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Posted on on February 17th, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (

date:  Mon, Feb 17, 2014


Syrian rebels or international terrorists?
Vijay Prashad* – The Hindu
*Vijay Prashad is the Edward Said Chair at the American University of Beirut, Beirut, Lebanon.
With Bashar Assad arguing that this is a war against terrorism, and the rebels arguing that this is a war against authoritarianism, no agreement can come of the peace talks on Syria.
Geneva 2’s mood mirrored the sound of mortar and despair on the ground in Syria. Not much of substance came of the former, as the U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi tiredly indicated that diplomacy continued despite the lack of a breakthrough. He hoped that the United States and the Russians would pressure their clients to remain at the table, from where, for three weeks, little of value has emerged. No agreement can come of these peace talks for at least two reasons. First, the government of Bashar Assad and the rebel coalition do not agree on the interpretation of the conflict. Mr. Assad argues that this is a war against terrorism (Al-Qaeda), while the rebels argue that this is a war against authoritarianism (the Assad government). Second, the rebels themselves are deeply fractured, with the Islamists in Syria who are doing the brunt of the fighting indisposed to any peace talks.
Mr. Brahimi hoped that humanitarian relief would be the glue to hold the two sides together. Residents in the old city of Homs and in the Palestinian neighbourhood of Yarmouk in Damascus have been under siege for two years. It was hoped that safe passage could be provided for food and medicine, but this was not accomplished. U.N. and Islamic Red Cross workers bravely avoided snipers and shells to transport food and medicines to the Syrians; children among them stared at fresh fruit, unsure of what to do with it. Absent momentum from Geneva, the options for a regional solution are back on the table.
Role for India, China?
In 2012, Egypt convened the Syria Contact Group that comprised Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey — unlikely partners. Pressure from the U.S. and Russia at that time closed down the Group. Today, the regional partners seek an exit from their exaggerated postures over Syria, but there is no diplomatic space for them to act. It falls to powers that are untainted by the war, perhaps China and India, to call for a meeting — a Beijing or New Delhi summit — to craft a serious agenda to pressure all sides to a ceasefire and a credible political process.
The war is now fought less on the ground and more over its interpretation. Expectations of a hasty collapse of the government withdraw as the Syrian Army takes Jarajir, along the Lebanon border. Islamists groups continue to fight against each other in the north, weakening their firepower as the Syrian army watches from the sidelines. The emboldened Syrian government has now stepped up its rhetoric about this war being essentially one against terrorists with affiliation to al-Qaeda. Ears that once rejected this narrative in the West and Turkey are now increasingly sympathetic to it. As the Islamists suffocate the rebellion, it becomes hard to champion them against the government. Focus has moved away from the prisons and barrel bombs of the government to the executions and social policies of the Islamists.
A year ago, the West and Turkey would have scoffed at talk of terrorism as the fantasy of the Assad government. The West and the Gulf Arabs had opened their coffers to the rebels, knowing full well that they were incubating the growth of the Islamist factions at the expense of the secular opposition. Turkey’s government of Recep Tayyip Erdog?an micromanaged the opposition, provided bases in Turkey and allowed well-armed fighters to slip across the border into Syria. By early 2012, it had become a common sight to see well-armed Islamist fighters in the streets of Antakya and in the refugee camps in Hatay Province. The seeds of what was to come — the entry of al-Qaeda into Syria — was set by an opportunistic and poorly conceived policy by Erdog?an’s government. It did not help that his otherwise well-spoken and highly-regarded Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutog?lu began to refer to Syria’s Alawites (Mr. Assad’s community) as Nusayri, a derogatory sectarian term. Turkey joined U.S., Europe and Gulf Arab calls for Mr. Assad’s departure well before the numbers of those dead climbed above the thousands. Nervousness about the spread of al-Qaeda to Syria has made the rebels’ patrons edge closer to the Damascus narrative. The U.S. government wishes to arm the Iraqi government with Hellfire missiles and drones to combat the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in Iraq’s Anbar Province. Britain has said that any fighter who comes back from Syria will be arrested (last week, a Sussex man — Abu Suleiman al-Britani — conducted a suicide operation in Aleppo). The Saudi Royal Court decreed that any Saudi found to have waged jihad abroad could spend up to 20 years in prison.
General Mansour al-Turki of the Saudi Interior Ministry said: “We are trying to stop everyone who wants to go to Syria, but we can’t stop leaks.” The Turkish Armed Forces fired on an ISIS convoy on January 28 inside Syria, and told the government in a report prepared jointly with the Turkish National Intelligence agency that al-Qaeda had made credible threats on Turkey.
Mr. Erdog?an hastened to Tehran to meet the new Iranian leadership — their public comments were on trade, but their private meetings were all on Syria and the need to combat the rise of terrorism. What Mr. Assad had warned about in 2012 came to pass — for whatever reason — and led to a loss of confidence among the rebels’ patrons for their future. Even al-Qaeda’s putative leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, has sought to distance himself from ISIS. These signs indicate that on Syria, the “terrorism narrative” has come to dominate over the “authoritarian regime narrative.”
Islamic Front:
The fractious Syrian opposition that came to Geneva does not represent the main columns of rebel fighters on the ground. These are mainly Islamists — with the al-Qaeda wing represented by ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, and the rest represented by the Islamic Front. They have no appetite for negotiation. Mr. Abu Omar of the Islamic Front said that Syria’s future would be created “here on the ground of heroism, and signed with blood on the frontlines, not in hollow conferences attended by those who don’t even represent themselves.” A U.S. intelligence official told me that when the U.S. went into Afghanistan in 2001, “We smashed the mercury and watched it spread out slowly in the area.” Al-Qaeda was not demolished in Kandahar and Tora Bora. Its hardened cadre slipped across to Pakistan and then onwards to their homelands. There they regrouped, reviving the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, al-Qaeda in Yemen, Ansar al-Sharia, Ansar Dine, and ISIS. The latter slipped into Syria from an Iraq broken by the U.S. occupation and the sectarian governance of the current government. There they worked with Jabhat al-Nusra and fought alongside other Islamist currents such as Ahrar ash-Sham. It was inevitable that these battle-tested Islamists would overrun the peaceful protesters and the defectors from the Syrian Army — the Free Syrian Army (FSA) — who scattered to the wind in 2012.
The FSA troops either joined up with the Islamists, continued to fight in small detachments, or linger precariously as twice defectors who are now homeless. The barbarism of the ISIS pushed other Islamists — with Gulf Arab support — to form the Islamic Front. The hope was that this group would run ISIS back to Iraq and remove the stigma of “al-Qaeda” from the Syrian rebellion. The problem is that one of the constituents of the Islamic Front — Jabhat al-Nusra, arguably the most effective of its fighting forces — sees itself as the Syrian franchise of al-Qaeda and has largely abjured the fight against ISIS. Another problem is that the in-fighting on the ground seems to have tapered off — one of the Islamist groups, Suqour al-Sham signed a truce with ISIS and pledged to work together.
By early 2014, these groups found their supply lines cut off.  Iraq’s attack on ISIS began to seal the porous border that runs through the Great Syrian Desert.  Jordan had already tried to close its border since early 2013, having arrested over a hundred fighters who have tried to cross into Syria.  Lebanon’s border has become almost inaccessible for the rebels as the Syrian Army takes the roadway that runs along the boundary line.  Last year, Turkey closed the Azaz crossing once it was taken over by the radical Islamists.
On January 20, the rebels attacked the Turkish post at Cilvegözü-Bab al-Hawa, killing 16.  This is what spurred the Turkish Army to attack the ISIS convoy a week later.
As the Islamists saw their supply lines closed off, the U.S. announced that it would restart its aid to the rebel fighters.  On February 5, the Syrian Coalition chief Ahmad Jabra told Future TV that his rebels would get “advanced weapons” — likely from the U.S.  The FSA announced the formation of the Southern Front – with assistance from the West — to revive the dormant fight in Syria’s south-west.  All this took place during Geneva 2, signalling confusion in U.S. policy.       Does Washington still want to overthrow the Syrian government?  Would it live with an Islamist government on Israel’s borders?  Or, perhaps, the U.S. is eager for a stalemate, as pointed out by former CIA analyst Bruce Riedel, “The rebels lack the organization and weapons to defeat Assad.  The regime lacks the loyal manpower to suppress the rebellion.  Both sides’ external allies are ready to supply enough money and arms to fuel the stalemate for the foreseeable future.”  This is a cruel strategy.
It offers no hope of peace for the Syrian people.
Road ahead for Syria group:
A senior military official in West Asia told me that one of the most overlooked aspects of West Asia and North Africa is that the military leaderships of each country maintain close contacts with each other. During Turkey’s war against the Kurdish rebellion in its eastern provinces, the military coordinated their operations with the Syrian armed forces. These links have been maintained. When it became clear that Mr. Erdog?an’s exaggerated hopes for Syria failed, and with the growth of the Islamists on Turkey’s borders and the Kurds in Syria having declared their independence, the Turkish military exerted its views. The Iraqi armed forces had already begun their operations against ISIS. Additionally, Egypt’s new Field Marshal Sisi overthrew the government of Mohamed Morsi when the latter encouraged jihadis to go to Syria. This was anathema to the Egyptian military who acted for this and other reasons to depose Mr. Morsi. The military view of the political situation leans naturally toward the terrorism narrative.
It appears now that the regional states are no longer agreed that their primary mission is the removal of Mr. Assad.This view — shared by the militaries — is evident in the political leadership in Iran, Iraq, and Turkey.With Egypt, these three states would be the core of a rejuvenated Syria Contact Group.

The 2012 group also had Saudi Arabia, which might be enjoined to come back to the table if they see that their outside allies — notably the U.S. — are averse to a policy that would mean Jabhat al-Nusra in power in Damascus.

Without Saudi Arabia, and perhaps even Qatar, the Syria Contact Group would be less effective.

If the Syria Contact Group is to re-emerge, it would need to be incubated by pressure from China and India, two countries that are sympathetic to multipolar regionalism.
Thus far, neither China nor India has taken an active role in the Syrian conflict, content to work within the United Nations and to make statements as part of the BRICS group.
But the failure of the U.S. and Russia and the paralysis of the U.N. alongside the continued brutality in Syria require an alternative path to be opened up.
Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have indicated willingness for a dialogue — China and India need to offer them the table.



Posted on on January 26th, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (

 We just received the following release from UNEP, this after we listened to Fareed Zakaria interviewing in Davos the present Egyptian Prime Minister Hazen El Bablawi who seemed blasee to the fact that Egypt is deteriorating – just one more Arab State that seems compelled to love a dictatorship.

Iraq’s environment was destroyed by the oil industry and is now – like Syria – a global basket case. If these countries are not allowed to fall apart and reorganize along more friendly internal lines no amount of help to the environment will have any impact on their future.

Iraq’s dictator put on fire all his oil producing facilities in disregard of his people and the World at large. The best possible environmental recovery process will start with the complete closing of that oil pumping industry. Islamic extremist hot-heads will do little for life in this part of the World where some would rather worship death. Our good friend and well meaning head of UNEP – Achim Steiner – goes to Baghdad and presents the local Environment Minister with a volume in Arabic that tells him what his government could do for a purpose they do not have yet – the environment in which their people ought to be able to live while they are being bombed and shot at daily?

It would be nice indeed if we could center governments’ attention around a worship of Nature rather then the present worship of a religious zeal that sees the enemy in humans and has no value for Nature. Strange – but with every passing day we get closer to the point that we may eventually recommend Vodou (Voodoo)  as the true rational ethics.


UNEP NEWS: Landmark Agreement Sets in Motion Action to Restore Iraq’s Environment as New Study Outlines Magnitude of Deterioration.

Landmark Agreement Sets in Motion Action to Restore Iraq’s Environment as New Study Outlines Magnitude of Deterioration. UN Top Environment Chief in First Visit to Iraq Says Implementation of Agreement will Bolster Environmental Recovery and Peace-building.      {Peace building did he say?}

Baghdad, 26 January 2014 – In an effort to set in motion robust action to restore Iraq’s fast deteriorating environment, the Government of Iraq signed, Sunday, a landmark agreement with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) that aims to speed up recovery and support peace-building.

Iraq’s environment has suffered severe decline in recent years, exacerbated by decades of war and growing pressures on natural resources.

According to a new government study – backed by UN and World Bank data – 5 to 8 per cent of Iraq’s GDP is lost annually to environmental degradation.

At the same time, 39 per cent of Iraq’s agricultural land suffered a reduction in cropland between 2007 and 2009. Meanwhile food insecurity remains on the rise.

The report warns that the quality and quantity of the country’s water has been impacted by upstream damming, pollution, climate change and inefficient usage.

The amount of water available per person per year decreased from 5,900 cubic metres to 2,400 cubic metres between 1977 and 2009.  Decreasing water supplies were exacerbated by drought from 2005 and 2009.

The Tigris and the Euphrates, Iraq’s two major surface water sources, may dry up by 2040 if current conditions prevail.

“Achieving sustainable development is by no means a light undertaking, especially after decades of wars, sanctions and environmental degradation. Rebuilding Iraq’s environmental infrastructure underpins the country’s recovery and peace-building efforts”, said Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director, on his first-ever visit to Iraq.

“The commitment of the Government to achieve environmental sustainability is clearly articulated in the vision, goals and objectives of the National Development Plan, which places the Green Economy at the heart of development and economic policies,” he added.

The new five-year Strategic Cooperation Agreement with UNEP will strengthen efforts to overcome many of Iraq’s environmental challenges.

Iraqi Minister of Environment Eng. Sargon Lazar Slewa said: ” The Government of Iraq is committed to moving ahead with plans to restore the environment as part of our National Development Plan.  The visit by Mr. Steiner and the signing of the cooperation agreement will expedite and further strengthen this process. The well-being, security and livelihoods of Iraqi’s are dependent on our success.”

Areas of cooperation defined by the agreement will focus on: environmental legislation and regulations; biodiversity conservation; green economy; cleaner production; resource efficiency; combating dust storms; and climate change reporting, mitigation and adaptation.

The signing of the agreement took place at a special event hosted by the Minister of Environment to welcome Mr. Steiner to Baghdad.

It was attended by key figures including cabinet ministers, parliamentarians, members of the diplomatic community and international organizations.

Cooperation between the Government of Iraq and UNEP dates back to 2003, immediately after the establishment of the Ministry of Environment.

Since then, UNEP has worked with the Iraqi Government on multiple projects, including: rapid post-conflict environmental assessments; environmental clean-up of highly contaminated sites; and the restoration of the Mesopotamian Marshlands.

The report, entitled “Iraq State of Environment and Outlook” is available in Arabic only. It was prepared by the Government of Iraq with support from UNDP, UNEP and WHO.


Facts and figures from the report:

·         Around 31 per cent of Iraq’s surface is desert. At the same time, 39 per cent of the country’s surface is estimated to have been affected by desertification, with an additional 54 per cent under threat.

·         As a result of declining soil moisture and lack of vegetative cover, recent years have witnessed an increase in the frequency of vast dust and sand storms, often originating in the western parts of Iraq.

·         Population growth is adding mounting pressure to existing food, water and energy resources.

·         By 2030, the population is expected to grow to almost 50 million people, exacerbating these pressures even further.

·         Sustainable access to safe water and sanitation remain a challenge: 83 per cent of Iraq’s wastewater is left untreated, contributing to the pollution of Iraq’s waterways and general environment.

·         Years of conflict and violence resulted in chemical pollution and unexploded ordnances, which is affecting the safety and lives of an estimated 1.6 million Iraqis.

For more information, please contact:

Shereen Zorba, Head of News and Media, UNEP, Nairobi, Tel.+254-788-526-000
or Email:


Posted on on January 11th, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (




 Gibson Bible Atlas   —  Canaan before Abraham

Copyright 1927, 2003

The land of Canaan before Abraham

Annexation and the return of the one-state solution.

