Monday, December 1, 2008

The Sound of Silence

It is deafening.

The silence in the Mumbai Chabad house in the aftermath of the slaughter there. Here, a young couple, on a mission of selfless service, two pure souls, are murdured together with their guests. An existential encounter between the most evil in Islam and the purist and noblest of Judaism.

The silence after the cries of the orphaned toddler calling for his mother, who cannot answer.

The breathtaking silence of the Muslim world. Where is the call among the "moderate" Arab and Muslim countries and leaders, to expunge this evil in their midst? Imagine if a Jew or Israeli was involved in such a massacre against Muslims. The Jewish leadership, the Israeli politicians, would be apologizing to the Muslim world. We would be calling for soul searching, for disavowing these people who don't represent us, who distort Judaism. How could we have let them take root among us? The Muslim world, especially Pakistan, owes the world, and particularly the Jewish people, an apology. But they are silent. They pretend to support the fight against the terrorists, and the need to address the root causes, the grievances of the terrorists, as though such grievances could explain the inhuman behavior of the attackers at the Chabad house.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Ask the lawyers

Defense Minister Ehud Barak has released another one of his old and used trial balloons in response to the renewed rocket fire from Gaza. "Let's fire back!", he says. Neither the resumption of fire nor Barak's response is a big surprise. The novelty this time is that he openly says that we need to check with AG Mazuz to assess the legality of our response. If this is the mentality in our government, it is not too out of the question to imagine the following news item:

Tel Aviv (AP). Israel's coastal cities continued to be pounded for the 15th straight day by Iranian Shihab 3 missiles, inflicting casualties and causing massive damage to the country's infrastructure and economy. Civilian life has come to a virtual standstill, as nearly two-thirds of the Israel's population is prevented from going to work or school, and instead cowering in bomb shelters. Israel's government has yet to order its vaunted military to respond, despite the protracted assualt on its civilian population. Currently, the defense minister, prime minister, and attorney general are engaged in protracted and inconclusive negotiations over the legality of firing missiles back at Iran or bombing infrastructure targets, since these are likely to lead to large civilian casualties. "I am looking into the issue, its not so simple as you people think", Defense Minister Ehud Barak was quoted as saying. Attorney general Mani Mazuz has expressed concern that an Israeli decision to respond is likely to be criticized or stopped altogether by Israel High Court of Justice. This fear is not unfounded, as the high court is currently reviewing a request by a group, Concerned Citizens for Iran, to order the government not to fire missiles at Iran. Furthermore, the AG fears that any Israeli leader who orders such a response will be considered a war criminal under internation law, and would be subject to arrest upon landing in Britain or Belgium. Mazuz is not expected to issue an opinion for at least 2 months, pending an extensive legal review and consultation with Chief Justice Dorit Beinish. In the meantime, Barak is engaged in expedited negotiations with the treasury and contracting companies, in a bid the reinforce existing buildings in the Tel Aviv areas and thus help them withstand a sustained bombing attack. "We advise the citizens to have patience, we're working on the problem, and I promise you, there will definitely be a solution by next spring", said Barak.

This story is not too far from reality. It appears that Mr. Barak's statement is intended more for political purposes, in a transparent bid to appear tough and improve his Labor party's dismal standing in the public. Rest assured, nothing will come from his latest threats. The supposed power outages in Gaza are all very carefully choreographed by the Palestinians, and will surely pressure Israel into opening the passages to Gaza. Therefore, even the modest Israeli response of closing borders will be neutered of all effectiveness.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Power politics in Israel

This Shabbat I read Caroline Glick's column in the Jerusalem Post about why all prime ministers, no matter on what platform they are elected, turn leftward after being in office.
After closesly following Israel's politics for 20 years, the following are my conclusions about Israeli democracy:

1. The real, stable, center of power in Israel lies within its judiciary (led by the High Court) and Israel's print and broadcast media. Both arms are dominated by the political left and supported by the industrial elites. They have the unchecked ability to prop up or bring down a politician.

2. That the industrial elites support the left leads to a paradox: that these industrialists are free market capitalists, and not socialist.

3. The coalition-parliamentary system here is inherently unstable. Since the elected officials, both in the government and knesset, change so frequently, and given the control exercised by the judiciary, the government's power is limited and operates within a fairly narrow range of options. This range is within the center-left. If it goes to the right. or too far left, it gets toppled either by a no-confidence vote or by investigations by the police and attorney general. Furthermore, since the cabinet positions are shuffled so frequently, no one person gets enough grasp of the subject of his ministry, and cannot accumulate the influence necessary for real change, before he is replaced.

4. The left believes that an unchecked elected government would become fascist and Taliban, and believe that their non-democratic oversight of the government couterbalances this tendency, and therefore try to maintain this system at all cost.

5. All of the above point to the conclusion that it does not matter a whole lot who is elected. The basic agenda will be dictated by media pressure, along with judicial oversight. Lacking a constitution, the High Court can essentially veto any government or knesset decision. The court intervenes at will and in strict accordance with its leftist agenda. Justice Minister Daniel Friedman's attempt to change this is being met with fierce resistance and is likely to fail. Furthermore, the AG has a "file" on essentially every politician that remains open but dormant for years, ready to be used at such time an official needs to be removed or pressured in a certain direction.

6. The Israeli media demonstrate breathtaking irresponsibility with their astoundingly poor editorial standards in comparison to western countries. They can propagate a "spin" on a certain issue utilizing distorted or blatantly false reporting, tabloid headlines, and superficial stories that contradict themselves one day to the next. They also willingly act as mouthpieces for the psychological warfare of our enemies. They report verbatim the latest Nasrallah or Ahmedinajad speech as a screaming headline, but say nothing about the American presidential candidates.

