Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Team Israel bears watching in Classic qualifiers -

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Letters: Israel, Iran, America and the bomb - Los Angeles Times

Re "Israel presses U.S. on Iran," Sept. 17

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu needs to be asked: If Iran had a nuclear bomb, what would it do with it? What could it do?

Nuclear-armed missiles or planes in Israel and the U.S. are ready to turn Iran to ashes if there's a provocation. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the ayatollahs know this. As crazy as many think them to be, they are not suicidal.

Think like an Iranian for a moment. The country is surrounded by nuclear nations: China, India, Pakistan, Russia and Israel. Iran is nervous. If it had a nuclear a deterrent, Iranians would feel less anxious and regional stability would be enhanced.

Don Bustany

Studio City

Why is there is no urgency for the U.S. to set a "red line" for Tehran over its nuclear program? As Netanyahu notes, John F. Kennedy took decisive action in 1962 with the Soviet Union during the Cuban missile crises. Then, the U.S. was threatened with Soviet missiles on launch pads 90 or so miles from the United States.

Iran is thousands of miles away from the U.S. It has neither the bomb nor the missiles to deliver nuclear warheads thousands of miles to the U.S. India and Pakistan have nuclear bombs with no threatening delivery systems as well.

This is why there is no urgency for the U.S. to set red lines for Iran, India or Pakistan, no matter now belligerent they are.

Rogelio Peña



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Israel army in snap exercise to simulate war scenario - Reuters

Wed Sep 19, 2012 7:58am EDT

* Reservists summoned to duty after Jewish holiday

* Israel Radio: drill simulates sudden outbreak of war

By Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM, Sept 19 (Reuters) - Israel's military launched a surprise large-scale exercise on Wednesday on the occupied Golan Heights, testing its battle readiness amid tensions over Iran's nuclear drive and civil war in Syria.

A military spokeswoman, appearing to play down any speculation the drill heralded imminent hostilities with Iran or Syria, said it was part of a routine training schedule. A similar snap exercise was held around this time a year ago.

Israel has urged world powers to set a red line for Tehran's nuclear programme, saying time was running out to stop what it sees as its quest for atomic arms and raising international concern it could launch a go-it-alone strike against Iran.

In the early hours of the morning, reservists were summoned from their homes by telephone after the end of the two-day Jewish New Year's holiday and told to report for duty.

Along with units of conscript soldiers, the troops were to be flown by helicopter from central Israel to the Golan Heights bordering Syria for a live-fire exercise, due to end later in the day and overseen by the chief artillery officer.

Israel Radio said the drill simulated a sudden outbreak of hostilities on Golan Heights that would require swift troop deployment. The radio's military affairs correspondent, who is briefed regularly by senior officers, said the timing of the exercise was "not mere coincidence".

In a brief statement, the military said the exercise had been ordered by its chief of staff, Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz, "to examine the competence and preparedness of several units in the Israel Defence Forces".

The statement gave no troop figures, but Israel Radio said large contingents were involved. Military sources said an even bigger exercise, which was announced in advance, was held for several days along the border with Lebanon two weeks ago.

Iran denies it is seeking nuclear weapons. It has vowed to strike back against Israel, widely believed to be the only country in the Middle East with atomic arms, if it is attacked.

Israel fears such retaliation could include rocket salvoes from Iran's guerrilla allies in Lebanon and Gaza. It is also concerned rogue elements in Syria could seize chemical weapons and launch attacks on the Golan.

Israel captured the Golan Heights in a 1967 Middle East war and annexed the area, in a move that was not recognised internationally, in 1981.

Novel looks at Israel's untold stories, fringe characters - Reuters

TOKYO, Sept 19 | Wed Sep 19, 2012 4:19pm IST

TOKYO, Sept 19 (Reuters) - Yael, Avishag and Lea grow up together in a remote Israeli town, graduating to military service in the Israeli army, where they come of age amidst a mix of the routine and tension that comes from living with the constant possibility of danger.

