Yedioth: IDF Chief of Staff told US Israel has no military option against Iran

Posted: February 4th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, the US and us, war | Tags: , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

According to reports in the Israeli media, a major reason for the bad blood between Defense Minister Ehud Barak and departing Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi was their differences of the issue of Iran, and especially what Barak saw as an attempt by Ashkenazi to bypass him

Did the possibility of an Israeli strike on Iran play a major role in leading to the current IDF generals’ wars? Yedioth Ahronoth’s veteran diplomatic pundit Shimon Shifer claims that one of the reasons for the all-too-public rift between Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak and the IDF’s departing Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi was a move by Ashkenazi that was interpreted by Barak as an attempt to undermine the military option:

Discussing the bad blood between Barak and Ashkenazi, Shifer writes (my translation):

Barak claims that Ashkenazi did not respect his authority in many cases. The most serious charge is that Ashkenazi told the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral [Michael] Mullen, that talks by [Prime Minister] Netanyahu and Barak regarding an Israeli military option against Iran are empty words. Israel has no military option.

The unrest in the army’s leadership has reached new heights last week, when Barak and Netanyahu were forced to cancel the nomination of Major General Yoav Galant as the incoming Chief of Staff, after it was established that Galant didn’t tell the truth in documents involving the acquisition of agricultural lands and the construction of his home.

Despite public pressure, Barak decided not to extend Ashkenazi’s term at the head of the IDF (which will end in ten days), but rather asked Major General Yair Naveh to serve as a temporary Chief of Staff until the government approves a new candidate.

Reports in the Israeli media linked some of the recent events in the IDF leadership and the political system to the possibility of a strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Barak and Netanyahu are said to be favoring such an attack; Ashkenazi, as well as government ministers Avigdor Lieberman and Moshe “Bugi” Yaalon (a retired chief of staff himself) and possibly President Shimon Peres are said to be on the skeptics’ side. Speculations were that Major General Galant was more comfortable than Ashkenazi with the idea of a military strike. With him out of the picture (at least for the time being), Barak will have to look for a new candidate that would not undermine his authority on the issue of Iran.

UPDATE: reports are that Barak has made up his mind to appoint Major General Benni Ganz as the incoming Chief of Staff. Ganz dealt with Iran during his time at the IDF, and upon his retirement, he called Iran “a threat to Israel and the entire world.”

It was also speculated that the one of the main reasons for Netanyahu’s successful attempt to split Labor a few weeks ago was his desire to have Barak, a decorated officer and a former Chief of Staff, at his side when he decides to push forward with the military option.


Following the storm: Netanyahu is at the mercy of Lieberman

Posted: January 18th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Left, The Right, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Ehud Barak has ended his days as an independent politician, the peace process is officially over, and the fate of Netanyahu’s government is now at the hands of Israel Beitenu’s leader, Avigdor Lieberman. A few notes following the political earthquake at the Knesset

1. Ehud Barak. The former leader of Labor effectively joined the Likud today. He did register a new party called Atzmaut (Hebrew for “independence”) but nobody seriously thinks that Barak and the four backbenchers who left Labor with him would run on their own in the next elections. Barak is not a good campaigner, and even if he was, his public image is in an all-time low. Most pundits estimate that Barak already has a promise from Netnayhu to continue serving as Defense Minister if the Likud wins elections again. Whether or not it’s true, this is the end of the road for Ehud Barak as an independent politician; from now on, his political fate is at the hands of Netanyahu.

2. Binyamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu is seen by some as the day’s winner, but in fact, all he did was cut his losses. Netanyahu needed Labor in his government to balance its rightwing elements and most notably, Avigdor Lieberman’s Israel Beitenu. Recently, the PM reached the conclusion that Labor won’t last in his coalition much longer, so he decided to keep a minimum of loyal supporters and not lose the entire party. Instead of the 13 seats Labor held (out of which 8-9 were loyal to the coalition), Netanyahu was left with five. Not enough to match Lieberman’s 15, but still, better than nothing.

