Articles which have caught my interest. Mostly Israel stuff and other nubbins from the ongoing holy war.
Thursday, September 04, 2003
I'm now taking bets on when we can officially declare the death of the road map. Abu Mazen addressed the Palestinian Legislative Council today, basically to declare his intention of doing nothing.
Ok, that's the snarky headline version of what happened. Abu Mazen basically called on the PLC to give him a vote of support and give him the power to actually govern. All this comes after a week of feuding between Abu Mazen and Arafat. In a nutshell, the old ghoul has control of the various Palestinian security apparatuses and Abu Mazen wants him to give it up. Abu Mazen hopes the PLC vote will help him to gain more power so that he can continue to deal with Israel.
This would be a hopeful sign. But then the PA PM goes and ruins everything by declaring (once again) that he has no intention of doing anything to the terror groups. "This government does not deal with the opposition groups with a policing mentality, but with a mentality of dialogue."
Let's refer to the first section of the road map text, shall we?
Palestinians declare an unequivocal end to violence and terrorism and undertake visible efforts on the ground to arrest, disrupt, and restrain individuals and groups conducting and planning violent attacks on Israelis anywhere.I suppose Abu Mazen defines "sustained, targeted, and effective operations" as "talk nicely to".
(Personally, I have no problem with the current setup where Abu Mazen uses his "dialogue mentality" all he likes with the terrorists as long as Israel maintains its prerogative to turn them into crispy critters the moment they show their faces on the street. I doubt, however, that this is a sustainable long-term policy).
The situation appears to be frustrating the Bushies to no end. It doesn't help that Arafat was on CNN saying that the road map was dead and that Israel was to blame. (An exasperated Secretary of State said in response "If they don't like the road map, I don't know what they will like, because the road map shows the way forward to the end of violence, the end of terror, and the creation of a Palestinian state."
Right now, we've fallen right back into the old rut where nothing is moving and both sides are blaming each other for the violence. I don't see how a negotiated solution is ever going to work here when neither side has an iota of trust for the other.
Ledeen on the Iraq Bombings
Michael Ledeen has an interesting analysis piece in NRO this week. Ledeen sees the fingerprints of Hizbullah all over the recent car bomb attacks in Iraq. Ledeen argues that Iranian-based Hizbullah heavy hitters, along with a Jordanian Al Qaeda liaison, are operating in Iraq at the moment with the backing of Teheran.
I like Ledeen, if for no other reason than the fact that he scares the crap out of the fringey Left more than any other neocon. Ledeen's critics paint him as a dangerous, Iran-obsessed nutjob who helps lead the cabal controlling Bush's foreign policy.
This article will do little to change that view, especially since many of the people who fear Ledeen don't seem to regard Hizbullah as a threat. In fact a lot of them tend to see the Shiite terrorists from Lebanon as a) basically a social welfare organization and/or b) Israel's problem alone.
As for a), I just give my usual counterargument that you can't distinguish between the activities of a terrorist organization; a social welfare group that bombs cities and kidnaps people is a terrorist organization.
As for b), there's a definite case to be made that Hizbullah has influenced the development of modern Islamic terrorism than any other group. Hizbullah pioneered suicide bombing as a tactic; in fact, you can probably trace the whole martyrdom psychosis -- which was historically a facet of Shi'a Islam, not Sunni -- back to them as well.
In any case Hizbullah has been active in a number of places around the world, most notably Argentina.
Ledeen's overarching point is worthwhile: that the defense establishment is still too focused on looking at the individual terrorist groups and not enough at the growing evidence of connections between them.
Many of our analysts are currently falling into one of those linguistic traps that Ludwig Wittgenstein used to warn us about. They constantly ask, "which organization do these terrorists come from?" But they should be asking the empirical question: "Does it still make sense to talk about separate terrorist organizations?" I have been arguing for the better part of two years that we should think of the terrorists as a group of mafia families that have united around a single war plan. The divisions and distinctions of the past no longer make sense; the terror mafias are working together, and their missions are defined by the states that protect, arm, fund, and assist them: Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia.
