A War at Our Expense

Op-ed, Yael Paz-Melamed, Maariv, March 8 2011

If I were an American Jew, and if I had the privilege of being one of the 14,000 representatives who listened eagerly to the speech that was given by the prime minister of Israel, I would have added two standing ovations with uproarious applause. I might even have let a few tears flow down my cheeks. Why shouldn’t I? After all, I’m not the one who is going to have to pay the price for his war-mongering.  At most, I’ll be forced to pay a few more dollars to fill my car’s gas tank. What is that in comparison to my Jewish pride, which swells in the face of the fortitude, determination and strength of that country, which I certainly won’t dare to visit in the near future. Are you crazy? They might decide to attack exactly while I’m there. What would happen to me then?

But I do live here, just like seven million other citizens, and that is why we are going to have to pay for the consequences of this eloquent speech that was delivered in such eloquent English. Maybe that is why the prime minister’s audience wasn’t the Israelis, but American Jews. Over there he receives the enormous respect, the enthusiasm, the applause that put him in seventh heaven. Over there he can also revisit, time and again, the horrors of the Holocaust and the pride in the might of the Israeli army, without saying even a single word about the terrible price that will be incurred if we do strike Iran. And that price will be incurred, and it will be far more terrible than estimated.

At present, the man who is protecting us from another war befalling us is the president of the United States, with the support of the president of the State of Israel. But we shouldn’t delude ourselves that that will be enough for us. The series of fiery speeches given by the prime minister of Israel is mainly the result of us, the citizens of Israel, having become the shields of the countries of the West, just like quite a few Arab countries.

It is we who have taken it upon ourselves, and not to our benefit, and perhaps without anyone having intended for this to be the outcome, to be at the forefront of the effort against a nuclear Iran. Currently, we stand alone in that insane rubric, while the two people who are responsible for our security and lives, Netanyahu and Barak, are leading us step by step, with determination and without sensitivity, to the point of no return.

It is true that our defense minister tried to allay the public’s concerns and said that 5,000 Israeli civilians wouldn’t be killed, and maybe not even 500, but who can assure us that it won’t be more than 5,000 people?

Netanyahu and Barak can plan everything meticulously, except the results. The cost. Regrettably, that part isn’t up to them. The arguments in favor of an attack on Iran are based on the working assumption that we are dealing with an irrational leader who will not hesitate to take insane measures against Israel unless we deliver a preemptive blow that will do away with his nuclear capabilities. Except that that premise works in both directions. The very same irrationality could come into action if we do attack.

The paranoia that is egging the proponents of an attack talks about the destruction of the State of Israel if we fail to act against the Iranian nuclear program. In Netanyahu’s conceptual world, the annihilation will be of the entire Jewish people, just as sought by the Nazi regime, which is comparable to Ahmadinejad’s regime. That also works in both directions. If we attack, can one say with certainty that the State of Israel will continue to exist and to flourish as it does today?

Had Netanyahu delivered his speech to 14,000 Israelis, he would have had to address those questions. Because this is about our lives and our fate. Except that he doesn’t have even a single answer to any one of those questions. He can only surmise. How have we reached a situation in which those questions have become ours to cope with? Up until not long ago Iran was the problem of the world under the leadership of the United States. But for the past number of months we have been doing everything in order to obtain exclusivity over this terrible burden. The person who has gained the most from our insane insistence has been Obama. What could be better for him as he heads into elections than to make a public appearance as the sane leader who is doing everything in his power to prevent a war in yet another distant country? Too bad he isn’t our leader.

The right way to deal with different opinions is by raising counterarguments in the framework of open discussion in the ‘marketplace of ideas’ that characterizes a democratic society… If these bills become law, I won’t be able to defend them against the petitions that will be submitted to the High Court… They deal a harsh blow to a long list of constitutional rights,including freedom of expression, freedom of association and the right to equality
— Proposed legislation to restrict foreign governments’ donations to nongovernmental organizations is unconstitutional, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein warned this week, and if it passes the Knesset, he will not be prepared to defend it in the High Court of Justice. (via progressiveisrael)

(via progressiveisrael)

bagnewsnotes:

Bag’s Take-Away:

The symbolism should not be lost on anybody — seeing Occupy protesters marching for economic justice in front of the now shiny-gold Superdome where citizens died waiting for help from Katrina.


