Archive for March, 2009

Speaking about releasing prisoners

Thursday, March 19th, 2009

Jonathan PollardSpeaking about releasing prisoners, what about Jonathan Pollard?

I can’t possibly do justice to the story in a short post, but in a nutshell:

In his job as a naval intelligence analyst, Pollard provided classified information to Israel for several years, culminating in his arrest in 1985. What happened next was a “monumental miscarriage of justice” in the words of professors Angelo Codevilla, Irwin Cotler, Alan Dershowitz and Kenneth Lasson:

First, Pollard was never charged with nor convicted of the crime of treason. Nor was there anything in his indictment to suggest he intended harm to America — or that he compromised the nation’s intelligence-gathering capabilities or caused injury to any of its agents.

Second, in lieu of a trial, the government entered into a plea agreement under which it promised not to seek life imprisonment in return for Pollard’s cooperation. The Justice Department acknowledged in court that he had cooperated fully. Nevertheless, chief prosecutor Joseph DiGenova said immediately after sentencing he hoped Pollard “never sees the light of day.”

Third, Pollard was sentenced on the basis of private statements to the judge that, for all anyone knows, may be lies. The secretary of defense (then Caspar Weinberger) presented the court with a secret memorandum that has never been subject to cross examination. Later he told the press that Pollard was one of the worst traitors in American history. But where’s the evidence?

Pollard received a life sentence, compared to an average sentence of seven years for others convicted of spying for allies.

There have been allegations that Pollard gave information to other governments, that Pollard was responsible for the exposure of US agents in the Soviet Union or the compromise of undersea cables, that Pollard gave away codes. None of this is true; those responsible were Aldrich Ames, John Walker and others. And certainly, none of this was part of the indictment.

Angelo Codevilla believes (see his bio here) that Pollard, a low-level analyst, primarily gave Israel satellite photos of Middle Eastern locales, intelligence which the US had been providing until it was cut off after Israel bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981. One use which Israel made of Pollard’s data was to bomb the PLO headquarters in Tunisia in 1985.

So why a life sentence? And why was he kept in solitary confinement for seven years, at the Federal Prison in Marion, Il., which at that time was a ‘supermax’ prison holding the most dangerous and desperate inmates?

There is only one possible explanation, which is that Pollard possesses embarrassing information. Here is what Codevilla suggested in a 1999 interview:

QUESTION: That leads to the next question, what was Caspar Weinberger’s motive in presenting to the judge a false memorandum?

CODEVILLA: This is the most interesting of questions, and it comes down to this: embarrassment over a dumb, failed policy, and moreover a policy in which he had a personal interest. The policy was building up Iraq, a policy to which Weinberger and much of the rest of the U.S. government sacrificed true American interests during the 1980s. Up until the very eve of the Gulf War the U.S. Government was still incredulous that Saddam Hussein would play anything other than the role which the best and the brightest of the Reagan and Bush administrations had assigned him…

CODEVILLA: … The main thing is we permitted, licensed and financed large American corporations to build plants [in Iraq], and we encouraged large European countries to build plants there. The infrastructure that is being bombed right now in Iraq and which was bombed during the Gulf War, is mostly American-built, financed, or licensed. Now we get to the deeply and personally embarrassing part. One of the companies involved was Bechtel, with whom Caspar Weinberger and George Schultz, Secretaries of Defense and State, had close personal relations.

QUESTION: How was this company involved?

CODEVILLA: They built one of the factories that later on made chemical weapons. Now, what is Jonathan Pollard’s role in all of this? He gave to Israel U.S. satellite pictures of these factories, together with U.S. intelligence assessments of what these factories were doing. These pictures and intelligence assessments contradicted what the U.S. government was officially telling Israel. So the Israelis were coming to America, and in official meetings were calling people like Weinberger liars, which of course these officials did not appreciate.

Weinberger was a director and General Counsel of Bechtel from 1975 until President Reagan chose him as Secretary of Defense in 1981, a post he held until 1987. Weinberger, despite his name, was not Jewish by any but Hitler’s criteria, having a paternal grandfather who abandoned Judaism — a fact about which he was reportedly ‘tense’. He died in 2006.

