Sunday, November 20, 2011

Kushner - From Israel: The More Things Change

Arlene Kushner
Arlene from Israel
19 November '11
Motzei Shabbat (After Shabbat)

It was, admittedly, only during the course of the past 1-1/2 weeks that I was focused on family matters intensively enough so that I was prevented from posting. But now that I have returned to normal posting (and am so happy be back to doing so), I ask how things have changed in the course of those ten days. And the answer is that not much has changed. The same irritating and worrisome themes persist. The same world stupidity endures. Hadn't expected anything else.


In my book, no issue trumps that of the threat of Iran -- even if much of the world still chooses, obtusely and at its own peril, to remain oblivious to this.

Back on November 8, the Israeli government was still expressing hope that once the IAEA report on Iran was released -- that very day -- the world would sit up and take notice.

The report -- who contents had already been leaked -- for the first time made it clear that Iran is secretly working towards the development of atomic weaponry: "Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear device." A 14-page annex to the report provides a detailed description of the ways in which Iranian scientists have sought to develop the relevant skills and secure highly specific information and materials used in nuclear warhead design. Iran would require about six months to enrich the quantity of uranium necessary for building a weapon.

You can see the report here:


Within a day, Russia announced that it would block any more stringent move against Iran in the UN:

Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov declared that, "Any additional sanctions against Iran will be seen in the international community as an instrument for regime change in Tehran....That approach is unacceptable to us, and the Russian side does not intend to consider such proposals."

Two days later, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei, defending Chinese economic dealings with Iran, said that cooperation rather than coercion is the most effective approach to Iran.


And the US? It has been hedging with regard to sanctions against the Iranian Central Bank (considered one of the most effective ways of hurting Iran) because this would have drive up oil prices and hurt the US economy. Seems to me I've covered this ground before: the breathtaking idiocy of imagining that a world in which Iran has nuclear weaponry would be stable and not adversely affect the US economy.

A recent editorial in the Washington Post makes this point quite clearly:
"The Obama administration has been saying since last month, when it revealed an Iranian plot to murder the Saudi ambassador to the United States, that it intended to press for tougher sanctions. But in briefing reporters this week, officials appeared to back away from measures that would have real impact...the administration is wary that, by effectively shutting down Iran’s oil exports, it would provoke a spike in energy prices that would damage the fragile global economy.

"That is a legitimate concern. But President Obama has said repeatedly that Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon is unacceptable — and the IAEA report makes clear the danger is growing, not diminishing. If Iran is to be stopped without the use of military force, the president, and the country, should be willing to bear some economic pain. The alternative — allowing Tehran to go forward — would be far more costly. (Emphasis added)


Meanwhile Netanyahu made it clear that:

"The significance of the [IAEA] report is that the international community must bring about the cessation of Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons which endanger the peace of the world and of the Middle East."

"Must." But will it? There is a veiled warning here.


A US official cited by the Wall Street Journal clearly recognized that warning: "We need to show to the Israelis that there's a sense of seriousness."

This is a fascinating statement. Not that "we [international leaders] need" to stop Iran because Iran must be stopped. But because Israel might otherwise do something "rash." So precisely who is viewed as the bigger threat here?


Last Sunday, during his statement at the beginning of the Cabinet meeting, Netanyahu made the warning even more dire:

"Iran is closer to getting a bomb than is thought. Only things that could be proven were written [in the report], but in reality there are many other things that we see."

While Foreign Minister Lieberman has observed that:

"So far the international community has imposed sanctions on Iran only on 30% of areas where it could be possible....Even if the Western world would impose sanctions without China and Russia, it would be enough to strangle Iran."


It's my understanding that two US officials -- David Cohen, Undersecretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, who is charge of America's economic sanctions on Iran, and Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides -- were here in Israel last week to discuss issues of how to proceed with sanctions against Iran. But there is no information I have uncovered regarding the discussions.


Just two days ago, Security Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon made the statement that Israel's readiness to hit Iran must be something that is credible to the Iranians -- that is, that they take seriously and cannot dismiss as saber-rattling.

But, while Israel must be ready to take on Iran on its own, this option "is the last one and only comes after all other options have been used."


The welcome news about Iran is two fold.

First, it seems that Iran's computers are again affected by a supervirus similar to what hit it last year. This one is being called "Duqu." It is thought to be related to the original "Stuxnet" and is likely to have been created by the same parties. "Duqu" is apparently designed to secure information from computers to be utilized in a further virus attack.

And then, there was a major blast at a missile base just a week ago that killed 17 members of the Revolutionary Guard -- including Brigadier General Hassan Moghaddam, who was in charge of missile development -- and did extensive damage to the site. This is being linked to an explosion last October at a base that housed long-range Shahab-3 missiles. Fingers are pointed at the Mossad. But, as should be the case, no one is talking.


The second issue of high interest, of course, is that of PA shenanigans. Which are never-ending and ever so wearisome.

Sensing that its bid in the Security Council was not going well, the PA, some days ago, resorted to its default position of making threats regarding impending violence. (Its other default is making threats about Abbas's resignation and the dismantlement of the PA). In this instance, a PA official predicted that the region might be headed towards "violence and anarchy" if its bid for statehood failed.

But, as that threat -- quite obviously -- made no discernable difference in the situation, the PA has decided not to call for a vote in the Security Council with regard to its request for membership.

It had become clear that there were not enough votes to pass it: According to a Security Council subcommittee report, only eight states were prepared to vote for Palestinian membership, while nine of 15 were required. With the exception of the US, which was prepared to cast a veto, the other states that wouldn't vote in favor would have abstained -- Britain, France, Colombia, Germany, Portugal and Bosnia. But abstentions would have been enough to prevent the PA from achieving its goal.

