“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.

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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.

 

 

Strikes on Syria

Planes of the US, UK and France carried out a concerted night attack on facilities and airfields in Damascus and Homs associated with the use of chemical weapons in Syria.  This is a far cry from the bankrupt policies of the wimp Obama, whose terrible mistake was declaring a red-line on the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime and then backing down.  He allowed Pres. Putin to put Russian forces into Syria in 2016 to supposedly do that job for him.  Yes, he trusted Putin! This not only led to increased use of chemical weapons (about 50 uses have been identified) as well as the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of people, but the continuation of the civil war and the resurgence of the Assad regime, with Russian and Iranian help.

While people criticized Trump’s attack on one airfield with cruise missiles in 2017, because the damage was quickly repaired.  This time the extent of the attack was more extensive.  However, the delay on one week from the attack on Douma, allowed Assad to move his arms and facilities into Russian controlled locations, knowing that Trump and his allies would avoid them.  Also, Douma has fallen to the Assad forces and the rebels there have been evacuated.  So the strike has a limited effect.

Assad and his supporters, including Putin, are on notice that further use of chemical weapons will result in further and more extensive strikes.  But, these will not change the course of the war.  In fact Assad, from a low of controlling only ca. 25% of Syrian territory, now with the defeat of IS and Russian and Iranian backing, has reclaimed up to ca. 60% of Syrian territory.  The US is definitely on the back-foot.  Not only are they careful to avoid a clash with Russia, but they are also standing by while a supposed ally, Erdogan of Turkey, is defeating and mopping up their only effective ally on the ground, namely the Syrian Kurds, in their enclave of Afrin in northern Syria.  The irony is that Erdogan is both anti-Assad and anti-Kurd.  How this will all work out, and how effective this strike will be in dissuading Assad not to use chemical weapons, remains to be seen. But, it really is too little too late.

 

Chemical weapons in Britain and Syria

Everyone believes the Russians.  If they say they had nothing to do with the Skripal poisoning, we believe them.  If they say they have nothing to do with the dropping of chemical weapons on Syrian civilians we believe them, of course.  But, the British say that only Russia, had the toxic nerve agent, the means and the reasons for trying to assassinate the Skripals.  And everybody else believes them, although the Russians deny it. Specifically the British agency concluded that the highest concentration of said agent was on the outside door knob of the Skripal’s house.

People are dying in Syria again from the use of chemical weapons that are against international law, and the Syrian Government of Pres. Assad says they had nothing to do with this, they don’t have chemical weapons and they didn’t use them.  And Russia vehemently denies that Assad could have used these weapons and blames some unnamed outside power for their use (Israel, the US?).

But, Pres. Trump has tweeted that the US will respond with missiles at some time in the future against Syria for the continued use of chemical weapons.  He did this once before, in 2017 he obliterated a Syrian airfield with 60 cruise missiles for a previous attack using chemical weapons, but obviously it didn’t deter the Syrians and their Russian allies, and the airfield was back in operation in a day.  So not much of a deterrent.

Pres. Putin must be feeling pretty smug, apart from the expulsion of a few Russian diplomats, he has warned that any attack on Syria that involves Russian facilities or personnel, will bring a swift Russian response.  The prospect of a US-Russian military clash over Syria could give even Pres. Trump pause.  The question is what can or will Trump do now, and will his main allies, the British and French support him.

There must be feverish planning in the Pentagon over what targets and facilities are legitimate and where there are no Russians.  There are at least three known potential chemical weapons plants in Syria.  Of course, Assad has moved all his planes and other movable weapons to Russian facilities in the expectation that they will be immune from any strike.  So the effect will be minimal.

Nevertheless, the feeling is that Putin has crossed a line, with the personal use of nerve agents in Britain, not for the first time, and the widespread use of chemical weapons by his ally in Syria, which could not occur without his approval, he has gone too far.  Trump has put his credibility on the line and something has to be done in Syria before Putin gets too ambitious and starts to expand Russia’s sphere of influence.  Most commentators expect a strike in the near future.  It may be surgical, it may avoid Russian facilities, but it must be bigger and better this time to deter Assad and his supporters

 

What’s in a Name?

