Archive for March, 2010

The bunker-buster story

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

British newspapers have been credibly reporting for about of week that the US has shipped 387 bunker-buster bombs to a US base on the British possession of Diego Garcia, an island in the Indian Ocean.

There are at least two possible interpretations. One is that the US is planning to attack Iran (some Brits are very upset about this possibility), or at least to make a strategic move designed to show the Iranians that they mean business. Some air attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan have originated on Diego Garcia. That’s the good interpretation.

The other one is that the bombs were intended to be sent to Israel, but were diverted to Diego Garcia to prevent Israel from using them against Iran, or, worse, to punish Israel for its insouciance in building apartments in Jerusalem:

In 2008, the United States approved an Israeli request for bunker-busters capable of destroying underground facilities, including Iranian nuclear weapons sites. Officials said delivery of the weapons was held up by the administration of President Barack Obama, Middle East Newsline reported.

Since taking office, Obama has refused to approve any major Israeli requests for U.S. weapons platforms or advanced systems. Officials said this included proposed Israeli procurement of AH-64D Apache attack helicopters, refueling systems, advanced munitions and data on a stealth variant of the F-15E.

“All signs indicate that this will continue in 2010,” a congressional source familiar with the Israeli military requests said. “This is really an embargo, but nobody talks about it publicly.”

Under the plan, the U.S. military was to have stored 195 BLU-110 and 192 BLU-117 munitions in unspecified air force bases in Israel. The U.S. military uses four Israeli bases for the storage of about $400 million worth of pre-positioned equipment meant for use by either Washington or Jerusalem in any regional war…

The decision to divert the BLU munitions was taken amid the crisis between Israel and the United States over planned construction of Jewish homes in Jerusalem. The administration, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has warned that Washington could reduce military aid to Israel because of its construction policy. — World Tribune

If this is true, then the much-vaunted “absolute commitment to Israel’s security” is so much bullshit.  Keep in mind that these weapons would be used not only in an attack on Iran, but against Hizballah bunkers in the event of another war in the north — a war which most Israelis believe to be inevitable. The administration’s actions could translate directly into Israeli casualties.

I would love to believe that Obama has decided to get tough with Iran, but it would fly in the face of his behavior until now.

I really want to be wrong about this one.

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Why Obama’s dumping Israel

Friday, March 19th, 2010

President Obama says that he has an ‘unbreakable’ commitment to Israel’s security and that his goal is an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Here is how he is going about it, in the words of Caroline Glick:

Obama’s new demands follow the months of American pressure that eventually coerced Netanyahu into announcing both his support for a Palestinian state and a 10-month ban on Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria. No previous Israeli government had ever been asked to make the latter concession.

Netanyahu was led to believe that in return for these concessions Obama would begin behaving like the credible mediator his predecessors were. But instead of acting like his predecessors, Obama has behaved like the Palestinians. Rather than reward Netanyahu for taking a risk for peace, Obama has, in the model of Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas, pocketed Netanyahu’s concessions and escalated his demands. This is not the behavior of a mediator. This is the behavior of an adversary.

With the US president treating Israel like an enemy, the Palestinians have no reason to agree to sit down and negotiate. Indeed, they have no choice but to declare war.

And so, in the wake of Obama’s onslaught on Israel’s right to Jerusalem, Palestinian incitement against Israel and Jews has risen to levels not seen since the outbreak of the last terror war in September 2000. And just as night follows day, that incitement has led to violence. This week’s Arab riots from Jerusalem to Jaffa, and the renewed rocket offensive from Gaza are directly related to Obama’s malicious attacks on Israel.

The logic is simple and obvious. Why should the Palestinians negotiate or compromise when they have the US in their corner, extracting concession after concession from Israel, and asking nothing of them?

Obama’s actions are having an effect precisely opposite to his stated goals, and this could have been — and was — predicted in advance.

One interpretation is that the American move in escalating demands indicates that the administration continues to think, against all reason, that it is Israel’s refusal to meet Palestinian conditions that prevents a settlement. If so, the policymakers are remarkably ignorant or stupid — and I don’t think this is the case.

