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Saturday, June 28, 2008

African immigration tragedy continues

Israel and Egypt both have to find a more humane and reasonable way to deal with the problem of African immigration. The UN and its agencies must help. It is impossible to expect that Israel will hold all the immigrants fleeing Africa. On the other hand it is totally unacceptable to look on while people are being killed for trying to reach freedom and a better life.
Ami Isseroff

Last update - 16:05 28/06/2008    
Egyptian police kill African man, 7-year-old girl at Israel border
By Reuters
Egyptian police shot and killed two African migrants, including a seven-year-old Sudanese girl, as they tried to cross the border into Israel on Saturday, security and hospital sources said.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the security sources said an Egyptian patrol opened fire on the migrants to stop them getting across the border south of the Rafah crossing.
They added that seven other African migrants had been detained, including the dead child's mother.
Their deaths bring to 16 the number of migrants killed at the border this year.
Hospital sources said the other victim was an unidentified African in his thirties, killed by a gunshot wound to his back.
Egypt has pursued a crackdown on African migrants that has seen up to 1,000 Eritrean asylum seekers deported since June 11, despite UN objections.

Continued (Permanent Link)

German Prof.: Israeli athletes willfully sacrificed themselves in Munich massacre

Last update - 22:51 28/06/2008       
German Prof.: Israeli athletes willfully sacrificed themselves in Munich massacre
By Assaf Uni, Haaretz Correspondent
Berlin - A German academic has claimed that there is a possibility that the 11 Israeli athletes who were massacred by Palestinian militants during the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich knew of the attack in advance but willfully sacrificed themselves, the German weekly Der Spiegel reported on Saturday.
At an academic conference last week, Prof. Arnd Kruger of the Institute for Sport Studies at the University of Gottingen compared the 1929 massacre of Hebron Jews with the athletes' refusal to leave the Olympic Village despite alleged prior knowledge of the attack.
During the 1972 Summer Olympics an offshoot of the Palestinian Fatah movement called Black September took over the apartment of the Israeli team, taking them hostage. After nerve wrecking negotiations, the 11 athletes, as well as a German police officer and five of the eight perpetrators, were killed in a botched rescue attempt.
Der Spiegel's Web site quoted Kruger as saying that "the athletes sacrificed themselves in Israel's service."
Kruger told Haaretz he did not remember making such statement. He said he only sought to address unanswered questions about the massacre.
He said he was a journalist in Munich in 1972 and that he remembered Israelis telling him they think security at the Olympic Village was not tight enough.
The possibility that the Israeli team chose not to leave despite being well aware of the risk must be voiced, he said.
Kruger maintained that that the fact that some of them did not run away when the terrorists came in was because of the self-sacrifice ideal of the Israeli ethos.
He said he wonders how it is possible that Shaul Ladany, who was a racewalker, managed to escape and others didn't, bearing in mind he was neither a sprinter nor a long jumper, and was visually impaired.
Kruger said he had sought to bolster his claims with sociological explanations. He said Israelis have a "different perception of the body," and that the abortion rate in Israel is relatively high.
Israeli officials in Germany were infuriated by Kruger's remarks. Ilan Mor of the Israeli embassy in Berlin told Der Spiegel that he sees it as a disturbing attempt to de-humanize Israel, and called on the university management to take disciplinary action against Kruger, who is a former dean of the social science department.
Mor said Kruger's remarks are a symptom of the "rampant anti-Semitism in Germany, often veiled under criticism of Israel."
The German Sports Sciences Association dubbed Kruger's remarks "unfortunate," and said the disciplinary board will convene next week to discuss the case.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Israel to reopen Gaza crossings on Sunday

Israel to reopen Gaza crossings on Sunday

Deputy Defense Minister Vilnai decides on reopening of crossings of to allow passage of 80 trucks loaded with goods, equipment into Strip
Hanan Greenberg
Published:  06.28.08, 22:56 / Israel News
Despite repeated Palestinian violations of the agreed upon truce, Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai decided Saturday that the Gaza crossings will be reopened on Sunday.

Some eighty trucks loaded with equipment and goods are expected to enter the Strip through the Sufa crossing. The Nahal Oz fuel terminal was reopened on Friday to allow the transfer of fuel to Gaza in a limited capacity.

Earlier on Saturday, Islamic Jihad threatened to resume rocket attacks on Israel if the IDF continues its military operations in the West Bank.

"Islamic Jihad reserves the right to respond to all Israeli violations," one of the group's Gaza chiefs Khaled al-Batch said, but added they would "not take the initiative in breaking the calm."

"If the crossing points (with Gaza) do not reopen, if the siege and the aggression does not stop, the calm will go up in smoke," Batch added, repeating that Israeli attacks in the West Bank would spark retaliation from Gaza.
The threats came after a Palestinian teenager was killed in Hebron in the West Bank overnight as he threw petrol bombs at Israeli soldiers, the military said, putting further strain on the week-old ceasefire.
Meanwhile one of Hamas' top chiefs, Mahmoud al-Zahar said the group would lock up anyone breaching the ceasefire and said several members of armed groups had already been arrested.
"There is an agreement between Islamic Jihad and Hamas stating that all people from Jihad or Hamas, who violate this accord will be arrested and their weapons confiscated," al-Zahar was quoted as saying in the Palestinian daily Al-Quds.
"People have already been arrested. Some opened fire on lorries and others fired rockets at the Nahal Oz (oil facility)," al-Zahar added.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Cease fire watch: Palestinians fire mortars at Karni crossing

Palestinians fire mortars at Karni crossing

In another breach of agreed upon truce, number of shells land near crossing that is expected to be reopened Sunday; no injuries reported
Shmulik Hadad
Published:  06.28.08, 23:42 / Israel News
Palestinians fired a number of mortars Saturday evening toward the Karni crossing on the Gaza-Israel border. It remains unclear whether the shells landed in Israeli or Palestinian territory. No injuries or damage were reported in the attacks.
An explosion was heard near the western Negev community of Gabim, but a search for a rocket or mortar landing site came up empty.
The Karni crossing is expected to be reopened by Israel on Sunday for the transfer of goods to the Strip within the framework of the agreed upon ceasefire between Israel and the armed Palestinian organizations in the coastal enclave.
The crossings were closed down a week ago following repeated truce violations on the part of the Palestinians.

The Nahal Oz fuel terminal was reopened on Friday to allow the transfer of fuel to Gaza in a limited capacity.

A senior Israeli security establishment official said on Thursday that "any breach of the ceasefire agreement will be dealt with accordingly. However, if the calm is upheld, we'll fulfill our part of the deal.

Earlier on Saturday, Islamic Jihad threatened to resume rocket attacks on Israel if the IDF continues its military operations in the West Bank.
"Islamic Jihad reserves the right to respond to all Israeli violations," one of the group's Gaza chiefs Khaled al-Batch said, but added they would "not take the initiative in breaking the calm."

Continued (Permanent Link)

A peace dividend? Haniyeh calls for cease fire observance

Has the truce maneuvered Hamas leaders into the position of Fatah? Is Haniyeh morphing into Mahmoud Abbas?
Ami Isseroff

Last update - 01:01 28/06/2008       
Haniyeh: Stop firing at Israel for sake of Palestinians
By Fadi Eyadat, Haaretz Correspondent, and News Agencies
Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh on Friday appealed to Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip to honor the week-long truce with Israel, and stop firing at the Negev, for the good of the Palestinian civilian population.
Two mortar shells from Gaza hit the western Negev on Friday, exploding in open areas, despite the cease fire agreement. No damage or injury were reported.
"We expect everyone to respect the agreement so that the Palestinian people achieve what they look for, an end to this suffering and breaking the siege," he told reporters outside a Gaza mosque after Muslim prayers.
The attack on Friday came one day after two Qassam rockets were fired from the Strip into Israel. The militant Fatah offshoot Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade claimed responsibility for the attack and demanded that the cease fire agreement between Israel and Hamas, which currently includes only the Gaza Strip, be extended to include the West Bank as well.
Palestinian medics and local residents said the Israel Defense Forces killed a Palestinian teenager during a raid in the West Bank on Friday.
The residents said the 17-year-old was killed while confronting Israeli soldiers who raided the village of Beit Umar, near Hebron.
An IDF spokesman said troops fired at a group of militants who hurled firebombs at them, hitting one.
At a high-level security meeting late Thursday, Israel decided to keep the border crossings into the Gaza Strip closed on Friday because of the latest rocket attack defense officials said. They added that a limited amount of fuel would be transferred into the Strip despite the closure.
Since the cease fire went into effect last Thursday, instead of retaliating for rocket attacks with airstrikes at Palestinian rocket squads, Israel closed the border crossings, where vital supplies are shipped into Gaza - restoring a blockade that has caused severe shortages.
The move hits at the main interest of Hamas - ending the blockade and easing the hardships facing the people under its control. Hamas officials charged that by restoring the blockade, Israel is violating the truce. Underlining the high level of distrust, Palestinians formed a committee to track Israeli violations.
At a meeting Wednesday, Israeli defense officials discussed how to proceed once the crossings are reopened. According to the same officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the meetings are closed, Israel might reset the truce clock each time it closes the crossings in response to a Palestinian violation.
Israel had significantly increased the amount of supplies flowing into Gaza on Sunday, in accordance with the truce agreement, and was ready for another increase next Sunday. But a barrage of four Qassam rockets, claimed by Islamic Jihad, stopped the process. Now Israel is considering counting three days from each reopening of the crossings before it reinstates the original increase.
During a visit to Prague, Czech Republic, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said Israel should reopen the crossings to preserve the truce.
"[The reopening is] important because the closure... of Gaza is actually producing a situation where you have 1.5 million of our people who live there with a sense of not much to lose," Fayyad said. "That is a situation that's got to end."
Hamas charged that the re-imposed blockade is a violation. But Hamas official Taher Nunu said that Hamas is committed to the truce. "The [Hamas] government will not allow anyone to violate this agreement," he said.
The rocket attack Thursday came as Israeli envoy Ofer Dekel headed to Egypt to meet with Egyptian officials on the final stage of the truce - a swap of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners for an Israeli soldier Hamas has held captive for two years. Israel has balked at Hamas' demands, saying its list of prisoners includes militants involved in deadly attacks on Israelis.
Hamas also has demanded that Israel allow reopening of Gaza's only border crossing with Egypt in the final phase of the six-month truce deal.
The Rafah crossing has been sealed since the Hamas violent takeover over the Strip last June, confining Gaza's people to the tiny seaside territory. Israel has said it would not allow reopening of Rafah until the soldier is freed.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Friday, June 27, 2008

An important perspective on the Lebanon war and the Winograd commission Report

From the perspective of a few months it appears that the public response to the Winograd Commission findings has been minimal. Nevertheless, the report lies in the public domain and one should not underestimate its impact on decision makers and on public opinion in Israel and the region.

In depth examination of both parts of the report – the partial version and the final report – raises a considerable number of questions with regard to its relevance to the security challenges facing the State of Israel. Moreover, the testimonies that were published and in particular the questions the commission put to the witnesses allow close examination of the commission's approach to the security reality that Israel confronts.
This article aims to examine two basic issues on which the commission took a strong stand: the results of the war,[1] and the decision making processes in Israel's defense establishment. The "commission of inquiry culture" that has developed in Israel over the years, with its negative impact on the security establishment, has come under fire.[2] It seems that the Winograd Commission has itself contributed to justification of this criticism. Two examples: first, the commission did not adequately assess the known implications of the change to Israel's security threat, and therefore its conclusion regarding the IDF's failure to achieve victory at the end of the war is problematic, if at all of any value.[3] Second, the commission addressed and attached great importance to the decision making processes involved in launching the war and during the war. This article attempts to examine these two topics, and to suggest the problematic nature of the commission's opinions.
Changes in the Nature of the Threat and the Security Concept
Since its creation, the State of Israel has been threatened by neighboring countries and different organizations using terror activities of varying dimensions, both inside and outside its borders. The principal threat that Israel had to face was the threat of invasion by an Arab country or a coalition of Arab countries that aimed to conquer territory.[4] The IDF's buildup and the security solution that was devised allowed Israel to defend the country and move to an offensive mode, for example, during the Yom Kippur War. In practice, over the years Israel has been able to offer an effective solution to threats against it and to deter Arab countries from carrying out the threatened scenario. The security concept was based on three familiar pillars: deterrence, warning, and decision.

In addition to this approach, an ongoing security concept became rooted in the IDF regarding the use of force (that was generally based on territorial defense) for guarding the country's borders and other areas under IDF authority (for example, the West Bank). A popularly held idea was that every few years, when a military threat to the country becomes more heightened, the reserve forces are called up for a short period in order to quell the threat. Once the threat is removed, the country returns to the regular security routine and the reservists resume their normal lives. This scenario generated the expectation among citizens (and even among some of the leaders) that the Second Lebanon War would conform to a similar model. However, the war arrived and revealed a change in the essence of the threat.
This change is so fundamental that it demands an update in Israel's security concept. Once the enemies of the state understood, following a gradual and ongoing process, the IDF's abilities in dealing with a classic threat, a new threat was devised, namely: amassing a massive high trajectory firepower capability against the front and rear while developing combat abilities based on guerilla tactics.[5] These capabilities were developed both by countries such as Syria and by organizations like Hizbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The greatest danger of this threat does not lie in the physical damage that can be caused by Qassam rockets, which for the most part is limited. The greatest danger stems from the ongoing and sustained erosion of public faith in the country's ability to protect it. This is a highly serious threat that undercuts one of the most fundamental principles of the contract between a citizen and his country.
In addition, Israel is currently faced with one of the most significant security challenges it has had to address since its establishment – the Iranian threat. The Second Lebanon War clearly revealed Iran's role as a leader of the war against Israel. Iran's nuclear program is the strategic part of the struggle, and figures in addition to efforts to position Iranian operational strongholds along Israel's borders: Hizbollah in the north, Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and in the future, perhaps in the West Bank as well. These present a conventional threat whose long term ability to inflict damage augments the nuclear threat, for which the IDF still does not have an adequate solution. The Winograd Commission report should be read with these insights kept in mind.
So, Who Won the War?
A stark sentence in the report reflects the commission's misunderstanding of both how much the threat has changed and the nature of the security challenge that now confronts Israel: "A quasi-military organization, with thousands of fighters, managed to withstand the strongest army in the Middle East[6] for several weeks. This army enjoyed absolute aerial supremacy and marked advantages in terms of size and technology."[7] While it is true that the IDF has developed impressive abilities to deal with the classic threat, these abilities do not provide an effective solution to the current threat. Moreover, the commission continues in the same vein when it addresses the question "who won the war," as if this was a sports match in which the judges (in this case, the commission) decide the winners. The report states: "At the end of thirty-four days of warfare, there was no resolution in favor of the IDF, even not by 'points.' Hizbollah fire on Israel's rear stopped only due to the ceasefire. Israel did not achieve a clear cut victory."[8] It is hard to understand what parameters the commission used to reach such a clear cut and simplistic ruling on the results of the war, since there is no reference whatsoever in the report to these parameters. Nor is there or any attempt to analyze the criteria whereby "victory in the war" is achieved, unless the commission followed the lead of the Israeli media.
The commission's approach to the war, as if it were a game in which there are winners and losers, is problematic, to say the least. The commission does not at all address the complexity of the threat resulting from a low intensity conflict. Rather, it isolates a single manifestation (summer 2006) and removes it from the wider context of the overall struggle. However, Israel is in the throes of an ongoing war against resistance movements. This war did not end with the ceasefire in Lebanon, and in fact continues right now. If so, what is the significance of a sentence like: "Israel did not win the war," when the war is still in progress, and its end is not even in sight? It is a mistake to compare the Second Lebanon War with classic conventional wars in which victory or defeat at the end of war can be measured and is significant. Indeed, herein lies another problematic ruling by the commission, that: "the political achievement of the war – resolution 1701 – was significant, but our examination did not indicate that it was achieved through appropriate analysis of effective means to attain the political objectives, and we found no essential, direct, prominent, and efficient causal connection between the military operation and the political achievement"[9] – as if the resolution's stipulations were not part of the war's objectives and were not achieved as a result of the fighting.
Decision Making Processes and the Exit Strategy Trap
The Winograd Commission refers to a lapse in "understanding the critical nature of thinking on the objectives of the fighting and on the mechanisms of ending the war."[10] The claim is seemingly a given, as who would oppose the idea of "look before you leap." Throughout the report the commission pushes the idea of maintaining built-in decision making processes. For example: "Orderly decision making processes should provide the decision makers, and those who assess their conduct, with the means for structuring and considering discretion that will help limit the dangers of uncontrolled reliance on emotion, unfounded intuition, impulsive reaction, or personal and political considerations that may spoil what is underway."[11]

The commission seemingly says all the "right" things. However, these declarations are detached from the practical experience of decision making. The commission does not differentiate between different processes: the first process relates to developing the database and common language of decision makers in an ongoing process prior to the event. The second process refers to the need to take decisions in real time, as per the security requirement, whereby the decisions are based on previously acquired insights. In many cases, security activity demands immediate action that is sometimes based on insights acquired over time (at times erroneously dubbed "gut feelings") rather than on analytical analysis of alternatives and sub-alternatives of various kinds. In addition, in most cases, once the analysis, decision making processes, and situation appraisals have been completed the action is no longer relevant and therefore is not pursued. The commission does not at all address the fact that the thinking process of each of the decision makers on this topic is more important to the decision and its quality. In most cases, the damage caused by discussion sequences and situation appraisal "rituals" incorporated in what is known as decision making processes is greater than their benefit when they take place in the heat of the moment.
The situation appraisal is a crucial rational tool and should be used in any situation. However, one must not err and assume that in depth and relevant situation appraisals can be conducted in large forums in which discussion is largely designed for protocol purposes only. In general, these generate a performance of a built-in process whereby the decision of the leader has largely already been formulated, based on his own understanding of the situation. The drive to neutralize the contribution and individual intuition of the decision makers, while generating processes that require an abundance of resources and time, is liable to damage rather than enhance the quality of the decisions, especially when taking into consideration that the balances of security activity in Israel exist due to the very organizational structure of Israel's security services. The adherence to decision making processes reflects the intent to control a complex and volatile reality when the latter does not cooperate.
The commission felt that the decision makers in Israel should determine the strategy for ending the war in advance. It is true that in a sterile and programmed environment one can maintain processes for achieving this, although in most cases, such efforts are destined to dismal failure. One must find the delicate balance between the attempt to assess the development of a war ahead of time and the need to take action in real time. Even if, as the commission rules, no exit strategy was devised before the Second Lebanon War was started, it seems that in the summer of 2006 Israel had no other strategic choice than to embark on a war.
There is no doubt that had the declaration of war been contingent on prior devising of what is called an exit strategy, the war would not have happened. Past experience indicates that "endless discussions of situation appraisals" culminate in the hollow slogan of "Israel reserves the right to respond anywhere and at anytime it chooses." The achievements of the war that did take place can be assessed and will in the future be shown to be highly significant.
Although operative for more than one year, the Winograd Commission mistakenly identified the key issues at hand. One might have expected the commission's final report to deal with the complexity of the security situation, and correct its misunderstanding of the security threat that now confronts Israel from Iran, in its conventional as well as non-conventional posture, directly and through proxies. The report ought to have been a platform for an in depth and relevant discussion of Israel's current fundamental problems and its necessary response to these problems. This was not the case, and herein lies a major missed opportunity. Despite the initial storm prior to and immediately after the release of the report, [12] the Israeli public is left with an anemic report that is in part irrelevant. The commission damaged its own image in its selection of areas of focus, and it was swayed by the simplistic approach led by the Israeli media. In addition, the commission reinforced the emphasis of the decision makers on the creation of decision making processes and mechanisms that require considerable resources while ignoring the complex and individual nature of these processes.

