Articles which have caught my interest. Mostly Israel stuff and other nubbins from the ongoing holy war.
Thursday, September 18, 2003
Friedman on France
Interesting column from Tom Friedman today about America's newest enemy. Friedman argues that France's action before and since the recent war indicate that the French are focused on one thing only these days: making sure America fails in Iraq. The froggies want America to fall so that France can regain its natural place (in its own eyes) as a major world power.
What is so amazing to me about the French campaign — "Operation America Must Fail" — is that France seems to have given no thought as to how this would affect France. Let me spell it out in simple English: if America is defeated in Iraq by a coalition of Saddamists and Islamists, radical Muslim groups — from Baghdad to the Muslim slums of Paris — will all be energized, and the forces of modernism and tolerance within these Muslim communities will be on the run. To think that France, with its large Muslim minority, where radicals are already gaining strength, would not see its own social fabric affected by this is fanciful.
Gilligan Admits he was Wrong
It's with no little degree of schadenfreude that I greet the news that BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan has admitted he was wrong about his story that the British government knowingly "sexed up" intelligence reports about Iraq's WMD program in order to bolster their case for going to war.
Gilligan reported that one of the government's WMD experts, Dr. David Kelly, had cast doubts on the intelligance estimates, but that the government had gone ahead and published them anyway. Kelly was called in to testify in front of a parliamentary investigative committee and commited suicide shortly afterwards. Now, Gilligan says that his report wasn't entirely accurate:
[Gilligan] accepted he was mistaken to state, in a broadcast at 6.07am on 29 May, that the Government had inserted the claim that Saddam Hussein could launch chemical or biological weapons within 45 minutes despite knowing it was "probably wrong".Don't get the impression for this that Gilligan has recanted. He says the main point of his story -- that the intelligence was problematic -- still stands and that he was only wrong in the little details.
But while he may be technically right when he says the intelligence was considered problematic. But there is a huge difference between a claim that some defense officials thought the intel was dodgy and a claim that defense officials thought the intel was dodgy and went ahead and knowingly pushed it anyway.
Bear in mind, that Gilligan pulled something similar during the recent Gulf War when he reported that American troops had not captured Baghdad's airport when in fact they had. Then, as now, he tried to turn the issue to focus on government (in this case US) credibility. Sure, he says, I was off on the details, but isn't the issue bigger than that?
As a journalist, Gilligan has proven himself to be both sloppy and polemical, the kind of guy who won't let facts interfere with the point he wants to make. The Beeb is now in a bind. They've stuck by their man so far and now it looks like his case has collapsed. In the States, Gilligan would have long ago joined the unemployment rolls (just google "New York Times" +scandal +"Jayson Blair"). It will be interesting to see if the BBC will continue trying to fish or finally cut bait.
Ted Rall, the Guy who Thinks Terror is OK
I generally ignore Ted Rall's stuff, because I find him annoying. His political cartoons -- when not attempting to make cheap political hay out of dead American soldiers or 9/11 victims -- are crude, one-note and singularly unfunny. His political columns are generally asinine, capturing everything that is worst about the loony left. In short, I have better things I could do with my time.
But, then I came across this column of Rall's over at Michael Totten's site, where Totten was giving it a hearty fisking. Although I will gladly amen every one of Michael's line comments, I think he gets bogged down with arguments ("but the US is democratic") that don't quite hit the worst overall aspects of Rall's piece.
For those of you who haven't read it yet, I'll spare you the headache. Rall's point is basically this: The American forces in Iraq are an occupying enemy. Therefore the attacks on soldiers and other recent acts of terrorism are justified, and the perpetrators of these attacks are noble Iraqi patriots. Those who are cooperating with the US, including the Iraqi police, are collaborators and deserve to be killed.
You won't find, of course, any mention of the regime that was in place, of course. You will find Rall's usual descriptions of George Bush as the devil.
So far, so standard. What finally got me about the column was this observation:
I collect propaganda posters. One of my favorites, from World War II, depicts a strapping young SS officer holding a smiling local kid in his arms. "Trust the German soldier," the caption exhorts citizens of occupied France. But when liberation came in 1945, Frenchmen who had obeyed that poster were shot as collaborators. The men and women who resisted--the "terrorists" who shot German soldiers, cut phone lines and bombed trains--received medals and pensions. Invaders always say that they come as liberators, but it's almost never true. Whether you live in Paris or Baghdad or New York, you're expected to know that, and to act accordingly.In other words, Americans=Nazis.