An alternative is that there is a policy objective that requires the US to distance itself from Israel. I am guessing that Iran, Syria or both have promised that they will keep a lid on violence in Iraq, from which Obama has promised he will withdraw,  in return for actions that will weaken Israel. Both of these countries have compelling reasons for their hostility: Iran understands that Israel is a danger to its nuclear program (which the US will not seriously challenge), and Syria, in addition to supporting its ally Iran, has interests in Lebanon which are threatened by Israel.

Most likely the next Mideastern war will be between Israel and Hizballah, proxy of Iran and supported directly by Syria. The proximate cause is yet to be determined, but the real reason will be Iran’s drive to get nuclear weapons.

If the latter explanation is true, then Glick is right and the US truly is behaving more like an enemy than an ally.

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Hurting our friends, helping our enemies

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

A friend called last night. He’d read my recent posts about the current unpleasantness between Israel and the US (here and here). He reminded me that he was very pro-Israel (he is) but wanted me to understand that the announcement of building in East Jerusalem was a misstep. “It was a big slap in the face, a huge insult. Netanyahu needs to control these guys.”

I told him that I thought the US was looking for an excuse for a spat with Israel and would have found one anyway. “OK,” he said, “but it was still a slap in the face.”

Not exactly. This morning in a fine example of l’esprit d’escalier, I came up with this analogy:

An acquaintance falls in love with my wife. One day he sees me kissing her. “How could you insult me like that?” he asks.

What is insulting here is the long-standing refusal of the US to recognize Israel’s rights in Jerusalem. That is the ongoing slap in the face, not Israel’s exercise of its rights. The relationship of Israel with Jerusalem is essential, and to borrow a phrase the Obama people like, it is an ‘unbreakable bond’. It is a consensus issue among almost all Israelis; a marriage is not a bad comparison.

What does it mean if Israel apologizes and accepts the US demands?

  • It means that Israel agrees that its rights to build in East Jerusalem — even in a Jewish neighborhood right next to the Green Line (it was part of “no man’s land” from 1948-67) — are limited, which implies that it is not fully sovereign there.
  • It means that Israel agrees that the US has a right to micromanage Israel’s affairs, down to the level of local planning decisions.
  • It means that Israel agrees that it, not the Palestinian Authority (PA),  is responsible for preventing peace talks from going forward, which implies that further concessions may be required.

It’s as if I agree to apologize to my acquaintance and to stop kissing my wife. And to understand that he has the right to ask her out to dinner.

“OK,” my friend said, “but the average person, who doesn’t understand the details will simply see this as an insult. Israel shouldn’t have done it.”

True, but keep in mind that the average person is barraged by administration-friendly press accounts and statements by people like presidential advisor David Axelrod about the horrible insult to the US. While it probably won’t have the same consequences as the sinking of the Lusitania or the Tonkin Gulf affair, the technique is the same: treat an incident as a provocation to do what you wanted to do anyway.

So why has the White House decided to precipitate a rupture with Israel over a Jerusalem policy that they have ignored since 1967?

Jeffery Goldberg of the Atlantic has talked to the White House and thinks he knows:

…Obama is not trying to destroy America’s relations with Israel; he’s trying to organize Tzipi Livni’s campaign for prime minister, or at least for her inclusion in a broad-based centrist government.  I’m not actually suggesting that the White House is directly meddling in internal Israeli politics, but it’s clear to everyone — at the White House, at the State Department, at Goldblog — that no progress will be made on any front if Avigdor Lieberman’s far-right party, Yisrael Beiteinu, and Eli Yishai’s fundamentalist Shas Party, remain in Netanyahu’s surpassingly fragile coalition.

So what is the goal? The goal is force a rupture in the governing coalition that will make it necessary for Netanyahu to take into his government Livni’s centrist Kadima Party (he has already tried to do this, but too much on his terms) and form a broad, 68-seat majority in Knesset that does not have to rely on gangsters, messianists and medievalists for votes.

