Israeli public, politicians split on Iran (with advantage to skeptics)

Posted: November 4th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, Polls, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

The lack of national consensus makes an Israeli attack on the Iranian nuclear facilities unlikely, yet the escalating threats could create a dangerous dynamic in the longer run ● Public discourse is lacking a serious debate on the consequences of the attack

After months and years in which it has been kept in back rooms or limited to hints and remarks the true meaning of which was understood only by a few people, the Iran debate is suddenly so public that at times it’s hard to make any sense of it. Never has the possibility of a war – a war! – been debated so openly in Israel. Haaret’z top headline today (Thursday) was a poll showing the Israeli public split – 41 in favor and 39 opposing – on a possible Israeli strike against Iran nuclear facilities. According to those numbers, ultra-Orthodox Israelis are particularly keen on the attack (do they know something the rest of us don’t?) and a surprising 21 percent of Israeli-Palestinians are in support.

Some people find the idea of polling such issues bizarre (next – a reality show?) , but history has shown that when left alone to decide in secret on such issues, politicians and generals don’t exercise better judgment than the man on the street. Knowing that the public’s eye is on them, the military and political chiefs in Tel Aviv might be a bit more careful. I agree with Larry Derfner – a public debate on Iran is generally a good thing, and we should be happy that most of the Israel press is engaging in it. Unsurprisingly, it was the pro-Netanyahu tabloid Yisrael Hayon that had a quote in its top headline criticizing public statements made by ex-Mossad chief against the attack, reminding that Israel’s (former) chief spies are sworn to secrecy.

I was buying coffee near my home on Thursday when a siren sounded; I had a vague memory that a civil defense drill was due to take place, but people around me were genuinely concerned. Later, I read that the Home Front Command told reporters that the drill was scheduled a long time ago – just like the Air Force maneuver on the other side of the Mediterranean – yet one can’t help thinking that if Israel is not planning to attack Iran, it wants things to at least to be seen that way.

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It’s not clear whether Israel has the military capability to seriously damage the Iranian nuclear program, but an attack, some people argue, will send a message to the entire Middle East that Israel will act against any country in the region that attempts to develop a nuclear weapon. Even if this won’t stop Iran, such an attack might deter other countries in the region, and prevent the nightmare scenario of an all-out nuclear arms race. Some also hope that the possibility of Israeli attack might strengthen international pressure on Iran, or promote more effective sanctions.

But deterrence is a double-edged sword; it is meant to prevent the need to use military force but sometimes it ends up actually leading to it. It’s easy to see why: You start by threatening to use force if your national interests are jeopardized, and after a while, you have no choice but acting upon your threats in order to make sure that they are seen as credible in the future. This is the real danger of the current game Israel is playing: While I doubt if there is a real desire to attack in the political system or the military right now, as time passes the urge to strike is likely to grow, if only in order to prove to other countries that Israel’s threats are credible.

As for now, it seems that the “Iran Skeptics” camps still has the upper hand in the national debate: in the eight-minister cabinet that constitutes Israel’s top decision-making forum, four ministers are reported to oppose the attack (according to Haaretz those are Benny Begin, Moshe Ya’alon, Eli Yishai and Dan Meridor), three are considered in favor and one’s position is unclear, though it has been reported that he is leaning towards the opposition (that’s Finance Minister Yuval Shteinitz). Reports suggest that the military and Mossad are also not very enthusiastic about the idea, and as I mentioned, there is the very public campaign launched by the former head of the Mossad, Meir Dagan, with the silent support of former IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and former head of Shabak (the Shin Bet internal security service) Yuval Diskin, though it should be noted that none of the three hold any formal role in security establishment right now.

Finally, the latest development is the criticism against Netanyahu’s push for attack, voiced by Kadima’s Tzipi Livni. This is pretty rare – the political tradition in Israel has it that the opposition does not question the government’s security decisions, certainly not in public, and never in advance. Livni wouldn’t have spoken if she had felt that she is alone on this issue.