Wednesday, September 03, 2003
The Complicated Calculus of Evicting Arafat
In the last two years it has become increasingly clear that the biggest obstacle to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the arch-terrorist who leads the Palestinian people. Arafat refused Israel's offers at Camp David three years ago and gambled that by launching a terror war he could achieve Palestinian aims without having to sign a peace agreement. Arafat has green-lighted terrorist attacks and facilitated the arming and funding of the Palestinian terror groups. And Arafat is currently doing everything he can to make sure Abu Mazen fails to bring about a change in the situation.
So, what to do about him. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz caused some twitters yesterday when he said in an interview that Israel should have expelled Arafat from the region two years ago and hinted that the government might still choose to do so.
This issue of deporting Arafat has come up repeatedly over the course of the last few years. The problem is that no one knows exactly what would happen if Israel gave the old ghoul the boot. Clearly, the situation in the Territories would go higgledy piggledy. Abu Mazen would have to resign. And Arafat would be free to jet around the capitols of Europe where he would once again be bon ton.
Not really what Israel wants. However, there might be some scenarios -- another huge terrorist attack, or Arafat causing Abu Mazen to resign -- which might leave Israel no choice but to put the ra'is on the first plane out of here. It's a terribly complicated equation.
It would be so much easier on all of us if the old bastard would just drop dead.
More Optimistic News
It seems that the IDF's recent kill-every-Hamasnik policy is getting results. The terrorist goup is semi-paralyzed. Their leadership is afraid to leave the house or even use the phone. They threaten a major retaliatory attack but realize that the last bombing in Jerusalem was such an attrocity that it backfired on them. And they're begging the Egyptians to help broker a new hudna with the PA only to be told that they must disarm first.
In short, this is how you deal a terrorist organization -- hit it with carefully applied, but unwavering, force.
Israel needs to be a lot tougher next time the subject of a hudna comes up. This time, it should be very clear from the outset that if the PA doesn't disarm Hamas and Jihad then the hudna is worthless and Israel will continue to pick off every Hamas big and little fish.
Optimistic News for a Wednesday Morning
According to the surprising results of a survey conducted by the Finance Ministry, 83 percent of Israelis are satisfied or very satisfied with their lives. Israelis are happy with their home lives, their jobs, their economic situations and are generally optimistic about the future.
This doesn't sound like 83 percent of the people I know. Most Israelis like to bitch endlessly about their lives, their jobs, the situation, etc. So, this leaves us to consider four options:
a. The Finance Ministry guys spiked the water with Prozac
b. The survey is way off
c. I tend to hang out with a bunch of whiners
d. Israelis just enjoy complaining for the sake of it.
Hey, besides the violence, the stress, and the lousy economy, what's not to like about life here?
More on the Riot Report
Among its recommendations, the Orr Commission said that the Justice Ministry needs to investigate the police in the killing of 13 Israeli-Arab demonstrators three years ago. Essentially, the Justice Ministry's investigation department would conduct a criminal investigation of the police commanders involved.
Shlomo Aharonishky, the police commander, wants the government to grant a blanket amnesty or pre-emptive pardons for those involved, thus short-circuiting the criminal investigation. There is a precedent here, since similar pardons were granted to officers in the General Security Services (Shin Bet) following the "Bus 300" affair in the '80s. (There, GSS agents beat a Palestinian terrorist to death after he had attacked a bus and they had apprehended him; Shin Bet officials then tried to orchestrate a cover-up of the incident).
Aharaonishky and other supporters of the police argue that three years have passed since the events of October 2000, so it's unlikely that the investigation would manage to get to the bottom of things anyway. There is a precedent for granting amnesty, they argue, so why put the officers through an investigation?
Israeli Arabs, who were already unhappy with the -- in their eyes -- tepid findings of the Orr Commission are now fuming. This looks to them like yet another example of Israeli racism.
IMHO, I think Aharonishky is making a mistake. If the conventional wisdom -- that the investigation won't come of anything -- is true, then the police have nothing to lose. If it turns out that some police commanders are culpable, then it would be healthy for the police to air them out. But, more importantly, I think Israel does owe it to its Arab minority to investigate the issue properly.
The Bus 300 precedent doesn't work for me. That case involved an attack from outside; the general pardon granted to the Shin Bet, in essence, had no ramifications for Israel's internal affairs. Here you have a situation where 20 percent of the population who have felt outrage since the October 2000 riots are going to feel even more outrage if they see that the government has brushed off their concerns.
