Saturday, November 08, 2008

Livni's Obama strategy

From JPost, Nov 7, 2008, by CAROLINE GLICK:

With Sen. Barack Obama's victory in the US presidential race, the stakes have been raised for Israel's February 10 general elections.

Whatever the Obama administration's position on Israel may be, it will not be more supportive of the country than the Bush administration has been.

...If Israel's next prime minister intends to prevent Teheran from acquiring the means to implement its stated aim of destroying Israel, he or she must be prepared to stand up to ...Obama....

Over the past few days, the two contenders for the premiership - Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu - have demonstrated their starkly contrasting views of how to deal with a potentially hostile administration in Washington.

Reacting to Obama's electoral victory on Wednesday, Livni made clear that from her perspective, the best way to deal with an unfriendly White House is to preemptively surrender Israel's national interests. In her words, Israel's election results "must reflect the country's interest in advancing the peace process, otherwise the international community, headed by the US, will try and push us in this direction."

For their part, Netanyahu and Likud have shown that if defending Israel's national interests requires a confrontation with Washington, they will not shy away from it. Last week, Netanyahu surrogate MK Yuval Steinitz informed both US presidential campaigns that in the event that outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert pledges to surrender the Golan Heights to Syria, a Likud-led government will not respect his commitment.

Livni understands that she cannot win the election by preaching preemptive surrender, and so she and her colleagues are ardently seeking to change the subject.

...Unable to renounce policies she herself has advanced and indeed invented, Livni has opted simply to refuse to disclose her positions to the public. She refuses to tell us what she has offered the Palestinians in her negotiations with Ahmed Qurei, or how she intends to deal with Syria and Iran, claiming unconvincingly that telling us what she stands for would damage Israel's national interests.

...To this end, Livni and her colleagues accuse Likud of rejecting "peace." Likud's extremism, Livni argues, is demonstrated by the fact that "extremists" such as former science minister Bennie Begin and former construction and housing minister Effi Eitam are joining its ranks.

...the ...strategy deflects public attention from Israel's real enemies - Iran and its Palestinian, Lebanese and Syria proxies - against which Kadima has taken no effective action.

...Today, with banner headlines decrying the right-wing menace filling the front pages of the papers, news of Hamas's transformation of Gaza into a new Hizbullah-stan, replete with bunkers built with concrete supplied by Israel, is relegated to the back pages.

....It is far from clear that Livni will be able to pull off an Obama-like victory. She lacks his charisma. Unlike Obama, she has a public record of far-left governance and policy failure going into the election. And unlike Sen. John McCain, Israelis trust Netanyahu more than they trust Livni to protect the country's economy.

...With all that is at stake in February's elections, it must be hoped that Livni's Obama strategy will fail her. Facing Iran on the one hand and a potentially hostile Obama administration on the other, Israel requires a leader like Netanyahu who understands that if preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons means butting heads with Obama, so be it.

Clark ousted as NZ opt for change

From ABC News, by Peter Lewis:

Prime minister-elect John Key has pledged a more prosperous and more ambitious New Zealand. (Getty Images: Hannah Johnston)
New Zealanders have voted for change in Saturday's general election sweeping aside the three-term [anti-Israel, anti-US] government of Labour Prime Minister Helen Clark in favour of a new conservative coalition led by the National Party.

The swing to the right, that was forecast in all the pre-election polling, was apparent as soon as counting got underway. The centre right National Party, led by John Key, finished with 45 per cent of the vote compared with Labour's 33 per cent.
...Prime minister-elect John Key pledged a more ambitious future for the country during his acceptance speech in Auckland. "In their hundreds and thousands across the country they have voted for change," he said. "Today, New Zealanders have voted for action, for a safer, more prosperous and more ambitious New Zealand."

Clark to go...mazal tov!!!

Great news!!!...from The New Zealand Herald, 8/11/08:

The right is poised to claim victory in the 2008 election.

