Well, I had a third computer crash in 14 months. Not a pleasant experience. But, this time, I had everything backed up and am able to transfer the info to another machine. Someone suggested that I was “targeted”. That is possible, but I would not want to think along those lines. The absence of a computer makes writing The Week That Was a bit more difficult, as my fingers often hit more than one key on this iPad and words gets jumbled. Still, I’m getting used to it, at least until I can manage to get a new computer. Oy, such problems!
I also had a follow-up visit today with the surgeon who gave me two new hips. He said my x-rays came out the way he likes to see them. I was encouraged. But, he said I need intensive physiotherapy to increase the flexibility and range of motion of my left leg. Something to pray about.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had his own problems this week, as he continued his efforts to form a coalition government. There was internal and international inquiries into the suspicious death of a Jewish prisoner in Israel, who held dual citizenship. The “window” for the “peace process” is said to be closing. North Korea and Iran friendship is an Israeli concern. And, among other things, the Pope announced his resignation. As usual, it’s been an interesting week.
Coalition politics get into gear, but don’t move.
There were lots of meetings and discussions last week, but no party has, as yet, agreed to join a coalition government headed up Netanyahu’s Likud-Israel Beiteinu party. While many believe that Yair Lapid is the fish to catch, in reality, Naftali Bennett is the one that both secular and religious factions are trying to woo.
Netanyahu (BN) met with Bennett (NB) this week, but the latter, the chairman of HaBayit Hayehudi party, doesn’t trust BN and turned down his offer of the position of Education Minister – a respected, senior position in the government that has not been held by a National Religious party member for the past 15 years. This caused Bennett to have to deal with 3 separate fronts this week, one vis-a-vis Netanyahu and the offer to join the coalition, one vis-a-vis Yair Lapid (Chairman of the Yesh Atid [There is a Future] party), who was concerned that Bennett would break the relationship between the two parties and join the coalition, and finally, vis-a-vis members of his own party, who wanted a credible answer why he turned down the offer for the Education Ministry.
U.S. and Jordan: The window is closing on the “peace process”.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh said on Wednesday that although both countries were committed to trying to end the Middle East crisis, nevertheless, the “window was closing” on the peace process. Kerry added: “The window is closing on this possibility, the region knows it, all the leaders that I’ve talked to in the region that brought this topic up. [It] is a prime topic and so it deserves our utmost consideration, and it will get it…It would be a huge mistake, almost an arrogant step, to suddenly be announcing this and that without listening first, so that’s what I intend to do, that’s what the president intends to do [when he visits here next month], but we are committed, as I’ve said to Minister Judeh and to others, to explore every possibility.”
F.M. Judah also stated: “There is agreement between us and the U.S. that the window is closing and we have to move fast, and we have to work together, and that this remains a priority of paramount importance to all of us. Peace in the Middle East, I’ve said before in this room, is peace of mind for the rest of the world. This is just not a local or regional conflict. This is a global conflict, with global ramifications, and it remains a core central issue.”
Given these clear statements, it is also clear that as much as the U.S. will attempt to play it down, the reality of the situation is that President Obama will come with an agenda, and accompanying pressure, to push Israel into making more gestures and painful compromises towards the “Palestinians”. The “Palestinians” have their own agenda and were not swayed by threats from the U.S. or from Israel following their successful, unilateral bid to upgrade their status at the U.N. So, the likelihood is that they will not be willing to budge in their demands, leaving the ball in Israel’s court for the success or failure of Obama’s intended push to end the Middle East conflict. If Obama fails, we’ll be blamed for it. If Netanyahu caves in to U.S. pressure and Obama succeeds, we’ll end up suffering for it. Better to be blamed – it hurts less.
Before leaving this “window-closing” episode, I should note that the growing realization in Israel that there is a very small likelihood of reaching a full and complete “final status” agreement with then”Palestinians”. Israel is not alone in this perception. There is also a recognition that if, in the unlikely event that a “settlement agreement” could be reached that would end the conflict, such an agreement would not hold. This reality doesn’t seem to phase European states, who are looking to put pressure on the U.S. to put pressure on Israel and to lay out the parameters of a final settlement to both sides, including a withdrawal to then1967 cease-fire lines.