Now, as you may now, nothing rankles me more than writers dragging the Nazis in to make a point about current affairs. Why? Because the example is usually inaccurate and always serves to cheapen the real lessons to be learned from the Nazis.
Let's take Rall here. Leaving for a moment the small political differences between Germany c. 1940 and the U.S. c. 2003 (a fact I suspect Rall would contest), the Nazis never claimed they were liberating France. Hitler invaded France because it (along with Britain) had declared war on Germany following the German invasion of Poland. The German invasion of France was as an attempt to scare the British out of joining a land war on the Continent.
Also, the vast majority of Frenchies who "obeyed the poster" went on to live normal lives after the war without being shot as collaborators.
And notice how Rall fails to mention what exactly happened in 1945 to bring about la Libération. It had something to do with Americans but, shhhh, don't tell anyone.
Rall illustrates, to an almost cartoonish degree, the heads-up-assness of the extreme left. The idea that the American occupation of Baghdad is worse than the murderous regime it replaced demonstrates the total absence of a moral compass. (In fact, you suspect that he is probably opposed to the concept of a moral compass). Instead, Rall takes takes two pieces of leftist dogma:
With such a twisted concept of good and evil (and such a limited understanding of historical precedent), it shouldn't be too surprising that what Rall comes up with is essentially a loathsome call for Iraqis to kill Americans and other Iraqis.
Quote of the Day
"You have such a big, beautiful country; why do you try to interfere in ours? Do we try to solve Spain's problems with the Basques or the French problems with the Corsicans? And how about the Lapps?"-Ariel Sharon to Norway's Foreign Minister Jan Peterson, during the latter's brief nose-poking-into visit to Israel yesterday.
Wednesday, September 17, 2003
More Reasons to Love the Saudis
You'll never guess where Hamas is getting a lot of its financing:
At least 50 percent of Hamas's current operating budget of about $10 million a year comes from people in Saudi Arabia, according to estimates by American law enforcement officials, American diplomats in the Middle East and Israeli officials. After the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the Saudi portion of Hamas financing grew larger as donations from the United States, Europe and other Persian Gulf countries dried up, American officials and analysts said.So we have the Saudis bankrolling Hamas, Iran bankrolling Hizbullah, Islamic Jihad and some of the Fatah groups, and Syria protecting Hizbullah, Hamas, PFLP, and DFLP.
Regime change now!
Colombian Hostage Update
It's still not entirely clear what's going on over in Colombia. At first, the government suspected that the hostages had been taken by a Marxist guerrilla group called the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). FARC sent a communique denying that they had the hostages and instead accused the Colombian government of staging the kidnapping in order to then "rescue" the hostages and gain glory.
Now, Colombian authorities suspect the hostages are in the hands of a different Marxist guerilla group called the National Liberation Army (ELN), although none of the articles I've read indicate why they think this. The fact is that they could be in the hands of anyone from Marxist militias to drug cartels to local thugs trying to make a quick buck. Such are things in Colombia.
Local eyewitnesses claim they saw the hostages alive. In the meantime, a representative of the Israeli police has joined in the search. The rest of us sit and wait.
After a lot of painful arguing, the government managed to pass a budget yesterday. The budget continues Bibi Netanyahu's economic austerity program and makes huge cuts in health, education and defense. (Nine out of the 23 ministers -- including the Education, Health, and Defense ministers -- voted against). At the last moment, ministers found they still had an NIS 1.1 billion hole to cover. Instead of cutting the ministries further, they decided to take most of the money from the National Insurance Institute (Bituach Leumi). This means more cuts in welfare payments, child benefits and every other type of government handout save those to pensioners and people getting guaranteed incomes.
The budget issue has been top news this week and the more I see of it, the more depressed I get. Nothing drives home the point that Israel's economy is in the toilet better than the budget horror stories we see on the news every morning and evening: the single mothers who will have problems feeding their kids; the elderly residents of a psychatric hospital facing shutdown; the cancer patient whose chemotherapy treatments are about to be removed from the list of state-subsidized medicine.