While the media is not government controlled, it has an overarching leftist bias which permeates all of its reporting, which relies on spin, "leaks" or comments from unidentified officials, and sensationalist headlines which blow issues totally out of proportion. There is little truly in depth investigative reporting and few in-depth stories which attempt to educate the public in a balanced way about important issues. They do all of this without any accountability whatsover. There are no corrections or apologies for errata, and certainly not for blatant falsehoods. The paper Ha'aretz is particularly guilty of this. Things that are done routinely by Ha'aretz reporters in Israel would get them fired if they worked for an American newspaper. They other major papers Maariv and Yediot are also guilty of this. In contrast I have found that The Jerusalem Post has a balanced presentation of stories. Unfortunately it is not widely read among the Israeli public, nor among foreign reporters, who prefer Ha'aretz as their source of "Israeli" news.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Addendum to the 8 point plan

Currently, the Israeli government is deliberating two issues: Whether or not to release Palestinian prisoners as a unilateral "gesture" to the PA's Abu Mazen, and how to allocate budgetary cuts in the military and social spending programs.

With regard to the first issue, the Israeli government claims to want to "strengthen" Abu Mazen in the face of Hamas' power. The tactic of unilateral gestures has proven to be a miserable failure. I have previously written about this extensively. Abu Mazen is a barely breathing corpse, and releasing terrorists will do nothing to change this.

Another reason for the release, often mentioned, is to show the Palestinians that "dialogue" will bring about Israeli concessions, rather than the tactic of terrorism and kidnappings. This is completely fallacious and illogical. The Palestinians, and Arab adversaries in general, have long a ago concluded that they can achieve their goals by force. We ourselves have tought them that with our behaviour in the past 10 years. Releasing 150 terrorists from prison isn't going to reverse that perception; if anything it will strengthen it, because everybody with eyes in their heads will know that Israel is doing it in reaction to Hamas' demands for ransom.

As to Israel's military budget, this requires some basic common sense which our current leaders seem to lack. In the current environment Israel has no choice but to maintain a high expenditure on the military. I think a crash program needs to be implemented to develop and deploy an anti-rocket system as quickly as possible. This, however, is a late and avoidable need, that resulted from the deterioration in our deterrence. However, technology is not sufficient; our purchase of the latest planes and tanks doesn't scare Hamas or Hizbullah.

As I see it, our weak leaders are trying to throw money at the problem, but money is not the issue. In reality they are covering up their own failed decision making. Barak should be investing his energy in improving Israel's deterrence rather than making petty arguments about the importance of not cutting his budget. He uses cheap vailed threats of impending "security challenges" which is an old tired argument for a bloated budget that emphasizes officer's salaries and hi-tech wizardry rather than time-proven basic military doctrine. Furthermore, with the globalized markets and fattened cash reserves of the oil-producing states, in any arms race between Israel and the Arabs, Israel will lose. The US is a weakened ally and cannot be counted on to counter the mass influx of arms in the Middle East. So betting on the horse of the military budget is just an additional way to avoid making the really important decisions, and is doomed to failure.

Olmert is continuing his furious attempts at arriving at a "shelf agreement" with Abu Mazen. But our offers for massive concessions are just being met with derision and contempt by our supposed partners for peace. This period reminds me of a similar period in the last months of Barak's stewardship as Prime Minister, during which he shuttled back and forth to Camp David and Sharm el Sheikh in order to get Arafat to sign on the dotted line, all the while when the Palestinians were unleashing a viscious terrorist war against us. We all know how that ended.

Israel continues to make every possible mistake in navigating the treacherous waters of the Middle East and fundamentalist Islam.

Let's hope our leaders and people wake up before its too late.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

I have decided: John McCain

I am sure that I will draw the ire of my liberal friends and relatives. To be sure, Barak Obama is a respectable and worthy candidate. But recent events in Georgia only reinforce the idea that the Cold War has resumed. At the same time American power is on the decline.
My feeling is that only somebody with a strong and conservative moral compass will be able to face down the Russians and deal with the challenges that America faces in the coming decade. America stands to lose alot-- its status as a great superpower, its vital economic interests around the world, and its ability to support its free and democratic allies across the globe.

Monday, August 11, 2008

What we (Israel) should do

People say to me, "ok, you can criticize our leaders and point out what we shouldn't be doing. What should we be doing?"

OK, here is my 8 point plan for restoring Israel's standing and deterrence in this region. One caveat- this is based on what information is available to me. I obviously cannot decide based on secret information unknown to me.

1. The Prime Minister needs to have an immediate face to face discussion with Mr Noam Shalit, Gilad Shalit's father. It should go something like this: "Noam, I know how hard this has been for you and how your family has been suffering because of your son's captivity. But as PM of this country our higher national interests are at stake. I need to be concerned about Israel's deterrence and standing in this region, for the sake of all Israelis, civilians and soldiers alike. Therefore, I have decided that we are cutting off all negotiations with the terrorist Hamas organization for the release of Palestinian prisoners. We will continue to unequivocally demand Gilad's release and back up these demand via diplomatic, economic and military pressure. But under no circumstances will we consider paying Hamas a "ransom" by releasing any more prisoners. "

2. After the above discussion, the following public message such be sent to Hamas: "I, as prime minister of the State of Israel, do not negotiate with terrorists. Therefore, I have ordered all of Israel's representatives involved in the dialogue for paying "ransom" for Gilad Shalit, to halt and desist, effective immediately, all negotiations with Hamas over the release of Palestinian prisoners. The only dialogue which we will have with you is regarding the venue of release of Gilad Shalit. In the absence of negotiations, the State of Israel unequivocally demands the unconditional release of Shalit. We furthermore demand, in accordance with international law, that Hamas allow Shalit to be visited by the Internation Red Cross.
"The State of Israel will support these demands by all means including unrelenting diplomatic, economic and military pressure until such time Shalit is released. The State of Israel holds the terrorist entity of Gaza responsible for Shalit's like and return to safety.
" At the same time. let me clearly state that at such time when a permanent cessation of hostilities occurs between Palestinians, including Hamas, and Israel, then as part of a natural process of reconciliation, a mutual release of prisoners would occur. As such time I would be prepared to release most, if not all, of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

3. The above steps will be accompanied by a major public relations campaign in the popular Israeli media, to be supported by all of Israel's ministers. This campaign will explain the dangers inherent in negotiating and submitting to terrorist demands, including an erosion in Israel's deterrence, the strengthening of extremist elements in Palestinian society, and of the risk of released terrorists return to hostile activity, lacking a comprehensive cessation of hostilities.

