Archive for May, 2012

Breaking: Israel gets unity government

Monday, May 7th, 2012
Shaul Mofaz, during his term as Chief of Staff (1998-2002)

Shaul Mofaz, during his term as Chief of Staff (1998-2002)

YNet reports:

No elections, Kadima joins government: In a dramatic move, the Likud and Kadima parties agreed on a unity government early Tuesday, averting the prospect of early elections.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Kadima Chairman Shaul Mofaz finalized the surprising unity agreement hours before the Knesset was expected to approve its own dissolution and set September 4th as the date of the next elections.

PM Netanyahu announced that Kadima’s Mofaz will be appointed deputy PM and minister without portfolio, while also being included in Israel’s security cabinet.

Shaul Mofaz, born in Tehran, came to Israel in 1957 and participated in all of Israel’s wars since 1967 (including the Entebbe raid). As chief of staff from 1998-2002 he was noted for the tough response to the Second Intifada, Operation Defensive Shield, in which Israel pacified Judea/Samaria. He recently defeated Tzipi Livni for the leadership of Kadima, the party which currently holds the largest number of seats in the Knesset (28), one more than Netanyahu’s Likud.

In the normal course of events elections would have been held in 2013. Netanyahu called for early elections to be held this September for multiple reasons. One of them may be that he doesn’t want a repeat of the election of 1999, when he lost a close race for a second term to Labor’s Ehud Barak, who received overt and covert support from the Clinton Administration. By getting the elections out of the way when the Obama Administration will be busy with its own election, Netanyahu would then be in a stronger position to face a hostile second-term Obama, should he be reelected.

But both Netanyahu and Mofaz (whose Kadima party is polling very, very poorly) are beginning to worry about the rise of a “non-ideological” party led by Yair Lapid, a former TV news anchor. The present coalition is also struggling to find an acceptable solution to the issue of military service for Haredim (“ultra-Orthodox” Jews); the new coalition agreement stipulates that a bill on this subject will be presented shortly. There are also agreements on budgetary issues. Finally, I think Netanyahu would like to add Mofaz, with his considerable military expertise, to the Security Cabinet.

Is there a connection to a possible strike on Iran? It seems that if there is to be such a strike, it will be before the US elections, while Obama is constrained from acting strongly against Israel. A unity government, which would give Netanyahu a massive 96 Knesset seats out of 120, would certainly clear the decks for action. New elections in September, on the other hand, carry a burden of uncertainty, even though Netanyahu’s Likud party is leading by a large amount in the polls. In any event they would be disruptive.

Mofaz has made public statements that Israel should let the US take the lead in dealing with Iran. But he has not been as aggressive in his criticism of the PM and Defense Minister’s purported plans as, for example, former Mossad head Meir Dagan and former Shabak boss Yuval Diskin.

There is reason to be distrustful of international efforts led by the US to deal with the Iranian nuclear program. For example, Amos Yadlin and Yoel Guzansky write,

An additional round of talks between the P5+1 and Iran about the nuclear issue is due to take place in Baghdad in May. Despite a decade of unproductive dialogue, it is important to both sides that negotiations take place: Iran seeks to prevent even harsher sanctions, while President Obama wishes to postpone difficult decisions at least until after the presidential elections. Both parties want to prevent an Israeli strike

A bad deal, one that the Iranians are likely to offer and that the international community would be tempted to accept, would include explicit legitimacy for Iran enriching uranium on its soil up to the 5 percent level but would not include removal of most of the already-enriched uranium from within Iran’s borders. The bad deal also would include not limiting the number or type of centrifuges and enrichment sites. Iran then would be able to continue securing its sites in a way that would make damaging them much harder than it is at present. With such a deal, Iran would be able to improve its chances of breaking out toward nuclear weapons in a relatively short time after making the decision to do so…

Israel would find it hard to live with a situation in which Iran could at any moment decide to break out toward rapid nuclear-weapons manufacturing thanks to an extensive nuclear infrastructure and a significant amount of enriched uranium. However, international recognition of the legitimacy of Iran’s nuclear capabilities would place Israel in a strategic dilemma. It would be difficult for Israel to justify any offensive move against these capabilities without support from America or important elements of the international community. [my emphasis]

The problem for Israel, then, is not only — as Defense Minister Ehud Barak has warned — that Iran might reach a “zone of [physical] immunity” in which its nuclear facilities are sufficiently hardened that an Israeli attack would not be effective. There is also a zone of political immunity which would be created by Yadlin and Guzansky’s “bad deal,” one which will remove support from Israel without ending the Iranian nuclear threat.

One can’t minimize the importance of the domestic political considerations behind the decision to form a unity government and cancel early elections. On the other hand, I think that the development makes it more likely that Israel will bomb Iranian nuclear facilities before November 6, 2012.

Update [8 May 0852 PDT]: Some other comments that I’ve heard about this historic event that make sense:

  • Canceling the early election saves a bunch of money
  • The depth of the coalition means that special interest parties (e.g., Haredim) will not be able to hold it for ransom

Read a really good discussion of the winners and losers at the Muqata, here. And more from Caroline Glick, here.

