Israel Fires on Syria, Second Day

The not-going-very-well situation in Syria is veering further off the once narrow road of hope.  Assad and his army is not giving in.  The opposition, having long ago given up massive non-violent struggle, is riven with separate claims and ideologies and only under threat of losing weapons support from the outside has it come up with a joint command and leader.  Turkey has already returned fire across its border and is staggering under the influx of refugees.  Now Israel, having been fired at in the annexed Golan Heights is joining the fray.  Why the current Syrian government would want to add another foe to its troubles isn’t immediately clear, though it would allow them to play the anti Jewish card to rally wavering supporters behind them.

Or why Israel would return non-lethal fire with its own direct hit on mobile artillery units, likely to be lethal to those in them, is open to question as well.  In the three dimensional chess game called war any number of things could be supposed, and known.  All manner of theories of human behavior taken as Torah Truth.  It is even possible that shooting into Syria is a proxy warning to Hamas which has recently fired into Israel from Gaza.

Whatever the reasons and emotions on all sides, the debris flow already in motion is picking up speed and mass.  It will likely spill across borders and engulf many more lives before it runs out of the blood and certainties that power it.

 Israeli tanks made a direct hit on Syrian artillery units on Monday, the army said, responding to mortar fire that fell near an army post in the Israeli-held Golan Heights.

It was the second consecutive day thatIsrael confronted fire along its border with Syria. On Sunday, a mortar shell crashed in from Syria, prompting Israel to respond with what its military described as “a warning shot” at a Syrian position across the frontier for the first time in 39 years.

NY Times

How Now Netanyahu?

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu got about as gob-smacked as his Republican allies with Obama’s decisive win.  Jodi Rudoren in the NY Times reports that Netanyahu rushes to repair damage with Obama

“Netanyahu backed the wrong horse,” Mitchell Barak, a pollster and strategist, said at a morning gathering of Americans watching the election results here. “Whoever is elected prime minister is going to have to handle the U.S.-Israel relationship, and we all know Netanyahu is not the right guy.”

Mr. Obama’s re-election seemed to embolden Ehud Olmert, the former prime minister who has spent the past few years battling corruption charges, making it more likely that he will forge a comeback that he hopes can unite and expand Israel’s center-left bloc.

“Given what Netanyahu had done these recent months, the question is: Does our prime minister still have a friend in the White House?” Mr. Olmert asked at a meeting with Jewish leaders in New York. “I am not certain of this, and this might be very significant to us at critical points.”

And this morning, Tom Friedman who, as always, has friends in high places, tells them the worst news:  You are on your own.

…the rising political force in America is not the one with which Bibi has aligned Israel. As the Israeli columnist Ari Shavit noted in the newspaper Haaretz last week: “In the past, both the Zionist movement and the Jewish state were careful to be identified with the progressive forces in the world. … But in recent decades more and more Israelis took to leaning on the reactionary forces in American society. It was convenient to lean on them. The evangelists didn’t ask difficult questions about the settlements, the Tea Party people didn’t say a word about excluding women and minorities or about Jewish settlers’ attacks and acts of vandalism against Palestinians and peace activists. The Republican Party’s white, religious, conservative wing was not agitated when the Israeli Supreme Court was attacked and the rule of law in Israel was trampled.” Israel, Shavit added, assumed that “under the patronage of a radical, rightist America we can conduct a radical, rightist policy without paying the price.” No more. Netanyahu can still get a standing ovation from the Israel lobby, but not at U.C.L.A.

and he ends with

…my best advice to Israelis is: Focus on your own election — on Jan. 22 — not ours. I find it very sad that in a country with so much human talent, the Israeli center and left still can’t agree on a national figure who could run against Netanyahu and his thuggish partner, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman — a man whose commitment to democracy is closer to Vladimir Putin’s than Thomas Jefferson’s. Don’t count on America to ride to the rescue. It has to start with you.

My president is busy.


Parents Circle — Bereaved Parents, Israeli and Palestinian

In reading a book titled “The Science of Evil,” trying to connect “interruption of the empathy circuits” with “evil”  [and which I can only recommend half heartedly] I came across a reference to The Parents Circle, an association of Palestinian and Israeli parents who have lost children in the long war between the two peoples, and who are determined to break through the fog of hate enveloping both.  There are a few such organizations which have brought young people from both nations to work together for summers in the U.S. and other such efforts.  This one is new to me and I thought worth passing on. – take a look, lend a hand, pass it on….

