April 2007 Israel Update

IThe Wingorad Commission released its initial report and it and the presentation by the Chairman was much stronger than anticipated. Judge Winograd stated in no uncertain terms that Ehud Olmert had failed the nation as Prime Minister as did Amir Peretz as Minister of Defense.

It was sad to watch the Prime Minister get on national television and state that he will implement the recommendations of the report, but will not resign. The same is true for the Minister of Defense. Their various spin doctors sounded like lawyers trying to get their clients off on a technicality.

The Prime Minister and the Minister of Defense talk about how they are capable of listening to the recommendations of the Commission. But, the major conclusion from the report is that the people in charge failed the nation and failed all those who were killed. There is no reason to possibly believe that Olmert and Peretz have suddenly become deep strategic thinkers. Former Chief-of-Staff Dan Halutz, who was also the subject scathing criticism, to his credit began at the end of the war the most exhaustive investigation ever into the failing of the army during the war. When the conclusions were in, Halutz resigned and made news for a successor to take over and begin the retraining of the IDF.

Realistically it is up to the Minister of Foreign Relations, Tzipi Livni, to make a move and call for a new government. Without her, Israel will be stuck with this government that can do nothing, until at least the final report comes out in August.

America is a large country and yet it will be paying the price of President George Bush's Iraq mistakes for a generation. Israel is much less capable of paying the price.

Report Summary

Sunday, April 29, 2007

The leaks from the Winograd Commission dominate the news today from Israel. The official report will be released at 4 PM Israel time tomorrow. In the meantime, as I wrote on Friday, the summaries made their way to the Israeli media. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his supporters continue to claim that there is nothing in the report that would cause him to resign.

Political observers continue to believe at the moment there is no reasonable expectation that the government will fall. It seems in the interest of all the major figures, with the exception of Opposition Leader MK Benjamin Netanyhu, to avoid having elections. MK Ami Ayalon and MK Ehud Barak want to be Defense Minister, while observers think that Minister of Foreign Affairs Tzpi Livini is not willing to try to lead a rebellion in Kadima to unseat Olmert. There are some who are talking about Vice Premier Shimon Peres becoming the interim prime minister. Some claim that the conclusion of the report says it is up to the people to decide if Olmert should remain in power. Will the people take to the squares The first large demonstration is scheduled for Thursday.

The State Comptroller, Micha Lindenstrauss, released the information on the case regarding Olmert's house. The Comptroller turned over the case to the Attorney General, Menachem Mazuz. Lindenstrauss says he cannot find any information to explain how Olmert purchased the house at such a low price, and further stated that he could not get any answers from the Prime Minister or his attorneys explaining what happened.

In a report to the Cabinet, the new Chief-of-Staff, Gabi Ashkenzi, stated that Hezbollah continues to receive arms from Syria and has begun deploying the south of the Litani River in southern Lebanon. He went on to say that the only way to stop the rocket fire from Gaza is a large-scale ground incursion.

Friday, April 26, 2007

Tonight, Israel Channel 10 reported the first details from the Winograd Commissions interim report. The commission prepared a 330 page report that begins with a song and is dedicated to all those who died in the war. This interim report just covers the events leading up to the war through the first five days. The reports most important part is in it section on conclusions. In it the Commission states that Prime Minister Olmert did not exercise proper judgment when entering the war. He did not ask for any options, he rushed to make decisions and had no realistic thoughts about the long-term effect about his actions.

The Winograd commission also writes that Defense Minister Peretz did not have the experience to be this crucial post. They further and more importantly found that Minister Peretz made no attempt to rely on people with more experience to learn about the things he did not know.

Regarding Former Chief of Staff Halutz, the commissions conclusions were probably the strongest It said that Halutz ridiculed the effect of the Katushas. He manipulated the government to decide whatever he thought was correct and he suppressed any other ideas.

The commission does not say recommend what any of these individuals should do now. However, I, or any Israeli, would certainly not want the people the commission described to be making any important decisions for the country.

The new Minister of Justice is, once again, making statements that seem calculated to support Olmert. He attacked the state comptroller for investigating potential criminal activity of the Prime Minister. Minister Freeman seems to ignore the ruling that established the job of comptroller which states that his main function is meant to investigate whether or not the government and its ministers have acted within the law.

