Major Events in Israel and the Middle East
By Marc Schulman
Friday, March 9, 2007
The news in Israel is filled with speculation on what information the Iranian vice Defense Minister, who has apparently defected, carries with him. It seems clear that he has a great deal of information on the connections between Teheran, Hezbollah and the Islamic Jihad. Everyone in Israel wants to know if he has any knowledge of the fate of Ron Arad, the Israeli navigator now missing for 24 years. While the exact circumstances of the disappearance of the Iranian are unknown, it seems more and more likely that the Mossad had a major part in the action.
At the moment, Prime Minister Olmert has the lowest approval rating of any prime minister in Israel's history. It is a strange situation when a Member of Knesset from the opposition was asked why something is not done to stop Olmert. The answer was instructive, "Stop him from what? He is not doing anything". That is the truth; Olmert is the consummate political manipulator making sure he has enough support in Knesset to stop anyone from wanting to make the government fall. In the meantime he does not do anything while none of the public has any confidence his continued stewardship..
Thursday, March 8, 2007
The main news in Israel today was devoted to a terrible traffic accident that killed six people and the revelations that Israeli hospitals have been dealing with a bacteria that is antibiotic resistant. The news about the bacteria has resulted in panic in Israeli hospitals as press reports have stated that 150 people have died from it. As in most of these cases, it would seem the news reports have been exaggerated.
Another major news story today was Prime Minister Olmert’s testimony to the Winograd Commission that has been leaked to the press. According to his testimony, Olmert had decided months before that in the case of another kidnapping incident, Israel would launch a major attack. Many reports appeared today to contradict Olmert’s statement. The main criticism centered on the fact that if Olmert thought that a war was imminent, nothing was done to prepare. The Prime Minister decreased the army’s budget. He ignored reports that the army had not held major maneuvers in years and thus the Israel Defense Forces was not prepared for a war. Most importantly, if he thought war was imminent why would he allow Amir Peretz, who knows nothing about defense, to become the Minister of Defense?
There was an interesting piece on the news analyzing the actions of Al-Qaeda in the last year. While Al-Qaeda did not engage in a mega terrorist act this past year, they have absorbed many Muslim movements from Algeria to the Philippines. Wherever there seem to be radical Muslims in search of support, Al-Qaeda has stepped in. By spearheading attacks on Shiite sites in Iraq, they have also been in the forefront of the growing fissure between Sunni and Shiites. I am not convinced whether it is being done because of Al-Qaeda’s hatred of Shiites (which exists) or more because anything that will undermine the United States in Iraq is in Al-Qaeda’s interest. Either way Al-Qaeda’s actions have helped create one of the greatest rifts between Shiites and Sunnis in over 1000 years.
Wednesday, March 8, 2007
The recent visit of Hamas leader and head of the organization’s political bureau, Khaled Meshal, to Teheran has caused a stir in the Palestinian territories. Two weeks remain for Fatah and Hamas to work out their differences and start a coalition government. In Teheran, Meshal stated that Hamas has not modified its views in any way as a result of the Mecca agreements. Meshal went on to say that he expects the Palestinian people and the Palestinian government to receive continued generous support from Iran. Palestinian critics questioned why this visit was necessary now, and was it not a slap in the face of Saudi Arabia?
Israeli domestic politics came to the forefront again today when former Prime Minister Netanyahu called for new elections. He admitted, however, that even though he favored new elections there was not a majority in the Knesset for them. He hinted at the possible defection of Kadima members that would allow the creation of a new coalition. Most commentators however, believe that this possibility is still unlikely.
On the other hand, the public, based on a new poll released by Israel Channel 10, desperately wants new elections. 57% of Israelis want elections now, while 28% do not; 72% of Israelis want Olmert to resign while on 17% want him to remain. Of those who want him to resign they are evenly divided as to the reason. 44% say it is because of the war and 45% because of corruption. In Olmert’s ongoing fight with the State Comptroller, only 12% of Israelis believe that Olmert is correct. If elections were today, 30% of Israelis believe that Netanyahu would make the best Prime Minster, 18% Ami Ayalon, 12% Ehud Barak, 7% Avigdor Lieberman, 3% would vote for Olmert and only 1% believe that Amir Peretz should become Prime Minster.
