July 30, 2006
Truth or propaganda of the most vicious kind

I do not see myself as a propagandist for the Israeli establishment or its military. I have been writing these letters for almost six years, basically to myself, as a kind of diary, in an effort to understand what is going on around me. I have been organizing them into a book that I call, tentatively, Professor at War. A short while ago I began looking for a publisher. Then I felt it necessary to add another section, which I label "Operations in Gaza and Lebanon."

Some time ago, a truck load of Palestinian missiles being paraded for the folks in Gaza blew up, killing 19 people and injuring 120. Hamas claimed the explosion was a result of an Israeli attack, and sent a barrage of missiles into civilian areas in retaliation. Palestinian competitors of Hamas asserted that the explosion resulted from faulty handling, and blamed Hamas for the catastrophe.

The collapse of a residential building in the village of Qana may be another incident of the same kind. Lebanese officials claim it came as the result of an Israeli air attack, and killed as many as 60 civilians, many of them children, who had been sleeping in the building while seeking shelter from Israeli attacks on the village. The Lebanese Red Cross is saying that the death toll was 27. The difference in numbers is not the main point, although it serves to illustrate the hyperbole of our adversaries.

The Israeli Air Force says it does not know what happened. It admits to bombing the building, but says that it occurred seven hours before the structure collapsed. The difference might be explained by the explosion of munitions stored in the building, independent of the bombing. Given the character of Hezbollah, it is possible that the explosion was deliberate, meant to sacrifice children and other civilians for the sake of propaganda. Remember the "rape of Belgium," said to have included many atrocities by German forces in World War I. Historians are still arguing as to how much was truth, and how much British invention for the purpose of recruiting support for its entry into the war.

Kofi Anan began a Security Council session the same day of the incident by demanding that its members condemn Israel in the strongest of terms. In my view, he would have been justified in expressing his dismay at the casualties, and calling for an investigation. Asserting the need for a condemnation in advance of an inquiry is the grossest violation of an executive's authority. Regardless of what really happened in Qana, Anan deserves the condemnation of his personal behavior in the strongest possible terms.

I learned some years ago, while visiting that country and meeting a political scientist by the name of "Kofi," that it is a common Ghanaian name. It means "Friday's child," i.e., a child born on that day. In Hebrew, the word "kofi" means "my monkey."

The Israeli Air Force is justifying its bombing of the building by saying that it observed Hezbollah fighters seeking refuge in it after firing rockets. It has broadcast film of trucks going under civilian structures in Qana after firing at Israel. Some 150 rockets have come from the village, all of them seeming to be aimed at civilian targets in Israel. The air force also said that it provided ample warnings, several times, of its intentions to attack the village, and urged civilians to flee.

War is hell. Justice, fairness in assessment, and a concern for truth are among the casualties. An appropriate casualty of this war should be the reputation of Kofi Anan.

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 05:27 PM
July 28, 2006
Disproportionate response and other possibilities

Humanitarian anti-Semites are calling the Israeli response disproportionate. Okay, maybe not all of them are anti-Semites. But the sentiments they are directing at Israel are no more distorted than me calling them anti-Semites.

The issue of disproportionate is more complicated than the aforementioned humanitarians are claiming. They are now saying that there are 800,000 Lebanese refugees caused by Israel's violence. They are not talking so much about the 1,000,000 Israeli refugees caused by Hezbollah rockets. They have been spending the last two weeks out of work, in shelters, have fled or sent their children to the center or south of the country, but not so far south where they would be vulnerable to the rockets coming out of Gaza.

One may quarrel about the relative suffering. Israel's refugees are complaining about the build-up of tension; a lack of air conditioning in some of the shelters; problems of keeping the children busy; the uncertainties of running out for food when the sirens may go off at any moment and most of the stores are closed; and the lack of clarity as to how much the government will compensate for damage and lost income. Lebanon's refugees may be suffering more, but that is due to their government not providing for them, having giving over much of their country to the Shiite fanatics, and Hezbollah's fighters not letting some people leave neighborhoods that serve as launching sites and storage places for their weaponry.

