Red lines are not pink lines,
The media is all abuzz about air strikes on targets inside of Syria. The fingers are pointed at Israel. Syria and its ally in Lebanon, the Hizb’allah, threaten retaliation. Iran expresses willingness to train Syrian troops. Netanyahu demonstrates leadership, while all is quiet on the western (North American) front. That about says it all.
Two air strikes took place in three days against targets in Syria, the latest one being early this morning (Sunday). War planes could be heard streaming across the skies of Israel in the early hours of the day, while most of Israel slept. Like those that were hit on Thursday night, the targets last night were said to be Iranian arms shipments on their way to the Hizb’allah, in Lebanon.
According to a report in The New York Times, the Israeli Air Force fired air-to-ground missiles from the skies over Lebanon, without entering Syrian air space. This type of air strike is referred to as an “over-the-horizon” strike, or a “stand-off” strike. It allows a pilot to send missiles from a distance without exposing the plane either to anti-aircraft fire, or even shock waves that the plane itself creates. These types of strikes are not new. In fact they were invented during the era of the “Cold War”, with the intention of preventing the pilot from flying into a mushroom cloud generated by a nuclear blast. Israel used this technique as early as the Yom Kippur War in 1973.
It is reported that Israel targeted Iranian Fatah-110 single-stage, solid fuel rockets, which have a range of some 300 kilometers (over 186 miles), which can also be launched from the back of a truck. But, Hizb’allah already has hundreds, if not thousands, of fairly comparable Syrian-made M-600 missiles. So, why should Israel risk its pilots and possible retaliation from both Syria and the Hizb’allah at this time? It would seem to be because a “red line” should be a “red line” and not a “pink line”. This was clearly intended to send a strong message to the Iranian-Syrian-Hizb’allah axis that Israel is ready, willing and able to prevent the transfer of weapons from Syria to Lebanon. And, if we go a step further, the message was specifically intended for Iranian eyes, ears and understanding that Israel will do what she needs to do, when she needs to do it and wherever she needs to act, to prevent efforts to arm her enemies. As of this writing, there have been numerous responses from Syrians spokesmen, condemning the attack and threatening retaliation and asserting that Israel’s actions will result in an all-out regional war.
Netanyahu has repeatedly said that Israel will not allow shipments of sophisticated weaponry and unconventional (chemical or biological) weapons to fall into the hands of the Hizb’allah. Once it is becomes aware of such shipments, Israel needs to abide by her word and do whatever is necessary for the protection of the population. The fact that Netanyahu said he would act, and did act, speaks volumes for his leadership ability. The type of strike that occurred last night requires precise intelligence gathering – no small feat when we consider that Syria is in the middle of a civil war, but it remains alert and careful, having been previously exposed to attacks upon its various weapons facilities, as well as shipments intended for Lebanon (both last Thursday as well as this past January).
Knesset Member Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud) stated that what Israel wants to accomplish is mainly to ensure that “within the chaos in Syria, Hizb’allah doesn’t get strong enough that it will be motivated to act against us, something that would drag us into a conflict with Hizb’allah in which we would absorb more losses than in the past because we didn’t hit their growing capabilities in time.”
As expected, the official state media in Syria first accused Israel of carrying out a raid on a military facility not far from the capital. Activists within Syria claim that the targets were sites in Damascus itself, including, among other things, the weapon depot of the Syrian Republican Guard. The claim of the activists was denied by Syrian state media.
Still, we should be careful not to become proud or to brush off Syria’s threats of retaliation as mere rhetoric. Its national pride has been wounded and it has suffered embarrassment and loss of honor in front of a wider, Arab population. This is a dangerous situation in this part of the world, and almost begs for a response to restore its national honor. While Israel has kept a tight lid on the situation and has not been boastful, she is undoubtedly mindful of the potential retaliatory response, whether serious or minimal. Accordingly, the IDF has stationed Iron Dome anti-missile batteries in the northern city of Tzfat, as well as in Haifa (again).
In the meantime, the U.S. remains silent and uncommitted. The events of recent days has shown that there is a major difference between Israel’s setting of “red lines” and the U.S. setting “red lines”, at least as far as events in the Middle East are concerned. While President Obama supports Israel’s right to defend herself, his own “red lines” seem to be undergoing redefinition. It is understandable that Obama would rather withdraw American troops from regions in the Middle East, instead of sending in combat forces to yet another arena where the original intentions of the Arab Spring have taken a wrong turn. Still, as the President of the United States, he cannot ignore the increasing pressure being placed upon his administration to take military action against Assad’s use of chemical weapons against the people of Syria. For now, there is no decision to intervene. Indeed, Obama has already indicated that sending U.S. forces into Syria would not help either that nation or the U.S. With Israel’s closest ally sitting on the fence, we see, once again, that as far as this world is concerned, Israel has no other nation that it can rely on for help.