4. The Hamas rulers of Gaza will be notified the following: Effective immediately, any violation of the cease fire agreed to in June, including even a single rocket attack, will be met by an immediate and severe response. This will include, but not be limited to, an artillery or rocket attack against Gaza civilian infrastructure, including bridges, roads, public buildings, and utilities, and/or reclosing the Gaza borders for unspecified periods of time.

5. It goes without saying that the above threat will actually be carried out consistently and as often as necessary. No minor violations will be allowed, even if carried out by supposed "splinter" terrorist groups. We hold Hamas responsible for Gaza, period. We need to behave like the stronger party, and we have no reason to be "forgiving" to Palestinian violations.

6. The Israeli government will send the following message to Lebanon: We seek no confrontation with you, and we have no territorial ambitions. Shaba farms will be returned to you as part of a negotiatied peace agreement between our countries. At the same time, Hizbullah, which is part of your government, had committed gross violations of the ceasefire as agreed to in UN resolution 1701. This the the reason for our flights in Lebanese airspace, which are necessary for our national security, in the face of Hizbullah's military buildup.
Since Hizbullah is part of your government, and your cabinet has recently adopted Hizbullah's platform vis a vis Israel, we hereby state that the Government of Lebanon is responsible for any all all hostile military activity against Israel, whether by Hizbullah or any other military body. As such, any attack on Israeli military or civilian targets, wherever they may be, will be considered a hostile act by the sovereign government in Lebanon, and it shall bear the consequences. To be clear: in the event that Lebanon initiates any attack against Israel, such as a rocket or mortar attack, infiltration, or attempt a kidnapping of soldiers or civilians, Israel will react swiftly, immediately and severely against Lebanon's government and infrastructure, including buildings, airports, and utilities.

7. It is important to realize that there are many regional and world trends that are beyond our control (such as the resumption of the cold war with Russia, and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism). As such it is important that we not overextend our reach. In the present global environment of easy transfer of information, people and equipment, including abundant Russian and Chinese weapons, it is almost impossible to stop the armament of our adversaries. It is important in this environment to restore deterrence as a defensive measure.

8. Given #7 I believe that Israel should abandon the open effort to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. I believe that Israel can do very little to prevent this, and any military operation will have severe costs, and not prevent future rearmament. Furthermore, our failure will have further severe consequences on deterrence. In addition, if Iran really wants to quickly acquire such weapons, they can simply smuggle them in from one of the rogue nuclear states, such as Pakistan or North Korea, or perhaps Russia. The overall effort to prevent the nuclearization of Iran should be left to the US, as part of a wider regional confrontation in the context of the Cold War. We should stay out of this conflict and watch from the sidelines, while supporting US efforts and not complicating them. As part of our deterrent against Iran we should clearly state that in the event of any Iranian attack on Israel, Tehran will be destroyed by our missiles, against which they are currently undefended.

9. I think that the American government and people will support these policies.

In particular I believe that steps 1 through 5 will have an immediate positive effect on Israel's position, and will completely neutralize Hamas' gain from the kidnapping of Shalit. Steps 6-8 will have an effect over the long term.

Who says Israelis are so smart? What we have tought the Arabs

In this article Defense Minister Ehud Barak outlines his perception of Israel's strategic position and plans for the future.

Pundits say he is a genius, but he presents an amazingly incoherent picture that is quite depressing. He blames Ariel Sharon for allowing Hizbullah to strengthen, and PM Olmert for going to war unprepared and strengthening Hizbullah even more. At the same time , after many months of sabre rattling about an impending operation in Gaza, Barak now says that an Israeli invasion of Gaza wouldn't attain anything and its better to maintain a cease fire, notwithstanding Hamas' preparations for war.

With breathtaking arrogance, he claims credit for the "6 years of quiet" in the north which he achieved by the unilateral withdrawal from Lebonon (the same 6 years which he blames on governments after his, for ignoring the security threat from Hizbullah!) . I wonder who he can blame for the strenghthening of Hamas, right under his nose. Who will he blame when thousands of rockets rain down on all of southern Israel every day?

Barak's solution? A national unity government under him. To do what? "maintain" the calm with Hamas? Withdraw from Shaba unilaterally? What does he plan? According the Barak, Tzipi Livni isn't good enough because of her lack of security experience. But what about the disasters that he and Ariel Sharon wrought?

I think that Barak's description reflects a basically flawed and defeatist attitude that has dominated Israel's leadership since Oslo. We have come to behave like losers, projecting weakness at every turn. Maybe we are really weak but nobody wants to say it out loud.

When we look at Israel's behavior in the years since Oslo (1994), I am tempted to ask:
What have we tought our Arab adversaries? Here's my list ("you" refers to Arabs):

1. When you make an agreement, make Israel pay a price up front, before knowing what Israel gets. (Oslo agreement, recent prisoner exchange)

2. Don't worry about the agreement, if you violate it, Israel won't do anything.(Oslo implementation, 1701, etc)

3. Don't bother asking for imprisoned terrorists to be released. Israel won't do it unless you kidnap an Israeli, and return him dead or alive. (every trade we made)

4. Good cop/bad cop works with Israelis. Pretend you are "weak" and need to be "strenghthened" in order to exact concessions. (arafat, Abu Mazen)

5. Israel will sacrifice its supreme national interests in order to placate a noisy parent (in the case of captives) or to relieve pressure from the left and the media. ("cease fire" with Hamas) You can count on the Israeli left to do what you can't do militarily.

6. With the exception of operation Defensive Shield, every armed conflict that Israel has engaged in, in the past 12 years, has resulted in no acheivements for Israel and strengthened her enemies. Israel has failed to defeat Hamas and Hizbullah.

7. Terrorism works. Particularly suicide bombing and kidnappings. Israel is unwilling and unable to sustain losses, and if you keep it up, Israel will cave in. (Disengagement, Lebanon wars, Hamas "calm").

