Thursday, May 10, 2018

2018 Israel: a new Front Line

From Israel, a new Front Line

There were bombings. Two by Israel. One by Iran. Not Syria. Iran. In the last weeks Israel espied new truck activity on a quiet (and previously bombed months ago) base in Syria, a no man’s country since the Obama administration drew a “red line” 5 year ago and then stayed put, creating a vacuum where he said we’d stand. For 5 years Europe has accepted millions of fleeing Syrian refugees, while Iran stepped in to replace the Syrian civilians with Iranian troops and to dig in the barren land to bury weapons.

Israelis saw the Iranian base building and bomb piling in Syria for a few years, and were told by Iran the purpose. When underground missiles were brought to the ground surface in Syria this week, trajectories pointed toward northern Israel where Hezbollah plays border guard, the Israeli government opened its bomb shelters in the north and the Israeli Air Force flew. Half of the roughly two dozen soldiers caught on the Syrian weapons bases were Iranians. Israel tried to set Iran Quds well back, and no Iranian bombs launched from Syria hit Israel. The atmosphere in Israel is tense but cautiously optimistic. But the process may be long and the neighborhood remains dangerous for Jews, as does Europe (newly, but yet again) and most of the Arab world today. The world is more dangerous today for all of us who must dutifully take off our shoes and shun H2O in bottles to fly.

Why were sanctions ever lifted? Because the Europeans and the Chinese have rich business dealings with Iran, which bolster their budgets and oil supplies. But the US doesn’t. Indeed Congress wouldn’t and didn’t ratify the accord, so the US document was called a “political commitment“ and remained unsigned. Unsigned and provenly unjustified, since Iran spent much of its people’s released cash on weapons. Weapons they placed in wild wild Syria, in Gaza with Hamas, and in Lebanon with Hezbollah a US labeled terrorist group now clearly in charge and allied with Iran. 

US renewal of sanctions is very welcome by Israelis and Sunni Muslims because Iran, a theocracy, wants to roll the world back centuries to the height of Shi’ism, for Shi’ites only. Sanctions roll their money wagon in that same general direction, backward. That’s good, because Iran put its money into weapons and troops in Syria, Lebanon, and Gaza, all terrorist led, and compared to that trio, Iran has both size and cash. The US heeded the call to stop their cash. The Israelis heeded the call to destroy the weapons in empty Syria, creating hopefully a shorter, less violent path toward final goals of diversity and world peace. 

But the path won’t be short. And it will be violent. No matter what. 

Welcome to the Middle East 2018.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Israel Turns 70

Looking out the window as the Memorial Day siren sounds, I remember when my kids were in uniform, and like any Mom, I remember the time when Israel was so much smaller. Before my eyes Israel has turned into a powerful country. Tel Aviv into a full-fledged high rise city. In just 70 years. To secure borders they once smuggled in weapons under the noses of the ruling British, and today’s Israelis invented the Iron Dome defense system, arguably the world invention of the decade. Plus too many medical advances to keep track (

The palate, like a gourmet’s waistband, has expanded. Food knowledge here is exploding. ( 

Ragtag shops offering odd, limited assortments of goods have grown into 2-story malls. Swiffers stand next to the old squeegees in modern supermarkets that are almost always located with a nearby option for coffee, some of the best in the world. Israelis have been making great cappuccinos decades before they became common in NY. And the number of AMPM and other 24/7 bodegas, late restaurant seatings and clubs make NY’ers look like they sleep at night. Which I won’t because the Tel Aviv municipality texted us (!) that the park across from our apartment is shooting off birthday fireworks - at 2am. 

Happy Birthday Israel. I cannot but wonder what you will look and feel and taste like at 100. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

August 28


ha-Bibi, this ceasefire IS different from all other ceasefires

Sitting in Florida with a busted air conditioner, waiting for the repairman, I can’t help but scratch my hot head and wonder why Israelis are so hot under their collars that they drove Bibi's approval rating down from 90’s to 30’s.

Bibi did exactly what he set out to do. Not destroy Hamas. Not crush Hamas. He certainly knew he couldn't change them. He set out to weaken Hamas, yet leave them intact for the après-final-final-final-ceasefire talks. Otherwise he would have to take over the Strip so bigger crazies won’t show up, or leave the place 100% in the none-too-reliable hands of Abbas. Keeping a balance between Fatah and Hamas was always Bibi’s stated goal, from day one. Look back.

