Thursday, May 17, 2007

May 2007

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can changethe world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

Margaret Mead

The Winograd Committee had to face four judges: their conscience, the public, the prime minister, and history. They made the right decision, coming to terms with three of the judges and against the person who nominated them, counting on their loyalty for his survival.

Olmert is holding on to the horns of the altar merely for the sake of being connected to the altar. He is unable to do anything else, as he does not enjoy the trust of his people. For this egoistic campaign and single-minded agenda he will be judged harshly by history.

Raphael Cohen-Almagor

This has been a fascinating month in Israeli politics. People who are interested in politics live for such months. People were glued to the television, as events unfolded, with each hour bringing more news. The snowball created by the Winograd Interim Report did not finish rolling. Watch as developments progress.

England had its fair share of excitement, as Tony Blair finally announced the day of his departure from the prime minister office, designating Gordon Brown as his successor.

The Winograd Interim Report on the Hezbollah War - Ehud Olmert - Amir Peretz - Dan Halutz - Eitan Cabel - Tzipi Livni - Avigdor Yitzhaki - Mass Demonstration - Iran - The Tragedy of Al-Nu'eman - Israeli Consulate in London–A Shame - New Book - The Gem of the Month

The Winograd Interim Report on the Hezbollah War

The much expected Winograd Interim Report was published on April 30, 2007 and caused immediate turmoil. The Report says Olmert acted hastily in leading the country to war last July 12, without having a comprehensive plan.

In chapter 5 of the Report, which considers the crucial day of July 12, 2007, we learn the following:

Section 10. The hasty decision to have the tanks enter Lebanon without sufficient defence mechanisms, resulting in four soldiers killed, was made by Gal Hirsch, who later resigned.

Section 11. Astonishingly, in his testimony before the Committee, General of the Northern Command, Udi Adam, said: “I do not think that the Northern Command failed in its war conduct”.

Section 18. General Amos Yadlin, Head of Intelligence, warned that the Hezbollah may respond to the IDF air strike with rockets on Haifa.

Section 23. Chief of Staff Dan Halutz pushed from the first moment to attack both Hezbollah and Lebanese civilian targets, so as to convey the message that responsibility lies with Lebanon for the kidnapping and killing of Israeli soldiers. Halutz suggested bombing the Beirut airport and civilian power stations. He wanted to create a wedge between the terrorist organization and the Lebanese people.

Section 29. The opposition to the IDF military plans came from the Head of the Mossad, Meir Dagan, who warned that the suggested severe air strikes would result in prolonged confrontation which would potentially carry a high price for Israeli society, as Hezbollah would attack civilian cities. The proposed escalation would not reap any results in the short run. Dagan was the only person who had the foresight to know the likely results of the army’s plan, and to warn against them. His voice was heard, and ignored.

Section 43. Later on, Dagan told Prime Minister Olmert and Minister of Defence Peretz that he could not understand what the IDF wished to achieve. One thing is certain: Their plan would result in a long confrontation. There was no way to end it only by using the air force. Dagan recommended refraining from attacking Lebanese civilian targets as this would unite the Lebanese people with the Hezbollah. His view, thus, was contrary to that of Halutz. Dagan recommended concentrating the attack on the terrorist organization, involving ground forces. His recommendations were not accepted at that stage.

Section 32. General Amos Gilad said that Hezbollah possessed a vast number of short range rockets which would cover the entire Galilee. This would entail that the north of Israel will become deserted during the military confrontation. Gilad was right on this forecast. The warning was heard, but nothing substantive was done to mitigate the horrendous results of massive rocket bombardment on cities for weeks.

Section 43. Minister of Defence Peretz and Chief of Staff Halutz believed that “the event” would last days, possibly a week, possibly longer, maybe months. [i.e., they had no idea how long this would take. RCA]

Section 46. Olmert said that we could not expect that Hezbollah rockets will be as inaccurate as the Hamas Kassams are in the south of Israel. The Israeli government knew that the north of Israel would be subjected to massive rocket attacks, potentially accurate, and still decided to pursue their flawed military plan. The government did not consider how the ambitious plan presented to them by Olmert would achieve the grand aims that he set forward, and how long would this operation take. Crucial questions and issues did not seem to bother them in rushing into action.

