uri avnery

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More wisdom from the indomitable Uri Avnery. It does seem bizarre that Avnery would hope for American interference in the upcoming Israeli election, akin to Netanyahu’s recent meddling in the Obama v Romney showdown, but his logic is flawless.

Father Dave

Uri Avnery

Uri Avnery

November 10, 2012

Goodbye to a War

BINYAMIN NETANYAHU and his patron, Sheldon Adelson, betted on Mitt Romney, with the State of Israel as their chip.

They lost.

For Adelson, the betting tycoon, that doesn’t amount to much. Some you win, some you lose.

For Netanyahu, it’s a different matter altogether. He grew up in the US (where he got to know Romney in 1976) and prides himself as a great expert on America. It was one of his strongest cards, since relations with the US are vital for Israel. Now he stands exposed as a know-nothing, together with his ambassador in Washington DC, who was recommended by Adelson.

Does this hurt Netanyahu’s chances in the upcoming Israeli elections? Perhaps. But only if a credible counter-candidate is found, who could repair relations with Barack Obama.

Ehud Olmert is presenting himself as such, and may now join the fray. Some dream of Shimon Peres giving up the presidency to run as a candidate. Peres, who is two weeks older than I, has never won an election in his fifty years in politics. But there’s always a first time, isn’t there?

ISRAELIS ARE, of course, interested mainly in the Jewish vote. It is indeed revealing.

Netanyahu made no secret of supporting Romney to the hilt. US Jews were told that voting for the Republican candidate was voting for Israel. So did they? They did not.

I don’t yet have the detailed statistics, but from results in Florida and other states it seems that the great majority of Jews supported the Democratic candidate, as they have always done.

What does that mean? It means that one of the most basic contentions of Netanyahu and Co. has been shown to be fallacious.

Netanyahu declares almost hourly that Israel is the “nation-state of the Jewish people”. This means that Israel belongs to all the Jews in the world, and that all the Jews in the world belong to Israel. So he speaks not only for the six million Jewish citizens of Israel, but for all the 13 million or so Jews around the globe. (Assuming that no Jews are discovered on Mars.)

Again, this has been proven a fiction. American Jews (or, rather, Jewish Americans) voted as members of the American nation, not of the non-existent Jewish nation. Many of them are certainly sympathetic to Israel, but when it comes to voting, they vote as Americans. Israel plays a very minor role in their concerns. They may give a standing ovation to Netanyahu when he visits, as American Catholics would to the Pope, but they ignore his instruction to vote for a candidate.

This has great implications for the future. In any clash between vital American and Israeli interests, Jewish Americans are first of all Americans. In such a future situation, a similar miscalculation by Netanyahu or his successors may prove fatal.

FOR EXAMPLE, about the Iran war. Israeli hawks can kiss it goodbye.

I doubt that even Romney, had he been elected, would have allowed Netanyahu to attack. Campaign speeches would not have trumped the vital interests of the USA. He, too, would have taken one look at the map of the Strait of Hormuz and shuddered.

Be that as it may have been, there is no chance whatsoever that Obama will now tolerate an Israeli attack. It would have ignited a large scale war with incalculable consequences for the US and world economy.

Americans don’t want another war. They want to get out of Iraq and Afghanistan, in practice ceding both countries to their adversaries. Starting another, and far bigger war in Iran is unthinkable.

This may be, for us, the most important result of these elections.

WHAT ABOUT Israeli-Palestinian peace?

No doubt, chances have picked up.

I don’t want to sound too optimistic. The usual cliché says that US presidents in their second term are free of political pressures and can at long last act according to their conscience. That is certainly true – up to a point.

The President is the leader of a party, and from the first day after an election the party starts to think about the next election. Powerful lobbies like AIPAC don’t cease to exist and will continue to exert a lot of pressure for the Israeli right. Big donors will still be needed. In two years, mid-term elections will come up.