Netanyahu will enjoy a more stable coalition now. Together with Barak and his 5 Knesset Members, he has 66 MKs behind him, and four more members of the radical rightwing Ihud Leumi party that could be made part of the government in case of political troubles. As long as Lieberman and his 15 votes are with him, Netanyahu is safe.

3. Avigdor Lieberman is now the strongest politician in Israel. He holds what was the traditional position of the Orthodox parties: The block between the coalition and the opposition. Lieberman knows that, and he will make Netanyahu’s life miserable. Eventually, he might even bring the government down in a maneuver that should have more Likud votes go his way in the next elections. Polls have him approaching 20 seats, but Lieberman wants more. The wild card is the General Prosecutor’s decision whether to press charges against Lieberman, expected to be given in a few weeks. Lieberman, it seems, has already launched his counter-attack, claiming in a weekend interview to Yedioth Ahronoth that he is the victim of political persecution. Even if Lieberman is forced to resign, the fate of the government would remain in his hands.

4. Labor might split again, with some members deserting to Meretz or forming a new political party. Anyway, Kadima will continue to be the strong center-left force in the Knesset, with one or two more parties to its left.

5. The peace process is dead. In case anyone had any doubts, the day’s events made it clear that from now on, this government won’t be able to take even the tiniest step towards a peace settlement with the Palestinians. Netanyahu has used his political credit: The slightest indication that he is willing to consider concessions, and the rightwing elements in his party would have the government fall. The PM has no room to maneuver.

To renew direct negotiations the Kadima-Left block would need to come closer to 60 seats in the next elections (it has 50 now). It could happen if international pressure on Israel continues, and if the Obama Administration reveals Netanyahu’s refusal to negotiate in good faith with the Palestinians. This type of pressure could be effective, much in the way the confrontation with George Bush’s administration hurt PM Yitzhak Shamir in 1992′s elections and paved the way to Oslo.


New racist rabbinical letter warns against dating Arabs

Posted: December 30th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, racism, The Right | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments »

Poll finds half of the Jewish public in Israel supporting the ruling against renting homes to Arabs

As if the Rabbis’ edict against renting homes to Arabs wasn’t enough, a new letter, made public yesterday, has some 30 well-known wives of Orthodox Rabbis warning Jewish girls against dating Arabs or even working with them.

Ynet reports:

The letter stated that “there are quite a few Arab workers who use Hebrew names. Yusuf becomes Yossi, Samir becomes Sami and Abed becomes Ami. They seek your proximity, try to appeal to you and give you all the attention you could ask for, they actually know how be polite and act making you believe they really care…but their behavior is only temporary.

“As soon as they have in you in their grasp, in their village, under their complete control – everything becomes different. Your life will never be the same, and the attention you sought will be replaced with curses, physical abuse and humiliation.”

The letter further stated, “Your grandmothers never dreamed that one of their decedents would, by one act, remove future generations from the Jewish people. For you, for future generations, and so that you will never have to endure the terrible suffering, we appeal to you, begging, pleading, praying: Don’t date them, don’t work where they work and don’t perform National Service with them.”

One of the names on the letter is that of Nitzhia Yosef, the wife of Rabbi Yaakov Yosef and daughter-in-law of Shas’ spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.

The notion that Arabs change their names in order to seduce Jewish girls is not new. It was a common talking point by the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, the ultra-right leader and founder of JDL who was kicked out of the Knesset for his racist platform. At the time, Supreme Court Justice Meir Shamgar wrote that the actions of Kahane remind us “the worst persecutions in Jewish history” (as Ariana Melamed noted, Hitler made similar accusations in chapter 11 of Mein Kampf: “With satanic joy in his face, the black-haired Jewish youth lurks in wait for the unsuspecting girl whom he defiles with his blood, thus stealing her from her people.”)

Rabbi Kahane was expelled for public life back in the eighties, and Israel today is a very different place. A recent poll by the Harry S. Truman institute in the Hebrew university had 44 percent of the Jewish population in Israel supporting the Rabbis letter that forbid renting homes to Arabs (the wives’ letter was published after the poll was conducted). As I reported last year, the municipality of Petah Tirva, a Tel Aviv suburb, even formed a special unit that would “locate and help girls that date Arabs.

