Archive for the ‘Middle East’ Category

Michael Oren is one of my favorite writers. A great historian, he manages to compile long and complicated histories in a fairly simple, and easily digestible way. Despite it having sat on my shelf for a number of years, I finally read Six Days of War,” fairly recently. It is a history textbook, inundated with dates and figures, yet at the same time, it is a true page turner.

In addition to his writing, Oren is a charismatic speaker, as well. I recently heard him speak about the strategic threats that Israel faces today. The first of these threats, of course, is Iran. One argument that is raised against an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities is that states are rational actors, and Iran would not benefit, to say the least, from sending nuclear missiles at another nuclear state.

As Oren illustrated, the issue is deeper than that. Were Iran to nuclearize, it would be able to put the region under nuclear alert, at whim. This sort of toying with Israel would have far reaching repercussions. Apart from destroying the tourist industry, the results of the IDF being on constant high alert would cost the state enormous amounts of money, all the while affecting a near total cessation of market activity, leading to an even greater economic disaster. This, of course, in addition to the arms race that would be launched among Israel’s neighbors, most of whom are not particularly friendly to the Jewish state (This was outlined in article for The New Republic, which Oren co-wrote with Yossi Klein Halevi).

Still on the subject of military threats, Oren addressed the issue of missiles. As mentioned, Israel’s north has been hit hard by missiles, most recently during the summer of 2006, and Hamas can now reach major Israel cities, shooting from Gaza. One of the strongest strategic arguments against Israeli withdrawals, one that was made in 2005, is that territory ceded will serve as a base for missiles that will be launched at Israeli residential areas.

Oren, a proponent of unilateral withdrawals, said that Israel has systems to thwart such attacks, and upon deployment of these systems in the near future, Hamas’s use of short range missiles will be neutralized. He mentioned two systems that will work in tandem to combat the missile threat. First, the Iron Dome, set to be operational by 2010, detects an incoming missile and launches an anti-missile missile to intercept it. The second, based on the M61 Vulcan, destroys incoming projectiles by shooting a high number of rounds per second, eliminating them in mid-air. However, even if these systems are effective, it seems the government has acted in typical Israeli fashion, and woken up very late.

With regards to prospects for peace, Oren briefly promoted the idea of developing Palestinian industry and education, and bolstering their moderate leadership. Again, I am confounded. No, he did not mention Mahmoud Abbas or Fatah as these moderates, but this statement nonetheless confounds me. But to which moderates is he referring? Assuming there are moderate figures somewhere in the Palestinian leadership, what good is it to help them if they have no public support? Did the numerous gestures towards Abbas serve as a moderating influence on Palestinian society? As Robert Kaplan asks, do they even want to be in a position in which statehood would be a real possibility?

Demographics are becoming more important every day. Jews represent only slightly over 75% of Israeli citizens. Most of the remaining quarter, do not recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state, and Israel needs an overwhelming majority of Jews in order to maintain its status as the Jewish state. Nevertheless, Oren thinks that the shrinking birthrate of Arab-Israelis, alleviates cause for serious concern regarding Israeli citizens.

When looking at the entire populace between the river and the sea, Israel is approaching the day in which Jews will no longer be a majority. In order to address this problem and ensure a positive demographic balance within the area under Israeli control, Oren foresees a necessity for further Israel unilateral withdrawals from territory beyond the Green Line.

This does not add up. As he said, Israel deployed 55,000 security personnel in order to carry out the withdrawal from Gaza – the largest Israeli military operation since the Yom Kippur War. Within the framework of almost any future withdrawal plan, 80-100,000 Jews will need to leave their homes. Their homes, which are located in the heart of the Jewish ancestral homeland. As Oren himself acknowledged, in light of the difficulties encountered in Gaza, which will be compounded in any future similar action, any Israeli government is extremely unlikely to succeed in carrying out such a plan. Any unilateral withdrawal plan will probably be based on the route of the Security Fence, so unless Oren supports leaving large numbers of Israeli citizens in enemy territory, I am not sure what he is advocating.

All in all, though, Oren’s talk set a very optimistic tone. However, the limited question and answer period did not flesh out the logical gaps in the his illustration of Israel’s situation today. One issue he discussed which did inspire some confidence is water – largely due to the construction of a major desalination plant, Israel might finally be digging its way out of what is still a very dry hole.

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Israel has been criticized endlessly, both internally and externally, for countless alleged crimes. A popular accusation is of collective punishment. I do not wish to examine the facts of the matter here, but to raise a general question about the legality of such acts, particularly as seen by the United Nations.