All of this was undoubtedly an enormous relief to Obama, who would have cast the veto he had committed to only reluctantly. As the result of effective lobbying by the US and Israel, it had become unnecessary.


But do not imagine that this is the end of the PA's UN gambit. Now, leaders have announced, they will be focused on the General Assembly, where there is no chance for a majority vote favoring the Palestinian Arabs to be blocked, and where they will be seeking observer status.

This does not, I emphasize, represent the creation of a Palestinian state by the General Assembly, which is not empowered to do anything of the sort. But observer status would grant the PA certain perks that it would try to parlay to its advantage in the international community. I will be tracking this carefully.


Then beyond the UN gambit, the PA has returned again, more actively, to its "form-a-unity-government-with-Hamas" gambit.

According to Khaled Abu Toameh, writing in the JPost, Azzam al-Ahmed, a senior West Bank Fatah official has revealed that he has had held secret meetings in Cairo with Musa Abu Marzouk, deputy head of the Hamas politburo located in Damascus. Ahmed said that they had held several meetings "in order to create a positive atmosphere" ahead of an anticipated summit in Cairo between Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal.

Some six months ago a unity agreement had been announced, but stumbled on the issue of the formation of a joint government: Hamas was adamant that PA prime minister Salam Fayyad, whom they detest, would have no part in it, and Fatah was just as adamant that he must have a role. Now reports are that Fayyad has agreed to resign, and to withdraw with regard to any further involvement in government.

While many members of Fatah were themselves less than fond of Fayyad, who is an independent, they tolerated his continuing role as prime minister because he is the darling of the West -- the one who has had the confidence of the EU and the ability to bring in financial support for the PA. A Palestinian government without him at its helm will usher in a different, more problematic, dynamic.


In addition to having to put together a government, the parties involved have to set a time for presidential and parliamentary elections, presumably in the spring.

Almost all Palestinian Arab issues are "wait and see" because of the inherent volatility of the situation. But I believe it is even more the case with regard to the formation of a unity government. In spite of a history of some cooperation and certainly at present some convergence of interests that suggest the possibility of such an arrangement, there is also an underlying dynamic of tensions and rivalries between Hamas and Fatah.


From my cynical perspective I see one particular advantage: Full readiness on the part of Abbas to enter into arrangements with an overtly terrorist entity goes a long way to removing his mask of moderation. I qualify by saying "a long way," because there are always parties ready to put on their blinders and dance around him, finding ways to exonerate his behavior. But he is making it tougher for the West to embrace him, which I rather like -- as Fatah's goals and those of Hamas are one and the same.

In particular, I am hoping that once and for all Netanyahu would be freed of his compulsion to show the world how eager he is to sit at the negotiating table with Abbas -- even as Abbas goes on about requiring a halt in all construction beyond the Green Line and the necessity of accepting the '67 line as the basis for negotiations.

Never a straight-forward statement: "We're sick of this guy, who has no interest in peace, and sick of pretending that he might come around."


This is the sort of statement that seriously irks me. No -- in simple street jargon -- that makes me bananas: An Israeli official on Thursday was quoted as saying that "if he [Abbas]... [moves] forward towards Hamas, it can seriously harm the peace process."

Say what? Peace process? What peace process? What nonsensical pretense.

Another official said more:

"If Abbas consummates this marriage in a meeting next week with Mashaal, it is a serious problem for us. We have said before that Abbas can choose peace with us or Hamas, but they don't go together."

Then it becomes time to watch closely how the Israeli government will respond.


Joke of the day, except its not funny:

From Maariv: "On Wednesday, the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad was chosen to be the Arab representative on the UNESCO committee that deals with issues relating to the implementation of human rights.

"UNESCO's decision comes after Assad's regime managed to kill 3,500 demonstrators and arrest tens of thousands, without any due process whatsoever."

Proof positive of the corruption of the world.


Speaking of UNESCO, please see "Who's destroying antiquities in Jerusalem?":

"Now that it has been admitted to UNESCO as a 'member state,' the Palestinian Authority plans to sue Israel for 'stealing Palestinian antiquities.'

“'We will take Israel to court for systematically destroying and forging Arab and Islamic culture in Jerusalem,' said Hatem Abdel Qader, former PA minister for Jerusalem affairs, after the UNESCO vote.

"PA Minister of Tourism Khuloud Daibes alleges that Israel’s renovations of Jerusalem’s Old City walls and its intention to replace the crumbling Mughrabi Bridge at the southern entrance to the Temple Mount are hostile attempts to 'change the Islamic and Arabic character of the city.'

"The Palestinians are also planning to ask UNESCO to declare several sites in Jerusalem and the West Bank such as the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, international heritage sites belonging to Palestine, not Israel.

"If this weren’t so funny, it would be outrageous..."

Author David Weinberg, director of public affairs at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, then traces the sterling record of Israel on this issue, and the abysmal Arab/Muslim record.

This is information every supporter of Israel should have.


I want to end on a "good news" note that seems a bit frivolous in light of all that is above, but which I find both charming and hopeful in its broader implications:

In the 1940s and 1950s, the marshes of Hula Valley in northern Israel were drained because of malaria and in order to make the area arable. With the disappearance of its natural habitat, the Hula painted frog disappeared -- one hadn't been seen in some 50 years and in 1996 it was declared extinct.

About three years ago, with recognition of the ecological damage done to the region when the swamps were drained, water was diverted back to areas of the Hula.

And now? Surprise! The Hula frog -- described as having "a dark belly with small white spots and other colors including ochre and rust grading into dark olive-gray and gray-black" -- has been spotted again. Don't know how it managed these past fifty years, but it wasn't extinct after all, Israel's Nature and Parks Authority now informs us.

Hang in there! is the watchword.


© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.

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1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for your wonderful reporting and your great perspective.