Last year, residents of a Jewish neighborhood found the following flyer in their mailbox. It reads: “This Arab, which works at the Zil Ve-Zol grocery store in Romema [Jerusalem] is dangerous for the daughters of Israel, he violates Jewish girls!!!”

At the time, some people have seen this as an isolated incident. Today, it’s clear that racism against the Arab minority became a political norm.

As Yossi Gurvitz wrote, many in the Israeli leadership, including PM Netanyahu himself, made their political fortune on incitement and hate-talk. It’s very unlikely that they will take action against the Rabbis’ wives, just as they didn’t take action against their husbands – most of them civil servants, making their living of taxpayer money. The grim news is that Israel doesn’t have a leader that would send the National Guard to Little Rock or the FBI to Mississippi. Instead, we have our KKK high priests serving at our synagogues, and our George Wallaces at the Knesset.


Lieberman: Israeli government cannot agree on peace plan

Posted: December 27th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 10 Comments »

But clearly, the Palestinians are to blame for negotiations’ failure

Even before the administration’s peace effort collapsed, speakers for Israel were pulling the old “Arab Rejectionism” card to defend Jerusalem’s decision to prefer settlements over talks. Prime Minister Netanyahu wanted a Palestinian state, they explained, but Abu Mazen refused to negotiate.

One thing you can’t take from Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is his ability to say things as they really are. The Israeli government cannot even come up with a peace offer, he explained yesterday, let alone implement one:

“In the current political situation, I don’t think it’s possible to find a common denominator between [Shas chairman] Eli Yishai and [Labor chairman] Ehud Barak or between me and [dovish Likud minister] Dan Meridor, or even within Likud, between [ministers] Benny Begin and Michael Eitan,” [Lieberman] explained. “In the existing political circumstances, it’s not possible to present a diplomatic plan for a final-status agreement, because the coalition will simply no longer exist.”

The best thing was Netanyahu’s comment on this: He actually explained that his Foreign Minister does not represent the Israeli government.


Suddenly, it’s Netanyahu that needs Obama, not the other way

Posted: December 24th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

With challenges to the Israeli PM around the corner, the White House finally has some leverage over Jerusalem. But will the administration use it?

The main problem the White House faced in its attempts to renew the settlements moratorium was the lack of political leverage over Jerusalem. The administration offered Netanyahu some carrots, but it didn’t have sticks ready for the event of an Israeli refusal. It seems that president Obama simply couldn’t spend more political currency on confronting the Israeli PM and his powerful allies in Washington.

Ironically, it is the collapse of the peace talks that seems to present the US with an opportunity to force concessions out of Neatnayhu – or make him pay a price for his political choices. In the coming months, the Israeli PM will need the administration’s help in rescuing him from two tough challenges, one at home and one abroad.

At the UN, the Palestinians are expected to bring before the Security Council a resolution deeming Israel’s settlements as illegal.

Already, “a senior administration source” told Haaretz that the US opposes Palestinian unilateral moves:

“Final status issues can only be resolved through negotiations between the parties, not by recourse to the UN Security Council. We, therefore, consistently oppose any attempt to take final status issues to the council as such efforts do not move us closer to our goal of two states living side by side in peace and security.”

Yet as diplomatic correspondent Barak Ravid notes, a vote in the Security Council can put the US in an embarrassing position:

In contrast to similar cases, the draft resolution distributed by the Palestinians this time is relatively moderate, avoiding extreme anti-Israeli language. The Americans may therefore find themselves isolated in the UN if they decide to veto the resolution, and they may find it difficult to do so.

Instead of looking at the Palestinian move as an attack on US policy in the region, the administration could chose to view the whole situation as an opportunity, and not a risk. In exchange for supporting Jerusalem, the US could demand Netanyahu to come up with an offer on borders (unlike former Israeli PMs, Netanyahu chose not to present a peace plan or even a map) and if Natanyahu refuses, deny him the diplomatic umbrella. The American argument could be very simple: if Israel wants to defend its settlement policy, it should make clear which settlements would be left in the final agreement, and which ones are to be evacuated (and therefore, couldn’t be expanded).