Time is as much a problem for me as it is for most of you. Sometimes, the grind of daily life presses us, as we need to take care of “this” or deal with “that” and at the end of the day, all we want to do is take a break from it all. But, we cannot always do what we want to do, but we can pray that we can accomplish what we need to do.
Sometimes, events cry out for mention. At other times, situations compete with one another for honorable mention. For various reasons, I needed to take a break and get some rest. So, many things needed to take a back seat for a while, in order to allow time to deal with urgent matters. Now that most of them are behind me, I can get back to giving you a glimpse of what is and has been going on here for the last few weeks.
The last TWTW dealt with the Holocaust and generated more responses and comments that I would have expected. Without exception, everyone who wrote was positive and encouraging. Some even wanted to know how to be in touch with organizations that reach out to Holocaust survivors. But shortly after that, Israel went through another difficult time of remembrance, as the nation mourned the loss of her sons and daughters, whose lives were given in the defense of this country, or whose lives were taken as a result of terrorist incidents. Israel is a small country and, as a result, many incidents touch a multitude of people. Not the least of these are stories relating to heroism and the sacrificing of one soldier’s life to save his comrades. Then there are the stories of those who remained behind, who mourn the lost of loved ones on a daily basis, not just once a year. One has to be made of stone not to respond to these stories and to mourn with those who mourn. But mourning turned to joy, as Israel celebrated her 65th birthday. I passed over those events in TWTW, not because they were not important, but because of the press of other commitments.
Israel celebrates Lag BaOmer
The most recent “holiday” celebrated in Israel was Lag BaOmer. “Lag” is actually a contraction of the letters “lamed” and “gimel”, which has a numerical value of 33. “Omer” is the period of time between Passover and Shavuot (also known as the Feast of Weeks, or Pentecost). So, Lag BaOmer is the 33rd day after Passover in the Counting of the Omer, which falls on the Hebrew date of the 18th of the month of Iyar.
Jewish tradition today ties the holiday to the Second Jewish Revolt against the Roman Empire, which was led by Bar Kokhba. The revolt occurred during the years 132-135 and took place mostly in the region of Judea. In Israel, it is celebrated as a symbol for the fighting Jewish spirit.
Actually, the first 32 days of the Omer are a period of mourning, during which time Jews are not allowed to get married, listen to music or even take a haircut, among other things. The reason for the mourning period dates back to the story of Rabbi Akiva, who reportedly had 24,000 disciples, all except 5 of whom died in an epidemic that occurred during the first 32 days of the Omer. It is difficult to understand the impact that such a loss had on future generations. The Torah that is learned today in orthodox circles, along with its interpretations, was passed on by Rabbi Akiva and his 5 remaining disciples. One of those disciples was Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, concerning whom tradition says that he died on the 33rd day of the Omer and, as a result, we celebrate his memory on that day. Rabbi Shimon’s teachings are memorialized in the Zohar, which is a book of Jewish mystical thought.
“Zohar” means “Glow” or “Radiance.” So on Lag B’Omer, the memory of Rabbi Shimon is honored, usually by lighting bonfires or candles, which are said to be symbolic of the light thats comes forth from the study of Torah.
Getting back to Bar Kochba – his forces were extremely successful against Roman legions. He fought to liberate Jerusalem from Roman rule and his influence and authority actually extended far beyond the region of Judea to much of what is the land of Israel today.
It is widely thought that the Romans probably would have left the Jews alone, if they had only confined themselves to maintaining a spiritual identity, following the example of Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai, who was largely responsible for restoring Jewish life in Yavneh, after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 A.D. But, that was not the case. Following the destruction of the Temple, the Romans made life progressively more difficult for the Jews throughout the entire Roman Empire, but particularly in Judea, rendering the Yavneh example not feasible to many.
Examples of Roman oppression:
Under Emperor Domitian (81-96), potential Jewish leaders, who were descendants of the House of David, were hunted down by Roman forces.