OK, here’s a quiz: Is “Palestine” an Arabic name?  The answer is definitely NO!!!  The name Palestine comes from the Philistines who were a sea-faring tribe of Greek origin who settled along the coast of the Holy Land (Israel) in Biblical times and who no longer exist.  The Greeks called their area “Philistia” and the Romans called the area “Syria Palestina.”  In the Arab and Turkish empires, the area was simply part of Southern Syria and in fact the modern Syrians claimed it, as well as Lebanon and Jordan. The British after WWI Anglicized the name to Palestine, rather than give the area its original Judaic name, Israel.   The Arabs had nothing whatsoever to do with the origin of Palestine, the Arabs are not mentioned in the Bible and came, of course, from Arabia in the 7th century, conquering Jerusalem in 639 ce.  Also, there is no “P” sound in Arabic, so they call the area “Falastin,

Where does the name “Jew” come from?  It originates from the tribe of Judah that formed the southern Kingdom of Judah from 922 bce, that continued in existence after the northern Kingdom of Israel (containing 10 tribes) was destroyed by the Assyrians in 722 bce.  The Kingdom of Judah was then destroyed and exiled by the Babylonians in 586 bce.  The name Jew stuck to all descendants of these tribes, which eventually returned to the Land some 50 years later led by the Prophet Ezra.

So if you do a little calculation, the Jews had sovereignty in the Land of Israel some (922+639=) 1,561 years before the Arabs even arrived on the scene.  Furthermore, for them the Land of Israel was a minor province, it was never a separate Arab State with sovereignty, there was certainly never a Palestine State throughout history.  But, some good liberals don’t like historical arguments, especially those that stretch back as far as the Bible.  However, they are quite happy to use a historical argument when it suits them, when they say that the Palestinians (meaning the Arabs) were here before the Jews (that is the modern Jews).  So a historical argument is good for them, but unacceptable for the other side, even though it precedes their own historical viewpoint.

But, even beyond that, the Balfour Declaration of 1917 of the British Government, and the Mandate given to the British Govt. by the League of Nations (the predecessor of the UN) in 1922 to establish a Homeland for the Jewish people in Palestine, never mentions an Arab State in the same area.  The Arabs were given Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Arabia (eventually Saudi Arabia).  You’d think they would be satisfied with that (not to mention all of North Africa, Yemen etc.).  But, no, these Arab imperialists want everything.  Too bad, they can’t have what’s not theirs.

The Syrian Swamp

It is understandable that Pres. Trump, not known for his carefully considered opinions, said a few days ago that he wants US troops out of Syria, since they have now defeated IS.  But, others with more expertise might argue otherwise.  I am sure his new security adviser John Bolton would be shocked to have Trump do the same thing as Obama.  Tell the enemy that you are leaving soon and then do it.  That would be a another disaster.

Yes, Syria is a swamp, a veritable imbroglio, a total disaster.  At least ca. 600,000 Syrians have been killed and about 5 million people displaced during the vicious civil war over the past 8 years, during which the Assad regime, bolstered by Iran and Russia, has fought back against the insurgents and has gradually recaptured most of Syrian territory.  It’s pointless crying over spilt milk, but Obama basically left the field of battle to America’s enemies and they have taken advantage of the vacuum.  Whereas Obama wanted to get rid of Assad, and railed against his use of chemical weapons (remember his red line) he nevertheless did nothing effective to pursue this objective.  It would be weird if now Trump, who supposedly wants to make America great again and has a greatly enhanced military, made the same mistake.

Russia is an enemy of the US, but Russia’s defense budget is one tenth that of the US, and the Russian military is stretched thin, fighting in both Eastern Ukraine and Syria, as well as keeping his own people under control.  Also, Iran is a paper tiger, threatening to take over the Middle East, but capable of doing so only if there is no effective opposition.  It is in this respect that one must view yesterday’s attack on the T4 airfield in central Syria that destroyed armaments and killed some people, at least some Iranians among them.  Although Syria at first blamed the US for the raid, which denied it, now they have blamed Israel.  Israel has not officially commented, but is on record as not allowing the Iranians to establish a military foothold in Syria, a platform from which to attack Israel.

I would be very surprised it Bolton and ultimately Trump would not do something to both support Israel’s action and decided to keep US troops in the region to deter both Russia and Iran from benefiting from their support for Syria.  Syria itself is a shadow of its former self.  It poses no threat to Israel, but the Iranians do.  Where the Russians stand in this is unclear, they support Assad, but not necessarily Iran.  They also understand Israel’s determination to prevent Iran making Syria a platform for its strategy in the region.  The situation is fluid, many people have died, and probably many more will die before any kind of stability is restored.