Budget negotiations, especially in times of belt-tightening, are never pretty affairs. And this one is as unpretty as they get. How do you decide whether to cut more study hours from the schools or payments to poor children? Lawmakers are getting a lot of flak, not only for cutting welfare programs but also in the way the decision was taken, in the middle of the night almost without public discussion.
Hopefully, the public debate will focus on a number of issues. One is those institutions that emerged relatively (and unjustifiably) unscathed: the local religious councils, the multitude of regional councils, and the subsidies paide to farmers.
The country has dozens of regional councils that govern very small areas. These have no raison d'etre other than to provide cushy employment for cronies of MKs. Each of these regional councils has a mayor, an assortment of deputy mayors, and their staffs. They receive inflated salaries, tax breaks, and car and travel expenses, all on the public dime. There was a plan to start merging these councils earlier this summer, but it was shot down by the same politicians who use their positions to provide jobs for the boys. As for the religious councils, same problem with a different flavor of politician. The religious councils were supposed to be folded into the local municipalities but are protected for now by a coalition agreement with the National Religious Party.
Then there are the farmers, who receive far-reaching government subsidies and benefit from heavily discounted water. Farmers enjoy the support of an agricultural lobby comprised of Knesset members up and down the political spectrum, not to mention the heartfelt backing of a Prime Minister who spends his off time raising sheep.
Speaking of sheep, the Israeli public has until now acted like them when it comes to this type of institutional corruption. The question is, now that we can see these things as tangible tradeoffs -- three deputy mayors of Givat Shmuel and their staffs versus x number of medications available on the national health plan -- will the public continue to be a bunch of freierim?
The bigger issue is the country's economic priorities in general. The budget cuts are coupled with the other part of Netanyahu's economic plan: an attempt to cut taxes. From his point of view, Netanyahu is following his free market philosophy. A bigger paycheck translates into bigger spending translates into economic recovery.
Obviously, the more you earn, the more you benefit from a tax cut. Intellectually, it makes sense. I'm not sure about about morally.
More than one commentator this week has asked whether, given the economic situation, it's right to take money from the weakest segments of the population and basically give it to the richer ones. And while the papers and broadcast media do have a tendency towards populist demagoguery, but I think they have a point here.
I generally favor Bibi's free-market approach to the economy, especially compared to the creaky socialism he wants to reform. I'd also be happy to get a tax cut, seeing how the tax burden here is one of the highest in the world. However, if the choice came down between a couple of hundred sheckels a month extra versus more money to schools or hospitals, I'd be inclined to go with the latter. I suspect that I'm not alone.
UN Pro-Arafat Resolution Vetoed
As expected, the UN vetoed the Arab-backed resolution to the Security Council condemning Israel and warning it not to harm Arafat. The Americans shot down the resolution saying it was unnecessary, lopsided, and failed to condemn Palestinian terrorism. The Palestinians, of course, are pissed and we've heard grumblings that more resolutions will follow.
So, it seems we may be in for another season of intemperate denunciations of Israel in the UN. We've gone right back to the good old days of the 1970s, with its declarations that "Zionism=racism".
Proving that history repeats itself first as tragedy, then as farce, and finally as reruns of "Three's Company".
Tuesday, September 16, 2003
Colombia Hostage Update
Two Israelis who were part of hikers kidnapped last week in Colombia managed to escape:
One of the freed Israelis, Ran Atzmon, told Channel 2 last night that the captors split the group into two, and his group was taken into a house where their hands and legs were bound, and they were warned the door was booby-trapped, and that any attempt to leave would trigger an explosion.So, we're not talking about particularly sophisticated kidnappers here. Be that as it may, a thousand Colombian soldiers are out looking for the captives.
I wasn't kidding yesterday when I said that kidnapping is the second biggest part of the Colombian GDP. It does in fact lead the world in this kind of thing, with some 3,000 people getting nabbed annually.
The Yasser Idiocy Moves to the U.N.
Idiotic things have a funny way of snowballing into major problems. Last week, the government came out with its idiotic declaration of intentions about getting rid of Arafat. Now, following protests in the Territories and the denouncements of the decision by various European governments, the issue has made its way to the U.N. Security Council.
The Palis submitted a resolution to the Security Council which demands that Israel not hurt a single hair on the leering ghoul's ugly chinny chin chin. Therein followed the standard condemnation of Israel by 40 or so different countries, along with speeches by the Palestinian representative to the UN, Nasser al-Kidwa, and the Israeli representative, Danny Gillerman.