"The People of Forever are Not Afraid," Shani Boianjiu's debut novel, is based partly on her own experiences in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), but the young author feels that it was leaving her native land to study abroad that ultimately freed her to write.

"I think this book could not have been written had I not lived someplace else besides Israel - I was in the U.S. for quite some time," Boianjiu, 25, said in a telephone interview.

"To me, it was just completely normal to assume that you could go about your regular day but then one day something might happen - missiles would start falling. I'd never even thought about it as something that wasn't normal."

A rapid transition from her own years of compulsory military service to university life in the United States left Boianjiu without time to reflect on her army experience, where she trained other soldiers in marksmanship - a situation that eventually led her to write the linked stories of the novel.

"I'm forever fascinated by the kind of story that hasn't been written yet," she said. "So I like finding fringe characters, immigrants, people that live in parts of Israel that are not so commonly portrayed."

Her three heroines gossip, fight boredom and try to maintain their friendship even as they come of age in the military, an environment that Boianjiu said came as a bit of a shock.

"It's surprising for a lot of women in high school who are used to competing with guys on a level field and when you're drafted all of a sudden the opportunities that you have are reduced drastically because you're a girl," she said.

"I guess I just wanted to show how people can be individuals while at the same time not being individuals so much in that environment."

Though setting the story in the armed forces means aspects of the overall regional political situation become an inevitable part of things, Boianjiu is adamant that her book should be looked at as a piece of writing first, not a statement on Israel or the Middle East.

In fact, she said she felt that Israel and its people bear a symbolic weight assigned them by the rest of the world - a situation that she felt turned people into representations of something other than people, and frustrating.

"One of the things I found interesting in the response from people is that every literary choice that I made was looked at in the light of, 'of course she chose this because it's representative of a land where blah blah blah'," she said.

"Whereas I made literary choices just the way every other writer does, because when I sat down to write the story that's the way I imagined events unfolding."

She hopes the real message of her book is universal.

"It's human experience, shared by a lot of women in the IDF, that I was trying to render," she said.

"Of course, there are some lines that have to deal with the situation in Israel because that's just part of our lives, but it's not the only message. I actually think... a lot of it has to do with the experience of being female, wherever you are." (Reporting by Elaine Lies, editing by Paul Casciato)

Israel army holds largest snap drill in years as tensions mount over Iran ... - Washington Post

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Giving Israel a new look at Hamas - Haaretz


Gilad Shalit returns to Israel, October 2011, after more than five years’ imprisonment by Hamas in Gaza. Photo by Reuters

Lehakir et Hamas ‏(Getting to Know Hamas‏)
by Shlomi Eldar. Keter ‏(Hebrew‏), 410 pages, NIS 98

“Hamas offers two alternatives: 1. A separate track, dealing only with the release of Gilad Shalit in return for 1,000 Palestinian political prisoners. 2. A release of prisoners will take place in the broader context of a strategic approach ‏(as follows‏), and the number of prisoners released will not be in the hundreds.”

That is an excerpt from an extraordinary document its authors called “Hamas and Israel: Peaceful Coexistence.” Its publication for the first time, in the fascinating book “Getting to Know Hamas” by Shlomi Eldar, the Gaza-affairs correspondent for Channel 10 News, is more than a journalistic coup. According to Eldar, the document âˆ' composed by Khaled Meshal, the political chief of Hamas, after Shalit was seized by Palestinian militants in a 2006 cross-border raid, and sent by messenger to then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert âˆ' represents the first
demonstration of strategic thinking on the part of Hamas: thinking that Israel does not recognize and does not want to get to know.

The detailed document, whose existence and transmission to the prime minister were denied completely by Olmert’s office at the time, constituted an offer by Hamas to conduct a multilevel dialogue with Israel, beginning with discussion about a cease-fire and the building of long-term trust, and ending with a coexistence agreement to last 25 years, and the establishment of a Palestinian state within 1967 borders.

The document does not mention recognition of Israel or a peace agreement per se. It does, however, stipulate not only a cease-fire ‏(“tahadiyeh” in Arabic, which literally means “lull” but has come to mean a “temporary truce”‏), but also cooperation on the civilian front, such as the opening of border crossings and a renewal by Israel of tax-money transfer to the Palestinians.