Monday, January 6, 2014 – published by the Palestine Center, The Jerusalem Fund, Washington DC – Written by Jack LeVine it was previously posted by Al


From time to time, the Palestine Center distributes articles it believes will enhance understanding of the Palestinian political reality. The following article is by Mark LeVine was published by Al Jazeera on 2 January 2014.

Mark LeVine writes what he writes – and we like to extend it to its logical target – the establishment of an Abrahamic State that is neither Jewish nor Muslim, in parts of the pre-Abraham Land of Canaan,  and to allow our readers the right to think for themselves and decide if this albatross can fly:

“Annexation and the return of the one-state solution

It was yet another slap in the face of the United States, Israel’s main patron without whom its existence, never mind its ability to maintain an ever intensifying occupation without fear of mentionable consequence, would be very much in question.

In direct response to US Secretary of State John Kerry’s attempt to establish a set of “security arrangements” that would, some day (Kerry apparently is suggesting after another decade), allow some level of Palestinian control over the security of the West Bank (wasn’t that supposed to happen during Oslo?  And isn’t it in fact already the de jure arrangement in Areas A and B?),  the Ministerial Legislative Committee voted to annex the Jordan Valley permanently to Israel.

Modus operandi

This is, by no means, the first vote or decision taken by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu government to challenge the Obama Administration’s attempts to play at peace-making in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In fact, announcing settlement expansion plans whenever a senior US official is visiting Israel to “jumpstart” or “save” the “peace process” has long been standard operating procedure for the Israeli government, as the Obama Administration learned early in 2010 when Vice President Joe Biden was greeted upon arriving in Israel with the “highly inflammatory announcement” of plans for 1,600 new homes in East Jerusalem. The Americans feigned anger at the “brutally contemptuous rebuff” to their good-faith efforts to resuscitate Oslo, but no one should have been surprised at the actions of  Netanyahu then, or now. Indeed, Netanyahu has been outmanoeuvering Obama since day one of the relationship.

This latest slap in the face comes after PA President Mahmoud Abbas once again “renounced claims” to Israel within its 1967 borders, this time singling out the one-time Palestinian-populated towns of Jaffa and Haifa, and accepted on-going settlement construction in return for freeing Palestinian prisoners. A few hundred Palestinian “detainees” are wonderful bargaining chips to play in lieu of actual policy changes whenever negotiations get serious.

Not surprisingly, the vote on annexation provoked the usual outcries by Palestinian officials, who decried the “indifference” to and “disrespect” for international law the vote represented.

Falling on deaf ears

This evaluation is certainly true, although the PA attacking Israel for disregarding international law is about as meaningful as the US criticising Saudi Arabia for refusing to let women drive. That is to say, it’s utterly devoid of meaning as long as they continue business as usual, which for the PA means doing whatever is necessary to keep the foreign aid, and salaries, flowing through its coffers.

But this latest attempt to annex the West Bank, as 2013 came to a close, offers both a tantalising glimpse of the future of Israel/Palestine and a good opportunity for Palestinians to start the New Year off in a way that throws the Israeli government back on its heels.  It could also turn the tide in the century-long conflict over the territory of Mandate-era Palestine.  It was not the PA, however, but the liberal Zionist Party Meretz that have taken the lead in doing so however.

Rather than denouncing the latest attempt to annex the West Bank as marking yet another nail in the coffin of a long rotted Oslo peace process, Meretz publicly declared it would no longer oppose votes to annex the Jordan Valley, which increases the likelihood such a vote could in fact pass the Knesset.

Meretz leaders have neither suddenly become territorial maximalists nor have they joined the one or bi-state camp that most self-described Zionists, regardless of how comparatively liberal their politics (from an Israeli perspective), still broadly refuse to support. But I don’t buy the refusal of Meretz Chairwoman Zehava Galon even to discuss a one-state future as reflecting the true nature of the shift inside Israeli liberal politics.  As the Israeli right becomes ever bolder in asserting territorially maximalist policies, and the religious establishment more blatantly bigoted, there is simply less space for liberal Zionists to operate as both liberal and Zionist.

The fact is that soon Israeli liberals, who are still a sizable minority of the population, are either going to vote with their heads or their feet – if the mainstream of Israeli political culture keeps moving to the right. A democratic state with rough demographic parity with Palestinians suddenly would offer a more positive alternative than an ultra-chauvinistic Jewish state that holds them in almost as much scorn as it does “Arabs” and “Africans”.

A new coalition?

The question is: When will the majority of Palestinians, who long ago lost faith in Oslo and in their hearts would prefer a one-state solution, give up the two-state illusion and come out in force demanding precisely what the Ministerial Legislative Committee voted to do – be annexed to Israel, and have the same voting rights as their fellow Palestinians across the quickly evaporating Green Line. Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warned of just this eventuality as the doomsday scenario facing Zionism, which is why a man who did more than almost anyone to create a Jewish-dominated Jerusalem became a firm supporter of two-states.

The PA will never go down this route because it would mean its dissolution and the loss of jobs, money and power for the entire political class, and perhaps the fatal weakening of Fatah along with it. Neither, strangely, would Hamas accept it as it would become moot in a one or bi-national solution.

Of course, while the Israeli right would actually welcome Palestinian acquiescence to the annexation of the West Bank, whose population can be absorbed into Israel without creating a Palestinian majority, their plan for a Greater Israel specifically excludes Gaza, whose incorporation would tip the demographic balance immediately, and permanently, in the Palestinian’s favour. A test of wills and political strategisation would emerge between the two sides as to whether Israel could convince West Bank Palestinians permanently to separate their fortunes from benighted Gaza, or Palestinians once “inside” Israel would constitute a large enough force with 1948 Palestinians and liberal/left Israeli to push, however fitfully, for a bi-national or even parallel states solution.

This leads to a final question:Will 2014 be the year Palestinian and Israeli exhaustion with Oslo and fear of a bleak and chauvinistic future creates the unstoppable force that finally buries Oslo and moves both peoples, and the land they inevitably share, towards a common future?

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Jerusalem Fund.

Click here for more Reports and Commentary of the site we tapped.

To view this article online, please go to:


And an Israeli description of what it looks like now in the Israeli political arena – the Uri Avnery article of this week –
that in the “Gush Shalom” publication was titled more to the point as BIBI & LIBI & TIBI – referring to Dr. Ahmad Tibi, Currently a Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, who defines himself as  Arab-Palestinian in nationality, and Israeli in citizenship – thus trying to make sense in a situation that he sees himself as directing his party Arab Movement for Change (Ta’al), an Arab party in Israel, to full rights within Israel.
He is for the two State solution but wants to be an Israeli as well. Can he be the bridge to a One-State solution as well?


Uri Avnery


January 11, 2014




                                             Bibi & Libie




PERHAPS I am too stupid, but for the heck of me I cannot understand the sense of the Israeli demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state.


On the face of it, it seems like a clever trick by Binyamin Netanyahu to divert attention from the real issues. If so, the Palestinian leadership has fallen into a trap.



Instead of talking about the independence of the putative State of Palestine and its borders, its capital in Jerusalem, the removal of the settlements, the fate of the refugees and the solution of the many other problems, they quarrel endlessly about the definition of Israel.



One is tempted to call out to the Palestinians: what the hell, accord them this damn recognition and be done with it! Who cares!?




THE ANSWER of the Palestinian negotiators is twofold.



First, recognizing Israel as a Jewish State would be an act of betrayal towards the million and a half Palestinians who are citizens of Israel, If Israel is a Jewish State, where does that leave them?



Well, that problem could be solved by a provision in the peace treaty stating that irrespective of anything else in the agreement, the Palestinian citizens of Israel will enjoy full equality in every respect.



Second, that the recognition of Israel’s Jewishness would block the return of the refugees.



That argument is even less valid than the first. The solution of the refugee problem will be a central plank of the treaty. The Palestinian leadership, at the time of Yasser Arafat, already tacitly accepted that the solution will be an “agreed” one, so that any return will be at most symbolic. The recognition issue will not affect it.


 The debate on this Israeli demand is entirely ideological. Netanyahu demands that the Palestinian people accept the Zionist narrative. The Palestinian refusal is based on the Arab narrative, which contradicts the Zionist one on practically every single event that happened during the last 130 years, if not the last 5000.


 Mahmoud Abbas could just come forward and announce:  OK, if you accept our practical demands, we shall recognize Israel as whatever you want – a Buddhist State, a Vegetarian State, you name it.


 On September 10, 1993 – which happened to be my 70th birthday – Yasser Arafat, on behalf of the Palestinian people, recognized the State of Israel, in return for the no less momentous recognition of the Palestinian people by Israel. Implicitly, each side recognized the other as it is. Israel defined itself in its founding document as a Jewish State. Ergo, the Palestinians have already recognized a Jewish State. 


 By the way, the first step towards Oslo was made by Arafat when he told his representative in London, Said Hamami, to publish in the “Times” of London on December 17, 1973,  a proposal for a peaceful solution, which stated among other things that “the first step must be the mutual recognition of these two sides. The Jewish-Israelis and the Palestinian-Arabs must recognize each other as peoples with all the rights of peoples.”


 I saw the original draft of this statement with corrections in Arafat’s hand.




 THE PROBLEM of the Palestinian minority in Israel – about 20% of Israel’s eight million citizens – is very serious, but it has now acquired a humorous twist.


 Since his acquittal from corruption charges and return to the Foreign Office, Avigdor Lieberman is at it again. He has come out supporting John Kerry’s peace efforts, much to the chagrin of Netanyahu, who does not.


 Why, for heaven’s sake? Lieberman aspires to become prime minister some day, as soon as possible. For this he has to (1) unite his “Israel Our Home” party with the Likud, (2) become leader of the Likud, (3) win the general elections. But over all these there hovers (4): obtain the approval of the Americans. So Lieberman now supports the American effort and peace.


 Yes, but under one condition: that the US accept his master plan for the Jewish State. 


 This is a masterpiece of constructive statesmanship. Its main proposal is to move the borders of Israel – not eastward, as could be expected from an arch-nationalist, but westward, slimming Israel’s narrow hips even further, to a mere 9 (nine!) km.


 The Israeli territory that Lieberman wants to get rid of is the site of  a dozen Arab villages, which were given Israel as a gift by the then king of Jordan in the armistice agreement of 1949. Abdallah I, the great-great-grandfather of the current Abdallah II of Jordan, needed the armistice at any price. Lieberman now wants to give these villages back, thank you.


 Why? Because for this stalwart of Jewish Israel, the reduction of the Arab population is a sacred task. He does not advocate expulsion, God forbid. Not at all.  He proposes attaching this area, with its population, to the Palestinian state. In return, he wants the Jewish settlement blocs in the West Bank to be joined to Israel. A transfer of areas with their populations, reminiscent of Stalin’s redrawing the borders of Poland, except that Lieberman’s borders look completely crazy.


 Lieberman presents this as a peaceful, liberal, humane plan. No one will be displaced, no property expropriated. Some 300 thousand Arabs, all of them ardent supporters of the Palestinian struggle for statehood, will become Palestinian citizens.




 SO WHY do the Palestinians in Israel cry out? Why do they condemn the plan as a racist assault on their rights?


 Because they are far more Israeli than they care to admit, even to themselves. After living in Israel for 65 years, they have become accustomed to its ways. They don’t love Israel, they don’t serve in its army, they are discriminated against in many ways, but they are deeply rooted in the Israeli economy and democracy, much more than is generally recognized.


 “Israeli Arabs”, a term they hate, play a significant role in Israeli hospitals and courts, including the Supreme Court, and in many other institutions.


 Becoming citizens of Palestine tomorrow would mean losing 80% or 90% of their standard of living. It would also mean losing the social security net enjoyed in Israel (though Lieberman promises to continue payments to those currently eligible(. After being used for decades to fair elections and the lively give-and-take of the Knesset, they would have to get used to a society in which, as of now, important parties are forbidden, elections are postponed and parliament plays a minor role. The place of women in this society is very different from their role in Israel.


 The situation of the Palestinians in Israel is unique in many respects. On the one side, as long as Israel is defined as a Jewish State, the Arabs will not be fully equal. On the other side, in the occupied Palestinian territories, these Israeli citizens are not accepted as fully belonging. They straddle both sides of the conflict. They would like to be mediators, the link between the two sides, bringing them closer to each other. But this has remained a dream.


 A complicated situation, indeed.




 IN THE meantime, Netanyahu and Lieberman are hatching another plan to make Jewish Israel even Jewisher.


 There are today three factions in the Knesset which derive their votes from the Arab population. They constitute almost 10% of the Knesset. Why not 20%, to reflect their part in the general population? First because they have many more children, who have not yet reached voting age (18 years). Second, their rate of abstention is significantly higher. Third, some Arabs are bribed to vote for Zionist parties.


 The part of the Arab MKs in enacting laws is negligible. Any bill they introduce is almost automatically voted down. No Jewish party ever considered including them in a government coalition. Yet they have a very noticeable presence, their voice is heard.


 Now, in the name of “governability” (a trendy new term that can be used to justify any attack on human rights), Bibi & Libie, as someone called them, want to change the minimum share of votes that any election list needs to enter the Knesset.


 I was elected three times to the Knesset when the threshold was 1%. Later it was raised to 2%. Now the plan is to raise the threshold to 3.25%, which in the elections a year ago would have equaled 123,262 votes. Only one of the three “Arab” parties crossed this line – and then only barely. There is no assurance that it could do so again.                                                             


 In order to survive, they would have to unite and form a large Arab bloc. Many would think that this was a good thing. But it is very difficult to accomplish. One party is communist, another Islamist, another secular-nationalist. Also, competing extended families play an important role in Arab electoral politics.


 The Arab lists may disappear altogether. Or two may unite, eliminating the third.


 Some Israeli leftists fantasize about a dream party – a united parliamentary bloc that would include all the Arab parties with the Labor party and Meretz, turning it into a formidable challenger of the right wing.


 But that would be too good to be true – no chance at all of this happening in the near future.




 IT SEEMS that Kerry and his Zionist advisors already identify with the Israeli demand for recognition as a Jewish State or, worse, the State of the Jewish People (who were not even consulted).


 The Palestinian side is unable to accept this.


 If the negotiations come to naught on this point, Netanyahu will have achieved his real aim: to abort the negotiations in a way that will enable him to blame the Palestinians.


 As long as we have a Jewish State – who needs peace?




Posted on on December 2nd, 2013
by Pincas Jawetz (

Al-Monitor <>
Week in Review
Sunday, December 1, 2013

Iran deal recasts regional politics .

The “joint plan of action” agreed on by six world powers and Iran on Nov. 24 is in a short time proving to be a catalyst for a regional trend toward diplomacy and realism.

The mood is already shifting in the Gulf, where there had been resistance if not downright opposition at times to the negotiations with Iran. UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan visited Tehran this week for meetings with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, while the Kingdom of Bahrain invited Zarif to participate in the Manama Dialogue Regional Security Summit, organized by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, to be held Dec. 6-8, as reported by Ali Hashem for Al-Monitor.

In perhaps the most substantial shift, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia released a statement on Nov. 25 welcoming the joint plan of action, saying, “Saudi Arabia views the agreement as a primary step toward a comprehensive solution to the Iranian nuclear issue provided it leads to a Middle East and Gulf region free of all weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons.”

In Israel, despite a skeptical public and statements of alarm by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, there is also awareness among national security leaders that the deal with Iran may have its advantages, and that Israel is poorly served by putting itself at odds with the international coalition that forced Iran to negotiations.

Akiva Eldar captured the broader context of the Iran deal for Israel, writing, “The agreement with Iran was signed a short time after the agreement between the United States and Russia that brought about the removal of chemical weapons from Syria. Thus a much more concrete and immediate threat than the Iranian one was removed from the borders of Israel. The decision of the powers to wave a stick instead of landing a blow on the Iranian protectorate in Damascus should have signaled to Netanyahu that this would also be the route they chose to take in the talks with Tehran. It stands to reason that Iran will now be invited to contribute to a renewed effort to end the cruel civil war in Syria. We are witness to the beginning of Iran’s emergence from the international solitary confinement it entered following the revolution in 1979.”