One of the biggest problems Israel has is the occasional fuzziness of the rule of law. This includes an accute lack of personal culpability among decision makers. Having the police being held up for a bit of scrutiny, I think, will only help everyone out in the long run.
Back to the Riots
If anything, a new investigation would allow police officers to once again bring up the atmosphere surrounding the October riots. This is crucial to understanding what happened there. The Israeli Arabs look back and see trigger-happy police opening fire on peaceful demonstrations. The police look back and see stone-throwing mobs rising up in support of the violent intifada.
Imshin does a good job in her post yesterday describing the atmosphere in Israel in those days at the beginning of the intifada:
There was a decided feeling of alarm and emergency. It felt like the terrible 1948 war was coming alive again before our eyes. Would we have to travel in armed convoys from now on, in the middle of the country, like we did back then? The whole country was in shock. Suddenly people realized how dangerous the Israeli Arabs could be if they chose, and it looked like they were choosing.
Israeli Jews have never fully made peace with the country's Arab minority. I would venture that a majority (or at least a large minority) of the country's Jewish population don't care for the Arabs in general and tends to view them as a security risk, a potential fifth column. Whatever trust existed between the two populations went out the window the moment the intifada and the rioting erupted.
Israel Arabs rioted in a number of locations in the north and center of the country, closing down a number of major intersections. There was rioting in Jaffa, next to Tel Aviv. Suddenly, Jaffa -- a 20 minute drive from my apartment -- began to look as frightening as Gaza. There were also a couple of incidents of Israeli Arabs throwing rocks at cars, in one incident killing a Jewish driver.
In Rosh Ha'ayin, the entrance to the industrial park where I work was blocked when villagers from neighboring Kfar Qassem burned tires in the middle of the intersection. We could see the thick black clouds billowing all over the place. It felt like something just short of armagedon.
As Imshin noted, relations between Israel's Arabs and Jews have not returned to normal since the riots. The situation has calmed down, but there are still undercurrents of resentment on both sides. And, at this point, I don't see what's going to heal the rift. The real question now is what we can do to keep the rift from widening.
Tuesday, September 02, 2003
It's not quite a primer on Everything You Wanted to Know About Native English Speakers in Israel, but Charlotte Halle's Q&A on the subject does shed some light on the state of "Anglos" (as my English-speaking comrades are generally known).
I was surprised to learn that the recidivism rate for immigrants from English-speaking lands is only around 20 percent. I suspect that if you broke down the numbers between religious and non-religious Anglos, you'd find that the number of seculars who don't stick around is a lot higher.
There's a bit of discussion here about the unique situation of English-speaking immigrants, but I wonder how many Anglos are as annoyed as my wife by the general assumption that immigrant=Russian. She occasionally gets junk mail in Russian from one of the cellular providers here. Apparently her name got on a mailing list of olim at some point, but the only olim being targeted are those from the Former Soviet Union.
He'll be Back
A secondary, but important, outcome from the Orr Commission report is that it clears the way for Ehud Barak to mount a comeback. The same Barak who was voted in with great fanfare and pissed away his prime ministership less than two years later.
I wasn't overjoyed when Sharon beat him in the '01 elections, but I was happy that we wouldn't have to see his mug on TV every night.
Now, the conventional wisdom has it that once Sharon retires, Bibi will probably get elected and Barak will challenge him afterwards to a rematch: the Battle of the Failed Prime Ministers.
Lord help us all if this is the best that Israeli politics has to offer.
The Orr Commission Report
Not the greatest day in the history of the Israel Police. Yesterday, the Orr Commission -- the government panel investigating the riots in October 2000 in which police killed 13 Israeli Arabs -- released its findings. Former PM Ehud Barak came up for criticism, as did the Internal Security minister at the time and a host of top-ranking police officials.
The panel recommended that a number of these guys not be allowed to hold positions of authority in the police, but stopped short of recommending that people actually be sacked. At any rate, most of the people being censured have since retired from their positions.