Can you believe the chutzpah? Especially from a White House that is presently doing its best to get health-care bill votes from gangsters, messiansts and medievalists? (I can name names, but that would be off-topic.)

Even if it were possible to move Israel’s government to the left — and the result of bringing down Netanyahu would be the opposite — it would not advance Obama’s stated goal of an Israel-Palestinian peace treaty. This is because what prevents such an agreement are the maximalist demands of the Palestinians, demands for a strict Israeli retreat to 1949 lines including in Jerusalem, ‘refugees’ flooding Israel, and no recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. Tzipi Livni, as Prime Minister, would not agree to these demands, just as Ehud Olmert did not and just as Itzhak Rabin never would have. These are red lines for the Center and moderate Left no less than for Netanyahu’s coalition.

At the same time that the US pressures Israel and tries to foment regime change, it has never criticized the PA. Not for its extreme demands and preconditions for negotiation, not for its continued antisemitic and anti-Israel propaganda, not for deliberate incitement of violence. Where was the US criticism when official PA media claimed that the dedication of the rebuilt Hurva Synagogue was an attempt to destroy the al-Aqsa Mosque and build a Third Temple?

So what will be the consequences of this policy? Clearly to encourage the PA’s leaders to be more radical, to continue incitement,  to stiffen their demands, to refuse to enter negotiations. Why should they do otherwise when the Obama Administration sends them the message that they are OK as they are but that Israel needs to give up more? Why shouldn’t they just wait for Obama to squeeze more out of Israel and hand it to them?

Indeed, the Obama Administration is tough on Israel while it is soft on Syria, Libya, and — the original state of gangsters, messianists and medievalists — Iran. Barry Rubin has speculated in numerous articles that US policymakers think that if they grant the Arabs and Iranians concessions in advance, then they’ll be more helpful with US interests in Iraq, nuclear weapons, terrorism, etc. But of course this flies in the face of one the basic principles of negotiating, which is to not give your assets away for nothing.

Stupid or evil? I’ve asked this question before.

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Two dedications

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010
The newly rebuilt Hurva Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of East Jerusalem

The newly rebuilt Hurva Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of East Jerusalem

Yesterday, the newly rebuilt Hurva (which means ‘ruin’ in Hebrew) Synagogue, located in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, was rededicated.

The Hurva in 1920

The Hurva in 1920

Started in 1701, the Hurva was destroyed for the first time (by unpaid Arab creditors) in 1720. Rebuilt in 1864 by the Sultan’s architect with money from Montefiore, the Rothschilds and Jewish communities around the world, the synagogue was the tallest structure in the Jewish quarter — which is itself on a hill, making it reach higher than the al-Aqsa Mosque — it was a magnificent structure. Benjamin Balint writes,

It also was a forum for public assemblies. Here the city’s Jews held a memorial service for Queen Victoria; celebrated the coronation of King George V; thrilled to the orations of such Zionist leaders as Theodor Herzl and Zeev Jabotinsky; and, in 1942, conducted a mass prayer service for the victims of Hitler’s genocide.

The memorial arch

The memorial arch

Naturally, the jealous and racist Muslim world found the existence of such a Jewish structure unacceptable. In 1948, Jordanian troops overran the Jewish Quarter, expelled the Jews and blew up the Hurva. After 1967 plans were made to rebuild it, but in a gesture of misplaced generosity to Muslim sensibilities, only a memorial arch was built. After all, how could anything Jewish be allowed to overshadow the Muslim holy places?

Now it has yet again been rebuilt, in a form similar to the 18th century version. And — guess what — the Arabs are furious!

Jews have lived in the Old City since long before Muhammad was a gleam in his father’s eye, but Palestinians insist that any part of the city that was conquered and ethnically cleansed by the Jordanians in 1948 is “Arab East Jerusalem,” so they declared a “day of rage” today, complete with the usual stone- and firebomb-throwing.

In the town of El-Bireh, just south of Ramallah, Fatah also held a dedication ceremony.