Only a few short months ago, a UN representative characterized Israel’s policy with regards to the Gaza crossings as a “crime against humanity”, by “allowing only barely enough food and fuel to enter to stave off mass famine and disease.” Again, setting aside the issue of whether or not this is indeed what Israel has been doing, the greater question here is of whether or not such actions, in theory, are permissible.

There is no simple answer. Such a question necessarily leads to the examination of additional issues. To what extent is your populace a higher priority than the enemy? What is the goal of such acts? Is it an attainable goal? However, such questions have all been hashed and rehashed countless times (Michael Walzer’s Just and Unjust Wars is a good place to start).

A recent oped in the New York Times shed some light on this issue. Wayne Long, who served as the UN’s chief security officer in Somalia for an entire decade, wrote about the recent wave of piracy. A few of the examples from his experience dealing with kidnappers in Somalia, however, are extremely eye-opening. Using a fairly straightforward strategy, “United Nations assistance was withheld… until those hostages were released. In every case there was a release, and in no case were hostages harmed or ransom paid.” The problem with this is that it is precisely the same approach for which Israel is being blamed.

Long tells of a 1995 incident, in which an aid worker was taken hostage. In response, the UN humanitarian agencies operating in the area simply shut off the water supply for the capital, Mogadishu. Doing so directed the local population’s rage at the kidnappers, who took four days to release the hostage.

The piece continues with a few more similar stories, but the message is clear. The UN uses collective punishment in order to achieve their goals. They refuse to capitulate to terrorists. This was official UN policy, as undertaken in Somalia.

I’ll reiterate that I am deliberately ignoring the question of what Israel has actually been doing, or what it has done in the past. That is a separate issue altogether. Nevertheless, why does the UN decry Israel’s implemention of a policy that the UN has used in the past, and in the same breath, call it a crime? Why does it demand that Gazan terrorists not be treated the same way as Somalians?

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A conversation of sorts, took place tonight between A.B. Yehoshua and Leon Wieseltier, at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in Washington, D.C. Hearing him introduced as “A.B. Yehoshua” grated on my ears a bit. Even when reading his name in English, I always heard it in my head as “Aleph Bet Yehoshua.” I don’t think a Hebrew writer’s name should be anglicized, but that’s neither here nor there.

One of Israel’s most celebrated writers, Yehoshua has authored a good number of novels, including The Lover, a masterpiece I have recently had the pleasure of reading. Yehoshua, however, is perhaps just as famous in Israel as a political figure. He is not a player in the traditional sense, but a pundit of sorts, a champion of the Israeli left.

Wieseltier and Yehoshua

Wieseltier and Yehoshua

Speaking here a few years ago, Yehoshua caused an uproar in the Jewish world by (rightly) accusing diaspora Jews of “changing countries like changing jackets,” and saying it is common sense that “Jewish life in Israel is more total than anywhere outside Israel.” This time, trying to avoid a second controversy, much of the talk focused on literature. Nevertheless, Israeli literature is more than just ink on paper, and a variety of issues pertaining to Israel were addressed.

His father was a Near East scholar, and so Yehoshua said he grew up with Arabs and Arabic, and so the stranger was not all that strange to him. He says, therefore that guilt, over Jewish actions committed to Arabs, does not figure into his politics, and that he holds them responsible as he does his own people. Presuming that Israel’s interest is near and dear to him, I cannot but help ascribe his political views to extreme naivete. His support for the Geneva Initiative, whether or not it is a just solution, assumes the conflict is simply over land. And that instating Arab sovereignty over parts of the land will bring about a peaceful end to the conflict.

The author also put down the Arab reverence of land. He may be right that the Arab citizens of Israel would be better off in seeking industrial, and other, development (uttering what has practically become a magic word – “Hi-Tech”). Nevertheless, by ignoring the importance of land to many, in and of itself, he is just sticking his head in the sand. The Hebrew language, with an abundance of agricultural words, serves a testament to the importance of land in Jewish history. Perhaps if more Jews understood the importance of that small piece of earth, Israel would cease trying to be the political version of a luftmensch.

Still on the topic of Israeli-Arabs, he was right that while they may accept Israel’s existence as fact, they do not recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state. There is no easy solution, but that is precisely the problem. A very serious problem, that we will need to face sooner, rather than later.