(photo: Matthew Hinton/The Times-Picayune  caption: Occupy NOLA protesters parade past the Superdome Thursday, November 17, 2011 in New Orleans, La. The group formed out of solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York City.)

Via Occupy Movement Marks Two-Month Anniversary Nationwide | Denver Post 
—————
Topping LIFE.com’s 2011 list of Best Photo Blogs, follow us at: BagNewsNotes; BAG Twitter; BAG Facebook; Bag by Email.

bagnewsnotes:

Bag’s Take-Away:

The symbolism should not be lost on anybody — seeing Occupy protesters marching for economic justice in front of the now shiny-gold Superdome where citizens died waiting for help from Katrina.

(photo: Matthew Hinton/The Times-Picayune caption: Occupy NOLA protesters parade past the Superdome Thursday, November 17, 2011 in New Orleans, La. The group formed out of solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York City.) Via Occupy Movement Marks Two-Month Anniversary Nationwide | Denver Post

—————

Topping LIFE.com’s 2011 list of Best Photo Blogs, follow us at: BagNewsNotes; BAG Twitter; BAG Facebook; Bag by Email.

bagnewsnotes:

Bag’s Take-Away:

The symbolism should not be lost on anybody — seeing Occupy protesters marching for economic justice in front of the now shiny-gold Superdome where citizens died waiting for help from Katrina.


(photo: Matthew Hinton/The Times-Picayune  caption: Occupy NOLA protesters parade past the Superdome Thursday, November 17, 2011 in New Orleans, La. The group formed out of solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York City.)

Via Occupy Movement Marks Two-Month Anniversary Nationwide | Denver Post 
—————
Topping LIFE.com’s 2011 list of Best Photo Blogs, follow us at: BagNewsNotes; BAG Twitter; BAG Facebook; Bag by Email.

bagnewsnotes:

Bag’s Take-Away:

The symbolism should not be lost on anybody — seeing Occupy protesters marching for economic justice in front of the now shiny-gold Superdome where citizens died waiting for help from Katrina.

(photo: Matthew Hinton/The Times-Picayune caption: Occupy NOLA protesters parade past the Superdome Thursday, November 17, 2011 in New Orleans, La. The group formed out of solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York City.) Via Occupy Movement Marks Two-Month Anniversary Nationwide | Denver Post

—————

Topping LIFE.com’s 2011 list of Best Photo Blogs, follow us at: BagNewsNotes; BAG Twitter; BAG Facebook; Bag by Email.

Atomic pressure

Excerpt from column [first section], Nahum Barnea, Yediot Friday Political Supplement [with front-page teaser], October 28 2011

Have the prime minister and the defense minister made between themselves, in private, a decision on a military strike on the nuclear reactors in Iran? This question preoccupies many today in the security establishment and in the government. It also troubles foreign governments, which have a hard time understanding what goes on here: on the one hand, rumors are increasing about an Israeli offensive that would change the face of the Middle East and perhaps seal the fate of the Jewish state for the coming generations. On the other hand, there is a complete absence of public discourse. A strike on Iran is the subject that is farthest from the Israeli agenda.

It’s true that the agenda is loaded with weighty subjects: the social protest movement is trying to resurface; the price of electricity is rising; the hospital residents are fighting for their right to resign; Gilad Shalit leaves his house; Ilan Grapel returns — Ouda Tarabin stays; a Grad rocket is fired at Rishon Lezion: Ahmed Jaabari and his colleagues, our new Palestinian buddies, want to prove to the world, and mainly to themselves, that glory hasn’t emasculated them: in Gaza too there are the holidays, and there are the post-holidays.

All these matters are important, and moving: none of them are fateful. Perhaps that is why everyone finds it convenient to address them and not the question of what to do about the Iranian nuclear program.

It’s easy to understand the difficulties. First of all, the data: anyone who wishes to delve into the problem, drowns in a sea of technical data whose meaning is only clear to a few in the know. Behind every report about a centrifuge hides a viewer who has switched to another channel or a reader who has moved on to the Sudoku puzzle.

Second, because of the secrecy: the available information is partial, and is subject to the interest of those providing it. Third, because of habit: the public was not a partner to Menahem Begin’s decision to strike the nuclear reactor in Iraq and did not share in Ehud Olmert’s decision (according to foreign reports) to attack the nuclear reactor in Syria. Since both of these went well, nobody protested.

