Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Family Affairs

July 28, 2009
Family Affairs
Obama’s ostensibly more realistic and sophisticated positions regarding foreign relations, which were supposed to have replaced US arrogance under Bush, are quickly dissipating. No sooner does Obama embark on steps designed to improve the US image abroad, than key people in his administration such as Clinton and Biden come out with declarations echoing the “cold war” policies of the previous administration.
Here in the ME, Obama is losing positive momentum created by his Cairo speech. His team, despite the addition of a “realist” diplomat here and there, is still the same old cluster of people whose main expertise is in organizing a peace process which is bereft of any substance at all. Since Obama’s real policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian issue is far from clear , there is room for endless diplomatic procrastination and bickering. How far can Obama go along the road to peace when he and his administration take care to remind us on every possible occasion that any differences with Israel are “in the family.”
In a recent statement at the beginning of the month, Xavier Solana, the retiring EU Minister of Foreign Affairs and a pro-US, pro-NATO politician if there ever was one, proposed a serious alternative to the current “piece by piece” technique. Solana’s proposal demonstrated the gap between the Mitchell mission and real action on the Israel-Palestinian issue. Solana merely suggested moving the whole issue to the UN Security Council, including setting a tangible date to work out a clear compromise on the final status agreement. Of course, Israel rejected the idea in less than 24 hours.
Meanwhile, the US and other important players on the international scene are busy expressing their displeasure at Israel’s continuing settlement provocations beyond the Green Line (the June 1967 borders). While it is a pleasant diversion to watch the Israeli establishment writhe and squirm in the July heat, one fears that Obama is helping Bibi on the tactical level and falling into the old “piece by piece” trap.
It is hard to describe the paroxysms of simulated righteous indignation which seize Israeli leaders over U.S. “intervention” in Israel’s “internal affairs.” Since holy Jerusalem was involved, the local media got busy declaring a new Israeli consensus supporting Netanyahu:
‘The US position which challenges our sovereign rights in Jerusalem is totally unreasonable and simply unacceptable. Jerusalem was ours long before DC was built. It is impossible to understand that the US cannot understand this.’
Though it is clear to any serious observer that the excitement in Bibi’s outfit is pure hypocrisy, the U.S. behavior is actually helpful to Netanyahu on the tactical level. The demand for cessation of building, even in East Jerusalem, seems to the average Israeli as a concession, unless it appears as an element in real, practical negotiations on peace with the Palestinians. Serious, active negotiations are what are needed to convince public opinion that it is worth compromising to reach peace.
At this point, every diplomatic meeting here begins and ends with ritual declarations by the U.S. that Israel is our faithful ally, with common goals and interests. This catechism of “kutzenyu, mutsenyu” (intimate familiarity) merely increases Bibi’s credibility when he claims that there are no real problems in the “special alliance.” However, the U.S. is only fooling itself when it pretends that direct, genuine, productive negotiations in the region are possible while Bibi is in the Israeli driver’s seat.
In truth, the U.S. could get rid of Bibi or cut him down to size with relatively little effort. A demand for vigorous actions against the outposts would meet with general approval here and suffice to shatter Bibi’s coalition. The U.S. reticence to do some of the vital work to clear Israel’s political swamp is another indicator that Washington is still far from being serious about real action for peace in the region.
It may be that Washington thinks that it has plenty of time to weaken Bibi’s power and prestige. This is another dangerous illusion. Cheap little chauvinist politicians like Bibi Netanyahu usually cultivate a gang of military strategists whose fondest dreams are to launch adventurous mega-provocations with gigantic destabilizing effects - perfectly designed to scuttle any possibilities for diplomatic progress. Uzi Arad, the Israeli choir master of the Dr. Strangelove disciples of the absolute deterrent, is only the tip of the non-conventional iceberg. The present Israeli coalition would prefer destabilization and chaos over the imposition of a just peace.
As George Mitchell, Bill Gates and James Jones come and go an eerie queasiness descends on the region. Is it really the case that Israeli-Palestinian peace is not urgent? Is it the least important element in this endless churning? One is tempted momentarily to believe that with all this motion something important must be happening on the peace front. However, despite al the diplomatic flurry, watching Bibi Netanyahu smirking at the head of a stable Israeli government should help to dispel any illusions.