Under Emperor Trajan, (98-117), Roman forces massacred Jewish communities in areas that are known today as Iraq, Libya and Cyprus, as well as Egypt. Seeing what happened in the regions surrounding Judea and Samaria, Jews started to prepare for more conflicts with Rome. these preparations included construction of various fortifications in different areas, as well as escape routes to caves near the Dead Sea.
In 133, Emperor Hadrian banned Jews from performing the rite of circumcision and sought to break the national spirit of the Jews, by constructing a temple to the Roman god, Jupiter, on the ruins of the Second Temple, which was destroyed by Titus in 70 A.D. More and greater efforts were made by Rome to break the national will of the people and to destroy the ability of the Jewish people to continue to exist as a nation. The final blow came after Bar Kochba’s forces were defeated, when Hadrian renamed the region of Judea as Syria-Palestina, in an effort to erase any trace and memory of the Jewish people to the land.
The full might of the Roman Empire was concentrated on defeating the Bar Kochba Revolt. At the peak of the war, Hadrian had committed a full 12 legions (out of a total of 28 that Rome had) to his campaign. Every effort was made to crush the Bar Kochba Revolt, because if successful, it could have brought down the entire Roman Empire, as such a success could have lead other conquered peoples to revolt against Rome, as well. The Roman historian, Dio Cassius, who lived a hundred years after the event, summarized the impact that the revolt had on the populations existing at that time: “[Many] gentiles came to their aid…the whole earth, one might almost say, was being stirred over the matter.” So, it became imperative to defeat Bar Kochba at all costs.
We can try to analyze the right and the wrong of Bar Kochba’s revolt against Rome, which resulted in the deaths of almost 600,000 Jews. But, it would not be beneficial, nor would it change history. It was the spirit of the Bar Kochba Revolt that had a major impact upon Israel’s early political leadership and which led them to declare national independence. It is the same spirit that pushes the Israeli people to say “no” to terrorism and to efforts to destroy us as a people. But, Bar Kochba was a man who studied his Bible. He knew that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob made promises to His people. However, like many who preceded him and who followed him, and who even proclaimed him to be the Messiah (like Rabbi Akiva), they relied upon the arm of the flesh and not on The Lord of Hosts. He continues to say: “‘not by might, nor by power; but by My Spirit’.” (Zechariah 4:6)
Lots of other things have happened over the past few weeks, some of which were right here in Haifa.
Hizb’allah drone shot down over Haifa waters.
A week ago last Thursday, the Hizb’allah sent an unmanned aircraft into Israeli airspace. These aircraft are usually quite small and many times accomplish their spy missions successfully and return back to their bases without mishap. But, small or not, Israel was able to track it from the time it took off in Lebanon and followed its course south along the Mediterranean Sea. When the drone (technical term: UAV – unmanned aerial vehicle) reached the coast of Haifa, it was shot down by Israeli Air Force jet with a single missile. An earlier Hizb’allah drone, sent six months ago, met a similar fate.
Responding to this incident, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last week that “Israel will deal with every threat from Syria and from Lebanon from the sea, air and land…Syria is cracking and Lebanon is unstable. Considerable threats to Israel are seen coming from both places, and in Syria there are two direct threats. The first is the flow of weapons to terrorist organizations, and the second is a terrorist attempt to infiltrate our borders and attack our communities in Israel.”
It is reasonable to presume that the drone was not armed. If it had been, it would have evoked a severe military response from Israel. It probably was sent to test Israel’s ability to respond to small, barely visible aircraft, as well as its response time. In any event, the greater likelihood is that it was an attempt by the Hizb’allah to get out from under local and international Arab pressure and condemnation for siding with the Shiite regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against the rebels, who represent the Sunni majority there. As a result of its military involvement in Syria, the question is being asked whether the Hizb’allah is more loyal to Syria and Iran than it is to Lebanon. So, by sending the drone, it was like sending a message to other Arab countries that the Hizb’allah have not forgotten that the real enemy is Israel and that their organization is the real defense of Lebanon. We could probably expect to see more incidents like this and on a more frequent basis. This is based on a claim by the Hizb’allah that its drone successfully penetrated our air space for eight minutes before it was shot down. Also, when this happened six months ago, Hizb’allah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said that this type of sophisticated drone was manufactured in Iran, assembled by the Hizb’allah and that there would be more of them. Sending the drone was also an attempt to send an embarrassing message to Israel that if you can penetrate our air space, so we can penetrate yours. Obviously, the drone was sent to also take pictures and send them back to Lebanon, where they could also be published and be used as propaganda against Israel, showing Israel that she is relatively defenseless against this form of activity of the Hizb’allah.