Netanyahu could use American help at home as well. He needs at least the appearance of negotiations to maintain his coalition. Labor strongman Binyamin Ben Elyezer said this week that if there is no peace process, Labor would quit the government in a month or two. Minister Avishay Braverman wants out now. If Labor does quit, we might end up with an extreme rightwing coalition – but these don’t tend to last very long.

Since the announcement on the failure of the settlements deal, the Labor party is in turmoil, and pressure on it to leave the government is mounting. As long as US envoy George Mitchell is running back and forth between Ramallah and Jerusalem, Ehud Barak continues to claim he remains in government in the interest of peace. But the US could easily deny him this excuse.

Altogether, it seems that the failure of the moratorium deal actually helped Washington more than it did Jerusalem. For the first time in months, Netanayhu needs Obama more than Obama need Netanyahu.


The rabbis’ racist letter: many words, little action

Posted: December 16th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, racism, The Right | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

While public figures in Israel condemned the latest rabbinical Fatwa against renting homes to Arabs, little to no action was taken against its authors. Also, some secular Jewish communities are introducing their own version of the racist letter

Almost two weeks passed since dozens of Israeli rabbis – most of them civil servants, working for Israeli municipalities –signed a letter forbidding renting homes to Arabs. During this period, strong condemnations for the letter were heard from public figures, but little action was taken against the rabbis themselves.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu spoke against the letter, and so did Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud) and President Shimon Peres. Two very important religious figures – the Ashkenazi leader Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef of Shas – condemned the letter. As a result, at least three of the signing Rabbis withdrew their names from it.

Several Jewish research institutes, most of them left-leaning, published an ad on Haaretz against the letter. Many rabbis and 900 hundreds former Yeshiva students signed public letters opposing the racist nature of the rabbis’ ruling. The Israeli Bar Association issued a condemning statement.

These were positive developments that proved that there are still many Israelis that would stand up against racism and hate. We shouldn’t ignore their voice or downplay its importance.

Another encouraging sign was the response the rabbis’ letter got from the American Jewish community. Some 500 rabbis signed a public petition - issued by the New Israel Fund – condemning the letter. This initiative got good media coverage in Israel, including a half-page article on yesterday’s Yedioth Ahronoth.

The problem is that so far, no concrete action was taken against the rabbis who signed the letter (with the exception of the Government Attorney that, under some public pressure, ordered his office to examine whether the rabbis violated a law forbidding racist incitement). With no official action, the nature of the letter remains in the sphere of the legitimate public debate – something that’s similar to discussing the pros and cons of rape.

When public officials announce that renting apartments to Arab citizens is forbidden – and that Jewish communities should outcast those renting homes to Arabs – action is the only solution. It’s not the time for political calculations. In such a moment, real leadership sends the Civil Guard to escort and protect the members of the minority under threat.

So far, Israeli leaders – including Labor party, which insists on staying in this government – fail this test.

The danger of inaction is clear: it makes racism a legitimate political choice (adopted by most of the Jewish public, according to a recent poll). Already, someone opened a hotline for Jews who want to report people who rent Apartments to Arabs (I encourage readers to jam it with made-up information; the number is 0522258183). The result: hundreds more rabbis have added their names to the letter, and there are even reports on a “soft” version of the letter - one which will enable more to sign it.

What’s even worse is that you could also hear voices in the center saying things along the lines of “I don’t support the letter, but…”. Such claim is made in a bizarre op-ed on Haaretz today by Ruth Gavizon, the former head of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel who turned into a neo-Zionist. While condemning the racist tones of the rabbis’ letter, Gavizon frames it within “a legitimate debate” over the notion of separate communities:

It would be a mistake to have the public response take the form of indicting or firing the rabbis, separating religion and state or denying the legitimacy of the state’s Jewish character. Ranting and raving could prevent us from seeing the picture in all its complexity and from confronting the authority of the rabbis in this country, both as regards the content and “Jewish” morality of their positions and as regards the residential dwelling patterns of different communities here.