But I hope that Obama will return to his starting position and try to compel both sides to commence serious negotiations. The forthcoming Palestinian application to the UN General Assembly to accept it as a state (with observer status) may be a test. Its acceptance is of great importance, since it would put the two-state solution squarely back on the international table. The US has no veto power there, and it is up to the president to decide whether to apply pressure or not.

The US is like a huge aircraft-[space instead of hyphen]carrier. To turn around it needs a lot of time and space. But even a slight change of course can have a major impact on our lives.

IN ISRAEL, the major question is: Will He Take Revenge?

No doubt, Obama hates Netanyahu, and with good reason. Netanyahu will not receive a warm welcome  in the Oval Office.

But Obama is a cold fish. He will keep his personal feelings in tight check.

But how tight? Will he change his attitude towards Netanyahu and his policies enough to give encouragement or even support to Israeli peace forces? Will he influence the Israeli elections as Netanyahu tried to influence the American ones?

Frankly, I hope so. For Israel’s sake.

Obama’s victory will reinforce the liberal, democratic, secular, social-minded, less-militant spirit throughout the world. If the Israeli government continues on its present course, its isolation in the world will increase dangerously.

Unless we do to Netanyahu what the Americans just did to Romney.

AS EVERYBODY knows, there are some basic similarities between the US and Israel.

Both are immigrant nations. Both were built by white settlers who carried out ethnic cleansing. Both glorify their huge achievements while keeping quiet about the darker sides of their past.

The elections in both countries illuminate another similarity: the ever-growing split between the various “sectors” of society. White male Americans rallied behind Romney, colored Americans and women behind Obama. Demographic factors played a major role. To some extent it was a rearguard action by the dominant white male elite against the new majority of blacks, Hispanics, women and the young.

The split was exacerbated by the Tea Party fanatics. It seems that every few generations the American nation is afflicted by a new wave of insanity – the anti-Anarchist hysteria after WWI, McCarthy after WWII, the Tea Party now. To its immense credit, America has a knack of overcoming these waves.  But the Tea Party killed Romney, in spite of all his desperate flip-flopping.

Israel has a similar split. Society is divided into sectors, which cast their votes on sectoral lines: Whites (Ashkenazim), Orientals, Ultra-Orthodox (Haredim), National-Religious, Russian immigrants, Arabs. The Likud is a party of Orientals dominated by white males. Lieberman’s is the party of the “Russians”. Together with the religious of various stripes they constitute a powerful coalition. Unlike Obama, the Israeli left has not been able up to now to build an effective counter-coalition.

We need an Israeli Obama, who will work with the US Obama for peace.

Before it is too late, please.

For more Avnery articles online, go to zope.gush-shalom.org…

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As ever, reading Uri Avnery gives me hope that all is not lost in the quest for justice and peace in the Middle East – not quite.

One line from this essay that I will certainly quote again is Avnery’s analysis of Islamophobia (a statement he says he has made before but somehow I had missed it up till now):

“Islamophobia is nothing but the fashionable modern cousin of good old anti-Semitism, seeping from the same sewers of the collective unconscious, exploiting the same old prejudices, transferring to the Muslims all the hatred once directed towards the Jews.”

As to the debate between Obama and Romney, Avnery sees it as a façade, but what else could it be? How can anyone be expected to have a serious discussion on Foreign Policy when the whole debate is designed as a vote-winning exercise? Having said that, even if the statements of the two wanna-be’s does not reflect their true understanding of international politics, it does reflect their understanding of how their voters see the rest of the world. That in itself should be enough to make us all worried.

Father Dave

Uri Avnery

Uri Avnery

October 27, 2012

Drought in Texas

EVERYBODY IN Israel knows this story. When Levy Eshkol was Prime Minister, his assistants rushed up to him in panic: “Levy, there is a drought!”

“In Texas?” Eshkol asked anxiously.

“No, in Israel!” they said.

“Then it doesn’t matter,” Eshkol assured them. “We can always get all the wheat we need from the Americans.”

That was some 50 years ago. Since than, nothing much has changed. The elections in the US in 11 days are more important to us than our own elections in three months.