This is the kind of report that was almost designed not to satisfy anyone. On the one hand you have the families of the victims who are angry that it doesn't go far enough and doesn't punish the people in charge at the time. They say that it is another sign of the racism shown by the Israeli establishment towards the Arab minority.
The police and their supporters, on the other hand, criticize the commission for not taking into account the overall atmosphere at the time. These riots came at the beginning of the intifada and were intended as a show of support for the Palestinians. As such, they took on the character of an armed uprising and not a political demonstration and the police had reason to fear for their lives.
The truth, as usual, is probably somewhere in the middle.
The IDF vs. WiFi
Yay! WiFi is finally coming to Israel.
Bluetooth and WiFi technology has been gaining ground in the States for the last couple of years, but here it's been unavailable. Which is funny, seeing how advanced we are when it comes to other communications technologies.
Turns out the army has been using the Bluetooth/WiFi frequency for its own uses and has managed to block the introduction of WiFi devices into the civilian sector. The IDF -- which realized it could not keep the technology from being imported here -- tried to force a plan which would give them two years to reconfigure their own devices, but the government told them they have until October 31 before the frequencies are opened to everyone.
It's interesting how things change around here. A decade ago, the army would probably have been able to get its way. But, thanks to a freer economy and a greater disinclination to bow down unquestioning to the demands of Security, we should soon be able to discover what all the WiFi hoo-ha is about.
Monday, September 01, 2003
Two more down.
I'm going to have to start keeping a scorecard here before too long. I think this makes 12 fewer members of Hamas in the last two weeks.
What We Talk About When We Criticize Israel
The NY Times Sunday Magazine features an interesting analysis by Ian Buruma entitled "How to Talk About Israel". Buruma tries to tackle the interesting and thorny question about when criticism of Israel turns into anti-Semitism.
In fact, he spends the bulk of the article looking into the key anti-Semitic element of Israel discourse, the idea that America's Middle East policy is designed solely to help Israel because the Jews control American politics and the media. (The claim is handily debunked).
He also shows charts the flip-flop in Israel's standing among leftists. Up until 1967, Israel was championed by the left as a kind of socialist paradise what with its big labor union and kibbutzim. By the time of the Six Day War, the left had begun its continuing love affair with Third World "liberation movements". Suddenly Israel had become "neoimperialist" and the root of all evil.
The article is best when it shows how in recent years, there has been a confluence of anti-Americanism, anti-globalism, and anti-Israelism to the point where they are now one and the same:
It is perfectly possible, of course, to take a critical view of Israeli policies, and of their support in Washington, without being anti-Semitic. It is equally possible to be critical of American policies without being irrationally and emotionally anti-American. Just so, you can be opposed to capitalism, or ''globalization,'' without wishing to unleash or condone suicide attacks on Manhattan. What is disturbing, however, is the way these views now increasingly come together in a hostile cocktail. Most mass demonstrations in Europe, and elsewhere, against the war in Iraq contained banners in support of the Palestinians, even the religious extremists of Hamas, and against the global symbols of capitalism. For some people on the left, being opposed to Israel, or Zionism, goes beyond specific policies in Gaza or the West Bank; Israel is seen as the colonial Western presence in an Arab world, an American client state locked into global capitalism. Even if the Israelis treated the Palestinians with the most scrupulous generosity -- which they do not -- this impression would persist.The big problem with the piece is that Buruma never gets around to answering his own question. The article lacks any real discussion of when legitimate criticism of Israeli policies crosses the line into rank anti-Semitism. Given the amount of space Buruma spends analyzing postwar European attitudes towards Jews and the development of neo-conservatism, I would have liked to have seen at least an attempt to answer the question why Israel comes up for so much opprobrium when other countries which are hundreds of times more brutal (e.g. Russia) get a free pass.
Sunday, August 31, 2003
Hamas' Deck of Cards
Hamas has belatedly jumped on the deck-of-cards idea and released their own version of a most wanted list. Sharon, unsurprisingly, is listed as the ace of spades. The list even features one name already crossed off, that being former Tourism Minister Rehavam Ze'evi who was assassinated two years ago.
Since the US military came out with its original deck of cards featuring members of Saddam's regime back in April, the whole concept has become soooooo played out, with variations on the theme showing up on both the left and right extremes of the political spectrum.