Israel formally agreed that Pollard was an Israeli agent in 1998. Over the 24 years that Pollard has been imprisoned, there have been several times at which it was thought that he might be released: as part of the Wye River agreement, or by executive clemency by Presidents Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II (Clinton did manage to free a Jew, fugitive financier Marc Rich).

Now there is yet another new administration, and it’s time to ask: After 24 years, is it not possible to examine the facts and the handling of this case, and consider letting this man, who has almost certainly been treated unjustly, go free?

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Hang them, don’t trade them

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

News item:

Among the proposals that the committee is expected to discuss, and which are to be brought to Sunday’s cabinet meeting, measures to make the conditions in Israeli jails for Hamas prisoners more difficult, including restricting visitation rights, phone and telephone [sic] access, and newspaper and television privileges, and perhaps depriving them of electricity at night. The rationale behind this would be to make the conditions facing the Hamas prisoners somehow similar to Schalit’s. — Jerusalem Post

Keep in mind that some of these prisoners — whose release is demanded by Hamas for Gilad Schalit — include the terrorist masterminds of the Park Hotel Passover Seder massacre (30 dead), the Cafe Moment bombing (11 dead), the Sbarro Pizza bombing (15 dead) and more. Many more.

Two of the prisoners are Abdallah Barghouti and Ahlam Tamimi, arrested for the Sbarro atrocity:

Several Hamas members were subsequently captured by the authorities, tried, convicted and imprisoned. The suicide bomber…was escorted to the restaurant by Ahlam Tamimi, a 20-year-old female university student and part-time journalist, who had disguised herself as a Jewish tourist for the occasion. Ahlam Tamimi was sentenced to 16 life terms. She later commented that “I am not sorry for what I did” and does not recognize Israel’s existence. The person who constructed the explosives was a man named Abdallah Barghouti. For his part in this and a string of other attacks, in which 66 civilians were killed, he was handed down 67 life sentences in 30 November 2004. — Wikipedia

They are allowed to watch television? To receive visitors and talk on the telephone?

Any other country in the world would have put them to death; US domestic terrorist Timothy McVeigh was executed (and quite speedily, by US standards — only five years after his offense).

I cannot understand why Israel does not charge these mass murderers with crimes against humanity and hang them. Objectively, they are only different from Adolf Eichmann in degree. Their goal, as Hamas members, is no less genocidal.

Is it because someone believes that they are actually political prisoners, that there is something to the Hamas point of view? Is it because someone believes that, while they are murderers, one can understand their need to murder?

Get over it. If the question of justice is not sufficient motivation, then maybe the practical considerations of holding these creatures so that they can be released in return for kidnapped Israelis should be taken into account. Here’s what Tamimi said about her prospects:

“Hamas has principles in connection with discussion with Israel,” she said. “Hamas wants to reach accomplishments without giving up on Palestine. I’m not sorry for what I did. I will get out of prison and I refuse to recognize Israel’s existence. Discussions will only take place after Israel recognizes that this is Islamic land. Despite the fact that I’m sentenced to 16 life sentences I know that we will become free from Israeli occupation and then I will also be free from the prison” — YNet

Hang them.

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The right thing to do for Schalit

Monday, March 16th, 2009

This post is not going to make me any friends. So be it; but I feel the need to explain that I am qualified to write it. My two daughters and son all served in the IDF. My son was in what is always referred to as “an elite combat unit” and came under enemy fire in southern Lebanon before the 2000 withdrawal. He is still a reserve soldier in that unit. I haven’t experienced what the Shalit family has, of course, and I am not criticizing them for doing whatever they can to get their son back. I might do the same in their circumstances.

One would think that Israel’s Prime Minister had kidnapped Gilad Schalit himself:

Demonstrators in the protest tent in Jerusalem where the Schalit family is staying to call for the release of captured IDF soldier Gilad Schalit blocked the road to the Prime Minister’s Residence on Friday.