John Key is heading to National's headquarters with just five per cent of the vote left to count.

National has enough support to govern in coalition with Act and United Future. It would not need the Maori Party.

National has 45.5 per cent of the vote to Labour's 33.3 per cent....

Global man of mystery

From The Australian, November 08, 2008, by Greg Sheridan, Foreign editor:

THE people of the world ...believe he is the one. In Obama's own words, millions of people see his election as the moment the planet began to heal, the oceans stopped rising.

Can he meet all their expectations? .... Well, can he?

...Having so few specific political commitments means anyone can project their kindest fantasies on to him. But the remorseless and terrible business of government is always about making hard choices....

...Obama's general approach to foreign policy is quite unclear. We have a good sense of what his rhetorical style will be: all uplift. Yes, we can! Change we can believe in! We are the ones we've been waiting for! Our stories are singular but our destiny is shared!

But, eventually, hard decisions will need to be made.

Obama has few solid commitments in foreign affairs and defence. A little like Kevin Rudd, he will engage in some important early symbolism, presumably closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay ...

On traditional geo-strategic issues, Obama became progressively more hawkish as the campaign wore on. In most things, his policies closely resemble those of the second Bush administration. On Iraq, he hopes to withdraw US troops over 16 months, but he will do so responsibly and in consultation with his commanders on the ground. That's as much wriggle room as anyone could want.

Famously, Obama threatened to bomb Pakistan if he had actionable intelligence about terrorists hiding out there and the Pakistani Government wouldn't or couldn't act. Some of Obama's statements suggested he would bomb whether these terrorists were al-Qa'ida or Taliban. At the same time, he would try to help the Pakistani Government bring economic development to the border areas with Afghanistan.

Now, surgical strikes across the Pakistani border against militants, combined with economic aid for the Pakistani Government: where have I heard that formulation these last few years? Oh, yes, I've got it: in the Bush White House.

In Afghanistan, Obama will increase the US troop commitment. In his positively neo-conservative foreign policy article in Foreign Affairs last July-August, Obama promised to increase the size of the US Army and marines and declared: "I will not hesitate to use force, unilaterally if necessary."

Will any of this survive the financial crisis? Does Obama mean any of it?

...It is conceivable that some American enemies, such as Iran, may use Obama's election as the opportunity to strike a grand bargain with Washington.

It is equally possible that they may see weakness in Obama and try to exploit it, in effect testing the new president.

Obama's general preference will obviously be for diplomacy and multilateralism over military force and unilateralism, just as Bush's was in his second term.

But how Obama will govern remains essentially a mystery.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Hamas turns Gaza houses into Hizballah-style camouflaged firing positions

From DEBKAfile November 5, 2008:

The 44 Grad rockets, Qassam missiles and mortar rounds which blasted Israel from Gaza Wednesday, Nov. 5, were fired from houses close to the border fence which Hamas had turned into fortified firing positions.

Borrowing Hizballah’s tricks from the 2006 Lebanon war, the Hamas firing squads remove the roofs and cover the top floors with camouflage netting easily removed for attacks.

To spot these heavily-disguised launching pads, round-the-clock aerial observation is necessary.

Israel cautions against Obama dialogue with Iran

From THE JERUSALEM POST November 6, 2008, by Associated Press:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Thursday congratulated Barak Obama on his election win - the first time an Iranian leader has offered such wishes to a US president-elect since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

...Iran and US have no formal diplomatic relations since 1979 and the hostage drama when militant Iranian students held 52 Americans captive 444 days.

Current US-Iranian relations remain very tense, with Washington accusing Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons and of providing support for Shi'ite militants who are killing US soldiers in Iraq - charges which Teheran denies.

...In his message to Obama Thursday, Ahmadinejad went on to say that "nations of the world" expect changes from Obama - mostly that he will change current US foreign policy... ...Ahmadinejad also said that Obama is expected to replace such a policy ...