I HAD to stay awake till 3 am again to watch the final presidential debate live. I was afraid that I would doze off, but I did not. On the contrary.

When two chess players are engaged in a game, there is often a person – we call him a “kibitzer” – standing behind one of them, trying to give him unsolicited advice. During the debates, I do the same. In my imagination, I stand behind Barack Obama and think about the right answer to Romney, before Obama himself opens his mouth.

I must admit that on some occasions during this debate, his answers were much better than mine. For example, I did not think up a stinging reply to Romney’s contention that the US now has less warships then it had a hundred years ago. Obama’s dry reply – that the US army now has fewer horses, too – was sheer genius. The more so since he could not have prepared it. Who could have foreseen such a dumb remark?

Also, when Romney slammed Obama for skipping Israel on his first Middle East tour as president. How to counter such a factual challenge – especially with thousands of Jewish pensioners in Florida listening to every word?

Obama hit the right note. Remarking that Romney had visited with an entourage of donors and fund-raisers (without naming Sheldon Adelson and the other Jewish donors), he reminded us that as a candidate he went instead to Yad Vashem, to see for himself the evil done to the Jews. Touche.

On a few occasions, I thought I had a better answer. For example, when Romney tried to explain away his comment that Russia was the most important “geo-political foe” of the US, I would have reacted with “Excuse my ignorance, governor, but what does ‘geo-political’ mean?” In his context, it was a highfalutin but meaningless phrase.

(“Geo-politics” is not just a juxtaposition of geography and politics. It is a world-view propagated by the German professor Hans Haushofer and others and adopted by Adolf Hitler as a rationale for his plan to create Lebensraum for Germans by annihilating or driving out the population of Eastern Europe.)

I would have talked much more about the wars, Nixon’s Vietnam, the two Bushes’ Iraq, the second Bush’s Afghanistan. I noticed that Obama did not mention that he had been against the Iraq war right from the beginning. He must have been advised not to. 

ONE DID not have to be an expert to notice that Romney did not present original ideas of his own. He parroted Obama’s positions, changing a few words here and there.

Earlier in the campaign, during the primaries, it did not look like that. Clamoring for the votes of the right-wing base, he was about to bomb Iran, provoke China, battle Islamists of all shades, perhaps resurrect Osama Bin Laden in order to kill him again. Nothing of the sort this time. Only a meek “I agree with the President”.

Why? Because he was told that the American people had had enough of the Bush Wars. They don’t want any more. Not in Afghanistan, and certainly not in Iran. Wars cost a lot of money. And people even get killed.

Perhaps Romney decided in advance that it was enough for him to avoid looking like an ignoramus on foreign affairs, since the main battleground was in the economic sphere, where he can hope to look more convincing than Obama. So he played it safe. “I agree with the President…”

THE WHOLE concept of a presidential debate on foreign affairs is, of course, nonsensical.  World affairs are far too complicated, the nuances far too subtle, to be dealt with in this rough way. It would be like performing a kidney operation with an ax.

One could easily get the impression that the world is an American golf course, in which the US can knock the peoples around like balls, and the only question is which player has the more skill and selects the best club. The will of the peoples themselves is quite irrelevant. What are the feelings of the Chinese, the Pakistanis, the Egyptians? Who cares?!

I am not sure that most of the American viewers could find Tunis on the map. So it makes no sense to argue about the forces at work there, make distinctions between Salafists and Muslim Brothers, preferring these or those. All in four minutes.

For Romney, obviously, all Muslims are the same. Islamophobia is the order of the day, and Romney openly pandered to it. As I have pointed out before, Islamophobia is nothing but the fashionable modern cousin of good old anti-Semitism, seeping from the same sewers of the collective unconscious, exploiting the same old prejudices, transferring to the Muslims all the hatred once directed towards the Jews.

Many Jews, of course, especially the elderly in the nursing homes in warm Florida, are relieved to see the Goyim turn on other victims. And since the new victims happen also to be the foes of beloved Israel, all the better. Romney clearly believed that pouring his bile on “Islamists” was the easiest way to garner Jewish votes.

