The Negev Tragedy

Last week there was a tragedy in Israel when a group of pre-army students were swept away by a flash flood during a trek in the Negev desert.  Ten students were killed and several more were wounded.  This was a national tragedy in a small country like Israel where every young Jewish life is precious.

In the desert the occurrence of storms miles away can trigger massive flash floods much further downstream, often in dry wadi beds.  Unsuspecting hikers can be caught by these sudden flash floods without any obvious warning signs.  But, when there are forecasts of storms in the region, it is usually stated that such hikes should not be undertaken.   In this case the pre-military Academy Bnei Zion in Tel Aviv that the students were attending ignored these warnings and insisted that the children (mostly aged 18) go on the previously planned hike to the Tzafit wadi.  Several of the children exchanged sms messages saying that to go would be dangerous and one even said that they might die as a result.

Following the tragedy, both the Principal of the Academy and the tour guide (who survived) were arrested.    Also, computers and papers from the Academy were confiscated by police.  In the Knesset a bill was introduced to specifically outlaw all such hikes when there are forecasts of dangerous storms in the region.  Legislation can only try to prevent such accidents after the event.  But, it was a great tragedy for Israel and there were memorial commemorations in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

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Sliding Doors

Before we moved into our house in Beer Sheva we had a carpenter make a small walk-in  cupboard in the renovated bedroom.  It is a lovely cupboard, very nicely made.  But, one thing bothered me about it, namely the sliding doors.  They never closed together properly and often opened apart without any reason.

I decided they needed magnets to keep them closed, like those found on many kitchen and other closets.  But these doors are on runners, not on hinges.  To fix the magnets properly I thought it would need cutting out pieces of the aluminium door edges, something I didn’t want to tackle myself.  So I called the carpenter back and he came and looked at the problem (see “Door Perceptions,” IsBlog Jan 26, 2018) .

He removed the plastic inserts that were intended to stop the doors in the middle, but were also preventing them from closing together.  Then he attached the magnets by screwing pieces of wood on the inside of the doors, top and bottom, and then screwing the magnets onto them and with a metal flange on the other side to bind.  This worked, but there were two problems with this solution, first the metal flange was a right-angled connector that was about two inches on each side and it stuck out behind the doors, and not only looked ugly but was also potentially dangerous.  Second, the magnets were too strong and the doors held together and had to be prised apart each time.  I discussed this with the carpenter and he agreed that a long magnetic strip like that used in shower doors might work and he said he would look into getting some.  But, I never heard from him again and I didn’t want to call him again.

So I went to the hardware store and asked it they had something like this and they said no.  Then I realized I was asking at the wrong place, I needed to go to the plumbing/ shower section.  There I found what I wanted, it cost NIS 50, but the magnetic strip was encased in a plastic fitting intended to fit over the edge of a shower door.  I brought them home and then cut the magnetic strip away from the plastic using a box cutter (you know the kind they use to hold up airplanes).   I took the doors down from the cupboard, unscrewed the magnets and the flanges and the wood supports from the back.  Then I put airplane glue along the inner side of the aluminium door edges, and then attached the magnetic strips (making sure that the magnetic sides were on the outside).

After they dried I reinstalled the doors and lo and behold it worked.  The doors are held together by the magnetic strips (and the glue holds the strips in place), but they come apart more easily than with the magnets and there are no ugly pieces of wood or dangerous metal flanges sticking out inside.  Simple, elegant solution, problem solved.

 

US State Dept. Hides UNRWA Report

As a result of information largely exposed by David Bedein of the Israel Information Center and presented to Congress showing that UNRWA, the UN agency exclusively devoted to Palestinian so-called refugees, is massively misusing US aid, the State Dept. under Pres., Obama in 2012 was tasked by Congress with carrying out its own investigation.  Apart from the issues of UNRWA using text books in its schools that teach hatred for Jews and glorify martyrdom, teaching violent activities in its summer camps for kids, storing weapons in its facilities, and having Hamas members on its staff, the main topic was what really is the number of refugees.