...Obama has said he is open to direct diplomacy with Iranian leaders as a way to break the impasse between the two countries or give the US more credibility to press for tougher sanctions if talks fail.

From The Washingtom Post Reuters Thursday, November 6, 2008; (Writing by Jeffrey Heller, editing by Philippa Fletcher):

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel said Thursday U.S. President-elect Barack Obama's stated readiness to talk to Iran could be seen in the Middle East as a sign of weakness in efforts to persuade Tehran to curb its nuclear program.

"We live in a neighborhood in which sometimes dialogue -- in a situation where you have brought sanctions, and you then shift to dialogue -- is liable to be interpreted as weakness," Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said, asked on Israel Radio about policy change toward Tehran in an Obama administration.

Her remarks sounded the first note of dissonance with Obama by a senior member of the Israeli government since the Democrat's sweeping victory over Republican candidate John McCain in the U.S. presidential election Tuesday.

Asked if she supported any U.S. dialogue with Iran, Livni replied: "The answer is no." ...

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Hezbollah claims swaths of north Israel

From Haaretz 04/11/2008 by Yoav Stern:

A senior Hezbollah official on Monday said the Lebanese militant organization believes that large swaths of northern Israel belong to Lebanon, far beyond the line Israel pulled back to in 2000. "The Zionist terror organizations moved the border from that of 1920 to that of 1923, and Lebanon lost seven villages and twenty farms...." said Nawaf Musawi, head of international relations for Hezbollah.

In referring to the Blue Line, Musawi ...branded Blue Line, which runs very close to the 1949 Israel-Lebanon border known as the Green Line, as merely a "withdrawal line."

The official's comments mean that Hezbollah has territorial demands beyond the disputed Shaba Farms in the Golan Heights and the divided northern village of Ghajar. While various Lebanese Shi'ite figures have made these demands in the past, Hezbollah has abstained from doing so in recent years.

Hard Choices And Challenges Follow Triumph

From Washington Post Staff Writer Wednesday, November 5, 2008, by Dan Balz:

After a victory of historic significance, Barack Obama will inherit problems of historic proportions....Obama must revive an economy experiencing some of the worst shocks in more than half a century. Abroad, he has pledged to end the war in Iraq and defeat al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. He ran on a platform to change the country and its politics. Now he must begin to spell out exactly how.

... he will govern with sizable congressional majorities. Democrats gained at least five seats in the Senate and looked to add significantly to their strength in the House.

But with those advantages come hard choices. Among them will be deciding how much he owes his victory to a popular rejection of President Bush and the Republicans and how much it represents an embrace of Democratic governance. Interpreting his mandate will be only one of several critical decisions Obama must make as he prepares to assume the presidency. Others include transforming his campaign promises on taxes, health care, energy and education into a set of legislative priorities for his first two years in office.

...Obama's ability to manage relationships with Democratic congressional leaders, with Republicans and with impatient liberal constituencies with agendas of their own will have a lasting impact on his presidency. Can he, for example, fulfill his promise to govern in a unifying and inclusive way yet also push an ambitious progressive agenda?

The first African American elected to the presidency, Obama built his victory with a new Democratic coalition. To the party's base of African Americans, Latinos and women, Obama added younger voters and wealthier, better-educated ones. That helped him raise his support among white voters -- a traditional weakness of recent Democratic presidential candidates.

...William Galston of the Brookings Institution, who served as domestic policy adviser during President Bill Clinton's first term, predicted a battle over analogies among Democrats seeking to influence Obama.

Some, he said, will argue that conditions require a major infusion of government activism and intervention, as in 1933. Others will point to the start of Johnson's first full term in 1965, which ushered in the Great Society and an era of liberal governance. Still others may point to 1993, the start of Clinton's first term, when Democrats pushed another liberal agenda, only to find that the country was resistant. Within two years, Democrats lost their congressional majorities.