The “situation”, said Olmert, “will last days”. He was as "right" as always.

Section 48. The Minister of Defence estimated that the fighting would last between 10 and 14 days. I wonder on what “knowledge” his estimation was based. Note: Peretz did not say “our estimation”. He said “my estimation”. The person’s knowledge in military fighting is close to nil, and yet as Defence Minister he “estimates” and gives orders. And Israel still trusts its defence in his hands and his “estimation” skills.

Section 51. Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres suggested an alternative to the military attack: influencing France and the United States to exert pressure on the Lebanese government that is dependent upon their finance. He asked the IDF to think two steps ahead. To this Halutz responded: “I think two steps ahead. I also think four steps ahead, but all four steps look to me like the first step multiplied by four… I do not know how to paint a script of three-four steps ahead; those who know are invited to introduce them and I will debate that script”. I shall let you make up your own mind on this one.

Section 53. Minister (and former Chief of Staff) Shaul Mofaz was the most radical spokesman in that misguided governmental meeting. He suggested a naval and air blockade on Lebanon, to cut the main road between Beirut and Damascus, prepare the cities for long fighting and prepare for escalation.

The Report contends that the decision-making process leading to opening the war was flawed, with serious and dangerous deficiencies. The main failures in the decisions made and the decision-making processes were summed up as follows:

a. The decision to respond with an immediate, intensive military strike was not based on a detailed, comprehensive and authorized military plan, based on careful study of the complex characteristics of the Lebanon arena. A meticulous examination of these characteristics would have revealed the following: the ability to achieve military gains having significant political-international weight was limited; an Israeli military strike would inevitably lead to missiles fired at the Israeli civilian north; there was no other effective military response to such missile attacks than an extensive and prolonged ground operation to capture the areas from which the missiles were fired - which would have a high "cost" and which did not enjoy broad support. These difficulties were not explicitly raised with the political leaders before the decision to strike was taken.
b. Consequently, in making the decision to go to war, the government did not consider the whole range of options, including that of continuing the policy of 'containment', or combining political and diplomatic moves with military strikes below the 'escalation level', or military preparations without immediate military action -- so as to maintain for Israel the full range of responses to the abduction. This failure reflects weakness in strategic thinking, which undercuts the response to the event from a more comprehensive and encompassing picture.

c. The support in the cabinet for this move was gained in part through ambiguity in the presentation of goals and modes of operation, so that ministers with different or even contradictory attitudes could support it. The ministers voted for a vague decision, without understanding and knowing its nature and implications. They authorized commencement of a military campaign without considering how to exit it.

d. Some of the declared goals of the war were not clear and could not be achieved, and in part were not achievable by the authorized modes of military action. Winograd said that the leadership lacked creativity: "Some of the declared goals of the war were not clear and could not be achieved, and in part were not achievable by the authorized modes of military action," the Report said.

e. The IDF did not exhibit creativity in proposing alternative action possibilities, did not alert the political decision-makers to the discrepancy between its own scenarios and the authorized modes of action, and did not demand - as was necessary under its own plans - early mobilization of the reserves so they could be equipped and trained in case a ground operation would be required.

f. Even after these facts became known to the political leaders, they failed to adapt the military mode of operation and its goals to the reality on the ground. On the contrary, declared goals were too ambitious, and it was publicly stated that fighting would continue till they are achieved. But the authorized military operations did not enable their achievement.
The Winograd Committee concluded that the primary responsibility for these serious failings rests with Prime Minister Olmert, Minister of Defense Peretz and the (outgoing) Chief of Staff, Dan Halutz. They singled out these three because it is likely that had any of them acted better - the decisions in the relevant period and the ways they were made, as well as the outcome of the war, would have been significantly better.
The prime minister, the Report said, "bears supreme and comprehensive responsibility for the decisions of 'his' government and the operations of the army."Olmert also came under criticism for rushed actions at the outset of the war, and for failing to consult with either military or non-military experts.

"The prime minister made up his mind hastily, despite the fact that no detailed military plan was submitted to him and without asking for one," the Report said. "He made his decision without systematic consultation with others, especially outside the IDF, despite not having experience in external-political and military affairs."

