September 8, 2013
How sweet it was: Two days of Rosh Hashana and then Shabbat. Prayers, singing, time with family and friends, eating... No computer, no TV, no newspaper, no news...
Now, I return to the harshness of the world slowly, beginning with positive messages.
Victor Davis Hansen wrote recently about "The Israeli Spring" (emphasis added):
"...Yet these tragic Arab revolutions swirling around Israel are paradoxically aiding it, both strategically and politically -- well beyond the erosion of conventional Arab military strength.
"In terms of realpolitik, anti-Israeli authoritarians are fighting to the death against anti-Israeli insurgents and terrorists. Each is doing more damage to the other than Israel ever could...
"The old nexus of radical Islamic terror of the last three decades is unraveling. With a wink and a nod, Arab dictatorships routinely subsidized Islamic terrorists to divert popular anger away from their own failures to the West or Israel. In the deal, terrorists got money and sanctuary. The Arab Street blamed others for their own government-inflicted miseries. And thieving authoritarians posed as Islam's popular champions.
"But now, terrorists have turned on their dictator sponsors. And even the most ardent Middle East conspiracy theorists are having troubling blaming the United States and Israel.
"Secretary of State John Kerry is still beating last century's dead horse of a 'comprehensive Middle East peace.' But does Kerry's calcified diplomacy really assume that a peace agreement involving Israel would stop the ethnic cleansing of Egypt's Coptic Christians? Does Israel have anything to do with Assad's alleged gassing of his own people?
"There are other losers as well. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan wanted to turn a once-secular Turkish democracy into a neo-Ottoman Islamist sultanate, with grand dreams of eastern Mediterranean hegemony...
"Yet if Erdogan has charmed President Obama, he has alienated almost everyone in the Middle East...
"The oil-rich sheikdoms of the Persian Gulf once funded terrorists on the West Bank, but they are now fueling the secular military in Egypt. In Syria they are searching to find some third alternative other than Assad's Alawite regime and its al-Qaeda enemies. For the moment, oddly, the Middle East foreign policy of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the other oil monarchies dovetails with Israel's...
"Israel no doubt prefers that the Arab world liberalize and embrace constitutional government. Yet the current bloodletting lends credence to Israel's ancient complaints that it never had a constitutional or lawful partner in peace negotiations...
"In comparison to the ruined economies of the Arab Spring -- tourism shattered, exports nonexistent, and billions of dollars in infrastructure lost through unending violence -- Israel is an atoll of prosperity and stability. Factor in its recent huge gas and oil finds in the eastern Mediterranean, and it may soon become another Kuwait or Qatar, but with a real economy beyond its booming petroleum exports.
"Israel had nothing to do with either the Arab Spring or its failure.The irony is that surviving embarrassed Arab regimes now share the same concerns of the Israelis.
"In short, the more violent and chaotic the Middle East becomes, the more secure and exceptional Israel appears."
Read: The Israeli Spring
Reflecting similar themes, Dr. Efraim Inbar has done a study for BESA Center, "Time is on Israel's side" -- Middle East Security and Policy Studies No. 103. Its 25 pages can be viewed here:
The Executive Summary of Dr. Inbar's work (emphasis added):
"Israel is a small country, and the national security of small countries is more precarious than that of large countries. Indeed, since Israel’s establishment it has dealt with existential threats from its neighbors. This study argues that – despite the need for constant political prudence – not only is Israel a big success story, time is definitely on Israel’s side. A review of the variables that influence Israel’s ability to successfully withstand protracted conflict leaves room for optimism. A survey of the military balance between Israel and her enemies, internal factors that influence national power – such as the economy, social cohesiveness, and the political system – and Israel’s standing in the international community indicate long term processes that favor Israel over its regional foes. After sixty-five years of existence, the State of Israel can be confident in its ability to overcome the challenges that stand in its path."
A powerful retort to the naysayers. And reason to direct words of gratitude Heavenward.
Right here, in a spirit of positive thinking, I want to turn to news of the two boys with serious medical conditions about whom I've written so many times, and for whom some of you are praying.
First, Zakkai, who has the benign tumor that behaves like a malignant tumor, in that it keeps coming back on his spine. Not yet three, he has had multiple surgeries to remove tumor tissue, and has a damaged spine as a result.