Israel unveiled a new "Mazlat" (aerial drone) today. While the drone, called Shoval, was touted for the number of hours it could remain on in the air without refueling, its high flying altitude of 30,000 feet, and its ability to carry up to 250 kilograms, another less mentioned advantage of the drone is the fact that it could fly as far as Iran.
Tuesday, March 6, 2007
Once again the news today was dominated by State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss' report on the government’s handling of the home front during the second war in Lebanon. Instead of the country paying attention to what the State Comptroller had to say, it was all about the theater. Prime Minister Olmert's office and some other members of the Kadima Party managed to change the topic from Olmert’s disappointing performance to an absurd idea that the Comptroller is out to get the Prime Minister.
The old saying that the best defense is an offense, is working for the moment. Next month, when Lindenstraus comes out with a critical report on the Prime Minister's other scandal, the investment authority, Olmert’s office can just say he out to get him.
In the meantime, the people from northern Israel still wait to hear who will be held responsible for what happened to them this past summer.
Iran today officially admitted that their former top general is missing. Sources believe that he most likely defected to the United States.
Relations within the government have gotten so bad that at today’s cabinet meeting Defense Minister Peretz started yelling at Olmert for not letting him speak. The Cabinet meeting had to be halted.
Monday, March 5, 2007
Today Israel was still embroiled in the controversy of whether or not the State Comptroller, Micha Lindenstrauss, should present his interim report on the management of the Home Front during the second Lebanon war to the Knesset tomorrow. Those who oppose it have filed a protest to the Supreme Court in order to stop the hearing tomorrow morning. They claim that since they have not had a chance to respond, it should not be presented to the Knesset. Lindenstrauss has promised not to attach any personal responsibility to the failures and he will no doubt outline in his report tomorrow. How absurd, can you imagine the US Supreme Court telling the US Congress that it cannot have hearings on any topic it wishes? I have to assume from what I understand of the Israeli law, which gives the Knesset committees the full responsibility to hold hearings when it wishes, that the Supreme Court would reject the petition to stop the hearings.
The Arab Summit will be meeting soon. The Libyans refuse to attend and claim that it is not a serious meeting and no one is interested in Israel, rather, only in confronting Iran.
New polls were released this morning in the primary battle for leadership of the Labor Party. Ami Ayalon, former head of the General Security Services (Shabak), is in a neck and neck fight with former Prime Minister Ehud Barak. The polls show the current Labor leader Amir Peretz in fourth place. The poll was taken among current Labor members after the recent drive to recruit additional members. Reports claim the Peretz is planning to withdraw from politics if he loses.
There was a report on Israeli television that between 20 to 25 percent of Israelis suffer from learning disabilities. In an absurd public policy decision, the National Insurance Program is planning to compensate people with these disabilities like other physical disabilities. This is absurd since the place to deal with this problem is in the school system. Israeli schools barely deal with it, with less then one learning specialist assigned to schools with 100’s of students. Only 5% of students with learning issues complete academic high school and a recent study stated that 90% of the criminals in Israelis prisons suffered from learning problems. So why deal with the problem when it can be addressed, lets just compensate people later in life for their disability.
On a positive note, Israeli Channel 10 played my favorite Israeli song today as a background for a story. The song "We are the Children of the Winter of 73", was written by children born as a result of the Yom Kippur War. Israel's wars have always resulted in baby boom. This past summer"s war has resulted in a 30% increase in projected births starting in May.
Sunday, March 4, 2007
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Saudi Arabia today. There were conflicting reports on what had been accomplished during the trip. The Saudis reported that the Iranian President accepted the Saudi peace plan from 2002. Teheran quickly denied the report. Considering that we do not even understand how much power Ahmadinejad has in Teheran at the moment, I will reserve judgment on whether the visit had any importance. It could be meaningless or it could be extremely important both to Israel and to the American efforts in Iraq.