The coexistence document represents the high point of repeated attempts by Meshal to build a system of practical cooperation with Israel, an effort that began after Hamas was swept into power in general elections held at the beginning of 2006. Such attempts are confirmed in the book, both in documents cited by Eldar and in descriptions of talks Eldar had with Hamas leaders. And it is here that the profound importance of the book lies. Along with a series of tactical and strategic decisions made by Hamas during this period, Eldar acquaints us not only with that organization but also with Israel’s ideological, strategic outlook in its struggle against it.

Eldar does not fall into the common trap of portraying the official Hamas creed, which is likely to discourage anyone trying to conduct a political dialogue with it, as the ideological principles that actually guide the organization on a day-to-day basis. Eye-opening and important analyses of Hamas ideology have already been made by political scientists Shaul Mishal and Avraham Sela in their 2000 book, “The Palestinian Hamas: Vision, Violence, and Coexistence,” which portrays the inevitable mixture of ideology and political constraints with which the movement has to contend in order to survive and rule.

Power struggles

Eldar’s highly readable book, which may be read as a sequel to his 2005 “Eyeless in Gaza” ‏(in Hebrew‏), illuminates the group from the point of view of what it does, breaking down the concept of Hamas, which has become a synonym for Islamic terror in general and Palestinian terror in particular, into its component parts.

Like any other movement, whether military, political or both, Hamas is not exempt from internal power struggles. Eldar describes the decision-making process that took place before the Shalit kidnapping, making it clear the Hamas leadership in Damascus did not know about the plan to carry it out. It is doubtful whether the leadership of the Hamas organization in Gaza knew about it either, especially since Damascus was waiting for a response to the peaceful cooperation document that it had transmitted to Israel months before, and amended after the kidnapping.

The Shalit kidnapping was a premeditated action carried out by the Hamas military wing, led by Ahmed Jabari; the Popular Resistance Committee, headed by the Abu Samhadana family; and the Army of Islam, led by the Dormush family. Eldar describes it as an independent operation carried out despite the Hamas political leadership’s opposition. This and other eye-opening examples offer proof that the organization is rife with divisions.

The bloody war Hamas conducted in Gaza in 2008, two years after Shalit was seized, against the Army of Islam, and its pressure on the Popular Resistance Committee, offer additional proof of the nature of its struggle for exclusive control of Gaza, even as Israel continues to view all these organizations as one united front led by Hamas. Divisions continue to characterize the militant groups in Gaza today with regard to applying the reconciliation agreement between Hamas and Fatah achieved in February of this year, a year after the fall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

In this context, it is worth mentioning the upheaval sparked by Khaled Meshal himself; in the wake of the reconciliation agreement he announced that another chance should be given to negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. His statement contradicted the stance of Hamas leaders in Gaza, in particular that of Mahmoud Zahar, who viewed it as a betrayal of the resistance movement and spread the word that Meshal’s days as political chief were numbered.

Such divisions usually create extreme factionalism, for example as occurred within the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. In the case of Hamas, however, they have had a formative influence, the kind that tends to characterize governments of the more orderly variety rather than organizations that are just starting out. And these divisions also offer an opportunity for Israel to conduct negotiations with other organizations, or the more pragmatic elements within them, even though no one sought these opportunities.

Terrorist kingpins

Shlomi Eldar knows how to tell a story, and he is good at characterizing Hamas leaders known to Israelis mainly as terrorist kingpins. He is a welcome guest at the home of Ismail Haniyeh, speaks to Mahmoud Zahar and even managed to extract a few sentences straight from Meshal when they both visited Moscow. More than a profile of Hamas, the book offers lessons in managing such a movement and in the ignorance within Israel, even among the intelligence community, about the so-called enemy.