Olmert was also censured for failing to "adapt his plans once it became clear that the assumptions and expectations of Israel's actions were not realistic and were not materializing."
"All of these," the Report said, "add up to a serious failure in exercising judgment, responsibility and prudence."

The findings leveled heavy criticism at Defense Minister Amir Peretz for being unaware of the state of the Israel Defense Forces, even though he should have been.
Peretz "did not have knowledge or experience in military, political or governmental matters. He also did not have good knowledge of the basic principles of using military force to achieve political goals."

Despite these deficiencies, the Report states, "he made his decisions during this period without systemic consultations with experienced political and professional experts, including outside the security establishment."

In fact, the Committee found, "his serving as minister of defense during the war impaired Israel's ability to respond well to its challenges."
Dan Halutz, the IDF chief of staff at the time, was criticized for entering the war "unprepared," and for failing to inform the cabinet of the true state of the IDF ahead of the ground operation.
According to the findings, the army and its chief of staff "were not prepared for the event of the abduction despite recurring alerts."

The Committee also found that Halutz had failed to "present to the political leaders the internal debates within the IDF concerning the fit between the stated goals and the authorized modes of actions."

Winograd said that Halutz displayed lack of professionalism and lack of judgment. The former army chief bears more blame, he said, knowing that Olmert and Peretz were inexperienced in military matters. Halutz also reacted impulsively to the kidnapping of the two reserve soldiers by Hezbollah, which sparked the war.
Winograd added that, despite a lack of experience, Olmert did not request help, or question the plan put to him. Peretz also came under similar criticism for not inspecting the war plan with sufficient care.

The Committee also leveled criticism at the entire government, saying that the cabinet voted to go to war without understanding the implications of such a decision: "The government did not consider the whole range of options, including that of continuing the policy of 'containment', or combining political and diplomatic moves with military strikes below the 'escalation level', or military preparations without immediate military action - so as to maintain for Israel the full range of responses to the abduction."
The interim Report stopped short of personal recommendations regarding the failed trio. The Committee considers making such recommendations in its final report, which is due out in the summer.

I closely read the Winograd Report. It contains very strong words of criticism not only against Olmert, Peretz and Halutz, but also against the entire government. In analyzing the unsound decision making process, I detect the clear voice of Professor Yehezkiel Dror, winner of Israel Prize for his studies on policy making and public administration. In one crucial meeting that lasted two and a half hours, without substantive deliberation, and without examining different alternatives for action, the government had authorized a wide military campaign, this without knowing how this campaign might progress, without inquiring what would be its aims, without probing the implications for Israeli society. I am far from being naïve in politics, especially Israeli politics. Yet I found it difficult to fathom that only one minister resigned. Shame and regret do not exist in Israeli politics. Responsibility and accountability are academic virtues, with little connection to reality.

Ehud Olmert

As could have been expected, Prime Minister Olmert’s immediate reaction was that he has no intention of resigning. Why should he? He did not resign when rockets were fired on Israel in their hundreds; he did not resign when dozens of soldiers and civilians were killed; he did not resign when his office was flooded by appeals of bereaved parents, calling him to take responsibility for their loss; he did not resign when his popularity reached the low point of 2 percent of support. As a matter of fact, all he did since the war is to spin and turn politics to allow his survival in office, as if this is the most important thing he could do. He holds on to the horns of the altar merely for the sake of being connected to the altar. He is unable to do anything else, as he does not enjoy the trust of his people.

I presume all prime ministers dedicated part, possibly a significant part, of their time to survival. But never before have we had a prime minister who does only that. For this egoistic campaign and single-minded agenda he will be judged harshly by history.

On May 10, 2007, Olmert’s testimony before the Committee was published. Olmert said that prior to the war he was told by Halutz that the army was prepared, and that all operational plans were ready and approved. He believes the Israel Defense Forces "seriously let itself down" during the war.

During the inquiry, Judge Eliyahu Winograd questioned Olmert on his decision to appoint Peretz defense minister: "You had a defense minister who never acted as a minister, but was given control of what is probably the most important ministry in the government… In hindsight, don't you think it may not have been a clever move to put this ministry in his hands?" Winograd asked.