I woke to news of a killing at a Jewish community center in Seattle, apparently by a Muslim taking revenge for what the Jews of Israel were doing. In a reverse of the usual pattern, I wrote to my son and daughter-in-law, asking if they were safe.

Our younger son did an overnight with army friends at the Dead Sea. We don't know when they he will return home, but it is likely to reach over 100 F when the sun comes up.

The IDF is implementing a call up of perhaps 50,000 reservists. With a number that big, it will include some if not all of the group currently at the Dead Sea. It is not clear how the army will use its expanded forces. Hopefully their function will be to scare the Syrians, but that is probably too optimistic. Our daughter's boyfriend already has his orders. The unit of one nephew is likely to go. A niece is 8 months pregnant, but that won't keep her husband at home if he is on the list.

We were planning to attend the 50th reunion of my high school class. We have another two weeks before having to purchase the tickets for the flights we have reserved. I doubt that we will do it, given the situation, but we won't make a final decision until the travel agent's deadline. My guess is that I will not get to see how all those beautiful virgins have aged.

This could end when Israel has destroyed enough of Lebanon and Hezbollah's rockets, and killed enough of the Hezbollah operatives, and the government decides that further destruction is not worth any greater upset of the humanitarians. That is the most likely scenario, and the least destructive.

Yet another possibility involves the Syrians. We are mobilizing for the possibility. They are on high alert. Remember The Guns of August, Barbara Tuchman's book about the onset of World War I. Big wars can erupt, perhaps unintentionally, from preparations that go too far.

The Iranian authorities must also be concerned. Reports are that Iranian and Iraqis volunteers are on their way through Syria to join the battle in Lebanon. Israelis are already suffering from missiles that got to Hezbollah from Iran and Syria. I doubt that Israel will use its big stuff against the regime that has committed itself to our destruction, but I would not be a competent if I did not mention the possibility.

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 10:50 PM
July 26, 2006
If there is such a thing as a "good war" . . .

Some commentators are calling this the war most widely supported in Israel since 1967. Surveys find over 90 percent of the public supporting Israel's operations. In response to the call up of reserves, some units report more than 100 percent coming to duty. Those not called want to join the fight. Yossi Beilin, the leader of the left of center Meretz and co-author of the dizzy Geneva initiative (claimed to be the way of making peace with the Palestinians), is saying that the war is justified; and, indeed, it would be appropriate to attack the source of Hezbollah weaponry in Syria.

Support is not assured over the long run. Looking back to the great war of 1967, not a few Israelis came to the view that holding the West Bank and Gaza, and the placement of Jewish settlements, were a national disaster. For the time being, however, the public is with the army and the government.

Ha'aretz is arguably the best newspaper in the country, but without a doubt the most leftist of the major papers. Yesterday its staff and especially its headline writers could not resist their inner drives. The big headline on page one was "Rice: prevent a humanitarian disaster." (Most other coverage indicated that Rice's prime concern was that Israel should continue its attacks against Hezbollah.) Other page one headlines were snappier in Hebrew than these formulations meant to convey their meaning:

*High incidence of Israeli casualties revealed
*Olmert is not a partner (the thrust of the article was that Syria was not a partner)
*Limited time for the military operation until politics intervenes
*Lebanese family injured by a missile while seeking safety
*Rabbi says that it is forbidden for population to remain in Haifa
*Rumors that Metulah will be evacuated (subsequently shown to be false)

Also in abundance are commentators from the ranks of retired military persons, journalists, and undistinguished others who are speaking out in criticism of one or another detail of what the military or the government has done or failed to do, or did too much of or not enough of. The Washington Post has an article focusing on the wide spread support of the operation in Israel, but also reports that a "make up artist and stylist" from Jerusalem saidthat since the fighting is still going on the Hezbollah must have a better army than Israel.

The IDF continues to destroy pieces of Lebanon. The chief of the general staff is quoted as ordering 10 structures in Beirut to be destroyed for every missile fired into Haifa. Ground forces are moving slowly through villages in southern Lebanon. It is not cheap in terms of Israeli casualties, but the outcome is not optimistic for Hezbollah. No matter how well armed and disciplined, the 5,000-10,000 fighters cannot hold out against the tanks, artillery, air power, and many more soldiers of the IDF. Israeli willpower is important, but the signs from opinion polls and reservists suggest that willpower is great enough.