Putting these “realities” together, Israel will be expected to make concessions in order to restart the “peace process”, a process which Israel does not expect will bring about a conclusion to the conflict. Hey, what is the other side going to give up? Looking at what it has given up in the past, the conclusion is that it will not give up anything, or give up on anything. Pressure applied on Israel will harden the position of our enemies. So, why should we agree to concede anything?
So, what options does Israel have? It could say that given the political upheavals and changes in our neighboring countries, this is not the time to restart political initiatives to resuscitate a dying, if not dead, peace process. Or, it could simply agree and cowtow to the European and American pressures and make more territorial and political concessions, which would constitute irresponsible behavior by our leaders and place the country in an extremely vulnerable position. Or, it could be wise and try to buy time, by agreeing to explore various possibilities, as long as the same does not affect our vital, security interests. If you have another, viable option that should be considered, please let me know.
Prisoner “X” – a true spy mystery
Many of us like a good mystery or a good spy novel, where the “good guy” wins and the “bad guy” loses, where intrigue is interwoven between fact and fiction, where we try to put the hints and clues together, but often miss or overlook simple statements that shine a light on the darkness of the plot and, of course, where the story has a good, but surprise, ending. But, what happens when the story takes an unexpected twist and, after the “good guy” accomplishes his mission, he becomes a “bad guy”? What happens when the story seems to be over, but there are more unanswered, than answered, questions. This is the situation with the “spy” story that filled Israeli headlines all week, along with the headlines of Australia and much of the international media.
The episode concerns Ben Zygier, an Australian citizen, who made Aliyah (immigrated to Israel) and was recruited by the Mossad, Israel’s security intelligence agency. The when, the where and the how he was recruited are not relevant for our discussion. Some may remember that in early 2010, a senior Hamas figure, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, was assassinated in Dubai, by persons using Israeli-counterfeited, Australian passports. The Australian Foreign Affairs department was reported to be “furious” with Israel over the “passport fraud” involved in the Mabhouh affair and the then Australian Foreign Affairs Minister summoned Israel’s ambassador to reprimand him. As a result, Australia expelled a member of Israel’s embassy, in retaliation.
A little over a week later, the Australian government was informed through intelligence channels that the Israeli authorities had arrested a dual Australian-Israeli citizen, in relation to serious offenses under Israeli national security legislation. It was rumored that Zygier was planning to pass information about Israeli espionage activity to the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) or to local media.
Zygier made four trips back to Australia in 2010, during one of which he applied for a visa to Italy. According to Australia’s ABC, he was arrested by Israel when it was believed that he gave, or was about to give, the ASIO inside information about Mossad operations, including an upcoming operation in Italy. But, he never got the chance to “blow the whistle”. After his arrest, he was placed in solitary confinement, in a “suicide-proof cell”, where he was also under constant surveillance. The Australian government sought ”specific assurances” from Israel that Zygier’s legal rights would be respected, that he would have legal representation of his choice, that his family would be informed of his detention and that he would not be mistreated. In December, 2010, Zygier committed suicide. His body was shipped to Australia, where he was buried.
While there was information passed between Israel and Australia, neither country made a big issue out of Zygier’s death, as both appeared to want the matter to pass quietly and, in a sense, die with him. And so it remained, until the media began to dig into the story and made it an international cause célèbre, particularly by those who wanted to smear Israel’s reputation and accuse it of everything illegal under the sun.
The issue brought to light questions concerning activities of secret service agencies, with allegations of cloak and dagger operations, torture and even suggestions that Zygier did not commit suicide, but was murdered. During the course of accusations leveled against Israel and the Mossad, what was already known became obvious, namely, that the sacred cows of secret service organizations around the world often graze in fields of deception, falsehood and cover-up.