Ben Caspit reports from Jerusalem, “There’s no panic at all among Israel’s professional military echelons. Nobody talks about a catastrophe or an imminent second Holocaust. People discuss the merits of the agreement with levelheadedness and discretion. After all, doomsday prophecies are not their thing. For this, we have Netanyahu.”

Dan Meridor, a member of the Likud Party and former deputy prime minister and minister of intelligence and atomic energy under Netanyahu, told Al-Monitor’s Mazal Mualem this week, “It’s a mistake to pick a fight with partners when we’re in the midst of a campaign against Iran, in which the Americans have the main role. Embarking on an offensive of attacks, criticism and scorekeeping harms the common struggle of large parts of the world, the United States, Europe and the Arab countries. The disputes do not help the struggle, but just give the Iranians a reason to gloat. Nothing is achieved by public disputes. The alliance between Israel and the United States is an important component of our powerful image. … Israel needs to be part of the world, to be a partner in this campaign.”

In the United States, there is popular support for the agreement with Iran. A Reuters/Ipsos poll released this week revealed that 44% of Americans support the interim agreement with Iran and only 22% oppose.

In Congress, while there is still skepticism about the deal, there also seems to be a trend toward legislation that emphasizes a congressional role in Iran’s compliance with the terms of the deal, rather than the introduction of new sanctions, during the six-month negotiation period. The Iran Nuclear Compliance Act of 2013, introduced Nov. 21 by Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is now pending before the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, which has Senate jurisdiction on sanctions bills.

As reported here last week, the man to watch is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who told NPR’s Diane Rehm that the interim agreement is an “important first step” and that he will look to both Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, and Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, on whether the Senate should hold hearings and consider more sanctions.

The conversations that have begun about Iran’s nuclear program are already having consequences beyond the nuclear file, including the Gulf, Turkey and Syria. While Kadri Gursel writes that the Turkish “reset” from its failed sectarian policies may require even deeper political changes, Ankara’s shift, which is a work in progress, is already good news for a political solution in Syria, especially with the Geneva II conference to be held on Jan. 22. A real peace process in Syria would mean relief for Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq, those countries most affected by the spillover of the war, the spike in terrorism and the flood of refugees.

A stable Syrian government, resulting from a successful Geneva II political process, perhaps following elections, would offer a chance for an Israel-Lebanon-Syria peace process. This would mean the eventual demilitarization of Hezbollah, whose raison d’etre is resistance to Israel’s occupation. The reintegration of Hezbollah forces into the Lebanese army and the normalization of Hezbollah solely as a Lebanese political party, and not an armed resistance force, would be a giant step toward solving Lebanon’s perpetual national crisis.

Any deal on Hezbollah would run through Damascus and Tehran, via Moscow’s good offices, en route to Jerusalem, as this column reported last week. While the United States cannot broker this deal, the future of Hezbollah is directly connected to the nuclear negotiations with Iran. For Iran to get relief from US oil and financial sanctions under the Iran Sanctions Act, the president must certify to Congress that Iran no longer seeks weapons of mass destruction, is no longer a state sponsor of terrorism and no longer represents a significant threat to US national security interests and allies. Hezbollah is considered a terrorist group by the United States. So questions about Iran’s nuclear program and its role in the region, including support for Hezbollah, are the endgame in any discussion of a comprehensive agreement.


Posted on on November 10th, 2013
by Pincas Jawetz (



On Kristallnacht anniversary, Obama calls for speaking out against intolerance.

President warns of ‘the tragic consequences of silence in the face of unmitigated hatred’

November 8, 2013, 11:47 pm
President Barack Obama (photo credit:AP/Cliff Owen)

President Barack Obama (photo credit:AP/Cliff Owen)

WASHINGTON — The lesson of Kristallnacht is to speak out “against anti-Semitism and intolerance,” President Obama said in marking the 75th anniversary of the pogrom that presaged the Holocaust.

“Kristallnacht foreshadowed the systematic slaughter of six million Jews and millions of other innocent victims,” Obama said.

“Seventy-five years later, Kristallnacht now signifies the tragic consequences of silence in the face of unmitigated hatred,” he said in a statement. “As we mark this anniversary, let us act in keeping with the lessons of that dark night by speaking out against anti-Semitism and intolerance, standing up to indifference, and re-committing ourselves to combating prejudice and persecution wherever it exists.”

Riots on Nov. 9 and 10 1938 organized by German authorities killed 91 Jews, destroyed 267 synagogues and were followed by the deportation of 30,000 Jews to concentration camps.

The systematized attacks, which came to be known as the Night of Broken Glass, anticipated the mass slaughter of European Jewry launched three years later.


On this same date in 2013 we received from our friend Keyvon Afshari, who managed  Professor Hooshang Amirahmadi’s campaign for the Presidency of Iran. It seems now as if the winner – the academic-cleric Hassan Rouhani – backed by the religious establishment in Iran that also backed his predecessor – the accomplished mini-monster Ahmadi-Nejad – has in effect taken over the rational policies that the American Iranian Council proposed.

But the problem is that the credibility of the whole establishment in Tehran is about at the level of the NAZI party of Munich, Germany of 1933.
We believe they should be taken by their word and trusted that they will push for the victory of their crazy doctrine and could lead to a new Holocaust.

Personally, having campaigned with former Iran Ambassador to the UN, the present Foreign Minister of Iran, the same Mr. Javad Zarif, who spends now 8 hours in face-to-face meetings with his US counterpart Mr. Johm Kerry, and I asked him why does not Iran shoulder on the development of renewable energy as I know they have the needed scientists and could become leaders in this area – this rather the pursuing an economically  failed nuclear power policy? He answered me that Iran has an inalienable right to nuclear power like any other Nation and he will not give this up. But we all know by now that this was a fake contention and it was not electricity they were after – it is the BOMB they want and why should we trust them with a bomb when they declare openly that they want to use it in effect. And by saying THEY I mean people that believe in the after-life in the bosom of their privately-owned man-become-God. Yes this is a form of religion based racism that is of the NAZI kind.

I am all for bringing Iran back into the family of Nations. I took very seriously the RESET idea that US policy should reach agreements with the great Iranian Nation and the Turkish State as well – the true two Middle East Islamic powers – but this can be done only if Iran opens up FIRST and becomes completely transparent in matters of nuclear know-how in exchange for a complete acceptance of all their rightful economic needs like the unfreezing of their bank accounts and free trade in everything else except nuclear related goods.

In this respect we welcome the following report from the AIC about the technicality of negotiations but we call for a total freeze in practical moves unless – with clear agreements from the West – Iran does not open-up first – and this under a very clear time limit that cannot exceed one or two months. The talk about numbers of centrifuges is thus a waste of costly time if the goal is indeed to defang a dangerous regime .  President Obama knows this – so does President Hollande.



The Geneva Talks: No Breakthrough, Yet much Accomplished.


Kayvon Afshari

Director of Communications, American Iranian Council


Saturday November 9, 2013

After three days of serious, high-level talks in Geneva, the P5+1 announced that a deal has yet to be reached on Iran’s nuclear program. Catherine Ashton, the European Union foreign policy chief, said that they would meet again on November 20th at the senior diplomat level, rather than the foreign minister level.

Secretary of State John Kerry tried to stay upbeat, telling journalists, “We came to Geneva to narrow the differences, and I can tell you without any reservations, we made significant progress. It takes time to build confidence between countries that have really been at odds with each other for a long time now,” he said.

 Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister in charge of the nuclear negotiations struck a similar tone, saying, It was natural when we started dealing with the details there could be differences of views. But we are working together and hopeful we will be able to reach agreement when we meet again


Meanwhile, some sources pointed fingers at the French negotiating team for spoiling a potential deal. Some diplomats told the Guardian Newspaper that they were furious with the role that French FM Laurent Fabius played, and accused him of revealing details of the talks upon his Saturday arrival in Geneva. The French team complained that the draft for a deal was prepared mostly by Iran and the US, and that they did not want to be stampeded into agreement.



Geneva Talks Zarif

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and European Union Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton Meeting



What does it mean?


While many observers who were hoping for a breakthrough view these developments as a failure, astute analysts should keep in mind that tremendous progress has been made in a short period of time and that a final resolution will be a long, arduous process.
For the first time in years, the two sides are sitting at the table and actively negotiating with one another on the highly-technical details regarding Iran’s nuclear program. In fact, Mr. Kerry had over eight hours of meetings with Mr. Zarif, something quite new in the post-Revolution history of US-Iran relations. It is now becoming normal for American and Iranian senior diplomats to directly engage with one another, something that was not yet the case just two months ago during the United Nations General Assembly. This is a meaningful accomplishment in the long process of normalizing US-Iran relations, and the American Iranian Council congratulates them for it.

The next ten days until the upcoming round of negotiations will give all sides the opportunity to think deeply about what lies ahead. Unfortunately, some detractors may see this as an opportunity to spoil a potential deal. Some US Congressmen may call for further sanctions on Iran in this interim period— an unwise move that would be against the national interest of both the United States and Iran. As Secretary Kerry remarked today when asked if he is worried about further sanctions, “This is an issue of such consequence that it really needs to rise or fall on the merits, not on politics… Each day that you don’t have an agreement, Iran will continue to enrich, Iran will continue to put centrifuges in, Iran will continue its program.” Echoing Secretary Kerry’s sentiment, AIC President Hooshang Amirahmadi said, “The diplomatic channel must remain open. If it were to close, the only option
left would be war and bombs, which would be damaging to both sides.”

The AIC has long maintained that the final resolution must be based on two principles: Iran’s inalienable right to domestically produce nuclear power and Iran’s obligation to verify to the International Atomic Energy Agency that there is no military aspect to the program.

In return for its transparency, Iran should have sanctions removed and should be encouraged to fully rejoin the world economy. Beyond this broad framework for a resolution, there is much room for negotiators to hammer out the technical details such as the number of centrifuges, level of uranium enrichment, extent of sanctions relief, and so forth.

While most of us were hoping for a breakthrough moment, we should bear in mind that conducting diplomacy in a relationship that has seen 34 years of hostility will produce many disappointments. As realistic supporters of normalizing US-Iran relations, we should manage our expectations, loudly reject the calls for war, and forcefully push for both sides to continue the diplomatic process.


The proposal under consideration in Geneva was to have been the first stage of a multipart agreement. It called for Iran to freeze its nuclear program for up to six months to allow negotiations on a long-term agreement without the worry that Iran was racing ahead to build a bomb. In exchange, the West was to have provided some easing of the international sanctions that have battered Iran’s economy.

After years of off-again, on-again talks, the deal would have been the first to brake Iran’s nuclear program.Despite the diplomats’ insistence on progress, the failure to clinch an agreement raised questions about the future of the nuclear talks, given the fierce criticism that the mere prospect of a deal whipped up in Israel and among Republicans and some Democrats in Congress.

The announcement on Sunday November 10, 2013, was a deflating end to a long week-end of diplomatic twists and turns, after Mr. Kerry huddled for hours with Mr. Zarif and Mr. Fabius to try to close gaps on issues like curbing Iran’s enrichment program and what to do about the heavy-water reactor Iran is building near the city of Arak, which will produce plutonium.

Iranian officials had promoted the possibility of a deal for days, generating an expectant atmosphere that swelled when Secretary of State John Kerry cut short a tour of the Middle East on Friday to join the talks. He was joined by the foreign ministers of Britain, France, Germany and Russia and a vice foreign minister from China.

Now the participating States pledged to return to the table in 10 days to try again, albeit at a lower level – just on a Political advisers level.
France objected strenuously that the proposed deal that was suggested by Iran would do too little to curb Iran’s uranium enrichment or to stop the development of a nuclear reactor capable of producing plutonium.

Neither Ms. Ashton nor Mr. Zarif criticized France, saying that it had played a constructive role. But the disappointment was palpable, and the decision to hold the next meeting at the level of political director, not foreign minister, suggested that the two sides were less confident of their ability to bridge the gaps in the next round.

For all that, Mr. Zarif tried to put a brave face on the three days of talks, saying that the atmosphere had been good, even if the parties disagreed on the details of a potential agreement.

“What I was looking for was the political determination, willingness and good faith in order to end this,” he said. “I think we’re all on the same wavelength, and that’s important.”

But France was not ready to turn Geneva into another Munich and accept Tehran’s “politiking.” France allows for Iran credibility and is frightened for the World at large. This reminds us of Dionne’s article  at… that was titled:

The New Republic: Obama’s Disdain For “Politiking” – and we expect now a clear and uncompromising Washington position.

Mr. Kerry said during his recent visit to Israel that the United States was asking Iran, as part of an interim accord, to agree to a “complete freeze over where they are today,” implying that Iran’s plutonium production program would be affected in some way as well. And in a news conference at the end of the talks, Mr. Kerry made clear that limits on the Arak reactor should be part of an initial agreement.

Once the reactor at Arak is operational, as early as next year, it might be very hard to disable it through a military strike without risking the dispersal of nuclear material. That risk might eliminate one of the West’s options for responding to Iran and reduce its leverage in the talks.

The Arak reactor has been a contentious negotiating point because it would give Iran another pathway to a bomb, using plutonium rather than enriched uranium. Moreover, the Iranian explanations for why it is building Arak have left most Western nations and nuclear experts skeptical. The country has no need for the fuel for civilian uses now, and the reactor’s design renders it highly efficient for producing the makings of a nuclear weapon.

Israel has been vocal about not letting the new reactor get to the point where the fuel is inserted, after which military action against the reactor could create an environmental disaster. Israel has destroyed two reactors from the air in the past three decades, in Iraq in 1981 and in Syria in 2007. Both attacks took place before fuel had been put in the reactors.

French officials also noted a difference between the United States and Europe on the issue of sanctions relief. The most sweeping American sanctions on Iran’s oil and banking industries were passed by Congress, giving President Obama little flexibility to lift them.

That has led the Obama administration to focus on a narrower set of proposals involving Iranian cash that is frozen in overseas banks. Freeing that cash in installments, in return for specific steps by Iran, would not require the repeal of any congressional sanctions.

France and other European Union countries, however, face fewer political restrictions on ending their core sanctions, which means any decision to lift them could be more far-reaching. In addition, officials said, the measures would be harder to reinstate should the talks unravel or Iran renege on its pledges.

Those considerations left the Europeans more hesitant to consider easing sanctions than the United States was.

Still, European officials appeared to be balancing their wariness of Iran with a hopeful sense that these negotiations were fundamentally different from the fruitless sessions during the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who left office in August. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not conceeding that Iran has changed and has demanded that Iran close the Arak nuclear reactor and give up all enrichment of uranium, not just the 20 percent enrichment that is at issue in the negotiations.

Mr. Netanyahu earlier said the proposed agreement would be a “deal of the century” for Iran. On Friday, Mr. Obama called Mr. Netanyahu to brief him on the talks and to assure him that the United States was still committed to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb.

“There are very strong feelings about the consequences of our choices for our allies,” Mr. Kerry said. “We have enormous respect for those concerns.”

Mr. Netanyahu sees the need to treat Iran the same way as Israel treated the nuclear ambitions of Iraq and Syria. Israel is wondering if it has not allowed too much time to pass already and is sorry for not having acted while Ahmadi-Nejad was still in power.
There just cannot be an Arak  plant. That drink has too high potency and no sweeteners.

To show that we researched all positions before posting this, we also have to note that I jwaited with posting this until I ust watched the November 10, 2013 live Fareed Zakaria CNN/GPS show that obviously already touched on this weekends activities in Geneva thanks to the time difference and was able to bring in also Joseph Cirincione of Ploughshares and Kenneth Pollack of Brookings – both former US government officials that were supposed to have opposing points of view – but did not really.  Fareed himself, who normally is our only TV “Guru” seems to be too remote and too young for Holocaust history, seem to think that in order to become a real danger the Arak plant is still 4 years away. But they did not realize that even the potential of having a bomb, this before the actual building of the bomb, is just unacceptable when it is in the hands of madmen.