Olmert defended his nomination, saying "The guy came from Sderot, was a fighter in the IDF, was wounded in the IDF, was a mayor… he became the leader of the labour federation, won the Labour Party elections, surpassing all the leaders, Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak… he received the second highest number of votes as candidate for prime minister. "What? Those 19 mandates that supported him for prime minister, didn't consider national affairs? What? Did they think he was some worthless person?"

Further defending his decision, Olmert said, "From the start I had no reason to determine that Amir Peretz, the leader of the Labour Party, was wrong for the job of defense minister. There were many people in the public, including myself, who thought that serving in the army in a certain rank was not a prerequisite for becoming defense minister." Israel, said Olmert, should be proud of Peretz.

Well, Israel is proud of Peretz to the same extent it is proud of Olmert. Both, together, are urged to retire.

When asked why the IDF did not open the ground campaign earlier, Olmert answered: “The army did not ask to do this”.

Olmert knew that the cities of Israel will be attacked by rockets, but he did not know how unprepared the cities were for such an attack.

The same day, May 10, 2007, the testimonies of Peretz and Halutz were published as well.

Amir Peretz

The Defence Minister told the Winograd Committee that he was unaware (!!) of any lack of training within the IDF, nor did the army inform him that it was unprepared for the war.

The defense minister said he instructed Halutz during the war to present alternate positions, and not just the official IDF position: "I decided and instructed the chief of staff that as far as I was concerned it was very important that the IDF position be the one presented by the chief of staff, but should there be different positions, that are completely different, I would very much like for those positions to be expressed as well".
The defense minister added that his working relationship with the wartime chief of staff was "good, proper, and organized," and had a "completely clear definition of authority."
Peretz had only one meeting with his predecessor Shaul Mofaz. I presume both thought that Peretz could fathom the complexities of the major ministry in Israel by this sole meeting, as Peretz is well versed in military issues from his time as Head of the Histadrut. After all that I learned of Peretz during the past months, his self-assessment does not surprise me, nor does his understanding (or better, misunderstanding) of the concept of responsibility. I am more puzzled as far as Mofaz is concerned. His understanding of the concept of responsibility is also severely lacking. He trusted the Israeli army in the hands of an inexperienced minister after one meeting.

Peretz said he was offended when he heard from the media about Halutz’s resignation. “It was unpleasant to wake up in the morning and realize through the media that your Chief of Staff does not ‘count’ you”.
Peretz said he was “at peace” with his conduct during the war. He thinks he operated correctly and that today he would have accepted the same decisions he accepted during the war. Some people never learn.

Dan Halutz

Halutz told the Committee that the army's greatest failure was its inability to bring the war to a swifter conclusion. "Without a doubt, I recognize that at the end of the day that was the most blatant non-achievement or failure," he said.
The former IDF chief also said that "the IDF has turned into a kind of national punching-bag, and it has become more and more popular to beat it."

Halutz also criticized the government's restrained policy of containing Hezbollah, saying when he commanded the Air Force he became convinced it was a misguided policy: "I can't bring anything now that supports this statement in a document, but in February or March 2006 during a deliberation I held with the General Staff, I said that once the new political leadership would become stable and stronger, I intend to approach it and recommend we reconsider the policy of containment," he said.

During the first days of the war, Halutz said there was overall consensus that it was not the time to embark on a wide scale ground assault. Despite this, he admitted that there were preparations for such an eventuality; however the preparations were not satisfactory: "I have already said that with regards to preparation I erred in not preparing more fully, widely and earlier."

When asked whether the cooperation between himself and Peretz was positive or not, Halutz responded, "In general there was cooperation, on a personal level, relations were proper, but as I had worked under two other defense ministers I could see the difference. The key difference between the defense minister (Peretz) and his predecessor (Shaul Mofaz), was that the current defense minister is also the head of the Labour party … It takes up a lot of time and attention." Halutz added that many of the meetings that were scheduled between the two didn't take place due to all of Peretz’s other activities – "And he has a lot".

It was revealed that during one of his conversations with Peretz, when asked about the constant barrages of rockets on towns and cities, Halutz’s answer was, in his typical sensitivity: “The question of the citizens’ suffering is important but irrelevant”. Standing before the Winograd Committee, Halutz apologized for this ill-thought answer.