[1]       Notwithstanding p. 522 of the report, article 30: "After deliberating we decided not to include in our report a chapter that addresses an evaluation of the results of the war. It is not at all clear if this was part of the commission's mandate; moreover we believe that it is still too early to determine the results of the war." This declaration did not prevent the commission from taking a stand elsewhere in the report.
[2]       See, for example, Emmanuel Manor, "Enough with Our Commissions of Inquiry Culture,", February 11, 2008; Amatzia Khen, "Until the Next Commission of Inquiry,", January 5, 2008, and Marcelo Rosenberg, "No to A Commission of Inquiry – Yes to A Commission of Culture,", September 7, 2006.
[3]       For example: the concept "the military victory" used by the commission. See Winograd report, p. 34, article 9: "A prolonged war initiated by Israel ended without Israel gaining victory in military terms." The statement does not clarify the committee's criteria of "victory in military terms." This is just one example of many.
[4]       In the interest of a common vocabulary, the term "classic threat" will be used in this article to describe this threat.
[5]       For an analysis of the subject, see Gabriel Siboni, "High Trajectory Weapons and Guerilla Warfare: Adjusting Fundamental Security Concepts," Strategic Assessment 10, no. 4 (2008): 12-18.
[6]       The use of the expression "the strongest army in the Middle East" indicates just how outdated the commission's perceptions are with regard to Israel's current security environment.
[7]       Winograd report, p. 34, article 9.
[8]       Winograd report, p. 396, article 19.
[9]       Winograd report, p. 543, article 15.
[10]     Winograd report, p. 426, article 32.
[11]     Winograd report, p. 54, article 16.
[12]     A storm that was predominantly caused by the (unfounded) accusations that the decision makers had ulterior motives for embarking on the last campaign of the war.Victims of Friendly Fire: The Winograd Commission vs. the Citizens of Israel (a viewpoint) Assessment, June 2008, Vol. 11, No. 1
Siboni, Gabriel

Continued (Permanent Link)

Syria-Israel Peace talks - another view

Is There Really a Window of Opportunity? Strategic Assessment, June 2008, Vol. 11, No. 1
Brom, Shlomo 
Contacts between Israel and Syria, mediated by Turkey, regarding the renewal of negotiations toward a peace agreement have been underway for a year and a half. In recent indirect talks, Turkish mediators relayed messages between Israeli and Syrian negotiating teams that were in Ankara at the same time. Discussion at this stage is about the terms that will enable negotiations to be renewed and about the format of the talks. As a condition for renewing talks, Syria is apparently demanding that Israel re-ratify the "Rabin deposit," that is, affirm Israeli readiness to withdraw from the Golan Heights in their entirety, if all the other components of the agreement are to its satisfaction. According to some reports, Israel has already done that. Israel, for its part, has apparently demanded an advance commitment relating to Syria's current ties with Iran, Hizbollah, and the Palestinian organizations. It seems there is also a dispute between the sides about the format of the talks. Israel prefers secret negotiations while Syria wants open talks. The recent announcement released simultaneously in Jerusalem, Damascus, and Ankara implies that at the very least Israel is prepared to acknowledge publicly that the talks are underway. Declarations by Syrian president Basher al-Asad indicate that Syria is asking for US involvement in the negotiations as a condition for their renewal.
This essay aims to analyze the chances for renewing comprehensive and effective negotiations and progressing towards an agreement, by examining the Israeli and Syrian interests and proposing a modus operandi for Israel.
The analysis is based on the premise that it is not possible to reach an agreement with Syria without giving up all of the Golan Heights. There are those who believe that just as Syria eventually waived its demand to recover the area of Alexandretta from Turkey, it will also eventually accept the loss of the Golan Heights, or part of it, and that it is possible to reach a peace agreement without conceding the area. According to this view, Israel needs to continue applying pressure on Syria until it agrees. This essay contends, however, that after the precedents of treaties between Israel and Egypt and Jordan, the chance that even in the long term specifically Syria will agree to peace without the return of the conquered territory is very slim. Moreover, even if this might occur at some point in the distant future, Israel should take into account the cost of continuing the status quo over time.
Israeli Interests
Israel's interest in renewing negotiations should be measured with three parameters:
·         To what degree an agreement with Syria would reduce (or increase) the threats aimed at Israel, and how an agreement would impact on its ability to deal with them
·         How much an agreement with Syria would contribute to (or impede) progress in the peace process with other states and reconciliation with the Arab world
·         The domestic cost of an agreement.
Effect on Threats
When talks with Syria took place in the nineties it was relatively simple to make an analysis based on the first parameter. The benefits of removing Syria from the cycle of confrontation with Israel and the security arrangements to be incorporated in the agreement were balanced against the loss of the Golan Heights, which for topographical reasons offers clear strategic advantages in a potential military confrontation with Syria. Developments since then have complicated the analysis, for two reasons. First, the most important phenomenon regarding Israel's security in recent years, in perception and in practice, is the formation of a radical axis under the leadership of Iran that includes Iran, Syria, Hizbollah, and some Palestinian organizations. From Israel's point of view, the main question now is no longer the significance of dealing with Syria's military force (which has not been a major challenge for the IDF for some years), rather the impact of an agreement on this axis. Is it possible to extricate Syria from this axis and thus to dismantle it? Would an agreement with Syria reduce friction with the various axis members? Second, the nature of the security threat Syria poses to Israel has changed. If in the past the main element was Syria's ability to launch a surprise attack to capture the Golan Heights and threaten Israel's territory, now the main Syrian threat is its ability to hit the Israeli civilian front with rocket and missile fire.
Those opposed to renewing negotiations claim that Syria is so dependent on Iran and Hizbollah and its strategic pact has become such an integral part of its identity that there is no possibility of Syria's detaching itself from this axis, even after reaching an agreement with Israel. However, this argument frames the axis as a formal contract to which one does or does not belong, and ignores the fact that this is a dynamic, evolving system based on changing and developing interests. In the current situation Syria depends on Iran for military and economic aid, and on Hizbollah as an element that allows Syrian influence to be maintained in Lebanon and pressure to be exerted on Israel. The reality of an agreement with Israel, which involves closer ties to the United States, makes significant elements of Syria's dependence on Iran and Hizbollah superfluous. Moreover, the bond with Iran and Hizbollah interferes with Syria's ability to realize key benefits deriving from an agreement with Israel and ties with the United States and the West. Thus, it is reasonable to assume that Syria's attraction to this axis will decrease, both as a result of the limitations on such relations that will be part of the agreement (for example, forbidding assistance to elements that are hostile to Israel), and also as a natural result of the change in Syria's situation.
As for the second development, the Golan Heights is not relevant to many of the new military threats projected by Syria, since many are long range and do not require positioning on the Golan Heights. As to shorter range threats, these can be addressed within the framework of security arrangements to be included in the agreement.
In all other respects, the Israeli calculus of how an agreement impacts on dealing with threats has not changed. Indeed, all Israeli governments since the second Rabin government – with the exception of the Sharon government – thought that reducing the chances of a military confrontation with Syria by establishing peaceful relations, invoking security arrangements based on demilitarized and limited arms zones with proper supervision by an international force, and acquiring US aid for further strengthening of the IDF comprise an appropriate return for conceding the strategic military asset of the Golan Heights.
Impact on the Political Process
The common assumption since the Oslo process was launched was that talks with Syria would have a negative influence on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, both because Israel cannot pursue two tracks at the same time, and because the Palestinians see talks with Syria as a sign of abandonment and an attempt to maneuver them into a situation where they would be forced to bow to Israeli dictates.
It appears that this picture has changed too. Since the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is in a dismal state and the situation does not augur well for any imminent breakthrough, the question now is whether there is anything that renewed negotiations with Syria could damage. On the other hand, progress with Syria could in fact have a positive effect on the Israeli-Palestinian channel. It might help neutralize the "spoilers" in this track: removing Syrian support of Hamas and Islamic Jihad and canceling their Syrian base would reduce their ability to obstruct Israeli-Palestinian rapprochement and might even push them towards dialogue with Israel. Moreover, following an agreement with Israel it will be easier to form a unified front in the Arab world that supports and assists the creation of an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. For these reasons, there have been recent Palestinian expressions of support – and specifically from Mahmoud Abbas' camp – for Israeli-Syrian talks.
Israel aims to achieve comprehensive peace and normalization with the Arab states. Since the Arab peace initiative was announced in March 2002, this goal has seemed within reach if peace is attained with Syria and the Palestinians. To be sure, for most of the Arab governments and in Arab public opinion, an Israeli-Palestinian agreement is far more important than an agreement with Syria. Some Arab governments are even sufficiently angry over Basher al-Asad's conduct that they would like to see him penalized rather than awarded a prize in the form of an agreement with Israel. But these are short term calculations. In the long term, and as is stated clearly in the Arab peace initiative, peace and normalization with the Arab world cannot exist without an agreement with Syria.
The Domestic Cost
According to public opinion surveys the Israeli public supports talks with Syria but opposes conceding the Golan Heights as part of an agreement. In the August 2007 Peace Index of the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research, 72.3 percent of respondents opposed a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights. According to a survey by Yediot Ahronot in April 2008, 74 percent were opposed. A government that conducts talks with Syria will be aware of the political cost it may have to pay. Nevertheless, since the Second Lebanon War there has been increased awareness among the Israeli public of the volatile situation with Syria, which to a great degree explains continued support for negotiations with Syria along with the opposition to a withdrawal from the Golan Heights and the negative image the Syrian regime currently has in Israel. A survey conducted by Mina Zemach in December 2006, four months after the end of the war, indicated that 67 percent of the public supported renewal of talks with Syria. There is therefore room to assume that if the Israeli public sees there is no possibility of reaching an agreement with Syria without withdrawing from the Golan Heights, but it is possible to reach a reasonable agreement with a withdrawal, the level of public support for such an agreement would presumably increase. This change is likely even if the perceived failures of the unilateral withdrawals from southern Lebanon in 2000 and Gaza in 2005 generate reservations among part of the public as to a withdrawal from the Golan within the framework of an agreement.
With regard to the direct cost of withdrawal from the Golan Heights to the public, the evacuation of close to 20,000 residents of the Golan Heights following the evacuation of settlers from the Gaza Strip would be a traumatic event. All told, however, the numbers are not great, certainly in comparison with the West Bank.
The argument that Israel cannot pursue tracks with both the Palestinians and with Syria at the same time is based partly on the premise that it will be more difficult to handle simultaneous evacuations from the West Bank and the Golan Heights. However, in view of the dismal state of the Israeli-Palestinian channel it is doubtful whether in all realism there will be a need to deal with both at the same time.
Syrian Interests
One of the arguments against renewing talks with Syria is that Basher al-Asad is interested more in negotiations with Israel than in an actual agreement, in the hope that renewing the talks will alleviate pressure from the US and the West in general regarding intervention in Lebanon and support of terror in Iraq. This is a problematic argument, even with the stipulation that Israel has no interest in relaxing the pressure on Asad's regime. Talks are designed to clarify if an agreement can be reached and what its terms would be. If talks are not started, how can one know if it is possible to reach agreement and what its terms will be?
Several principal arguments bolster the contentions that Syria has a genuine interest in reaching an agreement with Israel. First, the main interest of the Syrian decision makers is to preserve the regime, and they will struggle to realize this interest when Syria deteriorates into a crisis. Syria is in a difficult economic predicament and the future looks even gloomier, as the country's oil reserves are depleted. It is subject to sanctions and heavy political pressure from the West, and cannot recover without a considerable improvement in ties to the West. Iran is not a viable substitute. More than Syria wants a peace agreement with Israel in order to remove the Israeli threat and retrieve the Golan Heights, it wants a substantial improvement in its relations with the United States and the West in general. It is for this reason that Asad is insisting that the US be a partner in the talks. The experience of the nineties should teach the Syrians that negotiations without reaching an agreement do not serve this objective. Failure of the talks in these years prevented Syria from attaining any sustainable gains and only led to further deterioration of its international standing. Moreover, the achievement of retrieving the Golan Heights, which was beyond the capability of Bashar al-Asad's legendary father, would in any event bolster the regime's popularity.
In addition, Syria maintains its influence in Lebanon via ties with Hizbollah and the recourse to violence, but such means complicate its relations with the West and the Arab world. Syria would prefer agreements that consolidate its influence in Lebanon and are acceptable to the West, such as the Taif agreement, which consolidated its military presence in Lebanon with the blessing of the United States. And while Syria will not be able to attain international legitimacy for a permanent military presence in Lebanon, negotiations and an agreement with Israel in conjunction with the United States is a route that can serve the aim of consolidating its influence in other ways.
Finally, in various respects the strategic pact that Syria currently enjoys with Iran, Hizbollah, and the Palestinian Islamic organizations is an unnatural alliance. The main threat to the secular Alawi regime in Syria is from the Sunni Islamists, the Muslim Brotherhood, who share the Hamas outlook and are closer ideologically to Iran and Hizbollah than is the Syrian regime. The element that currently unites them with Syria is the ideology of "resistance" to Israel and the West. However, a Syria that signs a peace agreement with Israel and has ties with the West does not need this unifying factor. Indeed, Syria has underscored that it is not a partner to Iranian and Hizbollah ideology regarding Israel's destruction. One can also foresee scenarios in which Iran and Hizbollah become a threat to the Syrian regime.
An argument sounded occasionally is that Syria does not genuinely want an improvement in its relations with the West and an agreement with Israel, as this would impose standards of openness and accountability on it and expose the Syrian public to influences that would damage the regime's stability. Here Syria would do well to learn from other non-democratic regimes, such as China, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and various countries in the Middle East that have opened up economically and improved their ties with the West, that it too should be able to maintain a controlled process of rapprochement that will enable it to preserve the robustness of the regime's control.
Analysis demonstrates that there are powerful interests propelling both sides towards negotiations. On the one hand this explains the repeated declarations by President Asad regarding his wish to achieve a peace agreement with Israel, and on the other hand, it explains the evolution from Prime Minister Olmert's previous policy of rejecting the idea of renewing talks to open support for renewing negotiations with Syria, if the Syrians are "serious."
Nonetheless, a number of significant reasons suggest that renewal of talks that will produce an agreement does not seem imminent. First is the position of the US. Although it has lifted its opposition to talks between Israel and Syria, it is not willing to participate in them. The US administration has a difficult relationship with Syria, and for many reasons: Syria's conduct in Lebanon, as the Siniora government is considered by the United States as the greatest achievement of democratization in the Middle East; non-prevention of the movement of terror activists from Syria to Iraq; support of terror organizations; and close ties with Iran. This does not bring the United States to act directly against the Syrian regime because it fears a worse alternative, but it undoubtedly interferes with dialogue with Syria and prevents cooperation. It is doubtful whether Syria would be willing to start effective talks and conclude an agreement with Israel without US participation.
Nor is Israel's ability to reach an agreement with Syria guaranteed. Despite Prime Minister Olmert's promising remarks, it is far from certain whether there would be adequate support for his government's reaching an agreement with Syria, particularly assuming renewal of the talks will not be possible without ratification of the "Rabin deposit," i.e., withdrawal from the Golan Heights in their entirety. This ratification could well create some difficult political problems for Olmert in view of public opinion and positions within his government, which is already built on a shrunken coalition.
Consequently, full renewal of negotiations that can culminate in an agreement will apparently be possible only after a change in US administrations. However, between now and the change in administrations, Israel can contribute to the future success of the negotiations through an effort to maintain the current high level of dialogue with Syria, and attempts to clarify various issues that will help expedite the real talks when they commence.
Because of the significance of the Lebanon issue to Syria, the United States, the West in general, and to a certain degree Israel, which is looking to neutralize the Hizbollah threat, talks between Syria and Israel will also have to incorporate dialogue between the interested sides that will resolve relations between Syria and Lebanon. This is not contingent on peace talks between Israel and Lebanon, but the success of talks between Israel and Syria might lead to such talks as well.

Continued (Permanent Link)

INSS: Aluf Benn on Israeli-Syrian Peace Talks.

Pay careful attention: Did Aluf Benn list all the real factors, or only the ones that it is convenient to discuss?
Converging Interests: Essential, but not Enough   Strategic Assessment, June 2008, Vol. 11, No. 1
Benn, Aluf
On May 21, 2008, Israel and Syria announced that under the auspices of Turkey, they would begin indirect peace talks in an effort "to reach a comprehensive peace." Syria asserted that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had committed to a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights to the June 4, 1967 border, and Israel did not explicitly deny the report. The American administration, which was informed in advance, reacted to the announcement with little enthusiasm, but has not labored to torpedo the process.

The announcement of the renewal of Israel-Syria negotiations after an eight year hiatus came following separate talks by the Turks with Israeli and Syrian officials in Ankara. As in the past, reports of the revival of negotiations with Syria aroused much hullabaloo among the Israeli public and Israeli politicians. The prime minister was accused of using the talks to deflect public attention from the criminal investigations against him.
Any substantive debate on the issue, however, will apparently be postponed until it becomes clearer what is actually under discussion.

The Israeli version relates that the Turkish mediation on the Syrian channel began after Olmert's visit to Ankara in February 2007, whereupon Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his aides began conveying messages between Jerusalem and Damascus. Israel suspended these contacts after several weeks, following what was then described as concern over possible escalation of violence in the north; tensions culminated in Israel's reported bombing of a Syrian nuclear facility in September 2007. Shortly after the Israel Air Force attack, Olmert and Erdogan agreed to renew the contacts.

The format agreed on for the talks represents a compromise position between Israeli and Syrian demands. Asad had demanded that the talks be conducted in public, with American mediation, and based on a prior Israeli commitment to withdraw in full from the Golan Heights. Olmert wanted secret and direct talks, and a Syrian commitment to disengage from Iran, Hizbollah, and Palestinian terror organizations. Looking for bridging formulas, Olmert made it clear that he is "aware of the proposals his predecessors conveyed to the Syrians," which were based on a full withdrawal.

According to public opinion surveys published in Yediot Ahronot, most of the Israeli public opposes withdrawal from the Golan Heights and does not believe that Syria is intent on peace.[1] Perhaps ironically, the public debate in Israel has focused less on the issue at hand and more on whether a prime minister who is under investigation is worthy of conducting sensitive political negotiations – or the contrary, i.e., if the suspicions against Olmert generate his incentive to achieve an historic settlement with Syria.
The Strategic Interest

The arguments in favor of a peace settlement with Syria are not new and have resonated consistently since the early days of the peace process in 1991. Supporters of an agreement say that the Asad presidents – Hafez and his son Bashar – have been a trustworthy and stable element that can "deliver the goods," unlike the weak leaders of the Palestinian Authority. Peace with Syria will complete agreements with the countries that surround Israel, open up a land route for Israel to Turkey and Europe, reduce the risk of an all-out war, and weaken the Palestinians' bargaining power in discussions over a permanent agreement. The agreement with Syria is also perceived as less problematic than the Palestinian channel: essentially this is a matter of determining a border and security arrangements, following detailed negotiations that took place in previous years. The Syrian process has no sensitive and ideological problems such as Jerusalem or the Palestinian claim to a right of return.
Spearheading Israel's call for a revival of the Syrian channel were leaders of the defense establishment, including Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, and the head of Intelligence, Amos Yadlin. They deemed an agreement with Syria a means of improving Israel's overall strategic situation, against a backdrop of increasing tension with Iran and the ongoing confrontation with Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

According to the annual assessment submitted by IDF Military Intelligence to the Cabinet, the principal security threat to Israel in 2008 derives from the establishment of a military alliance between Iran, Syria, Hizbollah, and Hamas, with outside support from the global jihad. This sort of "resistance coalition" could launch a coordinated assault on Israel, with terror attacks and missiles and rockets fired at the home front, in response to an Israeli attack on the nuclear plants in Iran, the reoccupation of Gaza, or an escalation in Lebanon. Moreover, there is no question that in the wake of the failure of the Second Lebanon War, the stronger ties between the members of the "resistance alliance," and their ongoing military reinforcement, Israel senses strategic pressure. A country faced with a coalition of enemies aims to disconnect one from another, in order to improve its strategic situation. Renewal of the Syrian channel will give Israel an opportunity to remove a key link from the hostile chain, prior to the moment of decision against Iran.

Even if Israel has not yet decided to attack Iran's nuclear facilities, it clearly wants to reserve the freedom to decide on such a course of action. The more Israel manages to weaken the Iranian influence on its surroundings, the easier it will be for decision makers in Jerusalem to deal with the Iranian threat and the risk of all-out war if, for example, the uranium enrichment plant at Natanz is destroyed. If Syria stands to the side after such an action, the arsenal of missiles and rockets directed towards Israel would be significantly smaller. While Hizbollah can attack Israel with its tens of thousands of rockets, it would suffer the absence of the Syrian logistic and strategic rear that helped it during and after the Second Lebanon War. Hamas is geographically detached from the Syrian arena but its leaders are located in Damascus under Asad's protection and are quite wary of offending him. This was exemplified a few days after Asad announced his peace intentions, whereupon Hamas leader Khaled Mashal released moderate announcements of his own.

An agreement with Israel is designed to offer Syria a viable – and desirable – alternative to its alliance with Iran, in the form of closer relations with Washington and reduced regional tension. Syria has consistently signaled that it straddles the fence, and has not explicitly embraced Iran's radical ideology vis-à-vis Israel. Asad does not spout Ahmadinehad's radical rhetoric; on the contrary, he has emphasized his commitment to peace. One effective way, therefore, to examine Syria's willingness to distance itself from the radical coalition will be to confront Asad with the dilemma of "the Golan or Iran." If he helps Iran in a war against Israel he would risk losing the Golan for many years. Coversely, if he believes good conduct will encourage the Golan's return to Syrian hands, he would be tempted to leave the Iranians to themselves.

