Thursday, January 29, 2004

Another bus bombing in Jerusalem about an hour ago. The papers are reporting at least 8 killed.

Too much going on today.

UPDATE: Ten dead, about 50 wounded. The attack occurred on Azza street in Jerusalem, not far from the Prime Minister's residence and close to where I used to live. At nine in the morning, the bus would have been packed with students on their way to Hebrew U. Expect a lot of casualties in their 20s.

Today's murder is brought to you by the Al Aqsa Martyr's Brigade. At least this time the PA decided to condemn the attack, which was nice of them seeing how the Al Aqsa Brigades are their own guys.

Two things need to be done: retaliate harshly against PA and Al Aqsa Martyr brigade figures and increase the pace of the fence building around the Jerusalem area.

Coming Home Day

The prisoner swap is underway. Israeli and Lebanese planes landed in Cologne, where the trade will be done, not long ago.

It's one of these dramatic days around here. The TV and radio broadcasts are giving minute-by-minute updates.

Last night on the news we saw Mustafa Dirani, Sheik Obeid and the rest of the Lebanese prisoners get their release papers at the prison. Later, Hizbullah officially announced that the three kidnapped soldiers were dead. Now, this shouldn't come as particularly big news. It's been pretty clear for a while, and the government here declared them dead a year ago. But still, without an official announcement and without seeing the bodies, there was always this tiny little bit of doubt and this thought that they might be alive. But no more.

Then, Hizbullahbroadcast an interview with Elhanan Tennenbaum. This is an old trick, of course. You get the hostage in front of the cameras to declare that he was treated humanely. Hizbullah used to do this in the '80s with its American and European hostages.

Tennenbaum also made the surprising claim that he came to Lebanon looking for information on Ron Arad. Now, this is weird. The general opinion is that he had been involved in some kind of drug smuggling deal which led him to Beirut and captivity. In the interview, Tennenbaum did say, coyly, that he also came to do something "financially" for his family. But why the story about Arad?

One thought: Tennenbaum is trying to establish some kind of alibi for himself when he gets back to Israel and undergoes questioning by the Shin Bet.

At any rate, all the prisoners are now in Germany waiting for the trade to go down. The swap will be made once Israeli experts make a positive identification on the remains of the three dead soldiers. The government plans a military ceremony this evening at Ben Gurion airport for the soldiers. This is a dignified idea, and I think the army owes it to the families of the soldiers themselves. It's unclear what kind of reception Tennenbaum will receive.

I wouldn't say that it's a particularly happy day around here. Back in 1985 the government concluded the Jibril deal, trading three IDF POWs for more than a thousand terrorists. As bad as that deal was -- and in retrospect it was a tactical disaster -- there was at least cause for celebrations when the boys came home. In this case, the only one coming home alive is a shady businessman who brought his own troubles upon himself. The boys are coming hom in coffins.

Good Day for Blair, Bad Day for the Beeb

I can't help feel a great wave of schadenfreude following the publication of the in England. Quick background for those who haven't been following: Last May, BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan aired a story alleging that the Blair government had "sexed up" a report about Iraq's WMD capability. Gilligan supposedly based his story on a source inside the Ministry of Defence who expressed reservations that the Iraq dossier exaggerated Saddam's WMD capability. This dossier was used to justify Britain's participation in the Iraq war.

The government denied these allegations. In the middle of the flap between Downing Street and the BBC, the name of Gilligan's informant was leaked to the media. The source was Dr. David Kelly, a scientist working for the MoD. Following the leak, Kelly committed suicide. This prompted the Hutton Enquiry into the matter.

The main points of the Hutton Report released yesterday:
  • Gilligan's claim that the Blair government knew the Iraq dossier had been exaggerated was untrue and was the result of sloppy reporting.
  • Given the seriousness of the claims, Gilligan's superiors should have at least checked his notes before airing the broadcast. Instead, they gave Gilligan free reign to make his claims.
  • Blair and his people did not leak Kelly's name deliberately in order to punish him and are not responsible for his death.
So, Blair is cleared and the BBC is to blame. As a result, Garvyn Davies, the Beeb's chairman resigned last night.

I'm loving it. The BBC runs a news service not much less slanted or ideological than al-Jazeera's. On a lot of issues pertaining to this region -- the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- their reporting is reflexively one-sided. So it was with their opposition to the war in Iraq. Now it turns out that their arrogance and ideological blindness also made them quite stupid. Gilligan's bosses decided to back their guy to the hilt without actually checking to see if his story was true. Now they're paying the price.

