Plan B = Plan A

The twisting complex plot of Brexit gets ever more confusing.  You may remember that  last week PM Theresa May presented her Plan for Brexit, the British exit from the EU.  At that time she basically stated that this was the only possible Plan, negotiated over the past few years in detail with the EU.  But, the House of Commons (HC) didn’t like her “take-it-or-leave it” approach, so they voted it down by a huge margin.  There were a variety of opponents, including those against Brexit, those in favor of a “hard” Brexit with no further connections with the EU, and even those who want a “no-deal” Brexit with no deal with the EU, those who want to extend the period of negotiations, those who want a second referendum, etc.

Given this rare defeat for the Government, the leader of the Labour opposition Jeremy Corbyn introduced a vote of non-confidence in the Govt.  But, this failed because the majority of MP’s didn’t want to change horses in mid-stream.  They want May to continue the process, but with their input (or control).  As such they mandated that May return in 3 days (!) with a Plan B, showing her flexibility and responsiveness to their (often contradictory) concerns.

Not surprisingly when May returned 3 days later and presented her Plan B, it was very much like Plan A (how could it not be).  She changed two things, she dumped the plan to charge EU citizens living in the UK a fee for applying for residence, and she said she would modify the so-called “back-stop” agreement between the UK, that includes Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and the EU (of which Ireland is a member).  This agreement is necessary so that the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland does not become a “hard” border again.  Precisely how this back-stop agreement will be changed is unclear, but depends on re-negotiation with the EU.

Since the PM put her Plan B up for discussion, this allowed MP’s to add amendments, and here the opponents crawled out of the woodwork.  The Speaker of the House used his authority to dismiss most the more outlandish amendments, however, about 8 were allowed.  Only one of them that was passed has significance.  Although it is not binding on the PM, it requires that there be NO “non-deal” Brexit.  In other words, the UK must sign an exit agreement with the EU.  Finally, after all the amendments, the Plan B was voted on and it passed by a resounding acclaim.

So largely the difference between Plan A and Plan B was that Theresa May took a much softer approach to the opinions being expressed by the MP’s.  She listened to them, she agreed to continue to consult with them, she appeared more flexible and less dogmatic, and this worked.  But, word from out of Brussels was that the EU is not interested.  Their attitude, as was May’s Plan A, is that the long negotiations have concluded, that an agreement has been arrived at (650 pages) and that there is no turning back and no renegotiation possible, and that the back-stop agreement on the Irish border is part of that agreement, period.  Now May faces the unenviable task of returning to Brussels to plead with them to agree to re-open these issues when as far as they are concerned, all negotiations are over.  Can she persuade them to at least show the appearance of flexibility, as she did so expertly in the HC



TIPH Gone!

The TIPH was the Temporary International Presence in Hebron.  Note that it was intended to be temporary, and was renewed every 6 months by both sides, Israel and the PA, for 22 years, since 1997.  That is certainly stretching the meaning of “temporary.”  The TIPH was intended as a peace-keeping presence in Hebron to monitor the activities of the two sides, consisting of ca. 3,000 Jews and ca. 220,000 Arabs.

But, in fact, the TIPH was overwhelmingly pro-Palestinian, with 64 civilian observers from  Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Italy and Turkey.  They spent all their time monitoring the activities of the Jewish inhabitants and the IDF and none on the Palestinians.  The theory was that the Jews were the interlopers, and it was natural that the Hebron Arabs resented them.

The fact that there had been a Jewish community in Hebron from time immemorial until 1929 was largely lost on the TIPH.  In 1929 there was an Arab riot that resulted in the massacre of 133 Jews and then the British, who were in charge, forced the remainder ofthe Jews to  move to Jerusalem (where there had also been an Arab riot and massacre of Jews).   That spelled the absence of Jews from Hebron for 38 years, until the IDF recaptured the area in the Six Day War of 1967, and Jews returned.

The Arabs of Hebron did everything they could to stop the return of Jews to Hebron, but under the agreement of 1997 that divided the city, the Arabs got 80% and the Jews 20%. But that was not enough for them, so they continued rioting and shooting, until the agreement introduced the TIPH.