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One thing that is missing from the public debate on Iran is a serious consideration of the consequences of an Israeli attack. The Iranian response – both direct and by proxies such as Hezbollah and Hamas – could be pretty tough, and if it actually causes great damage or result in a large number of civilian casualties, Israel might see itself as being forced to retaliate. Therefore, the correct framing of the question isn’t an attack on Iran, but a possible war with Iran and its regional allies. An escalation of this sort might result in drawing the United States and other countries, probably against their will, into the fight. Again, the consequences for all parties involved – Israelis, Palestinians, Iranians, Lebanese and maybe Syrians – could be terrible.

The fact that Natanayhu is far from enjoying a national consensus behind him on Iran, even before a single shot was fired, makes me think that maybe an attack is not around the corner, at least for the time being.


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.


Israeli rejectionism?

Posted: June 10th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Settlements | Tags: , , , , , , , | 21 Comments »

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas recognizes Jewish rights in Israel, and is ready for a two state solution with some borders modifications that will allow Israel to keep some of the bigger settlements.

In a meeting in Washington with 30 Jewish leaders, among them those who supports Netanyahu’s government such as AIPAC and ADL, Abaas declared that if Israel accepts a solution based on the 67′ borders, direct negotiations can resume.

Haaretz reports:

The Palestinian president said during the discussion that he had in the past proposed creating a trilateral commission to monitor and punish incitement, but that Israel did not agree to it.

When asked what he could offer Israelis to show that he was serious about peace initiatives, Abbas reminded the participants that he had addressed the Israeli public in an interview on Channel 10. “Why wouldn’t Bibi go to Palestinian TV and do the same?” said the Palestinian president.

“I would never deny [the] Jewish right to the land of Israel,” Abbas then declared.

A few months ago, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said that he is ready to have the Palestinian refugees return to the Palestinian state (rather then Israel), so basically, it can be said that all of Israel’s major concerns have been met by the Palestinians. We need to appreciate the price Palestinian leaders are paying at home for such declarations.

Yet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues to show very little enthusiasm for the diplomatic process, and his senior cabinet ministers keep opposing any concessions. Deputy PM Moshe Yaalon just recently said in an interview to Yedioth Ahronoth that “nobody in the seven ministers cabinet (the Government’s decision making forum) believes we can reach an agreement.”

The reason for Israeli rejectionism lies in the internal political dynamic in Israel. No matter what Palestinians say or do, Israeli leaders have no real incentive to go through the extremely difficult process of evacuating settlements. This is why they are preparing the public for a failure of the negotiations, even though we now have the most moderate Palestinian leadership ever.

UPDATE: Laura Rozan’s report of Abbas’ meeting with Jewish leaders refers to a couple of important issues which Haaretz didn’t mention: PM Olmert’s “generous offer” which the Palestinians supposedly turned down, and the demilitarization of the Palestinian state:

It was his first such public forum speaking event in Washington ever, Brookings’ Vice President and former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk noted when he introduced the Palestinian leader, who he said he had known since 1993.

(…)

Indyk pointed out that it’s generally understood in the West that Abbas did not accept the proposal Olmert offered, based on 1967 borders and agreed land swaps, but Abbas said they were still negotiating when Olmert stepped down amid an Israeli corruption investigation.

“The man has said in the clearest of terms he accepts Prime Minister Netanyahu’s assessment of a demilitarized state,” former Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) told POLITICO Thursday. “He doesn’t want tanks, he doesn’t want missiles, he wants an internal security force.”


Jerusalem day | remember the words of Mayor Kollek: Arabs are second and third class citizens here

Posted: May 13th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Right, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Jews on "heritage tour" in Shikh Jerrah

Yesterday Israel marked “Jerusalem Day”. Established by the government in 1968, this was supposed to become a national holiday, celebrating out return to the most sacred city for Jews and the unification of the Israeli capital. But Jerusalem is anything but unified, and Jerusalem Day is a partisan rightwing celebration, marked through provocative “heritage tours” by ultra-nationalists groups in the Arab neighborhoods, and met with indifference with the rest of the public.

Though Jerusalem’s Mayor Nir Barkat, government officials and Jewish bloggers continue to speak of a united city were all citizens are equal, the truth is that Arabs in Jerusalem are not citizens not equal, and most none religious Jews who adore Jerusalem and celebrate its holiday live on the other side of the Atlantic.