8. The Israeli army's primary goal is to protect soldiers lives, even at the cost of civilian lives. If you kill even a small number of soldiers, Israel will cave in. At the same time, they fear losing soldiers in a military operation, so if you can threaten them enough to cause fear of losses, they will be deterred. (Lebanon 1 and 2, Gaza)

Now, if you were a Palestinian, what would you think about Israel? Israel appears to be on the wane, militarily, diplomatically and politically. Israel is weak. That is why I am not suprised to hear even our Fatah "diplomatic partners" to say openly that they now seek a one state solution, not 2. Two states was a Palestinian concession, but now that Israel is weak, why not go for the gold?

We complain that the Palestinians don't learn their lessons, but the problem in my mind is that they are learning them all too well.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A letter to Ha'aretz

Dear Mr. Harel/Ravid,

Re: Ha'aretz story: "Ministers: Israel needs to be more flexible with Hamas over Shalit talks "

As a responsible Israeli citizen who cares for his country, I am writing to protest the publication of this story in Ha'aretz.

With regards to the article, the story gives the basic impression that the consensus within the political and security establishment in Israel is that Israel needs to "give in" to Hamas' demands by releasing more convicted Palestinian terrorists. You know as well as I that the issue of the "price" to be paid to kidnappers, as well as the very act of negotiating itself, is the subject of considerable controversy. It is hotly debated by the public and by security experts. Yet your story, without mentioning who the "sources" are, concludes that there is no debate and that all have agreed that Israel needs to make more concessions. This is factually incorrect, and misleads the public in Israel and English speaking readers abroad. It is also a transparent attempt to "create" the news by creating the impression that the concessions are a done deal.

The extreme left bias of your paper is well known, and with a free press you have the right to write whatever you want. A free and vigorous press is important in a democracy. But responsible journalism requires a separation between editorializing and reporting the news. It would be completely appropriate for your paper to write an editorial column advocating this or that concession to Hamas. But including a leading news story that is so obviously slanted and tendentious is unethical and poor journalism. Furthermore, by doing so your paper acts as a mouthpiece for the enemy to further demoralize the Israeli public and prepare them for the "inevitable" concession. It also harms international efforts to delegitimize and fight terrorist groups.

As to the issue itself: Why is it that that only Israeli ministers "have no illusions of reaching an agreement" unless certain conditions are met? Why is it not the Palestinian terrorist group, that shouldn't "have any illusions" about extorting outrageous concessions from Israel? The negotiating environment is created using psychological pressure, and your paper is being recruited by Hamas to further their cause. How can you allow your paper to do this? I can already predict the numerous articles by supposed "experts" who will appear in your paper in the coming months, explaining why we should release Marwan Barghouti, that he is the Palestinian's natural leader, that he will moderate their positions, that he is just a national hero and not really a murderer, etc. Why does your paper behave in a way that is so damaging to Israel?? Often, when hearing anti-Israel rhetoric from abroad, I encounter the claim that "even Israelis feel this way" based on stories from Haaretz.

The results of this week's shameful exchange with Hizbullah are already apparent: hardening of Hamas' position vis a vis Shalit, threats from Hizbullah and other groups of more kidnappings, scorn on the Arab street, and consolidation of Nasrallah's power in Lebanon.

As to the supposed inviolate ethic in the IDF of "bringing the sons home", applying it to a a deal with terrorists is immoral, against all norms of criminal and international law, and completely contrary to Israel's supreme national interests. This ethic is properly applied to situations where the army itself has to act in order to retrieve the wounded or dead soldiers in the field, or to liberate prisoners. But it is still the army's job to defend the civilians, not the reverse. The idea that an entire country (and its national interests) can be held hostage because a soldier (dead or alive) is in enemy hands is an outrageous distortion of morality and national ideals. Suppose Hizbullah holds an Israeli civilian hostage, say an old lady. Is she worth any less? Or suppose a soldier is being held, and the "inevitable" price being demanded by Hizbullah is withdrawal from the Golan Heights. Would your paper be advocating giving in to such a demand? Would you argue that we should "have no illusions" about the price to be paid? I cannot imagine any other western country behaving in such a fashion. Would the US or Great Britain negotiate the release of convicted Al Qaida criminals? I'll bet they wouldn’t. The fact that we do makes us less moral, not more moral, contrary to PM Olmert's claims. 30 years ago no Israeli would even consider negotiating with a terrorist. The international community respected us for this. The only negotiating was: either surrender or die. Somehow Israel's will to fight has weakened in recent years, and Ha'aretz has taken an active role in the erosion of Israel's national ethic. Recent events have proven, all too clearly, that appeasement only encourages the enemy to demand more and raises his will to fight.

If the two of you care about Israel you should immediately demand a change in Ha'aretz journalistic standards or resign.

I have taken the liberty of sending copies of this letter to the editorial desks of the New York Times, and of a few other English newspapers in the U.S. and the UK, because I think that it is important that readers abroad know that the views expressed in this paper don't represent the "mainstream" view of Israelis. They should also be aware of Ha'aretz's poor journalistic standards.


Jeff Shames
Rehovot, Israel

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Woe to Israel

Today Israel completed another exchange deal with Hizbullah. This day will go down in history as a day of unprecedented self-inflicted shame and humiliation for the State of Israel.

It is a day when Israeli society and leaders decided to sacrifice supreme national interests in the face of pressure from bereived families and because of political expediency.

Today Israel decided to knowingly and willingly strengthen its enemies politically, militarily and strategically.

Today Israel set a new precedent in absurd exchanges: bodies and body parts for a dispicable criminal convicted in a civilian court of mass murder. By doing so it raised the price that Israel will have to pay for future captives higher than ever. Our enemies now know that they do not even have to give their prisoners alive. All they have to do is conceal their death and let the Israeli media and families do their work to pressure the government to capitulate.

Today is the day that hypocrite Israeli leaders lost any shred of credibility that they had, after declaring repeatedly in the past that they would not release Samir Kuntar.

Today Israel's weakness and currupt spirit is laid bare for all to see. It has made a joke of its own criminal justice system and international law, granting Hizbullah the legitimacy of a state and their terrorists who are held captive by us, the status of POWs and war heros.

Today I fear for the future of this country, which appears to have lost its instinct for collectuve self preservation.