UNRWA counts as many as 5 million so-called refugees, that includes the children, grand-children, great-grandchildren and all descendants of the original Palestinians who left the area of Palestine as a result of Arab wars against the Palestinian Jews who became the Israelis.  But, UNRWA is the only organization in the world that classifies the descendants of those that actually were displaced as refugees, all other organizations including the UN itself and the US classify refugees as only those who actually left their country as a result of conflict.  Furthermore, many of these refugees never left their country, but are settled in Gaza and the West Bank, part of Palestine, and therefore are not classified as refugees, but are classified as internally displaced.  On this basis the actual number of genuine refugees today is not 5 million but more like 50,000 or less.  Since its inception in 1950, the US has paid 6 billion dollars to UNRWA for support of  those refugees on a per capita basis that it doesn’t even recognize as being refugees!  This is American citizen’s US tax dollars being misused and furthermore supporting an agency that is in effect a subsidiary of the Hamas Islamist terrorist organization.  Your tax dollars at work?

What is at issue now is that although the  Report on UNRWA practices was finished in 2015, the State Dept. continues to classify it as secret and refuses to release it to Congress that mandated it.  This even under the Trump Administration, showing how holdovers from the Obama Administration still determine policy.  Now dozens of Congressmen have signed a letter trying to force State to release the Report.  What it will show is that millions of US tax dollars have been misused and misappropriated in order to subsidize a terrorist organization dedicated to the killing of Jews and the destruction of the State of Israel, rather than going to support genuine refugees.  It’s very nice that the USA under Trump is going to move the US Embassy to Israel’s capital, Jerusalem, But, at the same time it is funding Israel’s terrorist enemy, Hamas, and by the way an organization and a people who are virulently anti-American.  If that isn’t absurd, what is?

 

Muslim Failed States

According to an analysis by Kobi Michael and Yoel Guzansky in an article in the Middle East Quartely (https://www.meforum.org/articles/2018/the-dangers-of-failing-middle-east-states) there is a significant danger that failed Muslim States represent a threat to the international order based on established nation-states.

Since the misnamed Arab Spring of 2010, during which mobs replaced the established order in most Arab countries, many Arab and other Muslim States have descended into disorder and chaos.  The strong dictators who kept some of these states together have been replaced in most of them by civil wars and the development of such non-state actors as al Qaeda, the Islamic Caliphate (misnamed IS) and the Iranian Shia revolution. Many of the States have no ethnic or linguistic basis, such as Iraq that was patched together by British colonialism from Shia, Sunni and Kurdish regions.

A few Arab States have been immune from this regression, namely Egypt, in which the Army asserted itself and its leading general was appointed President, and the Kingdoms of Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.  The others, including Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and Afghanistan have become failed states.  The UN definition of a failed state is one in which the Government is too weak to be able to protect its citizens and supply them with essential services.

PM Netanyahu pointed out in his speech last year at the Chatham House that the Palestine Authority is in effect a failed state, like the other Arab states.  It not only has a weak and a massively corrupt government, under Pres. Abbas.  But, it is also divided between the West Bank controlled by the Fatah/PLO and Gaza controlled by the Islamist terrorist organization Hamas.  Notwithstanding several attempts, there is no real possibility of a reconciliation between them.  Let’s be frank, there is no possibility that Israel could make any peace agreement with such an entity, and there is indeed no realistic possibility of a two-state solution.  Those in BDS who call for the destruction of Israel and for the establishment of a Palestinian State in its place, are simply not facing the reality of the Arab/Muslim world.  The UN itself, not known for its sympathy for Israel, in a Report in 2016 concluded that the Arab/Muslim world is the most unstable region in the world and has fundamental problems of state identity and coherence that represents a true threat to the established state-based world order.