Trying hard to look tougher than Obama, Romney did, after all, come up with an original idea: provide the Syrian insurgents with “heavy arms”. What does that mean? Artillery? Drones? Missiles? And if so, to whom? To the Good Guys, of course. And take care that they do not fall into the hands of the Bad Guys.

What a brilliant idea. But please, who are the Good Guys and who the Baddies? Nobody else seems to know. Least of all the CIA or the Mossad. Dozens of Syrian factions are at work – regional, confessional, ideological. All want to kill Assad. So who will get the cannons?

All this made any serious discussion about the Middle East, now a region of infinite variations and nuances, quite impossible. Obama, who knows a lot more about our problems than his adversary, found it wise to play the simpleton and utter nothing but the most fatuous platitudes. Anything else – for example a plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace, God forbid, could have offended the dear inhabitants of the one old people’s home which may change the outcome in Florida.

ANY SERIOUS Arab or Israeli should have been insulted by the way our region was treated in this debate by the two men, one of whom will soon be our lord and master.

Israel was mentioned in the debate 34 times – 33 times more than Europe, 30 times more than Latin America, five times more than Afghanistan, four times more than China. Only Iran was mentioned more often – 45 times – but in the context of the danger it poses to Israel.

Israel is our most important ally in the region (or in the world?) We shall defend it to the hilt. We shall provide it with all the arms it needs (plus those it doesn’t need).

Wonderful. Just wonderful. But which Israel, exactly? The Israel of the endless occupation? Of the unlimited expansion of settlements? Of the total denial of Palestinian rights? Of the rain of new anti-democratic laws?

Or a different, liberal and democratic Israel, an Israel of equality for all its citizens, an Israel that pursues peace and recognizes Palestinian statehood?

But not only what was parroted was interesting, but also what was left unsaid. No automatic backing of an Israeli attack on Iran. No war on Iran at all, until hell freezes over. No repetition of Romney’s earlier declaration that he would move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. No pardon for the Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard.

And, most importantly: no effort at all to use the immense potential power of the US and its European allies to bring about Israel-Palestine peace, by imposing the Two-State solution that everybody agrees is the only viable settlement. No mention of the Arab peace initiative still offered by 23 Arab countries, Islamists and all.

China, the new emerging world power, was treated with something close to disdain. They must be told how to behave. They must do this or that, stop manipulating their currency, send the jobs back to America.

But why should the Chinese take any notice when China controls the US national debt? No matter, they’ll have to do what America wants. Washington locuta, causa finita. (“Rome has spoken, the case is closed,” as Catholics used to say, way back before the sex scandals.)

UNSERIOUS AS the debate was, it showed up a very serious problem.

The French used to say that war is too serious to leave to the generals. World politics are certainly too serious to leave to the politicians. Politicians are elected by the people – and the people have no idea.

It was obvious that both contenders avoided any specifics that would have demanded even the slightest knowledge from the listeners. 1.5 billion plus Muslims were considered to fall into just two categories – “moderates” and “Islamists”. Israel is one bloc, no differentiation. What do viewers know about 3000 years of Persian civilization? True, Romney knew – rather surprisingly – what or where Mali is. Most viewers surely didn’t. 

Yet these very same viewers must now finally decide who will be the leader of the world’s greatest military power, with a huge impact on everyone else.

Winston Churchill memorably described democracy as “the worst form of government, except for all the other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

This debate could serve as evidence.

Read more from the great Uri Avnery on his website: gush-shalom.org…

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I find it good for the heart (as well as the mind) to touch base with Uri Avnery on a regular basis. He remains consistently optimistic about the impossibility of an Israeli attack on Iran. He has said it repeatedly: ‘it will not happen!’ And the truly encouraging thing is that his positive prophecy isn’t based on his faith in his leaders, let alone in God (being an atheist) but on his cold, hard political realism.

Father Dave

Uri Avnery

August 18, 2012

Mad or Crazy?

by Uri Avnery

BINYAMIN NETANYAHU may be crazy, but he is not mad.