Monday, July 13, 2009

Tough Love and Strange Love

From the desk of Reuven Kaminer July 13, 2009

Tough Love and Strange Love

If you would know the historical roots of Israel’s current political strategic thinking under the Netanyahu administration, follow me into the not too distance past. Those were the days, when the Rand Corporation, really a think tank launched and funded by the U.S. Air Force, was explaining to John Foster Dulles that he was neglecting U.S. security. Dulles, it appears, did not understand that it was all important to prepare a second strike capacity to nuke the Russians after they, the Russians nuked the U.S., which had already nuked them the first time, because of a serious case of Soviet aggression against some vital U.S. interest somewhere on the globe. One of the geniuses who worked on explaining the necessity for being ready to launch nuclear war, with at least a double barrel was a dazzling young intellectual named Herman Kahn. Kahn made it clear that deterrence involved readiness to include, and plan for the possibility of a full scale nuclear counter-attack on the United States – after the first US nuclear attack on the USSR. If you were bright back then, you built yourself a well stocked nuclear-proof bomb shelter. Kahn advised digging deep into the rock under Manhattan, for one-big public shelter. One of the brightest ways to prevent war was to convince the Russians that the US had some sort of Doomsday Machine that would go off automatically and destroy the whole of the USSR, in case of a Russian counter-attack after a US attack. To package this bright idea, Kahn and his associates worked overtime to convince the US public that nuclear war was winnable and squeamishness about doing everything to survive meant certain death and annihilation.
The Current Israeli Disciple
Uzi Arad is Israel’s national security adviser and a close confidant of Netanayhau. Uzi came up in the ranks, after serving in the Mosad for twenty years. He became an expert in nuclear strategy via advanced study at Princeton and was recruited by the Hudson Institute outfit, where he became, by his own admission a devotee of Herman Kahn.
.” But above all I was drawn to Herman Kahn, with whom I worked at the Hudson Institute. Kahn is the original Dr. Strangelove. He was a Jewish-American genius who was a salient nuclear hawk and dealt with the planning and feasibility of nuclear wars. Kahn was a towering figure. He was a beacon of intelligence, knowledge and pioneering thought. He combined conceptual productivity, humor and informality. He attracted a group of devotees of whom I was one in the 1970s. But he also had bitter rivals who criticized him for even conceiving of the idea of a nuclear war. In the Cold War it was precisely those who talked about defense and survival who were considered nuclear hawks. The doves talked about "mutual assured destruction," which blocks any possibility of thinking about nuclear weapons… Like Kahn, I was one of the hawks.
On the face of it, what is the point of this? Why execute the enemy after deterrence has failed? But according to [Yeheskel] Dror (an Israeli political scientist of similar views – RK) , it is important to ascertain that the deterrence will work, even if you yourself have been destroyed. He sees this as a contribution to the repair of the world [tikkun olam]. (See Ha’aretz Magazine, July 10, 2009 pp. 8-11)
Eventually this kind of academo-paranonia, dressed up with a lot of “game theory”’ and claiming to improve on MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction), which was deemed by Kahn to be too timid, became the object of ridicule and repugnance. The rejection of this kind of nuclear voodoo found expression in the famous, classic and highly regarded movie, directed by Stanley Kubrick, “Dr. Strangelove” (1964). Dr. S is a former Nazi, who has become a top advisor to the U.S. president. When nuclear war breaks out after a long series of stupidities, and not a few misunderstandings, Dr. S. starts instructing the government just what must be done to save at the least some Americans, in order to renew the battle, after the current round of mass death and destruction.
It may help observers of the scene here in Israel to understand that theories long repudiated even by the US strategic military establishment have become the current fashion here. In the long and detailed interview, Arad who is a government official reminds the reader that the views expressed are his own. This is a rather strange procedure for a high ranking government official in a super sensitive job. Arad, it is clear wants to lead the team and not just be a part of it. Ari Shavit, one of the more important “new -right” journalists stresses Arad’s importance:
“Arad holds tremendous power. He holds the Iranian portfolio, he conducts the sensitive dialogue with the United States, and he is the closest person to the Prime Minister.” (Ibid)
Lieberman, by comparison, is half racist buffoon and half shrewd ethnic politician. Though he is less of a fool than he seems, he is not in Arad’s class. On most issues, Arad is a bit more explicit (and embarrassing, for his boss), in explaining government policy. On the Palestinian front, he claims that there is no Palestinian partner for a true peace. “There are no true peace leaders among the Palestinians.” And…”even the moderates among them do not really want a settlement.” On the Syrian front: “The Syrians are certainly aware that the Netanyahu government and the majority of the public will not leave the Golan Heights.” He is certain that “the new U.S. administration is very realistic regarding the Syrian sector,” and that, in contradistinction to the Palestinian issue, “there are no comparable declarations.” We must deal with the Iranian issue first because “if Iran goes nuclear, everything that will be achieved with the Palestinians will be swept away in tidal wave.” He launches a tirade against the previous Israeli government whose concessions have left Netanyahu with “scorched earth.” He claims that “It is clear that they [the settlements] are not the most important or urgent problem.” The international attitude to Israel is “extremely unfair.” [All quotes are from the interview].
This not quite the brunt style used by the Israeli government people when speaking with the U.S. and other international parties, but this is the indisputable substance of Israeli policy, at least as long as Arad is around.
100 % Absolute Deterrence!
When talking about Iran, Arad explains, with coy modesty, that he is not at liberty to tell us “what the government of Israel thinks. Nor will I tell you what the U.S. government thinks.” Of course, after the caveat, he proceeds directly and immediately to expresses current Israeli positions. Israel should be the spokesperson for concerns and warnings to prevent the emergence of a multi-nuclear Middle East. According to Arad, Netanyahu is brilliant for avoiding any direct call to bomb Iran. Economic pressure, according to his boss, is the way to go and the best method would be a total maritime blockade on Iran. Of course, if the Iranians do not understand the message and react irresponsibly, then the time has come to ready the “military option” whose preparation is vital in any event. In fact, a sound military option would help the Iranians to understand their situation. Having a military option on the table increases the possibility that it will not be needed. So the strategy of provoke and bomb is, in essence, just the same, thinly disguised, hawkish rubbish. In all of this, Arad is just another neo-con.
The Really Scary Stuff
Arad is looking for a pretext to attack Iran, though he appreciates the importance of finding a way to keep the US in the picture. The classic Dr. Strangelove thinking is still around: “A situation of mutual armament is safer than a situation of mutual peace…the main reason for this is that in a situation of mutual peace, if one of the sides cheats it wipes you out. You have no means to deter them. So game theory pushes you into the corner of “both for us and them. I am not at liberty to discuss these issues explicitly…” So Arad refers us once more to Prof. Yehezkel Dror, and quotes him about “hard absolute deterrence…superb deterrence that will ensure that, even if the country is itself destroyed, the country that attacks it will be annihilated.” If you did not get the message, it is simple. Israel must involve itself in an arms race that can never end until Israel is certain – absolutely certain – that our current enemy, whomsoever it is, has interiorized that any kind of over reaction to Israel aggression– another unknown quantity - will touch off a fatal attack by Israel. The soul of Israel must torment itself, until it has convinced itself that its enemy(ies) are convinced that Israel, which no longer exists, at that point for all practical purposes, will press the button insuring that the destruction is indeed mutual.
Stay with us as we continue to analyze this zany stuff. Arad: “On the face of it what is the point of this? Why execute the enemy after deterrence has failed? But according to Dror, it is important to ascertain that the deterrence will work, even if you yourself have been destroyed.” This is for Arad nothing but simple defensive strategy.
Ha’aretz reported yesterday that the National Security Council, headed by Arad has become, because of Netanyahu’s trust, a much more significant factor in decision making. (Ha’aretz, July12, 2009). Today, there is quite a bit of fall out in the wake of the interview because many of those lambasted are still in prominent positions.
Tough Love or Strangelove
Well meaning people suggest that the Obama administration respond to the Israeli refusal to negotiate for peace in good faith with tough love. Anyone with the faintest acquaintance with Israeli politics can tell you that the Israelis will not respond to tough love. They have rising hopes that the Obama is a One Term President, and are willing to help realize this goal. A few weeks back, the Obamaites assured us that the prez is too smart to be outwitted and out-maneuvered by the Netanyahu government and the pro-Israeli lobby. But the Israeli policy of procrastination, endless discussion, claims they want to do something about the outposts and the settlements but they simply cannot, does seem to be blunting Obama’s initiative. Mitchell is running hard, going nowhere, and Obama is busy picking up after Joe Biden. Israel and its friends are watching Obama getting involved more in protracted negotiations in other areas that lead no where. Obama, was cool and calm in Cairo last month, but appears today more becalmed than calm. You may want to move the Israeli leadership with “tough love”, but Israel’s hero is, to this very day, Dr. Strangelove.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Exporting Utopia (Sasa) and Public Relations for Torture