Zygier was given a fictitious name, with his consent and the approval of his family – “Prisoner X”, so that his imprisonment would not be made known to others, even to his jailers. But, this was with his consent and, presumably, it was also to protect the members if his family, who knew about his arrest and imprisonment, as well as to protect the lives of other agents. His trial took place behind closed doors, but that was for reasons of national security. The Rule of Law applied throughout the course of all of his legal proceedings, which were conducted before senior judges. He was represented by three lawyers and a fourth, of national prominence and reputation, visited with him shortly before his suicide to discuss the ramifications of a possible plea bargain. He was allowed access to his family. In short, he was not denied what has been referred to as due process”. That is because Israel is a democratic country and even if one is accused of the most severe offense, he will still be granted his rights like any other citizen.
The affair created negative ripples against Israel in countries around the world. But, it also raises the question of how far can the media go, and how much should the public be allowed to know, concerning the activities of secret service organizations, particularly Israel’s Mossad?
After almost a week of media reports in Israel and elsewhere, P.M. Netanyahu, for the firsr time publicly, addressed the issue of the Zygier affair, stating: “I completely trust the State of Israel’s security forces. They work devotedly and with the utmost commitment to ensure that we are able to live in this country. I also completely trust the State of Israel’s judicial authorities [who have concluded after a lengthy investigation that Zygier did, in fact, commit suicide]. Israel’s security forces and intelligence agencies operate under the full supervision of judicial authorities which are completely independent. Amid the balance between guarding our security and obeying the law, we also preserve freedom of expression, but overexposure of security and intelligence operations can do harm, sometimes even great harm, to national security. Thus, in every discussion of the matter, one should not take security interests lightly, and in the reality in which the State of Israel exists this must be a central concern. We are not like other counties. We are an exemplary democratic country that safeguards the rights of suspects as well as individual rights, no less than any other country. But we are also more threatened, more challenged, and so we have to safeguard the proper functioning of our security forces. Therefore, I am asking everyone to let the security forces do their work quietly, so that we can continue to live securely in Israel”.
That is the story of “Prisoner X”. We know some of the facts, but a lot of questions remain unanswered: Of what crime was he accused? Why was he confined to severe isolation? Given that he was under 24-hour surveillance, how could he commit suicide? Why was the case kept from the Israeli public, when it was reported in Australia two years earlier? We are left with a spy mystery that has an unresolved ending. Maybe the story is not fully over yet.
Iranian military leader killed in Syria – Iran vows revenge (on Israel)
A couple of weeks ago, a convoy reportedly carrying chemical weapons from Syria to Lebanon was stopped in its tracks. The shipment never made it to its destination and those accompanying it were either killed or wounded. Israel was accused of carrying out the attack, but Syria claimed that a nearby factory was hit and not a convoy.
Be that as it may, one of the people said to have been killed as a result of the attack was General Hasan Shateri, a senior commander of Iran’s powerful, Revolutionary Guards, who was in charge of reconstruction projects in southern Lebanon. The exact details relating to Shateri’s death were not clear, such as on which side of the Syrian-Lebanese border he was killed. However, true to form, an Iranian office in Damascus said that it was inside Syria, which, of course, leads to the question why he was there, if he has specific “reconstruction projects” to deal with in Lebanon. The Iranian official in Damascus said that he was on a “work visit”, but no further information was forthcoming and we can only imagine what kind of “work” he was involved with in Syria. One Iranian clergyman was quoted as comparing Shateri to Imad Mugniyeh, the former chief of intelligence for the Hizb’allah, who was killed in a car bombing in Damascus in 2008.
A spokesman for the Revolutionary Guards was quoted as saying that the”mercenaries and supporters” of Israel were responsible for Shateri’s death. That is a sufficiently ambiguous statement for it to be unclear whether the accusation was directed against Israel only, or whether it was intended to include the rebel forces fighting against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Not every accusation requires a response and this time, Israel wisely decided not to comment, particularly since there is absolutely no proof that Israel has any ties to Syria’s rebels. Even though all of the rebel groups are quite outspoken in expressing their antagonism against Iran because of its support for Assad’s regime, none of those groups admitted being responsible for the killing.