Ehud Barak may be mad, but he is not crazy.

Ergo: Israel will not attack Iran

I HAVE said so before, and I shall say so again, even after the endless talk about it. Indeed no war has been talked about so much before it happened. To quote the classic movie line: “If you have to shoot, shoot. Don’t talk!”

In all Netanyahu’s bluster about the inevitable war, one sentence stands out: “In the Committee of Inquiry after the war, I shall take upon myself the sole responsibility, I and I alone!”

A very revealing statement.

First of all, committees of inquiry are appointed only after a military failure. There was no such committee after the 1948 War of Independence, nor after the 1956 Sinai War or the 1967 Six-day War. There were, however, committees of inquiry after the 1974 Yom Kippur war and the 1982 and 2006 Lebanon Wars. By conjuring up the specter of another such committee, Netanyahu unconsciously treats this war as an inevitable failure.

Second, under Israeli law, the entire Government of Israel is the Commander in Chief of the armed forces. Under another law, all ministers bear “collective responsibility”. TIME magazine, which is becoming more ridiculous by the week, may crown “King Bibi”, but we still have no monarchy. Netanyahu is no more than primus inter pares.

Third, in his statement Netanyahu expresses boundless contempt for his fellow ministers. They don’t count.

Netanyahu considers himself a modern day Winston Churchill. I don’t seem to remember Churchill announcing, upon assuming office, “I take responsibility for the coming defeat.” Even in the desperate situation of that moment, he trusted in victory. And the word “I” did not figure large in his speech.

IN THE daily brainwashing, the problem is presented in military terms. The debate, such as it is, concerns military capabilities and dangers.

Israelis are especially, and understandably, worried by the rain of tens of thousands of missiles expected to fall on all parts of Israel, not only from Iran, but also from Lebanon and Gaza. The minister responsible for civil defense deserted just this week, and another one, a refugee from the hapless Kadima party, has taken his place. Everybody knows that a large part of the population (including myself) is completely defenseless.

Ehud Barak has announced that no more than a measly 500 Israelis will be killed by enemy missiles. I do not aspire to the honor of being one of them, though I live quite near the Ministry of Defense..

But the military confrontation between Israel and Iran is only a part of the picture, and not the most important one.

As I have pointed out in the past, far more important is the impact on the world economy, already steeped in a profound crisis. An Israeli attack will be viewed by Iran as American-inspired, and the reaction will be accordingly, as explicitly stated by Iran this week.

The Persian Gulf is a bottle, whose neck is the narrow Strait of Hormuz, which is totally controlled by Iran. The huge American aircraft carriers now stationed in the gulf will be well advised to get out before it is too late. They resemble those antique sailing ships which enthusiasts assemble in bottles. Even the powerful weaponry of the US will not be able to keep the strait open. Simple land-to-sea missiles will be quite enough to keep it closed for months. To open it, a prolonged land operation by the US and its allies will be required. A long and bloody business with unpredictable consequences.

A major part of the world’s oil supplies has to pass through this unique waterway. Even the mere threat of its closure will cause oil prices to shoot sky-high. Actual hostilities will result in a worldwide economic collapse, with hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of new unemployed.

Each of these victims will curse Israel. Since it will be crystal clear that this is an Israeli war, the rage will be turned against us. Worse, much worse – since Israel insists that it is “the state of the Jewish people”, the rage may take the form of an unprecedented outbreak of anti-Semitism. Newfangled Islamophobes will revert to old-time Jew-haters. “The Jews are our disaster,” as the Nazis used to proclaim.

This may be worst in the US. Until now, Americans have watched with admirable tolerance as their Middle East policy is practically dictated by Israel. But even the almighty AIPAC and its allies will not be able to contain the outburst of public anger. They will give way like the levees of New Orleans.

THIS WILL have a direct impact on a central calculation of the warmongers.

In private conversations, but not only there, they assert that America will be immobilized on the eve of elections. During the last few weeks before November 6, both candidates will be mortally afraid of the Jewish lobby.