Gillerman's speech was spot on, laying out in depth Arafat's involvement in terror and the grave obstacle he poses to any kind of negotiated political agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Not that this will do anything to convince the motley assortment of Arab thugs and their European appeasers who decide the vote.
At the moment, the Security Council has temporarily postponed a vote on the resolution until tomorrow. As it currently stands, the US has threatened to veto the thing because it is completely one-sided, castigating Israel to the ends of the earth without any mention of Palestinian terrorism.
And so, a really bad decision by the Cabinet here has turned into a situation where Israel has to defend itself again from attacks in the UN and has to call in the protection of the big uncle in America. Sad sad sad.
"I read in the papers that a special team of commandos has been training to capture Arafat and helicopter him into exile in North Africa. Instead of North Africa, I suggest that they take him to the safari in Ramat Gan instead. The safari would be jammed with people coming to see the fearsome ra'is. Just keep your windows rolled up."- A caller to 103 FM's "Center Stage" program yesterday.
Monday, September 15, 2003
Teach Your Children Well
From the mouths of babes...
The Jpost talks to Palestinian schoolchildren outside Arafat's HQ:
"We want to defend [Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser] Arafat and kill the Jews wherever they are," said 10-year-old schoolgirl Aysheh Muhammad as she gripped a poster of Arafat outside his battered office Sunday, chanting slogans in his support along with her classmates.And this quote, from an 11-year-old girl:
"It's our duty to defend Palestine with all our might," she said. "We have to carry out suicide attacks because the Jews are killing us."It more or less speaks for itself.
One Man One Vote One Disaster (With or Without a Fence)
Thomas Friedman's latest column presents what could be viewed as the Doomsday Scenario for Israel in the struggle with the Palestinians. Regarding the separation fence being put up in the West Bank, Friedman hypothesizes that if Israel puts up the fence but keeps the West Bank settlements, the law of unintended consequences will take over in a way that no one intended:
If the Israelis were building a fence around the West Bank, and then removing all the checkpoints inside, it would make great sense. But they can't, because the West Bank Jewish settlements also have to be protected — hence the fences and checkpoints all over the place, which are choking commerce and creating cages that will become factories of despair. As Palestinians find themselves isolated in pockets next to Jewish settlers — who have the rule of law, the right to vote, welfare, jobs, etc. — and as hope for a contiguous Palestinian state fades, it's inevitable that many of them will throw in the towel and ask for the right to vote in Israel.This will be a disaster for the Jewish state. There would be no way to counter this demand without really looking like Apartheid-era South Africa, and Israel will most likely be forced into accepting the one person one vote formulation. At this point, demographics takes over from where the terrorism left off. Within two decades, the Palestinians become the majority in a binational state and it doesn't take much imagination to guess what will happen to the Jewish presence here.
I've heard a lot of people on the left here argue that this type of binational state will be the logical end result of continuing the settlement movement. And it's one of the strongest arguments they have, especially in the minds of people like me who disagree with the settlements but don't want to pull out of the Territories in such a manner that simply rewards and encourages Palestinian terrorism.
That having been said, I'm not convinced that this has anything to do with the fence per se. Friedman's argument would be the same if Israel insisted on maintaining the settlements even without the fence (as the hardcore right wing here argues). The problem is the combination of settlement activities and the continuing inability of the Palestinians to create a workable self-government rather than a terrorist state.
On the contrary, there's an argument to be made that the fence will help prevent the scenario Friedman discusses. At the moment, Israeli political discourse is basically paralyzed by the terrorism. No one wants to talk about evacuating settlements near Ramallah and Gaza when coffee shops are being blown apart in downtown Jerusalem. The security fence will help decrease the number of attacks and hopefully lead to a situation where the silent majority in Israel (which favors evacuating settlements in return for peace and security) can make itself heard again.
Latest Israeli Tourist Crisis
Over the weekend, Marxist guerillas kidnapped a group of foreign tourists in Colombia, four of them Israelis. So now the country once again sits on edge waiting to hear news of their fate.
This is not unsimilar to a story a few weeks ago of Israeli hikers who went missing in the frozen wastes of Kamchatka. Luckilly, they came out alive.