I hope it doesn't end here. The head of the News Service also needs to step down, but not before hanging Gilligan's big flabby ass out to dry as well.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004
Swap, cont'd

The prisoner swap with Hizbullah will take place tomorrow or Friday. I've been thinking about the pros and cons of the deals over the last couple of days.


Obviously, the families of the live hostage and the three dead soldiers will find some relief or at least some closure. We may also finally solve the mystery of Ron Arad's disappearance. The PA come up looking like chumps. Also, none of the Palestinians being released has blood on his hands and the majority of them would have been released this year anyway.

Probably the most moving argument I've heard in favor of this deal came from a guy who was a POW in Egypt after the Yom Kippur War. He said that if Israel doesn't do everything in its power to make sure that its soldiers return home then we lose our moral authority to send those same soldiers into battle.


Hizbullah proves that once again that it knows how to bend us to its will. They also prove that the best way to get anything out of Israel is by kidnapping. This will probably put ideas into a lot of Palestinians' heads. The deal gives Nasrallah a voice in the Palestinian issue (a grave strategic mistake). It also means that we regard Hizbullah as a legitimate player in Lebanese politics (thus undercutting our demand that the Lebanese government take control of the situation).

Also, some of the Palestinian prisoners being released are likely to return to terrorism. Except that this time they're veterans of the Israeli prison experience. In the States, a spell in the penitentiary often turns a small time criminal into a big time criminal. They learn new tricks and techniques from more experienced felons. In the same way, Israeli prisons often serve as terrorism school for Palestinians. Plus they earn street cred.

Bottom line: a bad deal and one which will probably have nasty repercussions.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004
Suicide Mom

LGF has a recurring feature they call "Palestinian Child Abuse" where they show photos taken from the news wires of Palestinian kids dressed up as suicide bombers and/or brandishing weapons. Normally, I just skim over it. After all, the first time you see a picture of a baby with a wearing a headband and a fake suicide belt it's shocking; the 15th time you encounter a photo like it, it just becomes quotidian. Just another example of the sick lessons the nation of psycopaths next door teach their children.

But, then I saw today's images. They show a couple of domestic scenes from the al-Rayishi household. You know, mom playing with the kids.

Mom, in this case, is Reem al-Rayishi, the woman who blew herself up two weeks ago at the Erez checkpoint and killed four Israelis. As we had heard, al-Rayishi left behind two small children aged three and one and a half. The whole idea of a woman being able to look at her two babies and still be able to walk out the house knowing she would soon make them motherless boggled my mind to begin with.

Then we had reports that she had been forced into the mission by her husband -- backed by the Hamas leadership -- in order to atone for having committed adultry. This was an entirely different type of sick: the cynicism of a group that would use their own medieval cultural norms to turn someone into a human bomb.

But now we see the pictures of al-Rayishi, in full shahida getup: the green Qur'anic headband and sash over her hijab, the requisite AK-47. And she's playing with the kids. In one picture she holds the rifle in one hand and her three-year-old (also wearing a headband and holding a rocket propelled grenade) in the other. In a second picture she shows off the rifle and a Qur'an to both the kiddies (the older one looks interested; the little one is looking off at something else).

These are the creepiest photos I've seen in a long time. And they're creepy no matter whether you believe Reem al-Rayishi went off on her suicide mission voluntarilly (in which case she proudly posed with her children and the weapons) or whether she was forced into killing herself (in which case, her Hamas handlers also forced her to drag her children into it for propaganda purposes). Sick, sick, sick.

Monday, January 26, 2004
Prisoner Swap, Cont'd

I really would like to feel better about this whole prisoner swap with Hizbullah, but Hassan Nasrallah seems to be doing his best to dissuade me more. Last night, the Hizbullah leader gave a press conference to discuss the agreement. At the same time he apparently decided "what the heck, let's toy with the emotions of some grieving families while I'm at it."

During his speech, he refused to discuss the state of the three kidnapped soldiers and only said "Let's wait till Thursday and we'll see who is alive and who is dead." Let us contemplate the depravity of this for a moment. Since the soldiers were kidnapped in October 2000 no one outside of Hizbullah has been allowed to see them, including the Red Cross. Hizbullah initially announced that they had been badly injured during the kidnapping, but wouldn't provide any more details.