Kibbutz “Heh” – i.e., the fifth letter in the Hebrew alphabet – was the name given way back in 1943 by the Ha’shomer Ha’tsair (Young Watchman) socialist- Zionist movement in the United States because it was the fifth such group organized for the purpose of emigration, or aliyah, from North America. In 1949, the group eventually established a new settlement in the former Arab village of Sasa whose indigenous residents were forced to flee during the 1948 war.
The youngsters from the US had an exceptionally rough time in the rocky fields of the upper Galilee, close to the Lebanon border. Many left over the years but the U.S. “kernel” or garin received reinforcements over the years from Israeli and European members of the same youth movement. It turned out that the place had potential that enabled it to become over the years the wealthiest kibbutz in Israel.
The kibbutz movement in Israel is presently in the throes of a vicious wave of privatization that has engendered a severe moral, social and economic crisis of serious dimensions. Paradoxically or not, a few of the more prosperous kibbutz settlements, have remained full scale producer-consumer cooperatives and escaped the vicissitudes of a process of long and continued degradation. Be that as it may be, our Sasa is still a kibbutz in every sense. But alas, its role in the long and arduous path of humanity to utopia has become a bit problematic.
Working for the Yankee Dollar
Our kibbutz is still a full scale kibbutz, but you have to make a living some how. Well, with a bit of business savvy, Sasa converted its plastic factory into an industrial plant specializing in the production of technology for the reinforcement of military vehicles. The technical term is “add on armor sytems.” It appears that the company, Plasan Sasa (see Google ) has just what the United States Army needs, technology to minimize the damage when its vehicles are blown up. And so business is booming. Sasa which has found itself unable to create a just society in Israel has decided to help the US forces establish a utopia in Afghanistan. Sales in 2008 reached I.S. 2.8 billion, and that’s a lot of money even in shekels – about 700 million dollars. Seven hundred workers in Israel and another 400 in France and the U.S. are employed. This, in these quarters, passes somehow for success in advancing the cause of “socialism”, though there is a bit of suspicion about the means chosen. The pioneers had other, better dreams when they came to build a commune in Sasa in 1949. It may well be that when they closed their eyes to the fate of the Palestinians who lived in Sasa before them, only to become refugees over the border, they began to develop Sasa’s current case of myopia. (For information on the business success of Sasa, see the The Marker, Economic Supplement Ha’aretz, July 5, 2009)
Public Relations for Torture
The people who talk to the media on behalf of torturers are not usually endowed with a surplus of intelligence. This might explain the distasteful sense of excessive pride evident in their declarations to Ha’aretz (July 3, 2009) by Fatah and Palestine Authority spokespeople bragging that they already have “detailed confessions” regarding a recent plot to kill Mahmoud Abbas. A report on the break-up of Hamas cell by Ha’aretz correspondent, Avi Issaarcharof, is based on information received from Fatah spokesman, Fahmi Zarir and a statment by PA Secretary, Taib Abd-Arahim. The two were eager to trumpet the success of the PA security forces in foiling a plot by Hamas conspirators “to assassinate Abbas and sow confusion in the West Bank with the intention of disrupting unity talks between Hamas and the PA held in Cairo.” Conveniently, the Hamas activists were caught with weapons, maps and photos of senior Fatah people including Abbas. Even more conveniently, it is reported that “the Palestinian security forces have detailed confessions.” Desiring to “save” what sounds like a fishy story, Issacharoff comments that “if this is true, it is evidence not only of Hamas’ intention to scuttle reconciliation with Fatah, but also to stage a coup of sorts against the PA.” This probability of a “coup of sorts” is a bit far fetched, so the reporter informs the reader that the culprit is the “Hamas military wing that has an extremist agenda, while the Hamas political leadership …is thought not to have been aware of the plot.” Issacharoff filed the story, but implies that things are a bit more complicated than the information he received from his sources. (Ha’aretz, July 3, 2009, p.A3)

