Thursday, December 18, 2003
Advice for the Anti-War Crowd

This hasn't been the best of weeks for the anti-war, anti-Bush crowd what with Saddam being captured and all. Suddenly, they lost the ability to criticize GWB for not being able to get his hands on the dictator. Happilly, they haven't let circumstances get them down, and the criticism of Bush for not capturing Saddam turned into declarations that Saddam wasn't that important anyway. Saddam's old chum George Galloway even went so far as to turn on the man he used to praise and declare that Saddam's capture was a good thing because it frees the "noble Iraqi resistance" from the onus of association with Saddam.

Janet Daley has a wonderful piece in today's Guardian which advises the anti-American crowd what to do if things continue not going their way:
What To Say If:

Saddam refuses to co-operate with his interrogators.
The arrest of this man is a sideshow. He clearly knows nothing about the current state of resistance and has played no role in the planning of insurgency. His trial will simply be an exercise in vengeance with no constructive outcome for Iraq.

Saddam sings like a canary, identifying the perpetrators of insurgency.
Saddam is obviously being tortured by his American captors. Or else, they are lying about his testimony and justifying their own persecution of innocent Iraqis on the basis of his alleged "confession". (Note to broadcasters: these hypotheses need not be stated baldly. They can simply be hinted at or implied by leading questions and incredulous facial expressions.)

Saddam admits to having had weapons of mass destruction all along and gives a detailed account of a) where they can be found, b) how and when he destroyed them.
If a) then switch the focus immediately to the role that America (with particular reference to Donald Rumsfeld personally) played in the past in allowing Saddam to develop these arms. Avoid if possible any tactless references to the much more recent contributions of our European partners in building Saddam's armoury. If b), float the idea that Saddam is lying - simply telling his captors what it would suit their political purposes to hear, in the hopes of cutting a deal for himself.
Read the rest.

Crime Smackdown

So, it's been a week since the mafia bombing that killed three civilians and the police have finally gotten around to hitting back. Police forces carried out a series of raids against illegal casinos and brothels last night. They also arrested Yichya Hariri, who is supposed to be the biggest crime boss in the north, and a couple of other figures involved in major money laundering operations.

I really hope this is the start of something instead of just a window-dressing operation.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003
Israeli Technology Gone Bad

Israel is a world powerhouse when it comes to technological development. The number of startups here is second only to the US of A. Among other innovations, it turns out that Israel also leads the world in the development of seriously annoying Internet advertising technologies.

Blinky banner ads and pop-up windows? Perfected here. (And if you want to get a taste of what Internet advertising hell looks like, just check out any major Israeli portal.)

Unfortunately, it looks like the good days are coming to an end. Microsoft is about to come out with a pop-up blocker for the next service pack for Windows XP. This, coupled with the popularity of blocking programs (like Google's toolbar) spell hard times ahead for Israeli companies like Oak Interactive, which specialize in pop up ads. (Oak's CEO thinks that Microsoft is out to get him. Um, okay.)

Never fear, Israeli developers are one step ahead of the game. In fact, we can be proud of the fact that we've managed to create something even more annoying than the popup window. This is an advertisement that appears on top of the page you're trying to view. Not only is it a more intrusive form of advertising technology, it also fools most of the popup blockers.

Let's hear it for good ol' blue-and-white technology.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003
Getting Saddam

Now that Saddam is safely in US hands, people here are buzzing over a front page item in Ma'ariv today (Hebrew link) about an Israeli plan to assassinate the Iraqi dictator in the early '90s. Following the first Gulf War, the Israeli government came up with a plan to get Saddam back for firing missiles at us. Then-PM Yitzhak Shamir and Defense Minister Moshe Arens wanted an operation that would make up for the pain of not retaliating against Iraq during the war. When Rabin replaced Shamir as PM, he put the plan in high gear. Rabin, who had authorized the Entebbe raid in 1976 wanted an operation that would be just as breathtaking.

According to the plan, commandos from the IDF's elite Sayeret Matkal unit were to fly into Iraq to a location where it could be fairly certain that Saddam himself (and not one of his many doubles) would appear. Saddam's beloved father-in-law was in the final stages of some illness at the time, and the intelligence services guessed that once the old man kicked the bucket, Saddam would attend his funeral personally.