There are two main arguments against this approach. The first is that the alliance with Iran has been an important strategic interest for Syria for over a quarter of a century, and Syria will not forfeit it for Israel, and certainly not for promises of a withdrawal that were made in the past and not realized. The second argument reduces the severity of the threat of a coordinated attack by a pro-Iranian coalition. In the last two years Israel has fought against Hizbollah, bombed Syria, and inflicted heavy damage on Hamas in Gaza. The allies provided financial and military aid to the specific party fighting Israel but were very wary of open involvement in the confrontation. This suggests that even if Israel attacks Iran, the Syrian reaction against it would not be automatic, while withdrawal from the Golan would be an irreversible step with far reaching implications.
What's the Rush?
If matters are so simple, and Israel's strategic interest is so clear cut, why have all efforts to date to attain peace with Syria failed? And what can we learn from the failures of the past about the chances of success of the negotiations at the present time?

Since Yitzhak Rabin's assumption of power in 1992, the basic premise of Israel's leaders was that they do not possess sufficient political power to achieve agreements that will include withdrawals on both the Syrian and Palestinian fronts. A simultaneous withdrawal from the West Bank and from the Golan Heights was perceived as too steep a price for public opinion in Israel to swallow. Rabin and his successors Shimon Peres, Binyamin Netanyahu, and Ehud Barak initially examined the Syrian channel, but they did not achieve a breakthrough and opted to progress with the Palestinians. Ariel Sharon refused to conduct negotiations with any Arab leader and opposed reviving the Syrian channel on the grounds that the Palestinian issue was more pressing, and that Israel had an interest in isolating Syria. Ultimately, Sharon chose a unilateral withdrawal on the Palestinian front and maintained the status quo with the Syrians. Like Sharon, Olmert believed that the solution to the Palestinian issue was more pressing for Israel, and he addressed the Syrian channel belatedly and with a low profile, compared with his talks with Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas over the principles of a permanent settlement.

What made six successive Israeli leaders pursue the Palestinian route, which seems fare more complicated and sensitive than the Syrian channel? Apparently, the political and military cost of the status quo on the Golan Heights was and remains negligible, compared with the cost Israel pays over its continued control of the Palestinians. Syria has desisted from using force to regain possession of the Golan Heights, while the Palestinians have worn Israel down with unceasing terror activity.

One may assume that the prime ministers had a thorough knowledge of the strategic arguments for a settlement with Syria, and seemingly also embraced them. But the picture from the prime minister's office is different than from the chief of staff's office or Military Intelligence. Every Israeli prime minister crafts his policy around two pillars: preservation of internal political support, and the promise of American support. When there is tension between these two constraints, the danger of a political crisis and the collapse of the government increases. Such was the fate of Yitzhak Shamir, Peres, Netanyahu, and Barak, who lost their power and lost elections.[2] Sharon and Olmert managed to survive, mainly because they were able to balance appeasing the US and securing their political footholds. Olmert agreed to negotiations over a permanent settlement under pressure from US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, but refused to evacuate outposts and risk a domestic confrontation with the right, or remove roadblocks in the territories and thereby challenge the defense establishment.

In the conditions that have evolved in recent years, particularly since the outbreak of the second intifada, an effort to achieve a settlement with Syria runs counter to an Israeli prime minister's political interests. The United States and the international community have not pressed Israel to achieve peace with Syria, while in the domestic arena, it was clear that such a move would meet stiff public and political resistance.
Little Pressure from the Outside
Israeli is under heavy international pressure to end or at least moderate its direct and indirect control of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Every Israeli leader or diplomat who meets a foreign dignitary will hear claims about the continued existence of settlements and roadblocks in the West Bank and the worsening humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Even when Israel is considered justified in the conflict with the Palestinians, for instance after the Hamas takeover in Gaza, the international consensus still deems it a conquering power that denies the civilian and political rights of another nation, occupies its land, and uses exaggerated force against it.
Israel sees its control of the West Bank as an essential security need and is willing to pay the price of international pressure, even while trying to alleviate it. Sharon decided to withdraw from the Gaza Strip to the pre-1967 Green Line and to freeze construction of settlements outside the security fence on the West Bank. Olmert proposed withdrawing from most of the West Bank ("the convergence plan") and after shelving the idea, agreed to conduct talks with Abbas over an agreement of principles. The disengagement from Gaza and the Annapolis process greatly improved Israel's international standing but did not end the pressure to improve the humanitarian situation in the territories and stop the settlement activity.

In the Syrian arena the situation is reversed. There Israel enjoys total international silence. Despite the legal consensus that the Golan is occupied territory, at least beyond the 1923 Syria-Palestine international border, "the world" is not pressuring Israel to withdraw and return the land to the Syrians. The Israeli communities on the Golan Heights are not bothering anyone in the United States or the European Union – at least as long as there is no massive expansion – and no one is concerned over the situation of the Druze in the northern villages on the Golan, who live under Israeli control.

The administration of President Bush Sr. and the first Clinton administration saw great strategic importance in achieving Israeli-Syrian peace. A political settlement that would win Syria over to the moderate, pro-American camp seemed like an important element in consolidating regional stability against Iraq and Iran, and was viewed as a natural successor to peace between Israel and Egypt (and later Jordan as well). Failure of these talks, and failure of the last attempt by Clinton to mediate between Barak and Hafez al-Asad in March 2000, led to shelving the Syrian portfolio and shifting American focus to the Palestinian channel. European and other governments that took an interest in the political process have from the start focused on the Palestinian issue and hardly intervened in the Syrian channel.

The administration of President Bush Jr. intensified this tendency and related to Syria as a problematic and ostracized country with a non-legitimate regime. The US accuses Syria of offering protection for terror used against its forces in Iraq, and supports the existence of an independent and democratic Lebanon. Following the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri, Bush and former French president Jacques Chiraq led the international effort to oust Syria from Lebanon and establish an international court to investigate the murder. Bush also rejected the findings of the Baker-Hamilton Commission, which proposed renewing Israeli-Syrian negotiations as a means of containing the strategic damage caused by the war in Iraq.
The Bush administration focused, albeit belatedly, on advancing a two-state solution to the Palestinian conflict. One may assume that Bush was wary of a renewed Syrian takeover of Lebanon, under cover of the agreement with Israel, and did not believe that returning the Golan Heights would bring stability and quiet to Iraq. More conservative elements in the administration have also expressed quiet displeasure with the idea of a withdrawal from the Golan. Moreover, after the bombing of the suspected nuclear plant in September 2007, which was an act of war in by any reasonable interpretation of international law, Western governments withheld criticism of Israel. Bush even publicly praised the action several months later. No one in the world – including in Arab countries – called for using the bombing to renew the peace process and prevent further escalation in the north. Only Turkey, which has a direct interest in calming tension around it, showed interest in a revival of the Syrian channel.[3]

Israel is far from Iraq and does not influence what occurs there, but events in the Lebanese arena have great importance for Israel's interests. The 2005 "Cedar Revolution" in Lebanon and the ousting of the Syrians appeared to be the only achievement of the Bush policy to promote democratization in the Arab world. Israel, on the other hand, would prefer Syria to control Lebanon and exert its authority over Hizbollah, and has considered the Siniora government in Beirut as a nuisance that does not contribute to security or stability. The discord came to a head in the Second Lebanon War when Israel wanted to destroy Lebanon's infrastructure and encountered US objection. Overall, therefore, Olmert can estimate that the political benefit that Israel can gain from progress with the Syrians will be negligible, if anything. Israel would even be liable to look like it was looking for a bypass route to avoid making concessions to the Palestinians. However, it does not appear that the US administration will try to intervene in negotiations, and there is also importance to boosting the US relations with a regional ally such as Turkey.
No Enthusiasm at Home Either

Since the armistice with Syria was signed in May 1974, the Golan Heights are the envy of other areas in Israel for their calm and stability. Syria adheres to the ceasefire agreement zealously, and even its veiled threats to encourage "resistance" in the Golan have not been translated into action. To be sure, Syria has harmed Israel indirectly through Hizbollah and Palestinian organizations, but the public debate in Israel tends to ignore that.
The security calm, along with the breathtaking views and the absence of a hostile and rebellious population, has contributed to the great popularity of the Golan among Israelis. In political and media terms, inhabitants of the Golan are "residents" and not "settlers," as in the West Bank. There are also no movements and advocacy organizations parallel to Peace Now and B'tselem, Gush Shalom, or the Geneva initiative that aim to dismantle the settlements and have Israel withdraw from the West Bank. The Movement for Israeli-Syrian Peace, established by former Foreign Ministry director general Alon Liel, has yet to make its mark on the public. Golan residents have organized noticeably and effectively with their rapid response to any suggestion of renewing the Syrian channel.

There is, therefore, no pressure on Olmert to make progress on the Syrian channel. However, he has a political interest to appear to be following this route. First, talks with Syria will make it difficult for the Labor party, led by Barak, to leave Olmert's coalition. The defense minister will struggle to explain why he broke up a government that was pursuing his political agenda. Second, Olmert wants the backing of the media and the public figures who support peace agreements, particularly in view of the investigations he is under.

The political difficulty will come with a transition from talks to an actual settlement. The vast majority of the public is currently opposed to withdrawal from the Golan. The public can of course change its mind, but the government will have to launch a massive marketing campaign in order to overturn public opinion, and an unpopular leader like Olmert will find that difficult to pull off. Legislation on the Golan of 1999 requires a majority of 61 MKs to rescind the annexation of the Golan to Israel, and in certain conditions a referendum too. One may assume that signing an agreement with Syria, which would require the evacuation of the Golan Heights population centers, will spark a sizeable wave of protest from the right to the political center. Attaining a solid parliamentary majority to support such an agreement will be at best complicated. Even the ruling party, Kadima, is divided over withdrawal from the Golan.

However, as long as there is no settlement, the Israeli political system is ready to accommodate talks with Syria. Thus far, no government has fallen or been unseated because of the Syrian channel. The National Religious Party and Shas stayed in Barak's coalition when he proposed withdrawing almost to the Sea of Galilee. Shas is critical of Syria as a member of the axis of evil, but did not threaten to resign from the government, as it did should the government agree to negotiate the future of Jerusalem. Overall, the seeming apathy by the religious right parties to the fate of the Golan stands in stark contrast to their behavior with regard to a permanent settlement with the Palestinians.

The conclusion is that Olmert can progress in talks with Syria, and as long as he doesn't advance too quickly and matches his moves to the political system's ability to accommodate the progress, he can keep his coalition intact.
What Has Changed Since 2000

Efforts to renew talks prompt the question, what has changed in the Syrian channel since the cessation of talks in March 2000. The territorial dispute has not changed, nor have Syrian and Israeli basic interests. However, one can identify a number of changes that impact on the content of an agreement, as well as the motivation and ability of the sides to achieve it.

The principal change derives from the generational shift in the Syrian leadership. Hafez al-Asad aroused great curiosity and respect in Israel (Barak called him "the formulator of modern Syria"). Meanwhile, his son has been derided as a childish, irresponsible leader ("Playstation player," "detached from his surroundings," "Nasrallah's groupie"), but the scorn was premature. Bashar al-Asad has emerged as a bold leader who is ready to take risks in order to improve his country's strategic position. In 2001, not long after he rose to power, Bashar decided to provide Hizbollah with advanced Syrian weapons, and not just serve as a transit station for Iranian weaponry en route to Lebanon. Thus Hizbollah became Syria's indirect strategic arm against Israel.[4]
According to CIA estimates, around the same time Bashar also decided to acquire a reactor from North Korea in order to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons. Had the project succeeded Syria would have achieved its desired strategic balance with Israel and positioned itself as the strongest Arab state. Bashar also dared to provoke the United States and indirectly encourage terror in Iraq, which cost him a forced retreat from Lebanon.
Yet thus far, Bashar is still wary of crossing the line and launching an overt attack on Israel in order to wrest the Golan by force. Even after the alleged nuclear facility was bombed he refrained from a military response and tried to minimize the importance of the event. Asad also overlooked the assassination of senior Hizbollah leader Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus in February 2008, and did not follow Hassan Nasrallah in accusing Israel or threatening a response. At the same time, until now Asad did not display daring or determination in a quest for peace. He upheld his father's demands that talks be based on a prior commitment to a full withdrawal, and did not end the stagnation with a dramatic move such as meeting with the Israeli prime minister or going to Jerusalem. He even forbad his delegates from meeting with their Israeli counterparts.

The second change results from the upheavals in Lebanon. Previous talks took place while Israel controlled the security zone in Lebanon and waged an ongoing war with Hizbollah. The working premise on the Israeli side was that when the Golan is returned, a peace treaty will also be signed with Lebanon and Hizbollah, like the other militias, will be disarmed. In 2008 the situation is different: the IDF is out of Lebanon and Israel is not suffering casualties in the security zone. Hizbollah, however, is much stronger, and Syria has lost its direct control of Lebanon. It will be hard today to demand from the Syrians that they disarm Hizbollah as part of a peace settlement. This naturally detracts from Israeli motivation to achieve a settlement: if once Lebanon was viewed as a secondary front, today it looks like a major threat. And if Syria is not capable of guaranteeing quiet along the length of the northern border, why give it the Golan?

The third change relates to the nature of the settlement. The talks conducted by Barak with the Syrians were cut off because of a dispute over control of the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Asad rejected the Israeli proposal to maintain Israeli control of a narrow strip of a few dozen or a few hundred meters around the lake, and insisted on a full withdrawal to the shoreline. Barak refused. Since then, two ideas for solving the territorial dispute have been proposed. One, put together in informal talks between Lial and the Syrian-American Abe Suleiman, was to make the shore and foothills of the Golan into a park under Syrian sovereignty to which Israelis would have free access. A second idea was raised by Israeli politicians who suggested recognizing Syrian sovereignty over the Golan and leasing the area for a long period. The two ideas have yet to be examined in depth in formal talks but they raise the possibility of a creative solution to the border dispute.

The fourth change derives from the results of the Second Lebanon War and the disengagement from Gaza, and the revival of the Israeli internal debate over the importance of territory in an age of missiles and rockets. The sense in the Israeli public that any territory that is evacuated becomes a base for rocket launching is double-edged. On the one hand, the Second Lebanon War demonstrated that rockets are capable of hitting the rear from a great distance and perhaps reinforced the argument that territory is of no importance in the face of long range missiles. The fear of thousands of rockets and missiles launched at the home front strengthens the security incentive to reach an agreement with Syria, even at the cost of the Golan Heights. In other words, those favoring an agreement see forfeit of the Golan as a reasonable price for protecting Tel Aviv and Haifa from Syrian Scuds. However, the war also indicated that ground level control of territory is the most effective way of thwarting rocket launches, and bolstered the position of those opposed to making territorial concessions on the Golan.
All or Nothing?

Presumably Olmert and Asad are well aware of the considerations that complicate the chances for an agreement between Israel and Syria. Why, then, have they taken the risk and decided to revive negotiations?
            The answer is built into the understanding that Israel-Syria relations are not limited to the binary mold of "friend or foe." There is much value to the process itself and not only to the results of reducing tension, preventing escalation, and indicating a convergence of interests between the two sides. In game theory, the exchange of messages such as these between actors who cannot communicate directly with one another is called signaling, for example among large corporations that are legally barred from interaction to forestall monopolies.

            In the present circumstances, Syria and Israel share an interest in containing the dispute between them and enjoying freedom of movement in various sectors without the other side intervening. Syria would like to capitalize on Bush's last – and power-waning – presidential days to reassert its presence in Lebanon via Hizbollah. No wonder that the resumption of negotiations was announced at the same time as the Doha agreement, which strengthened Hizbollah's control in Lebanon and weakened the anti-Syria camp in Beirut. Damascus would prefer that Israel sit on the sidelines and not interfere. Similarly, Israel needs freedom of movement in the Gaza Strip and possibly vis-à-vis Iran, and it would prefer that Syria not fight alongside Hamas and Iran, as well as rein in Hizbollah as much as possible.
            Renewal of peace negotiations, therefore, acts as an alternative to an open process of strategic coordination between Jerusalem and Damascus. It should be seen as a mutual signal to close the September 2007 attack file, and as an understanding on dividing areas of influence in the coming months. Of course given the limited and indirect nature of the dialogue, the sides risk misunderstandings and violations of previous unofficial agreements. Yet Syria and Israel have a long history of mutual signals and established red lines, and at this stage of their relations, not much more is to be expected. 

[1]    Yediot Ahronot, May 23, 2008. According to the survey, 19 percent of the public support a full withdrawal from the Golan; 29 percent a partial withdrawal; and 52 percent oppose any withdrawal. Respondents were divided as to the possibility of achieving peace with Syria in the foreseeable future. In a survey of April 25, 2008, after the disclosure of the contacts, 32 percent of the public at large and 25 percent on the Jewish public would agree to a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights; 74 percent of the public at large and 80 percent of the Jewish respondents did not believe that Asad's peace intent was genuine.
[2]     Shamir ran into confrontation with President George Bush Sr. over the "settlements or guarantees" affair, and he lost his coalition partners on the right after the Madrid Conference. Peres ignored the public outcry and tried to rely on Clinton's support after the terror attacks in early 1996. Netanyahu's coalition disintegrated after the Wye agreement, and Barak lost his political partners on his way to Camp David.
[3]     Erdogan is certainly looking to bolster his country's standing as an important element in the Middle East, and to strengthen the Justice and Development Party, which he leads, against the Kamelists in Turkey.
[4]     The serious damage inflicted on Israel in the Second Lebanon War was caused mostly by weapons manufactured by Syria or supplied by Syria to Hizbollah, including the medium range rockets that landed in Haifa and anti-tank missiles that hit IDF tanks and soldiers in Lebanon.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Israel Cabinet vote on Hezbollah prisoner swap may be delayed

Is the government retreating from the bring of a disastrous decision, or is Olmert trying to delay a vote until he gets a majority?? Or will they vote?
 Last update - 12:41 27/06/2008       
PMO: Cabinet vote on Hezbollah prisoner swap may be delayed
By Amos Harel, Barak Ravid, Avi Issacharoff and Yuval Azoulay, Haaretz Correspondents and Agencies
The cabinet will apparently not vote on the prisoner exchange deal with Hezbollah, aimed at securing the release of two kidnapped Israeli reservists in exchange for five Lebanese prisoners, including murderer Samir Kuntar.
Israeli soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev were captured in a cross-border raid by Hezbollah guerrillas in July 2006, sparking the Second Lebanon War.
The cabinet will only discuss the deal, despite Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's public vow at the Knesset podium last week to achieve a decision on the matter. A senior official at the prime minister's office said Thursday that "the aim is to make a decision, but that may not be possible, because ministers will ask for more time to think, or because we may not have all the information before us."
Sunday's discussion will be the first time that the cabinet is meeting to discuss the matter, and Olmert has not made his position on the deal clear yet.
However, two months ago Olmert promised the abducted soldiers' families that he would act to approve this deal in the cabinet.
Ofer Regev, Eldad Regev's brother, told Haaretz that at a meeting in Olmert's bureau on April 28, the prime minister told the family that Israel was drafting a deal with Hezbollah. He showed them the draft, which is identical to the deal that Ofer Dekel, the official in charge of negotiations, will show the ministers on Sunday.
Eldad Regev's father and brothers asked Olmert if the families would have to muster politicians' support for the deal. Olmert told them there was nothing to worry about and that everything was under control, Ofer Regev said.
Olmert told the families: "I promise you that the deal will be approved, even if we have to use force," Ofer Regev said. Olmert repeated this at least three times, he said.
Meanwhile, IDF Chief Rabbi Avichai Ronsky was still considering whether to declare officially that Regev and Goldwasser are dead, military sources said yesterday.
The Mossad, Shin Bet and military intelligence all told Ronsky that they believed the two had been killed.
However, the soldiers' families asked Olmert to stop the examination process and not to declare their sons dead.
Olmert passed the request to the chief of staff, who told him that from the moment the process began, the chief military rabbi was completely independent to do as he sees fit.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Shin Bet agrees to free prisoners 'with blood on their hands' for Shalit