The Winograd Turmoil

In the wake of the Winograd Committee's Report, Labour faction whip Eitan Cabel resigned from the government on May 1, 2007 and called on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to do the same.
"The public has lost faith in Prime Minister Ehud Olmert," Cabel said. "I cannot continue to serve as a minister in a government headed by Olmert.""Ehud Olmert must resign," Cabel continued. "Olmert bears the responsibility, and responsibility cannot be shared." This was the first in the domino of political bricks to fall.

Eitan Cabel

I have liked Eitan Cabel from the very first time I met him. The year was 1984. I was selected by the Labour Party to undergo a week's education and leadership seminar at Beit Berl. We were a group of some twenty young people who wanted to make some impact on Israeli life and politics. We started the seminar with some social games, designed to get acquainted and create a sense of group. In one of the games they had split us up as couples. Each had to tell his mate the story of his life, to be later presented to the entire group by the mate. My mate was Eitan. Our eyes were covered when we told our stories. Blindfolded we were led by our respective mates, walking around the paths of Beit Berl and talking. Once we completed the story, we were ordered to fall back into the hands of our mates. This, I presume, was in order to build trust between the mates. I fell into the hands of Eitan. Then we switched. His eyes were blindfolded; I led him around, and he fell into my hands. For the entire seminar, a bond was struck between us.

I have been following his career ever since. After he was elected Secretary General of the Labour Party we had some talks and meetings. As a student at the Hebrew University he was thinking of pursuing an academic career, but then received an offer he could not turn down to become the personal assistant of a leading politician, and his life took a sharp shift into the muddy waters of politics, in which he did quite well, while being able to maintain some name for himself as a person of dignity. This is very hard thing to do in such higher levels of politics. Not that he is immune to dirty tricks and not telling people what they wish to hear. But he never lost his conscience.

Tzipi Livni

On May 2, 2007, the calculated Teflon Lady had made her move, calling upon Olmert to resign. "I told him that resignation would be the right thing for him to do," she told reporters after an hour-long meeting with Olmert. "It's not a personal matter between me and the prime minister - this issue is more important than both of us," she said.

Livni aims to succeed Olmert. Indeed, she has a good chance. Thus she said that she would oppose the nomination of a prime minister from another party, and expressed confidence that Olmert's resignation would facilitate the establishment of a different government without sending the nation to the ballot box: "I think that general elections would be a mistake. Israel needs stability. If the prime minister decides to resign, the Knesset can put together [another] government. I believe that we need a broad government that can cope with the challenges ahead".
Livni maintained that "Kadima needs to choose its leadership in a democratic manner, in a primary election, and when the time comes I plan to submit my candidacy".
Livni said that she had supported the decision to launch a military operation on July 12, 2006, but had voted against an escalation of hostilities. She also said there had been no coordination with the Prime Minister's Office during the war.

Yet again the calculated Teflon Lady showed very poor leadership qualities. She wanted to have her cake and eat it too. She called upon Olmert to resign, but she herself would not. Her resignation could have accelerated the end of the government. But no, she wants to succeed the prime minister without the need for elections. Life, however, is more complicated. Livni does not deserve to serve as prime minister. She lacks what is needed.

Avigdor Yitzhaki

Earlier in the day, Kadima faction chairman and coalition chair Avigdor Yitzhaki publicly called on Olmert to resign from office. Underscoring the seriousness of his call, Yitzhaki issued what amounted to an ultimatum to Olmert, declaring that if the prime minister decided to remain in his position, Yitzhaki would immediately resign his. Indeed, immediately after Livni’s press conference he did.

Yitzhaki is one of the founders of Kadima along with the prime minister and his predecessor, Ariel Sharon. Yitzhaki was a Sharon loyalist who helped Sharon and his son Omri to gain control over large segments of the Likud. Olmert recognized Yitzhaki’s organization talents but did not invite him to his inner circle. Yitzhaki did not enjoy the close relations that he had with Sharon. Yitzhaki thus had no restraint to speak up his mind, saying that Kadima lawmakers were overwhelmingly in favor of an Olmert resignation.