The commandos would then target Saddam using a guided anti-personnel missile, with a forward unit guiding the missile and a rear unit firing it. The commandos trained for this mission at the Tze'elim base in Israel. During one of these training exercises in November 1992, someone accidentally loaded a real missile instead of a dummy. Five soldiers were killed, and the plan was scrapped.

Since then, rumors have percolated about the nature of the training accident at Tze'elim. The fact that Saddam was the target was widely known, albeit officially unacknowledged. So, it's interesting to finally get the details.

It also leads to a number of uncomfortable thoughts of "what if?". Had the Tze'elim accident not happened and Sayeret Matkal had gone ahead with the operation, it's not entirely clear that any of the commandos would have returned home. The IDF wanted to avoid having its soldiers captured at all costs; the soldiers who were supposed to carry out the operation had to agree to fight to the death instead of allowing themselves to be captured.

And what if the plan had been a success? Saddam's replacement (which, I suppose, would have been Qusay) might very well have retaliated with chemical or biological missiles. The international community would probably have had their own shit fit, if you go by the reaction when Israel bombed Saddam's nuclear reactor in 1981. Almost certainly Saddam would have gone down as a noble hero in a lot of the Arab world, instead of the way he has gone down, as a ratty-looking bum who surrendered to US forces like a little girl.

In retrospect, I think it's probably for the best that the mission to assassinate Saddam never went through. (Although, of course, it's tragic that five soldiers died before the plan was aborted). Hopefully the US will resist the demands for trying the bastard in an international court and instead puts him to the justice of his own people. There, hopefully, he will finally tell the truth to the Iraqis about the secret torture chambers and the mass graves before they put him before the firing squad or on the gallows.

Monday, December 15, 2003
Ha'aretz Pitches Stupid Solution. Again.

What is it with Ha'aretz's weekend magazine and the one-state plan? This last weekend, they featured an interview with Daniel Gavron, an old-school Labor zionist who has suddenly started to preach the merits of the single-state solution for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Gavron, it seems, has decided that there's no way Israel will ever give up the Territories and the best possible thing to do is embrace a single Palestinian-Jewish enitity.

If this sounds familiar, it's because Ha'aretz presented almost the same article about six months ago. Then, the subject was former Jerusalem deputy mayor Meron Benvenisti, also a Labor zionist, who had his own views in support of a Jewish-Palestinian state.

Benvenisti, at least, could be written off as a flake. Especially when he started waxing rhapsodically about the Arabs being a necessary component of the landscape as he remembers it from his childhood. Gavron seems to be a bit more lucid, but five times as naive.

The single state plan, as I have argued before would be a national disaster for the Jewish population here. Given the demographic trends, the Palestinians would become the majority here within two or three decades. You'd have to be an idiot to put your faith in their benevolence. Gavron, to his credit, recognizes this argument, but has a solution to it:
At the outset of the new state, Jews will be in the majority, with control of parliament, government, the army, the civil service, the judiciary and other arms of state, and will get to set the rules. "If we start today, when we are in charge, it is up to us to create a society in which people want to remain," he says. "There is absolutely no reason to believe it would degenerate into something inferior. The Palestinians are often called `the Jews of the Arab world.' They are enterprising, they are intelligent, they are far more democratic than any other Arabs, they want democracy."

He concedes that existential fears are legitimate, but insists "not every Palestinian has the aim in life of slaughtering Jews. If we create a society in which there are equal rights, democracy, the chance for education and for creativity and self-expression, there's absolutely no reason why a very reasonable, enlightened society won't emerge here.
Do you want to stake your life on the Palestinians suddenly becoming a stable, liberal democracy despite every indication to the contrary? I sure don't.

What would more likely happen if Gavron's solution were to be implemented is that we'd see a huge rush of Israelis with second passports hastening to leve the country. I suspect that the society here would then more likely degenerate to the level of the Palestinians rather than the Palestinians rising to the level of Israelis.

Gavron's ideas, like Benvenisti's, are on the political fringe. Why they deserve two multi-page features within 6 months is beyond me.


If I were a bigger man, I would be content feeling happy for the Iraqi people and satisfied that justice has been served. However, I'm small and petty especially when reading stories like this about the reaction of the Palestinians to Saddam's capture. For the Palestinians, yesterday was "a black day." Sadness has descended upon the streets of Nablus and Ramallah:
Khairiyeh Said, 43, a high-school teacher, said she wept when she watched Saddam in captivity. "I was sitting with my friends when we heard the bad news," she said. "We all started crying because we love Saddam and we hate [US President George W.] Bush and [Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon. This is a big victory for Bush and Sharon and all the enemies of the Palestinian people.
Awwww. Poor thing.