Characteristically, international pressure has caused Israel to limit its military operations. In this case, the clear responsibility of Hezbollah for initiating the conflict and Hamas doing the same on the southern front, along with Hezbollah and Hamas aiming missiles at civilian targets provides a buffer against the concern for Lebanese civilians. Even the French foreign minister says that it will be necessary to disarm Hezbollah even while he calls Israel's response disproportionate. And the U.N. official who came to examine humanitarian issues accused Israel of violating unspecified humanitarian law, but also said that Hezbollah was responsible: both for attacking Israel and cowering with its weapons and fighters in civilian neighborhoods.

Uncle George is our biggest hero, as he is doing his best to keep the world off Israel's back. And why not? The IDF is doing his work. This has become a major front in Bush's war against international terror. Hezbollah and Hamas are in the same category as al-Qaeda. Hezbollah's Hassan Nasrallah and Hamas Khaled Mashal are minor league versions of Osama bin Laden. Israel is doing so much for the United States that it seemed necessary for a senior IDF officer to assert that Israel was not the puppet or servant of any other country, and that it was pursuing its own national interests.

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 03:21 AM
July 21, 2006
It is becoming bloodier

Each newscast begins with the names of Israeli soldiers killed during the last day or two, and the time and place of their funerals. Thousands are likely to attend, including many with no personal connection with the deceased. News from southern Lebanon is that bodies are piling up; family members have fled. Municipal officials of Tyre have said that for bodies not claimed, there must be a mass burial.

What we are doing is not pretty. CNN and other international media, plus Israeli channels show films of refugees and interviews with those who curse Israel. Ranking officials from the Secretary General of the United Nations downward accuse Israel of gross overreaction and violations of international law, even while they may say that Hezbollah began the conflict, and that Israel has a right of self defense.

The IDF began the fight against the intafada almost six years ago by shelling empty fields, and bombing office buildings of the Palestine National Authority in the middle of the night, after warning people to leave them. All this was meant to be a demonstration of what might follow if the violence against Israelis did not stop. Then there were targeted operations against violent individuals and groups. That brought accusations of killing people who had not been proved guilty, along with the collateral damage of those who happened to be nearby. Often the collateral damage was children who were drawn to the action.

Even recently, in response to the rocketing of Israeli towns from Gaza after we left, the IDF expended tons of munitions shelling empty fields. Again the purpose was to demonstrate power, as well as to make it difficult for those who fired the rockets. It did not work. The rockets were light enough to carry around the craters and through the turned up earth to where they would be fired.

Policy in Lebanon is less forgiving. The residents of villages and urban neighborhoods from which rockets are fired at Israel are being urged to leave, and then IDF is bombing and shelling what used to be their homes. Earlier the air force destroyed bridges and turned roads into rubble, so the exodus has been difficult. On a number of occasions, trucks, buses, and cars have been destroyed from their air. Perhaps it was thought they might contain fighters or weapons. Some of them contained families trying to flee. We see pictures of dead children spread across the road.

Most attention is focused on Lebanon. The Lebanese government, anything but a disinterested party, estimates that half a million refugees are trying to get out of harms way. We hear less about Gaza. There, too, the policy now is to warn residents to leave neighborhoods that harbor rockets and those who fire them. Gaza is closed off. There are not as many places where people can flee from neighborhoods likely to become targets as there are in Lebanon.

Palestinians, and especially the Shiites of Hezbollah, know how to fight and prepare the terrain for defense. Air strikes have been destructive, but rockets keep coming. If Israel wants to move Hezbollah out of southern Lebanon, and strike the organization a crippling blow, it must go in with ground troops. The IDF has begun with small operations of elite troops, and those are resulting in the deaths and funerals reported on hourly newscasts. More thousands of troops are being assembled near the border, and emergency recruitment notices have been sent to many others. Today Mattan was called to work in an academic research institute, to replace a friend who received a call by his reserve unit. For us, that is better than Mattan receiving a call from his reserve unit. We have yet to asked around about the other young men who are close relatives. It is too early to feel secure. This will continue for some time.