Will the Hamas really free Shalit at any price? After all, he is a hostage against an Israeli takeover of the Gaza strip.  And what would be the price? Marwan Barghouti?
Last update - 11:13 27/06/2008       
Shin Bet agrees to free prisoners 'with blood on their hands' for Shalit
By Amos Harel and Yoav Stern, Haaretz Correspondents
Shin Bet security service chief Yuval Diskin has somewhat softened his position regarding the prisoners who could be released in return for Shalit. Diskin is now prepared to release some prisoners "who have the blood of Israelis on their hands," so long as the risk they pose is lessened.
The government's coordinator for hostage negotiations, Ofer Dekel, left for Cairo on Thursday, where talks have resumed over a deal to secure the release of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
Shalit was abducted two years ago in a cross-border raid by Palestinian militants, and has since remained in captivity in the Gaza Strip.
Sources in the defense establishment expressed satisfaction at the renewed effort to advance the deal, and in particular at the increased Egyptian role in mediating between the parties.
The resumption of the talks is part of the agreements Israel and Egypt reached in connection with the cease-fire (tahadiyeh) between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Dekel held meetings in Cairo with Egyptian intelligence officials, headed by Egypt's intelligence chief, General Omar Suleiman. Simultaneously, talks are taking place between Egypt and Hamas. Dekel was supposed to talk to his hosts about the procedural aspects of the talks, while gaining an impression as to areas where Hamas might prove flexible.
Israeli officials are encouraged by the Egyptians' attitude toward the mediation, which they found to be more serious and thorough this time around. The intention is to conduct intensive negotiations in the near future, in order to advance a deal. The gaps between the sides are still substantial, primarily because of Hamas' demand that Israel release dozens of its members who are serving multiple life sentences for their roles in suicide bombings that killed and wounded many.
The solution being proposed is to transfer such inmates who are from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip or another country. A similar solution was used in the deal involving the wanted militants who holed up in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, in 2002. Dekel is in favor of a similar arrangement, as are Defense Minister Ehud Barak and IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi.
The London-based Arabic-language newspaper Al Hayat reported on Thursday that Egypt had given Israel a list of 1,000 prisoners Hamas wants freed in return for Shalit, but Israel objected to 75 percent of them. According to the paper's sources, the deal in the works is set to include the release of 150 Palestinian inmates in the first stage, in return for Shalit being transferred to Egypt, where his family will be able to visit him. On Shalit's return to Israel, 800 additional prisoners will be released in two stages.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Gaza 'truce' broken again

Last update - 12:16 27/06/2008    
 By Fadi Eyadat, Haaretz Correspondent, and The Associated Press 
Two mortar shells fired from Gaza hit the western Negev on Friday, exploding in open areas, despite a cease fire agreement between Israel and Hamas, which went into effect last week. No damage or injury were reported.
The attack came one day after two Qassam rockets were fired from the Strip into Israel. The militant Fatah offshoot Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade claimed responsibility for the attack and demanded that the cease fire agreement between Israel and Hamas, which currently includes only the Gaza Strip, be extended to include the West Bank as well.
At a high-level security meeting late Thursday, Israel decided to keep the border crossings into the Gaza Strip closed on Friday because of the latest rocket attack defense officials said. They added that a limited amount of fuel would be transferred into the Strip despite the closure.
Since the cease fire went into effect last Thursday, instead of retaliating for rocket attacks with airstrikes at Palestinian rocket squads, Israel closed the border crossings, where vital supplies are shipped into Gaza - restoring a blockade that has caused severe shortages.
The move hits at the main interest of Hamas - ending the blockade and easing the hardships facing the people under its control. Hamas officials charged that by restoring the blockade, Israel is violating the truce. Underlining the high level of distrust, Palestinians formed a committee to track Israeli violations.
At a meeting Wednesday, Israeli defense officials discussed how to proceed once the crossings are reopened. According to the same officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the meetings are closed, Israel might reset the truce clock each time it closes the crossings in response to a Palestinian violation.
Israel had significantly increased the amount of supplies flowing into Gaza on Sunday, in accordance with the truce agreement, and was ready for another increase next Sunday. But a barrage of four Qassam rockets, claimed by Islamic Jihad, stopped the process. Now Israel is considering counting three days from each reopening of the crossings before it reinstates the original increase.
During a visit to Prague, Czech Republic, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said Israel should reopen the crossings to preserve the truce.
"[The reopening is] important because the closure... of Gaza is actually producing a situation where you have 1.5 million of our people who live there with a sense of not much to lose," Fayyad said. "That is a situation that's got to end."
Hamas charged that the re-imposed blockade is a violation. But Hamas official Taher Nunu said that Hamas is committed to the truce. "The [Hamas] government will not allow anyone to violate this agreement," he said.
The rocket attack Thursday came as Israeli envoy Ofer Dekel headed to Egypt to meet with Egyptian officials on the final stage of the truce - a swap of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners for an Israeli soldier Hamas has held captive for two years. Israel has balked at Hamas' demands, saying its list of prisoners includes militants involved in deadly attacks on Israelis.
Hamas also has demanded that Israel allow reopening of Gaza's only border crossing with Egypt in the final phase of the six-month truce deal.
The Rafah crossing has been sealed since the Hamas violent takeover over the Strip last June, confining Gaza's people to the tiny seaside territory. Israel has said it would not allow reopening of Rafah until the soldier is freed.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Andreas (Dries) van Agt ("Dutch Jimmy Carter"): anti-Israel campaign

Andreas Van Agt's "involvement in the Middle East" is not "unusual" as he claims. There are a lot of anti-Israel Dutch politicians and have been for quite a while. For a Dutch view of Van Agt see : Verslag Dries van Agt in Nijmegen op 15 januari and De Heilige Missie van Dries van Agt. Like any good "progressive," van Agt supports the Hamas. It is certainly disingenuous for him to simply claim that he is opposed to Israeli actions on humanitarian grounds.
Ami Isseroff  
Last update - 11:36 27/06/2008       
'Dutch Jimmy Carter' accuses Israel of terrorism in new book
By Cnaan Liphshiz, Haaretz Correspondent
The emotion in Andreas Van Agt's voice as he lambastes Israel's behavior seems puzzling for a man of his status. It is especially intriguing when one is reminded that this blue-eyed professed idealist is an astute statesman who presided as the Dutch prime minister for five years, until 1982.
"My involvement in the Middle East is certainly unusual," Van Agt confessed in an interview with Haaretz at his home in Nijmegen, where he discussed Israel, the Palestinians, European foreign policy, the Holocaust and anti-Semitism.
Currently, Van Agt is writing a book about the Israeli-Arab conflict. In December he launched an info-site ( about the subject, in which he accuses Israel of brutal treatment of the Palestinians, violating international law and implementing racist policies.
Among other illustrations, the site contains one snapshot of a graffiti slogan said to have been sprayed by Jewish settlers on a Hebron wall, reading: "Arabs to the gas chambers."
Last year, Van Agt spoke as keynote speaker at a controversial solidarity rally with the Palestinian people in Rotterdam, where he lamented the Dutch boycott of Hamas, calling it wrong "and even stupid." He has also been outspoken in accusing the Israel Defense Forces of acting like a terrorist organization.
"In my country, people are highly surprised by my demeanor. Some even say it should be ascribed to my advanced age; that I'm not fully in my right mind anymore," the 77-year-old says with a snicker while sitting under the outdated portrait of the Queen, which hangs on the wall of his modern-style, taupe-colored den.
Van Agt hails from the ranks of the ruling party, the Christian Democratic Appeal. Such statements about Israel can therefore be seen as embarrassing for the current leadership, which is considered one of Israel's staunchest supporters in the European Union.
When Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen was asked earlier this year during a visit to Israel whether he regarded the statements by the former premier as embarrassing to the government, his first response was a hearty laugh. He then distanced himself from the former leader. "Dries Van Agt represents the opinion of one man: Dries Van Agt," Verhagen told Haaretz.
Van Agt nonetheless maintains his statements are embarrassing to CDA top-brass, adding that the embarrassment is not an undesirable effect as far as he is concerned. "I could say that maybe what I'm doing is not as embarrassing to them as it should be," he says.
His penchant for criticizing Israel to varying degrees of acrimoniousness was not characteristic of his term in office. "The Dutch Jimmy Carter", as local media sometimes dub him, says he became vocal after 1999, when his "eyes were opened" during a traditional catholic pilgrimage trip to religious sites in the Holy Land.
"I'm driven partly by my shame for not speaking up for the Palestinians when I was in power, and partly by some striking experiences I had when visiting the Occupied Territories in the recent past," he says. "People often ask me how come I'm so outspoken now, but did not speak up when I was in a position of power. And it's true, I never spoke up for the Palestinians, except for when Sabra and Shatila happened. And even that was in soft terms."
Van Agt says he is still "ashamed" that he made effort to sooth matters for Israel after the 1982 massacre of hundreds of Palestinian refugees by Lebanese Christian militiamen in an IDF-controlled area of Lebanon. "That was my inclination, that was how I was mentally structured vis-à-vis Israel at the time," he says.
But much more than Sabra and Shatila, it was the story of one Palestinian young man from Bethlehem which put Van Agt on his present course, according to the ex-premier.
"In one of my visits to Bethlehem I heard a story, which now I know is just one of many," Van Agt recalls. "It was a story horrendous humiliation of a Palestinian student trying to get to university for a collective exam. His story, which the university president told me, struck me like lightening."
At the last IDF checkpoint on the way, according to the story which Van Agt says he heard from the university president, the student was pulled over and ordered to climb out of the window. "Then the humiliation began. He fell down and was then ordered to walk on hands and feet and bark. Then the soldiers laughed about the Palestinians all being dogs."
That story, Van Agt says, served to undermine his former conviction that "everything which Israel does is what it needs to do for its survival." It launched him into the problem, he says.
"I began studying, figuring out what's going on there. I found one story after the other. Then I started thinking about the 39 United Nations resolutions begging, demanding and imploring Israel to vacate the Occupied Territories. All were dismissed by Israel. Saddam Hussein was attacked after four resolutions, but Israel got 39 and nobody talks about applying even the slightest pressure on Israel to comply with them," he complains.
Europeans, he says, have a political obligation toward the Palestinians which they have overlooked. "All the other Arabs, in some way or another, happy or unhappy, dictatorial or not, have their only states. The only Arabs that never got a state were the Palestinians. That has to do with the former colonialist powers, the U.K. and France."
The second reason for his feeling of commitment toward the Palestinians, Van Agt says, is that "without the worst crime in the history of humanity, the Holocaust, the Shoa, Israel would not have come into existence in that time and in that formula."
Most Western nations, he says, are in some form complicit in the murder of six million Jews by the Nazis, be it by denying shelter for Jewish refugees, or collaborating with the Germans. This resulted in guilt which prompted Europeans "to sacrifice the Palestinians for Israel," he proposes. "The Palestinians paid the price for something they were not responsible for. That is my drive," he says after a short dramatic pause. "And the emotions you see are real and authentic, and they stem from this injustice."
The self-proclaimed commitment that European nations have for democracy, Van Agt argues, means that they should recognize Hamas as a legitimate representative of the Palestinians. "It is not Hamas' government which is illegitimate," he says, alluding to Hamas' victory in the 2006 elections over Fatah. "It is counterproductive and unwise not to talk to Hamas - also because the legitimacy of the current government in Ramallah is questionable."
The three conditions for recognizing Hamas as stipulated by Israel and the Quartet strike Van Agt as stupid. "The first requirement, that Hamas recognize Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state is biased because Israel does not recognize Hamas' right to rule. Where's the reciprocity there?" he complains. Besides, he says, "Israel has never defined its own borders, so demanding Hamas to recognize an entity without clear borders is totally unreasonable."
The demand that Hamas honor the Palestinian Authority's past agreements with Israel is also unpalatable to Van Agt, on the grounds that they were not signed and conducted by a democratically elected, and hence legitimate, regime. To him, the Palestinian Authority consists of a bunch of small, fragmented Bantustans," he says.
"The Oslo Accords and the talks that followed were the most self-defeating thing Arafat had ever done," the former premier observes. "The Accords didn't provide any guarantees to the Palestinians and were not based on international law. And Abbas is continuing with this endeavor which runs contrary to the rights and interests of the Palestinians."
As for the third demand, which is to renounce violence, Van Agt says: "First of all, Israel is still employing violence, so again there's no reciprocity. But besides that, since when does international law renounce the right of occupied people to resist the occupying power?"
When the subject of Hamas' own debatable level of commitment to democratic values comes up - along with the question of whether the Islamist organization should be afforded the protection of a set of values that it does not honor ? Van Agt acknowledges that "things could be better."
He adds: "Hamas' behavior is reason for great concern, that's right. But it's ignorant to judge how Hamas is ruling without taking into account the impossible conditions in Gaza, the biggest prison in the world."
Hamas' suicide bombings are "illegal and detestable" to Van Agt, he says, but he would only agree to call Hamas a terrorist organization if the definition is applied to the Israeli army as well. "If one party is called a terrorist entity because it carries out deliberate attacks against civilians to pursue political goals, then the Israeli army is guilty of state terrorism. That needs to be said, too. Human rights organizations report that the Israeli army has killed more than 3000 Palestinian civilians since the beginning of the second Intifada."
Yitzhak Shamir and Menachem Begin, he recalls, "introduced the bombing of civilians as a military tactic in the run up to the establishment of Israel, and were therefore called terrorists."
The perceived failure of Israel's neighbors to live up to Western standards of democracy is also a result of their conflict with Israel, according to Van Agt. "Maybe I'm a naïve idealist, but I think that if Israel had not evolved into being a disaster for its neighbors then they would behave much batter. Not perfectly, not to the full standard, but much better. I cannot help but put much of the blame on Israel itself, and the pressure that it has placed on its neighboring countries."
However, Van Agt is willing to acknowledge that Israel is currently fighting extremist Muslim groups who are also committed to the destruction of societies like the Netherlands.
In Van Agt's eyes, Israel "is not behaving like a country that deserves to be called a member of the family of civilized nations." This observation applies to the U.S. too, he says, "which is co-responsible for the injustice we have been facing for decades."
According to Van Agt, Israel is making frequent and excessive use of deadly force against the Palestinians. This accusation has been seen as hypocritical of Van Agt by some pro-Zionist detractors in the Netherlands, most notably by the Hague-based Center for Information and Documentation (CIDI.)
In 1977, when Van Agt was justice minister, a group of Moluccan militants seeking autonomy for their group of Indonesian islands hijacked a train in northeast Holland and took its 50 passengers hostage for 20 days. Rather than resolve the situation through dialogue, Van Agt voted in favor of a military operation that left six of the nine hijackers dead, along with two hostages.
The analogy between the use of force in the Moluccan hijacking case and use of force by Israelis against Palestinians is farfetched, Van Agt says. "Given the same set of circumstances, I would still authorize the use of force," he says.
According to his account, it was Van Agt who cast the deciding vote in favor of the action in a small forum of five.
"The prime minister was against the action and another minister was also opposed. I was for it along with two others. We had tried to negotiate for long enough - weeks.
The situation on the train, Van Agt recalls, was becoming critical." Doctors warned us that people on the train might have heart attacks. There was also the possibility that someone might go berserk and attack one of the highjackers - and who knows what kind of bloodshed might have ensued. I would do the same exactly all over again."
The militants' demands nonetheless seem justified to Van Agt, he says. The South-Moluccans, who were seen by many Indonesians as collaborators with the Dutch colonizing power, came to Holland in the 1950s for a temporary stay. They had been promised by the Dutch government that they would get their own independent state, but felt betrayed after the Netherlands failed to deliver.
Over the years, several opinion-shapers, including the German writer and journalist Henryk Broder have accused Van Agt of anti-Semitism because of his criticism of Israel. People from organizations which are critical of Israel and regularly confer with Van Agt, like "A Different Jewish Voice" and United Civilians for Peace, say he is anything but anti-Semitic.
He says he has had to face the accusation because "It's the most effective way of keeping countless others from following my example and speaking about what they really feel."
The accusers, however, allege Van Agt demonstrated anti-Semitism before he became so involved with the Palestinian cause. In 1972, one year after he left his position as a lecturer on criminal law to become justice minister, Van Agt sparked a heated debate by attempting to pardon the last three Nazi war criminals still in Dutch prisons.
At a press conference that same year, he said to a journalist: "I am only an Aryan" in speaking about his intention to bring about the Nazi prisoners' release for health reasons.
"I was what is called a progressive thinker," Van Agt explains. "Now, in the last years of my life, I'm returning to that. I had some very modern ideas about the use and uselessness of applying criminal law sanctions. I have very serious doubts about the use, and hence justification, of detaining people for anything but the heaviest crimes."
"I had these kinds of ideas long before I came to a position of power. I wrote about them and promulgated them in books and articles. So that was nothing new. Then all of a sudden, to the surprise of everyone, including myself and my wife, I became justice minister. And that meant I got the problem of the three remaining Germans war criminals in Dutch prisons on my plate."
The two previous justice ministers, Teun Struycken and Carel Polak, also supported releasing the prisoners in principle, according to Van Agt. "Polak was one of the many highly gifted sons of the Jewish people", Van Agt says. "And justice minister Ivo Samkalden, also Jewish, had released one of the Dutch war criminals already in the 1960's."
"These ministers agreed that holding on to the prisoners was senseless," he adds. "I would still support their release if it happened today. They were of bad health, and one or two of them was senile. I still believe it's nonsense to keep a senile person in prison, and when detaining people doesn't make sense, then it's injustice."
Injustice in the case of the Nazi criminals was not the way to celebrate the reestablishment of Dutch constitutional state (Rechtstaat in Dutch) after the Nazi occupation, he argues. "It needed to be shown in its full potential. Keeping these people in jail served no legal purposes. Specific prevention? They couldn't even handle a pen. And as for general prevention, well, did anyone think the Germans would start another war if the prisoners were released?" Two of the Breda Three were released in 1989. A third died in the southern-Holland prison in 1979.
The famous "Aryan" statement, which grabbed headlines in 1972, needs to be understood in context, he says. "When I just got my appointment as a minister, the first thing I did was meet the press. I was totally inexperienced and green. It was a very informal cocktail party. I went around, mingled, made jokes and was basically having fun with the new friends to come."
Then the question came up. "I should have known it, but I was so naïve then. One journalist asked if I would act to end the continued detention of the three German prisoners. And then I made the gravest mistake. I said that even my Jewish predecessor was unsuccessful in getting them out of jail - 'and I'm only an Aryan.'"
Slowly shaking his head, Van Agt repeats the short explosive sentence. "It was made in self-deprecation. I was deriding myself, a style which has always characterized my presentations. But that wretched word was in the newspapers the next morning. One guy picked out that one sentence from that informal conversation."
The explanations eventually satisfied the Dutch electorate and the press, Van Agt says. "I hadn't heard about the story for 30 years, but when I started becoming critical of the state of Israel, it resurfaced in an effort to silence me. Those who criticize me and others who speak out, always target the person bearing the message. They are not interested in a fair and open debate. Kill the messenger, if you can't beat the message." In earnest tone of voice, he concludes: "I am definitely not an Anti-Semite."
Moreover, he says that no anti-Semite could ever reach a position of power in the Netherlands. "It's absolutely impossible. Even among those who have become highly critical of Israel's illegal policies, there is a deep respect for the Jewish people."
That respect, he says, has developed into a "deeply engrained consciousness of the contribution that European Jews have made over the years to European culture. No one with anti-Jewish sentiments could come to power here."