Still, the upside of Hizb’allah’s involvement in Syria is that it provides a bit of a rest for Israel from immediate concerns emanating from Lebanon, inasmuch as the Hizb’allah is not capable of fighting on two fronts at the same time. The downside, of course, is that the presence of Hizb’allah fighters in Syria allows them closer proximity to the latter’s extensive arsenal of advanced weaponry, including, among other things, chemical weapons, which could immediately be up for grabs when Assad’s regime falls. Things may change a bit, in light of the recent attacks against weapons convoys, which were intended to reach the Hizb’allah.
And behind the drones and the Hizb’allah’s involvement in Syria is, of course, Iran, who has made significant strides in drone development. But, once Iran is brought into the picture, the relative lack of concern over picture-taking drones becomes a major concern that at some point Iran and/or the Hizb’allah will arm the drones with explosives and send them against strategic locations here and possibly elsewhere.
Following last October’s drone incident, Israel has instituted various measures to prevent future incursions into Israel’s air space. Some of these measures proved themselves with this latest drone incident. But, as noted, the likelihood is that these drone flights will continue and increase in frequency, particularly as the situation in Syria continues to deteriorate. That means that Israel needs to step up both its vigilance and response readiness … just in case.
Interestingly, this past week, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Hizb’allah, actually came out with a belated denial that his organization was responsible for sending the unmanned drone the week before, stating, in a televised speech: “Hizb’allah knows how to take responsibility for any actions, particularly those that hurt Israel. The Israelis claimed they intercepted a drone near Haifa, and immediately everyone blamed Hizb’allah. These accusations are an honor we never pretended to earn. The other option also raised by the various analysts in Israel and around the world, that members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard launched the drone, is baseless and unrealistic.” Denying that it sent the drone, after boasting less than a week earlier that it did so, speaks for itself. As an aside, Nasrallah also referred to what was happening in Syria, claiming that Britain and Israel were behind the rebel forces fighting against the Syrian regime: “On the military level, those who oppose the regime in Syria don’t have a chance of toppling the government in Damascus … Syria has many friends in the region and in the world that won’t let it fall into the hands of the heretics from Israel, the United States or Britain”. The “friends” he was referring to, of course, include Russia, China and Iran. So, what else is new?
The Haifa Marathon, in the shadow of Boston’s Marathon
The bombing of the Boston Marathon sent chilling ripples across the world. It was planned by the perpetrators, unexpected by the participants and caught the police unprepared. It brought the reality of “terrorism” once against to the “home of the brave and the land of the free”. It is not politically correct to talk of terrorists or acts of terrorism on American soil. But, unless America gets its head out of the sand and stops pretending that following 9/11, it is now immune from such attacks, it is bound to have additional rude awakenings along the same lines.
Death and severe injury follow in the wake of terrorists and terrorism. there is no getting around it. Those who aren’t killed outright need to receive immediate attention by medical personnel, who know what they are doing. The U.S. has many excellent physicians, but few have experience in treating terror victims. As it turned out, both the suspected terrorist, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, and many of his victims ended up Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, a teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School, and were treated by Professor Kevin (Ilan) Tabb, who is the director of the hospital and an Israeli. Dr. Tabb, who is also a member of the Board of Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital in Jerusalem, where he studied medicine and completed his residency, stated: “Unfortunately, I have had a lot of experience with these types of injuries after years of treating people injured in terror attacks in Israel…We have a few Israeli doctors in the emergency room, and the director of the ER is also Israeli. But most of the physicians at the hospital are not Israeli, and they functioned exceptionally well”.
He added that as a result of the bombings, there were numerous leg injuries and many amputations. “In Israel we are used to this and here they are not, but the hospital was prepared. Most of those who were seriously injured in the attack were sent to the three main trauma centers in Boston, including ours…It was very similar to what I was used to in Israel in that we had to admit many injured people in a short period of time…The fact that we are treating both the victims and the suspected terrorist also reminds me of similar situations in Israel. In Israel we had an injured soldier and a terrorist lying on adjacent beds. When an injured person is admitted to the ER, the doctor or nurse treats him without asking questions.”