Netanyahu Plays the Fiddle, Romney Dances

Haaretz reported that “Romney apparently accepts instructions from Netanyahu” (are these the kinds of headlines we want to see about our President?):

Today it has become clear that the two are more than just friends. Romney apparently accepts instructions from Netanyahu who succeeded in getting him to cancel a scheduled and meticulously planned meeting with MK Shelly Yacimovich, the leader of the Labor party…

Herzog (Labor faction head Yitzhak (Buzi) Herzog) was dumbfounded to hear of the cancellation on two hours’ notice. He said that Romney was “intentionally misguided by political elements that were unsettled by the steady strengthening of Yacimovich and her transformation into the only alternative to the prime minister.” Circles close to Yacimovich said it clearly: “This is the crude hand of Netanyahu and his people against the background of the disagreement between him and Yacimovich over the economic measures his government is about to adopt.”

Netanyahu’s camp denies having any part in this, but the negotiations for this meeting were long in the making and were confirmed repeatedly today, up until the time Romney took his meeting with Netanyahu.

Is this American exceptionalism, Romney style? He criticizes Obama for “apologizing for America” – something President Obama has actually never done – implying that Obama is a weak person, and yet Obama as a young senator was able to meet with opposition Netanyahu on his visit to Israel. He didn’t let anyone else dictate his policy, let alone his meetings.

Fasting in Israeli Prisons

At long last Palestinian resistance to Israel has shown something beyond guns and bus bombings.  The venerable traditions of Gandhi, King and Chavez.  I am willing to suffer — that you may understand.


The newest heroes of the Palestinian cause are not burly young men hurling stones or wielding automatic weapons. They are gaunt adults, wrists in chains, starving themselves inside Israeli prisons.

Each day since April 17, scores of Palestinian prisoners have joined a hunger strike that officials say now counts more than 1,500 participants. And on Thursday, the Palestinian Authority’s minister of detainees said that if Israel did not yield to their demands for improved prison conditions, the remaining 3,200 would soon join in.

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News from Turkey

One of the most revealing things about traveling is to read the local news and begin to understand how world issues shift and local issues grow large in “foreign” eyes.  In Istanbul the Hurriyet Daily News is a good source.  Although they also have an on-line  presence, having the actual large format paper edition in my hands brings the perspective I am used to:  Large Top headline, photo beneath and several smaller but still significant headlines across the rest of the front page.

This morning the top headline was Avoid Confrontation, US tells Cyprus Parties

What concerns the US and Turkish and Greek officials is the recent announcement that Greek Cypriots are planning to drill for oil and gas on the northern part of the island.

Possible provocations include issuing more oil exploration and drilling licenses on Greek Cyprus’ part, which would deepen the country’s ties with Israel, and statements about the possible annexation of Turkish Cyprus by Turkey or a push for Turkish Cypriot independence on Turkey’s part.

There is of course a long, and unhappy history behind this, some of which is explored in the article.

A second front page piece has to do with Turkey and the Iraqi Kurds exploring common interests against the current Shia dominated Iraq government.

The leader of Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq Masoud Barzani is set to visit Turkey this week on the heels of a U.S. trip for critical discussions on terrorism and ongoing tension with the Shiite-led government in Baghdad, according to a Turkish official.

About which more is revealed inside on page 4 (so far no ads to clutter up the news.)

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman begins a three-day visit to Greek Cyprus to discuss energy issues with senior officials, his office said on April 15.

He will meet Greek Cypriot President Demetris Christofias and Greek Cypriot Foreign Minister Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis today, Anatolia news agency reported. Among the issues on the table will be “promoting a plan to form a regional emergency aid force,” it said, Agence France-Presse reported.

And, in more local matters, a life sentence is handed down for an “honor killing,” by a young presumably Christian Armenian-Turk of his sister and her Muslim husband.


All news that would barely budge the notice-bell in the US.

Gunter Grass at 84 Stirs a War of Words

Germany has sold to Israel over some years, and with partial funding from its own treasury, 6 Dolphin Class submarines.