Galston argued that 1993 may be closest to the mark, although he noted that the economic problems are far worse than those Clinton faced. But he said there was little evidence heading into yesterday's balloting that the country had taken a sharp left turn. "It's hard to say substantively what mandate Obama and the Democrats have gotten," he said. "They've gotten a chance to make their case."

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R) said the senator from Illinois can claim a personal mandate but should not assume the results signified an ideological election.

"You have to distinguish between the Obama machine -- ACORN, labor unions, -- and the personality, which is Oprah Winfrey, Paul Volcker, Warren Buffett and Colin Powell," he said. "One of the most important decisions Obama will make is which Obama will govern."

...One top adviser recalled what happened after the Democrats regained control of the House and Senate in the midterm elections and suggested they were ready to end the war in Iraq and enact a bold Democratic agenda. "We're all wary of the lessons of 2006, when expectations were raised so high prematurely," he said.

... Part of [the] strategy, he added, will be persuading people to be patient about the pace of change.

...Given the projected spending of $700 billion for a financial rescue package and hundreds of billions more for an economic stimulus package that Democrats say is needed, the deficit could approach $1 trillion or more next fiscal year, even without any of Obama's other priorities.

In the final stages of the campaign, Obama spoke in generalities about scrubbing the federal budget line by line, looking for cuts. He has yet to identify specific reductions, but soon after he is sworn in, his administration will have to present an alternative budget. At that point, Obama will reveal more of who he is.

If that budget appears pinched, he could face a revolt among congressional Democrats, especially in the House. "My own hunch is that Obama is smart enough not to want to govern as a liberal," said Peter Wehner, a former Bush administration official. "But he is going to have hydraulic pressure from the House and Senate to do that."...

Research director Lucy Shackelford contributed to this report.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

More than 35 Qassams, mortars fired at Israel

From Ynet News, 5/11/08, by Ynet reporters:

Palestinians respond to IDF operation in Gaza Strip with massive rocket fire. Three Qassams land in Ashkelon area, girl and two women suffers from shock....

...Two soldiers were moderately injured and four sustained light injuries after a mortar shell was fired at an IDF force during a raid in the Gaza Strip Tuesday night. Six Hamas operatives were killed in the operation, which concluded on Wednesday morning.

At least one rocket landed in central Ashkelon, and two others landed near the city. The Color Red alert system was activated moments before the fall. Two women and a 13-year-old girl suffered from shock and were evacuated to the Barzilai Medical Center in the city. There were no reports of damage.

At first, reports spoke of six rockets and several mortars fired at the Eshkol Regional Council, but later reports confirmed massive rocket fire.

...On Tueday, the local security officers of the Gaza vicinity communities were informed that a resumption of the rocket fire from Gaza should be expected....

...the Magen David Adom emergency services in the region have gone on high alert and will be operating in full capacity.

... the Islamic Jihad's al-Quds Brigades claimed responsibility for two of the rockets that were fired....

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

...with friends like these...

From Ynet News, 3/11/08, by Reuters:

A European parliamentary delegation visited the Gaza Strip on Monday and invited all elected Palestinian lawmakers, including Hamas, to visit, even though the EU considers the Islamist group a terrorist organization.

The invitation appeared to be little more than a symbolic gesture since Israel has jailed some 40 of Hamas' lawmakers for terrorist affiliation and allows few Gazans to leave the coastal territory via the Jewish state.

Like the United States, the European Union considers Hamas a terrorist organization and boycotts the group, which won parliamentary elections in 2006, because of its refusal to renounce violence and recognize Israel.

Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in a series of bloody battles in June 2007 after routing secular Fatah forces loyal to Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

The invitation to visit the European parliament next spring was presented by Kyriacos Triantaphyllides, head of the European delegation, during talks with Ahmed Bahar, acting speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) and a Hamas member.

"We don't care who they are as long as they are members of the Legislative Council," Triantaphyllides said. "We don't ask if they are members of Hamas or members of Fatah."
"The PLC was elected in 2006 and it was democratically elected," he added.