This lack of understanding may be rooted in Israel’s acceptance of Hamas activities before the first intifada broke out in 1987, when Israel believed that it was worthwhile to let a religious and social movement compete with Fatah, as a way of neutralizing the influence of then-Fatah leader Yasser Arafat in the occupied territories. The first intifada, and even more so the second one, made clear to Israel that the double front it had hoped to create between Hamas and Fatah and between Israel and Fatah was to all intents and purposes a single and more violent front, a consequence laid out in the 2004 book “The Seventh War: How We Won and Why We Lost the War with the Palestinians” ‏(in Hebrew‏), by Haaretz reporters Avi Issacharoff and Amos Harel.

Israel appears to have failed colossally in recognizing and comprehending the mood in the territories before the elections there in 2006, believing that Fatah would win. Both Israel and Fatah figured that Hamas would be forced to recognize Fatah’s leadership after losing at the polls. These predictions blew up in Israel’s face. Hamas won an overwhelming victory and Israel, in an automatic and destructive response, refused to officially recognize the government that was formed, despite the feelers sent out by Hamas regarding cooperation with Israel, at least on the civilian level if not the governmental one.

Will Hamas fall?

Two years after Hamas’ murderous takeover of Gaza in June 2007, Qassam rockets were still being fired on Israeli towns, even though in the intervening period the Israel Defense Forces assassinated top Hamas leaders like Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, Abdel Aziz Rantisi and Said Siam, and despite the inhumane blockade of Gaza and the restrictions on the amount and kind of food that Israel allowed Gazans to receive.

The Israeli ideology that rejects any negotiation with Hamas ‏(except for a dialogue meant to lead to a cease-fire or the release of prisoners‏) was still in force.

Then Israel planned the mother of all military campaigns âˆ' Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s incursion into Gaza in the winter of 2008-2009. According to Eldar, when Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who he writes favored “an air strike such as Hamas has never seen before,” and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who wanted to wipe out the entire Hamas leadership, were discussing the possibility of an incursion, Olmert wondered, “What will happen if Hamas does not ask for a cease-fire after the air strike?” “Let’s wait and see,” Barak answered.

“Will Hamas fall?” government ministers asked at a cabinet meeting on December 24, 2008. “They will beg us to stop,” Eldar says Barak promised them.
And so Cast Lead began, with the government using the rocket fire as an excuse, at a time when the future of the Labor Party was in question after Amir Peretz’s weak term as defense minister and talk of a slew of criminal lawsuits swirled around the prime minister. Did domestic Israeli politics determine the timing of the military operation that degraded Israel’s status around the world, contributed to a diplomatic crisis between Israel and Turkey, and achieved only a partial and temporary cease-fire? Eldar doesn’t leave any room to doubt that the answer is yes.

Operation Cast Lead has been examined from every possible angle, but the question of whether assassinating Hamas leaders ‏(who are described in Israel as part of the “infrastructure of terror”‏) has not been analyzed to the extent it deserves. The illusion that a movement structured like Hamas is running a mini-government that depends on only a handful of people, without whom it would not exist, is at the heart of the deceit nurtured by Israel. This assassination strategy has turned into an ideology, and it is passed down like a legacy from one government to another.

The clear language and colorful descriptions of “Getting to Know Hamas” only make Eldar’s book a more powerful indictment, one that should have a place at the center of the Israeli public sphere.

Zvi Bar’el is a commentator on Middle Eastern affairs for Haaretz.

Israel, Iran and the all-seeing eye of the Mossad - (blog)

It has been revealed that last month there was another covert attack on Iran's nuclear project, in which the power cables to the Fordow Enrichment Plant were blown up. As with all attacks of this sort, at least two purposes were served. Firstly, the development of nuclear weapons was disrupted; secondly, it was intended to have a damaging impact on Iranian morale.

The perpetrators of this operation remain unconfirmed, but the immediate suspects will naturally be the Mossad. This may be true, but in much of the Muslim world there is a perception of the Israeli military machine as having a superhumanly long grasp. Notwithstanding Israel's various inconclusive recent military operations, it maintains an almost mythological status. The legacy of Entebbe, Operation Wrath of God and the Six Day War lives on: the reputation of Israel’s military and secret services is so fearsome that it has been blamed for everything from the Breivik massacre in Norway to shark attacks in the Red Sea.

