Archive for February, 2009

Israel, Obama and Iranian nukes

Sunday, February 8th, 2009

I’ve said before that I think Israel is in as much existential danger today as any time since 1948. The following article spells this out, but I would add that a new factor — the rapid progress of delegitimization of Israel among the nations of the world  — multiplies the objective danger.

A Nuclear Iran
By Shalom Freedman

John Bolton, the former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., told Ruthie Blum in a Feb. 6, 2009 interview that Iran has  surmounted all the technical difficulties involved in producing nuclear weapons. Should anyone have doubted Iran’s technical capacity to do this, one could have noted an event that occurred just a few days before when Iran launched its first satellite. The booster capability needed to launch the satellite means that Iran not only has the ability to reach every country in the Middle East with its weapons, but that it also can reach Southern Europe. All this suggests that the Israeli, American and European window of opportunity to stop Iran from attaining a nuclear capability may have already closed. After all, having clearly mastered the enrichment process and now having the missile capability, the final stage of ‘weaponization’, fitting the warhead to the missile, is considering a relatively simple one. So Iran seems to be the proverbial ‘turn of a screw’ distance from nuclear capability.

This took place while there were endless promises and threats from various Israeli and American officials that it would not be allowed to happen. The Obama Administration even now is saying that it will forcibly prevent Iran from being a nuclear power, that is if its proposed talks with Iran are not successful. Only now there is the possibility that should President Obama be true to his word in a way the Bush Administration was not, there is a very good chance that Israel will be the one to pay the heaviest price. For it is very likely that the Iranian response would be first of all nuclear warheads headed in the direction of Tel Aviv.

Bolton – who was a strong Israel supporter in the Bush Administration – believes that the United States under Obama will take no such action. He says it is essentially up to Israel to do this, and says that now the most Israel can do is hope to delay Iran for two or three years. The real solution, Bolton argues, lies not in military preemption but in regime change in Tehran.  But despite the sinking global oil price and the great failures of the Iranian economy under Ahmadinejad, there seems on the horizon no real possibility of regime change.

Israel for its part seems in an almost impossible situation in regard to striking the Iranian nuclear facilities. David Sanger, NY Times diplomatic and defense correspondent, recently reported that Prime Minister Olmert went to Washington in January 2008 and requested permission to fly over Iraq from President Bush. This was denied, as were Olmert’s requests for new airborne tankers and bunker-busting bombs. With Turkey so hostile and the U.S. forbidding the flyover of Iraqi airspace, Israel’s military option is severely limited.

The most viable alternative seems to be deterrence – to depend on its credible second-strike capability and make it clear that any WMD attack on Israel from any direction will be regarded as an attack from Iran. For despite the Iranian suicide-bomber mentality of its President Ahmadinejad, it is unlikely to want to see its cities and society wholly devastated.

But Iran is not only busy on the nuclear front. It is reportedly supplying Hamas with newer and longer-range missiles. It has of course helped arm Hezbollah to the teeth (Hezbollah is thought to have three times the number of missiles that it had before the 2006 war). Its two surrogates are thus still on Israel’s borders and ready, should there be an outbreak of violence, to hit all of Israel with missiles. Iranian ally Syria has an even  deadlier arsenal of missiles including some with WMD warheads.

All this means that any incoming Israeli government will face one of the most difficult security situations the country has ever known. Clearly one of its first priorities will be to establish close cooperation and coordination with the Obama Administration. Should Obama decide to follow the advice of some of its key advisors and distance Israel, the Israeli government’s task would enormously difficult. For clearly the security of Israel depends in this new situation on knowing not only how it must act in regard to Iran but also what the U.S. intends to do. Whether the United States decides to negotiate with Iran and buy its delaying tactics and false promises, or to try to preempt, Israel is most likely to pay the greatest price.

