceasefire, Hezbollah was dramatically, though temporarily, weakened - both by the loss of trained fighters, bases and rockets and because the UN mandate to disarm Hezbollah was strengthened. ....Hezbollah is a Lebanese militia, but its leaders admit that their orders, as well as money, arms and training, come from Teheran and Damascus.....However, Beirut and the UN have so far been unable or unwilling to disarm Hezbollah - instead weapons for Hezbollah continue to flood across the Syrian border, in direct contravention of UN Security Council Resolution 1701.

Another Hezbollah-Israel conflict looks very likely in coming months - both sides say they are preparing.

The Palestinian government, meanwhile, has no more concern for the welfare of the Palestinian population than Hezbollah has for the Lebanese population at large.

Since the election of Hamas in January 2006, a terrorist organisation proudly dedicated to destroying Israel, Palestinian quality of life has decreased, despite an increase in total international aid to the Palestinian people.

...Hamas is following the Hezbollah model in Gaza. Arms are flooding in under the Gaza-Egypt border, largely from Hamas' patron, Iran. Bunkers, weapons caches and fortified rooms from which to launch attacks against Israeli soldiers are all being constructed in Gaza's crowded cities. Hamas is ostensibly maintaining a ceasefire against Israel, but in fact, is helping other groups, such as Islamic Jihad and Fatah factions, to fire rockets at Israeli towns almost daily.

Hamas' loyalists receive funds and jobs, other Palestinians typically suffer. Meanwhile, efforts to indoctrinate society into their Islamist model of eternal violence against Israel continue - the recent case of Hamas TV using a Mickey Mouse doppelganger to indoctrinate children on the virtues of jihad, terrorism and martyrdom is only one example of a wider phenomenon.

....An Israeli incursion into Gaza to dismantle the rocket factories and stockpiles and catch or kill the rocket crews is expected in the next few months if matters do not change there soon. Any such effort would be bloody both for Israeli soldiers and Palestinian fighters and civilians, because as noted, Hamas is placing military assets in civilian areas and fortifying them.

However, Israel will have no choice. With Iranian and Hezbollah help, Hamas and Fatah rocket attacks into Israel are becoming more effective and longer in range. Large Israeli towns are increasingly under threat. Moreover, a massive power plant, providing a quarter of Israeli electricity, will also soon be in range.

But neither of the expected bloody conflicts in Lebanon or Gaza are inevitable. The key to both is cutting off arms supplies and preventing outside interference. UN Resolution 1701 has to be enforced by the UN forces in Lebanon. Weapons smuggling into Gaza must cease, where Egypt needs to make a greater effort. The Arab world must be prevailed upon to make the Palestinan government at least stop the rocket fire into Israel. Finally, Teheran and Damascus must be held to account for the damage they are unleashing with their illegal arms shipments to Hamas and Hezbollah.Otherwise, Israeli action in self-defence will be the inevitable and understandable outcome.

Jew stabbed to death in Russia

From Ynet News, 12/5/07, by Yaakov Lappin ...

22 year-old St. Petersburg man found dead ... friends say murder 'was anti-Semitic'

A Russian Jew has been stabbed to death in northern St. Petersburg....Dimitri Nikoulinsky, 22, was found dead with knife wounds to his throat by his mother minutes after the assault, his friend said. Two members of the Jewish community said the attack was "exactly" like other lethal assaults carried out by neo-Nazi groups against foreign students and an anti-fascist activist, and are convinced that the attack was a hate-crime.

....Nikoulinsky was a student at St. Petersburg State University, and was in his final year of studying for an MA. He also taught in a local Beit Chabad Yeshiva. Although he did not wear a kippa, Nikoulinsky did "not look Russian at all, and had a very Jewish look," a female employee of a Russian Jewish organization told Ynetnews.

"We are sure this was a hate crime because we have had a series of hate crimes of the same nature. The men who assaulted Dimitri took nothing from him," Nikoulinsky's friend said. "I think this was a neo-Nazi crimes," he added.....

Disney fury at evil Mickey

From The Daily Telegraph, May 09, 2007 ...

THE only surviving child of Walt Disney is calling Hamas "pure evil" for making a mockery of Mickey Mouse by turning the lovable icon into a propaganda tool for hate. [See our previous posting ion this subject.] Diane Disney Miller said she's disgusted that a ripoff of her father's star cartoon character is being used on a new Hamas TV show to encourage Palestinian children to take up arms against Israel and America.

....Miller praised the New York Daily News for informing the public about the perverse program. "What we're dealing with here is pure evil and you can't ignore that," Miller said. "I'm awful glad you're doing something about it, writing about this and keeping it in the public eye as much as it can be." ...