Getting Detailed Confessions
A recent report, dated July 1, 2009 from the Israeli human rights group, B’tselem, shows the way to achieve “detailed confessions” such as those mentioned above:
On 11 June 2009, Palestinian Authority security forces in the West Bank detained Haitham ‘Amru, 33, a resident of Beit a-Roush al-Fauqa, a village in Hebron District. ‘Amru, who was married with three children and worked as a nurse, belonged to Hamas and was a board member of the Islamic Charitable Society. He was taken to the detention facility of the General Intelligence Service (GSS) in Hebron, and PA officials denied his family’s requests to visit him there. On 14 June, at night, ‘Amru was taken, in critical condition, from the detention facility to ‘Aliyah Hospital in Hebron, and was pronounced dead within a few hours of arrival. His body was taken to the Abu Dis Forensic Institute for an autopsy.
A fieldworker for the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, who saw the corpse before it was buried, reported that there were signs of severe injury all over the body. These signs, clearly evident in photographs obtained by B'Tselem and in a video broadcast on Al-Jazeera, raise concern that ‘Amru died as a result of torture he sustained at the GIS’s interrogation facility.
At first, GIS officials told the media that ‘Amru had jumped from the second floor of a building in an attempt to escape from the detention facility…(
For the record, we have seen reliable reports of parallel criminal acts against human rights by the Hamas authorities in Gaza. This kind of behaviour, whosoever the perpetrator, is not only a violation of the International Declaration of Human Rights, it is a crime against the Palestinian people and its unity.