The Dolphins are quiet diesel-electric attack submarines that evolved from Germany’s famous and ubiquitous U209 Class. They can fire torpedoes and missiles from their 533mm torpedo tubes, perform underwater surveillance, and even launch combat swimmers via a wet and dry compartment.

The contract for the 6th was reported signed in February, 2012.  Not only can they fire torpedoes but, slightly refitted, missiles can be launched, including, sad-to-say

It is also rumored that Israel has tested a nuclear-capable version of its medium-range “Popeye Turbo” cruise missile design for deployability from the 650mm torpedo tubes in its Dolphin Class submarines. The 2002 Popeye Turbo launch test location off Sri Lanka suggested that the tests may have been performed in cooperation with India.

Defense Industry Daily

On Wednesday, April 4, Gunter Grass, the most famous living German writer, best known for his 1959 Tin-Drum and the 1990 Nobel Prize for Literature, published a 66 line poem entitled “What   Must Be Said.”

Why have I kept silent, held back so long,

on something openly practiced in

war games, at the end of which those of us

who survive will at best be footnotes? [more...]


Sparked, he says, by the sale of that submarine, he upside-downs the fear that has gripped the EuroMericans for the last year, that Iran will develop and then drop an atomic bomb and destroy millions.  In Grass’ imagination, it is the Israelis whose bombs  should be feared;  deny it or not, they almost certainly have atomic weapons, and not just a few.

The poem — which is certainly kludgy in an English translation by the very good translator, Breon Mitchell — might have been better as an essay, or opinion piece.  So it’s interesting that a mere poem has whipped the furies in Israel and among its supporters.  Not a literary judgment of course, but a political response to one more toe over the line which declares no criticism of Israel is to be tolerated, even if from friends — much less from someone who has already showed his skepticism towards Israeli behavior.

In an interview with Spiegel Online in 2001, he described the “appropriation” of Palestinian territory by Israeli settlers as a “criminal activity”, adding: “That not only needs to be stopped – it also needs to be reversed.”

Good commentary on the poem and Grass in The Guardian, UK, 

When the shouting dies away to whispers it will still be known by many who did not know before that Israel has 6 submarines, nuclear weapons, and the delivery system to make them lethal.  Iran’s submarine force of some 20, including 3 fast, quiet Kilo class diesels from Russia capable of firing torpedoes and missiles, is based in the Persian Gulf, without so far as is known, nuclear bombs, or missiles configured to use one — which isn’t to say they are not lethal.  Iranian submarines and US Carriers in the same small waters are accidents waiting to happen.

It seems to me big people with big mouths ought to practice walking away from fights rather than using a poem to start one, especially since the most worrisome thing to Israel ought to be that the poem is a clear indicator of shifting perceptions around the world.  No more favored nation in the hearts and minds of many, but another war-dog we should all keep a wary eye on.


Israel: Hawks Pressing their Case

The NY Times runs down the players in the increasingly loud ratchet up to a third US war in the Middle East:

With Israeli leaders warning of an existential threat from Iran and openly discussing the possibility of attacking its nuclear facilities, pro-Israel groups on all sides have mobilized to make their views known to the Obama administration and to Congress. But it is the most hawkish voices, like the Emergency Committee’s, that have dominated the debate, and, in the view of some critics, pushed the United States closer to taking military action against Iran and another war in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, US Generals, following on a classified war game, are not happy about the loose talk:

A classified war simulation exercise held this month to assess the American military’s capabilities to respond to an Israeli attack on Iran forecast that the strike would lead to a wider regional war, which could draw in the United States and leave hundreds of Americans dead, according to American officials.

When the exercise had concluded earlier this month, according to the officials, General Mattis [who commands all American forces in the Middle East, Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia, ] told aides that an Israeli first-strike would likely have dire consequences across the region and for United States forces there.

Peter Beinhart, in an Opinion piece headlines To Save Israel, Boycott the Settlements argues that to preserve a two-state solution, which Israel is in the process of making a mockery of, and which he claims  a new Palestine initiative called Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (B.D.S.) could could also destroy:

…we should call the West Bank “nondemocratic Israel.” The phrase suggests that there are today two Israels: a flawed but genuine democracy within the green line and an ethnically-based nondemocracy beyond it. It counters efforts by Israel’s leaders to use the legitimacy of democratic Israel to legitimize the occupation and by Israel’s adversaries to use the illegitimacy of the occupation to delegitimize democratic Israel.