I visited Hebron with a tourist group about 10 years ago.  While I was there we visited the Hadassah building, and I went across to the TIPH guards who were watching every movement.  I chatted to one of the civilian monitors in English.  As far as he was concerned I was an American tourist.  He told me that most of the trouble was due to the Jews, that they were an irritant there and probably shouldn’t be there.  Never mind that the Cave of Machpelah is nearby with the graves of the Jewish patriarchs and the building over them built by Herod the Great in the style of the Temple in Jerusalem.  During the Muslim period for over 800 years Jews were not allowed to go above the third step of the entrance to pray as a sign of humiliation.  After its conquest by Israel the holy site (called a Mosque by the Muslims) was divided into two for Jewish and Muslim prayers (note they were given equal time, no attempt to humiliate them).  But, of course this was not enough for them.

I am glad that Netanyahu has stopped the TIPH, let the IDF take care of peace-keeping there.  However, the reason for the timing now is that Netanyahu feels the pressure from the right, and so to keep his base he has had to take some steps.  Another is his commitment that under his Administration no Jew will be forced to leave their homes in the territories, that should belong to Israel by right of priority and legally as the sovereign successor to the British Mandate.

Anti-Semitism on Intl. Holocaust Day

There are so many instances of anti-Semitism around the world it would take much more than a page to list them all.  This is being written on Intl. Holocaust Day, 2019.  Who would have thought that 74 years after the Holocaust of WWII we would still be talking about a widespread outbreak of hatred of Jews.

For example, the PM of Malaysia, Mahatir Mohamad is well-known to be a long-standing extreme anti-Semite, who is undoubtedly behind the decision taken by the Malaysian Cabinet to prevent Israeli athletes from participating in the paralympic swimming championships.  As a result of legal approaches, the International Paralympics Committee has decided to move the 2019 games from Kuala Lumpur.

In 2018 there were many anti-Semitic incidents, perhaps the worst was the shooting in the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, that occurred on Oct. 27 in which 11 Jews were killed.  The perpetrator in this case was a right-wing extremist.  There was a report issued today by the Israeli Ministry of Diaspora Affairs that the main threat against Jews is not from the far left (BDS movement) or Islamic hatred, but from the far-right who are variously white supremacists, fascists and even neo-Nazis.  But, Roseanne Barr, who was in Jerusalem said that the BDS is a Nazi-style boycott of Jews.  Don’t these leftist anti-Israel/anti-Semitic extremists know that they are doing the work of the Shi’ite Mullahs of Iran?  Sure they do, but they don’t care.

I am surprised that people find anti-Semitism in the British Labour Party of Jeremy Corbyn surprising.  Of course, the old-time Conservative Party was also very anti-Semitic, but since Margaret Thatcher, the Conservative Party has changed.  But, as far as Labour is concerned, remember Ernest Bevin, the Foreign Secretary in the First Labour Government of Clement Attlee after WWII.  Bevin was openly anti-Semitic.  When the British captured the Jews aboard the Exodus ship in 1948, he shipped them back to Germany, and said “I’ll teach those Jews a lesson.”

The Greek Orthodox Church has been implicated in promoting anti-Semitic incidents in Greece.  And the Irish Parliament is expressing its anti-Semitism thru their boycott of Israeli goods from the Jewish heartland of Judea and Samaria (no other country has been boycotted).

I recently saw an article that suggested that the only way to wipe-out anti-Semitism is thru education.  I find that unfortunately amusing.  No true anti-Semite will be bothered by facts or education, its in their skin, in their culture, in their bones.   It’s a never-ending struggle.  I see the only solution for Jews is to move to Israel and give up the fight against them in the diaspora.  Let them chase the shadows of the Jews who are no longer there, the ghosts they created and those of us who made the move.  At least we have an army to protect us here.  Meanwhile, Israel is making friends around the world, including recently Chad and Brazil.