While PM Netnayhu chose to carry a hard line political speech at Merkaz Harav” Yeshiva – the birthplace of the settler movement – It was Likud’s Knesset speaker Rubi Rivlin, of all people, who told it like it is, acknowledging that Jerusalem’s Arabs are greatly discriminated, and that the oaths to the “eternal capitol” are no more than empty words:

“We ill-treated Jerusalem. We ill-treated it by becoming addicted to poeticizing it. We ill-treated it by endlessly longing for a distant ‘Zion’ while Zion is alive here and now. We ill-treated it by endlessly debating its borders and outlines and not debating enough current substance and vision.

“We ill-treated it by writing checks we never cashed in. Checks such as ‘The Reunited Town,’ which, 43 years on, is hardly united.”

But you don’t really need Rivlin to know that. Some twenty years ago, Teddy Kollek, legendary mayor of Jerusalem, admitted – while still serving! – that the city never cared for it’s Arab citizens [PDF, the quote is on page 39 of the document]. His words are worth repeating, since the only thing that changed from his days is that now Israel is kicking Palestinians from their homes and constructing new neighborhoods for Jews in East Jerusalem, so that a territorial compromise would never be possible:

“We said things half-mindedly and never fulfilled them. We’ve said again and again that we will make Arabs’ rights equal those of the Jews – empty words… both [PM] Eshkol and [PM] Begin promised equal rights – both broke their promises… they [Palestinians] were and remain second and third class citizens.”

Q: And this is being said by the mayor of Jerusalem, who labored for the city’s Arab citizens, built and developed their neighborhoods?

“Nonsense! Fables! Never built nor developed! I did do something for Jewish Jerusalem in the last 25 years. But for eastern Jerusalem, what did we do? Nothing! What did I do? Schools? Nothing! Pavements? Nothing! Culture centers? Not one! We did give them sewage and improved the water supply. You know why? You think [we did it] for their own good? For their quality of life? no way! There were a few cases of Cholera and the Jews were scared that it might reach them, so we installed sewage and water.”

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We also got yesterday another absurd moment regarding Jerusalem, this time from the Israeli authorities. Mordechi Vanunu, the nuclear whistleblower, was sentenced to for community work for violating his outrageous release terms (last time he was put on trail for “contacting a foreign citizens” – it happened to be his girlfriend). Vanunu asked the court to be permitted to carry out this work in East Jerusalem. The state argued that he must work “inside Israel” – ignoring the fact that we declare on a daily basis that East Jerusalem is Israel. The state won. Vanunu was sent to prison. So much for the “united city”, or for Israeli justice.

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We also had this: two protesters arrested in Sheik Jerrah, for attempting to carry out a small protest against a settlers’ march in the Jerusalem neighborhood, whose residents are mostly Palestinian refugees.

And to end the day in a positive note, Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon spoke at the Irvin Moskowitz awards ceremony (honoring the US rightwing billionaire, who finance the most radical colonization attempts in Jerusalem and Hebron), and said that the city will remain under Jewish sovereignty forever, and all the talk about dividing the city are no more than “dust in the wind”. But remember, it’s the Palestinians who refuse any compromise.


Peace Now on the run

Posted: October 26th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Left, The Right, The Settlements | Tags: , , , , | 7 Comments »

peace nowThe right wing is recently running an extremely successful campaign to de-legitimize Peace Now, the once powerful left wing grassroots movement.

A few weeks ago, the deputy for PM Benjamin Netanyahu, minister Moshe “Bugy” Yaalon (Likud), referred to Peace Now as “a virus, which causes the state great damage”. Today, following a bizarre incident in which three Peace Now activists (Update: see Amitai’s comment below) tried to conduct a mock interview with the most extreme MK in the Knesset, Michael Ben-Ari – a friend and a student of the late Rabbi Meir Kahana – the Knesset’s chairman, MK Rubi Rivlin (Likud), forbid Peace Now Director-General Yariv Oppenheim from entering the Israeli parliament. Meretz party – which was always close to Peace Now – has filed an official protest n this matter. Read the rest of this entry »