There was one slightly upbeat piece on tonight's news about the lessons the army is implementing. All the units of the army are now going through the first large scale maneuvers in seven years. It will take a number of years until the army is fully prepared.

Thurssday, April 26, 2007

Israel is again a country in waiting. Will Prime Minister Olmert be indicted What will the Winograd Commission say Who will be the next Minister of Finance Who will win the Labor Party primaries There are many questions and today brought very few answers.

The only significant news came from Attorney General Mazuz. He recommended that Olmert should not hold the Finance Ministry post temporarily (as Minister of Finance Hirchson has taken a leave due to the inquiry taking place against him), but instead should give it to someone else. That decision is based on the fact that Olmert is being investigating for abuses during the time he was Minister of Finance. People in the Finance Ministry have reportedly given testimony against him. Speculation is that the new Minister of Finance will be former Minister of Justice Haim Ramon.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Following Israel Independence Day celebrations and barbeques, the political scandal parade continued today with the State Comptroller recommending that the police begin a criminal probe into the actions of Prime Minister Olmert when he was Minister of Industry and Commerce. The heart of the probe is the claim that Olmert gave special favors to his friends clients and to former law partner Uri Messer. I must say, this seems very much like the old proteksia that has dominated Israel for many years. Unfortunately for Olmert he is the first Prime Minister who has been a professional politician for almost his whole career, and thus has had many opportunities to cross the ethical line.

It seems that a much stronger line has been crossed by former MK Azmi Bishara, who resigned recently from the Knesset from the Israeli embassy in Cairo, after leaving the country to escape prosecution. Bishara was the chairman of the Arab political party Balad. The court has allowed a limited publication of the charges against Bishara. They seem to include helping Hezbollah during the last war, as well as money laundering. These are by far the most serious charges ever leveled against an Israeli Arab politician. There are some questions as to why Bishara was allowed to leave the country. Some people believe that it was a conscious decision-better that he be in exile than create a martyr by prosecuting him.

The Winograd Commission announced that it will release its interim report on Monday. Unfortunately, I do not think that Mondays Israel Analysis will be filled with good news.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Yom Ha'atzmaut was greeted by a series of Qassam missile and mortar attacks on Israel. Hamas said it was responding to recent Palestinian deaths. The organization further said that the period of restraint was over and would be resuming attacks on Israel. The Israeli army believes that the attacks were designed to be combined with an attempt to kidnap an Israeli soldier. The army's quick response is said to have foiled that.

According to Israeli intelligence sources, Hamas has made use of the period of relative quiet to improve its arms, train its men, and create a true command and control structure in Gaza. There seems to be a major disagreement within Hamas as to whether to stay into the government. Many are pushing for Hamas to withdraw from the government and begin unlimited warfare with Israel. They feel that membership in the government has resulted in no apparent gain.

A little trivial history was told on this evening's Israeli news. It seems that when the state was first formed, the provisional government did not want to use the current flag, which was the flag of the Zionist Movement. Their fear was that if it was used Jews in the Diaspora would be accused of double loyalty. In the midst of the War of Independence a public contest was held to design the new flag for the state. Hundreds of designs were received. In the end the Jews of the Diaspora contacted Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Sharett and asked that the old design remain and they were not worried about dual loyalty. So, four months after the state was declared, the current flag became the official flag of the nation.

Monday, April 23, 2007

It is Yom Ha'atzmaut, Israel Independence Day, and all the potential news will wait for tomorrow. In that very unique Israeli fashion, today the country reflected on the cost of independence while tonight it is time to celebrate. The central national celebrations take place on Mt. Herzl in Jerusalem, and while I have watched a number of the celebrations, I did not realize until tonight that the ceremonies take place right in front of Herzl's grave - how fitting.

While much space in this column has been taken up in the past few months on pessimistic stories, today should be partially a reflection on what has been accomplished.

Last night I watched a film on Israeli television called "The War after the War", which was about the War of Attrition that immediately followed the Six Day War. That was the Israel that I first got to know. While some things, such as immense hatred that the many Palestinians harbor towards Israel have not changed over the subsequent years, in many ways the country has transformed into something perhaps only Herzl dreamed of.