"There is a great deal of hypocrisy in the remarks I hear in the media. Every - or almost every - member of Kadima will breathe easier if Olmert resigns. Some are willing to say that publicly and some aren't. We need to stop talking about it right now and turn over a new leaf."

Mass Demonstration

On May 3, 2007 over 100,000 people gathered in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square in the first national protest calling on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz to resign over the damning Winograd Report. A banner reading "Failures, Go Home!" hung behind a podium set up at one end of the square. It was an unusual demonstration as it brought together people of the right and people of the left; settlers from the occupied territories and citizens of north Tel Aviv; religious people who believe in God, and secular people who believe in individual autonomy. All came together to say that they do not trust the government that brought about a futile war in which some 160 people died, hundreds were wounded, and hundred of thousands became refugees in their own country. They came to say that this government is unfit to rule, that they fear of what might come next if this so-called “leadership” will cling to their seats. They came to say: Enough is Enough. By the People's voice: Go!

Some political demonstrations in the past have attracted hundreds of thousands of protesters, and the size of this one was seen as a critical sign of the extent of public protest and anger. Most notably was the demonstration after the Sabra and Shatila massacre that eventually led to Menahem Begin's resignation. The organizers of this 2007 mass demonstration decided that politicians would not speak at the rally, but bereaved families, artists, and intelligentsia would speak instead.

If I were in Israel, I would have probably taken a very active role in this demonstration, as I was involved in the Citizens Movement calling for elections from the start, immediately after the Hezbollah War came to an end, and I signed the public petition calling for the resignation of the trio: Olmert, Peretz and Halutz. I wish the Citizens Movement success from the bottom of my heart.


The New Republic, in its April 23, 2007 Issue published some interesting and thought-provoking articles on Iran. Robert Kagan writes that the prospect of a U.S. attack on Iran to prevent its acquisition of a nuclear weapon must be more, not less, credible than it is today. This will require an increase in U.S. military capacities, especially a rapid and significant increase in the overall size of U.S. ground forces. But it will also require substantial political preparation.
The present administration has lost credibility with the American public and the world. Were it to claim that Iran is on the verge of building a nuclear weapon, even if intelligence supported such a judgment, most observers would be skeptical. For this and many other reasons, one hopes that Iran will not reach that stage during Bush's presidency.

This administration should begin now to foster greater confidence that the United States will act only on the best available intelligence.
Kagan maintains that one way to do this is to create yet another bipartisan panel of respected "wise men" to provide regular assessments to the president on the progress of Iran's nuclear program. Bush or any future president would retain the right to take action, or not take action, regardless of the panel's assessment. But ignoring the panel would carry high political risks. The panel itself could be trusted to make a sober judgment of the available facts, inasmuch as it would not want to be held responsible either for the emergence of a nuclear Iran or for a war not justified by the evidence. The virtues of creating such a panel--which might include such senior statesmen as Harold Brown, Brent Scowcroft, George Shultz, and William Perry--are twofold: It would provide reassurance that the United States would not act rashly, and it would also signal American seriousness and determination to act if Iran is found to be on the verge of building a nuclear weapon.

Dennis Ross, in turn, envisages that if Iran will acquire nuclear capacity, its main rivals in the Muslim world will not stand idly by and will not lag behind. Specifically, Ross mentions Saudi Arabia and Egypt as two countries that could not afford a nuclear Iran. Needless to say, a nuclear arms race in the Middle East would greatly increase the chances of war--between Sunnis and Shia or between Israelis and Muslims--through mistake or miscalculation. For this reason alone, we must prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. The question is: How?

Ross argues, quite persuasively, that the diplomatic track is slowly having an impact on Iran's leadership, but at a pace that continues to be outstripped by the country's nuclear advances. The key, then, is to find a way to alter the calculus--and, therefore, the behavior of Iran's rulers--more quickly. Ross maintains, as I did in my April newsletter, that when inducements have been put on the table--such as the British, French, and German offer to provide Iran with light-water nuclear reactors--the Iranians seem to have had little trouble rejecting them, and without hints of dissonance among the country's elite. Yet, when even the threat of U.N. sanctions appeared real, we began to see signs of a much sharper internal Iranian debate.