A public square was dedicated to the memory of Dalal Mughrabi, the woman leader of a group of terrorists who, in 1978, perpetrated the deadliest single terrorist attack in the history of the state. Here’s how I described it in a 2008 post:

Landing on the beach near Kibbutz Maagen Michael in rubber boats launched from Lebanon, the terrorists met an American nature photographer named Gail Rubin and executed her for taking pictures of ‘Palestine’ without permission. Then they hijacked a bus carrying Egged (the bus cooperative) employees and their families on an outing; there was a shootout with security forces, the terrorists shot many of the passengers and firebombed the bus. 38 Israelis, 13 of them children, were murdered before the terrorists were killed. The event is usually called the “Coastal Road Massacre”; Israelis also call it the “Bus of Blood”.

Mughrabi is a national hero to the Palestinians. They have named girls’ schools, camps, sporting events, etc. after Mughrabi. Here is a picture of the accomplishment of this Palestinian hero:

The charred remains of the Bus of Blood

The charred remains of the Bus of Blood

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Time for some self-respect

Monday, March 15th, 2010

The US has ratcheted up the pressure on Israel after the initial flap about Jewish building in East Jerusalem. PM Netanyahu’s apologetic response did not defuse the crisis, showing that it is not about the ‘timing’ of Israel’s announcement, but rather represents a new turn in US policy.

Not only is it assumed that the Administration wants the Ramat Shlomo project canceled, but according to the Jerusalem Post today, the US is asking for further “confidence-building” concessions from Israel, like the release of more Palestinian prisoners.

I suspect that the Palestinians understand Obama’s people better than Netanyahu does. Israel has implemented a settlement freeze in Judea and Samaria (and taken harsh actions against violations), removed roadblocks and checkpoints, and said that it will talk to the Palestinians directly and without preconditions. The Palestinians, on the other hand, insist on preconditions even for indirect talks. And, importantly, they don’t budge.

Naturally the US approach is — since they can’t move the Palestinians — to try to move Israel. The issues on which Israel and the Palestinians are the farthest apart are refugees and Jerusalem; so perhaps the administration thinks that if it can break Israel on Jerusalem, the Palestinians will soften on refugees. Perhaps the Palestinians even led them to believe this.

The Palestinian strategy seems to be to keep telling the Americans that serious negotiations are just around the corner, if they will just force Israel to give up a little bit more. The Americans really, really want to believe them. This time the plan seems to have succeeded remarkably well, and they have gotten the administration to move its own position a notch closer to the Palestinian one.

Of course, this fell on fertile ground in the Obama White House. There’s no shortage of officials sympathetic to the Palestinian point of view.

As I wrote yesterday, this is a brand new policy. Although the US has never officially recognized Israel’s possession of Jerusalem — East or West — until now it has accepted Israel’s de facto sovereignty there and has not interfered with Israel’s activities. Now it is actively trying to force Israel to treat East Jerusalem — even a part that would absolutely be part of Israel in any reasonable division of Jerusalem — like ‘Palestinian land’.

But just in case you still think this is all about Biden being embarrassed, remember that last August Hillary Clinton anticipated this policy when she called the Supreme Court-approved eviction of Palestinian squatters from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood “deeply regrettable” and “provocative,”  giving US sanction to what has become yet another little intifadah of weekly demonstrations of Palestinians, Israeli extremists and international activists.

It’s been suggested that Israel needs to stay on the right side of the Obama Administration if it wants support in acting against the Iranian nuclear weapons project. This is nonsense: the US will do exactly what it thinks is in its interest with respect to Iran no matter what Israel does in Jerusalem.

The US is, lately, a country that has lost a great deal of its clout in the world. Owned by China, bogged down in Afghanistan, soon to see Iraq lost, serially manipulated and made a fool of by Syria and Iran, with no leverage against Russia, losing the confidence of its allies, its officials seem to find solace in the fact that they can make Israeli leaders tremble.

Time for some self-respect in the Jewish state:

  1. Israel should demand that the US and other foreign entities (for example, European governments) butt out of its internal affairs.
  2. Israel should announce that it will make no more concessions to the Palestinian Authority until it agrees to recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people and ends antisemitic incitement.

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