Eventually, the IDF decided that they were dead. Their families then had to deal with a complex set of emotions, trying to balance grief and denial and looking for any thread of information that might show their boys were still alive. Now, four days before the conclusion of the deal, Nasrallah dangles something in front of them only, presumably, to snatch it away from them at the last moment. This goes way beyond cruel.

Now we wait until the end of the week to see what finally happens.

Sunday, January 25, 2004
Benny Strikes Back

Benny Morris once again features in Ha'aretz's magazine this week. This time he responds to the controversy about his remarks two weeks ago, especially his contention that under certain circumstances ethnic cleansing is an unpleasant necessary.
A central accusation in the letters to Haaretz Magazine ("The judgment of history," January 16) concerned the issue of "ethnic cleansing." I will repeat my words, which apparently did not register (perhaps because of the misleading title on the cover): I do not support the expulsion of Arabs from the territories or from the State of Israel! Such an expulsion would be immoral, and is also unrealistic. What I said was, that if in the future, these communities were to launch massive violence against the State of Israel in combination with a broad assault on Israel by its neighbors, and endanger its survival, expulsions would certainly be in the cards.
He also repeats his analysis that the West is at war with jihadist Islam which represents the barbarians at the gate. Morris, as usual, is worth reading, even though I got more of an uneasy feeling when I went through this interview. His use of the term "ethnic cleansing" was a serious mistake, one which easily allowed people to take his statements out of context. I think it would help if he had found another term that wasn't so closely tied to the events in Yugoslavia a decade ago.

I was also disappointed that he chose to use the argument of "but they started it" and go off on a tangent about Mohammed displacing (read: murdering) the Jews from the Arabian Peninsula in the 6th century. It's not like the contemporary Middle East lacks places -- most notably Iraq -- which were ethnically cleansed of Jews during the '50s.

Next week: the usual pack of leftists responds to Morris' response. And the band plays on and on.

Ma'ariv in English

Ma'ariv has launched its own English-language site. The content isn't as rich as Ha'aretz's or the Jerusalem Post's (at the moment you just get news, business, and op/ed), but it is another voice from here.

Basically, Ma'ariv is kind of like Israel's version of the New York Post. Its reporting isn't of the same caliber as Ha'aretz, in the same way that the Post's isn't like the Times. On the other hand, neither is its left-wing ideology.

Prisoner Trade Back On

Saturday night drama around here. We're sitting around watching the local version of "Changing Rooms" on Channel 2 and we get a news flash about a hostage deal. News to follow.

So, apparently the deal with Hizbullah that fell through a couple of months ago is back on: Israel will release 400 Palestinians and two dozen other Lebanese and Syrian prisoners (including the Hizbullah bigwigs Dirani and Obeid, and a German guy, a Muslim convert, caught while on a mission for Hizbullah). In return, Israel gets Elhanan Tennenbaum, the shady businessman who was kidnapped three years ago by Hizbullah, as well as the bodies of Beni Avraham, Omar Suwaed, and Adi Avitan, the three soldiers who were ambushed on the northern border, kidnapped, and died in Hizbullah captivity.

In addition, there appears to be a second stage to the deal whereby Israel gets conclusive information as to the fate of missing airman Ron Arad and in return will release Samir Kuntar, the Lebanese terrorist who murdered three members of an Israeli family and a policeman in 1979.

What can I say? It's basically the same deal that I wasn't crazy about back in November. It still perpetuates a rotten standard whereby Israel trades huge numbers of terrorists for lone hostages and the bodies of soldiers; it still lets Hizbullah's leader Nasrallah paint himself as the pan-Arab hero of the Palestinians; and it still releases dirty murdering scum like Samir Kuntar.

The only difference this time is the promise that the mystery of Ron Arad will finally be resolved after nearly 18 years. This was the big wrinkle that helped sour the deal the last time around. The two big Hizbullah captives -- Dirani and Obeid -- were supposedly held as bargaining chips for information about Arad. Public sentiment regarding the deal was lukewarm even before the issue of releasing Kuntar came up. That proved to be something of a deal killer. Tying Kuntar's release to information about Arad will make the deal a whole lot easier for the Israeli public to swallow.

At this point, the best thing to do is look at the bright side of this swap. The Tennenbaum family will get their loved one back in one piece (although he may end up spending the next few years in jail here; he is suspected of being involved in a drug deal during which he was kidnapped) and the families of the soldiers will have a place where they can go and mourn their sons and brothers. Hopefully the Arad family will also be able to put their pain behind them.