Another excellent article that explains the somewhat Byzantine considerations of domestic politics in Israel is at Zion Square, here.

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,

Three irrational US Mideast policies

Friday, May 4th, 2012

I want to discuss three positions taken by the Obama Administration which are opposed to American  interests and make war, not peace, more likely.  There are many other issues that I could discuss, both about the Mideast and elsewhere, but these are emblematic of the general problem.

Position 1. Sanctions and negotiations can cause Iran to give up the pursuit of nuclear weapons.

The possession of nuclear weapons will give Iran the power to dominate the Muslim Middle East, economically and politically. This is the primary goal of the revolutionary regime. The Iranian leadership is not averse to any hardship that may be felt by the general populace, because 1) as a totalitarian regime they are not politically accountable to their people, and 2) any form of economic sanctions will always be ‘leaky’ enough to permit favored elements to receive the resources they need, especially since Russia and China will not be cooperative with the West.

The result of negotiations will, at best, be that the Iranian strategy will change from a straight-line effort to get deliverable weapons to a “just in time” strategy in which all the pieces except the final assembly of a weapon are put in place.

The only thing short of military intervention that could make them stop would be a credible threat thereof, combined with a thorough and effective inspection program. This isn’t going to happen in time. Meanwhile, the enrichment of uranium and other development continues.

Position 2. The threat against the West from radical Islam comes primarily from al-Qaeda, and not radical Islam in general.

The Muslim Brotherhood is not any less radical, from an ideological point of view, than al-Qaeda. Where it differs is that it thinks, quite rationally, that for it, today, violent jihad against the West is likely to be counterproductive. Once it cements its control over the most populous country in the Middle East, it may think differently.

The Obama Administration supports — or at least does not not oppose — the Brotherhood in Egypt, it allowed Hizballah to take almost total control of Lebanon, it restricts Israel from acting against Hamas in Gaza, and it applauds the Islamist Erdoğan regime in Turkey — with which it collaborates in working to replace the imploding Assad government in Syria with an Islamist regime (and I might add that before Assad’s difficulties, it called for ‘engagement’ with him).

On the home front, the administration does not consider radical Islam a threat, unless it is related to al-Qaeda. So it is supposed to be reassuring when someone is arrested for trying to explode a car bomb in Times Square and we are told that “he wasn’t a member of a recognized terrorist organization.”

The obsession with al-Qaeda, which, as Barry Rubin points out, doesn’t control countries with populations in the millions like Iran, Lebanon and Egypt, is worse than irrational — it causes us to ignore trends whose results will be disastrous in the near future.

Position 3. The Israeli-Arab conflict can be ended by withdrawal from the territories.

Although there is abundant evidence that the PLO is not prepared to end the conflict with Israel regardless of the amount of land it is given, and that anyway an Israeli withdrawal from Judea and Samaria would likely lead to a Hamas takeover and missile attacks on the center of the country, the Obama Administration continues to insist that a “two-state solution” would bring peace.

The “land for peace” formula has been a failure, both in Gaza and increasingly with Egypt, thanks to the Islamist ideology that characterizes Hamas and is sweeping Egypt. While the PLO has a secular ideology, they are no less dedicated to reversing the nakba and recovering their ‘honor’ by eliminating the Jewish state.

Forcing Israel to make concessions encourages the Arabs to make more demands and to express their ‘frustration’ when no concession is enough by intifadas and terrorism, to which Israel is forced to respond. This is a path to war, not peace.

So why does the administration cleave to such irrational positions?

Unsurprisingly, the answer to this is also ideology. Barack Obama and many of his appointees share a New Left sensibility, which includes the ideas that colonialism and imperialism — particularly ‘US imperialism’ is the root of all evil, that it is meaningless to suggest that one culture could be morally superior to another, and that national interests should be subordinated to multilateral cooperation. Many of them accept “postcolonial” theory, in which the ‘colonized’  party — Iran, Muslims, the Palestinians — is considered morally superior to the ‘colonizers’ and is permitted to express itself violently if necessary to ‘resist’ colonization.

The challenge from Iran is a challenge to Western control of the region: for lack of a better phrase, to Western imperialism. While in principle this it is less than ideal, the world in practice would be a far worse place if the Middle East were dominated by radical Iranian imperialists. The administration is incapable of seeing this and loathe to employ traditional gunboat diplomacy to fix it.

The same ideology blinds it to the nature of radical Islam (all cultures are assumed to be of equal value, Muslim countries are ‘colonized’), as well as the Israeli-Arab conflict. In that case, we know that the Left sees it as the epitome of a struggle of national liberation from colonial bondage — which of course is almost exactly the opposite of the truth, which is that it is a reactionary attempt to crush the expression of Jewish self-determination.

Would a Romney Administration be different?