Now he is about to undergo treatment again to remove the latest spot identified on his spine. But this time it will be via cryoablation (freezing the tumor via a rod inserted in his back) instead of invasive surgery.
Consultations with the doctors tomorrow. The procedure will be done on Tuesday and he will be released on Wednesday. Zakkai's father writes:
Zakkai's full Hebrew name is Refael Zakkai Avraham ben Yakira Avigael. In whichever language and manner you pray, please pray extra hard, especially on Tuesday, for an uneventful & successful procedure that kills the tumor and for Zakkai to heal and recover quickly and painlessly. And, most importantly, please pray that this will be the last medical intervention of any sort that Zakkai will ever need.
And then, Noam ben Inbar, the young boy who does have a rare cancer in his chest cavity -- inoperable because of location. He has been on an experimental drug -- the first child in Israel to be on this drug. His family sent out an update recently for the first time in a long time.
Thank you very very much for your tefillot [prayers]. Day to day Noam is doing great. He takes his medications and rarely has had medical emergencies.
He had a CT done a couple weeks ago and his cancer is the same which means the drugs are continuing to keep it from growing. He will be starting fifth grade on Tuesday!
He really does still need the tefillot. We firmly believe that the tefillot are a huge part of the miracle that he is with us today. Thank you to each and every one of you who continue to think of Noam Shalom ben Inbar and keep him in your prayers.
(I regret I have no picture of Noam.)
What is being referred to as "the moment of truth" will soon be upon us, as Congress convenes tomorrow, debates the issue of hitting Syria, and then votes, possibly as early as Tuesday -- but maybe not for another week or more.
Reports about and assessments of the possibilities are as confused and varied as ever, and I have no intention of tracking all of the various thoughts being advanced.
What I am seeing is that, on the one hand, CNN has run footage that seems to make it quite clear that gas was used, while others are saying that evidence is not yet definitive and action should wait until a UN assessment is complete. It does get wearisome. Especially as there are reports that the UK actually brought a couple of victims of the attack in Syria under review, and that tests on them confirm that they were hit with gas.
At the same time, it has been revealed that, according to the Daily Mail, as reported in the Times of Israel,
"between 2004 and 2010, the British government issued licenses to sell sodium fluoride, an essential component of sarin gas, to Assad."
All of the delays are maddening, not only because they indicate a lack of American resolve, but also because they provide Assad with additional time to protect his military assets. I have already written about hundreds, if not thousands, of human shields he has had moved to military sites. But now there is another wrinkle:
A group known as the 'International Human Shields' movement, founded by American and British "activists," is working to bring international civilian volunteers to Syria to serve as additional human shields to block US military efforts.
They are demented: furious at America for plans to hit Syria, they, ironically, at the same time depend upon the essential morality of the American military with regard to avoiding hits on civilians.
When all of these stumbling-blocks have been put in place, it remains to be seen how much will be left for American forces to hit and whether the operation will have any meaningful effect.
Secretary of State Kerry was in Vilnius, Lithuania, for a G20 summit last week; once the meeting had ended, he spent a day lobbying ministers of 28 EU nations with regard to an attack on Syria. Moving on to Paris today, he declared:
"There are a number of countries, in the double digits, who are prepared to take military action.
"We have more countries prepared to take military action than we actually could use in the kind of military action being contemplated."
Well, sort of... It seems much more a matter of EU countries saying that they agree that the evidence points to Assad having used gas than their rushing to send their ships out, armed with missiles. Several nations want to wait and see what the UN says.
The USS San Antonio was in port in Haifa for a couple of days at the end of the week, and some 1,000 sailors and marines went touring. The ship has now taken off for destination unknown. Unofficial comments by the military visitors led to a reasonable assumption that they may have been headed for Syria, but this was not official or explicit.
Before moving to other subjects, I want to share portions of two commentaries on the issue of the strike on Syria.
Zalman Shoval, former Israeli ambassador to the US, writes (emphasis added):
"Israel does not have a firm position, here or there, on the matter, aside from its essential and immediate need to neutralize Syria's chemical weapons and missile stockpiles.Read: Middle East tense as moment of truth on Syria draws near
"But Jerusalem cannot be indifferent to the prospect of Obama losing the vote in Congress, after which elected officials in countries around the globe will conclude that there will be no repercussions for following the lead of their American counterparts. The main consequence could be a nuclear Iran, because the vote in Congress will also influence Tehran's response to American attempts, whether through diplomatic measures or threats of military action, to put an end to its nuclear ambitions."