The decisions on these two strikes entailed considerable risks: the pilots were liable to fail in their mission, to fall into captivity, to cause mass killing; Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and Bashar Assad’s Syria could have responded militarily, in terror attacks or missile fire; foreign countries, first the United States, could have created a crisis. Happily, the opponents’ prophecies of doom did not come true. The success was complete, without casualties, without any damage to our forces.

Will what worked twice work the third a time? Yes, say the proponents of a military action; absolutely not, say the opponents. Iran is a completely different story — a state in another league, another regime, another culture, a different nuclear program, a different level of risk.

The top members of the political and security establishments are divided into a number of camps. One camp says, the benefit of a military action is limited; the risk is insane. The Iranians will respond by firing missiles from Iran, from Lebanon by means of Hizbullah, and from Gaza by means of Hamas. A regional war will break out that will destroy the State of Israel. Better for Israel to rely on the sanctions of the international community and hope for the best. If Iran does obtain nuclear weapons, that won’t be the end of the world. Israel can handle that.

The second camp says, what’s the rush. The Iranians need at least two or two and a half more years until the project is ready. Delays are taking place and will yet take place along the way. In the meantime, there will be presidential elections in the US. Obama in a second term or a Republican in a first term are liable to take a strike on Iran on themselves. The Iranian regime could change. A lot of things could happen in two years.

This week I met, in Europe, a senior American diplomat from previous administrations. Iran, he said, is proposing that negotiations be held with it for imposing international inspection on its nuclear facilities. If I were Israel, I would respond positively.

But the Iranians are being deceptive, I said. All they want is to gain time.

Obviously, he said. But it will be more convenient for the US and for Israel to take action after the entire international community openly admits that the Iranians are being deceitful.

Some of the high-ranking ministers in the government share this view. They support a military action as a last resort. They suspect that pressure to expedite an action is tainted by irrelevant, personal and political motives.

Among the third camp number the leaders of the security branches — the chief of staff, the Mossad director, the director of IDF Intelligence and the GSS director. When the question came up of a military action in the previous round, the people who served in these positions were, in order, Gabi Ashkenazi, Meir Dagan, Amos Yadlin and Yuval Diskin. The four of them adamantly ruled out a military action. They were succeeded, in order, by Benny Gantz, Tamir Pardo, Aviv Kochavi and Yoram Cohen. A personnel change can have far-reaching significance. The Shalit deal is a perfect illustration: Diskin and Dagan were opposed to a deal; their opposition caused the government position to be inflexible; Cohen and Pardo were in favor; their support sanctioned the agreement.

But as far as is known, on the Iranian issue, their view matches that of their predecessors: all four, it seems, rule out a military strike at this time. The difference is in their willingness to fight [for their viewpoint]: the previous directors arrived at meetings after years of success, each in their organization, enjoying strong public standing. Toward the politicians they projected determination and self-confidence. The new ones are less well known, less emphatic, less consolidated.

In Israel, the division of labor in decisions on security matters is clear: the political echelon decides, the operational level implements. There is no such thing as disobeying orders. There are no juntas. But the process is more complex that what we are taught in civics lessons: the professional level is an equal partner in the discussions. It expresses its view not only on subjects that are within its realm of responsibility, but in every subject that comes up. The lines of separation are blurred. In actual practice, the prime minister cannot make a decision that entails risks if the defense minister, the chief of staff, the Mossad director and the GSS director, all of them or most of them, are opposed. Even if he enjoys the support of the majority of the security cabinet members, he would not dare. He will take into account that if the action fails, he is liable to arrive at the commission of inquiry naked and bare, without documents that prove that he had the support of the professional level.

There is therefore great importance to the question of how the professional level expresses its view. Does it pound on the table, as Meir Dagan would do, or does it delicately and calmly express reservation; is it an active player in the  decision-making process or is it a minor player doing the bidding of its superiors.

Which brings us to the fourth camp — to Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, the two Siamese twins of the Iranian issue. A rare phenomenon is taking place here in terms of Israeli politics: a prime minister and defense minister who act as one body, with one goal, with mutual backing and repeated heaping of praise on each other. Such harmony was achieved only when one person held both positions. If we insist on rummaging through history, we are reminded of the fertile cooperation between prime minister Shamir and defense minister Rabin. What united them was the scorn they both felt for Peres.