Continued (Permanent Link)

The world should know what Samir Kuntar did

This article from 2003 sheds light on the character of Samir Kuntar, the man that the Israeli government is considering releasing to the Hezbollah.
By Smadar Haran Kaiser
Sunday, May 18, 2003; Page B02
Abu Abbas, the former head of a Palestinian terrorist group who was captured in Iraq on April 15, is infamous for masterminding the 1985 hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro. But there are probably few who remember why Abbas's terrorists held the ship and its 400-plus passengers hostage for two days. It was to gain the release of a Lebanese terrorist named Samir Kuntar, who is locked up in an Israeli prison for life. Kuntar's name is all but unknown to the world. But I know it well. Because almost a quarter of a century ago, Kuntar murdered my family.
It was a murder of unimaginable cruelty, crueler even than the murder of Leon Klinghoffer, the American tourist who was shot on the Achille Lauro and dumped overboard in his wheelchair. Kuntar's mission against my family, which never made world headlines, was also masterminded by Abu Abbas. And my wish now is that this terrorist leader should be prosecuted in the United States, so that the world may know of all his terrorist acts, not the least of which is what he did to my family on April 22, 1979.
The Post's opinion and commentary section runs every Sunday.
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It had been a peaceful Sabbath day. My husband, Danny, and I had picnicked with our little girls, Einat, 4, and Yael, 2, on the beach not far from our home in Nahariya, a city on the northern coast of Israel, about six miles south of the Lebanese border. Around midnight, we were asleep in our apartment when four terrorists, sent by Abu Abbas from Lebanon, landed in a rubber boat on the beach two blocks away. Gunfire and exploding grenades awakened us as the terrorists burst into our building. They had already killed a police officer. As they charged up to the floor above ours, I opened the door to our apartment. In the moment before the hall light went off, they turned and saw me. As they moved on, our neighbor from the upper floor came running down the stairs. I grabbed her and pushed her inside our apartment and slammed the door.
Outside, we could hear the men storming about. Desperately, we sought to hide. Danny helped our neighbor climb into a crawl space above our bedroom; I went in behind her with Yael in my arms. Then Danny grabbed Einat and was dashing out the front door to take refuge in an underground shelter when the terrorists came crashing into our flat. They held Danny and Einat while they searched for me and Yael, knowing there were more people in the apartment. I will never forget the joy and the hatred in their voices as they swaggered about hunting for us, firing their guns and throwing grenades. I knew that if Yael cried out, the terrorists would toss a grenade into the crawl space and we would be killed. So I kept my hand over her mouth, hoping she could breathe. As I lay there, I remembered my mother telling me how she had hidden from the Nazis during the Holocaust. "This is just like what happened to my mother," I thought.
As police began to arrive, the terrorists took Danny and Einat down to the beach. There, according to eyewitnesses, one of them shot Danny in front of Einat so that his death would be the last sight she would ever see. Then he smashed my little girl's skull in against a rock with his rifle butt. That terrorist was Samir Kuntar.
By the time we were rescued from the crawl space, hours later, Yael, too, was dead. In trying to save all our lives, I had smothered her.
The next day, Abu Abbas announced from Beirut that the terrorist attack in Nahariya had been carried out "to protest the signing of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty" at Camp David the previous year. Abbas seems to have a gift for charming journalists, but imagine the character of a man who protests an act of peace by committing an act of slaughter.
Two of Abbas's terrorists had been killed by police on the beach. The other two were captured, convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Despite my protests, one was released in a prisoner exchange for Israeli POWs several months before the Achille Lauro hijacking. Abu Abbas was determined to find a way to free Kuntar as well. So he engineered the hijacking of the Achille Lauro off the coast of Egypt and demanded the release of 50 Arab terrorists from Israeli jails. The only one of those prisoners actually named was Samir Kuntar. The plight of hundreds held hostage on a cruise ship for two days at sea lent itself to massive international media coverage. The attack on Nahariya, by contrast, had taken less than an hour in the middle of the night. So what happened then was hardly noticed outside of Israel.
One hears the terrorists and their excusers say that they are driven to kill out of desperation. But there is always a choice. Even when you have suffered, you can choose whether to kill and ruin another's life, or whether to go on and rebuild. Even after my family was murdered, I never dreamed of taking revenge on any Arab. But I am determined that Samir Kuntar should never be released from prison. In 1984, I had to fight my own government not to release him as part of an exchange for several Israeli soldiers who were POWs in Lebanon. I understood, of course, that the families of those POWs would gladly have agreed to the release of an Arab terrorist to get their sons back. But I told Yitzhak Rabin, then defense minister, that the blood of my family was as red as that of the POWs. Israel had always taken a position of refusing to negotiate with terrorists. If they were going to make an exception, let it be for a terrorist who was not as cruel as Kuntar. "Your job is not to be emotional," I told Rabin, "but to act rationally." And he did.
So Kuntar remains in prison. I have been shocked to learn that he has married an Israeli Arab woman who is an activist on behalf of terrorist prisoners. As the wife of a prisoner, she gets a monthly stipend from the government. I'm not too happy about that.
In recent years, Abu Abbas started telling journalists that he had renounced terrorism and that killing Leon Klinghoffer had been a mistake. But he has never said that killing my family was a mistake. He was a terrorist once, and a terrorist, I believe, he remains. Why else did he spend these last years, as the Israeli press has reported, free as a bird in Baghdad, passing rewards of $25,000 from Saddam Hussein to families of Palestinian suicide bombers? More than words, that kind of cash prize, which is a fortune to poor families, was a way of urging more suicide bombers. The fortunate thing about Abbas's attaching himself to Hussein is that it set him up for capture.
Some say that Italy should have first crack at Abbas. It had already convicted him of the Achille Lauro hijacking in absentia in 1986. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi now wants Abbas handed over so that he can begin serving his life sentence. But it's also true that in 1985, the Italians had Abbas in their hands after U.S. fighter jets forced his plane to land in Sicily. And yet they let him go. So while I trust Berlusconi, who knows if a future Italian government might not again wash its hands of Abbas?
In 1995, Rabin, then our prime minister, asked me to join him on his trip to the White House, where he was to sign a peace agreement with Yasser Arafat, which I supported. I believe that he wanted me to represent all Israeli victims of terrorism. Rabin dreaded shaking hands with Arafat, knowing that those hands were bloody. At first, I agreed to make the trip, but at the last minute, I declined. As prime minister, Rabin had to shake hands with Arafat for political reasons. As a private person, I did not. So I stayed here.
Now I am ready and willing to come to the United States to testify against Abu Abbas if he is tried for terrorism. The daughters of Leon Klinghoffer have said they are ready to do the same. Unlike Klinghoffer, Danny, Einat and Yael were not American citizens. But Klinghoffer was killed on an Italian ship in Abbas's attempt to free the killer of my family in Israel. We are all connected by the international web of terrorism woven by Abbas. Let the truth come out in a new and public trial. And let it be in the United States, the leader in the struggle against terrorism.
Smadar Haran Kaiser is a social worker. She is remarried and has two daughters.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Livni wants military response to Qassam fire

This view may seem strange for those who label Livni as a 'dove.' Of course she is right, and the Israeli quiescence and confusion is inexplicable and inexcusable.
Last update - 17:46 26/06/2008    
 Livni demands military response to Qassam fire 
By Avi Issacharoff, Barak Ravid, Yossi Melman, and Jack Khoury,
Haaretz Correspondents 
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni called Thursday for Israel to respond militarily to Qassam fire by Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip. A fifth rocket hit the Negev earlier in the day, threatening to further derail an already shaky week-old truce.
The rocket exploded in an open area near a Negev industrial zone. There were no injuries or damages in the incident.
"There was a similar breach of the truce several days ago," Livni said at the start of her meeting with Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere. "I don't care who fired. Every breach must be met with an immediate military response. I made my opinion clear to both the prime minister and the defense minister following the first infraction, and I will make clear to my foreign counterparts too."
The Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, a militant group aligned to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction, claimed responsibility for the attack and demanded that the cease-fire be extended into the West Bank.
"The rocket attack was in response to Israeli violations. Any calm deal must end Israeli attacks on our people in the West Bank too," said Abu Qusai, spokesman for the group.
Israel said it would keep its border crossings with the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip closed for a second day on Thursday, prompting the Islamist group to warn that the move could wreck the truce.
The crossings were opened on the day the truce went into effect last Thursday, but a decision was made to close them again Tuesday evening, following a violation of the cease-fire by Islamic Jihad militants firing Qassam rockets into Israel.
Two Israelis were lightly wounded during those attacks, as four Qassam struck the western Negev town of Sderot and the surrounding area.
Israeli military liaison official Peter Lerner said that the crossings would remain closed on Thursday and no date had been set for their reopening.
"It depends on the assessment of the situation following Tuesday's rocket attack," Lerner said.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri accused Israel of breaching the ceasefire that began a week ago.
"If this closure continues it will render the deal for calm meaningless," Abu Zuhri said.
"Securing the continuation of the Palestinian factions' commitment to the deal hinges on the Occupation's lifting of the siege and the opening of all the crossings in the first 10 days," he said, referring to Israel.
Defense officials expressed concern during Wednesday's meeting that a continuation of the border closure may result in a complete breakdown of the cease-fire agreement with Hamas.
However, following a reassessment of the security situation, it was decided to open the crossings over the weekend. The security assessment will also determine whether extensive quantities of goods and supplies will be allowed into the Gaza Strip.
Security officials said Wednesday that Israel would permit humanitarian cases to cross into Israel for medical assistance through the Erez crossing.
The >Islamic Jihad militant group on Wednesday threatened to continue its rocket attacks on Israel, despite the truce.
Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer told Army Radio on Wednesday that Israel must respond to any continuation of Qassam fire with full force, despite the truce agreement.
"We will give them [Hamas] a chance, but if the Qassam fire on the Negev continues, Israel must respond in full force," Ben-Eliezer said.
Also on Thursday, Hamas forces shut down two smuggling tunnels running from southern Gaza to neighbouring Egypt. The area has long been a focus of concern for Israel in light of its assessments that Palestinians use tunnels to bring in weapons.
But Hamas said other kinds of contraband were being targeted and that the tunnel hunt, in which up to 40 of the secret passages could be closed, was not linked to the cease-fire.
"This is not a new campaign. It is an ongoing campaign to close down tunnels suspected of being used to smuggle drugs into our areas," said Interior Ministry spokesman Ehab al-Ghsain. "It has nothing to do with the calm agreement."
Israeli officials have said Israel's truce conditions included a demand that Cairo to do more to stop the flow of munitions from the Egyptian Sinai into Gaza.

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Teaching Palestinians about the Holocaust

I am not sure these are the right lessons about the Holocaust, but the initiative is certainly welcome.

Last update - 15:36 26/06/2008    
 Israeli Arab teaches Palestinians about the Holocaust

On the way to the Hawara checkpoint, near the West Bank city of Nablus, Khaled Ksab Mahamid says: "You remember that you are American, yes? How is your accent in English?"
Mahamid, whose family originates from a destroyed Arab village near what is now Megiddo, is the founder and director of a private Holocaust museum in Nazareth.
We are on our way to the Balata refugee camp, where he is scheduled to give a lecture. The tension at the checkpoint is rising.
 In general, Palestinians and Arabs try not to talk about the Holocaust. The distance between solidarity with the Jewish people and solidarity with the Jewish state is short, and is not usually up for discussion, especially in a refugee camp.
Mahamid has a unique perspective on this issue. He argues that the Palestinian people paid the price for the Holocaust during their Nakba - Arabic for "catastrophe" or the day of Israel's independence.
Mahamid says that Palestinians are still paying for the Holocaust, and will continue to do so, if it does not learn what happened to the Jews.
He has lectured in the Nablus area in the past, but this is his first time in Balata. He does not know exactly what to expect. The organizers of the lecture welcome him at the entrance to the camp, shake his hand.
The first stop: memorial for the fallen. Mahamid mumbles the fataha, the opening chapter of the Koran, within the palms of his hands extended upward like an open book.
After the memorial, we go down to one of the alleyways in the camp. It is exactly like in the movies ? the narrow alleyways of a refugee camp.
A dozen or so residents gather next to a clubhouse - which also serves as the headquarters of Al-Alqsa Martyrs Brigade commander and Fatah parliament member, Jamal Tirawi, who was arrested by Israeli forces last year.
Mahamid begins his lecture with the claim that the Zionist movement has failed, in a big way.
"Most Jews did not come to Palestine. Also today, there are eight million [Jews] in the world that are not here. Where are they?"
The crowd listens quietly. One of the guests gets up to serve juice and cookies. When he stands, the gun in his belt is evident
Mahamid raises his hands and warns that the Palestinians must not be like Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. This, he says, plays into the hands of the Zionists. Palestinians must remember the Jews' weak points. "Know your enemy," he says.
He does not exactly tell what happened to the Jews during the Holocaust; he hints at it. He shows pictures of Jewish prisoners in the death camps and says Palestinians must use "understand what the other thinks, not deny it."
"The Israelis believe in this, the Germans and the French believe in this. We also need to adopt this," he says. Addressing the crowd, he continues: "You, who live in Balata, could you tell somebody this is a lie?"
Mahamid insists that the Palestinians have to end the violent struggle against Israel, as given that they have lost six million of their people, the deaths of 25 in a terrorist attack will not deter them.
Another person attending the lecture, of local origin, becomes angry. There is no logic in making the occupation a five-star occupation, he says. He is also against Mahamid's claim that the Zionist movement has failed.
"If one Jew comes, if they took my father's orchard in Jaffa, it has not failed. Have you not read the Protocols of the Elders of Zion? They sit in a tent but want to control the entire world."
As we leave the refugee camp and head back toward Hawara checkpoint, the tension eases. The journalists are already chatting in Hebrew with the guests. At the checkpoint, Mahamid pulls out his ID for the woman soldier. With his ID, he always carries a picture of a Jewish child from the Holocaust - why not shame the soldiers a little? When the woman soldier expresses amazement, he produces more pictures of Jews from the Holocaust and tells her that he just gave a lecture on the subject at Balata.

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Anti-Semitism in Germany - with a Middle Eastern Flavor

Coals to Newcastle?
In clearly anti-Israeli horror show, solely a few feet away from Holocaust monument in Berlin's center, Tehran's former deputy foreign minister calls for cancellation of 'Zionist project'
Eldad Beck
Published:  06.26.08, 09:39 / Israel News
Berlin - Former Deputy Minister of Iranian Foreign Affairs Dr. Mohammad Javad Ardashir Larijani gave a speech Wednesday at an international conference calling for the cancellation of the "Zionist project", which he said turned in the past 60 years into a "failed plan" that "created only violence and atrocities."

Mohammad Larijani is the brother of Ali Larijani, chairman of the Iranian parliament and formerly the top negotiator on issues of national security, including Iran's nuclear program.
 Mohammad is presently the director of the Institute for Studies in Theoretical Physics and Mathematics in Tehran and member of the Iranian Human Rights Committee.

The conference, which was aimed at discussing anti-missile defense systems, quickly turned into a wild anti-Israel event with commentary from Syrian, Lebanese and Saudi Arabian speakers attacking Israel.
All of this took place not in Iran, but rather in Berlin, the capital of Germany.
The conference was organized by a local foundation for peace and conflict resolutions.

It was "generously" funded as described in the event's program, by the German government, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation connected to the German Social-Democratic party and the German Protestant Church.

Governmental offices in Germany quickly rushed to clear themselves of responsibility for the event. The conference's invitation reveals that the event was sponsored by the German Foreign Ministry. However, in response to an inquiry by Yedioth Ahronoth, the ministry's spokeswoman said that the Finance Ministry subsidized it.
An examination on Wednesday into which office really did fund the event yielded no answers. In response to Yedioth Ahronoth's questions regarding what problem Iran has with Israel and if Iran is fearful of Israel, Larijani responded, "We have no problem with Israel, we have a stance.

"We think that Israel represents a plan to create a Jewish State in the heart of the Muslim world and that this Zionist plan has failed terribly and only caused horrible damages."

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Hacked - right wing Zionists crash pro-Arab Web sites

 Last update - 12:49 26/06/2008       
Rightist hackers embed nationalist symbols on pro-Palestinian Web sites
By Yoav Stern, Haaretz Correspondent
Rightists on Thursday hacked into three Web sites associated with the Israeli Arab and Palestinan causes, and embedded on their pages an image of the Israeli flag, the words to the Israeli national anthem and the symbol of an outlawed ultra-rightist movement.
The perpetrators hacked into the Web site of the Israeli Arab Balad party;, an Arabic-language site; and, which is written in Hebrew. Both site represent the Israeli Arab and Palestinian cause.
In addition to the flag and the words of "Hatikva," the hackers embedded the symbol of the Kach movement, an ultra-rightist organization founded by Rabbi Meir Kahane that was banned from the Knesset in 1988 and later deemed a terrorist organization by Israel. The symbol appeared with the words "Kahane was right."
Pictures were also embedded on the sites showing Palestinian children strapped with explosives under the words "murderers from birth."
In a statement also printed on the site, the rightists wrote, "This site was hacked into due to its blatantly anti-Zionist contents. Israel is not interested in people like you who are burdens on the process of proper decision-making in the government. If you oppose what you call the 'Israeli occupation' then there's no place for you here.", which is popular in Arab states and in Israel, prints news on Israel and the Middle East from a pro-Palestinian, pan-Arabist perspective. is a self-proclaimed alternative media source meant for a primarily Jewish audience.
The manager of, Az a-Din Badran, said in response that the "hacking of the site is intended to sabotage the a central media outlet, which provides a critical and different look at everything connected to the Arab-Israeli conflict. It seems that the exposure enjoyed by the site, in Israel and in the Arab world, drives the right-wing crazy."
"The site is constantly suffering from repeated hack attempts, which have interfered in the past with the regular maintenance of the site, but not to this extent. We view with great severity the attempt to silence the site, which reflects factual and analytical loyalty to the Arab and Palestinian perspective in the ongoing conflict. The Kahane terrorists and their followers from the Israeli-Zionist right will not weaken our power, like they haven't in the past," the statement continued.

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French sources: Syria ready to 'reconsider' its ties with Iran

Last update - 10:49 26/06/2008       
French sources: Syria ready to 'reconsider' its ties with Iran
By Yoav Stern, Haaretz Correspondent
Syria has signaled that it is ready to "reconsider" its relations with Iran, French officials told the a-Sharq al-Awset daily in a report published on Thursday.
The officials said that Syria and Iran do not see eye to eye on a number of regional developments, something that is likely to cause a rift between the two countries.
One of the main points of contention is the situation in Iraq. According to the French sources, Damascus opposes the idea of a Muslim Iraq standing under full Iranian influence.
Also threatening the states' relationship are the bubbling tensions in Lebanon. Syria does not feel that it is in its interest to get involved in the crisis there, now that it is buffing its ties with western states.
It also does not want to strengthen the Lebanon-based Hezbollah militant group to a point in which it could stand on its own, the officials said.
Syria is also concerned that its recent renewal of negotiations with Jerusalem will turn it hostage to any conflict between Israel and Iran.
As such, Syria is turning to the alternative option of strengthening its ties with the west and negotiating with Israel, the officials said.
Damascus is also prepared to sign an agreement of association with the European Union, the sources said. Should the EU approve the move, it will be the first fruit of developments between the bodies.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Gaza truce unraveling

The Gaza truce has already begun to unravel. Lack of Israeli response will create a new situation in which Israel must acquiesce to terror attacks, as I wrote here: Gaza Cease Fire: Slow Murder?
About a minute after I finished writing that, the following appeared in Haaretz:
 Last update - 17:38 24/06/2008       
Gaza truce shaken as four Qassams slam into west Negev
By Avi Issacharoff , Haaretz Correspondent and The Associated Press
Four Qassam rockets fired from Gaza struck Sderot and the surrounding area Tuesday afternoon, further imperiling a brittle truce declared six days ago.
One of the rockets struck a vacant house in Sderot and two others hit the city. A fourth rocket exploded in an open area in the Sha'ar Hanegev Regional Council.
Two people was lightly wounded in the barrage, and two others were treated for shock.
Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the Qassam salvo. Gaza's Hamas rulers issued a statement saying that they were still committed to the cease-fire with Israel, despite the small militant group's obvious violation of its terms.
Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas official, responded to the attacks by urging "all Palestinian factions to abide by the calm agreement," adding: "Hamas is keen to maintain the deal."
Of course they are keen to maintain the deal. They bomb Israel. Israel does nothing. Good deal.

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Human rights in Iran: 'And then they came for the Bahai'

Roya Hakakian warns against renewed persecution of Bahai in Iran. I bet you didn't know that Bahai have been executed, did you?

Isn't it peculiar that that there are no UN resolutions regarding human rights violations in Iran? The Presbyterian Church is not concerned about justice and tolerance in Iran, Amnesty International is hardly worried either.
How can we explain it?
and: A Tale of two Shrines (large presentation)
Ami Isseroff
By Roya Hakakian
Thu. Jun 19, 2008
Article tools
If one must master the knowledge that even bigotry is relative and comes in gradations, then I was a premature pupil. I learned this lesson when I was only 10.
In 1977, in an eclectic neighborhood in Tehran, my Jewish family lived on a narrow, wooded alley in what was then an upscale area, alongside two other Jewish families and many more Muslims. There was also a Bahai family, the Alavis, next door.
By then, I had already intuited that my relatives, in the presence of Muslim friends and neighbors, were somehow less flamboyant creatures, quieter and more measured. But the Alavis, debonair and highly educated, were mere ghosts.
Theirs was a corner house on the alley, one of the most beautiful in the neighborhood, and the first to be sold within days in 1979, after the return of the exiled Ayatollah Khomeini. In a neighborhood so closely-knit that even the mailman dispensed pearls of pedagogical wisdom to our parents, the Alavis simply vanished one day.
No chance for tears, or promises to keep in touch. Not even a forwarding address. My mother insists they said goodbye to her, but my mother considers inventing happy endings a maternal virtue.
American audiences, their eyes brimming with anxiety, often ask me about the condition of Jews living in Iran today. But the hardships they assume to be the burden of the Iranian Jews is really the daily experience of the Bahais.
In a 1979 meeting with five of the Iranian Jewish community leaders, Khomeini summarized his position on the local Jews in one of his quintessentially coarse one-liners: "We recognize our Jews as separate from those godless Zionists." The line has served as the regime's position on the Jewish minority ever since. So important were these words that they were painted on the walls of nearly every synagogue and Jewish establishment the day after the ayatollah spoke them.
It did not prevent Jews from being relegated to second-class citizenry, nor did it enable them to thrive in post-revolutionary Iran. But it recognized the legitimacy of the Jewish existence in Iran and allowed the community to live on, albeit extremely restrictedly.
But it is the Bahai community that has been suffering the bleak fate assumed to be that of the Jews. It is the Bahais who are not recognized by the Iranian constitution. Decades ago, Khomeini branded them, among other unsavory terms, a political sect and not a religion, circuitously defining them as plotters against the regime. Iranian Bahais have been accused of espionage for every major power save the Chinese, and simultaneously so. They are not allowed to worship. Their properties are vandalized. Even their dead know no peace, as their cemeteries are systematically destroyed.
Their children cannot attend schools, nor can Bahai academics teach. That is why in 1987, unemployed professors, in an act reminiscent of the Middle Ages, established underground universities to educate the Bahai youth.
Last month, six Bahai leaders were arrested. They had already been accustomed to routine weekly harassments and interrogations, which is why some of their wives have taken up sewing blindfolds to keep the guards from forcing dirty ones onto their husbands' eyes. What is most alarming about this particular arrest is that they have not returned home and are being kept incommunicado.
What compels me to write these lines is the eerie similarity between this and another historical parallel to which I have been a witness. When the American embassy was seized in Tehran in November 1979, the world took the ayatollah at his word for the egregious act he vehemently supported — that it was solely against America. But for those living in Iran, the hostage taking turned out to be about everything but America.
Newspapers were shut down. Political parties were banned. Opposition group members were arrested and their leaders hauled off to stand before firing squads.
When it was all said and done, the hostages, despite their great suffering during 444 days of captivity, eventually returned home. But the secular opposition of the regime was practically obliterated, and in perfect silence, too, as all attention was focused on the news from the embassy.
The current Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has taken a page from Khomeini's book. He rails against Israel. He denies the Holocaust. Through these means he focuses all attention on Jews, and while the world remains perfectly oblivious his men assault the Bahais.
Though Ahmadinejad's intentions against Israel are gravely alarming, in immediate terms, the community that is paying the most for his pan-Islamist ambitions is the Bahai. Since Ahmadinejad's election to presidency, there has been a sharp rise in anti-Bahai literature in government-sponsored journals, which has, in turn, led to a rise in gang attacks against the community.
That the Bahais shy away, per religious mandate, from advocacy on their own behalf surrounds their predicament with even greater silence. But for those in the West — especially for Jews, who know the lessons of World War II — the plight of the Iranian Bahais is most urgent: It is an act of destruction, not simply promised, but already underway.
Roya Hakakian, the author of "Journey from the Land of No: A Girlhood Caught in Revolutionary Iran" (Crown, 2004), is a recipient of a 2008 Guggenheim fellowship.