Monday, July 7, 2008

The likelihood of the improbable

I can explain how I deal with people's objections regarding the apparent improbabilities of abiogenesis and mutations from simple to complex life forms.

1. Suppose I take a walk and find a green Dentyne wrapper in a specific place on the sidewalk. Now ask, 20 years before, If I were to ask somebody, what is the chance that 20 years from now, there will be a green Dentyne wrapper on this specific place on the sidewalk, on this specific date and time, and somebody named JS will walk by and see it? The answer is, exceedingly low; yet it happenned, because of out of all of the millions of improbable things to occur, some of them will definitely happen.

2. The human mind is wired to be able to grasp magnitudes within a certain range, that occur within our experience. I few inches, a few miles, a few years, a few hundred items, etc. We cannot conceive of things that are exceedingly small or big. Can you picture 93,000,000 miles? A thousand light-years distance? 10 million years? An Angstrom of distance? Most certainly not. Yet they exist and we accept their existence. Similarly we cannot grasp extremely small non-zero improbabilities, over vasts amounts of time and space, and what they mean, except in mathematical models. Our intuition doesn't help here. So one might say that both naturalists and diests believe in things we can't quite grasp. I go with naturalistic because that's "where the money is"-- the approach has led to great progress and achievements.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


As a follow up to my post yesterday, Haaretz today (one day later)reports that a deal is far off.

Other Isreali media have dropped the subject altogether.

All of this further demonstrates the poor professional journalistic standards of Haaretz.

I advise all of my readers to continue writing to Haaretz editors to complain.

Letter to Ha'aretz (in reference to article reporting supposed deal reached with Hizbullah to free Israeli capives Regev and Goldvasser)

Dear Mr. Stern,

I think that you and your paper should be exercising more editorial responsibility.

Israel newspapers in general, but Haaretz in particular, are guilty of extremely poor editorial and reporting standards, as exemplified in this article. You take some remarks from an undisclosed source, who may be speculating or not in a position to know what is really going to happen, and make it into a headline story "scoop". In this case you also take the words of our arch-enemy and master propagandist Nasrallah, and present them as authoritative and the words of God. By doing so you are knowingly being used by him in his psychological warfare against the Israeli public, the families involved, in order to demoralize Israelis and apply pressure. (Maybe this is what you want, I don't know)

This amounts to tendentious reporting and cynical use of the media, something unbecoming of a major newspaper. The fact that you stipulate by saying "sources say..." does not exempt you from responsibility. I could report "sources say" on just about anything, from an impending Israeli attack on Iran to the coming of the Messiah. How many times in the past 3 years did your paper report on a supposedly impending release of Shalit? Or a cease fire with the Palestinians?

Your web news site is like that of Debka except on the other side of the political spectrum. I have no problem with a paper that has an editorial slant, but there are journalistic professional standards which you don't abide by. When I compare you with American newspapers with which I am very familiar, I cannot imagine them ever publishing a story like this at all, particularly as a lead headline.

I am at the center of the political spectrum, and I cannot help but conclude that your paper is on par with extreme left anti-zionist papers of Europe, whose editorial slant is so extreme that it loses all objectivity and accuracy. The stories in your paper are used by Arabs and other abroad as weapons against us in the war for public opinion. I have no problem with open reporting that tells the truth, but that is not what your newspaper does. This story is typical of that problem.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Israel's dove and hawks: How can we explain the differences?

I like analyzing issues cognitively. It helps me master and understand things that bother me. I have always been intrigued by a particular question: How can intelligent, educated and experienced Israelis, in their analysis of Israel's predicaments, come to diametrically opposing views and conclusions. Although the right/left divide in Israel and shifted over time and takes various forms, the basic world view and plan for what needs to be done remains the same. These positions can be summarized as follows:

For the left, Israel needs to make peace with the Palestinians, at the cost of extensive concessions (giving up land), and this peace is within reach if Israel were to only make the correct moves.

According to the right, peace is currently not achievable with them, even with land concessions, and we need to fight them with toughness, until such time that they give up on trying to throw us into the see, then make peace with them on our terms.

I think that for many people, political views are a function of their temperament and emotions. They have a basic belief about themselves and the world around them, in terms of trust and human nature. Subsequesntly their attitude towards a particular issue will be colored by this. The right/left divide encompasses a wide range of issues beyond the Arab Israeli conflict, and people tend to align themselves among fairly consistent lines. This collection of positions is a function of their basic world view.

In cognitive behavioral science, we know that in many cases, emotions and reactions follow thoughts, and not vice versa. In reaction to a particular event, a person will have particular automatic thoughts about the situation, which subsequently evokes certain emotions-- such as anger, disgust, sadness or fear. These automatic thoughts are dependent on the person's upbringing, experience and personality. They aren't necessarily based on a well thought out, objective analysis, but rather a reflex perception of the situation.

Another related factor is the person's system of values. These values reflect a person's basic priorities in terms of importance. Issues such as life, family, nation, health, spirituality and economic well-being are important to all of us, but we all weigh them differently.

Beyond emotions and values, what are the basic assumptions and thoughts inherent in the rightist or leftist positions? I will try to sort them out in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

1. The nature of human beings.

The leftist believes that most humans are inherently good, if only given the proper opportunity. When they behave badly it is for a reason (bad things happened to them), and if this bad thing is corrected, these people will be good.

The rightist believes that there are alot of bad people out there, who need no excuses for their evil. This people will be bad no matter what you do for them.

In the case of the Palestinians, the leftist says that terrorism is only a result of good people doing bad things because of Palestinians poverty and displacement, which needs to be corrected. According to the rightist, among the Palestinians are lots of evil people who will continue to be evil whatever we give them, and therefore must be fought.

2. Good Will

The right believes that when facing evil, gestures and concessions are interpreted as weakness and only encourage bad people to do more evil things. Thus, in their lexicon, concessions are appeasement.

The left would say that the evil is not really evil but some good people doing bad things, and that concessions are needed in order to get them to stop doing (or supporting) bad things.

The implications of this debate are clearly reflected in our conflict with the Palestinians, when a concession is a "gesture" or "appeasement" depending on your point of view.