The demonstrators yelled slogans such as “Olmert, you made a promise — now keep it!” and “We want him home, we want him now.” Many carried banners and some used whistles, hoping the sounds will reach the prime minister’s living room…

“Anything that could be done to save his life is the right thing to do,” Education Minister Yuli Tamir (Labor) told the [Jerusalem Post] last Thursday.

She spoke on the fifth day of an intensive campaign launched by Schalit’s parents, Noam and Aviva, who on Sunday pitched a tent outside the prime minister’s residence in a last-ditch effort to sway Olmert to finalize a prisoner exchange before he leaves office…

Hamas has demanded the release of 1,400 prisoners, including 450 who were involved in terrorist attacks that killed Israelis, but Israel has balked, reportedly offering to free half of the 450. — Jerusalem Post, Mar. 12 (my emphasis)

Today, I read that

Hamas toughened its stance during Egyptian-mediated negotiations for Gilad Schalit’s release, went back on understandings that were agreed upon during the past year and raised extreme demands, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement released late Monday night, following the return of Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Yuval Diskin and senior negotiator Ofer Dekel from marathon talks in Cairo over the kidnapped soldier…

According to the various accounts Monday night, Israel had agreed to release most of the prisoners on the Hamas list, with Channel 2 reporting 400 out of the 450, and the main point of contention was Israel’s demand to expel several of the prisoners to foreign countries. — Jerusalem Post, Mar. 16

Of course, even when (not ‘if’) Israel agrees to the latest demands, negotiators will find that the goalposts have moved yet again. The process seems to be as much the point as the ultimate outcome for Hamas, which enjoys twisting the knife in  countless Israelis and Jews, not least the Schalit family.

But MK Yuli Tamir is wrong. “Anything” is not the “right thing to do”.  Agreeing to the Hamas demands will

  • Surely result in the death and injury of additional Israelis who will be targeted by the murderers who will be freed
  • Be followed by additional kidnappings
  • Establish for once and for all that Hamas, not Israel, won the war and is in control
  • Open the door to international recognition of Hamas, opening the crossings, etc.

Operation Cast Lead was terminated early out of fear: fear of the Obama Administration, fear of additional IDF casualties and fear of world opinion. As a result, Hamas jumped in legitimacy, popularity and influence.

Well, world opinion could not possibly have been worse if Israel had used nuclear bombs (indeed, she was falsely accused of using depleted uranium ammunition in Gaza), and the Obama Administration will do what it thinks best for the US regardless of what Israel does. And if that is to force Israel into an agreement with the Palestinians, so much the better if this happens without Hamas!

Casualties are a true concern. But I think the question is not how high a price Israel will have to pay, but rather whether it will need to paid now or later. I believe that the area between the Jordan and the Mediterranean is not big enough for Israel and Hamas. Hamas will not go away without a confrontation, so the question is “when will it occur and on whose terms”.

It is still possible for Israel to rectify the error of the present government, to go back into Gaza and try to rescue Schalit, and this time destroy the Hamas leadership and its war-making capability.

Another advantage to finishing Hamas now will be to reduce the number of fronts on which Israel will have to fight after the inevitable Iran operation.

I’m sure Yuli Tamir doesn’t think so, but this is the ‘anything’ that should be tried for the sake of Schalit — and for the sake of the Jewish state.

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Israel lobby conspiracy theorists contradict themselves

Saturday, March 14th, 2009

On Thursday the LA Times published an editorial about the Chas Freeman affair which perfectly exemplifies the self-contradictory reasoning of the ‘Israel Lobby’ conspiracy theorists.

An open debate on Israel

LA Times, March 12, 2009

Obama’s appointee to lead the National Intelligence Council withdrew, blaming the Israel lobby. To shape U.S. policy, many voices must be heard.

The writer suggests that some voices were suppressed. Were they? We’ll see.

When John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt wrote about “The Israel Lobby” in 2006, many supporters of Israel were outraged. How, they wanted to know, could anyone say that the United States offered “unwavering support” to Israel? Worse yet, how did these two misguided professors dare suggest that there was a cabal of die-hard Zionists in the media, in Congress, in the Pentagon and in neocon think tanks working to ensure that U.S. policy did not deviate from the pro-Israel party line?