Here however, another danger should be mentioned. What the Iranians are likely to do in any negotiation is demand that the U.S. force Israel to negotiate its own nuclear disarmament. Any acceptance of such a policy, given that a nuclear Israel is the greatest deterrent against Arab missile attack or conventional invasion, is likely to further undermine the position of Israel. Should the Obama Administration go along with the Iranian demand, then those critics who feared it would be a negative administration for Israel would have been proven correct.

As it is now, the situation is open and dangerous. And again, the next Prime Minister of Israel will face security threats of unprecedented danger and difficulty.

Shalom Freedman was born in the US and made aliyah to Israel in 1974. He’s published several books and countless articles on Jewish subjects.

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A moral inferiority complex

Friday, February 6th, 2009

Jordanian stamps memorializing Muhammad al-DuraYou will recall Philippe Karsenty, the man who was sued by the France 2 television network’s highly-regarded Jerusalem bureau chief Charles Enderlin for libel after he called  Enderlin’s report accusing Israel of murdering 12-year old Muhammad al-Dura in 2000 “a hoax”.

You will probably also recall that the al-Dura ‘death’ — at this time it seems most likely that he was not killed at all, and if he was hit it was  by Palestinian bullets — was a rallying cry for the intifada and for Israel-haters everywhere; indeed, the Palestinian mob that tore apart two Israeli reservists in Ramallah two weeks later shouted “al-Dura”.

The film of al-Dura cowering behind his father as ‘Israeli’ bullets supposedly struck around them was broadcast and rebroadcast around the world. France 2 even supplied it to its competitors CNN and Reuters.

Here is a video commentary by Richard Landes that includes the original film plus other footage from that day. You can see the power of the film, but the evidence is overwhelming that al-Dura was not killed by Israeli bullets. Karsenty has called this “the first blood libel of the 21st century”.

After Enderlin won his suit at a trial in which the only evidence taken seriously by the judge was a character reference for Enderlin from then-President Jacques Chirac, Karsenty appealed and the verdict was overthrown.

Now Karsenty has published a damning account of the lack of cooperation — he uses the word ‘sabotage’ — provided him by the Israeli government in his legal struggle with France 2. He writes,

During all those years, I got the cold shoulder from Israeli officials. With the exception of a few mavericks like Danny Seaman (director of the Government Press Office), Raanan Gissin (Spokesman, Prime Minister’s Office), Shlomi Amshalom, former deputy spokesperson for the IDF, or former ambassador Zvi Mazel, the vast majority of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs personnel treated me and others who pursued this case, as embarrassments – conspiracy nuts who they wished would just disappear…

In 2002, when it was still possible to do something immediate, Nissim Zvili was the Israeli ambassador to Paris. He listened courteously but explained to me that he was a friend of Charles Enderlin, the French journalist who narrated the al Dura hoax.

In 2006, Zvili was replaced by Daniel Shek, who refused to shake my hand, and later commented on a Jewish radio that I was defending “conspiracy theories.” When I asked his colleague in charge of communication at the embassy in Paris, Daniel Halevy Goitschel, why he never returned my phone calls, he responded: “the phone doesn’t work at the embassy”. We are not even dealing with a lack of support here. On the contrary, I was being sabotaged.

When I won the case in May 2008, Yigal Palmor, the spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, said: “Karsenty is a private individual and no one in the Israeli government asked him to take on his battle against France 2. Karsenty had no right to demand that Israel come to his aid. All calls on the Israeli government to come and ‘save’ him are out of place. He was summoned to court because of a complaint of the French television channel. I don’t see where there is room for the Israeli government to get involved.”