The controversy over desirable living patterns for Jews and Arabs and the use of the law to obtain them is not dictated by religion. Some advocate “color blindness” as the only normative approach to civil equality, on the assumption that this leads to greater integration. Some advocate complete segregation. And some, like me, prefer more diverse social arrangements that would provide different communities with various living options, based on their level of integration and inner cohesiveness.

Gavison is not alone. Just today, Haaretz reported that another Jewish community in the north is working on a charter that would forbid Arabs from joining it. The “separate communities” idea is the upper-class, secular, version of the rabbis’ letter.


US media more exited about peace talks than Israelis and Palestinians themselves

Posted: September 2nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, media, The Right, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Take a look at today’s front pages shown here. The one on the Left is Yedioth Ahronoth’s, Israel’s leading tabloid. On the right is the American NY Post.

yedioth vs. nypost

Yedioth’s top story reads “wave of terrorism”, referring to the two shooting attacks carried out by Hamas militants against settlers in the last 48 hours. On the bottom and on the right side of the page there are health, sports and other magazine stories. The only reference to the peace process is the quote in small print, on the top of the page. It reads: “Netanyahu: I came for an historic compromise.”

The place, the size and the coloring of Netanyahu’s words put his speech in its proper context. But if you get your news from the Post (and let’s hope you don’t), you might actually believe history can be made here.

maariv

This is Maariv, another Israeli tabloid: the front page combines the story of the West Bank attacks and their aftermath, the attempts by settlers to renew construction in the territories and the diplomatic process. The talks themselves don’t get the top story, not even a central image, like they do in the New York Times, shown below. Again, the US papers seem to give the talks a greater importance than the Israeli media. Bizarre, to say the least.

NY_NYT

As part of a research for a story I’m working on, I recently went through the archives of Maariv and Yedioth from 1993-1994, the years the Oslo accord was negotiated and signed. Entire papers, not just the front pages, dealt with the talks. The same goes for the days of the Camp David summit in 2000. Today on the other hand, nobody in the Middle East really cares about the diplomatic process, and I actually wonder how many even know we might be “one year from a final agreement,” as the White House puts it.

It’s easy to tell when things get serious. The settlers make a good litmus test for the intentions of the Israeli leadership. They have good ties with the Israeli administration and army. When the settlers sense danger, they let it show. And while they went after Sharon and Rabin with everything they got, they are awfully quiet now. There wasn’t even a single major protest against Netanyahu, The NRP is still in the government, and the right flank of the Likud has never been more silent. The Israeli tabloids – like all tabloids – reflect their society’s mood: This is clearly not a country on the verge of its most important decision in decades.

The NY Times editorial declared that with optimism and conviction, the talks might lead to an agreement and the administration asked the parties not to give in to cynicism. But the diplomatic process is not a sports competition, and pep talks can’t help when the gap between the parties is too big.

The Palestinian leadership has lost most of its credibility and legitimacy with its own people, and the bleeding gets worse with every picture of Abu-Mazen shaking hands with Netanyahu. Hamas has just given us the first taste of what leaving it out of the process means. Even so, the positions of PM Fayad and President Abbas are incredibly far from those of Barak and Netanyahu. The Israeli leadership – and to be honest, the Israeli public as well – cannot give the Palestinians the minimum they can settle with. Under these circumstances, even if an agreement is reached, it won’t mean a thing.

As I’ve written before, the current stage in the conflict is not just about peace. It’s about ending the occupation and getting the Palestinians their rights. Some people in the American administration understood that, but for their own reasons, they decided to pursue the failed policies of the past two decades. I have a lot of criticism for the way the Israeli media covers the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but this time they got it right: for now, this round of talks is a farce.

UPDATE: The Israeli media finally joined the party. Friday’s top story is the summit in Washington, though most pundits remain very skeptic regarding the chances that the talks will have a meaningful result.

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I will be working and writing from New York in the next three months.