But the Hamas one is especially lame. In their desperation to find 55 names, they have included former Meretz chief Yossi Sarid, one of the most dovish and pro-Palestinian politicians in Israel. Also, Hamas can't even take credit for the one name on the list that is x-ed out; Zeevi was murdered by two goons from the DFLP.
Keep up the good work, guys.
Other West Bank Happenings
If only it were the bad guys getting killed these days. On Friday, Palestinian gunmen opened fire on an Israeli vehicle travelling in the Ramallah area. Shalom Harmelech was killed in the attack. His wife Limor, seven months pregnant at the time, was shot in the face and the arms. Paramedics rushed her to the hospital where she managed to give birth to a girl.
And, in a tragic fuckup on the part of the IDF, an 8-year-old Palestinian girl was accidentally killed when soldiers firing at Palestinians shooting mortars accidentally hit a residential area.
In the meantime, the showdown between Arafat and Abu Mazen becomes even more heated. We seem to be ever closer to Arafat doing away with his political rival, even though the Americans have warned the old ghoul to desist. In the latest episode of the PA follies, Abu Mazen's people decided to replace the head of the Palestinian civil service -- Mohammed Abu Sharia, an Arafat loyalist -- with one of Abu Mazen's guys. Abu Sharia refused to leave the position and Arafat sent in armed guys to prevent him being forced out.
The Smackdown Continues
Over the weekend, the IDF continued to enforce the new policy against Hamas. The rules of the game (to quote every contest on the show "Banzai") are very simple: If you are a Hamasnik and you move, you are a target. And it doesn't matter if you are big fish or little fish. And trying to avoid detection by not riding in cars won't help you either.
On Thursday, missiles dispatched one Hamdi Kalah, the head of a Hamas cell responsible for mortar and rocket attacks. Kalah was trying to escape detection by riding a donkey cart. All I can say here is, it's a shame about the donkey.
Then, yesterday, the IAF took out a van carrying Abdullah Akel and Farid Mayet, two Hamas field operatives involved in the production of Qassam rockets. Akel and Mayet were driving together, contrary to Hamas field orders. This was the fifth attack on Hamas members in the past 10 days, and by all reports it is taking a toll on the organization.
In the short run, these targeted killings are highly effective. Besides the obvious benefits -- ridding the world of people who have no compunction blowing apart mothers and children -- it also throws the terrorist groups in disarray. The question remains how long the army can keep it up and how effective it will be in the medium and long run.
Hamas, after all, will continue to try and attack Israelis. The security forces have foiled numerous attempts in the last couple of days. And while I have to admit a certain sense of satisfaction at the sight of a bombed out vehicle containing the body of an ex-terrorist, it's tempered by the feeling that another terrorist attack is right around the corner.
Shalom, First Graders
Almost surprisingly, the school year started this morning as planned. The national teacher's union decided to call off their planned strike and decided to take up their grievances with the Supreme Court instead. Some schools in different places around the country will be shut down by a strike instigated by the parents, but on the whole things are running surprisingly smooth.
Parents who had been stressed out over the prospects of the school year being delayed were able to relax over the weekend and help their sprogs pack their schoolbags. The kids got to be bummed out about the impending end of the holidays. The teachers worked on their lesson plans for the beginning of the year. Imshin and I managed to find common ground about the status of our country's poor educators.
Imshin asked me if I actually believe that forcing the kids to stand at attention when the teacher enters the room will cause them to have more respect for their teachers. My short answer is it can't hurt.
My longer answer is that it would be better if the parents who slag off their kids' teachers in front of the kids would stop. In the meantime, making the kids stand would at least instill a certain military-type respect for the teacher's position. There's an old saying in the US Army that "you salute the rank, not the person." In other words, it doesn't matter if the officer in question is extremely capable or not; for the system to work, you need at least obey that person. Now, if the person (in our case, the teacher) also earns the genuine respect of the students then all the better. In the meantime, there's at least some sense that the teacher is important and hopefully this might contribute to quieter students.
Bear in mind that I also support school uniforms.
So, as we say to the newest participants in the educational system, shalom kita alef (welcome, first graders). Let's all hope we have a reasonably quiet school year.