Last December, I went over the evidence with Aviv Shir-On, who now claims to have helped me, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). After two hours he repeated the old MFA refrain, “I’m not convinced”. Let’s say, for the sake of generosity, that Shir-On is just one more timid defender of Israel, so afraid of what “others” might say, that even the judgment of an independent (and hardly well-disposed) French court in favor of his own country, does not give him the courage to speak. So even though I won the case, and the new evidence from France 2 sharpens our argument, I could not count on Israeli officials to help move into a counter-attack. Enderlin, humiliated by the court decision, was allowed to bluff his way back to prominence, and recently, in the Gaza war, lead the journalists’ attack on the Israeli government…

On January 2009, I met Tsipi Livni, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and asked her about the al Dura story and the lack of reaction of the Israeli officials. Why didn’t the State of Israel demand that France 2 admit their blood libel following the court decision? I was stunned by her answer: “Well, it happens that we kill kids sometimes. So, it’s not good for Israel to raise the subject again”. — Philippe Karsenty: Israel Losing the Media War: Wonder Why?

Now I am going to say something which I’ve said before, which has always annoyed people, but which I think is true:

Many important people in Israel have internalized the propaganda of Israel’s enemies. They are prepared to believe that IDF soldiers would continue to fire on a target like al-Dura and his father, who are obviously not firing back and not even armed, for 40 minutes. This is not the same as saying that ‘accidents happen’, it is agreeing that the IDF is either criminally negligent or deliberately murderous, which is what the Arab and European press constantly say.

It seems to me that some Israelis and Jews have a moral inferiority complex. Even though they would not admit this, deep down they are not sure that Israel has a right to exist. Although they understand intellectually that Israel is in a life and death struggle with the Arab world and Iran, emotionally there is a feeling that we are wrong.

I’ve often criticized people who seem prepared to believe anything bad about Israel, even if it doesn’t make sense, like the accusations that the IDF deliberately targeted civilians in Gaza.  Apparently many Israelis, even those that believe themselves to be Zionists, share this propensity.

Doubts were raised about the al-Dura affair from the very beginning. Yet Israel’s official approach was to accept responsibility, to believe Palestinian and European media without a serious investigation. And even after an IDF investigation showed that it was highly unlikely that the bullets could have been fired by Israeli soldiers, Karsenty’s efforts to bring out the rest of the evidence — to force France 2 to release the outtakes — were opposed. Officials still treated him as a “conspiracy nut” and accepted the Palestinian/European version of events.

How else can you explain this?

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Laundering bullshit

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

In case you were wondering why so many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) concerned with human rights seem to spend so much time bashing Israel and ignore the multiple — and continuing — war crimes of  Hamas,

Human rights groups argued Wednesday that a detailed probe into Hamas’s firing of Kassam rockets at Israeli communities is not necessary, because it constitutes such a “blatant” war crime. By contrast, Israel’s actions are more complex, and therefore do require such investigation, they said.

War crimes, said Sarit Micha’eli of B’tselem, are those actions that violate Article III of the Geneva Convention, and it was clear that Hamas was in violation of the requirement of distinction between civilian and military targets.

“It makes it quite easy regarding Hamas. It is quite clear that they are attacking and targeting civilians. When someone straps a bomb on themselves or fire missiles at civilians, the details are less important. It is clearly a war crime without even looking at the details,” she said. “Even if they fired a Kassam missile as a military target, the fact that it is an inaccurate weapon, it would still count as an indiscriminate attack…”

“With Israel things are more complicated because Israel states it does not deliberately target civilians and that it safeguards them. With Israel, you have to investigate each specific incident because even if a civilian is killed in an attack, it doesn’t mean its necessarily a war crime. Targeting civilians is a war crime, but the damage to civilians in a given situation isn’t indicative of a war crime.”

“The Israeli authorities deny everything, so one has to prove what happened in a way that you don’t need to do with the Palestinian rockets,” said Donatella Rovera of Amnesty International. — Jerusalem Post (my emphasis)

In other words, “we know Israel is deliberately trying to kill civilians, but they lie about it.”

One might wonder how they know this, since it is manifestly not in Israel’s interest to kill civilians. The whole dynamic of the war was Israel trying to damage Hamas as severely as possible before international pressure forced an end to the fighting, while Hamas and friends tried their best to create outrage over Israeli ‘atrocities’. And as I’ve noted before, if Israel had wanted to kill Palestinians, it could have easily done it in the tens of thousands.