The Iranian revolution preceded the Arab Spring, and from its inception in 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini called for expansion of the Shia religion and culture to the whole Muslim world.  This was a complete reversion of former Shia policies and has resulted in the development of an arc of Shia conquest from Iran to the Mediterranean sea, through Iraq (with its Shia majority), Syria (with its Alawite regime) and Lebanon (with Hizbullah).  One can consider this a mirror image of the Islamic Caliphate conceived by the ISIS terrorist movement, that sought to establish a Sunni Caliphate on the ruins of the nation states, Syria, Iraq and others.  While the  Sunni IS has been largely destroyed, the Shia counterpart is very active, with its center in Iran.

The Saudis are very concerned by these developments, they see themselves as the center of Sunni religion and culture being out-flanked by the Sunni terrorist organizations and by the hated Shia.  There is a new player on the scene, the Surruris, a combination of extreme Sunni terrorism and Salafi religious fundamentalism.  This is why the new King Salman bin Mohammed is making liberal reforms, such as opening cinemas, allowing women to drive and to travel without the permission of their husbands.  He sees his only possible future as embracing the reality of the modern nation-state.  Only thus can he expect US and Israeli sympathy and support.

“The March of Return”?

The Gazans have called their on-going series of demonstrations, protests and riots near the border with Israel, “The March of Return.”  It is clear to all commentators that this is not simply a demonstration to be taken at face value, but is in fact a massive PR effort to draw attention back to the Palestinian conflict, since media attention has been focused on many other developments in the Arab world, including particularly the Syrian Civil war, the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime in that war, the on-going civil wars in Iraq, Yemen and Libya, the defeat of IS, the expansion of Iranian military power, the clash between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and so on.

There are reports that Hamas, the terrorist organization that controls Gaza, is not behind these demonstrations.  What naive nonsense, nothing happens in Gaza without Hamas approval and certainly nothing of this scale could be organized without Hamas control.  Also, what are the aims here, in order to attract world media attention, Palestinians have to die, it’s as simple as that, the more the better.  So Hamas, as it usually does, sends its operatives in dressed as civilians with many other civilians as shields, in order to try to breach the Israeli border fence.  They use rocks, burning tires, Molotov cocktails and bombs,

According to reports about two-thirds of the 32 casualties so far have been Hamas operatives.  The total death count is very small given that this has been going on for weeks and Israel has issued notice that any attempt to breach the border will be met with live fire.  In fact, even today the IDF again dropped notices to the demonstrators reminding them of this fact.  Given the incredible loss of thousands of Arab lives in the Syrian conflict and elsewhere this toll in Gaza fades by comparison.  Imagine how many casualties the IDF could inflict on these thousands of demonstrators if it wanted to, just by shelling or strafing them.  But, if you want to blame anyone for killing Palestinians blame Assad.  His forces are besieging the Yarmouk Palestinian camp near Damascus and have begun another assault using artillery and barrel bombs against the camp,  There are over 100,000 mostly Palestinians in the camp.  Where are the Western liberal protests about the thousands of Palestinians being killed there?

But, in any case this desperate attempt for publicity at the price of dead Palestinians will not avail them.  Hamas has tried all sorts of means to attack Israel, terrorism, military attack, rockets, tunnels, and now simply flinging themselves against a well-defended border barrier.  After 70 years don’t you think the world has grown somewhat weary of these primitive tactics.

Israel’s 70th Birthday

The State of Israel is 70 years old, from its inception in May, 1948.  There is no doubt that Israel has greatly exceeded all expectations.  When it was founded it was small and vulnerable, and most people thought it wouldn’t last a year.  Now it is 70 and the most stable democracy in the whole region.  What has been accomplished in 70 years?