Balfour Declaration - 91st Anniversary

From THE JERUSALEM POST, Nov. 1, 2008, by Ashley Perry*:

...November 2, the Balfour Declaration is 91 years old.... was later incorporated into the Sèvres peace treaty with Turkey and the Mandate for Palestine, adopted unanimously by the League of Nations in the San Remo Resolution of 1920. This lent Zionism a legitimacy enjoyed by few national movements before or since.

...the leader of the Arab movement, King Faisal, supported the declaration when it was referred to in the Faisal-Weizmann Agreement of 1919.

Although many have since attempted to deny the central nature of the document and its relationship to the Mandate, that's not how its British drafters saw things. In fact, as stated in the 1937 Royal Commission Report, "the primary purpose of the Mandate, as expressed in its preamble and its articles, is to promote the establishment of the Jewish National Home."
The initial drafts of the Balfour Declaration spoke of the desire "that Palestine should be reconstituted as the National Home of the Jewish people." Clearly, Palestine as a whole [which includes the West Bank, Gaza, and the whole of Jordan - SL] was to become this Jewish national home.

...Many have argued that ... the declaration never meant to encourage the creation of a state. This interpretation fails because the major players in the drafting of the agreement thought otherwise.

It would have been diplomatically impossible for the British government to promise a state at that time, primarily because the territory was not even in its hands. The term national home was used as a first step on the path to statehood. Lloyd George, who was prime minister at the time, laid the onus for the transforming of a national home to a state on the Jews themselves:
"It was contemplated that when the time arrived for according representative institutions to Palestine, if the Jews had meanwhile responded to the opportunities afforded them by the idea of a national home, and had become a definite majority... then Palestine would thus become a Jewish commonwealth."

General Smuts, a member of the Imperial War Cabinet when the declaration was published, said in 1919 that he could see "in generations to come, a great Jewish state rising there once more." Influential figures like Lord Robert Cecil in 1917, Sir Herbert Samuel in 1919 and Winston Churchill in 1920 also spoke about the resulting Jewish state.

Churchill also told the Royal Commission regarding the Palestine White Paper of 1922, for which he had been responsible, that those who felt the Balfour Declaration or the Palestine Mandate precluded a Jewish state were mistaken. "There is nothing in it," the commission found, "to prohibit the ultimate establishment of a Jewish state, and Mr. Churchill himself has told us in evidence that no such prohibition was intended."

...Nonetheless, during the early days of the Mandate there were voices in the British government which felt an equal obligation to the Jewish and non-Jewish communities. Many politicians wished to ensure that the Arab population was placated. This was rebutted by those who felt that not only was this incorrect, but that the text of the Mandate made Britain "responsible for placing the country under such political, administrative and economic conditions as will secure the establishment of the Jewish National Home."

The wording clearly points to active intervention on the part of Britain.

"Merely to sit still," wrote Churchill, "and avoid friction with the Arabs and safeguard their civil and religious rights and to abandon the positive exertion for the establishment of the Jewish National Home would not be a faithful interpretation of the Mandate."

... the actual text was replete with references to actions that would be taken to ensure the rise of a Jewish national home. The British administration was required to "facilitate" Jewish immigration, and "encourage" the settlement of Jews on the land.

There can be no denying that the Balfour Declaration was unique, not only in Jewish history, but possibly in the history of national movements. For a short period, all the major powers, the leader of the Arab world and most interested parties created a mechanism to fulfill the Zionist dream.

This should not be overlooked or understated as Zionism fights an enduring battle for legitimacy. Few national movements in the world have such a legal declaration in their arsenal.

*The writer is an editor at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs for the Middle East Strategic Information project.

Terrorism Financing Blacklists Confusion

From Washington Post Foreign Service Sunday, November 2, 2008, by Craig Whitlock:

BRUSSELS -- The global blacklisting system for financiers of al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups is at risk of collapse, undermined by legal challenges and waning political support in many countries, according to counterterrorism officials in Europe and the United States.