Israeli news reported this evening that a high-ranking Iranian general in the Revolutionary Guard had gone missing in Turkey over a month ago. The Iranians suspect either the Israeli Mossad or the CIA. Either would be happy to get their hands on him.
Today, Prime Minister Olmert initiated an unprecedented attack on State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss. After refusing to meet Lindenstrauss and then not answering the questions he posed, Olmert demanded that he not release his interim report on the Home Front during the Lebanon War on Tuesday as planned. The report, which is expected to be stinging in it criticism of most parts of the government, is allegedly pointedly critical of the actions of the Prime Minister. Olmert has attempted to strike first by criticizing the Comptroller and attempting to get him to not release his interim report. Olmert is trying desperately to play for time. I am not sure what he expects will happen. He seems to think that his position will somehow get better.
It is clear to anyone who was in Israel last summer, that any self respecting government would have resigned after the war, just on the basis of what a terrible job it had done for the home front during the war. Only the actions of independent charities and individuals helped ameliorate some of the worst shortcomings of the government. It does not require Lindenstrauss’ 600-page report to answer that question.
Today on "This Week", George Will commented on the deplorable state of Veteran Affairs and stated that the crime here is that this [the Iraq War] was a war of choice and thus to enter it without being prepared is the greatest misdeed. The same has to be said for Olmert's government. This was not 1973 (pre-Yom Kippur War) and Israel was not attacked (provoked maybe). The government decided to begin a war that it neither knew how to end, nor was prepared for the consequences of it. By watching leaders whether in Washington and in Jerusalem, one cannot be struck by the similarity of leadership? There are two leaders who might have gotten by in a time of peace, but neither who know how to lead in a time of war. That will be history’s tragic judgment on both of them.
Friday, March 2, 2007
The second part of the report on Olmerts intervention on behalf of Likud Central committee members appeared today on Channel 10. At another time it might have caused an outcry, but today it was ho hum, something else we already know"our leaders are corrupt". Next week the report of the controller general on the government’s actions on the home front are expected. Rumors have it that the report will include a very strong indictment of the government actions. Olmert refused to meet with the State Controller and has failed to answer his questions. I am not sure that it will make much of a stir-after all most Israelis know that the government is not only corrupts, but incompetent as well.
After that comes the Winograd commission on the war-will anyone care?
Thursday, March 1, 2007
Yesterday's story about Olmert's list of those he has helped from the Likud Central Committee continued to gain momentum today. The Attorney General Menachem Mazuz and the State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss have both promised to investigate the infamous list. Israel Channel 10 brought additional information that tied Olmert to the events. They are promising a major follow-up story tomorrow night. One story of corruption follows another follows another while the public forgets about the last story and waits for the next.
Speaker of the Knesset and temporary President Dalia Itzik is the United States. After meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Itzik stunned and embarrassed Israeli diplomats by violating protocol and giving an on the record interview detailing the conversation, something not always in a light favorable to Rice.
Recently there has been a proposal in by an Arab-Israeli group called Adalah to eliminate symbols of Jewish character from the state and it has been receiving a significant amount of media coverage. To some, the position of Adalah, which allowed for a continued Jewish majority in the state, was considered a moderate document and a blueprint for coexistence. Today the head of the Druze and Circassians forum, Nabiah Nasser A-Din, attacked the idea, stating that the Druze and Circassians in Israel have tied their fate with the Jewish State of Israel and not some bi-national state. I agree with the Druze and Circassians. The Arab minority in Israel should be given full civil and economic rights. However, Israel is the one and only Jewish state, and if they fell oppressed about living in a state that ties its history and culture to the Jewish people they are free to live somewhere else. The frightening thing about the Adalah proposal is that it comes from the moderates within the Arab-Israeli community and not from the members of the Islamic Front.