In the late 1960's Israel was clearly part of the undeveloped world. Good meals were hard to come by and the Sousita and the VW Beagle dominated the limited roads. Today, Israel has matured into a developed country with a thriving economy (who would have believed it would ever have a balance to trade surplus) that has managed to achieve peace with some of its neighbors.

Hopefully all of the strengths that Israel has managed to achieve over the past 59 years since its establishment will enable and empower the country, its leaders, and the general population to overcome the challenges that lay ahead. Israel was established to find a solution the problem of the Jewish people. While it has not fully achieved that, it has empowered the Jewish people to be the major part of the solution.

Sunday, April 21, 2007

Yom Hazikoron (Israel's Memorial Day) has began. It's a day of sadness and reflection in Israel. 22,305 soldiers have fallen in the service of the nation, since the beginning of the Zionist enterprise. 233 died this past year. In addition 1635 people have been killed by terrorist, with 66 of them having died this year. The memorial lamp was lit tonight at the Western Wall by the widow of Rafael Levy who gave his life in Lebanon by falling on a grenade in Lebanon to save the other soldiers in the unit.

The TV is filled with sad stories, one tonight about Shshanna Milo an 87 year old who is having her most difficult Memorial Day. In 1969 she lost her son who was a navy commando in the War of Attrition. This past summer she lost her grandson in the war of Lebanon- What pain to outlive your son and grandson.

There was a discussion today on London and Kirshbaum, on whether the fear of casualties had reduced the power of the army. Dan Shomorn one of the participants in the panel disagreed. He stated that all through his carreer he was concerned for the welfare of his soldiers, and was always concerned about casualties. What has changed has been the clarity of the mission. When its clear what the goals are Shomron said it is easier to take risks

The politics of scandal continued today, with Finance Minister Hirschson requesting that he be temporarily removed of duties. The decision was not unexpected. Olmert announced that he was not announcing a replacement and that he would take over the Finance Ministry for the meantime. Members of the financial community have voiced their opposition to this and which him to appoint someone to replace Hisrshon now. If Hisrshon is indected, which is widely expected that would force the matter.

Meanwhile the Minster of Strategic Threats Avigdor Leiberman was interrogated by the police for nine hours today for alleging accepting bribes. The investigation has been going on for a number of years, but supposedly new material has been found by the police in the last few days.

Israel channel 2 reported this evening that US secretary of State Condolizza Rice was going to meet with the Syrian Foreign Minister on May 2nd. There are also reports that she may be meeting with the Iranina Foreign Minster as well. Israel may not be ready for this sudden change in American policy. It better be ready, its becoming clearer by the day that the surge in Iraq is not going to work, and then the only way out is to try to negotiate with Iran and Syria. Of course its not clear what Assad wants. He knows Syria needs peace, but is aware that peace might end Alawite rule.

Syria is holding parliamentary elections. 9000 people are running for the 82 spots available. They are not allowed to run with affilation or by religion, and all together the 82 spots represent only 1/4 of the parliament. As you can see below the Alawites are a distinct minority in the country.


Friday, April 19, 2007

Tonights Friday night News Magazine was a mixture of sadness and hope. In the opening segment, Dan Margalit, one of Israels most respected journalists was asked why is it that in this year when the rate of terror attacks has been so low and the economy doing so well yet the country seems so depressed. Margalits answer was that overcoming the failure of the Lebanon War and the corruption that has been at the forefront in the past months are like cleaning out a wound. It will be very painful, but when the healing is done, the patient will recover and become stronger than ever.

A portion of the show was devoted to the parents and wives will be commemorating their first Memorial Day as bereaved families this upcoming Monday. This will be one of the most difficult memorial days in many years, as so many families have been added to the list of those who have lost their dearest.