El Helicoide

El Helicoide is the name for an unusual helical construction that stands atop a hill in the center of Caracas, Venezuela.  It was considered to be a very modern concept at the time it was built in 1961, under the dictatorship of Pres. Jimenez.  It was intended to be a large modern shopping and entertainment center, but with the fall of the Jimenez Government and the eventual take-over of Venezuela by the socialist Govt. of Hugo Chavez, it was turned into a shelter for the increasing number of homeless people and eventually was largely trashed.

Under Pres Maduro who replaced Chavez, at first two floors, then most of the structure were taken over by the Venezuelan Secret Police (that always accompany a socialist state to remove “enemies of the people”) known as Sebin.  They simply converted former offices and stores into jail cells, and crowded them with people arrested on the street for demonstrating.  According to a recent BBC documentary, in some small rooms there were up to 100 people, given only a mattress, no water and no toilet facilities.  Many have died in there from neglect and beatings. There was systematic torture, still going on, during which completely innocent people were forced to confess to crimes, without any due process or legal system.  Some people managed to survive for 2 years in there and were released due to outside interference from foreign judicial pressure and the UN.

The irony of this striking helical architectural structure spiraling down into a prison and torture center is not missed.  As the Maduro dictatorship also spirals down into total chaos, having turned a prosperous oil-producing state into a basket case, with one million percent inflation.  Having  destroyed the oil industry and caused 2-3 million Venezuelans to flee the country to neighboring countries, including Colombia.  There is no food, no medicine and no livelihoods.  Now, finally the US has transferred its support to the alternate President  Guaido and has called a meeting of the UN  Security Council and with the support of the EU and many European countries, they are considering what to do about Venezuela and how to get rid of Maduro.  But, he still has some supporters, such a Cuba and Russia, who else?  Let’s hope the Venezuelan people will soon be freed from this authoritarian communist mess.

Israel vs. Iran in Iraq

Following my last posting about Israel vs. Iran in Syria, I am referring to an article that appeared in The Jerusalem Post today entitled “Iraqi airspace is open to Israel to strike Iran” by Ceng Sagnic,  Head of the Kurdish Studies section of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies in Tel Aviv.

The author points out that Syria is becoming a more dangerous arena for the IAF to operate in against the Iranian build-up there.  Even though the Russian S-200 anti-aircraft system is inadequate, and even though the Syrians have not apparently activated the Russian S-300 system recently established in Syria, the Russians are becoming increasingly restive about Israeli “arbitrary” attacks in Syria.  Also, he points out that the US withdrawal from Eastern Syria, not only leaves the border area between Syria and Iraq open to Iranian territorial expansion, forming a land-bridge between Iran and Lebanon, but also this withdrawal signals to Israel that the US is leaving it to its fate in dealing with the expansion of Iran.  Even if one believes his statements, can Trump be trusted, on the basis of other evidence, to follow through on any commitments.

Sagnic points out that Israel would have a much easier time using the air-space above Iraq to interdict the use by Iran of this important “land-bridge”.  First of all the Russians are not in Iraq and there is no indication that they intend to expand their activities there.  Second, although a majority of Iraqis are Shia Muslims, and there are significant Shia militias operating in Iraq essentially as proxies of Iran, the Iraqi Government is basically unable to deal with them, they in effect control the Iraqi Government.  If a significant blow were dealt to them this would not only free the Iraqi Government from Iranian influence, but would be supported by the large minority of Sunni Muslims in Iraq.

Most significantly, US Secty. of State Mike Pompeo said when he was recently in Iraq, that the US would take no action against Israel if it chose to carry out airstrikes on Iranian targets in Iraq.  Since the US is the only country that has air power in Iraq, this is an important signal for Israel that the skies above Iraq are free for them to take action against Iranian  facilities without fear of being counter attacked.  So this may be a future direction of the shadow war that is going on between Israel and Iran while it tries to build up sufficient forces near the Israeli-Syrian border to attack Israel..

Israel vs. Iran in Syria

Only days after the inauguration of the new IDF Chief-of Staff Aviv Kochavi, the IAF launched unprecedented daylight air raids against Iranian military targets in Syria.  In strikes near Damascus airport several ammunition/missile depots were destroyed with a reported toll of 14 dead. The trigger for this attack might have been the visit of a senior general from Iran.  In retaliation, a Syrian missile was fired at the ski slopes of Mount Hermon, where there were ca. 1,000 vacationers.  But, the missile was intercepted and destroyed by the Israeli Iron Dome anti-missile system.