Scores of retired colonels, generals, politicians (some of whom are retired generals) and lots of others who have knowledge or feelings are filling the airwaves with their analyses and recommendations. They range from concern for the civilian deaths in Lebanon and urging a cease fire and political negotiations, to demanding an onslaught by ground troops, no matter the cost.

A number of those expressing themselves accuse the most recent prime ministers (Barak and Sharon) for not rooting out the missiles and other weapons shipped from Iran through Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon. They compare Israel's situation to the Cuban missile crisis, and say that the Israelis should have behaved like John Kennedy; i.e., risking war for the sake of national defense.

If that was done with great skill, it might have lessened the damage done to Israel. But the religion-crazed Hezbollah and their Iranian mentors are not the Soviet Union of Nikita Khrushchev. A pre-emptive strike would have deprived Israel of the political advantage of waiting until it was attacked before striking back. No matter how many people, politicians, publicists, and governments condemn Israel for destroying Lebanese facilities, uprooting, and killing Lebanese, there is a benefit in having struck in response to an attack on our soldiers while they were on a routine patrol on our territory. Even if we do not root out Hezbollah and destroy completely its capacity to hurt us in the future, the damage caused to Lebanon (and to Palestine in the parallel case) should cause other potential aggressors to think twice before setting out on an adventure against us. They will not love us in this region, but it will help if they are afraid of us. They have never loved us, so the emotional loss will be acceptable.

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 08:51 AM
July 19, 2006
We're the good guys

Historians will quarrel whether this is a separate, stand-alone war in the record of Israeli-Arab conflicts, or part of the intafada that has raged since 2000. On the one hand, it deserves a name of its own. It represents the greatest incidence of civilian property damage in Israel since the 1948 War of Independence. On the other hand, Hezbollah's justification for its initial attack was to relieve Israeli pressure on the Palestinians, and to produce the release of Palestinian prisoners. In recent days we have heard of Hezbollah instructions to its Palestinian allies to send suicide bombers into Israeli cities. Optimists say that this is a sign of Hezbollah's suffering from Israeli pressure. Israeli security forces have nipped several bombers on their way to targets, and have increased their pressure on several locations in the West Bank.

From this perspective, operations in Lebanon and Gaza are part of the same old war that the Palestinians call Intafada al-Aqsa.

On the third hand is the interpretation that the whole purpose of the attack on Israeli territory by Hezbollah was engineered by the principle source of its theology, weaponry, and money in Iran, in order to distract the attention of the United States and others from their campaign against Iran's development of nuclear weapons. It is possible to add to this view that the Hamas attack on Israeli forces that began the operation in Gaza (and was a link in the explanation of the Hezbollah attack from Lebanon) came in response to prompting from Syria, which was concerned to distract American attention on it for aiding the fighting in Iraq.

Iran is not a prominent ally of Hamas, but Syria is; and Syria is an important way station in the flow of aid from Iran to Hezbollah. In recent days Israeli forces have destroyed overland shipments of munitions from Syria to Lebanon. It is getting difficult to perceive the end of the operation in Lebanon without an attack on the sources of the aid in Syria.

The missile attacks on Israel from Lebanon are not a surprise. We have known for years about the thousands of rockets aimed at us. We are arguing if we should have taken those out earlier; if it was wise to rely on mutual threat to keep them from being fired; and if Israel could have ever taken them out without a serious provocation or without the kind of damage we are currently suffering.

We also know that Syria has lots of missiles pointed at Israel, with longer range and larger warheads than those in Lebanon. Currently I am operating in my airy study with its great view over the desert with the Mountains of Moab and Amman in the distance. If the Syrian front heats up I may be working in the windowless bomb shelter four levels down.

There are some who say that it is meaningless to fix the boundaries of one or another conflict. None of us is likely to live long enough to see it end, but one day historians will be writing about the 100+ year war between Israelis and Arabs, which those who lived it divided into chapters according to prominent adversaries and locations.