On a positive note, there was a long interview with Shai Agassi, who had sold his Israeli company to SAP nearly a decade ago for $90 million. Agassi has been working as one of the top managers for SAP ever since. He was widely expected to become CEO of SAP in the not too distant future. He quit SAP a month ago. When asked why he quit, Agassi said he was looking towards the future. As he thought about the end of his life he imagined looking back. Agassi could not imagine having devoted the majority of his life to furthering SAP software. Instead, Agassi has undertaken a dream to turn Israel into the first model county where the majority of the cars run on electricity. He believes that Israel is the perfect place to create an infrastructure for electric cars. It is a small country, and if the car has gone beyond its borders it means that it is stolen. Furthermore, Israel would benefit the most if the world were to stop using oil. Agassi went on to say, how great it would be if Israel became known as the place that solved the worlds problems instead of being known primarily as a place that creates problems.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Today the Supreme Court accepted the arguments for delaying the release of the Winograd Commission's transcripts. While attacking the Commission in the strongest terms for ignoring its earlier ruling, the Court allowed the delay for technical reasons. The reason for this is due to the fear that the Commission would delay the entire report if forced to. The very fact that the Commission was able to ignore the earlier order and get away with it has raised concerns in some legal circles

Wednesday, April 18, 2007It does not look like it is possible to ignore the Saudi plan much longer, nor does it seem like doing so would be in Israel's interest. Many observers believe this a historic opportunity. Housing Minister Meir Sheetrit was interviewed today on television. He has been calling for an active response to the Saudi initiative for years. Today he stated that whatever the challenges and sacrifices of reaching peace may be, it is Israel's most important strategic goal. He stated the only way to insure Israels survival is to reach an accord with the Arab world, and furthermore, that the government should be spending as much time pursuing diplomacy as is spent worrying about defense. Interestingly, Sheetrit said that Israel needs to stop negotiating with the Arabs in English- but in Arabic- not only the words but in approach. He claimed that Israel lives in the neighborhood and not the Americans, and we need to negotiate directly with the Arabs and as opposed to through the Americans. Sheetrit was asked why his has stayed in Likud or Kadima instead of the parties of the left. He answered that the left just talks and never achieves anything; he has stayed in the parties that can actually achieve something..

There has been an interesting development on the Syrian front in the past day. In an interview, Syrian President Assad stated for the first time that he is willing to engage in secret negotiations. Until now he said he only wanted to engage in public negotiations. The Israeli government considers this a major change, as it allows some negotiations to go forward without giving the Syrians the benefit of public negotiations.

Arab foreign ministers have delegated Jordan and Egypt to work at convincing Israel to accept the Saudi initiative. This was a cause for disappointment, as Israel was hoping that the Saudis themselves would be involved in the negotiations.

In a startling but possibly not surprising statement, former chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, blamed the Reform movement for the Holocaust. He claimed in an interview that the Holocaust was God's punishment for altering Jewish ritual.

There is an interesting article in today's Ha'aretz, It shall return, about the return of the Kibbutz. The article describes how hundreds of families are asking to move to Kibbutzim. Most of the families include someone who left in their youth and now see the Kibbutz as a better option than the cities for a satisfied lifestyle.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Israeli news today was dominated by the shooting at Virginia Tech. There is an Israeli angle. One of the victims is Israeli Professor Liviu Librescu. Librescu, who was a 76 year old Holocaust survivor, emigrated from Romania to Israel. According to his wife, he was allowed out of Romania due to the direct intervention of Menachem Begin with Nicholae Ceaucescu, the leader of Romania. Librescu succeeded in saving his students by blocking the door of his classroom with his body as his students escaped. The gunmen shot through the door and killed him. So, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, a Holocaust survivor was gunned down in Virginia.

he rise.

Monday, April 16, 2007 The Muslim world, led by Iran, commemorated Yom Hasho'ah with films and discussions regarding how the Holocaust did not happen. Earlier this week, a report was released that showed a sharp worldwide increase in anti-Semitic incidents. The two are not unrelated. Anti-Semitism in the world decreased after the Holocaust as people realized what it could lead to. Now with the Muslim world denying it ever occurred, anti-Semitism is

on t

Prime Minster Olmert is giving rather conflicting signals in terms of his relationship with the Palestinian Authority. On one hand its seems he supports giving arms to help booster Abbas' personal forces, on the other hand he has ordered Minister Ephraim Sneh no to go the United States to participate in an academic dialogue with a confidant of Abbas because this would violate the boycott of Palestinian authority. Interestingly Yossi Beilin has come out against giving arms to the Palestinians. In an interview, he questioned how Israel could be sure that the arms would not get into the wrong hands.