Bibi’s end strategy in this war echoes and perhaps channels the last Lebanon war - which Israel also thinks it lost because Hezbollah re-armed, and remained in government. But Nasrallah said a few years ago, well after the war, that if he had calculated how much damage was going to be done to Lebanon he would not have engaged the Israelis like that. Who knows what Hezbollah is thinking, but they did not jump in with Hamas this summer. They did not invite IDF planes back into Lebanon. Sara's base in the north was capable and ready, but kept flying south while Hezbollah kept its fight in someone else’s backyard - let Syria pay for the clean up after a Middle Eastern style play date.

If August is hot and gloomy in Israel, perhaps it is because the country always mourns war and especially the death of children. It hurt when the southerners were told to come back too soon.

But if Israelis think their army didn't get the job done – it did. Bibi did not get stuck inside Gaza, nor lose soldiers by the hundreds (by the tens, sadly). The Iron Dome and shelters protected most (but not all, sadly) civilians. Troops destroyed 32 tunnels, Hamas’ surprise weapon. No mass attacks will come on Rosh haShana this year, now just weeks away.

Yet somehow the talk from here seems gloomy, as if this war was lost.

Did Israel break Hamas? Yes. How? By displaying a country-wide unity that was breathtaking in its wholeness. Especially for Israel! If you want a sign that the war is truly over, just look at how Israel is back to finger pointing. And whining. Shame. It was a wonderful oasis for awhile. It made being there during the war an odd privilege, a seat in the front row of history in the making, and of a great people making it. Their message rang out loud and clear: Israel is here to stay.

Did Hamas surrender? Yes, although optics are deceiving because when Hamas loses Gazans shoot in the air to celebrate, killing another 19-year-old and wounding another 49. Hey, put it on Israel's tab. And don’t forget to photograph smiling kids with war paint on their faces and rifles in their hands. Don't Gazans know rifles shot by 9-year-olds can really kill? Oh, I forgot, Hamas can't read the American news, it cut its main electric line during the war it started. No internet.

Win or lose, Israel cries after a war. Its toughest soldiers cry. So much bereavement. But they fight. They have to. And Bibi beat Hamas despite the latter's twisted, willing acceptance of death.

Bibi won by playing a crescendo, coming on stronger after every doomed ceasefire. First, the IDF displayed that the Iron Dome defense system protected against even barrages of rockets. Then the country proved willing to wait in shelters until the all clear. When the defenses held Bibi played on, slowly, using troops just to destroy the tunnels. Then, he reported Hamas’ plot to overthrow Abbas. Then, the IDF began to kill leaders, perhaps with intelligence from a pissed off Abbas (better than a smug one). Then the IDF mustered the will to kill any family members at home with the legendary Deif. And then the IDF targeted more leaders. Until the game changer, the piece de resistance. The IAF took down a nice building, made of glass, with 24-hour-doormen, right inside Gaza City. Where several rich Gazans lived, doctors and lawyers unlucky enough to have bought a condo in the same building as Hamas’ targeted money guy, Mohammed al-Ghoul. Like
Ra’s al-Gul - Arabic for head of the demon, and the very, very bad guy from DC Comics, and Batman’s Dark Knight. In cartoons and in movies, as in reality, when the wealthy take the hit, the game shifts.

Fighting on would have cost Hamas everything. In Bibi they found a leader who wasn't stopped by the world in 50 days, who wasn't rushed to recklessness, who wouldn't negotiate from his position of strength, and who kept playing a steady crescendo. Slow enough for the world to absorb without exploding against Israel. Steady enough that I think Bibi gets to stop here, a final ceasefire. Hamas will be in the negotiations, and Israeli troops will stay happily out of Gaza. Very happily, Eric says.