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Is Israel on the Iran Brink?

The very fact that Israel allowed the exercises to be leaked - perhaps made certain they would be leaked - may show that they are meant as a warning, rather than preparation for an attack.
Israel on the Iran Brink
June 23, 2008; Page A16

Israel isn't famous for welcoming public scrutiny of its most sensitive military plans. But we doubt Jerusalem officials were dismayed to see news of their recent air force exercises splashed over the front pages of the Western press.
Those exercises – reportedly involving about 100 fighters, tactical bombers, refueling planes and rescue helicopters – were conducted about 900 miles west of Israel's shores in the Mediterranean. Iran's nuclear facilities at Bushehr, Isfahan and Natanz all fall roughly within the same radius, albeit in the opposite direction. The point was not lost on Tehran, which promptly warned of "strong blows" in the event of a pre-emptive Israeli attack.
The more important question is whether the meaning of Israel's exercise registered in Western capitals. It's been six years since Iran's secret nuclear programs were publicly exposed, and Israel has more or less bided its time as the Bush Administration and Europe have pursued diplomacy to induce Tehran to cease enriching uranium.
It hasn't worked. Iran has rejected repeated offers of technical and economic assistance, most recently this month. Despite four years of pleading, the Administration has failed to win anything but weak U.N. sanctions. Russia plans to sell advanced antiaircraft missiles to Iran and finish work on a nuclear reactor at Bushehr, though spent fuel from that reactor could eventually be diverted and reprocessed into weapons-usable plutonium. Chinese companies still invest in Iran, while the U.N.'s chief nuclear inspector, Mohamed ElBaradei, has repeatedly downplayed Iran's nuclear threat.
As for the U.S., December's publication of a misleading National Intelligence Estimate that claimed Iran had halted nuclear weaponization signaled America's own lack of seriousness toward Iranian ambitions. Barack Obama is leading in the Presidential polls and portrays as a virtue his promise to negotiate with Iran "without precondition" – i.e., without insisting that Tehran stop enriching uranium. All the while Iran continues to enrich, installing thousands of additional centrifuges of increasingly more sophisticated design while it buries key facilities underground.
No wonder Israel is concluding that it will have to act on its own to prevent a nuclear Iran. Earlier this month, Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz, a former army chief of staff, warned that "if Iran continues with its program for developing nuclear weapons, we will attack." Other officials distanced themselves from those remarks, but September's one-shot raid on Syria's nuclear reactor ought to be proof of Israel's determination.
An Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear sites would of course look nothing like the Syrian operation. The distances are greater; the targets are hardened, defended and dispersed; hundreds of sorties and several days would be required. Iran would retaliate, with the help of Hezbollah and Hamas, possibly sparking a regional conflict as large as the 1973 Yom Kippur war.
Mr. ElBaradei predicted this weekend that such an attack would turn the Middle East into a "ball of fire," yet his own apologies for Iran and the West's diplomatic failures are responsible for bringing the region to this pass. They have convinced the mullahs that the powers responsible for maintaining world order lack the will to stop Iran.
Israelis surely don't welcome a war in which they will suffer. Yet they have no choice but to defend themselves against an enemy that vows to obliterate them if Iran acquires the weapon to do so. The tragic paradox of the past six years is that the diplomatic and intelligence evasions offered in the name of avoiding war with Iran have done the most to bring us close to this brink. Appeasement that ends in war is a familiar theme of history.

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Will Israel attack Iran?

John Bolton has been known to be wrong, but the noise about an Israeli attack on Iran is increasing.
Last updated: 9:50 AM BST 24/06/2008 
John Bolton, the former American ambassador to the United Nations, has predicted that Israel could attack Iran after the November presidential election but before George W Bush's successor is sworn in.

The Arab world would be "pleased" by Israeli strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities, he said in an interview with The Daily Telegraph.

"It [the reaction] will be positive privately. I think there'll be public denunciations but no action," he said.

Mr Bolton, an unflinching hawk who proposes military action to stop Iran developing nuclear weapons, bemoaned what he sees as a lack of will by the Bush administration to itself contemplate military strikes.

"It's clear that the administration has essentially given up that possibility," he said. "I don't think it's serious any more. If you had asked me a year ago I would have said I thought it was a real possibility. I just don't think it's in the cards."

Israel, however, still had a determination to prevent a nuclear Iran, he argued. The "optimal window" for strikes would be between the November 4 election and the inauguration on January 20, 2009.

"The Israelis have one eye on the calendar because of the pace at which the Iranians are proceeding both to develop their nuclear weapons capability and to do things like increase their defences by buying new Russian anti-aircraft systems and further harden the nuclear installations .

"They're also obviously looking at the American election calendar. My judgement is they would not want to do anything before our election because there's no telling what impact it could have on the election."

But waiting for either Barack Obama, the Democratic candidate, or his Republican opponent John McCain to be installed in the White House could preclude military action happening for the next four years or at least delay it.

"An Obama victory would rule out military action by the Israelis because they would fear the consequences given the approach Obama has taken to foreign policy," said Mr Bolton, who was Mr Bush's ambassador to the UN from 2005 to 2006.

"With McCain they might still be looking at a delay. Given that time is on Iran's side, I think the argument for military action is sooner rather than later absent some other development."

The Iran policy of Mr McCain, whom Mr Bolton supports, was "much more realistic than the Bush administration's stance".

Mr Obama has said he will open high-level talks with Iran "without preconditions" while Mr McCain views attacking Iran as a lesser evil than allowing Iran to become a nuclear power.

William Kristol, a prominent neo-conservative, told Fox News on Sunday that an Obama victory could prompt Mr Bush to launch attacks against Iran. "If the president thought John McCain was going to be the next president, he would think it more appropriate to let the next president make that decision than do it on his way out," he said.

Last week, Israeli jets carried out a long-range exercise over the Mediterranean that American intelligence officials concluded was practice for air strikes against Iran. Mohammad Ali Hosseini, spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry, said this was an act of "psychological warfare" that would be futile.

"They do not have the capacity to threaten the Islamic Republic of Iran. They [Israel] have a number of domestic crises and they want to extrapolate it to cover others. Sometimes they come up with these empty slogans."

He added that Tehran would deliver a "devastating" response to any attack.

On Friday, Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency, said military action against Iran would turn the Middle East into a "fireball" and accelerate Iran's nuclear programme.

Mr Bolton, however, dismissed such sentiments as scaremongering. "The key point would be for the Israelis to break Iran's control over the nuclear fuel cycle and that could be accomplished for example by destroying the uranium conversion facility at Esfahan or the uranium enrichment facility at Natanz.

"That doesn't end the problem but it buys time during which a more permanent solution might be found.... How long? That would be hard to say. Depends on the extent of the destruction."

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Monday, June 23, 2008

Gaza "Lull" already breached by mortar fire

Shell fired by Palestinian in Gaza lands near Israeli community in
first breach of agreed upon truce

Shmulik Hadad YNET Published: 06.24.08, 00:21 / Israel News

A mortar fired by Palestinian gunmen in Gaza Wednesday night landed in Israel's western Negev region.

The shell landed in an open area in close proximity to a community, but no injuries or damage were reported.

The incident was the first breach of the ceasefire agreement reached between Israel and armed Palestinian groups in the Strip, which went into effect Thursday morning.

According to the Egyptian-mediated deal, after a few days of calm Israel is supposed to begin easing restrictions and allow the transfer of large amounts of food, gas, construction materials and other goods into Gaza through the Karni and Sufa crossings.

Residents of the western Negev were skeptical of the ceasefire's chances to succeed. "We are familiar with these ceasefires; the fear (of rocket and mortar fire) still exists," Aryeh Cohen of Sderot told Ynet.

"We sense that the truce was declared more for the benefit of the politicians than for the Negev residents."

On Sunday, Sderot residents awoke to the sounds of the Color Red alert system that ended up being a false alarm. Police thought at first that the system identified a Qassam rocket launched towards the city. The night
before, the system mistakenly identified a launch from the Kibbutz Be'eri area.

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Why Americans support Israel

A thoughtful article on the real basis of US popular support for Israel, which gets beyond the "Israel lobby" cliche.
The New Israel and the Old
Why Gentile Americans Back the Jewish State
By Walter Russell Mead

From Foreign Affairs , July/August 2008

Summary: The real key to Washington's pro-Israel policy is long-lasting and broad-based support for the Jewish state among the American public at large.

WALTER RUSSELL MEAD is Henry A. Kissinger Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author, most recently, of God and Gold: Britain, America, and the Making of the Modern World.

audio icon Listen to this essay on

On May 12, 1948, Clark Clifford, the White House chief counsel, presented the case for U.S. recognition of the state of Israel to the divided cabinet of President Harry Truman. While a glowering George Marshall, the secretary of state, and a skeptical Robert Lovett, Marshall's undersecretary, looked on, Clifford argued that recognizing the Jewish state would be an act of humanity that comported with traditional American values. To substantiate the Jewish territorial claim, Clifford quoted the Book of Deuteronomy: "Behold, I have set the land before you: go in and possess the land which the Lord sware unto your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give unto them and to their seed after them."

Marshall was not convinced and told Truman that he would vote against him in the upcoming election if this was his policy. Eventually, Marshall agreed not to make his opposition public. Two days later, the United States granted the new Jewish state de facto recognition 11 minutes after Israel declared its existence as a state. Many observers, both foreign and domestic, attributed Truman's decision to the power of the Jewish community in the United States. They saw Jewish votes, media influence, and campaign contributions as crucial in the tight 1948 presidential contest.

Since then, this pattern has often been repeated. Respected U.S. foreign policy experts call for Washington to be cautious in the Middle East and warn presidents that too much support for Israel will carry serious international costs. When presidents overrule their expert advisers and take a pro-Israel position, observers attribute the move to the "Israel lobby" and credit (or blame) it for swaying the chief executive. But there is another factor to consider. As the Truman biographer David McCullough has written, Truman's support for the Jewish state was "wildly popular" throughout the United States. A Gallup poll in June 1948 showed that almost three times as many Americans "sympathized with the Jews" as "sympathized with the Arabs." That support was no flash in the pan. Widespread gentile support for Israel is one of the most potent political forces in U.S. foreign policy, and in the last 60 years, there has never been a Gallup poll showing more Americans sympathizing with the Arabs or the Palestinians than with the Israelis.

Over time, moreover, the pro-Israel sentiment in the United States has increased, especially among non-Jews. The years of the George W. Bush administration have seen support for Israel in U.S. public opinion reach the highest level ever, and it has remained there throughout Bush's two terms. The increase has occurred even as the demographic importance of Jews has diminished. In 1948, Jews constituted an estimated 3.8 percent of the U.S. population. Assuming that almost every American Jew favored a pro-Israel foreign policy that year, a little more than ten percent of U.S. supporters of Israel were of Jewish origin. By 2007, Jews were only 1.8 percent of the population of the United States, accounting at most for three percent of Israel's supporters in the United States.

These figures, dramatic as they are, also probably underestimate the true level of public support for Israel. When in a poll in 2006 the Pew Research Center asked whether U.S. policy in the Middle East was fair, favored Israel, or favored the Palestinians, 47 percent of the respondents said they thought the policy was fair, six percent said it favored the Palestinians, and only 27 percent thought it favored the Israelis. The poll was conducted during Israel's attacks against Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, when U.S. support for Israel was even more controversial than usual around the world. One must therefore conclude that many of those who tell pollsters that the United States' policies are fair to both sides actually favor policies that most non-U.S. observers would consider strongly and even irresponsibly pro-Israel. The American public has few foreign policy preferences that are this marked, this deep, this enduring -- and this much at odds with public opinion in other countries.

In the United States, a pro-Israel foreign policy does not represent the triumph of a small lobby over the public will. It represents the power of public opinion to shape foreign policy in the face of concerns by foreign policy professionals. Like the war on drugs and the fence along the Mexican border, support for Israel is a U.S. foreign policy that makes some experts and specialists uneasy but commands broad public support. This does not mean that an "Israel lobby" does not exist or does not help shape U.S. policy in the Middle East. Nor does it mean that Americans ought to feel as they do. (It remains my view that everyone, Americans and Israelis included, would benefit if Americans developed a more sympathetic and comprehensive understanding of the wants and needs of the Palestinians.) But it does mean that the ultimate sources of the United States' Middle East policy lie outside the Beltway and outside the Jewish community. To understand why U.S. policy is pro-Israel rather than neutral or pro-Palestinian, one must study the sources of nonelite, non-Jewish support for the Jewish state.


The story of U.S. support for a Jewish state in the Middle East begins early. John Adams could not have been more explicit. "I really wish the Jews again in Judea an independent nation," he said, after his presidency. From the early nineteenth century on, gentile Zionists fell into two main camps in the United States. Prophetic Zionists saw the return of the Jews to the Promised Land as the realization of a literal interpretation of biblical prophecy, often connected to the return of Christ and the end of the world. Based on his interpretation of Chapter 18 of the prophecies of Isaiah, for example, the Albany Presbyterian pastor John McDonald predicted in 1814 that Americans would assist the Jews in restoring their ancient state. Mormon voices shared this view; the return of the Jews to the Holy Land was under way, said Elder Orson Hyde in 1841: "The great wheel is unquestionably in motion, and the word of the Almighty has declared that it shall roll."

Other, less literal and less prophetic Christians developed a progressive Zionism that would resonate down through the decades among both religious and secular gentiles. In the nineteenth century, liberal Christians often believed that God was building a better world through human progress. They saw the democratic and (relatively) egalitarian United States as both an example of the new world God was making and a powerful instrument to further his grand design. Some American Protestants believed that God was moving to restore what they considered the degraded and oppressed Jews of the world to the Promised Land, just as God was uplifting and improving the lives of other ignorant and unbelieving people through the advance of Protestant and liberal principles. They wanted the Jews to establish their own state because they believed that this would both shelter the Jews from persecution and, through the redemptive powers of liberty and honest agricultural labor, uplift and improve what they perceived to be the squalid morals and deplorable hygiene of contemporary Ottoman and eastern European Jews. As Adams put it, "Once restored to an independent government and no longer persecuted they would soon wear away some of the asperities and peculiarities of their character and possibly in time become liberal Unitarian Christians." For such Christians, American Zionism was part of a broader program of transforming the world by promoting the ideals of the United States.

Not all progressive Zionists couched their arguments in religious terms. As early as 1816, Niles' Weekly Register, the leading American news and opinion periodical through much of the first half of the nineteenth century, predicted and welcomed the impending return of the Jews to an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital. The magazine projected that the restoration of the Jews would further enlightenment and progress -- and this, clearly, would be good for the United States as well as for the Jews.

Prophetic Zionists, for their part, became more numerous after the American Civil War, and their views of the role a restored Jewish state might play in the events leading up to the apocalypse became more highly developed. Books and pamphlets highlighting the predicted restoration of the Jews and speculating on the identity and the return of the "lost tribes" of the ancient Hebrews were perennial bestsellers, and the association between Dwight Moody, the country's leading evangelist, and Cyrus Scofield, the important Bible scholar, put the future history of Israel firmly at the center of the imagination of conservative American Protestantism.

These groups of gentile Zionists found new, if sometimes unsavory, allies after 1880, when a mass immigration of Russian Jews to the United States began. Some of them and some assimilated German American Jews hoped that Palestine would replace the United States as the future home of what was an unusually unpopular group of immigrants at the time. For anti-Semites, the establishment of a Jewish state might or might not "cure" Jews of the characteristics many gentiles attributed to them, but in any case the establishment of such a state would reduce Jewish immigration to the United States.

In 1891, these strands of gentile Zionists came together. The Methodist lay leader William Blackstone presented a petition to President Benjamin Harrison calling on the United States to use its good offices to convene a congress of European powers so that they could induce the Ottoman Empire to turn Palestine over to the Jews. The 400 signatories were overwhelmingly non-Jewish and included the chief justice of the Supreme Court; the Speaker of the House of Representatives; the chairs of the House Ways and Means Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee; the future president William McKinley; the mayors of Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington; the editors or proprietors of the leading East Coast and Chicago newspapers; and an impressive array of Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Roman Catholic clergy. Business leaders who signed the petition included Cyrus McCormick, John Rockefeller, and J. P. Morgan. At a time when the American Jewish community was neither large nor powerful, and no such thing as an Israel lobby existed, the pillars of the American gentile establishment went on record supporting a U.S. diplomatic effort to create a Jewish state in the lands of the Bible.


Any discussion of U.S. attitudes toward Israel must begin with the Bible. For centuries, the American imagination has been steeped in the Hebrew Scriptures. This influence originated with the rediscovery of the Old Testament during the Reformation, was accentuated by the development of Calvinist theology (which stressed continuities between the old and the new dispensations of divine grace), and was made more vital by the historical similarities between the modern American and the ancient Hebrew experiences; as a result, the language, heroes, and ideas of the Old Testament permeate the American psyche.

Instruction in biblical Hebrew was mandatory for much of early U.S. history at Columbia, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, and Yale. James Madison completed his studies at Princeton in two years but remained on campus an extra year to study Hebrew. Colonial preachers and pamphleteers over and over again described the United States as a new Canaan, "a land flowing with milk and honey," and reminded their audiences that just as the Hebrews lost their blessings when they offended God, so, too, would the Americans suffer if they disobeyed the God who had led them into their promised land. Today, Old Testament references continue to permeate U.S. political writing, oratory, and even geography -- over one thousand cities and towns in the United States have names derived from Scripture.

The most dramatic religious expression of the importance of the Old Testament in American culture today is the rise of premillennial dispensationalism, an interpretation of biblical prophecies that gives particular weight to Old Testament religious concepts such as covenant theology and assigns a decisive role to a restored Jewish state (with Jerusalem as its capital) in future history. An estimated seven percent of Americans seem to hold this theological position (making this group almost four times as large as the American Jewish community), and a considerably larger group is influenced by it to a greater or lesser degree. Proponents of this view often (although not always) share the view of some Orthodox Jews that the Jews must insist on a state that includes all the territory once promised to the Hebrews; they oppose any territorial compromise with the Palestinians and support Jewish settlements in the West Bank. But this is a minority view, even among U.S. supporters of Israel.