The calculation goes like this: Netanyahu and Barak will attack without giving a damn for American wishes. The Iranian counter-attack will be directed against American interests. The US will be dragged into the war against its will.

But even in the unlikely event that the Iranians act with supreme self-restraint and do not attack US targets, contrary to their declarations, President Obama will be compelled to save us, send huge quantities of arms and ammunition, bolster our anti-missile defenses, fund the war. Otherwise he will be accused of leaving Israel in the lurch and Mitt Romney will be elected as the savior of the Jewish State.

This calculation is based on historical experience. All Israeli governments in the past have exploited American election years for their purposes.

In 1948, when the US was required to recognize the new Israeli state against the express advice of both the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense, President Truman was fighting for his political life. His campaign was bankrupt. At the last moment Jewish millionaires leaped into the breach, Truman and Israel were saved.

In 1956, President Eisenhower was in the middle of his re-election campaign when Israel attacked Egypt in collusion with France and Britain. It was a miscalculation – Eisenhower did not need Jewish votes and money and put a stop to the adventure. In other election years the stakes were lower, but always the occasion was used to gain some concessions from the US.

Will it work this time? If Israel unleashes a war on the eve of elections, in an obvious effort to blackmail the president, will the American public mood support Israel – or could it go the other way? It will be a critical gamble of historic proportions. But like Mitt Romney, Netanyahu is a protégé of the Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, and he may be no more averse to gambles than the poor suckers who leave their money in Adelson’s casinos.

WHERE ARE the Israelis in all this?

In spite of the constant brainwashing, polls show that the majority of Israelis are dead set against an attack. Netanyahu and Barak are seen as two addicts, many say megalomaniacs, who are beyond rational thinking.

One of the most striking aspects of the situation is that our army chief and the entire General Staff, as well as the chiefs of the Mossad and the Shin Bet, and almost all their predecessors, are totally and publicly opposed to the attack.

It is one of the rare occasions when military commanders are more moderate than their political chiefs, though it has happened in Israel before. One may well ask: how can political leaders start a fateful war when practically all their military advisors, who know our military capabilities and the chances for success, are against it?

One of the reasons for this opposition is that the army chiefs know better than anyone else how totally dependent on the US Israel really is. Our relationship with America is the very basis of our national security.

Also, it seems doubtful whether Netanyahu and Barak have a majority for the attack even in their own government and inner cabinet. The ministers know that apart from everything else, the attack would drive investors and tourists away, causing huge damage to Israel’s economy.

So why do most Israelis still believe that the attack is imminent?

Israelis, by and large, have been totally convinced by now (a) that Iran is governed by a bunch of crazy ayatollahs beyond rationality, and (b) that, once in the possession of a nuclear bomb, they will certainly drop it on us.

These convictions are based on the utterances of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in which he declared that he will wipe Israel off the face of the earth.

But did he really say that? Sure, he has repeatedly expressed his conviction that the Zionist Entity will disappear from the face of the earth. But it seems that he never actually said that he – or Iran – would ensure that result.

That may seem only a small rhetorical difference, but in this context it is very important.

Also, Ahmadinejad may have a big mouth, but his actual power in Iran was never very great and is shrinking fast. The ayatollahs, the real rulers, are far from being irrational. Their whole behavior since the revolution shows them to be very cautious people, averse to foreign adventures, scarred by the long war with Iraq that they did not start and did not want.

A nuclear-armed Iran may be an inconvenient near-neighbor, but the threat of a “second holocaust” is a figment of the manipulated imagination. No ayatollah will drop a bomb when the certain response will be the total annihilation of all Iranian cities and the end of the glorious cultural history of Persia. Deterrence was, after all, the whole sense of producing an Israel bomb

IF NETANYAHU & Co. were really frightened by the Iranian Bomb, they would do one of two things:

Either agree to the de-nuclearization of the region, giving up our own nuclear armaments (highly unlikely);

Or make peace with the Palestinians and the entire Arab world, thereby disarming the ayatollahs’ hostility to Israel.