As always, my heart goes out to the families of the missing travellers. But I once again have to marvel at how Israelis feel the need to travel to places which logic would dictate as terribly unsafe. After all, kidnapping is the second largest component of the Colombian GDP, right after cocaine production.
More to come, I'm sure
Sunday, September 14, 2003
A Decade Later
With all the hoopla in the Territories over the weekend, a certain 10-year anniversary came and went with minimal fanfare.
A decade ago yesterday, on Sept. 13, 2003, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat met on the lawn of the White House for the signing of the Oslo Accords.
The agreement called for Israel to gradually turn over control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip to the newly established Palestinian Authority. The PA would transition into a Palestinian government and would work for a peaceful resolution of the crisis. After 6 years, at the final stage of the agreement, the two sides would resolve the most difficult issues: the final borders of a Palestinian state, the fate of the Palestinian refugees, and the status of Jerusalem.
As we all know, that never happened. Oslo was a collosal failure which led -- directly and indirectly -- to the violence that broke out in September 2003. So, what went wrong? This has been the question du jour around here in the last week or so. If you read the various essays in the Jerusalem Post's Oslo supplement the answer seems to be: everything. There are a couple of main factors in play:
You can point the finger at Israel, for continuing to build settlements. But, I would argue that if Israel were ever faced with a real option of pulling out of the territories in exchange for and end to the conflict with the Palestinian, that the Israeli public would force the politicians to do so. The fact is we've never been faced with this option. Palestinian society is still far too politically immature, corrupt, and in thrall to its own fantasies of redemption to enact a rational solution to the conflict. Those politicians who try to rise above it -- like Abu Mazen -- run into the brick wall of Arafat.
An "even-handed" approach by international mediators only plays into Palestinian hands. The road map, which makes the same mistakes as Oslo without even the prospect of a peace agreement at the end, is only the latest manifestation of this.
So, what's the solution?
Daniel Pipes lays out an iron-fist approach which might work in theory, except for the fact that the Europeans and the UN would scream bloody murder if we try to implement it.
So what do we have left? The separation fence, definitely. A continuing heavy hand against Palestinian terrorism. And the fervent hope that Arafat will die real soon and the Palestinians will grow up.
Unfortunately, I suspect that we'll still be in the same place and I'll be saying the same things 10 years from now.
A Glimpse at Averted Horrors
We're still on high alert for terrorist attacks over here. I usually have a quiet 25 minute drive to work and back from Tel Aviv, but in the last couple of days it's taken me an hour due to the various roadblocks on the way.
Over the weekend, units of the Border Guard uncovered three explosive belts in a butcher shop in an East Jerusalem village. The belts were packed with explosives, along with the standard nails, ball bearings, and bullets that the bastard terrorists use to maximize the number of victims of the attack.
The belts were intended for a triple attack in Jerusalem. This time, we got lucky.
Ousting Arafat. Or not.
This government has made a few boneheaded decisions over the last couple of years. None of those, however, can match the utter stupidity of the announcement by the security cabinet on Friday that it had voted "in principle" to remove Arafat.
The government announced that despite their decision there were no immediate plans to act towards deporting or otherwise ridding ourselves of Palestinian Terrorist Number One and that they were "sending a message of intent." Well, the message was received. Palestinians demonstrated throughout the West Bank during the weekend, surrounding Arafat's HQ, the Muqata'ah, in Ramallah and shouting slogans in his honor. The old ghoul himself came out to meet the adoring masses with a huge grin on himself. And the Europeans, the UN, and the Bushies have all pointed a finger at Sharon and said in effect dir balak, don't you dare.
And so, the security cabinet single handedly took Arafat -- whose star had been diminishing over the last year -- and turned him once again into the glorious national symbol of the Palestinians and the darling of the international diplomatic set. And, at the same time, managed to earn international condemnation without any security gain whatsoever. Good work.
The security cabinet's announcement is so stupid it almost defies understanding. Basically, what you have is a group of ministers from the thuggish part of the Israeli right-wing who have decided to vent their frustrations and engage in what amounts to political fantasies. And our Prime Minister, in his wisdom, lets them do it instead of telling them to pipe down.
OK, so let's say the policymakers in the country come to the conclusion (which the IDF and the security agencies oppose) that the time has come to get rid of Arafat. Keep your traps shut; you don't have to announce the decision to the world. And this is doubly true if you have no intention of carrying out the decision.