3. The future

I heard a telephone call on a talk show yesterday, in which the caller was exhorting the Israeli government to talk to Hamas to stop the rockets. When asked what to talk about, she answered that we need to offer more land. When the talk show host pointed out that we in fact handed over Gaza to them in its entirety, and all we got back were rockets and terror, and that Hamas openly states that their goal is to get rid of us entirely, she answered that she can't imagine that her children and grandchildren are going to have to go on fighting for many years. I think that this gets to the crux of the matter-- the leftist, emotionally and cognitively, finds it too painful to acknowledge that there might be no end in sight to the conflict. This goes against his basic belief in human goodness. He therefore pretends that it is within his power to solve the problem. It is a form of denial from fatigue.

The right states that there will only be a solution to the conflict when the evil people are defeated, however long this takes. Concessions at this point may bring very short term quiet, but will not solve the problem and only exacerbate the problem later. If it takes another generation, so be it. (Interestingly, it is this long term thinking that governs many Palestinians, who are willing to suffer tremendously in the past, present and the forseeable future, for some far-off goal, rather than take what they can get now.)

Monday, March 10, 2008

Hamas in Gaza-Good or Bad?

For almost 2 years, in the wake of Israel's disengagement, the Gaza strip has been ruled by Hamas, the fundamentalist Islamic organization, considered a terrorist group by most of the international community. This is commonly seen as a victory for extreme Islam, with Iran and Al Qaida at the forefront. Israel now has a client state of Iran on its southern border.

Certainly Israel and the west would prefer a moderate, pro-western regime bordering Israel which could negotiate peace with Israel and be a member of "moderate" Arab or Muslim countries. This has not happened, and, prior to Hamas' coup, it was also not the case. While nominally the Fatah-ruled PA was sovereign, on the ground the PA had very little control, in the face of armed resistance from Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and a host of other radical groups.

Notwithstanding political and military maneuvering, Israel had very little influence on the internal political developments among the Palestinians.
Like most situations in real life, the issue is complex, and each of the various scenarios entails threats and opportunities. Rarely in the international arena does one see an outcome that is purely "good" or "bad". With regards to Gaza, what are the pros and cons of Hamas rule in Gaza, in relation to the alternative scenarios? Let us start with the negatives:

1. Hamas ideology is uncompromisingly anti-Israel and anti-semitic, and it will not ever recognize Israel nor make permanent peace with it. This is unquestioningly a big "bad" on this side of the scale.

2. Hamas, with the support of Iran, Hizbullah and other extremist states, will continue to build up its military capability. It is gradually acquiring the abilities of Hizbullah. Although it may take some time, it is conceivable that in the future they might succeed in acquiring tanks, long range missiles and warplanes. This strengthening is occuring primarily via smuggling through the Egyptian border, both above ground and through tunnels.

3. They pose a immediate strategic threat, not in conventional military terms, but in their ability to harm civilians and civilian life by firing short range rockets at will. This is similar to Hizbullah's capability, although somewhat lower in intensity at this time.

4. Any and all "gains" made by Hamas, real or imagined, (in terms of terrorist attacks, abilities, continued rule) will have the psychological impact of being seen as a victory for extremist forces. This perception forestalls any tendency to surrender or make peace. Furthermore it helps gain support among the population, who see these forces as the "winning" side, as opposed to the moderate "losers".

All of this points to a very undesirable situation. At the same time it has to be viewed in contrast to the realistic alternatives, and not those that we fantasize about fashioning with our own hands. Since Fatah/PA is a weak organization (and has been for some time, even in the peak of Arafat's power), it is extremely unlikely that they would be able to govern Gaza effectively and to our liking. This was in fact the situation prior to the Hamas takeover. In this scenario, you essentialy have a "failed state" like Somalia, Sudan, pre-war Afghanistan, etc. In relation to this situation, what can be seen as some of the "positives" of Hamas rule?

1. Being the sole and strong rulers in Gaza, Hamas de facto becomes an address, diplomatically and militarily. Thus any institution of the government or armed forces becomes a ligitimate target. This avoids the untenable situation of having to distinguish between "good" and "bad" Palestinians (in the eyes of the world) when fighting them. More than any, that scenario forces Israel to fight with its hands tied.

2. Hamas is unquestionably in control of the security situation in Gaza and is able to control, almost entirely, attacks on Israel. Thus, when dealing with them, and attempting to manage the conflict, we have someone to deal with who can actually control the situation (and are to some degree subject to deterrance). This is like Syria or Egypt before the peace treaty. In contrast, with a powerless PA in charge, there was nobody to deal with, and worse, the extremist organization were always out to prove that the PA was not in control. We would have has security chaos, as in Southern Lebanon during the civil war. This is an undesirable and unstable situation for Israel.

3. The entire international community has backed an embargo and blockade of Gaza, in the face of terrorist activity. This would never have been possible if the PA where in charge.

4. The PA/Fatah, while not a fundamentalist Islamic organization, is still a bitter enemy and also propagates anti-semitic and anti-Israel sentiment among Palestinians and actively fights us. Yet, hiding under the veil of international legitimacy, they are successfully able to employ the "good cop/bad cop" technique with us. They are in fact doing this in the West bank-- in the form of demands for unilateral gestures and concessions and small scale terrorist attacks, while constantly threatening that Hamas will take over if we don't give in. This problem tied our hands

How do we weigh these factors against one another? While in the long term we all hope for comprehensive peace, it is important to remember that in the short term the Palestinian problem can only be managed, not solved. The fringes of the left and right forget this. The ways of managing it are varied, with advantages and disadvantages to each approach. In the long term nobody knows precisely how the current scenario will play out. It seems likely that Hamas will strenghthen itself in Gaza and become a bigger security challenge, among others that Israel faces now and have faced in the past. In the context of history, each one of these threats have been managed, not neutralized, and so will the current one in Gaza. Israel has been successful at managing threats, but much less so preventing them (with a few notable exceptions such as the bombing of the Iraqi nuclear facility). This failure to anticipate and prevent threats requires examination, in the context of Israel's military, financial and diplomatic assets and limitations.