Israel retaliated, but reported that the missile was fired from an area where it had been informed that there were no Iranian facilities.  They did not name who had informed them of that, but presumably this was the Russians, who have been informed in advance by the IDF of every aerial attack, in order to avoid clashes with Russian planes.  This has especially been true since a Russian air transport place was downed by Syrian anti-aircraft fire last month, that was intended to counter an Israeli attack.  It is understood that Pres. Putin has reluctantly agreed to continue to “allow” Israeli countermeasures  against Iranian military buildup in Syria that would directly threaten Israel’s security.  However, this must annoy his ally Assad in Syria, and also their ally Iran, that is supplying Assad with weapons and direct military support by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).  Yesterday the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a warning to Israel to “stop arbitrary attacks” in Syria.

How the situation will evolve in Syria is unknown, but there are four constants: 1. Russia will continue to act as the main power in Syria, supporting the Assad regime that gives it carte blanche in holding air and naval bases there; 2. The Iranians will continue to try to build up their military forces in Syria with the stated intention of attacking and destroying Israel; 3. Israel will consider its existence at stake and will continue to attack and destroy Iranian military facilities in Syria; 4. The Turks will try in any way to destroy the Kurdish-controlled enclave Rojava in northeastern Syria.   What is unknown is how the US intends to support its allies the Kurds and protect them against the Turks, or how far the Russians will go in allowing Israel to act against Iran.  Yesterday also, the Syrian envoy to the UN threatened that in retaliation for attacks at Damascus airport they will attack Ben Gurion Airport.  If they did, that might mean war.


Roger and Ronnie

Everyone has heard of Roger Federer, the Swiss tennis player who has dominated tennis for the past 15 years.  He has won more Grand Slams (the four major tennis tournaments, Australia, France, Wimbledon and the US Open) than anyone else and at the age of 37, very advanced for a tennis player, he is still a force to be reckoned with. Federer has won a record eight Wimbledon titles, a joint-record six Australian Open titles, a record five consecutive US Open titles, and one French Open title.  Federer has reached a record 30 men’s singles Grand Slam finals, including 10 in a row from the 2005 Wimbledon to the 2007 US Open.

Not as many people have heard of Ronnie O’Sullivan, who is Roger’s equivalent in the less popular sport of snooker.  Likewise, Ronnie has won more major tournaments than anyone else, and has dominated the sport for the past 20 or so years, and he is 43 years old.  Although this is old for a snooker player, nevertheless they last longer than tennis players, because they don’t need to be so athletic.  But, the best snooker players take exercise very seriously, because the matches can last for days with actual plying time of 5 or more hours, requiring great stamina.  Since turning professional in 1992, Ronnie has won five World Championships, a record seven Masters titles, and a record seven UK Championships, setting a record total of 19 titles in the top three tournaments.

I personally have greatly enjoyed watching R & R play their respective sports for many years, they are the Rolls Royce of sport.  One of the reasons I decided to write this paean to these superlative players is that surprisingly both of them were beaten within days of each other.  Roger was defeated today in the fourth round of the Australian Open, by the young (20) Greek player Stefanos Tsitsipas.  And Ronnie was defeated 10-4 by Judd Trump (no relative) in the final of the London Master’s tournament yesterday.

These recent defeats by no means indicate that the careers of these two icons are over.  But, the win by Tsitsipas can be considered a move by one of the new young breed of players making their move to take over.  Judd Trump is himself considered to be a younger version of Ronnie, having won several tournaments and is a brilliant natural player.  Like Ronnie he spends less time between shots because he seems to instinctively know what ball to strike next.  Both, of them have colleagues who have challenged and beaten the two masters, in tennis there are Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal (unfortunately Andy Murray must retire due to injury), and in snooker there are Mark Selby (currently no 1), John Higgins and Mark Williams.  Long may the two R’s continue to win and delight us.