Why have sticks been more effective than carrots? Because virtually all members of the Iranian elite, including moderate ones, appreciate the value of having nuclear weapons--they are a symbol of national power, they can be useful for deterring the United States, and they are seen as promoting Iranian dominance throughout the Middle East. Ross thinks that no combination of inducements can match the value of having nuclear weapons. But the value of nuclear weapons has to be weighed against the potential cost. If the cost is international isolation and economic deprivation, the picture changes for a significant part of the Iranian elite. That elite is basically divided between the Revolutionary Guard confrontationalists represented by Ahmadinejad, the conservative but pragmatic mullahs represented by Rafsanjani, and the reformers represented by former President Mohammed Khatami. The Rafsanjani and Khatami contingents are clearly susceptible to negative external pressure; and they, in turn, can curb the influence of Ahmadinejad and his followers.

All of which is to say that a deal may be possible, but it won't come from chasing after the Iranians. They must know that they will pay a high price for pursuing nuclear weapons (while also seeing that the door remains open to a deal that allows for civil nuclear power and includes economic sweeteners as well as mutual security guarantees). Ross argues for an approach focused on squeezing Iran economically--a strategy in which the Europeans and Japanese will have to assume the lead. Both are taking some steps now, but they are capable of doing much more to cut Iran off from credits, outside investment, banks, and commerce. So long as the Europeans are providing approximately $18 billion in loan guarantees for companies doing business in Iran, the Iranians won't be convinced they are on the brink of seeing their economic lifeline severed. Here, the Bush administration should be more aggressively exploiting the leverage of the Saudis, who, after all, see Iranian nukes as a profound threat: We should be encouraging Riyadh to use its financial clout with the Europeans, the Japanese, and even the Chinese to choke off Iranian access to the international economic system.

The Tragedy of Al-Nu'eman

Another testimony of the evils of occupation is the little village of Al-Nu'eman. I wish to call your attention to the sad story of the people residing in this village. Information is taken from

At first sight, Al-Nu'eman seems a peaceful village: 22 homes, surrounded by fruit trees and olive orchards, on a beautiful hill between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Within a few years, however, very little of this may be left.

Trouble started in the 1990s. In 1992, representatives of the Israeli government arrived in the village and announced that since the city of Jerusalem had not prepared a zoning plan for the area, building of any kind was prohibited. In 1996, the children of Al-Nu'eman were made to leave the school in neighboring Umm Tuba, because the school belongs to the Jerusalem municipality and they did not have Jerusalem residency. In 1993, Israel enforced a closure on the Occupied Territories, and since that time has required special permits for any Palestinian seeking to enter Israel from the territories. Thus, it became ostensibly illegal for residents of Al-Nu'eman to live in their own homes. In 2003, when plans for the fence were on the way, the men of the village were occasionally arrested in their homes and charged with illegal presence in Israel. All efforts to change this situation through the Israeli Ministry of the Interior and the Israeli Supreme Court have been rebuffed. The village continues to receive water, electricity, and sewage services from the Occupied Territories, and now the only contact residents have with the Jerusalem Municipality is in the heavy fines they pay for building their houses, and the charges that they must pay for the Israeli demolition of two `illegal` homes in January 2006. Further demolitions are pending.

Two roads once led to Al-Nu'eman. In 1994, the Israeli army began intermittently blocking the road leading north, towards neighboring Umm Tuba and Jerusalem. Thus, Bethlehem became the residents` only choice for services and employment. In 2003, as work on the separation barrier got under way, the road to Bethlehem was also blocked, first intermittently and now permanently. The village is thus effectively under siege. The residents are supposedly permitted to pass into the Occupied Territories but, in fact, are harassed daily as they try and enter through the gate in the barrier, while entering Israel is illegal since they are not residents.

Residents’ request to move the barrier west so that they have at least access to the Occupied Territories, their source for school and work, was denied “for reasons of planning”. Work on a new road to the settlements of Nokdim and Tekoa and on a “terminal” related to the barrier is already in progress on the village’s agricultural lands. Plans to build Jerusalem’s new ring road, as well as the Jewish neighborhood Har Homa D on village lands and houses have been approved. All these plans seem to assume that the village will soon disappear. How? By siege, intimidation, court orders, house demolitions, and the complacency of the Israeli public and the world, to whom Al-Nu'eman is all but invisible.