For its part, the Mossad has always seemed keen to perpetuate this reputation. Their attacks have always been as flamboyant and audacious as they are deadly. From the 1996 killing of the Hamas suicide bombmaker Yahya Ayyash, whose head was blown off by a booby-trapped mobile phone, to the assassination of the Hamas weapons smuggler in Dubai two years ago, for which operatives disguised themselves as tennis players (in Israel, tennis kit has become a standard fancy dress outfit), Mossad operations command the attention of the world. Even magnetic bombs on motorcycles have entered our cultural consciousness, and have sparked (failed) copycat attacks.

The Mossad, and people connected to it, seem intent on fostering an impression of omniscience. In March, for example, the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reported that the former Mossad head Meir Dagan â€" whose company, Gulliver Energy, had just been given permission to mine for Uranium in the Negev desert, by the way â€" gave a lecture at a Haifa hospital in which he asserted that the all-seeing eye of the Mossad "will know" when Iran moves to the stage of nuclear weapon production, and Israel will attack immediately.

The roots of this lie deep. As the novelist David Grossman has pointed out, Israelis are one of the only nations in the world to feel unsure whether they and their country will even exist in five years' time. This fundamental instability infuses the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) with a profound sense of purpose and urgency.

A couple of years ago, I attended a passing out ceremony at an army base just outside Jerusalem. The atmosphere was an odd blend of grim resolve and family-like solidarity. It was hot, and the dust rose in great swirls from the parade ground. There were the statuesque, imposing soldiers that one associates with the IDF; there were the bespectacled, tubby nerds; there were the girls who typed messages on pink mobile phones, their M-16s slung over their shoulders. That night, this varied platoon of conscripts marched with flaming torches up the mountain of Masada, where in 79 AD 960 Jews killed themselves rather than surrender to the Roman Empire. After a brief ceremony and a rendition of the national anthem, they raised their torches and shouted with one voice: Masada will never fall again!

If the Holocaust has taught Jews anything, it is that if someone threatens to wipe you out, it is best to take them seriously. The Iranian regime has openly declared its genocidal intentions towards Israel, and is more or less openly pursuing malign nuclear ambitions. From the Israeli perspective, as Douglas Murray has argued, it is only from the luxury of personal safety that so many foreign states can be unsupportive. If Israel does strike Iran pre-emptively and successfully neutralises the nuclear threat without sparking a disastrous chain of consequences, many observers may strike a condemnatory pose in public while feeling downright thankful in private.

The world is becoming more hostile, the stakes are being raised all the time, and the pressure on Israel is becoming acute. Even America is looking an uncertain ally. In this context, two basic narratives clash. The first views the Arab world as having always been intrinsically hateful of the Jews, and sees any attempt to placate them as naïve; the only way forward is for Israel to enforce her own strength, without relying on a combination of diplomacy and the protection of the United States. The second approach believes Arab attitudes to be changeable, and asserts that a more conciliatory attitude from Israel would produce similar gestures from her enemies. The growing spectre of a nuclear Iran is making these questions laden with the heaviest of consequences. When confronted with the opportunity to destroy the Iranian nuclear weapons programme â€" and a clock that is on countdown to zero â€" Israel will be forced to make a choice.

From one point of view, deciding whether to mount a pre-emptive strike on Iran is simple. A world with a nuclear Iran is clearly far more perilous than one without, even if the latter involves war. But war is never simple. Recent history has demonstrated the foolishness of ignoring the law of unintended consequences; once regional conflagration is sparked, there can be no predicting the global fallout. All of this puts Israel's military and intelligence services under more pressure than ever before. Failure is not an option; the slightest miscalculation could put the future of the planet in the balance. An ongoing campaign of sabotage will delay the moment of decision, but it cannot be put off indefinitely. This is the stuff of thrillers. One can only hope that if and when the Israelis make their move in the real world, the ending will, so far as possible, be a happy one.