Progressive Christian Zionism, on the other hand, is related to Christian ethics rather than prophecy. Much of it is rooted in guilt and a sense that Christians' past poor treatment of the Jews is now preventing Jews from accepting Christianity. For well over a thousand years, the Jews of Europe suffered extraordinary and at times unspeakable cruelties at the hands of Europe's Christians. Although some American Protestants perpetuated this history of intolerance and anti-Semitism, many liberal American Protestants from the nineteenth century forward saw rejecting this past as one of the defining tasks of the reformed and enlightened American church. Such Protestants could (and comfortably did) deplore Catholic anti-Semitism as a consequence of the regrettable corruptions of the church under the papacy, but the anti-Semitic words and deeds of reformers such as Martin Luther could not be dismissed so easily. Many members of the liberal American Protestant churches considered it a sacred duty to complete the work of the Reformation by purging Christianity of its remaining "medieval" features, such as superstition, bigotry, and anti-Semitism. Making amends for past sins by protecting the Jews has long been an important religious test for many (although by no means all) American Protestants.

By contrast, most American Christians have felt little or no guilt about their communities' historical relations with the Muslim world. Many Muslims view Christian-Muslim conflict over the last millennium as a constant and relatively homogenous phenomenon, but American Protestants do not. They generally deplore the cruelties of the Crusades and the concept of a holy war, for example, but they see them as Catholic errors rather than more broadly Christian ones, and in any case, they view the Crusades as long past and as a response to prior Muslim aggression. They also generally deplore the predations of European powers in more recent centuries, but they see them as driven by Old World imperialism rather than Christianity and as such something for which they bear no responsibility. (An important exception deserves to be mentioned: Many U.S. missionaries active in the Middle East forged deep ties with the region's Arab inhabitants and strongly supported Arab nationalism, both from a dislike of European colonialism and out of the hope that a secular nationalist movement would improve the position of Arab Christians. This missionary community contributed both to the development of the Arabist contingent in the State Department and to the backlash in mainstream Protestant churches against Israeli policies in the occupied territories after the 1967 war.)

By 1948, many Christians in the United States felt a heavy burden of historical debt and obligation toward the Jews, but not the Muslims. If anything, they believed that the Islamic world was indebted to American Christian missionaries for many of its leading universities and hospitals and that American Christian support before and after World War II had helped promote the emergence of independent Arab and Muslim states that was then taking place.


The United States' sense of its own identity and mission in the world has been shaped by readings of Hebrew history and thought. The writer Herman Melville expressed this view: "We Americans are the peculiar, chosen people -- the Israel of our time; we bear the ark of the liberties of the world." From the time of the Puritans to the present day, preachers, thinkers, and politicians in the United States -- secular as well as religious, liberal as well as conservative -- have seen the Americans as a chosen people, bound together less by ties of blood than by a set of beliefs and a destiny. Americans have believed that God (or history) has brought them into a new land and made them great and rich and that their continued prosperity depends on their fulfilling their obligations toward God or the principles that have blessed them so far. Ignore these principles -- turn toward the golden calf -- and the scourge will come.

Both religious and nonreligious Americans have looked to the Hebrew Scriptures for an example of a people set apart by their mission and called to a world-changing destiny. Did the land Americans inhabit once belong to others? Yes, but the Hebrews similarly conquered the land of the Canaanites. Did the tiny U.S. colonies armed only with the justice of their cause defeat the world's greatest empire? So did David, the humble shepherd boy, fell Goliath. Were Americans in the nineteenth century isolated and mocked for their democratic ideals? So were the Hebrews surrounded by idolaters. Have Americans defeated their enemies at home and abroad? So, according to the Scriptures, did the Hebrews triumph. And when Americans held millions of slaves in violation of their beliefs, were they punished and scourged? Yes, and much like the Hebrews, who suffered the consequences of their sins before God.

This mythic understanding of the United States' nature and destiny is one of the most powerful and enduring elements in American culture and thought. As the ancient Hebrews did, many Americans today believe that they bear a revelation that is ultimately not just for them but also for the whole world; they have often considered themselves God's new Israel. One of the many consequences of this presumed kinship is that many Americans think it is both right and proper for one chosen people to support another. They are not disturbed when the United States' support of Israel, a people and a state often isolated and ostracized, makes the United States unpopular or creates other problems. The United States' adoption of the role of protector of Israel and friend of the Jews is a way of legitimizing its own status as a country called to a unique destiny by God.

More than that, since the nineteenth century, the United States has seen itself as the chosen agent of God in the protection and redemption of the Jews. Americans believed that the Jews would emerge from their degraded condition as they moved from city slums to the countryside -- just as American immigrants from all over Europe had built better lives and sturdier characters as Jeffersonian farmers. Liberal Christians such as Adams believed that this would bring the Jews in time to the light of liberal Protestantism as part of the general uplift of humanity. And prophetic Zionists hoped that mass conversions of Jews to revivalist Christianity would trigger the apocalypse and the return of Christ. Either way, the United States' special role in the restoration of the Jews fulfilled gentile Americans' expectations about the movement of history and confirmed their beliefs about the United States' identity and mission.


The United States and Israel also have in common their status as "settler states" -- countries formed by peoples who came to control their current lands after displacing the original populations. Both states have been powerfully shaped by a history of conflict and confrontation with those they displaced, and both have sought justifications for their behavior from similar sources. Both the Americans and the Israelis have turned primarily to the Old Testament, whose hallowed pages tell the story of the conflict between the ancient Hebrews and the Canaanites, the former inhabitants of what the Hebrews believed was their Promised Land. Americans found the idea that they were God's new Israel so attractive partly because it helped justify their displacement of the Native Americans. As Theodore Roosevelt put it in his best-selling history of the American West, "Many of the best of the backwoodsmen were Bible-readers, but they were brought up in a creed that made much of the Old Testament, and laid slight stress on pity, truth, or mercy. They looked at their foes as the Hebrew prophets looked at the enemies of Israel. What were the abominations because of which the Canaanites were destroyed before Joshua, when compared with the abominations of the red savages whose lands they, another chosen people, should in their turn inherit?" (Roosevelt himself, like his cousins Franklin and Eleanor, was a Christian Zionist. "It seems to me entirely proper to start a Zionist State around Jerusalem," he wrote in 1918.)

Besides a direct divine promise, two other important justifications that the Americans brought forward in their contests with the Native Americans were the concept that they were expanding into "empty lands" and John Locke's related "fair use" doctrine, which argued that unused property is a waste and an offense against nature. U.S. settlers felt that only those who would improve the land, settling it densely with extensive farms and building towns, had a real right to it. John Quincy Adams made the case in 1802: "Shall [the Indians] doom an immense region of the globe to perpetual desolation ... ?" And Thomas Jefferson warned that the Native Americans who failed to learn from the whites and engage in productive agriculture faced a grim fate. They would "relapse into barbarism and misery, lose numbers by war and want, and we shall be obliged to drive them, with the beasts of the forest into the Stony mountains."

Through much of U.S. history, such views resonated not just with backwoodsmen but also with liberal and sophisticated citizens. These arguments had a special meaning when it came to the Holy Land. As pious Americans dwelt on the glories of ancient Jerusalem and the Temple of Solomon, they pictured a magnificent and fertile land -- "a land flowing with milk and honey," as the Bible describes it. But by the nineteenth century, when first dozens, then hundreds, and ultimately thousands of Americans visited the Holy Land -- and millions more thronged to lectures and presentations to hear reports of these travels -- there was little milk or honey; Palestine was one of the poorest, most backward, and most ramshackle provinces of the Ottoman Empire. To American eyes, the hillsides and rocky fields of Judea were desolate and empty -- God, many believed, had cursed the land when he sent the Jews into their second exile, which they saw as the Jews' punishment for their failure to recognize Christ as the Messiah. And so, Americans believed, the Jews belonged in the Holy Land, and the Holy Land belonged to the Jews. The Jews would never prosper until they were home and free, and the land would never bloom until its rightful owners returned.

The Prophet Isaiah had described the future return of the Jews to their homeland as God's grace bringing water to a desert land. And Americans watched the returning fertility of the land under the cultivation of early Zionist settlers with the astonished sense that biblical prophecy was being fulfilled before their eyes. "The springs of Jewish colonizing vigor, amply fed by the money of world Jewry, flowed on to the desert," wrote Time magazine in 1946, echoing the language of Isaiah. Two years later, following the Jewish victory in the 1948 war, it described the Arabs in terms that induce flinching today but represented common American perceptions at the time: "The Western world tends to think of the Arab as a falcon-eyed warrior on a white horse. That Arab is still around, but he is far less numerous than the disease-ridden wretches who lie in the hot streets, too weak, sick and purposeless to roll over into the shade." Americans saw a contest between a backward and incapable people and a people able to settle the wilderness and make it bloom, miraculously fulfilling ancient prophecies of a Jewish state.

The Jews had been widely considered eastern Europe's most deplorable population: ignorant, depraved, superstitious, factionalized, quarrelsome, and hopelessly behind the times. That this population, after being subjected to the unprecedented savagery of Nazi persecution, should establish the first stable democracy in the Middle East, build a thriving economy in the desert, and repeatedly defeat enemies with armies many times larger and stronger than their own seemed to many Americans to be striking historical proof of their own most cherished ideals.


Although gentile support for Israel in the United States has remained strong and even grown since World War II, its character has changed. Until the Six-Day War, support for Israel came mostly from the political left and was generally stronger among Democrats than Republicans. Liberal icons such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Paul Tillich, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Martin Luther King, Jr., were leading public voices calling for the United States to support Israel. But since 1967, liberal support for Israel has gradually waned, and conservative support has grown.

A variety of factors had come together in the 1940s to make progressive gentile Zionism a powerful force in U.S. politics, especially on the left. First, the impact of the Holocaust on American Protestantism was extraordinary. Germany had once provided intellectual leadership for the American Protestant church, and the passive acquiescence with which most German Protestant churches and pastors greeted Nazi rule shocked mainstream American Protestantism to its core. Anti-Nazi German Protestants became moral and theological heroes in the postwar United States, and opposition to anti-Semitism became a key test by which mainline American Protestants judged themselves and their leaders. This profound shock intensified their humanitarian response to revelations about the death camps and the mass murder. The suffering of the displaced, starving, and impoverished Jewish refugees in chaotic postwar Europe made it inevitable that American Protestants, who had for a century campaigned for Jewish rights, would enthusiastically support steps seen as securing the safety of Europe's Jews.

A second factor was the strong support of African Americans for the Jews at a time when blacks were beginning to play a larger role in U.S. electoral politics. During the 1930s, the African American press throughout the United States had closely followed the imposition of Hitler's racial policies. African American leaders lost no opportunity to point out the similarities between Hitler's treatment of the Jews and the Jim Crow laws in the United States' segregated South. For African Americans, the persecution of the Jews was made real to them through their own daily experiences. It also provided them with important talking points to persuade whites that racial discrimination violated American principles, and it thus helped build the strong alliance between American Jews and the civil rights movement that existed from 1945 through the death of King. Even during World War II, the black activists W. E. B. Du Bois, Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, and Philip Randolph supported the precursor of the Israeli Likud Party in its effort to create a Jewish army. The civil rights leader Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., went further, raising $150,000 for the militant Zionist group the Irgun Zvai Leumi -- which he called "an underground terrorist organization in Palestine" -- at a New York City rally.

The Soviet Union's support for an independent state of Israel also helped. At Yalta, Joseph Stalin told Franklin Roosevelt that he, too, was a Zionist, and in May of 1947, Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko announced before the United Nations that the Soviet Union supported the creation of a Jewish state. This backing, however short-lived, strengthened the view of many American leftists that the establishment of a homeland for the Jews was part of the general struggle for progress around the world. Indeed, in the decades after the war, many American liberals saw their support for Israel as part of their commitment to freedom, anticolonialism (the Jews of Palestine were seeking independence over British opposition), the struggle against racial and religious discrimination, secularism, humanitarianism, and the progressive tradition in U.S. politics. Israel at the time seemed to be an idealistic secular experiment in social democracy; American Jews and American gentiles alike went to Israel to experience the exhilarating life of labor and fellowship of the kibbutz. In 1948, therefore, when Truman decided to support the creation of Israel, he was thinking about not just the Jewish vote. Support for Israel was popular with the blacks in the North, who were attracted to the Democratic Party by the New Deal and Truman's own slow progress toward supporting civil rights. The cause of Israel helped with voters on the left otherwise tempted to support Henry Wallace and the Progressives. And it also helped Truman compete among conservative, churchgoing, Bible-reading southern voters against Strom Thurmond's Dixiecrats. Support for Israel, in fact, was one of the few issues that helped pull the fractious Democratic Party coalition together.

Since the 1967 war, however, the basis of Israel's support in the United States has shifted: backing for Israel has tended to weaken on the left and grow on the right. On the left, a widespread dislike of Israel's policies in the occupied territories and a diminished concern for its security in the wake of its triumph in the war led many African Americans, mainline Protestants, and liberal intellectuals, once among Israel's staunchest U.S. allies, toward growing sympathy with Palestinian views. Increased identification on the part of blacks with anticolonial movements worldwide, the erosion of the black-Jewish alliance in U.S. domestic politics, and the rising appeal of figures such as Malcolm X and the leaders of the Nation of Islam also gradually reduced support for Israel among African Americans. The liberal Protestant churches, for their part, were newly receptive to the perspectives of those missionaries sympathetic to Arab nationalism, and as the mainstream churches became more critical of traditional American ideas about the United States' national identity and destiny, they distanced themselves ever further from traditional readings of the Old Testament. (On the other hand, relations between American Catholics and the Jews began to improve after the 1967 war, largely due to the Catholic Church's new theological approach toward the Jews since the Second Vatican Council.)

On the right, the most striking change since 1967 has been the dramatic intensification of suppport for Israel among evangelical Christians and, more generally, among what I have called "Jacksonian" voters in the U.S. heartland. Jacksonians are populist-nationalist voters who favor a strong U.S. military and are generally skeptical of international organizations and global humanitarian aid. Not all evangelicals are Jacksonians, and not all Jacksonians are evangelicals, but there is a certain overlap between the two constituencies. Many southern whites are Jacksonians; so are many of the swing voters in the North known as Reagan Democrats.

Many Jacksonians formed negative views of the Arabs during the Cold War. The Palestinians and the Arab states, they noted, tended to side with the Soviet Union and the Nonaligned Movement against the United States. The Egyptians responded to support from the United States in the 1956 Suez crisis by turning to the Soviets for arms and support, and Soviet weapons and Soviet experts helped Arab armies prepare for wars against Israel. Jacksonians tend to view international affairs through their own unique prism, and as events in the Middle East have unfolded since 1967, they have become more sympathetic to Israel even as many non-Jacksonian observers in the United States -- and many more people in the rest of the world -- have become less so. The Six-Day War reignited the interest of prophetic Zionists in Israel and deepened the perceived connections between Israel and the United States for many Jacksonians. After the Cold War, the Jacksonians found that the United States' opponents in the region, such as Iraq and Iran, were the most vociferous enemies of Israel as well.

Jacksonians admire victory, and total victory is the best kind. The sweeping, overwhelming triumph of Israeli arms in 1967 against numerically superior foes from three different countries caught the imaginations of Jacksonians -- especially at a time when the United States' poor performance in Vietnam had made many of them pessimistic about their own country's future. Since then, some of the same actions that have hurt Israel's image in most of the world -- such as ostensibly disproportionate responses to Palestinian terrorism -- have increased its support among Jacksonians.

When a few rockets launched from Gaza strike Israel, the Israelis sometimes respond with more firepower, more destruction, and more casualties. In much of the world, this is seen as excessive retaliation, an offense equal to or even greater than the original attack. Jacksonians, however, see a Palestinian rocket attack on Israeli targets as an act of terrorism and believe that the Israelis have an unlimited right, perhaps even a duty, to retaliate with all the force at their command. Since the 1950s, when Palestinian raiders started slipping across the cease-fire line to attack Israeli settlements, many Palestinians and Arabs have, with some justification, seen these incursions as acts of great courage in the face of overwhelming power. But such sneak attacks against civilian targets, and especially suicide bombings, violate basic Jacksonian ideas about civilized warfare. Jacksonians believe that only overwhelming and total retaliation against such tactics can deter the attackers from striking again. This is how the American frontiersmen handled the Native Americans, how the Union general William Sherman "educated" the Confederacy, and how General Douglas MacArthur and Truman repaid the Japanese for Pearl Harbor. Jacksonians genuinely cannot understand why the world criticizes Israel for exercising what they see as its inalienable right of self-defense -- for doing exactly what they would do in Israel's place.

In the eyes of the Palestinians and their supporters, the Palestinians -- exiled, marginalized, occupied, divided -- are heroic underdogs confronting the might of a regional superpower backed by the most powerful nation on earth. But for Jacksonians, Israel, despite all its power and all its victories, remains an endangered David surrounded by enemies. The fact that the Arabs and the larger community of one billion Muslims support, at least verbally, the Palestinian cause deepens the belief among many Jacksonians that Israel is a small and vulnerable country that deserves help. Ironically, some of the greatest military and political successes of the Palestinian movement -- developing an active armed resistance, winning (largely rhetorical) support from organizations such as the Arab League and even the General Assembly of the United Nations, shifting the basis of Palestinian resistance from secular nationalism to religion, and winning support from powerful regional states such as Saddam's Iraq and Iran today -- have ended up strengthening and deepening American gentile support for the Jewish state.


Another important factor leading to increased American support for Israel is that since 1967 a series of religious revivals have swept across the United States, with important effects on public attitudes toward the Middle East. One consequence has been that even as the mainline, liberal Protestant churches have become more critical of Israel, they have lost political and social influence. Another consequence has been a significant increase in prophetic Zionism, with evangelical and fundamentalist American Christians more interested now in biblical prophecy and Israel's role in the lead-up to the apocalypse than ever before.

Many evangelical and fundamentalist Christians had shown relatively little interest in Israel immediately after its war of independence. Biblical prophecy, as they understood it, clearly predicted that the Jews would rebuild the Temple on its original site, and so with the holy sites of Jerusalem in Arab hands, the countdown to the end of time appeared to have slowed. Meanwhile, the secular and quasi-socialist Israel of the 1950s was less attractive to conservative Christians than to liberal ones. With their eyes fixed on the communist menace during the peak years of the Cold War, evangelical and fundamentalist Christians were less actively engaged in U.S. policy in the Middle East than they had been in the nineteenth century.

The Six-Day War changed that; it was a catalyst both for the evangelical revival movement and for the renewal of prophetic Zionism. The speed and decision of the victory of Israel looked miraculous to many Americans, and Israel's conquest of the Old City meant that the Temple site was now in Jewish hands. The sense that the end of time was approaching was a powerful impetus for the American religious revivals that began during this period. Since then, a series of best-selling books, fiction and nonfiction alike, have catered to the interest of millions of Americans in the possibility that the end-time as prophesied in the Old and New Testaments is now unfolding in the Middle East.

Since the end of the Cold War, an additional force has further strengthened the links between the state of Israel and many conservative American Christians. As the religious revival gave new power and energy to evangelical and fundamentalist churches, their attention turned increasingly outward. Past such revivals led to waves of intense missionary interest and activity; the current revival is no different. And as American Christians have taken a greater interest in the well-being of Christians around the world, they have encountered Christianity's most important rival worldwide, Islam, and have begun to learn that the conditions facing Christians in a number of Muslim-majority countries are not good.

Interest in the persecution of Christians around the world is a long-term feature of Christianity, and not only in the United States. The same church leaders involved in efforts to protect Jews in Europe and the Ottoman Empire were often engaged in campaigns to protect Christians in China, Korea, Japan, and the Ottoman Empire, among other places. The rise of communism as the twentieth century's most brutal enemy of religion ultimately led American Christians to build organizations aimed at supporting believers behind the Iron Curtain. Since 1989, the persecution of Christians by communists has diminished (although not disappeared), and so increasingly the center of concern has been the Muslim world, where many Christians and people of other faiths or of no faith suffer legal and social discrimination -- and where, at times, Christians are beaten and murdered for what they believe. Laws in many Islamic countries, moreover, forbid proselytizing and conversion -- issues of vital concern for evangelical Christians, who generally believe that those who die without accepting Christ will suffer in hell and that spreading the Christian faith is one of their central moral duties. Mainstream media generally do not make the foreign persecution of Christians a major focus of their news coverage, but that does not prevent this issue from shaping the way many Americans look at Islam and, by extension, at the conflict between Israel and some of its neighbors.

U.S. opinion on the Middle East is not monolithic, nor is it frozen in time. Since 1967, it has undergone significant shifts, with some groups becoming more favorable toward Israel and others less so. Considerably fewer African Americans stand with the Likud Party today than stood with the Jewish army in World War II. More changes may come. A Palestinian and Arab leadership more sensitive to the values and political priorities of the American political culture could develop new and more effective tactics designed to weaken, rather than strengthen, American support for the Jewish state. An end to terrorist attacks, for example, coupled with well-organized and disciplined nonviolent civil resistance, might alter Jacksonian perceptions of the Palestinian struggle. It is entirely possible that over time, evangelical and fundamentalist Americans will retrace Jimmy Carter's steps from a youthful Zionism to what he would call a more balanced position now. But if Israel should face any serious crisis, it seems more likely that opinion will swing the other way. Many of the Americans who today call for a more evenhanded policy toward the Palestinians do so because they believe that Israel is fundamentally secure. Should that assessment change, public opinion polls might well show even higher levels of U.S. support for Israel.