I understand that after almost a dozen ceasefires, Israelis must ask, why is this ceasefire different from all (almost a dozen) other ceasefires? Bibi has shown that Israel will not let Hamas defeat it from next door anytime soon. Without the too-bold military moves of other earlier wars. In 1973 Israel pushed past Sinai all the way into Africa before halting 101 km from Cairo, and in the same war marched into Syria, 35 km from Damascus. In 1982 the IDF landed itself at the gates of Beirut. But Israel wound up back home anyway, the clear military victor with nothing permanent to show for the harder work done and the higher price paid. And if Israelis feel they are missing a clear victory here, what they really seem to want is an assurance of prolonged quiet. But no script seems exempt from change in this region, especially lately. What I want from Operation Protective Edge is a better airing on the world stage, and an understanding, an admittance, that Hamas is Isis, and Isis is Hamas. Bibi worked harder on getting out this message than he did at war. Bibi tweeted photos of Isis and Hamas conducting eerily similar be-headings, side by side, until pressed to take it off as too gruesome, which points out how hard it is for people to absorb such hard-line radicalism in a Rorschach. Even after September 11. Even after James Foley's beheading. Bibi still had to remove the tweet.

When will countries like the US, Europe, China, Australia and India finally see that Israel is a full-fledged democracy standing on the front line of a new, radical threat? (New to the West and East, not to Israel.) Now the changes in the region are so rapid and drastic it must be hard even for Israelis to keep track of what is swirling in the countries around them. And they have front row seats. For a show that wants to go global.

Global! The million dollar (now worth less than four million shekels) question is not whether Bibi beat Hamas, but whether his international performance sufficed. Last year he sang on and on in English about the extreme danger of a nuclear Iran, and though he is right, the world didn't take up the cry. He is now crooning until purple about Isis and Hamas being the same Sunni radical movement with aspirations to turn the world toward Sharia law, and though hard evidence is mounting, the world still thinks this preposterous and refuses to take it up. Even with Muslims amassing and screaming at full throttle throughout Europe and getting more organized by the month in America.

So I get that Israelis are fully fed up, and want already to know if it is this time, or next time, or the time after that before Israel’s side will be truly heard. Since 1948 there has been a stubborn decision to side against Israel, notably by the press. (An Insider's Guide to the Most Important Story on Earth)

But alone or with allies, squawking or united, heard or misunderstood, Israelis knows how to hold down the fort. The Jewish nation rocks. And Israel is here to stay.

Monday, August 18, 2014

August 18

Hot spot: place where violence is a form of communication. Iraq. Gaza. Ferguson, Missouri.

The US knows chaos is bad; we sent in the National Guard. Looting is not covered under free speech.

In Gaza the National Guard and looters are one: Hamas. An Israeli video of Gazan parents holding up babies to sacrifice for the cause of making Israel a ‘temporary chapter in history’ makes you ask yourself if that is what they want for their children, or if it is what they say because a green Hamas flag flies over their white house, lucky it is not ISIS black?

The current ceasefire expires today at midnight, 5pm EST. It is depressing, because we have been here before. Hamas has had plenty of time to come about to reconciliation and I think the wheel will come up rockets. Again. Israeli news says the Israeli Defense Force, like the National Guard, will restore order within its borders, which means putting a stop to Hamas. In other words, Israelis are going in again, and they will still play by Geneva Convention rules. Egypt will support them. The UN will not. The UK will dither; surveys show Brits want Israel to win, just without firing any real bullets. Hey, me too. Especially me. Americans in the US will dither too: Why can’t we all just get along? Like in Ferguson, Missouri.

Apparently Ferguson isn't fulfilling the American Dream of kids getting educated, then employed. It’s what we expect from our country. It's what we demand of and model for our kids. Michael Brown’s mother said she battled with him to stay in high school and go on to college, and that it wasn’t easy. No rough circumstances in Ferguson can justify lawlessness, just as no grievances in Gaza allow for ceasefire breaches, human shields, and rockets fired purposefully onto neighboring civilians.

Order. Then dialog. Then solutions. Israel and Hamas are on that brink again today, facing each other across opposite edges of a pool. Do they jump in and meet as neighbors? I think Hamas will harbor military control, and again shoot rockets over the divide while keeping Gazan civilians, including children, inside areas of fire, for an excuse to yell genocide. What kind of Dream is that?

Dream Radical Islam: ISIS, Hamas. Both are neighbors of Israel.