Unless people take action, this village will most likely disappear. Israeli courts may rule yet again that the residents of Al-Nu'eman have no right to their lands and their homes, that they are trespassers in their own village, and a threat to Israeli security. The siege around Al-Nu'eman from all sides is tightening, and it seems that soon its inhabitants will be rendered refugees. If we cannot stop this silent deportation, we can at least speak out, make this case known, and share with you, in sharp detail, how the larger picture of occupation is personally felt by the residents of this village.

Israeli Consulate in London – A Shame

My family and I needed to go to the Israeli Consulate in London. We were told it is situated in the back of the Embassy. Due to security reasons it cannot be part of the Embassy. Understandable.

We went to the back of the embassy. At the end of a small alley stand two English policemen who greet those who need the services of the consulate. There is a narrow corridor, with no roof above. The small area reminded me of a prison, the restricted area one sees on film where prisoners are allowed to walk one hour a day. At the end of this narrow corridor there is an iron door, which is opened by an Israeli security officer to allow people in and out. There was one chair.

In the long queue there were men, women (one pregnant), elderly people and children. We waited for more than an hour. Luckily it did not rain. In 2007, this is the way Israel chooses to greet people who need its services in one of the major capitals of the world, in a city of tens of thousands of Jews, Israelis and business people who wish to have business with Israel. I have one word: disgrace.

I wrote a letter to Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, copying Prime Minister Olmert. I still await their response. I think people should be treated better. I think that there are common norms of decency and respect, especially as this is a store window for Israel. There should be a proper waiting room, with chairs, a roof, and preferably some aesthetics, with books, postcards and brochures about Israel, its beautiful scenery, places of interest, historical sites and building, natural resorts, Eilat, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa. The Israeli Consulate in London is anything but respectful of people who wish to come to Israel. It seems it is aimed to deter people from coming to Israel. I cannot understand how anyone of a sane mind could devise this prison-like corridor to serve as the point of welcome and service to Israel in London, and how come that ambassadors and senior officers consented and condoned this arrangement.
I voice my protest loud and clear and call for immediate remedy.

New Book

Aharon Barak, The Judge in a Democracy (Princeton University Press, 2006) 332 pp., $29.95. ISBN-10: 069112017X

The role of a judge in a democracy is one of Barak’s favourite topics. He wrote and lectured on this subject many times, and in this book he compiled the main arguments, the result of years of thinking and practicing law at the supreme position of Israel’s High Court of Justice.

Israel does not have a constitution or a Bill of Rights to defend basic rights and freedoms. Israel is a young democracy, poorly governed; it is riddled with corruption, and its existence has been under constant threat. You cannot really expect a country to be “normal” when once every eight years or so it is forced to fight a war, and since 1987, with small intervals, it is subjected to constant terror attacks. The Supreme Court, under the leadership of Aharon Barak, was asked many times to interfere and to mete out justice to defend basic human rights. All the hot potatoes that no one else could not or did not wish to resolve came before the Court to decide. I often spoke with Justices of the Court who told me that they would rather not deal with those problematic, heated issues, but they had no other choice. Someone had to do the job, and in Israel, this “someone” is the High Court of Justice. The situation may change once Israel will be able to agree on a constitution. Presently, Israel and the Palestinians living under Israeli occupation need to rely on the Court to find counsel and help in sorting grievances vis-à-vis the government, the army, and administration. Barak explains this delicate role, its challenges and rational, in this thoughtful book.

The Gem of the Month

This is Chester. A truly beautiful Roman city. Chester is one of the best-preserved walled cities in the United Kingdom. It has a beautiful center, and a huge park at one side of the River Dee. If you liked York, you’d like Chester. Furthermore, I’d say about the beauty of York and Chester what I use to say in comparing Oxford and Cambridge: Oxford and York are eau de cologne, while Chester and Cambridge are the perfume: Their beauty is more concentrated.


With my very best wishes,
Yours as ever,

My last communications are available on Earlier posts at my home page: <>