I strongly doubt that Mr. Romney and his associates share the New Left, post-colonialist ideology of the Obama Administration. So at least his policy would not be skewed by this particular perspective.

There is also another factor at work in connection with the Israeli-Arab conflict. It seems to be the case that Mr. Obama has a visceral dislike for Israeli PM Netanyahu. It was on display when he abandoned the Prime Minister to go to dinner in March 2010, when he publicly demanded Israeli withdrawal to 1949 lines while Netanyahu was en route to the US in May of 2011, and when he made his famous ‘open microphone’ remark to French President Sarkozy last November. Whether it is ideological in basis or just personal, there is no doubt that it is real. Romney, on the other hand, has known Netanyahu for some time and is said to have a good relationship with him.

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,

Israelis share Netanyahu’s view of history

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012
Benzion and Bibi play chess (2006)

Benzion and Bibi play chess (2006)

The writer Jeffrey Goldberg is a very smart guy. And unlike many who write about Israel, he knows something about it, having lived there and served in the IDF. He has interviewed many of the major players, and he is not a polemicist of the Left or the Right. His insights are often fresh and, er, insightful.

So I am always surprised when Goldberg misses the mark. And the way he missed it in an article published this Monday is illustrative of a misconception he shares with many American Jews.

Discussing the influence of Benzion Netanyahu on his son the Prime Minister, Goldberg remarks that the PM’s historian father was convinced of the “eternal nature of anti-Semitism.” He explains,

Benzion Netanyahu was a foremost scholar of the Spanish Inquisition, and he revolutionized his field by arguing convincingly that the Spanish weren’t motivated by religious feeling, but by racial hatred. In other words, conversion wasn’t enough to save the Jews: The Spanish hated the idea of Jewish blood mixing with their own. The Inquisition, then, presaged the Holocaust. He believed that physical acts of anti-Semitism are always preceded by years of hate-filled rhetoric meant to desensitize the world to the coming slaughter.

He was not the only scholar of extreme expressions of antisemitism, like the Inquisition or the Holocaust, to come to the same conclusions about the importance of radical antisemitic ideologies in shaping events. For example, Lucy Dawidowicz, in her well-known book The War Against the Jews, makes the case that Hitler’s obsession with ‘the Jewish Question’ interfered with his prosecution of the war (often to the great irritation of his generals).

Goldberg tells us that Benzion Netanyahu’s response to the threats faced by Israel today reflected this point of view:

Thus Netanyahu, like his son, saw it as a foregone conclusion that Iran seeks to build a nuclear weapon with genocide in mind. But unlike his son, Netanyahu thought that Iran should have been attacked long ago. “From the Iranian side, we hear pledges that soon — in a matter of days, even — the Zionist movement will be put to an end and there will be no more Zionists in the world,” he said at a party marking his 100th birthday. “The Jewish people are making their position clear and putting faith in their military power…”

The elder Netanyahu was similarly militant on questions of compromise with the Palestinians. Just as he saw the Iranians bent on committing genocide, he saw the Palestinians and their Arab allies singularly focused on the destruction of Israel…

Indeed, there are many parallels between the behavior of the both the Iranian regime and the PLO and Hamas — including massive incitement to hatred (see, for example, here), and the irrational subordination of other goals to opposition to Jews and ‘Zionists’ — and earlier manifestations of genocidal antisemitism.

So far, so good. But then Goldberg continues:

But there is an opportunity: Benjamin Netanyahu, precisely because he is the son of a man like Benzion, is the only Israeli politician today who could deliver the majority of Israel’s Jewish population to a painful compromise with the Palestinians. He is also one of the few whose endorsement of a deal between Tehran and Washington over the Iranian nuclear program — a deal that would allow the Iranians to have a supervised civilian program, for instance — would allay the concerns of even more hawkish Israelis. The average Israeli trusts that Netanyahu would not sell out their interests for a Nobel Peace Prize.

An opportunity? To repudiate the message of history by placing the state of Israel into the hands of the true heirs of the Nazis, the PLO? To commit national suicide by empowering the Iranian regime, which makes absolutely no secret of its intentions?

Israelis are not just paranoid. Their fears are not irrational. Someone really is after them.

There is a reason that “the average Israeli” voted for the son of Benzion Netanyahu, a man who shares his father’s values — because they too share his view of history. This is precisely why they believe that he would not sell out their interests.

The idea is not to “deliver” the Jewish population or to “allay the fears” of the ‘hawks’, as Goldberg suggests. It is not to force Israelis to buy the wishful (or cynical) thinking pushed by the Obama administration, despite their well-grounded misgivings. Rather, it is to actually ensure the survival of the state and the Jewish people.

Most American Jews, apparently including Goldberg, living in a place and time — unprecedented in history, by the way — where antisemitism is not a fact of daily life, have more or less forgotten the evil certain individuals and groups intend them. This isn’t the case in Israel, where they are reminded daily by Arab terrorism and Iranian threats.

And where they elected Bibi Netanyahu.

Technorati Tags: , , ,