The West watches from afar, convinced that the crazy, hot-headed conflict will burn itself out. It takes two to tango, and the West refuses. Not interested. And who would blame them? Only the Radical Islam Dreamers have stated they plan to be global, and play soon in an arena near the rest of us.

Back to the pool, and our upcoming litmus test of peace: Hamas at 5pm EST jumps in next to Israel, and agrees to use aid not for rockets, but for Gazans to build a better life.

It takes two to tango. It also takes two to have peace.

Or, if your partner is Radical Islam, a strong pair of rose-colored glasses. Which we wear, because they feel so much better than the increasingly clearer alternative of violence, or Sharia. Can't we all just get along, agree to wear 3D glasses and keep the violence on IMAX screens? I vote for virtual war, like the Brits. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

August 15


US universities are justifiably coming under ‘fire’ for old-fashioned, outdated curricula that is not in touch with today’s corporate needs. For one thing, today’s students need to know how to launch and enhance web sites and keep them as edgy as a buzz feed.

Today’s Israeli college students should – seriously – consider a semester of study in Gaza. The people there are masters at getting out the message. They called the world's attention to a piece of land dwarfed by a country itself the size of New Jersey. Trenton, the capital of New Jersey, could likewise back up street shooting and shooting off its mouth with shooting off smuggled rockets, but Trentonites just don’t seem to have that level of commitment.

Getting the message out accomplished, Gaza could further teach the counter-art of keeping inconvenient truths inside. For example, that medical help is readily available in both Israel and in Egypt. That Egypt's Rafah crossing is open to Gazans, one at a time, every day. Any more quickly, Egypt and Israel both agree, is quite simply an intolerable security risk. So if there is a 'siege' on Gaza, it is a siege with a sieve; it leaks.

But information doesn't get leaked. No videos of rifle-toting 5-year-olds. No RPG’s peeking out from under burkas in the closet, or  U-pipes under the sink. No bombs seen lobbed at trucks filled with goods at Kerem Shalom crossing waiting for entry into Gaza (that particular strategy is a civilian abuse I don’t even get). Videos of all these exist, but they are have not gone viral. Message out, garbage in. A skill set a corporation could get behind!

In Herzliya last week I attended an open house of a young university because I wanted to see the curriculum of a school without baggage. The dean emphasized that students learn to create video both because the Internet is built for streaming and because seeing is the best route to believing. To convincing. To persuading. I hereby propose a semester of study in Gaza for students to learn what can be accomplished with a portable Geo-vision camera and a strong point of view.

Press victories aside, Gaza is stubbornly beginning to swing back toward reality, toward its people. Already headlines suggest a prolonged ceasefire even if no agreement. Israel absorbed over 3,000 rockets and retaliated for each, imagine the hits Gaza took in turn. Meshaal in Qatar might not care, but his voice is finally getting drowned out by the wails of women who want their burka closets back. And their five-year-olds. 

Israelis lost (even as they won) too. Here in Manhattan they touchingly poured out the 64 names of fallen soldiers onto a shop window (has anyone come across it?). 

Hearts on both sides absorbed loss and sacrifice and now must stretch still deeper and wider, enough to make room for optimism, hope, and the future. They must expand. And they must be patient.

It needs time, as a quiet future requires silencing extremists like Riad Natzer. Hamas' West Bank head was arrested on May 27 and is now on trial in Israel, according to the Jerusalem Post, which featured the picture below, for staging terror cells to be ready for the day he ordered coordinated kidnapping and suicide attacks on many parts of Israel at once. 

Hamas supporters reenact kidnapping of Israeli soldiers Photo: REUTERS

Kind of like a one-two punch: combine civilian kidnappings like Hamas in Gaza purportedly planned for the Jewish New Year next month using tunnels into Israel, with suicide attacks like at Passover in 2002 at the Park Hotel in Netanya (killed 30, seriously injured 20). This was before the arrival of croissants, and before the walls had to be built between Israel and its neighbors.