Newt Gingrich has been talking about World War III emerging from the current chapter. That sounds like a war of civilizations that will ratchet up from somebody's attack on Iran's nuclear facilities (and/or North Korea's), and a wave of suicide attacks in Europe and North America beyond the defensive capacity of those who are concerned about keeping fingernail clippers out of airliners. By then we will all be in the basement, hoping for safety.

If all the details and prospects are too complicated, remember that it is the good guys against the bad guys, and we are the good guys.

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 11:26 PM
July 16, 2006
What's next?

The fog of war is a platitude. A writer aspiring to cleverness should not use it. But it is suitable to the lack of clarity apparent to a civilian, and perhaps to some of those with real power.

What is clear is not pretty. Israel has gone a long way toward destroying Gaza and Lebanon; and is not finished. Israelis are also suffering, especially those within range of the moderately powerful rockets of Hezbollah in the north, and the pitiful efforts of the Palestinians in the south. Just as it is possible to kill with a stone, it is possible to kill with one of those homemade items, assuming it makes it out of the launching area and lands close to a building or a person.

Right now I'm listening to a speech by the Hezbollah leader, who claims that his group is only targeting military facilities. Among his successes were a 55 year old grandmother and her 7 year old grandson, who didn't happen to be in uniform at the time; and 8 mechanics working at the railroad repair barn in Haifa. The great leader himself is likely to be speaking from a bunker deep under what used to be a nine storey headquarters building. I would not pay for the renewal of his life insurance. Yet it will not be easy. The theology, rituals, and ideology of Shiites glorify suffering. They make great suicide bombers and tough fighters.

Equally bizarre was listening to a CNN news reader questioning an IDF spokesman. Her style reminded me of watching Joe McCarthy in the 1950s. How could Israel dare kill Lebanese? Aren't you using grossly disproportionate power against a weak country? The soldier stood his ground despite the barrage that repeated itself time and again. It was not an interview but an inquisition.

Another thing that is clear to us, and perhaps a surprise to our enemies, is that the Israeli government began its attack on Lebanon recognizing the likelihood of paying a price in the loss of lives and resources. The signs are that the public continues to support the decision, including those in the north told to stay close to shelters. The goal is to wreak havoc with the organization and facilities of Hezbollah, move them out of missile range from the Israeli border, and not let them return.

What is happening to Lebanon is its fault. The government remains afraid of using a 70,000 man army against the 3,000 fighters of Hezbollah. Likewise, Mahmoud Abbas was unable to use the 30,000 security personnel he claimed to control in Gaza against the couple of hundred men who made and fired the crude missiles against Israel. Leaders like that do not deserve a country; and they are losing the countries they claimed to be leading.

Still obscured by the fog is what is coming next. Most of Lebanon is still standing, and Israel can continue to destroy pieces of it. The results are ever closer to the destruction that was produced by communal fighting and the Israeli invasions that reached a peak in the 1980s. Insofar as many Lebanese are blaming the Shiites of Hezbollah for their losses, we might see another round of the on-and-off civil war. The Shiites are not the only ones in that miserable country who know how to fight. Sabra and Shatila were not exceptions in their history. Lebanese like to kill one another.

Also somewhere in the fog are Syria and Iran. Both are having their reputations bruised. They miscalculated if they thought that stirring Hamas and Hezbollah would lessen the pressure of the United States and others on them for aiding the mayhem in Iraq and continuing to develop nuclear weapons. The destruction of Lebanon can spill over to both places. A recent Arab summit collapsed over the weekend, revealing that not a few of their usual allies are pissed big at what they have done. And that may not be not the worst of it for them.

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 11:34 AM
July 12, 2006
Another war

Yesterday we woke up to a competition between Israeli newspapers. Each had its list of women who had worked with President Moshe Katzav, and were talking about sexual harassment. For the third day in a row, the Ha'aretz cartoon focused on the scandal. This one had the president asking the attorney general if he could pardon himself. The attorney general ordered a police investigation of the president's charge that a woman was threatening blackmail. The investigation seems likely to spread beyond that. Commentators are saying that they have known about the president's inclinations for years, but they lacked a trigger that could begin an expose. Applicants for the position should send their resumes to the Knesset.