Too big to fail is an issue not just for banks but also for outsized madmen, and despite the history of American intervention in Iran in the Shah’s days – the throttling of democracy in Mosaddegh’s days, that we accuse and find as cause of what happened, the present Iran State is too front-loaded with madmen not to be dealt with due respect for what they say.



Posted on on August 24th, 2013
by Pincas Jawetz (

The reach of human compassion!

And from Rabbi Michael Lerner’s Tikkun Magazine:

If you have California Bay Area friends, do tell them that rabbis Arthur Waskow, Phyllis Berman, and Lynn Gottlieb will be co-leading parts of the High Holiday services with me in Berkeley. The spiritual work we do at our service (which is not a performance but a deep inner process that incorporates as well as the key elements of the traditional service) is not just for Jews or for believers in God, but for anyone ready to engage in spiritual transformation.

Please urge them to check it out at…… ].

On Yom Kippur, during the Yizkor service, we will also do some grieving for the victims of the Egyptian coup (but also for those killed by Morsi’s regime), for the Syrians killed in their civil war, and for all the other victims of violence in our world. And we will be mourning for the earth as more of its species and more of its life force continue to get violently assaulted by the globalization of selfishness, materialism, and corporate rapaciousness.


Posted on on August 16th, 2013
by Pincas Jawetz (

Thanks to Olympic lifting by US Secretary of State John Kerry, with perhaps some secret help from the EU, finally direct negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians were started in Jerusalem this past Wednesday. Right immediately, the day after, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appeared in the region to remind the two sides that the UN was also part of that now inactive Quartet were the fourth player is Russia – a clear structure built for inaction. Just think what the UN has achieved in all other miserable places in the Middle East – this like Syria, Lebanon, and now fast moving Egypt.

In Syria there is already a number for the dead well above 1.000,000 and in Egypt, without large efforts, that number can be surpassed. So, the UN Secretary General comes to the place that is these days the most peaceful in the region and marks territory.

It is just possible, that behind closed doors, the Israelis and the Palestinians of the West Bank under the Abbas leadership, may indeed be planning an agreement in order to avoid the ISLAMIZATION that is killing the region. It is in the best interest of the two sides to compromise behind closed doors and allow for a process of normalization and economic Sustainable Development in the spirit of the 21st Century to be presented later to the World at large. This clearly without the need of bickering sessions at the UN. No problem – when we reach that stage, the UN will be allowed to bless on the final agreed results. But the UN is no place to obtain any practical results.


Israeli Defense Minister to UN Sec. General: ‘The Only Stable Thing in the Middle East is the Lack of Stability’

August 16, 2013
Reports Zach Pontz

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon meets separately with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem, August 15, 2013.

Then Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon met Friday August 16th in Jerusalem with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and warned him of the dire security situation in the region.

“The only stable thing in the Middle East is the lack of stability,” Ya’alon said.

He added that Lebanon based terror group Hezbollah was Iran’s main weapon against Israel, and warned Ban that the Israeli government has detected Hezbollah activity near Israel’s northern border, in violation of UN Resolution 1701.

“This organization is a state within a state. They get weapons from Iran and Syria,” he said.

“I think today everybody understands that the root cause of the instability in the Middle East and beyond has to do with the convulsion that is historic and cultural in nature of which the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is merely one of many, many such manifestations,” said Netanyahu.

Ban thanked Netanyahu for his effort to restart peace talks, saying, “I’m here to urge all the leaders to continue along the path to peace and to underscore a shared commitment to walk together to make 2013 a decisive year for Israel-Palestinian peace and peace in the region.”

During his meeting with Ban, Peres also addressed the security situation in the region within the context of the Israeli-Palestinian Authority peace talks.

“Peace is a real need for both parties, none of us have an alternative. The overall situation in the Middle East is quite bleak and if we can achieve an agreement between us and the Palestinians it is good news in a region that needs good news,” he said.


In the meantime – as reported by Avi Issacharoff – the same day:

In Egypt – The military claims that armed Muslim Brotherhood supporters opened fire on the soldiers, killing close to 50 and injuring dozens more. Each side recruited the television channel that supports its agenda. The Muslim Brotherhood was backed by Qatar’s al-Jazeera, which broadcast pictures of corpses and injured protesters in an endless loop, while al-Arabiya, which is funded by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which support the Egyptian military, screened a video of supposed Muslim Brotherhood activists wearing masks and firing at unseen targets.

As expected, the bloodshed was condemned by prominent figures in the Arab world and by various political parties in Egypt. Leaders such as Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh — former Egyptian presidential candidate, and a former Muslim Brotherhood activist in his more distant past — who strongly opposed Mohammed Morsi while he was president, criticized the army and their excessive use of violence. Representatives of the extremist al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya organization, the al-Wasat Party and countries such as Qatar, Turkey and Iran, condemned the Egyptian military as well. And to top it all, Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei, who was one of the first to stand by the military when protests against Morsi began on June 30, submitted his resignation.

The war for Egypt’s future has returned to international headlines and the Muslim Brotherhood is now demanding that el-Sissi be removed from power in order to restore peace. It is highly unlikely, though, that this will happen any time soon. Right now, Egypt is headed towards the unknown.

The days of Mubarak’s trial-and-error policies and mixed messages are over.

The army has entered a new era of all-out war against Islamic forces in Sinai and against the tunnels connecting the peninsula to Gaza, while at the same time, it is exerting force against the Muslim Brotherhood inside Egypt. The problem is that there are limits to the force and violence that can be applied, as the situation in Syria underlines. The Syrian army has been unable to suppress the opposition against Bashar Assad even as the death toll exceeds 100,000. Unlike in Syria, though, large portions of the Egyptian population support the military’s harsh policies.

Even as violence continues throughout Egypt, the army continues its efforts to destroy Jihadist headquarters in Sinai. Egyptian armed forces attack from the air and the ground and have managed to hit dozens of targets in the last week alone. The problem is that the number of armed activists that identify with al-Qaeda’s ideology is estimated at 3,000. It will be a long time before the Egyptian army will be able to declare victory in Sinai.

In Lebanon – Any four-year-old kid in Lebanon, and certainly in the Shi’ite community, knows who was responsible for Thursday’s attack in Hezbollah’s Dahieh stronghold of Beirut that killed at least 18 people. You don’t need to be an intelligence operative or a Middle East analyst to recognize that extremist Sunni groups operating as part of the Syrian opposition made good on their promise to strike at Hezbollah and its supporters on their home turf.

This was a response to the dominant involvement of Hezbollah in the fighting against the rebels in Syria. On Thursday evening, the “Brigade of Aisha” even issued a statement of responsibility to make it crystal clear to Hezbollah why it carried out the car bombing.

Yet despite this, a whole host of Lebanese politicians, not all of them Sh’iites, rushed to charge that Israel was involved – allegations ridiculous and in Lebanon too are considered an insult to the intelligence — even when they come from President Michel Suleiman, who claimed that the blast bore the fingerprints of the Israelis, or from Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, a Middle East’s great opportunists, who leveled similarly ridiculous charges.

These politicians, including Suleiman, are worried that an attack like this will prompt a particularly violent Hezbollah retaliation. In pointing the finger at Israel, they are trying to manufacture a common enemy for all Lebanese. Suleiman, who only days ago demanded the disarming of Hezbollah, understands that an attack like this in Dahieh could eventually lead to a complete takeover by the Shi’ite Hezbollah in Lebanon and a cleaning out of all pockets of opposition — be they Sunni extremists or rival politicians.

Like many in Lebanon, Suleiman recognizes that the Syrian civil war, which has intermittently seeped into Lebanon, escalated to a still more dangerous level for his country. It was notable that the internet site of Hezbollah’s TV station Al-Manar was quick to publicize comments by the organization’s number 2, Naim Kassam, who said that Israel is deterred from confrontation with Hezbollah “and checks itself before risking any aggression against us.” This was Hezbollah telling all those politicians, and its own people, that, no, Israel isn’t the problem right now.

So, again, the UN Secretary-General is in Israel to mark Territory, but what has he done to bring attention AND ACTION to the problems of Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt – did he campaign in Saudi Arabia and Qatar to get them to stop pushing Islamic extremism?

Also, in Nairobi, Kenya, an airport fire took place on the anniversary of twin blasts at US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people in 1998.

Kenya has also seen terror targeted at Israelis. In 2002, terrorists blew up an Israeli-owned hotel in Mombasa, killing 13, and launched an unsuccessful attack on an Israeli plane departing from the airport there.

In May of this year, two Iranians were jailed for life for planning massive bombing attacks on Jewish, Israeli and Western targets in Kenya. Defense lawyers claimed that Israeli security official interrogated the two while in Kenyan custody. Kenya and Israeli security agencies have a long history of cooperation, dating back to the Entebbe hostage crisis in 1976.


Posted on on August 15th, 2013
by Pincas Jawetz (

Op-Ed Columnist at The New York Times writing from Tel Aviv

One-State Dream, One-State Nightmare.

Published: August 12, 2013

TEL AVIV — Let us deal, on the eve of the first direct peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians in almost three years, with the idea of one state. It hovers out there — as dream and as nightmare — and is best laid to rest.

First the dream: That somehow after all the wars and accumulation of hatred, Israelis and Palestinians can learn overnight to live together as equal citizens in some United States of the Holy Land, a binational and democratic secular state that resolves their differences and assures their intertwined futures.

Oh, what a seductive illusion (at least to some). Let’s set aside for a moment that the regional examples of such multiethnic states — Lebanon, Iraq and Syria come to mind — are not encouraging. Let’s set aside that such a state would have a hard time every May deciding whether to mark a Day of Independence for its Jewish citizens or a Day of Catastrophe for its Arab citizens.

Let’s set aside whether the Jabotinsky Streets of the imaginary country dear to the one-state brigade would become Arafat Streets, or vice versa, and whether to have a Begin Avenue or a Grand Mufti al-Husseini Boulevard. Let’s even set aside the fact that the two principal communities would be in constant, paralyzing battle, causing the best and the brightest to go elsewhere in search of opportunity and sanity.

The central issue is this: One state, however conceived, equals the end of Israel as a Jewish state, the core of the Zionist idea. Jews will not, cannot and must not allow this to happen. They have learned how dangerous it is to live without a certain refuge, as minorities, and will not again place their faith in the good will of others, nor trust in touchy-feely hope over bitter experience.

That is the ineradicable legacy of diaspora persecution and of the Holocaust. Emerging in the 19th century from the static ghetto into the Sturm und Drang of the modern world, the Jews saw two principle routes to emancipation: assimilation and Zionism.

The former was seductive. At first it offered rapid advancement, before it became clear that in this very advancement lay danger. It was a wager on acceptance that the Jews of Europe lost to Hitler: No citizen was more patriotic than the prewar German Jew.

Zionism, by contrast, placed no faith in others’ good will. It sought, rather, to usher Jews to the full realization of their nationhood and so, in a sense, normalize them — make them patriotic about something that was their own.

The world, in the form of the United Nations, upheld this quest in 1947, voting for the division of Mandate Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab. Arab armies went to war — and the rest is history, including the now almost half-century-old occupation of the West Bank and Israeli dominion over millions of disenfranchised Palestinians.

And that brings us to one state as nightmare, which is what Israel, an extraordinary success story in many regards, faces today. The only way out of this nightmare is two states, one Israeli and one viable, contiguous Palestinian state living in peace and security beside it.

I sat with Yair Lapid, Israel’s centrist finance minister, son of a survivor of Nazi-occupied Hungary, grandson of a Hungarian Jew slaughtered in the camps, and he told me of his father’s repeated lesson: that he came to and fought for Israel so that Jews would “always have a place to go to.”

He said: “I have a lot of respect for the ethos of Greater Israel. I grew up in a house using this language. But we do understand that in the long term, if we stay there, that will be the end of the Zionist idea. We cannot live in one state. This will be a version of one state for two nations, and that this is the end of Zionism. Eventually the Palestinians will come to us and say, O.K., you decided we are not going to have a country at all, so we want to vote. If you say no, you are South Africa in its worst days. If you say yes, it is the end of the Jewish country, and I want to live in a Jewish country.”

Lapid argued that the all-the-land absolutists — Economics Minister Naftali Bennett and Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin among them — are, in their rejection of the two-state idea, undermining the idea of a Jewish state over time and so undercutting the core of Zionism and his own father’s life-shaping message. He is right.

Lapid later issued a statement criticizing Israel’s decision to publish construction bids Sunday for more than 1,000 housing units in contested East Jerusalem and several West Bank settlements. “To poke sticks in the wheels of peace talks is not right,” he said, “and not helpful to the process.” Right again.

One state as delusional fantasy of some Middle Eastern idyll and one state as nightmarish temptation involving the indefinite Israeli subjugation of another people are equally unacceptable.

As the Talmud says, hold too much and you will hold nothing.


Roger Cohen ought to have visited with Uri Avnery as well – to get it that some in Israel saw reality for a long time.

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But then we find a different point of view – the one we tend to define as wishful thinking

August 14, 2013
Is convergence the object of the peace process negotiations.

By Ted Belman of Israeli Right-wing Israpundit. That found the following:

“I attended a briefing today by an employee of the government who was very involved with everything going on in J&S {Judea and Samaria}. I will try to interview her on Skype and record it.”

She said many things of importance. This is what I can remember:

1. Israel wants the EU and US Aid to continue financing projects in Area C even if this means that the EU has a say in what, when and why of the projects. Thus we are relinquishing our independence or control for this money. The sad thing is that the money involved is a little over $1 billion dollars, just a third of what we get from the US. Better to forfeit the $1 billion and remain in control of J&S.

2. No one including Kerry has confidence in the peace process so why is Kerry pushing it. That’s because it is a cover for a hidden agenda which she would not disclose.

I believe the hidden agenda is to define what settlements will remain in Israel and what will be abandoned. If they can come to terms on this then Israel would be able to build as much as she wants in the blocs that are ceded to her and will refrain from building in the rest. The Palestinian’s would have succeeded in stopping Israel construction in most of Area C.
Israel would have solved the illegal settlement accusation and would be free to build excessively in what has been conceded to her. Of course this means that she will start incentivising the Israelis in the doomed settlements to start evacuating them. This could be done over a five year period as new homes become available for them to move into. Previous administrations called it “convergence”.

3. Both Israel and the US want Abbas and Fatah to remain in power to prevent Hamas from taking over. It may be that Israel agreed to the prisoner release as an aid to Abbas to enhance his appeal to ward off Hamas. Considering that Abbas agreed to enter negotiations and may have agreed to make an interim deal on housing construction he would need this release to cover his ass.

4. Israel supports the building of Rawabi and the new city near Jericho because it concentrates the Arabs and prevents small enclaves from being built. Thus the plan for the city near Jericho is to house the many Arabs living all throughout the Jordan Valley. This is what Israel is trying to do with the Bedouin sprawl in the Negev.

5. We are really talking about a three state solution, Gaza, Palestine and Israel. Very few expect a reconciliation between Gaza and Palestine. Thus they don’t have to be connected. Abbas keeps spending half his budget on paying former Fatah employees living in Gaza. This is to maintain his influence over Gaza but this is a futile exercise. It won’t go on for ever. Some say we are talking about a four state solution if we include Jordan. To this end, Jordan is involved in the talks.

6.The Palestinians have little interest in their environment, sewage treatment, air quality, town planning etc.

7 College grads in the West Bank (J&S) have an unemployment rate of 28%. They represent a destabilizing influence. Israel is trying to raise GDP believing that the better the economic well being, the less terrorism. Avi Bell took issue with this saying there was no study supporting it.

Currently Jewish births exceed 130,000 while Arab births in Israel and J&S are about 80,000. When we factor in Jewish immigration of 20,000 a year and Arab emigration of 20,000 per year, 150,000 Jews are added to our numbers as against only 60,000 Arabs. Looking real good.