Hopefully a friendly flow of neighboring Arabs and Israelis could resume for rebuilding businesses. Like the greenhouse enterprise in Gaza that Hamas destroyed the day Israel pulled out. Say what you will, capitalism is better than militarism. If Wall Street bleeds you, it's only money. And money is on offer to the Gaza Strip for investment by many wealthy wolves, such as Saudi Arabia, the US and Israel. Not only for basic needs after years of Hamas neglect and abuse, culminating in a striking war, but also for unlocking the potential; the Gaza Strip is a wide open field day for investors. College semesters teaching corporate branding are barely the tip in the Strip.

Agreements aside, a good war ending would mean Israelis can resume spending leisure shekels in Gaza, and Gazans can work again in Israel or in Egypt. Or in revived Gaza. All sides were better off before Hamas; they hopefully wind up much better off after.

The wider region's future also got a bit brighter when the US supported minority Yazidis stranded by ISIS. Obama sent in 20 green berets on foot to look around. They found not 40,000 but nonetheless 5,000 stranded, in much better shape than thought, but still stranded. CBS News online reported, "The team has assessed that there are far fewer Yazidis on Mount Sinjar than previously feared, in part because of the success of humanitarian air drops, airstrikes on (ISIS) targets, the efforts of the Peshmerga (Kurdish fighters) and the ability of thousands of Yazidis to evacuate from the mountain each night over the last several days," said Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby on Wednesday.

And in part because this region sure knows how to sell an image. Semester abroad anyone?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

August 14


We’ve gone from ceasing fire at 5pm to a full 5 days. Israel pushed it further than the usual 72 hours to get past Shabbat. Indeed this is becoming routine, what John Oliver called on his show “deja boom.”

What is holding up an accord? The Jerusalem Post blames it on Meshaal, and it is easy to believe that he doesn’t want to introduce himself at dinner parties in his safe host country of Qatar as ex-chief-in-exile. Meshall in Qatar doesn’t skip dessert when Gazan rockets fire, or when Israel retaliates. Appalling.

Meshaal needs a game changer agreement that allows him to stay in power even though Hamas lost the war. The other parties need nothing. For Egypt status quo means Rafah stays closed. Egypt doesn’t need to trade with Hamas but wouldn’t mind, since Hamas likely won’t spread Jihad in Egypt now that Al-Sisi is in charge. “Pinpoint strikes to avoid civilian deaths” is as much in his vocabulary as ISIS can say “let's get the stranded civilians off the mountainside.” It is a tough neighborhood, as Netanyahu says.

Abbas can also stay silent. In fact the less said the better. He has only to gain. Regain, rather, as Hamas stole authority from him in the first place, so this is just desserts. He should lick his lips quietly as he thinks about all the cream he will skim from the rehabilitation money that is about to flow in.

Arabs allegiances shift like the sand except so far for Jordan, who kept its ambassador in place. Jordan’s existence is more fragile than Israel’s. Jordan has Isis on one border, Abbas/Hamas on the other. They more trust Israel’s protective air force to take its side, in honor of the Jordan-Israel peace agreement. Arabs are as faithful in their politiques as … the French.

Israel can stay quiet too, really, although it wants quiet the easy way, by agreement, rather than by force, ie bombing until Hamas cries uncle. Ugly? Yes. For the Israelis that don't want to act like this. What about the world? Won't it cry genocide? Already done. Even by Jordan! Even by the UN!!

Ah, the impartial UN. You could asked George Clooney’s fiancée. She was prematurely named, a first ever, and refuted the call, her reluctance based on the committee’s bias, in her view. Biased? The UN? You can hear for yourself in just the first 4 minutes of this video from October 2012 featuring lead UN investigator: William Schabas.  

In just 4 minutes I laughed out loud twice. First, the introducer pronounced his name, well, “Shabbas” as in Good Shabbas - notice how quickly he was pushed to correct it. Ha! Another, funny-not-ha-ha moment was Schabas used the word genocide to speak about Israel, and later noted the word was first coined in English in 1944 by – you guessed it – a Jew. You can’t make this stuff up. And you probably can’t rely on Mr. anti-shabbas to untangle this knot.

Can the US untangle the knot? First let us see how our soldiers fight ‘fair’ against ISIS. We're back in Iraq. Talk about ‘deja boom’. Obama seems to be trying to distance himself from this, which can’t be fun for our troops to hear.  US presidents make international as well as domestic decisions, as inconvenient as this may be for a grass roots president, and this is either a ‘just’ war, as Operation Protective Edge is perceived to be within Israel, or it’s wrong. Obama must commit.