The smug, ironic tone is designed to suggest that the professors were not so misguided after all.

The debate was ferocious; the world (or at least the part that cares about these things) divided along angry partisan lines. Mearsheimer and Walt were shouted down in many quarters as anti-Semites. Needless to say, no resolution was reached, and eventually the furor died down.

What ‘resolution’ could there have been?  But note that the “debate” had two sides, and both sides had ample opportunity to be heard. Their opponents were outraged, but they weren’t  “shouted down” — i.e., prevented from publishing or speaking. Several versions of the original article and a book based on it were published; Mearsheimer and Walt toured the US promoting it. Indeed, Mr. Freeman’s Middle East Policy Council even published a footnoted version of their article.

Several weeks ago, however, it re-erupted after President Obama appointed Charles W. Freeman Jr., a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, as chairman of the National Intelligence Council. Vehement objections came from several of Israel’s most loyal supporters in Congress, from some journalists and lobbyists known for their strong support of the Jewish state, and from other members of what some would no doubt call, well, the Israel lobby.

The Israel Lobby slander did not re-erupt like Mt. St. Helens. It was introduced by Freeman’s supporters as a red herring to distract attention from the very real concerns raised about his qualifications.

Freeman was not the sort of person they were ever going to like. He once said that “the brutal oppression of the Palestinians by the Israeli occupation shows no sign of ending.” He also said: “American identification with Israel has become total.” Israel, he once said, “excels at war; sadly, it has shown no talent for peace.”

He said a lot more, but in any event it is not unsurprising that he was opposed by people who support Israel. But they did not argue that he was unfit to digest intelligence information for the President because he disliked Israel. They argued that his close ties with foreign governments and his high degree of partisanship disqualified him.

Those are certainly provocative statements. On the other hand, Freeman was backed by a group of 17 former U.S. ambassadors who described him as a man of integrity who “would never let his personal views shade or distort intelligence assessments,” and defended by Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair, who called him “a person of strong views, of an inventive mind in the analytical point of view.”

Interesting. It certainly looks as though “many voices” were heard. Who, exactly, was silenced by the Israel lobby? The LA Times thus joins Mearsheimer, Walt and Freeman in insisting that the sinister Israel lobby silences dissent, in the face of evidence for the precise opposite.

But Freeman’s critics kept at him, and on Tuesday, Freeman withdrew from the appointment. Afterward, he was blunt: “The tactics of the Israel Lobby plumb the depths of dishonor and indecency” and reflect “an utter disregard for truth.”

Do they? Let me quote one of his critics, Steve Rosen, formerly of AIPAC and someone who, by the way, was himself a victim of an FBI sting operation designed to silence him for his views:

Freeman received more from Saudis than previously revealed

According to a letter from the Acting Executive Director of Freeman’s Middle East Policy Council in today’s Washington Times, MEPC received five previously undisclosed contributions from the Saudi Foreign Ministry in 2008, and $1 million from the King of Saudi Arabia in 2005. In addition, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Al-Saud announced that he “donated more than $1 million to the US Middle East Policy Council” on March 18, 2007. MEPC’s executive director says in his letter that the budget of MEPC is $600,000 a year, a sum roughly equal to the total of these three contributions from different donors in Saudi Arabia since 2005. He claims that, “Over the past decade, scheduled contributions to the council from the Saudi government have amounted to less than one-twelfth of our annual budget.” What if we take unscheduled contributions and only the period since 2005?? The numbers suggest a much higher level of dependence on Saudi Arabian sources.

Blair’s letter to Congress mentions only Saudi government funding. Universities that receive federal funding having to disclose all foreign-source gifts above a certain amount, and this should be the standard for the national intelligence Council. Likewise, what about other Arab/Gulf governments? Freeman should reveal all foreign-sourced gifts, donations, etc. for the entire time he headed the MEPC.

So who is disregarding the truth here, Freeman or Rosen?