Posted on on August 9th, 2013
by Pincas Jawetz (

Israeli Professor to Receive Presidential Medal of Freedom.

August 9, 2013…

Israel’s Professor Daniel Kahneman, 79, who received the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economics, has been named one of the 16 recipients of the 2013 United States Presidential Medal of Freedom, the White House announced Thursday.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is America’s highest civilian honor, recognizing individuals who have made an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the U.S., world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.

The awards will be presented at the White House later this year.

“Daniel Kahneman is a pioneering scholar of psychology. After escaping Nazi occupation [in France] in World War II, Dr. Kahneman immigrated to Israel, where he served in the Israel Defense Forces and trained as a psychologist. Alongside Amos Tversky, he applied cognitive psychology to economic analysis, laying the foundation for a new field of research and earning the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2002. He is currently a professor at Princeton University,” the White House’s statement said.

Born in Tel Aviv in 1934, Kahneman spent his childhood years in Paris. After his family escaped the Nazis, he immigrated to Israel in 1948. Kahneman is professor emeritus at Princeton University’s Department of Psychology and Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, as well as a fellow at Hebrew University and a Gallup Senior Scientist. He is considered one of the world’s foremost researchers in the fields of the psychology of judgment and decision-making, behavioral economics and hedonic psychology.


Israel’s Split Personality.

Published as Op Ed at the New York Times: August 8, 2013

JERUSALEM — Israel has just embarked, yet again, on U.S.-brokered peace talks with the Palestinians.

Zeev Elkin, the deputy foreign minister and a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, gives it to me straight: “Netanyahu changed his mind. It was some kind of revolution. Ten years ago he was responsible for the decision of our party against a two-state solution.” He continues: “We have a big argument between him and us on this. I respect his position and he respects mine.” And what is Elkin’s position on two states for two peoples? “Now I don’t believe in it.”

Netanyahu is opposed by his own party. He is opposed by the man who is in effect his acting foreign minister. He is opposed by prominent members of his own government, including Economy Minister Naftali Bennett.

Israel has just agreed to release more than 100 Palestinian prisoners as a gesture of goodwill. Elkin says he cannot understand how “to release terrorists and murderers with blood on their hands is something good for peace” but “building a kindergarten in Judea and Samaria is worse for peace.”

The West Bank is referred to as Judea and Samaria by religious nationalists and others committed to holding all Eretz Israel.

The gesture of goodwill comes as Israel Hayom reports that “as of July 1, 2013, the size of the Jewish Israeli population in Judea and Samaria stood at 367,000. In the first half of 2013, roughly 7,700 new residents were added. This is, as noted, a 2.12 percent rise in the population in a six-month period.” So this year, it seems, population growth has been faster in the West Bank settlements than in the rest of Israel.

Do goodwill gestures and settlement expansion make sense? Often Israel’s personality seems split. Its prosperity purrs. Its unease lurks. I listen to friends here. Like Goethe’s Faust, two souls seem to beat within them.

Yakov would be my liberal Israeli composite, an imaginary guy who spends a lot of his week working on a big business project in Turkey (“Don’t believe what you read in the papers”) while developing the killer app that will make his fortune in his spare time. His internal dialogue swings wildly between confidence and disquiet: “Hey, we just sold Waze, a navigation app for smart phones that helps you beat traffic, for over $1 billion to Google and now AOL is paying $405 million for another fruit of Israeli genius — don’t ask me what that does, puh-lease. And, hey, check out the Tel Aviv skyline. See the cranes? This place is Boomland, man. The French are pouring in — they even love our wine!”

Then a darker voice surfaces: “Woke up in a cold sweat. We’re isolated! Same old story, Jews getting blamed for everything. I know we don’t need the European Union, but what’s with cutting off E.U. funding to institutions based or operating over the Green Line? Talk about preempting a negotiation, it’s not like we know where the border is yet…. And Stephen Hawking, canceling his appearance at the Israeli Presidential Conference, how rude is that…. I mean, the Arabs hate us, O.K. The Turks pretend to hate us, O.K. The Persians try their best to hate us, O.K. But we’re part of the West, of Europe, they can’t hate the Jews (again), that’s not O.K.”

Yakov’s mood swings are sharpest over the conflict. A voice says: “I am completely supportive of the peace process — so long as it does not get to a solution. A solution could be problematic. You have to hand it to Netanyahu, by starting the peace process he has made peace. With Obama! Do I accept the idea of two states? Yes I do. Do I want two states? That is a different question … ”

At which point an angry voice will be raised: “Of course you don’t want two states.
Look what happened when we withdrew from South Lebanon: Hezbollahland!
And when we withdrew from Gaza: Hamasland!
Is that what you want in Judea and Samaria?
You want rockets not just in the south but all over Israel blowing up our children?
Olmert offered everything and still they refused it. You want Jerusalem divided?”

Deep inside Yakov there is a white Ashkenazi Israeli liberal, that dying breed. He knows the Jews are not going away; nor are the Palestinians.
He believes the Jews did not leave the European ghetto to build walls. The Jews did not emerge from millennia of exile to impose exile on another people, did not escape dominion to inflict dominion.
He believes, still, in the possibility of peace through territorial compromise in the occupied West Bank.
“The status quo is unsustainable,” his voice of reason says.

Another rebukes him: “You prefer Syria? You prefer Egypt? Our ‘conflict’ is a haven of Middle East stability.”

Yakov checks his cool Waze app, product of Israeli genius. It shows heavy traffic ahead — bottlenecks, road works, bloody accidents.
He wants the quickest, most peaceful way home. But of course that requires the most elusive of things: agreement on what the Jewish homeland is.


And that brings us to our own position:

Yes, Israel is troubled but when viewing the neighborhood it is nevertheless an island of peace already.

The Arab desert that was sleepy since it was reorganized by the British and the French one hundred years ago, is in effect just waking up. Sure, there are elements in this Arab mass that look to the West as a model of civilization, but then there are masses in each Arab State that want to go back a thousand years instead. The Arab world at large has not evolved yet into the age of Enlightenment and not even Nationalism – instead the people believe that by turning back to true religion they will shake off the oppression of their own dictators – and to make this more generally palatable – hit first any foreigners. Foreign bodies are in their eyes even their own brothers who rather then waiting for the emergence of Islam have seen in Christianity their entree to the civilized world. Most affected being the Copts of Egypt – but then there were many very old Christian sects in Iraq and Syria as well. These communities are being decimated continuously by this wakening Islamic revolution. In Iraq the process is about to end – the country will be clean of any non-Muslims. In Syria it is just going on.

Syria is fractured many-ways and outsiders are pouring in to bolster their preferred sides. In a short time it will be like in Spain in the thirties – it will be the foreigners fighting each other on Syrian soil – and with the US and Russia backing different sides – if not careful – a major conflagration might occur – right there on the door steps of Israel. Who can dare to tell the Israelis to return the Golan Heights to Syria under such conditions. Do the Palestinians have a dream of becoming another Syria? If there is any chance for the Israelis and Palestinians to get together – this can come only when these two sides decide that the Syrian model is even worse and that a model of Israeli-Palestinian trust – in order to avoid the Syrian model requires the end of Hamas militancy – the closing of the door to the Outside Hezbollah movement and a true attempt at making peace based on aq psychology of the best economic joint interests. This is not just a dream – it is Nobel Prize material indeed. Syria is doomed by the Arab World at large and this ought to be the cause of the awakening of the Palestinians who finally ought to get it that their enemies are not just the Israeli invaders but as well the Arab despots that never cared about them but used them for their own methods of shunning internal criticism of the way they exploited their own States.


Posted on on June 9th, 2013
by Pincas Jawetz (


­Uri Avnery

June 8, 2013


                                    Butterflies in Damascus.


DURING THE Spanish civil war of 1936, a news story reported the deaths of 82 Moroccans, 53 Italians, 48 Russians, 34 Germans, 17 Englishmen, 13 Americans and 8 Frenchmen. Also 1 Spaniard.


Serves him right,” people in Madrid commented, “Why did he interfere?”


Similar things could now be said about the civil war in Syria. Shiites from all over the Muslim world stream into Syria to help Bashar al-Assad’s dictatorship to survive, while Sunnis from many countries hasten there to support the rebels.


The implications of this go well beyond the bloody Syrian struggle. It is a historic revolution, region-wide and perhaps world-wide.



AFTER WORD WAR I, the victorious colonial empires carved up the territories of the vanquished Ottoman Empire among themselves. Since colonialism was out and self-determination was in, their new colonies were dressed up as independent nations (like Iraq) or as nations-to-be (like Syria).


European-style nationalism took hold of the new Arab nations. The ancient idea of the pan-Muslim “Umma” was pushed away. The idea of a pan-Arab super-state, propagated by the Baath party and Egypt’s Gamal Abd-al-Nasser, was tried and failed. Syrian nationalism, Iraqi nationalism, Egyptian nationalism and, of course, Palestinian nationalism won.


It was a doubtful victory. A typical Syrian nationalist in Damascus was also a part of the Arab region, of the Muslim world and of the Sunni community – and the order of these diverse loyalties was never quite sorted out.


This was different in Europe, where the national loyalty was unchallenged. A modern German could also be a Bavarian and a Catholic, but he was first and foremost a German. 


During the last decades, the victory of local nationalism in the Arab world seemed assured. After the short-lived United Arab Republic broke up in 1961 and Syrians proudly displayed their new Syrian passports, the future of the Arab nation-states looked rosy.


Not any more.


TO UNDERSTAND the immense significance of the present upheaval one has to go back in history.


Two thousand years ago, the modern idea of “nation” was unthinkable. The prevalent collective structure was the ethnic-religious community. One belonged to a community that was not territorially defined. A Jewish man in Alexandria could marry a Jewess in Babylon, but not the Hellenic or Christian woman next door.


Under Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman emperors, all these dozens of sects enjoyed a wide autonomy, ruled by imams, priests and rabbis. This is still partly the case in most former Ottoman territories, including Israel. The Turks called these self-governing sects “millets”.


The German historian Oswald Spengler, in his monumental “The Decline of the West”, asserted that great cultures were like human beings – they are born, grow up and die of old age within a thousand years. Middle-Eastern culture, according to him, was born around 500 BC and died with the decay of the Muslim Caliphate. Judaism, which was born in the Babylonian exile around 500 BC, was just one sect among many.


Arnold Toynbee, the British historian who espoused a similar theory, claimed that today’s Jews were a “fossil” of this obsolete culture.


What happened later was that European societies went through many stages, the latest being that of the “nation”. In Europe, the Jews were a sinister and hated anomaly because they clung to their former existence as a homeland-less, dispersed ethno-religious sect. This was done quite consciously: the rabbis erected a “fence around the Torah”, separating Jews from everybody else, making it impossible for them to eat with non-Jews or marry them. Jews orginally congregated in ghettos because of their need for a Synagogue they could walk to on the Sabbath, public bath (Mikvah) etc.


When the situation of the nation-less Jews in nationalist Europe became increasingly difficult, Zionism was born. By a sleight-of-hand it postulated that Jews were not only an ethno-religious community, but at the same time also a “nation like other nations”. This was a necessary fiction, until Zionism succeeded in creating a real nation – the Israelis.

With the founding of the Israeli state, the Zionist doctrine lost its purpose and should have been dismantled, like the scaffolding of a finished building. Everybody expected this to happen in due course – Hebrew Israelis would be a “normal” nation, and their connection with the Jewish world would become secondary.


TODAY WE are witnessing a kind of Jewish counter-revolution. In Israel there is a comeback of the world-Jewish connection, while separate Israeli nationhood is denied. It is a reversal of Zionism.


The events in Syria indicate a similar process. Throughout the region the ethno-religious community is coming back, the European-style nation-state is disintegrating.


The colonial powers created “artificial” states with no consideration to ethno-religious realities. In Iraq, Arab Sunnis and Shiites and non-Arab Kurds were arbitrarily put together. In Syria, Sunnis, Shiites, Alawis (an offshoot of the Shia), Druze (another offshoot), Kurds and diverse Christian sects were put into one “national” pot and left to stew. In Lebanon the same was done, with even worse results. In Morocco and Algeria, Arabs and Berbers are put together.


Now the ethno-religious sects are uniting – against each other. The Syrian civil war has united the Shiites – from Lebanon to Iran – in defense of the Alawite semi-Shia regime. The Sunnis from all over the place rally to the cause of the majority Sunnis. The Syrian Kurds have already created a de facto joint state with the Kurds in Iraq. The Druze, more dispersed and customarily more cautious, are awaiting their turn.


IN THE Western world, the obsolescent nation-state is being superseded by supra-national regional confederations, like the EU. In our region, we may be reverting to the ethno-religious sects.


It is difficult to foresee how this will work out. The Ottoman millet system could function because there was the overall imperial rule of the Sultan. But how could Shiite Iran combine with the majority Shiites in Iraq, the Shiite community in south Lebanon and other Shiite communities in a joint entity? What about the dozen Christian sects dispersed across many countries?

Some people believe that the only viable solution for Syria proper is the disintegration of the country into several sect-dominated states – a central Sunni state, an Alawite state, a Kurd state, a Druze state, etc.

Lebanon was also a part of Syria, until the French tore them apart in order to set up a Christian state. The French created several such little states, in order to break the back of Syrian nationalism. It did not work.

The difficulty of such a “solution” is illustrated by the situation of the Druze, who live in two unconnected territories – in South Lebanon and in the “Druze mountain” area in Southern Syria. A smaller Druze community lives in Israel. (As a defensive strategy, the Druze in every country – including Israel – are patriots of that country.)


The disintegration of the existing states may be accompanied by wholesale massacres and ethnic cleansing, as happened when India broke apart and when Palestine was partitioned. It is not a happy prospect.

Toynbee, by the way, did not only consider the Jews as a fossil of the past, but also as the harbinger of the future. In an interview he granted my magazine, Haolam Hazeh, he expressed the hope that the nation-state would be superseded by world-wide ideological communities, like the Jewish diaspora. He may have been thinking of the communists, who at the time seemed to be turning into a world-wide supra-national community. That experiment failed, too.


AT PRESENT, a war is raging among Israeli historians. Prof. Shlomo Sand is maintaining that the Jewish nation was invented (like all nations, only more so), and that the concept of Eretz Israel (the Land of Israel) is a Zionist invention as well. Now he also asserts that he is not a Jew, but an Israeli. 

Against these heresies, a whole phalanx of Zionist professors is in full cry.

Since I never even finished elementary school, I wouldn’t dare to stick my head out and get caught up in the battle of the professors. I will, however, remark that I, too, object to sliding back into a world-wide Jewish sect and advocate the recognition of the new Israeli nation in Israel.

YES, WE are an Israeli nation, a nation whose existence is bound to the fate of the State of Israel.

This does not mean that those of us who are Jews have to disown our Jewish past, its traditions and values, and our connections with the world-wide ethno-religious Jewish community. But we have reached a new stage in our development.

So, perhaps, have the Arab and other Muslim peoples around us. New forms are in the making.

History shows that human societies are changing all the time, much as a butterfly develops from an egg into a caterpillar, from there to a chrysalis and from there to the beautifully colored adult.

For the butterfly, that is the end. For us, I hope, this is a new beginning.


Assad Could Prevail in Syrian Civil War, Israeli Minister Says, Reflecting Shift in Israel’s Government Assessment.

June 10, 2013



   “Jewish News – There is a “real possibility” that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “could survive Syria’s civil war and even prevail in it” against the rebels trying to topple him, Israeli International Relations and Strategic Affairs Minister Dr. Yuval Steinitz told a group of foreign journalists in Jerusalem June 10, 2013.

Steinitz’s comments reflect the recent turnaround in Assad’s fortunes, with success on the battlefield thanks to immense military aid from Hezbollah, financial aid by Iran, and diplomatic cover by Russia.

The assessment also underscores the changing nature of the Syrian conflict and Israel’s views on it.

Israeli security officials were initially convinced that Assad’s demise was only a matter of time.