But Netanyahu’s actions show that, for him, keeping the West Bank is vastly more important than the Iranian bomb.

What better proof do we need of the craziness of this whole scare?

Uri Avnery is an Israeli writer and founder of the Gush Shalom peace movement

 

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The fanciful dialogue below is courtesy of Father Roy. He gives me far too much credit of course, but some of the articles he links to (such as the one on ‘Israel’s Negotiating Strategies’) are definitely worth looking at.  Dave

Click here:… JPost – Diplomacy & Politics

(WHISPER)   “Bibi, Fr. Dave Smith is becoming a dangerous man.  He advocates statehood for Palestine.  He circulates Uri Avnery’s essays.  He networks with an Imam in Tehran.  He’s supportive of Mordechi Vanunu, and he’s friendly with Miko Peled.  What’s more, he admires Julian Assange.  He’s got an extensive international mailing list.  He rejects conventional behavoir.  We’ve got to find ways to discredit this renegade Priest before he exposes Israel’s Negotiating Strategies.”

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Uri Avnery – as usual, full of insight and solid wisdom – writes about the latest tragic round of violence in Israel/Palestine.  Read all of Uri’s articles on his website: www.gush-shalom.org…

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All Quiet on the Southern Front

“What have you learned in school today, my son?”

“There was no school today. There is an emergency!”

“And what have you learned from that, my son?”

ACTUALLY, QUITE a lot.

This week’s “round”, as the army likes to call it, followed a well-established pattern, as formal as a religious ritual.

It started with the assassination (or “targeted elimination”) of a hitherto unknown Palestinian resistance (“terrorist”) leader in the Gaza Strip.

The Palestinians responded with a rain of missiles, which lasted for four whole days. More than a million Israelis around Gaza stopped working and stayed with their children near their shelters or “protected areas” (meaning nothing more than relatively safe rooms in their homes.) One million Israelis roughly equate to 10 million Germans or 40 million Americans, in relation to the population.

A proportion of these rockets were intercepted in their flight by the three batteries of the “Iron Dome” anti-missile defense. There were some Israeli injured and some minor material damage, but no Israeli dead.

Israeli manned and unmanned aircraft struck and there were 26 Palestinian dead in the Gaza Strip.

After four days and nights, both sides had had enough, and Egyptian mediators achieved an unwritten Tahdiyeh (Arabic for “Quiet”).

Everything as usual.

EXCEPT FOR the details, of course.

It all started with the killing of one Zuhair al-Qaisi , the General Secretary of the “Popular Committees”. He has been in this position for only a few months.

The “Popular Committees” are a minor resistance/terrorist group, the third by size in the Strip. They are overshadowed by Hamas, which did not take part in this round, and “Islamic Jihad”, which took up the cause of the “committees” and launched most of the rockets.

The number of launches was a surprise. During the four days, 200 rockets were launched – an average of some 50 per day. 169 fell in Israel. There was no sign that the Jihad was running out of stock. Hamas, of course, is a much larger organization, with a much bigger arsenal. In the Gaza Strip, one must assume, there are now huge quantities of missiles, almost all the more sophisticated ones provided by Iran. How they made the long journey can only be guessed.

One must assume that in Hizbollah-dominated South Lebanon, the stockpiles of missiles are even greater.

On the other side (ours) the Iron Dome has chalked up a huge success, a source of great pride for the contractor, the army and the country at large.

This is a sophisticated system, made in Israel, which initially evoked a lot of skepticism. For that reason, there are at this moment only three batteries in action, each protecting one city (Ashkelon, Ashdod, Beer Sheva). A fourth battery is scheduled to be provided soon.

The system does not intercept every rocket, which would be enormously costly. Instead, the system itself calculates whether a rocket would fall in open space (and could be ignored) or on a populated area (when the interceptor would be launched), all in seconds. Of these, more than 70% were intercepted and destroyed, a great success by any reckoning.