In September, the European Court of Justice threw the future of the United Nations' sanctions program against al-Qaeda and the Taliban into doubt when it declared the blacklist violated the "fundamental rights" of those targeted. The Luxembourg-based court said the list lacked accountability and made it almost impossible for people to challenge their inclusion.

Courts in Britain and France have also questioned whether European countries can enforce the U.N. sanctions and other blacklists without violating local laws, including a defendant's right to see evidence. The United Nations keeps such evidence secret.

The U.N. blacklist is the backbone of an international effort to prevent al-Qaeda supporters from raising or transferring money. All U.N. members are required to impose a travel ban and asset freeze against the 503 individuals, businesses and groups on the list. About $85 million in al-Qaeda and Taliban assets is frozen worldwide.

Enforcement, however, is inconsistent; some countries have quietly permitted alleged supporters of al-Qaeda to travel and to access their bank accounts.

Moreover, the U.N. program is just one of several terrorism-financing blacklists sponsored by the United States, the European Union and Britain. Although each is intended to prevent terrorism, they overlap and sometimes clash with one another, leading to confusion over whose assets, besides al-Qaeda's, should be frozen, and under whose authority. Hezbollah, for instance, is included on the U.S. and British blacklists. But it is not considered a terrorist group by the European Union.

Some counterterrorism officials say the blacklists are a vital, if imperfect, tool in fighting al-Qaeda and other groups -- particularly the U.N. sanctions program, which is the only one that governments and banks are compelled to enforce worldwide.

But other officials say the sanctions have outlived their usefulness. They note that al-Qaeda largely avoids the international banking system and needs only small sums of money to finance terrorist plots. The number of assets frozen in recent years by the United Nations, for instance, has remained static.

...The United Nations has made several modifications in response to the criticism. But Richard Barrett, a British diplomat and coordinator of the U.N. team monitoring the Taliban and al-Qaeda, which maintains the blacklist, said the world body would probably not go as far as some European courts and governments would like.

For example, he said, it was highly unlikely that the United Nations would ever agree to allow a court or independent panel to review its decisions. Such a move could infringe on powers granted under the U.N. charter, he said.

Barrett warned that a solution was elusive. If European governments stop enforcing the blacklist because of local court decisions, he said, other countries might also effectively abandon the program.

"It can clearly lead to collapse," Barrett said in an interview in New York. "People are worried about the whole procedure, about the difficulty in getting people off the list and the possibility of legal challenge. . . . We have to address these problems."

...Victor D. Comras, a former State Department official who served on the U.N. monitoring group until 2004, acknowledged that many countries had lost faith in the blacklist and that as a result, the number of new names had dwindled in recent years.

But he said the blacklist ought to be expanded rather than curtailed, arguing that it does not reflect al-Qaeda's evolution into a decentralized movement and that it needs to include financiers of affiliated terrorist groups.

The list is much too short. It is significantly out-of-date," he said. "It's not used as effectively or efficiently as it could be."...

...The U.S. Treasury maintains its own blacklist of suspected terrorism financiers. Established shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks under an executive order signed by President Bush, the list of "specially designated global terrorists" originally focused on al-Qaeda but grew to include other groups....

US missile defences in Europe

From THE JERUSALEM POST Nov. 1, 2008, by staff and AP:

The head of the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency said Friday that Iran was not far from attaining the means to use missiles against all of Europe and against the US in five to six years, Israel Radio reported.

Lt. Gen. Henry A. Obering III was speaking in Prague in an effort to convince the Czech Parliament to approve a US missile defense installation in the country's territory. Obering warned against opposing the plan to build a radar base near Prague as part of a missile shield the US says would counter threats from Iran. ...

...The Czech government agreed to the deal but the agreement also must be approved by both houses of Parliament. ...To pass the bill, the government will need some votes from opposition parties, but they have harshly criticized the plan. A vote will likely take place next year.