By 9:30 AM the president dropped from the headlines. Israel was at war with Lebanon. Today the Ha'aretz cartoon shows a middle age reservist putting on his uniform, and telling his wife that he would call from Beirut. The radio is reporting that the Israeli airforce has bombed Beirut's airport, and closed it to traffic. Potential visitors will have to fly to Cyprus, and either take a boat or swim. I would not count on Lebanon's sea ports being open for long, and visitors had better bring a flashlight. Some of the power stations have already been damaged. Ground transport will not be easy. Bridges are dropping by the hour.

This is likely to be difficult. Israel is formally holding the Lebanese government responsible for the attack that killed 8 soldiers, took two wounded soldiers prisoner, and wounded additional soldiers as well as civilians. However, it recognizes that the Lebanese government cannot deal with Hezbollah, which comprises a well-armed state within a state, enjoys support from Syria and Iran, and is part of the Islamic alliance that includes Hamas, and spreads from Indonesia westward. Just this morning I heard of its outpost in Madison, Wisconsin. The University of Wisconsin is justifying the appointment of a teacher who is a convert to Islam, and teaches, among other things, that 9-11 was a Christian-Jewish conspiracy to begin a war against Islam. Somewhere in his writing is a claim that George Bush is waging a campaign against religion. (For documentation see http://www.news.wisc.edu/12701.html and http://www.mujca.com/essay.htm .) My two older kids have UW BAs along with Phi Beta Kappa; my PhD is from the place; and I used to take pride in having been a professor there. Now I would urge potential students to think of some other university, on the assumption that they could find an American campus that pursues a form of academic freedom protected from wildness.

Israel's campaign against Lebanon will not be free of cost. Hezbollah katushas are still falling on the north. Residents are told to stay in shelters. There are injuries and at least one death from rockets in Nahariya. There are missiles of longer range, supplied and manned by Iran, that can reach most of Israel. Among the unknowns are: Will Iran fire those? Will Israel seek to neutralize them? Will Hezbollah's targeting of civilians in Israel lead Israel to alter its policy of not targeting civilians, or take a more moderate course of continuing to target military and infrastructure targets, but being less concerned with collateral damage? Insofar as the Palestinians are still firing their more primitive rockets at civilians, similar changes could also occur on Israel's southern front. Will Israel go further afield, after the Syrian and Iranian sources of the mayhem? Will all this be the trigger for a regional war? And if so, what will Uncle George do?

Egypt and Jordan recognize the danger to themselves from an empowered Islam, and they are not happy with events. They have tried to mediate , without success. Currently they are part of the international chorus urging restraint. All that makes the same impression as elevator music.

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 11:06 PM
July 11, 2006
Did he or didn't he?

There is still news from Gaza. The IDF continues to pick off the bad guys, damage bridges and other infrastructure. The casualties include young boys who cannot resist hanging around the fighters. There are cries of panic about only enough food and fuel for a few days, and competing claims that there is enough for a month, and that there would be more if the Palestinians would agree to transfer the stuff through checkpoints that Israel controls.

But that is not all. Our president, Moshe Katzav, has gotten himself into something that is taking even more media space than Gaza. He claims that a former employee of the presidential establishment has tried to blackmail him, with leverage that she claims is sexual harassment. He says there was no such thing. She has gone into seclusion, and her lawyer is saying little. Last night we heard a commentator describe a 30's something woman of marginal stability who had harassed the president. This morning there is a report from another woman that the president harassed her when she worked for him in a previous position.

Yesterday's cartoon on the op-ed page of Ha'aretz showed a nervous president reading Bill Clinton's biography. Today's shows a referee approaching the presidential desk holding aloft a red card. For those not familiar with non-American football, that is the sign that a player is to be removed from the game for unsportsperson conduct.