But the abovementioned Donatella Rovera of Amnesty International (AI) is quite prepared to bend logic when necessary. In a discussion with Alan Dershowitz in 2005, Rovera — AI’s researcher in the territories — defended an AI report which claimed that violence against Palestinian women by Palestinian men was actually Israel’s fault! Dershowitz wrote,

Here is AI’s conclusion, listing the causes of the violence directed against Palestinian women, presumably in the order of their importance: “Palestinian women in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are victims of multiple violations as a result of the escalation of the conflict, Israel’s policies, and a system of norms, traditions and laws which treat women as unequal members of society.” The “escalation of the conflict” (which AI blames primarily on Israel) and “Israel’s policies” rank higher than the “norms, traditions and laws which treat women as unequal.” The report asserts that violence against women has “increased” dramatically during the Israeli occupation and has reached “an unprecedented level” as a result of the “increased militarization of the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation.” It is as if the West Bank and Gaza Strip had been violence free for Palestinian women until the Israeli Occupation.

On August 23, 2005, I spoke with Donatella Rovera, who is AI’s researcher on Israel and the Occupied Territories and asked her to provide the data on which she had based her conclusion that violence against women had escalated to an “unprecedented level” during the occupation, and especially during its most militarized phase. I also asked her whether AI had compared violence against women in the occupied West Bank and Gaza with violence against women in unoccupied Arab-Muslim areas that have comparable populations, such as Jordan. Rovera acknowledged that AI could provide no such comparative data and confirmed that the report was based on anecdotal information, primarily from Palestinian NGOs.

Rovera’s ‘research’ seems to follow the same pattern time and again (she’s frequently quoted in news reports accusing Israel of using white phosphorus shells against civilians, summary executions of Palestinian children, etc.): Palestinians tell her that thus-and-such happened, and she repeats it to reporters along with her judgment that whatever atrocity she is describing is a violation of international law.

Ms. Rovera and other NGO representatives serve an important function in the anti-Israel propaganda machine: they provide an aura of impartiality that makes it possible for the media to repeat unverified stories which would be less convincing in the mouths of Palestinians. Some observers call this the “NGO halo effect“; I prefer the expression “bullshit laundering”.

Donatella Rovera at work

Donatella Rovera at work

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No Jew in his right mind…

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009


An official with a leading American Jewish organization told the The Jerusalem Post on Monday that a deterioration in Israel-Turkey relations might prompt his group and others to reconsider Armenian efforts to win recognition of the century-old Turkish massacres as genocide.

A bill that would ensure such recognition by the US, which was backed by Rep. Adam Schiff — a Jewish Democrat who represents a heavily Armenian area of Los Angeles – failed to make it to a Congressional vote in 2007. However, it sparked a row in the American Jewish community between those who sided with Turkey in an effort to protect Israel’s political interests, and those who argued that Jews were particularly responsible for helping other groups block the public denial of genocide.

“No Jew or Israeli in his right mind will insult Turkey,” the official told the Post. “But next time… they might not come to Turkey’s aid or equivocate quite so much on the issue.” — Jerusalem Post (my emphasis)

I have no idea who the un-named ‘official’ is, but his point of view is repugnant.

Does it even need to be said that it is everyone’s moral duty — not just Jews — to ensure that victims of genocide are remembered, so that present and future genocides can be stopped?

To suggest that recognition of historical events should be granted or withheld for political reasons is cynical; if the event in question is a genocide, it’s obscene.

I’ve written about this at least ten times, but it won’t go away. For example,

The Turkish government has its reasons for not admitting that the Young Turks, and later the Turkish Nationalists, murdered about a million and a half Armenians during and after World War I. The Israeli government also has its reasons for not wanting to irritate the Turks. Even the US [Bush] administration seems to feel that Turkey is too strategically important to annoy by using the word ‘genocide’ to describe the events. But the truth is the truth.