Terror Attack against Israelis in India Work of Iran? Not So Fast

Juan Cole bring his informed opinion to bear on today’ headline story about car-bomb attacks against Israeli diplomats in India and Georgia.  The morning news showed Benjamin Netanyahu stating with certainty the hand of Iran was responsible, and that vengeance would be forthcoming.

Cole says:

Indian Investigators do not Suspect Iran in Israel Embassy Blast

there is no evidence for this cynical allegation, which makes no sense. India is Iran’s economic lifeline, and Tehran would not likely risk such an operation at this time.

India gets 12% of its oil from Iran and sees an $8 billion annual export opportunity in filling the trade vacuum left by unilateral US and European boycotts of Iran. Contrary to a bad Reuters article, Indian officials denied Tuesday that the bombing would affect trade ties. (Logical because no evidence points to Iran.)

Indian investigators are first rate. Based on the modus operandi, their initial thesis is that the attack was the work of the “Indian Mujahidin” group. It had used a similar remote controlled sticky bomb, placed by a motorcyclist, in an attack on Taiwanese tourists outside the Jama Masjid cathedral mosque in 2010. IM is a Sunni group, not connected to Iran, and doesn’t like Shiite Muslims (Iranians are Shiites). IM like other Sunni radicals support the Palestinians and they are unhappy with increasingly close ties between India and Israel.

American media that just parrot notorious thug, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman in this unlikely allegation are allowing themselves to be used for propaganda. Why not interview Indian authorities on this matter? They are on the ground and have excellent forensic (“CSI”) abilities. Stop being so lazy and blinkered; that isn’t journalism.

The Kite — Over the Lebanese-Israeli Border — a Film

Many years ago I translated The Manuscript of a Crow, a short story by Spanish author Max Aub, the protagonist of which was a crow relating its observations of human beings as he saw them in their concentration camps.  He was astounded that a man could go to sleep a Pole and wake up a German and then, not too much later go out shopping and come back to find himself a Russian.  Human history never stops spinning its wheels in the same ruts and so a similar story is found in Randa Chahal Sabbag‘s wonder of a film, The Kite.  Released in 2003 it apparently never made the round of US art houses, and too bad for all of us.

Set on the Lebanese-Israeli border where the barbed wire and watch towers divide two Druze villages, the story is of  Lamia [ Flavia Bechara]the most charming 15 year old girl you’re likely to have seen in recent movie time. She is sent off to marry her cousin Samy [Edmond Haddad] on the Israeli side because well, the men have decided so.  The opening scenes have her flying kites with her sweet and much loved younger brother, right along the border.  Her wing-like, white kite gets away from her and lodges up against a barbed wire fence.  She sets off to get it, to the screaming fear of the kids, and a handsome Druze guard: she is walking across a mine field.

Because of the separation of the two villages, families, cousins, sisters, the negotiation for her marriage takes place between the two gates, via bullhorns, womaned by the most raucous women you’ve likely ever heard, abaya clad or not.  She’s ready for marriage yells her mother, “She started menstruating two years ago!”  When it’s suggested the new husband isn’t man enough for the girl — “beautiful from the tips of her toes to the ends of her fingers”– his mother yells back that he is such a stud he mounted a nanny goat when he was only seven!

Lamia wants nothing to do with the arrangement.  The two families swap videos of the intendeds.  She is not impressed; his not much more so.  But, what does a 15 year old girl have to say in a rural Arab village?  Not much.  After the wedding festivities on her side of the border, off she goes, fully gowned, alone, along the dusty “crossing” through the no-man’s-land to meet her new family.

It does not go well.  And, she has caught a glimpse of the handsome guard catching a glimpse of her catching a glimpse of him.  Nice dream sequences follow.  More hollering back and forth across the divide, as Lamia proves impossible.  Her rather sweet groom doesn’t insist, and returns her insults rather more sadly than she hands them out.  ”I only wanted to help you.  You can go back.”  She being the stubborn girl she is — wait till you meet her mother!– says she doesn’t want to go back.  She wants to stay here!  Eventually she is returned  and the film uses the opening white kite to pull us into a marvelous magical-realism ending in which love and transcendence and erotic longing suggest, at least in the imagination, the only way to dissolve the wounds of politics, armies and ancient hatreds.

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