One thing, at least, seems clear. In the future, as in the past, U.S. policy toward the Middle East will, for better or worse, continue to be shaped primarily by the will of the American majority, not the machinations of any minority, however wealthy or engaged in the political process some of its members may be.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Hezbollah is Iran's Army In Lebanon

Hezbollah is Iran's Army In Lebanon
By: Elias Bejjani

June 24/08

 "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing," (Edmund Burke, 17th century philosopher and author )

Unfortunately, Lebanon is facing at the present time a crucial and fatal threat to the core and essence of its existence, its soul of coexistence and freedom.

The free world is apparently turning a blind eye to the threat to Lebanon, the land of the historic cedars, the home of the great Phoenicians, and the unique mosaic and multi-cultural country of the Middle East. This tragedy has been unfolding without a decisive deterrent stance from the free world.
Lebanon, the land, entity and country, was cited more than seventy two times in the Holy Bible with reference being made to it of reverence, power, beauty, tranquility, peace and divinity. Lebanon, referred to as the 'Land of Milk and Honey', has a deeply rooted 7000 years of history, marked by freedom and tolerance.

Lebanon's ancestors, the Phoenicians, were the architects and craftsmen of the great Temple of King Solomon in Jerusalem. The 'Temple of the Cedars of God', was constructed from the valuable, fragrant wood of the Lebanon Mountains. These ancestors worked in tandem with the ancient Jews and forged strong familial and cultural bonds. These seafarers explored the whole world in their ships, trading culture in the form of the alphabet, mythology, religion, knowledge in sciences and art and other exotic goods for riches of gold, silver, gems and many other items of value. In addition to the color purple, the great North Star, the art of navigation, Lebanon has left history with the great men of Hannibal the General, Astarte, Cadmus and Pythagoras.  More recently, Lebanon has given the world the revered Christian saints of Charbel, Rafqa, Hardini, Yacoub and many others.

Lebanon's "Cedar Revolution" is being abandoned and its followers are being starved of independence, freedom, sovereignty and peace. These words which hold much power are being emptied to be mere rhetoric and hollow slogans in the face of the axis of evil namely Syria, Iran and Hezbollah.
Lebanon is being forced through terrorism, murder, and political intimidation into a subservient regime that is modeled on the backward and repressive system imposed on the Iranian people by the Shiite Mullahs, under what is known in Islam as, "Wilayat al-Faqih." [Guardianship of the Jurists].
 Wilayat al-Faqih is a religious theology that is divisive amongst the Muslims themselves. It is a bizarre, autocratic concept created and tailored by the late Ayatollah Khomeini in the early seventies. The basis of this system provides all the ruling powers and authorities with unlimited vetoes on every aspect of life and governance into the hands of one man, the Highest Shiite Imam, whose headquarters is located in the Iranian city of Qom.

Hezbollah, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard proxy in Lebanon, has been entrusted by the Iranian Mullahs to topple the Lebanese Free State and erect in its place an Iranian satellite state, in order to complete the sought after Shiite Crescent. This militant theocratic group fully controls 40% of the Lebanese territories and has in effect established a state within a state. They have been devouring the country piece by piece in a well thought out diabolical plan. Last month's  attempted armed coup was the straw that broke the camel's back that put the entire majority of Lebanese and with them the moderate Arab countries, Israel and the entire free world at the front step of Iran's dreadful and criminal scheme.

So what did the standard bearers of democracy, the free world and the spineless Arab countries do? Sadly and pitifully, they threw to the media more empty slogans of support for Lebanon and weak condemnation, empty of substance.

They did not move a single finger while the leaders of the Cedar Revolution, the democratically elected government and pro-western politicians were rounded up and herded to the Arab Emirate of Qatar with Hezbollah's guns pointed to their heads. All the while, predominantly Sunni, west Beirut, remained occupied and under siege by Hezbollah, the Iranian-Syrian Army in Lebanon.

One may wonder why Lebanon had rejected the Israeli call for direct negotiations last week. This call was declared officially twice in a bid to reach a peace agreement between the two neighboring countries?

The answer is simple; the Lebanese government could make an independent and patriotic decision on the Israeli call because it is held captive and hostage to the Axis of Evil. Hezbollah is like a cancer that has penetrated and crept into all Lebanese governmental institutions from the Army to the Airport to various primary ministries. The Hezbollah state was erected and given a free hand during the devastating Syrian occupation that lasted for almost 27 years and ended in 2005.

The Western world and in particular Europe, Canada, Australia and the United States, need to prioritize as primary the Hezbollah dilemma before this cancerous militia lands and spreads in their own sovereign territories. Proof of this infiltration can recently be seen in the report of Hezbollah operatives canvassing the Israeli embassy and various other unidentified locations in Canada! They need to understand that Hezbollah is a serious threat to their national security and interests not only in the Middle East, but in the whole world. Based on this terrifying reality, they need to act immediately.

These beacons of freedom and democracy need not fool themselves by hoping that the UN Resolutions or the Lebanese government will handle Hezbollah's weapons and tame its schemes that aim to topple the Lebanese democratic system. The Western world ought to immediately eradicate and finish Hezbollah's military capabilities by all means available to them. Needless to say that the UN Resolutions will remain toothless, ineffective and useless unless the needed full scale military power backs fully their implementation.

Hezbollah is devouring Lebanon piece by piece and if the Western world does not come to the rescue of the Lebanese people, Lebanon will very soon be lost as an independent and free country and transformed into an Iran satellite state.

Hezbollah is not a Lebanese party by any criteria, but rather a foreign army in Lebanon. Its decision-making process, financing, ideology, training, supplies and weapons all come from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards headquarters and leadership. It has been well documented by several informed resources that Iran annually pays Hezbollah billions of dollars. This group was founded in Lebanon by the Iranian mullahs in 1982 and it is worth mentioning that Hezbollah's main mission was and still is to export, advocate and spread the Khomeini religious ideology to all Middle Eastern countries. Hezbollah's Iranian mission has never been a secret and each and every Lebanese is reminded of this Iranian agenda daily with signs of Hezbollah's divinity on every street.

Hezbollah is purported to be the most dangerous terrorist organization in the world. The organization is trained, heavily armed and very well equipped. It is operationally supported by Syria and heavily funded by Iran. In fact, Hezbollah is so dangerous in terms of its global reach and influence, that the US Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff recently warned that the Hezbollah organization "makes Al Qaeda look like a minor league team."

Needless to say that force and deterrence is the only language that Hezbollah and its masters in both Iran and Syria understand.

And so the question remains; is the West ready to finally face with force and firmness that premier terrorist organization of the twenty first century?


Elias Bejjani
Chairman for the Canadian Lebanese Coordinating Council (LCCC)
Human Rights activist, journalist & political commentator.
Spokesman for the Canadian Lebanese Human Rights Federation (CLHRF)

LCCC Web Site
CLHRF Website


Continued (Permanent Link)

Learning the lessons of the Second Intifadeh

Plocker's mistake is that he thinks the second Intifadeh is over and that Israel won. The developments in Gaza do not indicate that Israel won, do they?
Sever Plocker
Why do so many people prefer to forget 2nd Intifada and ignore its lessons?

Published:  06.22.08, 15:31 / Israel Opinion
The second Intifada, which started in October 2000 and ended in October 2004, is barely being discussed or written about. It has been marginalized and pushed out of public discourse. Books about it are hidden away at bookstores. Political journals barely mention it. The media forgot it. Cultural institutions ignore it.

The amnesia in relation to the second Intifada is surprising in the face of its high casualty toll and the heavy price it exacted from
Israel's society and economy, as well as the ruin it brought to Palestine and the Palestinians. What then is the reason for this amnesia, which borders on denial? The human desire to ignore a sequence of events that undermines and breaks away from convention. Once it's over, we all rush to repress it from our consciousness and return to the comfort of the familiar, acceptable, predictable, and normal.

The second Intifada contradicted and disproved two basic assumptions, axioms almost, which were commonly accepted at its outset and end. The first one: Economic prosperity brings peace. The second one: Terrorism cannot be defeated by force. Both these arguments were and still are deeply rooted in our collective perception and instigate the leading narrative when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Both axioms are politically correct and provide an orderly doctrine for analysis and interpretation.

Bidding these arguments farewell means abandoning viewpoints we have become accustomed to and heading into the unknown. Therefore, so many prefer to forget that there was ever an Intifada here and ignore its lessons. However, that which is repressed will resurface – it always does.

Palestinian future sacrificed
The second Intifada broke out at the zenith of Palestinian economy prosperity. The fruit of the Oslo Accords finally started trickling down to the poor and neglected strata in the West Bank and Gaza. The Palestinian standard of living skyrocketed, money was readily available, tourists flocked to the whole of the Holy Land, foreign investors discovered cheap and skilled Palestinian labor, and Palestinian merchants discovered the purchasing power of Israeli consumers.

These achievements were erased on one clear day in October 2000. The second Intifada cost the Palestinians an economic loss of a generation. It will take at least 10 to 15 years before the per capita income in Palestine will return to its level on the eve of October 2000.

The welfare and future of millions of Palestinians were sacrificed on the altar of maintaining the zeal of the national and religious revolution. Normalcy, stability, the growing middle class, and the pursuit of a higher standard of living became a disaster and crime in the eyes of leaders such as Yasser Arafat and Ahmed Yassin. They wanted violence, ongoing war, blood, and fire – and that's what they got. Now, both of them are buried deep in the soil of Palestine among with thousands of their countrymen who paid the price of their caprice.

Overwhelming Israeli victory

And what for? For nothing. After all, there is no arguing that Israel scored an overwhelming and unpredictable win in the second Intifada. Hundreds of articles written in its midst warned Israel's leadership against attempting to fight terror by force, because the failure is guaranteed: The regular army of a democratic state would never defeat terror-resistance-guerilla groups that operate within oppressed civilians like fish in water. This is what we learned from Cuban genius Che Guevara and Vietnamese genius Ho Chi Minh.

In the absence of any other choice, Israel ignored the strategic warnings. In an integrated move, which included assaults on urban terror headquarters, assassinations of the most senior terror leaders, and the extensive deployment of human and technological intelligence means, Israel defeated its enemies. The unbelievable happened – and was repressed after it happened, particularly after Ariel Sharon's hospitalization.

The world continues to pour aid money into the Palestinian Authority in the hopes that money will buy an agreement. Most Palestinians voted in favor of yet another destructive "ongoing revolution" introduced by Hamas. Tens of thousands of Israelis continued to settle in the West Bank and embitter the lives of the Palestinians, even though the IDF's Intifada victory proved that settlements are a burden, not an asset.

Meanwhile, the false conviction that "a terror organization cannot be defeated" has paralyzed the Israeli government ever since Hamas came to power; at the end, we shall be forced to recognize the state of Hamastan, instead of Hamas recognizing us.

Did the Intifada ever happen, or was it just a bad dream?

Continued (Permanent Link)

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Zionism and Jewish Genetics


Falk, Raphael
Tziyonut vehabiologia shel hayehudim,
Ressler, Tel Aviv 2006
(Hebrew Only)

Genetics and Zionism is a much abused topic. There is always room to create mischief by harnessing "science" to prove or disprove political ideas. Increasing attention is paid to questions such as "Are the Jews all genetically related, and are they all descended from Abraham and the inhabitants of ancient Israel?" The question itself is wrongheaded. The goal of those who ask it is either to disinherit the Jews because we are not all descendants of Abraham, or to "prove" the validity of the Zionist claim to Israel by proving that we are all descendants of Abraham. Those who raised the issue are racists themselves, because no other nation has ever been asked to prove any such thing in order to qualify for self-determination. Those who try to defend the idea that every Jew is descended from Abraham are fools falling into a trap.

We saw one such effort, in the hands of an amateur, when we considered the
theories of professor Shlomo Zand about the origin of the Jews. Zand is primarily an ideologue, and invented facts to fit his fancy. He wove a fairy tale that can be believed by the ignorant to support intellectual impudence.

The book before us is of an entirely different caliber. Raphael Falk is an acknowledged expert in human genetics and a reasonably careful scientist. His careful reasoning brings sanity, logic and decency to counter the demagoguery of political argumentation. It is not a perfect book, but Hebrew readers will find it entertaining, informative and insightful. What a pity that Zand's book, but not this one, is being published in English!

Continued (Permanent Link)

Israel: No more handouts

The Jewish Agency was founded as an interface to HM British Mandate in Palestine. The Mandate is long gone, but the Jewish Agency was not interred with its bones.

By Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz Correspondent
Tags: Jewish World, Jewish Agency
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called for a dramatic change in the financial relationship between Israel and the Diaspora, in a speech before the Jewish Agency Board of Governors on Sunday.
In his address, Olmert argued that the "situation in which Diaspora Jews are the philanthropists and Israel is the recipient cannot continue."
The prime minister went on to say that Diaspora Jews have nurtured Israel over the last 60 years, and that for the next 60 year, Israel must take it upon itself to nurture the Jewish people. "Israel and Diaspora Jews must be united, not only in past successes but also in preserving the future," he said.
Olmert presented the board with statistics on topics like intermarriage among world Jewry and the low affinity to Israel and Zionism among young Jews abroad.
He also described a number of programs and projects that the government has proposed, such as a projects encouraging young Jews to visit Israel, programs sending Israelis abroad to serve as educators in Jewish schools, and the launching of Israeli "culture houses" around the world. He explained that these projects will require a much larger investment than in the past, and voiced hope that Diaspora Jews will in fact donate the funds, but did not name a sum.
The prime minister also said that the Jewish Agency will have to undergo a dramatic change in its organizational structure and its method of management. He suggested that the organization change its name from "Jewish Agency for Israel" to "Agency for Israel and the Jewish People."

Continued (Permanent Link)

Iran attack: Might happen

Last update - 10:19 22/06/2008       
ANALYSIS / Is Israel capable of extinguishing Iran's nuclear aspirations?
By Amos Harel
Even though the New York Times story on June 19 about a large-scale air force exercise in the eastern Mediterranean was received from a source in Washington, not Jerusalem, it seems to have been in line with Israel's aims. Unlike the storm that the threats of Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz stirred two weeks ago, the report that the Israel Air Force (IAF) carried out a large scale exercise as part of its preparation for a scenario requiring the targetting of Iran's nuclear facilities, the message was received clearly.
According to the senior Pentagon official quoted in the New York Times report "they [the Israelis] wanted us to know, they wanted the Europeans to know, and they wanted the Iranians to know."
There is little new in the fact that the IAF is preparing for the Iranian challenge. About six months ago, Channel 2 reported a similar exercise covering a radius that an operation against Iran would require. At the time the report received little attention, but in view of the price of crude oil, every report of this sort makes the tickers jump. Moreover, the IDF spokesman did not deny Friday's report.
If one followed the series of interviews that outgoing IAF chief Major General Eliezer Shkedi offered more than a month ago, the trend was obvious. Shkedi emphasized the force's readiness for "any challenge" and called on the media not to drop their daily focus on the Iranian threat. The former air force chief was without doubt the hawk at the General Staff in anything to do with dealing with Iran, but one must not forget that he was also the person assigned the task of preparing the operational planning.
The defense establishment assessment as of June 2008 is that in 1.5 to two years Iran will cross the technological threshold enabling Tehran to develop nuclear weapons. Contrary to last December's U.S. National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran, Israel's assessment is that Tehran has not ceased its nuclear weapons program.
There is still the possibility of an American attack on Iran, but in light of the NIE report that is not highly likely. The U.S. position may change dramatically if they have an undisputed 'smoking gun' regarding Tehran's intentions.
However, there is another question that needs to be raised: What are the IAF capabilities in carrying out the kind of operation necessary against Iran's nuclear installations, its professionalism notwithstanding? Western military experts are divided over its ability to target the dispersed Iranian nuclear infrastructure, in dozens of installations, some buried deep underground. But Israel's effort would not be to completely destroy Iran's nuclear complex - blocking its progress for a period of time may be a significant achievement in itself.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert vowed during his passover interviews that Iran will not turn nuclear. This was not a random, thoughtless slip of the tongue. If in Jerusalem they were seriously thinking that it is necessary to get used to a nuclear balance of terror, we would have heard them lauding the rational regime that sits in Tehran.

Continued (Permanent Link)

US funds anti-Israel broadcasts because officials do not understand Arabic

Coming Sunday: A 60 Minutes and ProPublica Investigation

"60 Minutes" and ProPublica Investigation Finds the Government's $100 Million a Year Broadcasts to the Arab World are Woefully Mismanaged and Poorly Supervised Despite Complaints From Congress
In Their First Joint Investigation, They Uncover Internal Documents from Diplomats Complaining about the Poor Quality of Al Hurra's Broadcast and Its Lack of Transparency and Professionalism.
CBS News' Scott Pelley interviews Larry Register, former news director of Al Hurra. Credit: CBS News
American taxpayers are paying for a Middle Eastern television network that broadcast an anti-Israeli diatribe as recently as last month, a joint investigation by 60 Minutes and ProPublica reveals. This, despite the fact that Al Hurra management promised Congress nearly two years ago that they would take measures to prevent such mistakes, which had occurred repeatedly before. The joint investigation will be broadcast on 60 Minutes Sunday, June 22 (7:00-8:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network and be detailed on ProPublica's web site at simultaneously .
Al Hurra is headquartered in Springfield, Va., and was created four years ago by the Bush Administration to counter what was seen as an anti-American bias at Arab satellite news channels like the Qatar-based Al Jazeera. Nearly half a billion dollars has been spent since its inception and its top executive, Brian Conniff, assures Scott Pelley things have improved editorially. "We now have a fully functioning assignment desk that views all packages and scripts…I have an independent monitoring system…"
But 60 Minutes and ProPublica monitored the broadcast last month and found a Palestinian guest named Hani El-Masri on its flagship show "Free Hour," calling Israel a "racist" state that is conducting its own "holocaust" against Palestinians. His exact quote, unchallenged by the host or balanced by another panel member, was "[Israel] is the occupying and racist state that imposes the stifling and deadly blockade and perpetrates a holocaust against 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza."
Conniff, who speaks no Arabic, says he was unaware of this and after looking into the matter, said, "Any implication that Al Hurra is anti-Israeli is absolutely wrong." Pressed by Pelley that critics say this latest example is part of a pattern, Conniff replies, "No. There's absolutely no pattern." He points out that the previous examples were last discovered a year and a half ago. At that time, members of Congress threatened to hold up funding because Al Hurra broadcast a live hour-long speech by Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah – a group considered by the U.S. to be a terrorist organization. A few weeks later, an Al Hurra reporter named Ahmed Amin delivered a biased report from the Holocaust Denier's Conference in Tehran. He said that while some participants were sure that millions of Jews died in Germany, "the group did not reinforce their statements with scientific evidence, but instead they were content to tell stories passed on to them by their ancestors."
Soon afterward, irate members of Congress were assured that Ahmed Amin would be fired. ProPublica and 60 Minutes have learned that, 18 months later he was still on the U.S. government payroll. He was only fired after 60 Minutes and ProPublica began inquiring.
The news director of Al Hurra who made the decisions to cover both the conference and Hezbollah speech was forced to resign. In his first interview since this controversy, Larry Register defends his decisions, telling Pelley he was trying to make Al Hurra more credible and relevant to people in the Middle East, where, according to an public opinion pollster, it gets just two percent of the audience.
"I think you [increase your audience] by becoming more credible, covering more news more aggressively. Not just picking and choosing what you might want to cover because it's favorable for your side versus their side," he tells Pelley. Register points out that Al Hurra means "the Free One" in Arabic. He says the Nasrallah speech was big news and he points out every other Arab channel carried it live. "I considered it newsworthy," he says.
But the chairman, up until last week, of the U.S. government's Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees Al Hurra, considered it "a violation of our guidelines." Jim Glassman tells Pelley, "We are not allowed to provide a platform for terrorists….We are required to provide balance and objectivity." Glassman explains: "Our idea with Al Hurra was to create a network to provide high quality, professional journalism with American standards. I think we've done that."
But there are many critics of Al Hurra, including U.S. diplomats, who complain in internal documents, about the poor quality and lack of professionalism of the Al Hurra broadcast. And former news director, Larry Register, says governments and journalism don't mix. "You can't make independent decisions if you have a government over you telling you what you can and can't do. It's a no win situation as I painfully found out," Register tells Pelley.
ProPublica is an new independent, non-profit investigative journalism newsroom. It is led by Paul Steiger, former magaing editor of the Wall Street Journal.
This is the first joint investigation in a continuing partnership between ProPublica and 60 Minutes.

Continued (Permanent Link)

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