In a speech today, the Syrian Defense Minister stated that if Israel does not accept the Saudi Peace initiative, they could expect to face war. Israeli sources are taking the threat seriously. Syrian President Assad has clearly been considering the military option ever since the Hezbollah's perceived victory last summer. Whether he would actually risk a war in unknown, but his threats must be taken seriously

It would seem that Avraham Hirchson's tenure as Minister of Finance will be coming to an end very soon. Apparently the Tax Authority has joined the investigations. When one receives money as a gift it is not taxable but money received illegally is. Since he is officially in charge of the Tax Authority, Hirchson cannot remain in the Ministry while being investigated.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The theater of the absurd played out at the Supreme Court in Israel today. The Winograd Commission has been refusing to publish the transcripts of testimony that was given to it. This despite the fact that it earlier agreed. The court met with all its members today to hear arguments of why they should be able to hold back the testimony. The Chief Justice Doreet Benish lost her temper and told them that they had no basis to ignore an order of the Supreme Court. She asked why did they not do what they agreed to She asked the state attorney if the reason was that some of the witness whose testimony was publicized objected The state attorney answered yes- that deputy Minister Peres was embarrassed. Beinish replies where in the law is it written that the state may defy the Supreme Court to avoid embarrassing a minister The complete court demanded the immediate release of the transcripts. The government tonight answered that it would release the transcripts two weeks after the interim report is published. Tomorrow no doubt an even angrier supreme court will meet.

Its very hard to make sense out of what is happening on the diplomatic front. Olmert met with Abbas today for a short meeting. At the meeting Abbas presented a plan to stop the smuggling along the Gaza Egyptian border and to stop the Kassam firing. In his statement after the meeting Olmert said that the Palestinian negotiation had to take place in parallel to the Saudi initiative that he was willing to begin negotiations over. Its seems very hard to see how this government can do anything with its support as low as it is and the expectation that one of the many scandals will bring it down any day.

It now Yom Hashoah in Israel. There are 250,000 survivors still alive. Israel today seems to have woke up to the fact that 1/3 of those living in Israel are living in abject poverty. All of the politicians today promised today to fix that problem by the next Yom Hashoah. We will see. Today 62 years after the end of the holocaust is it not time to also find a religious way of commemorated the Shoah. We have left it to the State of Israel to commemorate it in the way a state does- something that is reasonably successful in Israel but has only the most minimal success in the Diaspora. Why should we be fasting on Tzom Gedaliah and not on Yom hashoah

Friday, April 11, 2007

The country continues to await the result of all the impending investigations. The Winograd commission continues to vigorously oppose the continued publications of the witness interviews. Despite the fact that the commission originally agreed with the court order to release the interviews. In papers filed today with the Supreme Court, Justice Winograd claimed that the release of the papers would harm future investigations. He claimed that when the interim report is released. People would only regain faith in the commission when it is able to read the personal conclusions. All of Israel awaits the report.

The Finance Minister today was formally interrogated on the charge of embezzlement of money from the March of the Living.

Yesterday, the Arab American businessman Ibrahim Suleiman appeared before the Knesset Foreign Affairs Committee. Suleiman claims to be close to Syrian President Assad, was involved in informal negotiations with Israel. Suleiman testified that Syria was ready for peace. What I found most interesting in his testimony was his repeated statement that although Syria wanted peace it would retaliate strongly against any Israeli attack. He seemed truly to believe that Israel was interested in going to war this summer to make up for its losses last summer in Lebanon. I found the fact that he said it and believed it very frightening.

There was a great piece on the Friday night magazine show in Israel tonight. The feature highlighted Israeli doctors who find kids in Africa that need surgery and bring them back to Israel for delicate lives saving operations, such as open heart surgery. This is certainly an example of what everyone dreams of when it is thinks of Israel as an "Or L'goyim"- a light unto the nations. The Israeli broadcaster ended tonights broadcast questioning: "How can we be a country who does these great things in Africa, and yet our Finance Minister is being investigated for embezzling money from the March of the Living."

Wednesday, April 9, 2007

Discussion in Israel centered today on the list of prisoners Hamas transmitted to Israeli authorities it wants released in return for the safe return of Gilad Shalit. This issue divides Israelis. Many decry the idea of releasing terrorists who will without question commit more terrorist acts. On the other hand, everyone understands the need to take advantage of any means possible to redeem a soldier. No one wants another "Ron Arad" (the Israeli navigator who was captured in the first Lebanon War and has not been heard from since). Those who oppose any deal with Hamas point out that a soldier risks his life every day, he serves, therefore there is limit to what should be done. On the other hand, it is clear from the Torah, captives are different and we are instructed to do all we can to obtain the release of captive prisoners. Tough choices.