During the first Gulf War, as Saddam lobbied his scuds at Ramat Gan (one of which caused the destruction of my grandmother's house), the Palis danced on their rooftops crying "Ya Saddam, ya habib, udrub udrub Tal Abib" ("Oh Saddam, oh dear one, strike, strike at Tel Aviv"). They looked to him as their savior and he, in turn, helped bankroll the families of suicide bombers.

Nearly 13 years later, Saddo is sitting in American lockdown waiting to be hanged by his own people. The Palestinians are crying over the loss of their habib, and I'm playing the world's smallest violin for all of them.

Almost as satisfying from the perspective of schadenfreude is the reaction of Bush's domestic opponents. Over at the Howard Dean blog, youthful supporters of the Democratic frontrunner ponder how Saddam's arrest will affect their guy's chances of winning the presidency, then desperately try to convince themselves that it won't make a difference. (Word to the Deanie babies: it's not about you.)

Even more fun is the sour grapefest of the extreme Bush-haters. Hey, guess what guys? You can warm yourselves in the glow of your fiery anger for the President and exchange conspiracy theories deep into the night. This time, GWB scored a big one.

A Great Day

There are days when you just walk around with a contented smile on your face. Yesterday was one of those.

One of the world's most evil men has been captured. A lot of Iraqis are breathing more freely. The US endeavor to sort out Iraq has received a big boost. What's not to like?

I got the news right after lunch. I called my wife, who was out and about with the baby. "Did you hear the news?" I asked her. "Oh my god, how many dead?," was her reaction. In Israel, when someone calls you and asks if you've heard the news it generally means there was a big terrorist attack. This time the news was good for a change, and we spent a fun evening with visiting relatives watching Bush's speech and the footage of Saddam's medical examination over and over again.

As far as that video footage, ain't it controversial? The tender souls are already screaming that it was an intentional "humiliation" of the dictator. And yet, what would you have the Americans do? If the US didn't release pictures, and quickly, then the conspiracy theories would have shot off by now. Showing the medical examination was a way of de-mythologizing a man whose public image has consisted mainly of him waving swords or firing shotguns from the balconies of his many palaces. I think broadcasting images of Saddam "being examined like a homeless drunk arrested for public urination," (as Stefan Sharkansky so wonderfully describes it) will contribute a lot to this cause.

Certainly, it's got to account for the, shall we say, muted reaction to the capture in the Arab world. It can only be healthy for the Arabs and their screwed-up culture to see their great hero -- the one who repeatedly declared his intention of dying like a martyr -- surrendering to the American forces without a single shot being fired. Ah, if they had also shaved off his moustache along with his beard. I know, that would be "culturally insensitive".

I loved the reaction from the international community amused me endlessly, especially that of the French. Chirac released a statement saying that he was "delighted" at Saddam's arrest. Rich stuff coming from a man who was a personal buddy of the former dictator, whose country was key in helping Saddam's nuclear program in the '80s, who fought sanctions throughout the '90s, then did everything in his power (including threats of a flat-out, no-questions-asked UNSEC veto) to prevent the war which got rid of the Tikkriti butcher.

Ah Les Frogs, God bless 'em. The only thing that rivals their capacity for perfidy is their utter shamelessness.

So, what's next for Saddam? A big trial and a date with the hangman at the end of it, I would hope. This is going to be the next major conflict between Europe and the States, whether Saddam should be tried in Iraq or in front of one international court or the other. Being that the purpose of the International Criminal Court is to try war criminals who can't (or won't) be tried in their own countries, I don't think there's any justification sending him to the Hague. The Iraqis have earned the right to decide what to do with the guy, even (I'd say especially) if it means he'll end up on the gallows.

Not that this will stop the fuzzy-wuzzies who were all over the BBC last night fretting about Saddam's civil liberties from insisting that his trial be handled by an international court. Which is part of the same international body which opposed his ouster and then turned tail and ran away from Iraq afterwards.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Omigod, I hope this is true!

UPDATE: Woo hoo! They got the bastard!

The Ace of Spades has been taken. Happy happy joy joy happy happy joy joy!

The Israeli Underworld Goes Mainstream

So suddenly everyone's talking about the local mafia. (According my referrer logs, many of you have discovered this blog while come here looking for info on the subject. I'm pleased to be of service and, while you're here, feel free to stick around for other commentary.)