In an ideal world, a major power would intervene in Gaza by completely occupying and rehabilitating the area, until such time that the people living there could govern themselves, Marshall-plan style. But the geo-political situation makes this unlikely to happen. There is nobody both willing and capable for the job. Certainly not Israel. Therefore, in the current reality we are forced to deal among less desirable alternatives, over which we have very little influence. Imagine that we enter Gaza and remove Hamas from power. Than what? They would continue to fire rockets, under the guise of Fatah.

We should do whatever we can militarily to stop the rocket fire, but we should carefully consider the goal of the removal of Hamas.

Monday, March 3, 2008

'It's a Holocaust' and Palestinian Muslim Psychosis

One of Israel's less bright ministers Matan Vilnai (a former reserves general), commented last week that Hamas's policy of firing rockets and terrorism are bringing a "shoah" upon the Palestinian people. The correct intepretation of the word 'shoah' is "catastrophe" or "disaster", and this is what the minister obviously meant. However, we all know that it is the commonly used term for the Nazi holocaust. The English language press translated the word this way, and, predictably, the Arabs seized upon this theme, exhorting the Arab masses, the international community, and the UN to stop the new Israeli "holocaust" and extermination of the Palestinians. They were referring particularly to the recent military operations in Gaza, and in general to Israel's existence for the past 60 years.

Now we are all familiar with the unending stream of Palestinian propoganda and lies which are used to recruit international condemnation of Israel, and this is not a new story. It is not the first time that they have called the Israelis 'Nazis' and it won't be the last. But we don't need an Israeli minister, with the assistance of Israel's English language presss, providing them with convenient excuses.

Speaking of excuses: Have you read about Hamas's version of events in Gaza? It was a heroic 'victory' for the Palestinians and a 'humiliating defeat' of the IDF. The same Hamas news report lamenting the extermination and destruction of the Palestinian people goes on the celebrate the exit of the IDF forces (a planned end of a limited operation) as a victory. We all know that Israel and the IDF are planning a series of unspecified actions to stop the rockets, and the most recent operation was limited to specific military goals, including intelligence gathering and preparations for other operations. So here's the absurdity: If we're killing the terrorists, its a massacre/holocaust/extermination (even its just one terrorist). If we leave and stop killing them, it's their heroic victory and our defeat!! This is very similar to the delusional thinking of a schizophrenic.

This bespeaks two aspects of Palestinian (and more generally, fundamentalist Islam) psychopathology, to which I have referred in previous posts:

1. Palestinian lives, both civilian and militants, are worth very little in their society. They are used as fodder for the struggle, and no matter that 100 or 1000 or 10,000 are 'sacrificed' for some insane or hopeless cause. This is part of the Muslim emphasis on martyrdom and the well known afterlife that awaits Muslim males. So no matter how bitter their actual defeat, they 'won'. If they win they win, and if they lose they win. What a great way to run a society!! It's hard to know how many Palestinians actually believe this, but the fact that their leaders use these lies to perpetuate the conflict indicates that it works. Just like Hizbullah's "divine victory" over Israel in Lebanon. I suspect that the 1967 war set the victory bar too high. Anything short of a stunning and humiliating defeat over the Arabs is a victory for them.

2. Issue #1, and the aformentioned 'holocaust' issue reflects a broader psychic illness in Palestinian (and in many Muslim) societies: a refusal to recognise reality and accept a sober appraisal of their situation. There are many reasons for this--political, cultural and religious. This has nothing to do with intelligence. It is primarily emotional and psychological. It is not an overstatement to say that the Palestinian society suffers from national psychosis. Psychotics are capable of doing alot of damage to others as well as themselves. Maybe there's not much consolation in the fact that in the end most psychotics who are not treated self-destruct. This indeed has been the tragic story of the Palestinian Arabs- of one disaster to the next, fed by a pathological misinterpretation and prediction of events. This is also what is happening to their imploding national movement. It seems that the American and Israelis are more enthusiastic supporters of a Palestinian state than the Palestinians themselves. In the meantime there is no indication that the Palestinians are sobering up- in the contrary, their psychosis seems to be getting worse, encouraged by the ever-psychotic Iranians. Lets hope that when they collapse they don't bring down too many of us with them.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Israel's Supreme Court and the "Cycle of Violence"

In an unprecedented criticism by a high government official on Israel's High Court, Professor Daniel Friedman boldly (Justice Minister) notes that the court has become a politicized power center allied with Meretz (a far left party) and the Arabs. When one of these parties becomes frustrated with the democratic parliamentary process in dealing with its agenda, it can appeal to "Bagatz" in order to bypass the government. Not a week goes by without the court ordering the government to do or not do something. The court's judges even lobby by releasing statements and meeting with public officials and journalists in order to influence the political process. This is without parallel in any democratic country. Shame on Israel. We wish Professor Friedman success in his attempts to reform the court.

Lately, we are again hearing statements by some Israeli and European officials regarding the need to stop the "cycle of violence" between Israel and the Palestinians. These statements result from the same "original sin", that error in thinking, that brought about our dismal supreme court behavior: That we are in control of, and subsequently at fault for everything that happens around us. The Arabs hate us? Its our fault. Hamas in power and they're attacking us? Its our fault. The Palestinians' misery? Yep, it's us again. In other words, we're adopting the narrative of our enemy. This is not unlike Europe's appeasement of Hitler before the war.

What does a "cycle of violence" mean? It implies that two sides, unable to control themselves, perpetrate violence against each other, bringing about inevitable reactions. It is a subtle attempt to put Israel on par with the Palestinians, and in fact places most of the blame on Israel, since we are the stronger side and thus in control. But let's look at the situation and see why this is a fallacy.

The Palestinians are divided into 2 main camps: one that is nationalist and strives for a state, and the other which is Islamic and pre-nationalist. The former movement has not renounced violence as a means to achieving its goals, and continues to engage in terrorist attacks. The latter effectively controls the Palestinian public and political atmosphere. This Islamic stream (along with their brethren in other Arab countries) has an ideology and policy of "resistance", i.e. military aggression, violence and terrorism, to achieve its goal of elimination of the Jewish State. In other words, its violence is in response to Israel's existence. So if we can call our existence as "violence" than indeed this is a cycle of violence: we exist and they attack us. I wonder how we can get out of that "cycle". We know what their solution is. It goes without saying that Israel's military reactions are defensive operations, made necessary by Palestinian aggression, whose sole purpose is to defend its citizens. Needless to say, Israel is able to control its actions, unlike the Palestinians who themselves admit that they are unable to control their militants (unless, of course, we give in to their demands).