The death of Shateri reveals a more problematic issue, namely: Iran’s presence in two countries bordering Israel, Syria and Lebanon, and its political and military support for the Hizb’allah, the terrorist, Shiite movement that is Iran’s proxy in Lebanon. Both Syria and the Hizb’allah are essential for Iran’s strategy in the Middle East and Syria serves as a bridge to the Hizb’allah, which is an important foothold for the Revolutionary Guards. A similar account of the incident was reported in Lebanon, but the name was different. The dead man was identified as Houssam Khosh Nweis, who was said to be the director of the Iranian Council for Reconstruction in Lebanon, who had lived there since the end of the Second Lebanese War with Israel in 2006. Although the name difference was not immediately reconciled, still, Iranian officials in Lebanon often work under different names, so that the presence of Iranians in Lebanon does not get publicized there.
Ali Shirazi, a representative of Iran’s “supreme leader” to the Revolutionary Guard threatened that Israel will soon pay for Shateri’s killing and was quoted by the Iranian Students News Agency as saying: “Our enemies should also know that we will quickly get revenge for [the death of] Haj Hassan [Shateri] from the Israelis, and the enemies cannot shut off the Iranian people with such stupid acts [as the killing].”
There is a report that major powers are planning to ease sanctions that prevent Iran from trading in gold and other precious metals, if Iran takes steps to close its Fordo uranium enrichment plant. The offer is expected to be made to Iran at the end of this month, during planned talks in Almaty, Kazakhstan. The P5+1 group (Britain, China, France, Russia, the U.S. and Germany – don’t you just love those titles?) expect Iran to allow wider U.N. inspections and to demonstrate that its nuclear program is only for non-military purposes. The Ayatollah Ali Hamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, who has the final say on all state matters in Iran, rejected direct talks with the U.S. over its nuclear program and said that Iran was not seeking nuclear weapons. He added that if Iran intended to build them, the U.S. could not stop it, saying: “We believe nuclear weapons must be abolished and we have no intention of building…They [the U.S.] want to deny the Iranian nation of its peaceful use of nuclear energy. Of course, they won’t succeed.”
P.M. Netanyahu spoke to the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem and addressed the situation with Iran, saying: “The historic desire to eradicate the Jewish people has come back with full force…Israel is facing a set of daunting challenges, first of which is Iran. The Jewish fate has changed, but our enemies have not. Israel is a uniquely moral country, and attempts to delegitimize it are one of the great moral failure of our time…Iran does not conceal its desire to destroy the Jewish state and also to threaten the rest of the world. Iran has spearheaded the effort to eradicate the Jewish state; that is why it is developing nuclear weapons. Iran is seeking the power of mass death, and it is enough to see what they do now to know what they will do then…An Iranian nuclear weapon would transform the Mideast into a nuclear tinderbox, changing the world as we know it. The sanctions themselves, even the toughest sanctions, will not stop them. Case in point: North Korea. Sanctions need to be coupled with a robust, credible military threat. Only then will we have a change to stop it. I believe that stopping Iran is the number one task of anyone seeking peace and security in the world.” Need I say more?
Netanyahu’s reference to North Korea demonstrated not only Israel’s concern, but that if the free world, as well. Earlier in the week, U.S. Secretary of State Kerry stated that the North Korean nuclear test last Tuesday that drew international condemnation needed to be looked at in a broader non-proliferation context: “The international community now must come together with a swift, clear, credible response as pledged in the U.N. Security Council Resolution 2087. My message about this is really simple, this is not only about [North Korea] and its continued flaunting of its obligations under three separate U.N. Security Council resolutions. This is about proliferation and this is also about Iran … because they are linked, you connect the dots. It is important for the world to have credibility in respect to our nonproliferation efforts, and just as it is impermissible for North Korea to pursue this kind of reckless effort, so we have said it is impermissible with respect to Iran.”
The practical concern of Israel, the U.S. and other countries, is that due to the connection between North Korea and Iran, if the former develops the necessary technology that would allow for expediting the production of a nuclear warhead, the likelihood is very great that it will quickly find its way to Iran, and from there to the Hisb’allah and others in the region.