The attack on Ze'ev Rosenstein last Thursday which missed its target but killed three civilians crossed a line and now the police find themselves under tremendous pressure to do something about the situation. And yet, we had a number of mob hits and attempted hits over the weekend. You'd think that with all the heat coming down from the bombing the other day that the criminals would be smart enough to lay low for a while. But then again if they were smart they probably wouldn't be criminals.

Rosenstein is now the celebrity of the moment. The man has already used up six of his nine lives and there's no indication that his enemies won't try again.

Rosenstein made his bones in the early '90s by allegedly ordering the murder of Yehezkel Aslan, who was the big man of the underworld at the time. The police arrested Rosenstein for the murder, but couldn't make the charges stick. A short time after his release from custody gunmen attempted to assassinate him (the first time). Aslan's brother and two others were arrested for the attempted murder but subsequently went missing or turned up dead before they could be tried.

This is the main problem with Rosenstein. He likes to take care of his business himself. As someone pointed out the other day, Rosenstein knows full well who wants him dead but chooses not to share this knowledge with the police. This wouldn't be so bad, except that innocents also get murdered in the warfare.

Fact is that Israel is seeing an ongoing gangland war. I heard an interesting theory on the news the other night which ties the rise in criminal violence to the collapse of the Trade Bank. The bank went under early this year after one of its senior clerks, Etti Alon, embezzled millions of dollars ostensibly to help her brother who had deep gambling debts. (Alon was recently sentenced to 18 years prison time). The discovery of the embezzlement and the collapse of the bank meant that a lot of money suddenly stopped flowing into criminal enterprises. As a result, the competition between mobsters has increased, as have the wars.

The police meanwhile, have declared that they are going to wage a full war on organized crime. This means increased raids on casinos and other illegal enterprises as well as round-the-clock monitoring of Rosenstein and other key figures like the Alperons and Abergils. Which would be great, except that as usual reality tends to rear its ugly head. The police had their plan all worked out when a warning of a possible terrorist attack in the Sharon area came up. The officers who were supposed to carry out the mafia raids had to be diverted to man roadblocks instead.

Israeli Films

While we're on the subject, last Thursday, the Yes satellite broadcasting company launched a new channel dedicated to Israeli movies.

Ordinarily, this is not the kind of thing that I find appealing. On the whole, we don't have a particularly vibrant or interesting movie industry in this country. A good portion of Israeli films over the years fall into one of two categories: lowbrow comedies (the so-called "bourekas films") or dour, semi-political statements often dealing with wars and their aftermath.

Generally, you usually get one Israeli film each year that both gets critical raves and does well at the box office (such as Hatuna Me'uheret, ("A Late Wedding") from 2001). But for each of these there are a few dozen others that only get screened at a couple of film festivals. If the director is especially lucky, they might be broadcast on TV.

The new Israeli movie channel comes with a lot of media brouhaha. Presumabley, Yes wants to tap into a market niche by fulfilling peoples' desire here to see films without having to read the subtitles. But there is hope that the new channel will help the sad state of Israeli filmmaking (which suffers on an overreliance on government grants that get cut each year) by getting people used to seeing films in Hebrew again.

Like I said, I'm not usually a fan of Israeli films. It's a cultural thing, I suppose, the product of my mixed Israeli-American upbringing. I've seen the pop culture classics like Givat Halfon and "get" the references when people quote from them, but they weren't part of my formative years. Which means I don't connect to these films like I would, say, Ferris Bueller's Day Off or Real Genius.

However, this weekend I found myself repeatedly turning to the Israeli movie channel and enjoying what I saw. For instance, B' 72 Lo Hayta Milhama ("There Was Now War in '72") which is an autobiographical look at a boy growing up in an abusive household in the early '70s, and Yaldei Stalin ("Children of Stalin") which is set in the '50s on a kibbutz affiliated with the communist party and shows the terrible ideological blows that came after Khruschev revealed Stallin's crimes. Part of the appeal for me is getting a glimpse of Israeli life in the years when I didn't live here.

Surprisingly, nearly two days passed before the channel broadcast its first dumb comedy (the 1986 Tuvia Tzafir vehicle Ha'Instelator) and we still haven't seen anything featuring Moshe Ivgi, an actor who seemingly appears in every other Israeli movie.

I suspect I'll keep watching, if anything to catch up with some of the popular films in recent years I haven't seen.