There is about a year left in the presidential term. Commentators are arguing as to whether he will finish or go home in shame. His predecessor left early under a charge of accepting improper (nonsexual) gifts. From the looks of it, Israel's presidency is a hazardous occupation.

The office is largely ceremonial. Items on last nights news, other than the potential scandal, showed him sipping wine with new ambassadors who had presented their credentials. He also travels abroad, shakes a lot of hands, hosts cultural events in the presidential mansion, expresses himself on the politically correct side of national controversies, and attends ceremonies. The rules are that the audience stands when he enters, and does not leave until he does.

Like Britain's queen, Israel's president hears reports on important stuff from the key individuals who make the real decisions, and may express his advice. After an election, he consults with the heads of the parties elected to the Knesset, and picks the individual he thinks most capable of forming a government. There is discretion in this role, but my recollections are that the president has always, or almost always, given the nod to the head of the largest party. Unlike the queen, he can aspire to bigger things. This president was said to be considering running for the leadership of Likud, and positioning himself as a possible prime minister. He had been a Likud Member of Knesset and middle-ranking government minister before winning the Knesset's election as president. The Likud is still troubled by a major loss in the recent election, and mutterings against its current leader, Benyamin Netanyahu. One of the speculations is that Katzav's rivals in Likud leaked the details that started the current fascination with his personal behavior.

When political observers say that key figures are only made of flesh and blood, they usually mean testosterone.

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 02:15 AM
July 07, 2006
This will not be the end

There is no sign on the horizon that we can might one day close the book on the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Substantial Israeli forces are operating in Gaza. They are trying to neutralize Palestinian capacity to manufacture and fire rockets at Israeli settlements, seeking to limit the freedom of movement for those who may hold, hopefully alive, an Israeli prisoner, and doing what they can to weaken the regime of Hamas. Already a substantial number of its ministers are in Israeli custody. Smaller units are picking off individual targets in the cities and towns of the West Bank. Crude rockets continue to fall on Israeli towns close to Gaza. Despite Egyptian claims to be responsible for its border with Gaza, a lot of weaponry has come over that border.

Quiet, rather than final victory is the goal. We would like the Palestinians to develop a regime that would reach a settlement of the conflict, but that is not apparent. Palestine is yet to emerge as a national entity, where a central authority has the will or the power to control factions that have the desire and the resources to continue the conflict. Involved in the problem are rivalries between individuals, localities, and families, as well as the intensity of national and religious commitments, reinforced by regimes in Syria and Iran that provide resources and encouragement.

Israel is a convenient target for them all. It is the prominent foreign element in a region that Arabs and Muslims want as their own. It is allied to the supreme enemy, centered in Washington.There is an ample collection of anti-Jewish stories, caricatures, slogans, and symbols that make it easy to focus on us as the source of all evil.

Despite the constraints, we hope to wear down those who want to hurt us, destroy their armaments and limit their capacity to re-arm, and expand a willingness among them to desist.

We invest heavily in protecting ourselves, by requiring security at public facilities, building a barrier and operating roadblocks, and thickening the roofs of buildings exposed to crude rockets.

Israel seeks quiet by going after those who are disturbing it. It uses a small amount of its military power in order to minimize civilian damage. It is tempting to level the neighborhoods that serve as the source of rocket attacks or the refuge of fighters, but we have avoided that as a strategy. The tactics of individual operations, including this one, may render individual neighborhoods uninhabitable.

Restraint may serve Israel in the long run. It avoids serious international condemnation, as well as confrontation with Jewish norms that place a premium on human life. It holds open the possibility that a substantial portion of Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims will notice the restraint, and see it as a reason to think about accommodation. Sadly, the damage to life and property that is inherent even in a modest policy of defense adds to the antagonism. Each military operation, no matter how justified, contributes to anger and intensity, and the willingness to die for the sake of Palestine.

Viewed in an international context, this is an archetypal conflict with the kind of terror currently prominent. Having a substantial element of Islamic motivation, it is a terror that finds substantial support from civilians and an international community. Some members of that community share in the motivation to eliminate Israel. Others pay lip service out of concern for the fashions of the politically correct, and perhaps to buy quiet for themselves.