It is not Syria’s instability that is the primary concern of Israel, but rather its storehouse of weaponry. This was the concern when the convoy was allegedly attacked by Israel two weeks ago and it remains of vital concern today. Netanyahu referred to this matter when speaking to the same Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency and stated: “Syria has some of the most sophisticated weapons ever built, which can threaten not only Israel, but also the U.S. and the world. There is a tide in this region, and it is not moving toward modernity, but rather backward. We can’t sit and wait for things to happen. We must protect and prepare ourselves in the face of any threat.”
In the meantime, the rebel forces fighting in Syria keep coming closer and closer to the border with Israel and rebel forces overran a military police checkpoint in Khan Arnabeh, a town in the Golan Heights not far from the cease-fire line along the demilitarized zone with Israel. The has caused Israel to station additional troops in the north, just in case.
The casualties in the fighting are not always government troops or rebel forces, but civilians as well. Seven wounded, Syrian refugees approached the border with Israel and were provided medical treatment by Israel soldiers, who then transported them to an Israeli hospital for further treatment. This was the first time that Syrians found shelter in Israel from the ongoing civil war in their own country. One of the wounded was said to be in critical condition and the others were in serious condition. Vice P.M. Moshe Ya’alon reported on Israeli T.V.: “It was on a humanitarian basis…Refugees approached the border, received medical treatment and we decided to bring them in for treatment in territory in light of their condition.” However, the IDF Chief of General Staff, Lt. General Benny Gantz, was said to be “extremely unhappy” that he was not notified of the decision to allow the seven Syrian refugees into Israel for medical care. His concern is legitimate, as it stems from the fact that allowing such entry is a very delicate issue that could have a major political affect and could also set a dangerous precedent in this regard. Although there is a good likelihood that due to the serious nature of their wounds, he would have approved their entry into Israel if he knew about it, he justifiably preferred to have been briefed in advance of such decision. In an effort at potential damage control as a result of their entry, the IDF issued a statement that this particular situation was a “pinpoint incident and that Israeli policy is to not allow anyone to cross the border fence, except in extreme cases.” Notwithstanding that statement, the IDF is considering setting up a fired hospital along the border to treat wounded coming from Syria, a clear indication that more are expected in the near future.
Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the Hizb’allah, in a fiery speech made via a video link (he does not show himself in public for fear of being assassinated) marking the anniversary of the deaths of three of Hizb’allah’s leaders, said that anyone who thinks that his organization is vulnerable, because of the fighting in Syria, is mistaken. He added that if Israel attacked Lebanon, the response of the Hizb’allah would be harsh, pointing out that the Hizb’allah had all the weapons it needed in case of a war with Israel and it would not need to import any weapons from Syria and Iran: “The resistance will not be silent regarding any aggression against Lebanon…A few missiles would plunge Israel into darkness (referring to plans to attack power stations, in additional to ports and airports)…Can Israel survive six months in the dark?” Nasrallah threatened to fire missiles “from Kiryat Shmona [in the north] to Eilat [in the south]”. It is reported that the Hizb’allah has more missiles than all of the other Arab countries in the region, combined.
Despite widespread belief that the Hizb’allah was involved in last July’s terrorist attack in Bulgaria, the European Union said that if such involvement were proven, it still would not formally declare the Hizb’allah a terrorist organization, but it would consider implementing pinpoint sanctions against it. Canada, on the other hand, who is a friend and supporter of Israel, is pushing EU countries to add the Hizb’allah to the list of terrorist organizations. A Canadian government official is reported to have said that evidence of Hizb’allah involvement in terrorism across the globe, with the support of Iran, was abundant. Nasrallah said that he would not comment on the Bulgarian report that was blaming the Hizb’allah for the attack that killed five Israeli tourists and one Bulgarian national.
Pope Benedict XVI Resigns
I was asked if I could comment on the resignation of Pope Benedict the 16th. I could, but opted not to do so at this time, as this is already a lengthy report. I apologize that I did not have the time to write a shorter one.
And That was The Week That Was.
“For the eyes of the LORD move to and for throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His.” (2 Chronicles 16:9)
“Do not be grieved, for the joy of The LORD is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10)
Have a blessed week.