And so must we all.  As Eric prepares to spend his weekend guarding Ashqelon rather than at home, I thank him, and all who support Israel. As Shabbas - and Schabas - draw near, I find it easy to take a stand with Israel and with the US stopping ISIS. Both are doing the world’s dirty work. Again. And again I will try to keep my nose away from the UN-fair, fishy smell emanating from First Avenue and the 40’s.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

August 13


Latest ceasefire expires tonight at 5pm New York time, which is midnight in Jerusalem, the cradle of civilization, or the center of religion, an arena where man’s ideas are formed, even if they are unformed, and often uninformed.

I am still war-logged, as talks drag on between Israel, Egypt, and a strip ruled by terrorists, using the West Bank, former terrorists standing as a wildcard for the best chance to create a peaceful solution. If the past holds, a fiery chat will end with rocket fire by Hamas, who has already sustained damage though not beyond repair. Worth rebuilding, coastline along whole western side. 

Erez in the north is the crossing where Hamas blocked Gazans from visiting the clinic for wounded. It used to be open, pre-Hamas. It is near Beit Hanoun from where Hamas fired rockets on Israel's coastal cities, Ashqelon and Ashdod, and if you keep going, Tel Aviv.

Stretching toward the sea in the south is Khan Younis. Israelis destroyed a terrorist compound there. The family left when the IDF called and sent an empty bomb as the roof as a knock before a real one, but the family decided suddenly to backtrack and play human shield. Don’t know if game would have worked, but they ran back too late, surprising the IAF who could not stop the ordered strike in time. Like your mom said, once you start crossing the street, don’t turn back, keep going to the other side, so you don’t confuse the drivers. Mom knows best.

In one neighborhood Hamas built more than an Osama-type compound - the whole town was a military base. Shujaiya was inhabited effectively for the military: Hershey Pennsylvania for war, not chocolate. Bombs in hospital, houses, schools, and mosques. The hardest fighting and most IDF deaths came in Shujaiya. You don’t even see it on this or on most other maps. Hershey/Shujaiya was a place kept under wraps. It is in the middle of Gaza (across from Kibbutz Nahal Oz, where a tunnel led and where tunnel terrorists killed IDF soldiers guarding the kibbutz). Shujaiya's hospital was military HQ, the engineering room of the factory, as it were. Here is a video

of its bombing, the after explosions of caches in the basement, and the call between an IDF woman and a Gazan to make sure the hospital was empty. Yes, the IDF telephoned Shujaiya’s hospital. (And someone answered...) Gaza and Israel are neighbors, and you still can sense the strong contact between the sides built up over the pre-Hamas years. Shujaiya will be rebuilt with international funds and hopefully with no more arms. 

Shujaiya and Rafah are where two kidnappings of slain soldier’s bodies took place. Recovering these two bodies is part of today’s negotiations.

Rafah is next to Egypt. As soon as Morsi was deposed, Egypt's military flooded 1,000+ tunnels with sewage from Egypt's side of the border to stop Hamas entering. Hamas smuggled goods on which it took 25% tax, the bulk of its revenue, but also created terror chaos. Egypt did not want Hamas' Muslim Brotherhood anymore than they wanted Morsi's, whom they luckily threw out before he could convert Egypt to fundamentalism (like Turkey).

Israel and Egypt as allies, against all odds, against Hamas.

New axes are forming, in unexpected ways.

Here is how I think it lines up: 

Standing with Israel         
Egypt, US, China, Australia, Canada, India, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia

Standing with Hamas
Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Qatar, Russia, Africa, South America

Fill in other countries. Arabs are on both sides. So is Europe... they will get tested over timeJews, the wandering people, live in both axes, and in Israel they live all mixed together, with freedom of religion and a strong army that politely calls and knocks before entering.

I hope this ceasefire is final, because politeness is hard under rocket fire, and Hamas may not agree to cease firing while it still has 3,000 rockets.

If talks stall and firing resumes, I just hope Israel keeps it in the air.

Uh oh, Middle East time, not 5pm yet here or midnight there, but rockets are firing.