The sting is that one of the Palestinian rockets costs only a few hundred shekels, while one single Iron Dome missile costs 315 thousand shekels. During the four days, 17.6 million shekels’ worth of missiles was spent by the Israeli side. This apart from the very high price tag of the batteries themselves.

The Air Force sorties over the Gaza Strip cost another tens of millions – one hour of flight costs some 100 thousand shekels (almost 25 thousand dollars).

THE FIRST question to be asked was therefore: was the whole exercise worthwhile?

Israelis rarely ask themselves such questions. They believe that those in charge know what they are doing.

But do they?

It all hinges on the necessity to kill al-Qaisi, even for those who believe in such killings as a solution.

Al-Qaisi was in his position as leader of the “Popular Committees” only since the assassination of his predecessor in similar circumstances. A replacement will easily be found. He may be better or worse, but will hardly make much difference.

The Minister of Defense, Ehud Barak, gave a strangely convoluted explanation for the assassination: “(al-Qaisi) was one of the heads of Popular Committees who were, it seems, busy preparing a large attack. I cannot yet say whether this attack was averted.” It seems. I cannot say.

Unofficially it was said that al-Qaisi may have been involved in sending a group of militants from Gaza to the Egyptian Sinai, to attack Israeli territory from there. Last year there was such an attack near Eilat, with several Israeli dead, al-Qaisi’s predecessor was blamed for that and killed before an investigation had even started.

So was it worthwhile to endanger the lives of so many people, send a million people to the shelters and spend tens of millions of shekels on such grounds?

My guess is that al-Qaisi was killed because an opportunity presented itself to do so – such as information on his movements.

WHO MADE the decision?

Targeted assassinations are based on information received from the Shabak (aka Shin Bet). In practice, it is this security service that makes the decision to kill people – acting as gatherer of the information, the assessor of it, and the judge at the same time. No independent analysis of the information, no review, no judicial process of any kind. Questioning the Shabak almost amounts to treason, no politician and no journalist would dare to do so, even if he were so inclined- which he or she is not.

After the Shabak has decided to kill somebody, this is brought  to a tiny group of men: the Prime Minister, the Minister of Defense, the army Chief of Staff and perhaps the officer commanding. Nobody with an independent outlook.

Did any of these people ask the relevant questions?  I doubt it.

For example: Binyamin Netanyahu prides himself on his huge success in America, indeed in the entire world: he has managed to get everybody deeply concerned about the (not yet existing) Iranian nuclear bomb. The Palestinian issue has been completely wiped off the map. And here he sets in motion another round of fighting that reminds people everywhere that the Palestinian issue is alive and kicking, and that it may explode at any moment. Does that make sense even from the point of view of a Netanyahu or a Barak?

ANOTHER INTESTING political aspect of this “round” was the role Hamas played in it, or, rather, didn’t.

Hamas rules the Gaza Strip. The Israeli government does not officially recognize this rule, but somehow still considers Hamas responsible for everything that happens in the Strip, whether Hamas was involved or not.

Until now Hamas entered the fight whenever Israel attacked objects in Gaza. This time, it stayed outside the fray, and even emphasized this fact in telephone interviews on Israeli TV. 

Why? Hamas is closely connected with the Muslim Brotherhood, which now dominates the Egyptian parliament. It is under pressure to create a unity government with Fatah in Palestine and join the PLO. Taking part in the armed fight against Israel at this moment would jeopardize this effort. The more so as the Islamic Jihad is closely connected with Iran, the rival of Egypt and Saudi Arabia.     

ISRAELI TV correspondents have the annoying habit of concluding their reports with a disturbingly banal sentence. For example, a report about a fatal road accident will almost invariably end with the words: “…and he (or she) only wanted to get safely home.”

This week, almost all the final reports about the mess in the south ended with the words: “Quiet has returned to the South – until the next time!”

Everybody assumes that “next time” the rockets coming out of Gaza will have a greater range and perhaps reach the outskirts of Tel Aviv, and  everybody in Israel hopes that the Iron Dome missile will become even more effective.

Until then, All Quiet on the Southern Front.