When I first came to Fresno in 1971, you could meet people in the supermarket who had been adult eyewitnesses to the murders, rapes, torture, dislocation, disease and  starvation that characterized the Armenian Genocide. Now it’s not so easy, even harder than finding Holocaust survivors.

Survivors sometimes feel that denial is the final stage of extermination. First the physical forms of the victims were destroyed, and then their memories are erased. Most Jews are familiar with the rage that comes over them when confronted with Holocaust denial. But — at least in the West, if not in Iran or the Arab world — deniers are marginal. After all, the present government of Germany has officially accepted responsibility for the Holocaust.

One can imagine how Armenians feel — actually, you don’t need to imagine, they will tell you — when, almost 100 years after the fact, the Turkish government still insists — against the huge preponderance of historical evidence — that while something happened to the Armenians, it wasn’t genocide, the Turks were not responsible, and it might even have been the Armenians’ fault. (“A little irony for the Turks“, 8/2008)

So let’s leave aside the facts that antisemitism in Turkey has reached new heights and Turkey’s Islamist government supports Hamas.

The reason for recognizing the Armenian Genocide is that it happened.

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Tunneling for peace

Monday, February 2nd, 2009

News item:

Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Monday proposed the construction of a 48-kilometer long tunnel that would connect the northern Gaza Strip with the southern West Bank, thus enabling freedom of movement between the two disjointed Palestinian territories.

While stumping on the campaign trail before students at Ben-Gurion University in Be’er Sheva, Barak said it was possible to dig the tunnel, which would remain under Israeli sovereignty while the Palestinians would maintain authority over the corridor’s traffic. The defense minister and Labor Party chairman said the project would cost between $2-3 billion, “a reasonable sum.”

This is the kind of thing one expects from Barak. A clever solution to the problem of providing the eagerly awaited Palestinian state with the ‘territorial contiguity’ promised by both Presidents Bush and Obama, without cutting Israel in two. As if this would satisfy any real Palestinians, most of whom have given up on a two-state solution! Although there is zero chance that this will actually happen, it does have a few positive features:

  • Many unemployed Gazans could find work digging it. May I mention that an experienced workforce already exists which could, in common parlance, ‘hit the ground running’?
  • The idea could serve as a template for another Gaza employment program: a Palestinian attempt to land a man on the moon. Don’t laugh; the US space program was started by another amateur rocketeer, Dr. Werner von Braun.

Meanwhile, the main obstacle to the two-state solution, Hamas, remains. Barak also said,

“All of these critics [his opponents in the forthcoming election] were in decision-making positions and Hamas never received such a blow as this. After eight years of [rocket] fire from the Strip, I arrived and gave the IDF an order to batter Hamas, with deeds and not words,” said Barak, referring to Israel’s recent offensive against Hamas in Gaza.

Given that Hamas — or its deniable surrogates — have resumed firing rockets, that despite additional bombing raids weapons are still being smuggled through the Sinai Subway, and that Hamas is still demanding thousands of prisoners in exchange for Gilad Schalit, Barak’s statement sounds somewhat hollow, even as election rhetoric.

A Gaza-West Bank tunnel would be pointless anyway as long as Hamas controls Gaza. Various parties think that a unity government between Hamas and Fatah is a good idea, but such an arrangement would certainly be unstable, and most likely result in a Hamas-dominated Palestinian Authority (PA). And Hamas is not going to quietly accept the authority of the despised Israeli-American puppet Fatah.

Maybe not so paradoxically, the best way to make a peace agreement between Israel and the PA possible, paving the way to a two-state solution, would have been for Israel to finish off Hamas. I assume that the US administration thinks that there is some other path, or they would not have forced Israel to stop fighting and get out before the inauguration, but I’m not able to imagine what this could be.

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