Occasionally, one can attribute a localized "flareup" to a cycle of action and response. But to attempt to characterize the overall violence as a "cycle of violence", is tendentious and an outright lie. It is an intentional misrepresentation of the conflict whose purpose is to absolve the Palestinians of their responsibilities and to place the burden on Israel to break the "cycle of violence".

Monday, February 18, 2008

Religion and extremism

A recent pronouncement by leading rabbis from the national religious movement calls for exempting religious soldiers in the IDF from participating in army training classes being taught by female soldiers. A careful reading of their p'sak halacha reveals the intellectual dishonesty and the unfortunate trend of Heredization in the national religious movement.

The founding fathers of the national religious would have never dreamt of making such a pronouncement. This movement was dedicated to integrating halacha and the state, and to encouraging religious people to participate in broader national life. In the past 15 years, we have seen a gradual but consistent slide to stricter halachic rulings in various areas, such as kashrut, mixed youth groups and army practices. It is as if they have to prove to the cheredim that they are just as "kosher", but in doing so, they are leading their public into increasing isolation from Israeli society. It also causes "moderates" in the camp to ignore the rabbis altogether (like me).

An analysis of the rabbi's call reveals their halachic thinking. You begin with a point of view, based on your world view, ethics or politics. The position may or may not have merit. (My opinion is that there is logic in their concerns regarding ethical norms in the army). Then you begin to quote biblical verses, taken totally out of context, to support the view and give it halachic validity. This is very similar to how many rulings are derived in the talmud. Note that the rabbis do not quote any classic halachic sources that address the issue, either because there aren't any, or worse, they are not applicable. I wouldn't have a problem with this except for one glaring inconsistency : It is used in one direction only-- in the direction of strictness. If the rabbis truly had the courage to take Jewish law into their own hands, they would use their authority to eliminate all kinds of laws that aren't relevant in our day and relieve significant hardship (extra days of niddah, shimita, and aguna for example). Instead, they simultaneuously adhere to the talmudic rulings (as though they are immutable), while piling on strict rulings based on their own logic and world view and give it the authority of the Torah.

The rabbis think that they are being far-sighted but in fact the opposite is true-- they are further alienating Judaism and religion from the general population and bring disgrace to the national religious movement.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Qassams and Blockades

For the past few weeks we have been witness to an absurd situation. The Palestinians, with the approval of their Hamas terrorist quasi-government, launches rockets and morters at civilian Israeli border communities. Israel responds by closing its borders and stopping Israeli supplies from reaching the terrorist entity. Then the Palestinians, with the support of the leftist international community hypocrites, cry afoul "collective punishment", and demand that we supply them with fuel. Can you imagine such a standard being applied to any country under attack from a neighbor other than Israel? Would civilian and infrastructure targets be off the table if your civilians are being attacked?

What is more absurd is that Israel's own supreme court lends a hand to this ridiculous process, by agreeing to hear urgent appeals by "human rights" groups who worry only about the welfare of the Palestinians but not that of Israel's own citizens. Can you imagine the US supreme court intervening in military tactics in Iraq?

Let the Palestinians walk and suffer in the cold, as long as Sderot children bedwet, as PM Ehud Olmert said.

The world forces Israel to fight with its hands tied behind its back, like a prize fighter who would be allowed to defend himself in the ring using only his right great toe.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Haaretz--self hating Jews

Anybody who has been reading my blog is familiar with my rantings about Israel's far left anti-Zionist newspaper Haaretz.
Recently they have outdone themselves. In a meeting between Condoleezza Rice and leading Israeli businessman and journalists, Haaretz's managing editor David Landau told Dr. Rice that "Israel wants to be raped" and forced by the US into a settlement with the Palestinians and it would be his "wet dream" to see this. He also called Israel a "failed state".
Here is the story in The Jewish Week

Lest there be any doubts in anybody's mind, the editors of Haaretz share views about Israel with the likes of Norman Finklestein, Noam Chomsky and John Mearsheimer.

What is particularly dangerous in this is that foreign reporters view Ha'aretz as representing respectable liberal thinking in Israel, whereas they in fact represent the view of a very small radical post-zionist left.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

More leftist dribble

Since Annapolis, and with GW's upcoming visit to Israel, many on Europe's and Israel's left are beginning to drool at the mouth again regarding the possibility of a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians. The favorite scapegoats being blamed for the peace messiah not coming include the usual parade: the settlers, Bibi, Olmert, and the religious. We're seeing headlines in Ha'aretz of "progress" in the meetings between Livni and Palestinian officials, reports of an impending prisoner exchange (despite Haaretz's abysmal history of grossly inaccurate reporting on this numerous times in the past), and of the "strengthening" of the Fatah moderates. According to these pundits, the only things interfering with diplomatic progress towards an agreement are settlements and the lack of Israeli "gestures" to the Palestinians.

As I have explained on a previous post, for several reasons there is no chance of an agreement in the foreseeable future. Even though Olmert and other western leaders know this, they cannot come out and say this openly. Instead, for political reasons, they must maintain the illusion of diplomatic activity, to satisfy their constituents and the Europeans. At the same time they must manage the conflict diplomatically and militarily, keeping it on low flame and out of the headlines.

I think that this explains Israel's approach in dealing with Gaza and the Kassam problem. The only other alternative is a massive invasion and prolonged occupation of the strip, with all that this entails. Of course such an invasion doesn't guarantee the stopping of Kassams (it didn't when we were in Gaza), and the military and diplomatic costs would be very high, perhaps not justifying any benefits gained. I think that both sides are playing a game by certain unwritten rules that both can realistically "live" with, until such time that one side, either intentionally or unintentionally, breaks them. At the same time Israel needs to continue work at a furious pace towards the development of an effective anti-rocket system.