In the backdrop of what happened in Boston, every reasonable precaution was being taken when Haifa held its annual Marathon on April 23rd. Police were stationed all along the route, with a heavy concentration of security around the start and finish lines, including the bomb squad and ambulances. The number of participants come to around 15,000, an increase of about 33% over last year. Many said that they wanted to run as an expression of solidarity with the runners in the Boston Marathon. Others wanted to show that neither terrorist nor terrorism will damper the Israeli spirit. There were actually 3 events, which followed one after the other. First, the 2-1/2 kilometer event, followed immediately by the 5 km. run and the 10 km. event began when the 5 km. runners were halfway into the marathon. It was a sight to see. There was a special group, who ran to identify with the runners in Boston. And, as they and all of the participants crossed the finish line, the announcers were saying over and over that Haifa and Boston are united in spirit and that we support and encourage them, as we all stand united against those who try, but will not succeed, to frighten us. Our youngest son, Aviad, participated in the 5 km. run with many of his high school classmates. He said that there was something special about participating in the race this year. Based on the size of the turnout, I think that many agreed with him, even the octogenarian who was a Holocaust survivor, who was last one to cross the finish line, accompanied by two policemen on motor-cycles. We cannot, indeed, we must not, allow terrorists or terrorism to triumph.
Diplomacy in the Ditch
There is an old joke that asks the question: “How do you know that a politician is lying?” The answer: “His lips are moving.” There is another question that is usually asked in this country, namely: “Is it good for Israel and the Jewish people”? When we put these two questions together, we must inevitably view with rational thoughts every policy statement that affects the country.
For a few weeks preceding President Obama’s visit to Israel, there was a renewed emphasis on expressing our willingness to resurrect the dead “peace process”. Language was used to encourage those who call themselves “Palestinians” to come back to the bargaining table. There were renewed efforts on the part of the Arab League to resurrect a peace plan that would allow for recognition of Israel by Arab countries, in exchange for Israel giving up territory acquired as a result of the 6-Day War and returning the situation to pre-1967 borders. Obama showed his true intentions, as well as his poor understanding of history, as well as the realities of the situation on the ground concerning the Middle-East conflict. Then, he sent in his new Secretary of State, John Kerry, to work out the details of the two-state solution. Even though Obama urged the “Palestinians” not to set pre-conditions for returning to the negotiating table, his urging had little, if any, effect upon “Palestinian” policies, as they continue with their insistence on a string of preconditions. These preconditions were enumerated in the last TWTW and include, among other things, a complete settlement freeze, the release of over 100 terrorists and a map of final borders of a “Palestinian” state. The attitude is one of “give me”, but don’t ask me to give you anything in return. It takes “two to tango” and Abbas is looking to Hamas to be his partner, not Israel, a move that will prevent peace negotiations between Israel and the “Palestinians”.
At this point, Netanyahu needs to stop wooing and courting Abbas to the negotiating table. Abbas is not interested in pursuing peace discussions with Israel, except on his own, exaggerated terms. He also has other concerns right now, not the least of which is trying to establish a new “Palestinian” government following the resignation of Salam Fayyad. Abbas’ desire to set up a unity government with Hamas is also accompanied by his concerns over the failed expectations of the so-called Arab Spring, which he hopes will not reach his doorstep.
But, even if Israel decides to put everything “on hold” with the “Palestinians”, and even with the various difficulties facing Abbas, the likelihood is that Abbas will not sit quietly and wait for the blue bird of happiness to show up one day with an Israeli offer of statehood, without the need to offer anything concrete in return. It should be recalled that the P.A. has acquired independent Observer Status at that international “un-organization”, known as the United Nations. This now allows the P.A. to file a claim with the International Criminal Court in The Hague against Israeli soldiers who could be accused of “war crimes”, which could possibly result in their inability to travel freely to those countries which are member states of the ICC. On the other hand, claims and counterclaims could be filed against the P.A.and against “Palestinian” leadership that encourage suicide bombers and the firing of missiles upon civilian-population areas in Israel. It is risky business and Abbas tends to play on the safe side, rather than take uncertain risks that could damage both his image and his goals.
The new Pope accepts Shimon Peres’ invitation to visit Israel.
More on this next time.
And That was The Week That Was.
And That was The Week That Was.
“It is the living who give thanks to you, as I do today”. (Isaiah 38:19)
“The LORD is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The LORD is the defense of my life; Whom shall I dread? When evildoers came upon me to devour my flesh, my adversaries and my enemies, they stumbled and fell. Though a host encamp against me, my heart will not fear; Though war arise against me, in spite of this I shall be confident.” (Psalm 27:1-3)
Have a truly blessed week.
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