Another interesting revelation was that Open Heart (The Return From India in Hebrew), written shortly after Oslo, was a break from politics. Politics were deliberately avoided, the misleading quiet of those years granted Yehoshua the liberty to leave that topic out of the story.

Yehoshua expressed some unease when discussing the next generation of Israeli writers, calling them the generation of the Six Day War, who are critical, perhaps overly so, of the state. While criticism and self-examination can be healthy, many of the writers of this generation lack a basic love for the homeland. There is no true struggle with the basics, he said, and their critique is beyond the general criticism. A certain level of patriotism and concern for the safety of the state is missing, alienation taking its place, along with questioning the necessity of Israel.

Michael Oren was in attendance in the audience, and asked about the prominent place of writers in the public discourse in Israel, often sought after by the press to comment on national affairs. Yehoshua was pessimistic regarding the future of the Israel public’s reliance of literary figures, but was also rather arrogant, saying that “they (the public) need our moral judgment.” I am not sure if this is more of a statement about the public or about Israel’s writers, but as mentioned in the talk, the Jewish nation has long turned to writers for leadership. Herzl was a playwright, and Yehoshua quipped that “perhaps, if he would [have been] more successful with his plays maybe we would have no Zionism [today].”

Of course, in light of the outrage directed at him last time he spoke in Washington, Yehoshua is most intriguing when sharing his thoughts on Israel-Diaspora relations. On the one hand, he said that Zionism succeeded “because the Zionists did not ask permission of the Jewish people.” On the other hand, his political bias showed when he reached out to American Jewish criticism of Israel, calling on American Jews to “be a partner in our discussion… [if you do not make aliyah] at least be a partner from the outside.”

On this last point he is wrong. He was wrong when he expressly said to the American Jewish community “you have legitimacy” to speak out. They do not. Every Jew can have this right, but this is not an absolute right – it must be realized. Until such time as diaspora Jews will decide their fortunes are truly with the Jewish people, at home, in Israel – criticism is a privilege they has not yet earned. Fighting for that right is not euphemism, and the experience of wearing an IDF uniform is what grants one the right to be heard.

Unfortunately, he went further, and when responding to a question about what he would ask Obama were they to meet,  Yehoshua said he would ask for American assistance to solve Israel’s conflict with her neighbors. “We cannot do it ourselves today… you (Obama)must help us.”

When it did come to the topic of aliyah, his true political colors showed. He rightly complained that only a few thousand Jews move to Israel from American each year, but he continued, saying that they are only Haredim who move to settlements, in order to exploit Israel’s social security system. He is simply wrong. Haredim do not make up anywhere near the majority of American olim, nor do Haredim generally associate with Yehoshua’s loathed ‘settler movement.’ Yet it was Wieseltier, the product of an Orthodox education himself, who glibly added that only a few thousand Jews make aliyah – “the wrong Jews.”

Still, unlike Wieseltier, Yehoshua is an actual Zionist, and unfortunately that fact alone places him head and shoulders above most Jews. Yet Jewish sovereignty and independence should rely on no outside sources. Furthermore, if American Jews want to have a place at the table, that place is theirs and waiting for them – in Israel.

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To Boycott or Not to Boycott, That Is the Question No it’s not. Stanley Fish, law professor, and NY Times blogger, appears reasonable in debating whether or not an academic boycott of Israel is a good idea. However reasonable, though, he does not come to a concrete conclusion about such a boycott until the very end where he briefly mentions that “those actions, [the boycott of South Africa].. were and are antithetical to the academic enterprise, which while it may provide the tools (of argument, fact and historical research) that enable good and righteous deeds, should never presume to perform them.”

What he does is attempt to rebut arguments of opponents of the boycott. One such argument is that such a narrow focus on Israel is dishonest and hypocritical. The claim presents the question: Where are the calls for boycott of, and divestment from Sudan and China, not to mention Saudi Arabia and Iran? Picking Israel is dangerously close to antisemitism (if not more dangerous).

Yet Fish says, “If you supported the boycott of South Africa and the disinvestment by universities from companies doing business in or with that country, you are obligated, by your own history, to support the boycott of Israeli academics.”

“Anti-boycotters” do not (nor should not) argue what Fish paraphrases. Such an argument is moot, if not harmful in the end, since South Africa was clearly apartheid.Israel, on the other hand, has, by and large, acted justly (if not a bit meekly).

Fish misses the point entirely. Whether or not the theoretical boycott of a criminal state may be an interesting philosophical question, but is irrelevant with regards to Israel. Fish’s starting point seems to be that Israel is wrong and has committed crimes – and that the problem at hand is how to address these crimes.