Last July, then-Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the Assad regime was “at the beginning of its end.”


The borders of the Safavid empire.
Photo: Wikimedia commons.

This past January, an article in the influential Lebanese daily As-Safir accused Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of receiving assistance from his “Safavid allies.” After the powerful Sunni Muslim leader, Sheikh Yousuf al-Qaradawi, condemned Iran for its actions in Syria, the Muslim Scholars Association of Lebanon warned that the Sunni Arabs were facing “the spreading Safawi project.”

Indeed, over the last decade, the term “Safavid” has become a commonly used derogatory word among Arab leaders for the Iranians. American journalist Bob Woodward describes a harsh diplomatic exchange in one of his books between King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and a high-level U.S. official about the 2003 Iraq War, in which the Saudi leader states: “You have allowed the Persians, the Safavids, to take over Iraq.” By using the term Safavid, Arab leaders were making reference to the Safavid Empire and imputing hegemonic motivations to the current Iranian government, suggesting that Iran is seeking to re-establish their country’s former imperial borders.

Who were the Safavids and over what territories did they rule? The Safavid Empire was based in Iran and existed between 1501 and 1722. Its founder, Shah Ismail, made Shiite Islam the state religion of Iran and he waged wars against the leading Sunni state at the time, the Ottoman Empire. At its height, the Safavid Empire extended its rule well beyond Iran’s present borders into large parts of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Turkemanistan, in the east and covering half of Iraq, including Baghdad and the Shiite holy cities of Najaf and Kerbala, along with the easternmost part of Syria in the west.

The early Safavid leaders imported Shiite leaders from southern Lebanon to help with the propagation of Shiite Islam across Persia. Thus the ties between Iran and Lebanon can be traced back at least to the 16th century. In the south, the Safavid Empire reached the Arabian coastline of the Persian Gulf, while in the north it included what is today Azerbaijan and Armenia. The Iranian leadership today has not formally claimed the borders of the Safavid Empire, but it certainly made statements suggesting they reflected part of their national aspirations.





Posted on on May 20th, 2013
by Pincas Jawetz (

The desalination revolution

How Israel beat the drought

This country was on the brink of water catastrophe, reduced to running relentless ad campaigns urging Israelis to conserve water even as it raised prices and cut supplies to agriculture. Now, remarkably, the crisis is over.

By February 26, 2013,
A Christian pilgrim submerged in the Jordan River during a ceremony at the baptismal site known as Qasr el-Yahud near Jericho. (Photo credit: Abir Sultan/Flash 90)

Until a couple of years ago, Israeli radio and TV regularly featured commercials warning that the country was “drying out.”

In one of the most powerful TV ad campaigns, celebrities including singer Ninet Tayeb, model Bar Refaeli and actor Moshe Ivgy highlighted the “years of drought” and the “falling level of the Kinneret.”

As they spoke plaintively to camera, their features started to crack and peel — like the country — for lack of moisture.

Ninet Tayeb in the no-longer-broadcast 'Israel is drying out' commercial (photo credit: YouTube screenshot)

So compelling was this ad, so resonant its impact, I hadn’t actually realized it was no longer on the air. Alexander Kushnir put me straight. “We decided it simply wasn’t justified to alarm Israelis in this way any longer,” said Kushnir, who heads Israel’s Water Authority.

How so? Israelis don’t need to watch their water use any more? Isn’t this region one of the world’s most parched? Haven’t we been warned for years that the next Middle East war will be fought over water?

Kushnir’s answers: Yes, Israelis must still be wise with their water use. Yes, emphatically, this is a desert region, desperately short of natural water. And yes, we have indeed been worried for years about the possibility of water shortages provoking conflict.

But for Israel, for the foreseeable future, Kushnir says, the water crisis is over. And not because this happens to have been one of the wettest winters in years. Rather, he says, an insistent refusal to let the country be constrained by insufficient natural water sources — a refusal that dates back to David Ben-Gurion’s decision to build the National Water Carrier in the 1950s, the most significant infrastructure investment of Israel’s early years — led Israel first into large-scale water recycling, and over the past decade into major desalination projects. The result, as of early 2013, is that the Water Authority feels it can say with confidence that Israel has beaten the drought.

Alexander Kushnir, head of the Water Authority (photo credit: Courtesy)

Alexander Kushnir, head of the Water Authority      (photo credit: Courtesy)

Speaking to The Times of Israel from the authority’s offices in Tel Aviv, Kushnir identifies that refusal to “rely on fate” as the key to a genuine strategic achievement — a rare, highly positive change in an age and a region where most of Israel’s challenges appear to be worsening, not receding, much less disappearing.

“How did we beat the water shortage? Because we said we would. We decided we would,” says Kushnir, a big man with a warm smile and a robust Russian accent. “And once you’ve made that decision, you build the tools to reduce your dependence. We’re on the edge of the desert in an area where water has always been short. The quantity of natural water per capita in Israel is the lowest for the whole region. But we decided early on that we were developing a modern state. So we were required to supply water for agriculture, and water for industry, and then water for hi-tech, and water to sustain an appropriate quality of life.”

The National Water Carrier — which takes water from the Sea of Galilee (Lake Kinneret) south through the whole country to Beersheba and beyond — exemplified Israel’s ambition. Contemplated even before the modern state was founded, its planning and initial construction were “a dominant feature of the first Ben-Gurion government — an unprecedented investment,” Kushnir notes. “It stressed our desire to achieve a different reality.”

Carrying almost 2 million cubic meters a day nationwide, that supply line, together with water from underground aquifers, kept Israel watered through the 70s. By the 1980s, though “we had a bigger population, bigger needs and the natural resources were overstretched. So we experimented with a small desalination plant in Eilat. And we began recycling purified sewage, and bringing industry into purifying water.”

“Use any superlatives you like,” urges Kushnir, to describe the fact that, today, “over 80% of our purified sewage goes back into agricultural use. The next best in the OECD is Spain with 17-18%. It’s so justified energy-wise, and environmentally as well.”

But even these innovations weren’t enough to meet the needs of an ever-growing population through the 1990s and into the 2000s, the more so when the rains failed. Average rainfall in Israel is about 1.2 billion cubic meters. But in relatively dry years, it can sink to 900 million.

As the gulf between available water resources and needs widened, Israeli agriculture moved away from water-intensive crops and pioneered enormously improved efficiency, with trailblazing drip irrigation techniques. Israel also increased the use of brackish water in agriculture. And all that still wasn’t good enough. “We knew we had to be careful not to hurt our natural resources,” says Kushnir. “Ultimately, we had no choice but to reduce the supply of natural water to agriculture, and to increase prices, which hurt our agricultural sector.”

Plainly, this was no long-term solution. Elsewhere in the region, poorly managed countries were over-drilling, over-using, and risking major damage to natural sources. “In Syria, for instance, they drilled wells everywhere and destroyed aquifers,” he says. “They had irrational, erratic water management and a lack of government policy.” Even before two years of civil war began, Syrians turned on their taps and got nothing most days of the week.

‘We didn’t want to switch off the water to a population in Israel which has enough problems to deal with’

“By 2000 our balance was really strained,” says Kushnir. “We would have had to cut back drastically in agriculture or industry or home use and we weren’t prepared to do that. We didn’t want to switch off the water to a population in Israel which has enough problems to deal with.”

The solution was desalination, on a major scale — the third phase in a water revolution that had begun with the water carrier and continued with recycling. The first large desalination plant came on line in Ashkelon in 2005, followed by Palmahim and Hadera. By the end of this year, when the Soreq and Ashdod plants are working, there’ll be five plants — built privately at a cost of NIS 6-7 billion (about $2 billion).

Israel's desalination plant on the Mediterranean Sea at Ashkelon (Photo credit: Edi Israel /Flash90)

Israel uses 2 billion cubic meters of water per year — which is actually a little less than a decade ago, as efficiencies have been introduced in agriculture (which uses 700 million), and water-saving awareness has permeated. Of that two billion, half will be “artificially” manufactured by year’s end — 600 million cubic meters from those desalination plants, and 400 from purified sewage and brackish water.

“We’re not the world’s biggest desalinators,” notes Kushnir, “but no one has made the shift so fast to a situation where half of its water needs are filled from ‘artificial’ sources. And it means we are now ready for the next decade, without dramatic dependence on rainfall fluctuations.”

Kushnir regards this as a remarkable achievement — “a lesson for the rest of the world,” he says, “or at least those many parts of the world that are grappling with variants of the difficulties Israel has overcome.”

The panicked warnings are over. But that doesn’t mean Israelis should now wash their cars with sloshing abandon, shower for hours, or hose their lawns (if they’re lucky enough to have one) day and night

So the “Israel’s drying out” ads have gone off the air, and the panicked warnings are over. But that doesn’t mean Israelis should now wash their cars with sloshing abandon, shower for hours, or hose their lawns (if they’re lucky enough to have one) day and night.

“In our region, you always have to save water,” Kushnir stresses. “There has to be intelligent water use. But I’m not going to scream at people anymore.”

The campaigns were demonstrably effective; they reduced water use by at least 10 percent, Kushnir says. “In 2000, it was 100 cubic meters per person per year. Nowadays it’s 90. That saved us a desalination plant.”

But Israel can afford to relax, at least a little. “Our job is to ensure that when you turn on the tap, water comes out,” says Kushnir. “Well, we’ve done that. People have to continue to be smart. This isn’t London or Washington, DC. You have to use water as appropriate to our region. There has to be awareness that water is a precious resource, and we have to manufacture much of it, and that costs money. The manufacture also creates carbon dioxide and that affects the environment. So, I’m not trying to scare the public. You want water, here’s water. Use it. Use it as you want, but use it wisely.”

Where does Kushnir stand on global warming? Does he see it impacting annual rainfall? “There are dramatic changes in water fall,” he responds. “We need to be prepared for graver, longer droughts. If we see global warming having more of an effect, we’ll have to increase the desalination factor. If not, we’ll stay at the current fifty-fifty.

“Personally,” he goes on, “I’m a bit skeptical that global warming is a consequence of human activity. There is partial proof that human activity has exacerbated it. [But] it might be normal fluctuations. Remember,” he adds, “I’m supposed to be skeptical when I decide where to spend our billions.”

For all the announced success, should we be concerned that it might have come too late — that desalination should have been implemented earlier, reducing the heavy pumping from the Kinneret and the aquifers?

Shuli Chen, who works for the National Water Authority, stands in the Sea of Galilee to take a measurement of the water level, March 2007. (Photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)

“Yes, we could have started desalination earlier. The damage to our natural resources would have been lighter,” Kushnir agrees. “We came very close to the black lines in the aquifers and the Kinneret which could have caused multi-year damage. Did we do harm? I hope not. But we’re moving away from the black lines now, even from the warning red lines. The immediate refilling and rehabilitation of the Sea of Galilee looks nice, but the aquifers are the key and we’re still 1 billion cubic meters to the optimal levels. Yet we’re legitimately optimistic.” (As of late February, the Sea of Galilee was at 210.24 meters below sea level, its highest level in seven years, which is a healthy 2.65 meters above the “lower red line” and 1.56 meters below the “upper red line” — the point at which the lake is considered full.)

At the same time as desalination has supplemented natural sources, he adds, Israel has also become more efficient in the collection of rainfall. “As we improve, our aquifers will refill. Our springs will fill up. Then we’ll really have done our bit.”

What about the rest of the immediate neighborhood, those who work with Israel, and those who are hostile to Israel?

Kushnir says Israel supplies an annual 100 million cubic meters in total to the Palestinian Authority (30 million) and to Jordan (70 million), in line with formal agreements. He says the PA has failed to develop all the infrastructure necessary to maximize available water, and would reach “reasonable, appropriate levels” if it did so. “They can take quite a lot from the eastern aquifer. There are natural sources they didn’t develop. It’s detailed in the interim agreements.” He also says that among Jewish settlers in the West Bank, water use is similar to that inside sovereign Israel.

Kushnir says he meets with the head of the PA’s water authority, Dr. Shaddad Attili. “We speak to them all the time and we tell them how we managed, including by purifying sewage.”

Attili, for his part, last October accused Israel of charging “extortionate” prices for the water it supplies, and the PA has claimed that Israel’s refusal to let it drill in various locations above aquifers, as well as disappointing results from the developments it has introduced, force it to continue to depend upon those Israeli supplies.

“Our water market is no longer subsidized by the state,” Kushnir responds, “not since 2007.”

As for Jordan, Kushnir says the two countries work together effectively. Ever since the Israel-Jordan border demarcation was adjusted under the 1994 peace accord, Jordan has allowed Israel to maintain its drilling facilities inside what became Jordanian territory in the south, “and we help them in the north.”

It was King Abdullah’s father Hussein who would warn about water shortages prompting the next Middle East war. As far as Kushnir is concerned, the Israeli-Jordanian working relationship where water is concerned assuages any such worry. “There is such good mutual respect and interest,” he says. “We help each other. [Relatively speaking,] they have water; their challenge is how to deliver it. There’s the Red-Dead project where we can argue about the specifics. They’re thinking of desalination in Aqaba. They have a plan for use of brackish water. They can solve their problems overall, and we’ll be happy to help.
The Israeli-Jordanian water agreement is an example of a deal where both sides benefit.”

A Palestinian man fills a tank with clean water to be trucked to families who don't have safe drinking water at their homes in Gaza City, in 2010 (photo credit: Wissam Nassar/Flash90)

Beyond Jordan, though, has the fear of drought-stoked conflict disappeared? Israel, Syria and Lebanon have long contested water rights, and intermittently accused each other of abuses. Gaza faces acute water shortages.

“We know that geostrategic changes in the region can endanger our water sources,” Kushnir allows. “We certainly can’t afford to give up our natural resources.”

Treading delicately, Kushnir notes that, despite the new successes, the Dead Sea, for instance, is “missing billions of cubic meters.” One day, he muses, “Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Israel could potentially redirect the waters of the Litani River,” in Lebanon, to begin to address that challenge. “Of course, he adds, with magnificent understatement, “we would have to be in a situation of constructive dialogue.”

For all that Israel’s new water health is legitimately hailed as a remarkable achievement, that utopian vision — of Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Israel engaged in “constructive dialogue” — would seem beyond the foreseeable ambitions of even the most skilled and optimistic of rainmakers.


Posted on on May 10th, 2013
by Pincas Jawetz (

This website argued for years that Turkey could have enhanced its world position by allowing enough slack to its own Kurds establishing itself as a bi-National State – Turkish-Kurdish and absorb the Kurdish areas of Iraq, Iran, Syria, as well. They did not – and now Erdogan tries to go for what he thinks is within his reach.


PKK Challenges Barzani
In Iraqi Kurdistan.

Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) fighters talk to each other as they stand guard at the Kandil mountains near the Iraq-Turkish border in Sulaimaniya, 330 km (205 miles) northeast of Baghdad March 24, 2013. (photo by REUTERS/Azad Lashkari)

While Abdullah Ocalan, leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) pursues the cease-fire plan with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the PKK is also involved in a subtle power struggle across Turkey’s borders. This struggle is being played out by the PKK’s efforts to check the influence of Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, over leadership of the Kurds. By engaging in the Kurdistan Region’s messy pre-election politics and supporting the opposition Change Movement (Goran), the PKK is attempting to stifle a third mandate for Barzani, while stirring local criticism of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). These PKK interventions are unlikely to alter the status quo in the region — at least for the forthcoming elections — however; they are fueling political fragmentation and creating additional challenges to regional stability.


Indeed, rivalries between the PKK and Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) are nothing new. During the Iraqi Kurdish civil war of the 1990s, the PKK and KDP engaged in armed conflict against each other, as well as the KDP against the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).

The Ocalan-Barzani competition re-emerged after the Syrian civil war broke out, and as different Syrian Kurdish groups backed by the PKK and its affiliate, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) vied for power with the KDP-supported Kurdish National Council. This rivalry continues with Barzani tied to Turkey and attempting to court Syrian Kurdish youth groups and independents away from PYD influence.