Economic news in Israel continues to be dominated by the prolonged fall of the dollar. The dollar/shekel exchange rate reached a six year low of 4.1 today. The low value of the dollar is great for Israelis traveling abroad, or those in Israel who pay rent in dollars. Those receiving the rent payments, or more importantly, exporters (or tourists) are being hurt by the weakness of the dollar. The falling value of the dollar in Israel is a result of the combined weakness of the dollar worldwide and the continued stream of US investment dollars that keep pouring into the Israeli economy.

Tuesday, April 9, 2007

The Israeli government began reviewing the list of prisoners Hamas is demanding in return for the release of Gilad Shalit.  The Hamas list includes some of the highest profile prisoners, including Marwan Barghouti, as well as many terrorists with blood directly on their hands. Unfortunately, Israel does have a precedent, dating back to the time of Yitchak Rabin, for making major exchange concessions in return for the release of prisoners.  Rabin excused his actions, saying he could no longer bare the sight of the prisoners' mothers protesting before his house.  Olmert is going to come under a great deal of pressure to agree to any deal put forth by the Hamas.  As much as we should all feel for Gilead Shalit and his family, we need to keep in mind that letting go hundreds of terrorists could result in many more deaths.

Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, stated today that he no longer wished to bring down the Lebanese government.  Instead, Nasrallah was demanding the Lebanese change their electoral system. Without electoral reform, the Shia would win the next regular election and unilaterally take control of the government.

Today, Security Minister, Avi Dichter appointed Dudi Cohen as the new police chief.  Cohen was a safe choice, with no scandal in his past.  Though Cohen also has had no great successes in his history either.  Dichter was rumored to be choosing Mickey Levy, but "sources"felt Levy’s nomination might not get approved due to his reported closeness to Prime Minster Olmert (the source of multiple current police investigations).


Sunday, April 8, 2007

I was not going to write anything today-Its the eve of the second days of Passover andeverything in Israel is in suspended animation waiting for the holiday to end. Most of todays news from Israel is anticipation of what will happen when the holiday ends. However, after just reading an interesting op-ed article in the NYT today by David Brooks called A War of Narratives, I want to comment on it and recommend everyone read it.

Brooks article is about a conference he went to in Jordan between Arab moderates and Americans to discuss the future of democracy in the Middle East as well as the fate of Iraq. It turned out that the Americans and the Jordanians and the other Arabs, were talking totally passed each other. The major theme of the Arab intellectuals was the Israel lobby, and how it and Israel were the nexus of all the problems in the Middle East. The attempt of the Americans at the conference including Professor Bernard Lewis to turn the discussion to anything else seemed to fail. To the Arabs at the conference, Israel was the only problem and if only AIPAC would stop helping to determine America's foreign policy everything would be fine. There was according to the Arabs who answered Lewis question what went wrong with the Arab world-Nothing it was all Israel. According to Brooks, the Arab speakers constantly cited the article written last year by Stephen Walt and John Mearshemer about AIPAC. It has developed its own life and is the perfect answer that requires no introspection on the part of the Arab intellectuals.

This alternative narrative that is based on a few facts and a great deal of fiction is very similar to one of the major reasons that it has been so difficult to reach an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. The Israeli and the Palestinians have very difficult narratives. In the past decade Israelis have been willing to accept parts of the Palestinian narrative, but the Palestinians have never been able to accept any part of the Israeli narrative. As long as the Arabs and the Palestinians continue to hold on to their narratives the chance for long-term progress is very dark.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

It's always feels good when I am able to start off this daily update optimistically... even more so, on a holiday So let's start that way. General Zeev Farakash the former head of Israel's military intelligence was interviewed today on "London and Kirshbaum". Farkash, who had commanded military intelligence until a year and a half ago, has been warning of the threat of Iran's nuclear ambitions for many years. Prior to today Farkash has been on record stating he did not think Iran could be deterred from completing the building of a bomb. Today, in the interview, Farakash stated he has changed his mind. He now believes that the success the world has had in forcing North Korea to agree to give up their nuclear weapons program was a good precedent. Furthermore, if the UN was firm and unyielding, Iran could be deterred from completing the bomb. Farkash did say, however, that if diplomacy failed and the US was forced to attack Iran, Israel would be the target of any Iranian counter strikes. Those strikes Farkash believes would include conventional missile attacks by the Iranians against Israel.