I should expect more from a law professor. I don’t, but I should. Over 2,000 words, and not one actually deals with the question of Israel’s culpability. Fish’s implies that whether or not Israeli academics are responsible, the Israeli government is wrong, and is criminal. Indeed, his starting point is that Israel’s actions today are as wrong as apartheid South Africa’s were.

Nowhere does he look at Israeli actions in Gaza this past December/January, actual attacks, what preceded them, Israeli aid to Gaza, whether there was a causus belli, Israel’s jus ad bellum and jus in bello, and examine them in light of relevant international law – the UN Charter, Geneva Conventions, treaties to which Israel is a signatory. He just decides that 2009 Israel = 1948 South Africa. This is one academic that has definitely not performed “the tools of argument, fact and historical research.”

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Roger Cohen is either a racist, a fool, or suicidal. His utterly stupid column this week has been parsed by plenty of others, and I have no desire to rehash his drivel.

Cohen doubts that “Hamas is sincere in its calls for Israel’s disappearance.” That must mean that the recent poll conducted in the P.A. shows that a majority Palestinian society actively seeks peace (Hebrew Ynet). How else can one explain that if elections were held today, genocidal Hamas, led by Haniyeh would win 47% v. Fatah, led by Holocaust denier Abbas.

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The NY Times came out today with yet another backwards analysis of the Middle East and what needs to be done. How has the West and the the Obama administration (and the NY Times is a fairly accurate representative of the administration) not yet learned that more often than not that the blind pursuit of peace at all costs will result not in peace, but endless war?

Former President George W. Bush made a serious mistake by shunning Syria, pushing it further into Iran’s arms. Coaxing Syria away from Tehran would benefit Washington, deepening Iran’s isolation on the nuclear issue and encouraging Syrian cooperation in stabilizing Iraq. It would benefit Israel, giving Syria greater incentives to cut off arms flows to Hezbollah in Lebanon. And it would benefit Syria, by providing the wider diplomatic and economic opening Damascus has been seeking.

Bush made plenty of mistakes. Shunning Syria was not one of them. Not placing enough effective pressure on Iran was. Creating an environment in which Iran is truly an outcast, even to Russia (and North Korea? maybe not), would leave Syria with no patron. Sometimes the sticks work without carrots.

Negotiating with Syria will not “benefit Israel” in any way. It will do nothing but endanger Israel further. Syria has never done anything for Israel. It has nothing to truly offer Israel. It needs to submit. As cliche as it may sound to liberal ears, giving up the Golan will only embolden Israel’s enemies, and Israel has no real incentive to do so.

The Times continues by rewriting history, blaming “widespread civilian suffering in January” on Israel (Operation Cast Lead), and accusing Israel of “damag[ing] Mr. Abbas’s credibility as an effective defender of Palestinian interests.” That one is fine with me. However, since when is it a country’s responsibility to help the credibility of their enemy’s leader?

The rest of the editorial is just as ridiculous, and calls for Hillary Clinton to undertake more stupid ventures in an area of the world that is not under American jurisdiction.

I think that the NY Times editorial board needs to spend some time in Gaza or Iran as ordinary citizens, and then editorialize about how benevolent they think these societies are.

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For years, the world seems to already have the answer to Israeli-Arab conflict. It’s called the “Two-State Solution.” Solution to what, however? What exactly will the formation of two states solve?

Allegedly, this is the answer to war – there will be peace. An honest belief that simply creating two states between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River will bring about peace ex machina, is the result of either serious delusion or the campaign of misinformation waged against Israel. It will not create peace – national aspirations of sovereignty are only the tip of the enormous iceberg of problems that comprise the Israeli-Arab conflict.

As Giora Eiland writes, “The Palestinian ethos is based on values such as justice, victimization, revenge, and above all, the ‘right of return.'” In other words, Israel has no place. As cliche as it sounds, Gaza is proof. It is a clear-cut example that our Arab neighbors do not want to rule themselves, do not want to help their own, do not accept Israel in any way shape or form.

In his piece at Ynet, Eiland offers a number of different solutions for the regional conflict. I do not quite agree with any of them, but the end of the “two state orthodoxy” is a good step in the right direction.

Not every problem can be solved by Western powers drawing more lines in the sand. Doing that in the first place after WWI contributed greatly to the mess in the greater Middle East today. It’s time to realize that the gospel of two states has to be re-examined.

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