Still, Barzani and Ocalan reached a tacit agreement after Ocalan’s imprisonment in 1999, which allowed the PKK to relocate in the Kandil Mountains in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. The KRG also tolerates the presence of thousands of PKK supporters in the Makhmour Camp, where they have been residing since 1994 as political refugees. Moreover, despite the rapprochement between Erbil and Ankara, Barzani has affirmed that “the period of Kurds killing Kurds is over” and that the KRG Peshmerga would not engage militarily against the PKK or any other Kurdish group. These efforts have led to a mutually peaceful coexistence between the KDP and PKK, despite the distinctly different ideologies and regional relationships each has developed, particularly with Ankara.

The last six months, however, have seen a shift in PKK tactics inside the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Whereas the PKK leader in Kandil, Murat Karaliyan, had previously indicated his willingness to work with Barzani in 2009, he now opposes electing him to a third term as president. The PKK is using its networks and social media to incite local opposition against Barzani and the Iraqi Kurdish parties. For instance, it is encouraging local populations in the Iraqi Kurdish-Iranian border town of Halabja to criticize the KRG and Barzani for lack of services. One of the PKK websites has inflammatory photos and remarks about Barzani’s leadership, as well as other KRG political party leaders.

This shift reflects a reaction to Barzani’s growing power — including his close ties to Erdogan — and his claims or ambitions to become a leader of all the Kurds, expressed in Kurdish as “president of Kurdistan,” which the PKK rejects.

More specifically, the PKK shift coincides with the illness of Jalal Talabani, president of Iraq and leader of the PUK, which has further weakened the PUK and limited any serious competition for the KDP and Barzani’s power. In fact, the rump of the PUK — known as the “Gang of Four” — may have called for a separate list in the planned September elections to reflect its differences and attempts to challenge the KDP. Yet the PUK leadership continues to support and depend upon Barzani as president, particularly as a financial patron.

This is why the PKK is now calling for a “Kurdistan supported by Goran.” Goran remains the only secular Kurdish nationalist party that seeks to remove Barzani from office while pressing for a parliamentary and not presidential system for the region. Goran also has indicated its support for the PKK and affirmed the PYD as the representative of the Kurds in Syria, posing another direct challenge to Barzani and the KDP. The PKK-Goran alliance also is based on shared concerns about Turkey’s regional power and the need to check Erdogan’s influence over Iraqi Kurds and in Syria.

It is unlikely that the PKK will weaken the deeply rooted patronage networks inside the Kurdistan Region that will assure Barzani power and KDP and PUK influence for years to come. Many people, particularly the youth, may support the PKK as true Kurdish nationalists and back Goran; however, they also have been co-opted by the increasingly generous handouts and comfortable lifestyles made available to them by the KRG in recent years. Many others are disinterested in politics altogether or unwilling to pay the consequences of being linked to the opposition.

Still, PKK engagement in Iraqi Kurdish politics matters because it reveals the growing complexity of the trans-border Kurdish problem and the PKK’s political agenda to change the status quo. This challenge will not only be about advancing Kurdish nationalist rights in different states, but clarifying who will represent Kurdish interests and what form these nationalist interests should take. Whatever the outcome, these struggles will likely create a wide opening for more deal-making between Kurdish groups and regional states, keeping the Kurdish nationalist movement fragmented from within and across borders.


Denise Natali holds the Minerva Chair at the Institute for National Strategic Studies (INSS), National Defense University where she specializes in Iraq, regional energy issues and the Kurdish problem. The views expressed are her own and do not reflect the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense or the US government.


Posted on on May 10th, 2013
by Pincas Jawetz (



A parched Syria turned to war, scholar says, and Egypt may be next.

Prof. Arnon Sofer sets out the link between drought, Assad’s civil war, and the wider strains in the Middle East; Jordan and Gaza are also in deep trouble, he warns.

May 9, 2013, The Times of Israel

One quarter of the 3000 km.-long Euphrates River runs through Syria but Turkey, situated upriver, has drastically reduced the flow of water (Photo credit: CC BY Verity Cridland, Flickr)


Some look at the upheaval in Syria through a religious lens. The Sunni and Shia factions, battling for supremacy in the Middle East, have locked horns in the heart of the Levant, where the Shia-affiliated Alawite sect has ruled a majority Sunni nation for decades.

Some see it through a social prism. As they did in Tunis with Muhammad Bouazizi — an honest man who couldn’t make an honest living in this corruption-ridden part of the world — the social protests that sparked the war in Syria started in the poor and disenfranchised parts of the country.

Others look at the eroding boundaries of state in Syria and other parts of the Middle East as a direct result of the sins of Western hubris and Colonialism.

Professor Arnon Sofer has no qualms with any of these claims and interpretations. But the upheaval in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East, he says, cannot be fully understood without also taking two environmental truths into account: soaring birthrates and dwindling water supply.

Over the past 60 years, the population in the Middle East has twice doubled itself, said Sofer, the head of the Chaikin geo-strategy group and a longtime lecturer at the IDF’s top defense college, where today he heads the National Defense College Research Center. “There is no example of this anywhere else on earth,” he said of the population increase. Couple that with Syria’s water scarcity, he said, “and as a geographer it was clear to me that a conflict would erupt.”

The Pentagon cautiously agrees with this thesis. In February the Department of Defense released a “climate-change adaptation roadmap.” While the effects of climate change alone do not cause conflict, the report states, “they may act as accelerants of instability or conflict in parts of the world.” Predominantly the paper is concerned with the effects of rising seas and melting arctic permafrost on US military installations. The Middle East is not mentioned by name.

But Sofer and Anton Berkovsky, who together compiled the research work of students at the National Defense College and released a geo-strategic paper on Syria earlier in the year, believe that water scarcity played a significant role in the onset of the Syrian civil war and the Arab Spring, and that it may help re-shape the strategic bonds and interests of the region as regimes teeter and borders blur. Sofer also believes that a “Pax Climactica” is within reach if regional leaders would only, for a short while, forsake their natural inclinations to wake up in the morning and seek to do harm.

Syria is 85 percent desert or semi-arid country. But it has several significant waterways. The Euphrates runs in a south-easterly direction through the center of the country to Iraq. The Tigris runs southeast, tracing a short part along Syria’s border with Turkey before flowing into Iraq. And, aside from several lesser rivers that flow southwest through Lebanon to the Mediterranean, Syria has an estimated four to five billion cubic meters of water in its underground aquifers.

From 2007-2008, over 160 villages in Syria were abandoned and some 250,000 farmers relocated to Damascus, Aleppo and other cities. The capital, like many of its peer cities in the Middle East, was unable to handle that influx of people. Residents dug 25,000 illegal wells in and around Damascus, pushing the water table ever lower and the salinity of the water ever higher.

For these reasons the heart of the country was once an oasis. For 5,000 years, Damascus was famous for its agriculture and its dried fruit. Since 1950, however, the population has increased sevenfold in Syria, to 22 million, and Turkey, in an age of scarcity, has seized much of the water that once flowed south into Syria.

“They’ve been choking them,” Sofer said, noting that Turkey annually takes half of the available 30 billion cubic meters of water in the Euphrates. This limits Syria’s water supply and hinders its ability to generate hydroelectricity.

In 2007, after years of population growth and institutional economic stagnation, several dry years descended on Syria. Farmers began to leave their villages and head toward the capital. From 2007-2008, Sofer said, over 160 villages in Syria were abandoned and some 250,000 farmers – Sofer calls them “climate refugees” – relocated to Damascus, Aleppo and other cities.

The capital, like many of its peer cities in the Middle East, was unable to handle that influx of people. Residents dug 25,000 illegal wells in and around Damascus, pushing the water table ever lower and the salinity of the water ever higher.

This, along with over one million refugees from the Iraq war and, among other challenges, borders that contain a dizzying array of religions and ethnicities, set the stage for the civil war.

Tellingly, it broke out in the regions most parched — “in Daraa [in the south] and in Kamishli in the northeast,” Sofer said. “Those are two of the driest places in the country.”

Professor Eyal Zisser, one of Israel’s top scholars of Syria, agreed that the drought played a significant role in the onset of the war. “Without doubt it is part of the issue,” he said. Zisser did not believe that water was the central issue that inflamed Syria but rather “the match that set the field of thorns on fire.”

Rebel troops transporting two women to safety along the Orontes River, which has shrunk in recent years and grown increasingly saline (Photo credit: CC BY FreedomHouse)

Rebel troops transporting two women to safety along the Orontes River, which has shrunk in recent years and grown increasingly saline (Photo credit: CC BY FreedomHouse)

Since that fire began to rage in March 2011, the course of the battles has been partially dictated by a different sort of logic, not environmental in nature. “Assad is butchering his way west,” Sofer said. He believes the president will eventually have to retreat from the capital and therefore has focused his efforts on Homs and other cities and towns that lie between Damascus and the Alawite regions near the coast, cutting himself an escape route.

Sofer and Berkovsky envision several scenarios for Syria. Among them: Assad puts down the rebellion and remains in power; Assad abdicates and a Sunni majority seizes control; Assad abdicates and no central power is able to assert control. The most likely scenario, Sofer said, was that the Syrian dictator would eventually flee to Tehran. But he preferred to avoid that sort of micro-conjecture and to focus on the regional effects of population growth and water scarcity and the manner in which that ominous mix might shape the future of the region.

Writing in the New York Times from Yemen on Thursday, Thomas Friedman embraced a similar thesis, noting that the heart of the al-Qaeda activity in the region corresponded with the areas most stricken by drought. Sofer published a paper in July where he laid out the grim environmental reality of the region and argued that, as in Syria, the conflicts bedeviling the region were not about climate issues but were deeply influenced by them.

Egypt, Sofer wrote, faces severe repercussions from climate change. Even a slight rise in the level of the sea – just half a meter – would salinize the Nile Delta aquifers and force three million people out of the city of Alexandria. In the more distant future, as the North Sea melts, the Suez Canal could decline in importance. More immediately, and of greater significance to Israel, he wrote that Egypt, faced with a water shortage, would likely grow more militant over the coming years. But he felt the militancy would be directed south, toward South Sudan and Ethiopia and other nations competing for the waters of the Nile, and not north toward the Levant.

The NIle River, the lifeblood of Egypt's 82 million people (Photo credit: CC BY Simona Scolari, Flickr)

The Nile River, the lifeblood of Egypt’s 82 million people (Photo credit: CC BY Simona Scolari, Flickr)

As proof that this pivot has already begun, Sofer pointed to Abu-Simbel, near the border with Sudan. There the state has converted a civilian airport into a military one. “The conclusion to be drawn from this is simple and unequivocal,” he wrote. “Egypt today represents a military threat to the southern nations of the Nile and not the Zionist state to the east.”

The Sinai Peninsula, already quite lawless, will only get worse, perhaps to the point of secession, he and Berkovsky wrote. Local Bedouin will have difficulty raising animals in the region and will turn, to an even greater degree, to smuggling material and people along a route established in the Bronze Age, through Sinai to Asia and Europe.

Syria, even if the war were swiftly resolved, is “on the cusp of catastrophe.” Jordan, too, is in dire need of water. And Gaza, like Syria, has been battered by unchecked drilling. The day after Israel left under the Oslo Accords, he said, the Palestinian Authority and other actors began digging 500 wells along the coastal aquifer even though Israel had warned them of the dangers. “Today there are around 4,000 of them and no more ground water. It’s over. There’s no fooling around with this stuff,” he said.

Only the two most stable states in the region – Israel and Turkey – have ample water.

Turkey is the sole Middle Eastern nation blessed with plentiful water sources. Ankara’s control of the Tigris and the Euphrates, among other rivers, means that Iraq and Syria, both downriver, are to a large extent dependent on Turkey for food, water and electricity. That strategic advantage, along with Turkey’s position as the bridge between the Middle East and Europe, “further serves its neo-Ottoman agenda,” Sofer said.

He envisioned an increased role for Turkey both in the Levant and, eventually, in central Asia and along the oil crossroads of the Persian Gulf, pitting it against Iran. Climate change, he conceded, has only a minor role in that future struggle for power but it is “an accelerant.”

Israel no longer suffers from drought. Desalination, conservation and sewage treatment have alleviated much of the natural scarcity. In February, the head of the Israel Water Authority, Alexander Kushnir, told the Times of Israel that the country’s water crisis has come to an end. Half of Israel’s two billion cubic meters of annual water use is generated artificially, he said, through desalination and sewage purification.

For Sofer, this self-sufficiency is an immense regional advantage. Israel could pump water east to Jenin in the West Bank and farther along to Jordan and north to Syria. International organizations could follow Israel’s example and fund regional desalination plants, which, he noted, cost less than a single day of modern full-scale war.

Instead, rather than an increase in cooperation, he feared, the region would likely witness ever more desperate competition. Sofer said his friends see him as a sort of Jeremiah. But the Middle East, he cautioned, is a region where “leaders wake up every morning and ask what can I do today to make matters worse.”

Arnon Sofer, a longtime professor at the IDF's National Defense College, sees a link between the war in Syria and the water shortages there (Photo credit: Moshe Shai/ Flash 90)

Arnon Sofer, a longtime professor at the IDF’s National Defense College, sees a link between the war in Syria and the water shortages there (Photo credit: Moshe Shai/ Flash 90)



Posted on on April 8th, 2013
by Pincas Jawetz (

Had Turkey made its internal peace wilth their Kurds, and moved on to incorporate the Iraqi Kurds, then the Syrian Kurds, then the Iranian Kurds – that would have been a National policy of a bi-National State that would have helped them also in their relations with the EU. But that is a future lost and now we see a revival of old oil policy instead.


Turkey, Iraq, and Oil

by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi
The American Spectator
April 5, 2013

Though the pace of growth of the Turkish economy has slowed significantly, one of Ankara’s priorities over the coming years is to meet the country’s growing energy demands. The clearest solution is to diversify suppliers of oil and gas, with the autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan (KRG) area being one potential source for such fuels.

Had you asked me a few months ago about the Turkish policy on acquiring energy resources from the KRG via an independent pipeline project and against the will of the Iraqi central government, I would have said that Ankara was still ambiguous on the matter, but now it seems clear that the Turkish government under Prime Minister Erdo?an intends to move forward with such plans.

The first sign of an advance in the framework of an informal commercial deal between the KRG and Ankara on this issue was a report by Ben Van Heuvelen for the Iraq Oil Report. Relying on the testimony of “multiple senior Turkish officials,” Heuvelen reports that the terms would include “stakes in at least half a dozen exploration for the direct pipeline export of oil and gas from the KRG.”

Multiple other sources can be used to confirm Heuvelen’s report. Following the visit of KRG premier Nechirvan Barzani in Ankara to meet with Erdo?an on March 26 where the two leaders apparently agreed to begin implementing the energy cooperation plan, the Turkish opposition party CHP attempted to launch a no-confidence motion in parliament against Foreign Minister Ahmet Davuto?lu on account of the energy deal with the KRG. The no-confidence motion failed.

CHP member Osman Korutürk claimed that a pipeline agreement in particular contradicted Davuto?lu’s declared principle of “zero problems” with neighboring countries, noting the objections of Baghdad and Washington to the development of energy ties between the KRG and Turkey without the Iraqi government’s consent.

The Turkish premier’s response to this initiative by the CHP, which is similarly opposed to Ankara’s firm anti-Assad stance vis-à-vis Syria, was to indicate that the issue should be taken up with Energy Minister Taner Yildiz, who proceeded in a speech to acknowledge the idea of maintaining Iraq’s unity as one of the top priorities of Turkish foreign policy, while arguing that the KRG had a constitutional right to develop energy ties with Ankara and is entitled to 17% of Iraq’s budget as per a 2006 agreement between Arbil and Baghdad.

In a subsequent interview with CNN Turk, Erdo?an invoked many of the same points as Yildiz in arguing that Turkey had the right to make energy agreements with the KRG, adding that under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, there is no real unity in Iraq anyway.