The Times continues:

Our opinion is this: Israel is America’s friend and ally. It deserves to exist safely within secure borders. We hope it will continue to prosper as a refuge for Jews and a vibrant democracy in the region (alongside an equally democratic Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza). But we do not believe that Israel should be immune from criticism or that there is room for only one point of view in our government.

U.S. policy has been extremely supportive of Israel over the years, as have many of our policymakers. That’s fine. But theirs should not be the only voices allowed in the room.

The Times has suggested along with Mearsheimer and Walt that pro-Israel ones are “the only voices allowed in the room”. Then it contradicts itself by bringing up the “ferocious” debate — pro and con — about the Mearsheimer-Walt paper, as well as the equally two-sided one about Freeman’s qualifications. The facts show that all sides spoke loudly in this dispute. And they certainly show that anti-Israel voices like Mearsheimer and Walt — as well as Chas Freeman, who has been writing, speaking and lobbying against Israel for years — are being heard loud and clear.

The Times and Freeman also suggest that the pro-Israel lobby has a lock on US policy. But if the opinions of the 17 former ambassadors are any indication of the climate in the State Department, this is decidedly not the case.

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No more sticks, only carrots

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

Speaking on PBS, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates suggested that the US would not take preemptive military action except in response to a direct threat to attack our country:

Mr Gates said: “The lessons learned with the failure to find the weapons of mass destruction [in Iraq] and some of the other things that happened will make any future president very, very cautious about launching that kind of conflict or relying on intelligence.”

He said any future president would “ask a lot of very hard questions and I think that hurdle is much higher today than it was six or seven years ago”.

He added: “I think that the barrier, first of all, will be ‘are we going to be attacked here at home?'”BBC

Taken at face value, this means that Iran will be permitted to develop nuclear weapons as long as they are aimed only at the Middle East and Europe. It implies that Iran is free to use nuclear blackmail to take control of Middle Eastern oil resources, subvert US allies in the region, advance its Islamic revolution and proceed with its project of destroying Israel without fear of US military intervention. All that is required is that Iran does not put a warhead on a missile capable of reaching the US.

What is wrong with the Obama administration that it would allow such a signal to be sent?

Is the US abandoning  Israel and other Mideast allies on the Iranian nuclear question?

By Shalom Freedman

On March 11, 2009 American Defense Secretary Robert Gates commented that the U.S. would be especially careful before engaging in another major military intervention. In the light of the ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and certainly in regard to the Iraqi WMD fiasco, his remarks make sense.

But Gates in elaborating his position went on to say that the United States would intervene against Iran only if it attains weapons which constitute a threat to continental United States. Iran now has missiles which are capable of reaching Southern Europe, but there is very small likelihood that Iran in the next few years will have a capability to reach the United States with its weapons.

However Iran is rapidly developing a nuclear option. Israeli Intelligence believes that this may come as early as in this present year. The Americans put the time somewhat later but they too understand that Iran is not more than a couple of years away from nuclear weapons capability.

So what Gates is in effect saying is that should Iran develop nuclear capability the United States would not intervene, so long as it did not also have a intercontinental ballistic missile capability. This message says to Iran quite openly that it can continue to go forward enriching uranium and preparing the weaponization process which will give it a nuclear capability. It promises that the United States is not going to stop this. It says that the United States will live with a nuclear threat to its Mideast allies, first of all Israel, then Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, and also perhaps with its NATO allies in Southern Europe.

In effect it also seems to say that should Iran attack one of the American allies with those nuclear weapons the United States would not necessarily respond.

Secretary Gates is thus elaborating a policy which — instead of protecting American allies — enhances the dangers to them. He is also elaborating a no-interference policy with Iran which will lead it to the very threshold of nuclear weapons, or beyond. One consequence of this will be a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, and the end to all non-proliferation agreements. Another consequence is the greater likelihood of nuclear war.

It is understandable that having been widely condemned for the intervention in Iraq, the United States does not wish to take actions which would bring further global condemnation. But it does not make sense to tie your hands behind your back and allow your enemies a major strategic gain. Nor does it make sense to abandon your friends in order to try and appease, if only for a time, one of your worst enemies.

Shalom Freedman is a writer living in Jerusalem.

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