  1. Israel’s population has increased 10-fold, from ca. 800,00 at its birth to ca. 8.8 million now.  After 1948 the influx of  Jews from war-ravaged Europe, the survivors of the Shoah, added over 1 million, then the influx of Jews from Arab lands added another 850,000.  Finally, the ca. 1 million Jews who immigrated following the opening of the Iron Curtain and the collapse of the Former Soviet Union added another 1 million.  About 75% of the population are Jews, and ca. 20% are Arabs, those who remained behind when the State was founded.  Although there has never been a truly congenial relationship between the Jews and Arabs in Israel, there has also never been a serious uprising either.  Most of the Palestinian Arab violence comes from outside the State, from those Arabs who left and from the surrounding countries.
  2.  The IDF has gone from good to amazing.  Not only did Israel’s conscription army defeat the Arab armies in every attempt to destroy the State, but Israel has always had control of the skies and superior forces on the ground.  From the War of Independence in 1948, the Sinai campaign of 1956, the Six-Day War of 1967, the Yom Kippur War of 1973 and the Lebanon War of 1982, the IDF defeated all comers.  The intifadas (Arab uprisings) and the wars in Gaza and against Hizbullah in Lebanon have been more complex, fighting in cities and against irregular terrorist forces.  But, so far so good, the ring of encirclement of Israel’s enemies has been whittled down, with peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan and Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq in ruins.  However, the current challenge is Iran that seeks to establish a platform in ruined Syria from which to attack Israel.  Israel can never allow this to happen.
  3. Israel’s economy has grown exponentially from a socialist-oriented plutocracy to a much more open capitalist-dominated economy.  Israel is not known as the “start-up nation” for nothing.  It has more start-ups than the whole of Western Europe combined, and is second only to the US in that respect.  Since it is based on technology, Israel has developed breakthroughs in many areas, in biomedical research, in electronics, software, cyber-security and military applications.
  4. Politically, the situation in Israel leaves a lot to be desired.  The proportional representation system in Israel means that all Governments are coalitions.  This results in the small religious parties exercising more influence over the State than is warranted.  But, that is the price Israelis pay for respecting the role of Judaism.

Overall, Israel is a stable, prosperous, advanced State. that will celebrate its 70th anniversary of independence and hopefully many more to come.

 

The Great Distraction of Punitive Airstrikes

One of my favorite Middle East experts, Jonathan Spyer has written an important article in The New Republic on April 15, 2018  with the title “The great distraction of punitive air-strikes” (https://www.meforum.org/articles/2018/the-great-distraction-of-punitive-airstrikes).

His main thesis is that these targeted and limited air strikes are part of a chess game being played by the Russians and the US and its allies not to tread on each other’s toes.  It allows the Allies to boast that they have taken some action in Syria against the terrible evil of chemical weapons used against civilians, and it allows the Russians to grumble publicly that this is all a lie and a provocation.  But, in fact nothing has really changed on the ground.

The hundreds of thousands of people killed will not change and further casualties can be expected, the humanitarian crisis in Syria has not changed, the expansion of Assad’s control of Syrian territory with Russian and Iranian help has not stopped.  According to Spyer, the attack a few days before by the IAF on the T4 airfield in Syria that killed 7 Iranians, including a senior officer, was far more significant and worrying.

He sees this as an attempt by Israel to draw attention to the serious threat of Iranian forces in Syria who are preparing a forward position from which to attack Israel.  Furthermore, with the announcement by Pres. Trump that the US intends to reduce and remove its forces from Syria in the near future (shades of Obama), signals to the Iranians and the Russians, that they will be able to move into the southern and eastern areas of Syria that are controlled by anti-Assad non-jihadi forces, and the northern Kurdish region of Afrin (taken from IS) that are controlled by pro-Western forces.

If this happens, i.e. US withdrawal and Iranian take-over of these regions, then Iran will have achieved a contiguous arc from the Iranian border to the Mediterranean coast, something they have been working for since the Khomeini revolution of 1979.  This will pose a very serious military threat to Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.  Since these are US allies it will be a serious loss to the US and result in both an expansion of Iranian and Russian influence in the region.  Iranian control of Saudi oil could present a very serious threat to both Europe and the US.

There is a tenuous hope that Russia will not allow Iran to achieve such a dominant position in the Middle East.  But it is vain to expect Russia under Putin to exercise a restraining influence if this results in a serious geopolitical loss for the US.  So forget about the air strikes against supposed chemical weapons targets, they are a distraction,  the future of the Middle East and perhaps of the world are truly at stake in Syria.