The Israeli government, on instructions from Netanyahu, has been decidedly quiet with regard to any position on the US strike. But where there have been statements by those in the government, they have indicated support for the American strike.
Taking a broader -- and in my opinion very important -- view, Clifford May, president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, says (emphasis added):
"It's not just President Barack Obama's 'red line' that Syrian dictator Bashar Assad has crossed. Civilized people have long set limits on armed conflicts. Using chemical weapons has been a war crime since 1925. Targeting innocent women and children has been taboo since at least the Middle Ages. Are we now giving up these efforts and saying, what the hell, boys will be boys, barbarians will be barbarians, and it's none of our business anyway?
"...The Brits now join U.N. Security Council members Russia and China -- leading members of the so-called 'international community' -- in favoring cost-free state terrorism. That's tantamount to licensing it. The rulers of Iran and North Korea are among those taking notice.
"Obama, by contrast, says he wants to hold Assad accountable. 'We cannot turn a blind eye to what happened in Damascus,' he said on Saturday. He has asked Congress to authorize him to take military action -- something he did not request prior to intervening in Libya.
"Should Congress refuse, it will confirm an ominous trend. At the conclusion of World War II, the West said 'never again' to genocide. Yet genocides have been carried out in Cambodia, Rwanda (for which President Bill Clinton later apologized on behalf of the 'international community'), and Darfur.
"There also was Saddam Hussein's genocidal Al Anfal campaign against Iraq's Kurds, and the gassing of thousands of Kurdish civilians in Halabja...
"The Islamic Republic of Iran is the world's leading sponsor of terrorism...
"Iran's rulers threaten Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. They incite genocide against Israelis in clear violation of the U.N.'s Genocide Convention. That they also are developing a nuclear weapons capability in violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is indisputable...
"Deciding precisely what to do is hard work. A few ideas to build on: 1) At the end of the exercise, Assad should conclude that using chemical weapons against civilians was a mistake, one he would not repeat. Other dictators should see it similarly. 2) To achieve that, serious consideration should be given to destroying Assad's air power. Planes, helicopters and major airfields are difficult to hide. So are port facilities. 3) Kerry correctly said that Iranian forces in Syria are 'contributing significantly to this violence.' Hitting those forces would send a clear message."
Read: Assad must pay
Moving to other subjects, I did want to mention the terrorist plot foiled last week: Two Israeli Arabs, recruited by Hamas in Gaza, were going to transport a bomb to the open air Mamila Mall, immediately outside the Old City of Jerusalem -- in order to detonate it on Rosh Hashana, when people would have been strolling about. The two were employed as cleaners at the Mamila Mall, and were planning to use this fact for ease of access.
Those who operate at the Mall were exceedingly upset that the Mall, which is frequented by Arabs and prides itself on being a place where Jews and Arabs can mingle comfortably, was the planned location for an attack. The fact that the two were employees of the Mall simply exacerbated the outrage.
A report from the Shin Bet (Israeli security forces) indicates that incidents of terror were up in August over July.
"Commander Liran Hajbi of the Giv'ati Brigade's Tzabar battalion told the Israel Defense Forces' Website, 'We pay attention to the fact that there is an escalation in terrorist infrastructure and the battalion carries out arrests and raids every night to reduce the [terrorists'] ability to carry out the attacks.'"
There was difficulty on the Temple Mount on Friday, the second day of Rosh Hashana, when hundreds of Palestinian Arabs began to throw stones. (Whether those stones were directed at Jewish worshippers at the Kotel below, or at people on the Mount is not clear.)
Fifteen rioters were arrested and the crowd was dispersed by police.
And so we can hardly say all is sweetness and light here.
To further complicate matters, there are the stirrings of the Tamarod protest movement that fueled street protests in Cairo coming to the Palestinian Arab world. Most significantly, there are voices of protest now against a corrupt Hamas, by an amalgam of groups of young people. The fact that they are anti-Hamas does not make them pro-West by a long shot.
Fatah has visions of returning to Gaza, something that is thought to be very unlikely. And, in fact, there are Tamarod stirrings against a corrupt PA as well.
See here for information on some of this: Tamarod Targets Hamas Rule in Gaza
This will be tracked in additional detail over time. Great time for a "peace process," is it not?
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