Today, Defense Minister Peretz decided to remove the settlers from a building on the road into Hebron. Though as it turns out, the building was purchased legally, before buildings can be occupied in the territories they require the approval from the Defense Ministry. Since no ministry approval was given Peretz is ordering the building cleared. Peretz stated that: "purchases should not determine government policy, rather the government policy should determine purchases".

Bank of Israel released a report this week on the economic conditions of the nearly 108,000 Israeli immigrants from Ethiopia. The report stated that the average income of an Ethiopian immigrant was half the national average. The report's findings have created a great deal of consternation in Israel and discussion of a failed Aliyah. All of which I believe is very premature. Like any immigrant group, the income of the Ethiopians (the latest immigrant group) is going to be lower than the population at large. Taking into consideration their previous training and their educational background, it will take a full generation before any conclusions can be drawn.

Wedenseday, April 4, 2007

I am happy to say it has been a quiet few days in Israel.  The lead story on Israel’s news today reported on the fall of the US dollar.  A dollar today buys only 4.13 shekels, the lowest rate in six years.  The dollar’s value keeps on dropping, thanks to the continued flood of US dollars into Israel.   The Bank of Israel is widely expected to drop the interest rate in Israel soon in order to try to stem the continued drop of the dollar.  The fall of the dollar is also making Israeli exports more expensive.

The major Middle East news in the last two days have been primarily outside of Israel. First, Iran announced today that it was releasing the British sailors it has been holding hostage.  The commentators are split on why the Iranians announced the hostage release today.  Some believed the Iranians gave in to international pressure and feared further British actions.  Others concluded that a deal had been released to free Iranians held in Iraq.  In truth, it was probably a little of both.

 Meanwhile, US Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, arrived in Damascus following her visit to Israel.  Pelosi’s visit raised a major controversy in the US. The Bush administration attacked Pelosi for meeting with Bashar Assad, who the administration accuses of supporting terror.  Pelosi is said to have carried a message from Olmert to Assad, making it clear that Olmert was committed to negotiating a peace agreement.  Israel needs to be very careful not to find itself in the middle of the fight between the Bush administration and the Democratic Congress.

 The first book was published in Israel about this summer’s war in Lebanon.  The book was written jointly by the military correspondents of Israel’s Channel 1 and Channel 10.  In an interview with the authors that I watched on TV they claimed everything that happened this summer was expected by the army.  The major failures of the operation were those of the political leadership and the Chief of Staff who attempted to do what the army claimed could not be done.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

The Riyadh Conference took place last week but its affects may continue for a while. The consensus is that the Arab world feels that this conference is different from previous ones in that the Arab world was able to come together and support a plan for peace with Israel.

The feeling is that now the ball is in Israel's court and a response is necessary. Observers believe that the members of the Arab League have concluded that the Palestinians cannot be relied upon to reach a peace agreement and thus, it needs to be imposed upon them. It is rather ironic considering Israel has always been most afraid of an imposed peace.

Some Israeli commentators believe that Israel made a major strategic mistake in not coming to the conclusion when Camp David failed in 2000, that it is impossible to come to a final settlement with the Palestinians. Instead, Israel has continued to pursue the Palestinian front instead of looking to the larger Arab world. It is very much a gamble. It is clear that there is only one viable long-term peace plan that has a chance to work, and that is some version of the Clinton plan of 2000. The problem is that the plan collapsed when the Palestinians were not willing to agree that the "right of return" only applied to the new Palestinian state and not to the imaginary homes the refugees have been thinking about for the last half century.

No Palestinian leader has been willing to tell the 3.6 million refugees that they have been kept in refugee camps for decades for no good reason and now will have to settle for less than their dreams. Can the Arab states impose that on the Palestinians For decades the Palestinians have been pawns in the Arab states' need to create an external boogieman, i.e. Israel. Now that it is in their interest to resolve the conflict it will be very difficult to undo what has been done over the decades.

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