We take solace in our successes. The rate of our casualties is a fraction of what it was four years ago. The economy has revived, due partly to increases in foreign investment and tourism. We enjoy a decent standard of living despite the tensions and the chronic threat. We have left Palestine with little more than hate. I fear that will continue until enough Palestinians conclude that they have failed in their aspirations.

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 01:01 PM
July 02, 2006
More uncertainty

We are in the middle of something. We do not know exactly what.

A variety of gangs associated with the Hamas government of Palestine or in competition with it overreached themselves when they attacked an IDF outpost and took a soldier as prisoner. They provided Israel unavoidable reasons to move with force. They had invaded Israel; they had killed soldiers and taken one hostage; and they did it as Israel was more than fed up with continued rocket attacks against settlements close to the border with Gaza.

At about the same time and in another area, another gang kidnapped a young Israeli hitchhiker. Apparently they killed him soon after seizing him, but continued for several days to offer his freedom in exchange for Israeli concessions. That game ended when Israel seized some of the people involved, and they let on where they put the body.

For about a week there have been considerable IDF forces in the southern part of Gaza, additional forces poised to enter the northern part, and continued air strikes and artillery barrages against various targets in Gaza. Much of the population there has been without electricity; water supplies are doubtful insofar as electricity powers the pumps; and they are running short of medical supplies, oil, and gasoline. Israel has promised to open the borders for humanitarian supplies. Once the fighting ends, it may take several months or a year to repair the damage to electrical installations.

Among the targets have been Hamas government offices, including that of the prime minister. The IDF bombed it at night; meaning to send a message rather than to eliminate the prime minister immediately. It was less pleasant for about one-third of Hamas government ministers and a large number of its parliamentarians located in the West Bank. They are now in an Israeli prison, awaiting indictment for membership in a terrorist organization and other charges.

Israel is sending different messages. It demands the return of its soldier, apparently still alive and treated for minor wounds. It also wants those rockets to stop. Among the targets of the air force have been the workshops where they are made and stored; but the industry is crude. A new workshop can emerge in a small space in a short period of time. Israel also seems to be working to dismantle the Hamas government. That may have been accomplished, with the mass arrests in the West Bank and the concern of officials in Gaza to hide from IDF hunters. Different voices are making different demands as to the price required for information about the Israeli prisoner, or his release. Egyptian mediators are saying that Hamas has to deliver a clear message today, or Egypt will give up the task of helping to settle this.

Mahmoud Abbas, the Fatah President of the Palestinian National Authority has accused his political rivals in Hamas of incompetence in dealing with the crisis, but stands with them in condemning Israeli actions as violations of basic humanitarian concerns, international law, etc etc. He puts on the often used record that calls on the international community to intervene, but the international community seems to be tired of this performance. Arab governments have demanded a condemnation of Israel in UN forums, but so far have not gotten enough support to enact what they want.

Here we had a pleasant weekend: Saturday brunch with friends, and our usual late afternoon walk around Mt Eytan. Commentators speculate about the next round of the World Cup, and what will happen in Palestine. We see pictures of Palestinian families sitting in the floor with candlelight, not seeming to enjoy the ambience. They complain of frequent sonic booms, which is just one of the devices meant to increase the pressure. We also see pictures of families fleeing with small children and a few possessions from expected Israeli attacks.

There is no shortage of retired Israeli generals who criticize the current generation of politicians and generals for incompetence. Some urge massive force; some urge the beginning of what they see as the inevitable negotiation for a prisoner exchange. Most of them say that whatever is happening, it will not result in a solution of the problems with Palestinians. Some say we have not learned to live in the Middle East. One says that demands the use of much greater force; another says that it requires the acceptance of continued violence from problematic neighbors.

Perhaps the goal is something else: the Palestinians must learn to live with Israelis in the Middle East. No one should expect an early change in their culture. But if they do not learn how to live with much less violence alongside of us, they will continue to suffer much more than we do. At my advanced age, with friends even older and in worse shape than I, the metaphor that comes to mind is coping with chronic disease.

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 01:16 AM