Netanyahu and Barak appear to be pushing for action. Netanyahu phrased the equation at the beginning of his term: Ahmadinejad is Hitler; if he is not stopped in time, there will be a Holocaust. There are some who describe Netanyahu’s fervor on this subject as an obsession: he has dreamed of being Churchill his entire life. Iran provides him with the opportunity. The popularity that he gained as a result of the Shalit deal hasn’t calmed him: just the opposite, it gave him a sense of power.

Barak does not use the same superlatives but is pushing for a military action: he is certain that just as Israel prevented nuclear projects in the past, it must prevent this one as well. This is strategy; this is legacy.

He believed that Dagan’s opposition stemmed from psychological motives: as Mossad director, wondrous achievements in delaying the project were attributed to Dagan. A military action a short time after the end of his term would dwarf the importance of those achievements.

Among the ministers there are those who suspect Barak of having personal motives: he has no party; he has no voters. A strike on Iran would be the big bang that would make it possible for Netanyahu to bring him into the top ten of the Likud in the next elections. This way he could continue to be defense minister. On the face of it, this suspicion appears exaggerated: Barak does not need Ayatollah Khamenei in order to join the Likud. Shalom Simhon can arrange this by peaceful means.

Precisely now, when the sense in the world is that the Iranian progress has been slowed, the rumors speak of pressure being brought to bear to take action. One of the issues is the weather: winter is approaching; and winter imposes limitations. Others look ahead: they say that after the winter will come spring, and after that, summer. 

Following the siege on the Embassy,  Israelis refuse to serve in Cairo

Eli Bardenstein, Maariv, October 3 2011

Though the violent siege by the Egyptian mob on Israel’s Cairo embassy about a month ago ended without casualties, it has created a serious problem nonetheless. The Foreign Ministry is now searching desperately for Israeli diplomats, single men and women, who might be willing to serve in Cairo.

And as though this were not enough, Israel’s designated ambassador, Yaakov Amitai, who is scheduled to arrive in Cairo this December, is also considering a refusal of the appointment. Ma’ariv has learned of plans to significantly reduce the number of Israeli diplomats in the Egyptian capital and to transform the embassy into a small office that will host the ambassador, a political diplomat and consul, who will also serve as chief administration officer. According to this plan, which is yet to be approved, the diplomats will work in Cairo Monday to Thursday and return for a long weekend in Israel.

For the first time since the violent events, a low ranking diplomatic mission will leave Israel for Cairo today, and continue diplomatic work there until Yom Kippur.

A month ago, as result of the siege on Israel’s Cairo embassy, the Foreign Ministry evacuated, in the dead of night, all the Israeli diplomats serving in the country, their family members and local workers, numbering 80 in total. This was after an Egyptian commando force rescued six Israeli security guards from the embassy just moments before the mob entered the compound, following pressure from President Obama. Once the event ended, it was decided by the Foreign Ministry not to send diplomats with families to Cairo.

As a result of this decision, the deputy ambassador, married with four children, will not return to Cairo, and this is also the case of the second diplomat, ranked second secretary, the administrative officer, the consul, the latter’s deputy and the embassy’s spokesperson.

Though the children of senior and esteemed ambassador Yitzhak Levanon are adults, the ministry has yet to approve his return to Cairo, and in any event he is expected to retire in two months. Also the embassy’s employees with families who do not hold diplomatic positions are scheduled to be replaced, and hence all security guards with families will be replaced.

Sources in the Foreign Ministry said yesterday: “It will be extremely difficult to man the embassy and find suitable people, without families.”

The Foreign Ministry’s administration and director Raffi Barak are continuing their efforts to find a suitable facility to substitute for the Cairo embassy, after it was made clear to Egypt that Israel would not send a delegation to the facility that was infiltrated. Efforts to reach an agreement with Egypt about strict security measures for Israeli diplomats are also underway, and until this is finalized there is no intention to have the ambassador return. In any event, at this time there is no intention to downgrade Israel’s Cairo delegation and both the prime minister and foreign minister have ordered that the utmost effort be made to reinstate the ambassador and his staff as soon as possible.