The point about the KRG’s budget share of 17% — invoked by Erdo?an and Yildiz — is key to Turkey’s official justification for moving forward with developing energy ties with the KRG unilaterally while also claiming to uphold Iraq’s unity. Ankara’s reasoning appears to be as follows: through developing energy ties, KRG will boost its oil production and therefore in terms of Iraq’s overall revenues, the KRG will be contributing 17% and thus match its share of the budget.

At present, the budget share to which the KRG is entitled is well above the autonomous region’s oil output as a proportion of Iraq’s revenues, the overwhelming majority of which comes from the oil industry. Baghdad’s complaint — as reflected in the words of Abdullah al-Amir (the chief advisor to Iraq’s deputy minister for energy affairs) — is that allegedly, only a third of KRG oil revenues reach the central government.

This complaint is not necessarily divorced from reality. In truth, the Turkish government’s official justification for implementing an energy agreement with the KRG while claiming to uphold Iraq’s unity is specious.

Notice that in the interview with CNN Turk (as I have pointed out above, but was omitted in the English reports), Erdo?an said that there is no real unity in Iraq anyway. At the same time, it should be emphasized that Ankara still does not support actual Kurdish independence.

Rather, the goal is to make the KRG a virtual client state of Turkey while ensuring that the autonomous region at least remains nominally part of Iraq. As Ben Van Heuvelen pointed out to me, this goal is “almost explicit policy” on the part of Ankara.

In turn, Zaab Sethna draws an analogy with the Turkish-occupied territory of northern Cyprus, in relation to which Turkish officials are now pressing Israel not to develop natural gas deals with the Cypriot government without incorporating Ankara into the negotiations. Aware of Baghdad’s disapproval of dealing with the KRG unilaterally, the Turkish government appears to be trying to pursue a rapprochement with the Iraqi government anyway: perhaps to induce it to accept the Turkey-KRG agreement. The rapprochement initiative began with a meeting between Davuto?lu and Iraq’s Vice-President Khudayr al-Khozaie at the Arab League Summit in Doha at the end of last month, in which a desire to restart friendly bilateral ties was expressed — something that Khozaie acknowledged on his return to Baghdad.

Building on these hints of rapprochement, Iraq has now put forward an offer to build an oil pipeline from Basra to Ceyhan in southern Turkey, in which Yildiz has expressed an interest. Even so, if Baghdad is hoping that this counter-offer will dissuade Ankara from proceeding to forge energy ties with the KRG, then the central government is quite mistaken.

It seems most likely that Turkey, like Exxon Mobil with its oil contracts in Iraq, will try to have it both ways by continuing to express an interest in a Basra-Ceyhan pipeline project as well, but could also drop the proposal entirely in favor of continuing to develop the energy deal with the KRG. Further, it is improbable that a compromise will be reached on the issue: a whole series of temporary agreements have arisen in the past on oil disputes between the KRG and the Iraqi central government, but the foundations of the quarrel have never been truly tackled. There is no doubt that the dispute over the budget for this year pushed the KRG to move forward with Ankara in cementing the energy deal.

At present, there is little the Iraqi government can do to stop Ankara beyond saber-rattling rhetoric. A violent confrontation is out of the question, and appealing to Washington to pressure Turkey to reconsider has been unsuccessful.

This failure of persuasion demonstrates the very limited U.S. leverage in the dispute, and while Turkish officials have expressed hope that Washington will eventually take Ankara’s side, they are obviously not pleased that the Americans sided with Baghdad.

From this point follows another conclusion: namely, it is all the more likely that Turkey will continue to resist any future U.S. or wider Western pressure to drop energy and economic ties with Iran amid the sanctions.

Ankara may be diversifying its energy sources, but that does not translate to dropping oil imports from Iran or ending the trade in gold for natural gas. An independent oil and gas pipeline project with the KRG will take years to become fully operational, and there is no reason to assume it is mutually exclusive from continuing energy ties with Iran, just as it is wrong to presume that the KRG will end oil smuggling to Iran just because of an energy agreement with Turkey.

Whatever disagreements Iran and Turkey have about Syria, it is important to note the cases of Iraq-Jordan and Iran/Iraq-Egypt economic ties. Strategic regional outlook is not the same as strengthening economic relations, and so one must avoid interpreting Turkey’s cultivation of energy ties with the KRG as a move away from Iran by either party.

Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi is a Shillman-Ginsburg Fellow at the Middle East Forum, and a student at Brasenose College, Oxford University.

Related Topics:  Iraq, Oil, Turkey and Turks  |  Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi


Posted on on April 4th, 2013
by Pincas Jawetz (


Agreement for the export of Iraqi oil through Jordan within days

He and Iraqi Oil Minister Abdul Karim and coffee yesterday that the next few days will witness the signing of the Jordanian-Iraqi transport …


Baghdad warns of Kurdistan oil pipeline to Turkey
Oil Ministry has warned the Turkish side of the Iraqi oil pipeline from the Kurdistan region through its territory without the consent of the government …


Posted on on March 20th, 2013
by Pincas Jawetz (

Saddam Hussein
Former President of Iraq
Saddam Hussein Abd al-Majid al-Tikriti was the fifth President of Iraq, serving in this capacity from 16 July 1979 until 9 April 2003. Wikipedia


Saddam speaks on the Gulf crisis

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Nouri al-Maliki

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New York Times Editorials of March 20, 2013 – The Print Version:


Ten Years After


An ill-conceived war continues to affect American policy.

 Editorial: Iraq’s Fragile Future


Iraq’s Fragile Future


Iraq continues to face political strife, sectarian violence and corruption and mismanagement.


For the G.O.P., It’s Not Just the Message


If Republican leaders want a broader appeal, they should re-examine their divisive policies.



Op-Ed Contributor

A Decade of Despair


Outside, the bombs went off. Inside, we toasted the queen.

Op-Ed Contributor

Iraq: Where Terrorists Go to School


Qaeda-affiliated militants drawn to Iraq since 2003 have been battle-tested. They are taking the fight to neighboring countries, especially Syria.

Op-Ed Columnist

Democrats, Dragons or Drones?


Iraq might seem to have been the last place in the Middle East we should have tried to help establish a democracy, but it was the most important.


OPINION | Op-Ed Contributor

What America Learned in Iraq


Some hope that the enormous price of the Iraq war was not paid entirely in vain.




Posted on on March 17th, 2013
by Pincas Jawetz (

Iraqis embrace nightlife after years of fear.

MENAFN – AFP – 16/03/2013

(MENAFN – AFP) on-line March 17, 2013   —   During Baghdad’s darkest days, often the only light at night was that of gunfire and mortar rounds. But the Iraqi capital now looks a world apart, with packed restaurants, parks and even the odd nightclub. Though still a long way from its once-lofty status as one of the region’s most dynamic nightspots, and with the social scene out of reach for many Baghdadis, the options after sunset
offer a rare bright spot for a violence-wracked country.
“Baghdad is beautiful at night,” said Dhia al-Din al-Maliki, an investor in a bar on the top floor of the Palestine Hotel in central Baghdad. “It’s always beautiful, but at night, you have privacy.“The bar, which charges 5 for a can of beer and at least 15 for all other alcoholic beverages, has a musician playing the keyboard while crooning for the mostly-male customers gazing out at the Tigris River.

Outsized bottles of Chivas Regal and Johnny Walker Red Label stand alongside an impressive variety of vodkas.
At street level, snaking alongside the river, a row of restaurants lines Abu Nawas street, famed for their masgoof, or flame-grilled carp, Iraq’s signature dish.
Decimated by the violent aftermath of the 2003 invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein, Baghdad’s nightlife had already been hit by a decade of crushing UN sanctions imposed on Iraq for its 1990 invasion of Kuwait.  And as Saddam turned away from his early secular policies to more overtly Islamic mode, bars were increasingly under pressure.  But now families and groups of friends often gather at Abu Nawas restaurants until late into the night, restricted only by Baghdad’s overnight curfew which extends from 1:00 am to 4:00 am.
At the eateries, most of which do not serve alcohol, customers pick their fish from a small pond, and it is grilled for them, costing around 20,000 Iraqi dinars (17 dollars) a kilo (two pounds) at the capital’s better restaurants.
Outside, bumper-to-bumper traffic moves at a snail’s pace as others look for a bite either on Abu Nawas or in nearby Karrada, Baghdad’s main commercial district.
“Day by day, security is improving, so we can go out at night,” said 28-year-old Ammar Sabah at an Abu Nawas eatery. “I hope the situation here becomes like in other countries, with nightclubs, parks and parties for young people.”
A full-blown sectarian war in 2006-2007 that cost tens of thousands of lives left Baghdad segregated between Sunni and Shiite areas and the capital’s residents fearful of what would happen if they ventured out, especially at night.  From militias masquerading as security forces and manning fake checkpoints, to a constant stream of roadside bombs, vehicles packed with explosives and suicide attacks, many of Baghdad’s residents rarely chose to leave home after dark– Many can’t afford –But as violence has declined nationwide over the past five years, albeit with attacks still a regular feature of life in the capital, Iraqis have increasingly sought to restore some normality to daily life. 
Security forces have gradually eased the overnight curfew, restaurants have opened their doors, and families have stayed out later and later.  “These days are days of prosperity and safety,” Samir Ouda Jaber said, standing alongside his wife, three children and a whole host of relatives near a Ferris wheel in central Baghdad’s Zawraa Park.  In the past, “we could not get out for entertainment with the family because those were days of horror,” the 40-year-old went on. “We could not even guarantee our own safety, so how could we protect our children?”  Restrictions still apply, though.  Few Baghdad neighbourhoods offer entertainment that families and young people can enjoy, so many must traipse across the city amid gridlocked traffic, and many of the capital’s residents cannot afford the often-costly excursions.  Jaber admitted that he could rarely afford to visit Zawraa Park, with a large family and various amusement park rides to pay for.  “If you bring four or five children, it’s difficult to pay for everyone, so we cannot come frequently,” he said. “As you know, children demand a lot.”


Posted on on February 18th, 2013
by Pincas Jawetz (

We have completely forgotten about this posting – but discovered in our stats that today it was clicked by one of our readers.
Amazing – this also reminded us that Senator Hagel served also, just five years ago, as chair of the Senate Global Climate Change Observer Group and thus would be a good man to have when looking at Climate Change as a Security issue, as we are now pursuing it because of the Arria-formula meeting February 15, 2013, at the UN Security Council.




US Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE), the senior Senator from the State of Nebraska, will speak on “21st Century Challenges” at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and during a luncheon in New York City organized by the American Iranian Council. He has served as the chair of both the Senate Global Climate Change Observer Group and the Senate Oversight Task Force, and currently serves as the co- chair of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China. He also serves on the NATO Observer Group and several Senate committees, including the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and the Select Committee on Intelligence.

Sen. Hagel takes a pragmatic, no-nonsense approach to both domestic and foreign policy, particularly in regard to national security, civil liberties, and the Iraq War. This approach and his willingness to work with his colleagues across the aisle on these issues have earned the respect of many Americans across the partisan divide. During the debate over the PATRIOT Act, he broke from the ranks of his fellow Republicans and criticized the bill, citing his oath of office, which compels him to defend the Constitution, not his party or president. Since then, he has become an outspoken critic of partisanship, and has also denounced the increasing politicization of national security. In a rejoinder to Karl Rove, he argued that “national security is more important than the Republican Party or the Democratic Party, and to use it to try and get someone elected will ultimately end up in defeat and disaster for that political party.”

His announcement in August of 2004 that he was considering a run for the White House set off a firestorm of speculation regarding his potential to win that office. Almost immediately after the 2006 midterm elections, Hagel’s name became increasingly bandied about as the definitive response to the public’s crisis of faith in the Republican Party. In an article entitled “Hagel’s Moment,” Washington Post columnist David Ignatius argued that the very positions that had distinguished him from the rest of the GOP now make him one of its most attractive candidates. In January of 2007, Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter explicitly contrasted Senator Hagel’s positions on the War in Iraq with those of Senator John McCain, who, like him, is a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War, and is frequently suggested as a candidate for the 2008 presidential election. Alter made the case that Hagel is the more attractive of the two candidates for the Republican nomination, and perhaps the most attractive of all the candidates.

Sen. Hagel has made foreign policy one of his strengths during his tenure in office, and has also called for the United States to make every effort to deescalate the violence in the Middle East, calling for a “focused and creative diplomacy” in the region rather than further military action. With particular regard to Iran, he has suggested that “America’s strategic policy toward Iran must be comprehensive and include a wide-lens view of Iran and the entire Middle East,” and that it is a “strategic mistake to believe that the US can successfully pursue a policy that segments Iranian and US interests.” In his view, “there will be no lasting solution to the Iranian nuclear threat until the broader interests of Iran, the US, the region and the world are addressed.”

The luncheon will be held in New York City on Only a small number of seats will be available at this exclusive event, and therefore will it be open only to invited guests. The event will be free of charge to members of the American Iranian Council, faculty from the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, and their sponsors. If you are interested in attending, please contact Prof. Hooshang Amirahmadi, AIC President and Director of CMES, at (609) 509-2999 as soon as possible.



Monday, October 20th, 2008
Friday, July 2nd, 2010
Monday, January 7th, 2013
Monday, January 14th, 2013


Posted on on February 9th, 2013
by Pincas Jawetz (

A Faceless Teenage Refugee Who Helped Ignite Syria’s War.

Bryan Denton for The New York Times

A boy now living in Jordan, who was part of a group whose arrest and torture helped start Syria’s uprising.

Published: February 8, 2013

AMMAN, Jordan — In a listless border town, the teenager goes unnoticed, one of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have fled the Syrian civil war, dashing across villages and farms to land in Jordan, just five miles from home.

But this young man carries a burden — maybe an honor, too — that almost no one else shares.

He knows that he and his friends helped start it all. They ignited an uprising.

It began simply enough, inspired not so much by political activism as by teenage rebellion against authority, and boredom. He watched his cousin spray-paint the wall of a school in the city of Dara’a with a short, impish challenge to President Bashar al-Assad, a trained ophthalmologist, about the spreading national revolts.

“It’s your turn, doctor,” the cousin wrote.

The opening episodes of the Arab uprisings are growing more distant, the memory of them clouded by fears about what the revolutions have wrought. In Egypt’s chaos, activists talk of a second revolution, and in Tunisia a political assassination this week has imperiled one of the region’s more hopeful transitions. Then there is Syria, where tens of thousands of people have been killed, hundreds of thousands have fled the country and the idea of the nation itself is disappearing amid cycles of sectarian bloodshed.

That war’s brutality has made it difficult to recall, let alone celebrate, the uprisings’ beginnings. After the graffiti, the teenager and his friends were arrested and tortured, setting off demonstrations that, looking back, were the first days of the civil war. Two years later, the boys remain mostly unknown, none celebrated like Mohamed Bouazizi, the fruit seller whose self-immolation started the Arab uprisings, or Khaled Said, the young man whose beating death at the hands of the Egyptian police helped start a movement for change.

Some of the boys from Dara’a are refugees, like the teenager in Jordan, now 17, who agreed, along with his father, to speak as long as his name was not revealed. They said they were protecting relatives left behind in Syria, but their reluctance also came from shame: the boy’s father had given him up to the police, to spare a second son, and the teenager informed on three of his friends to try to avoid the torture he suffered anyway.

Given all that has happened, to his family and his country, the teenager said he had no regrets. “Why should I? It’s good that it happened,” he said during a meeting arranged by other refugees from Dara’a. Speaking of Mr. Assad, he said, “We found out who he really is.”

It began with the graffiti.

The government, nervous as leaders were being toppled around the Arab world, reacted furiously to the slight, arresting the teenager and more than a dozen other boys and then torturing them for weeks.

The boy’s relatives, neighbors and hundreds of others in the city gathered for protests demanding the release of the boys. Security forces opened fire on the crowds. They calculated that zero tolerance would head off an escalation. They were wrong.

The details of the teenager’s story could not be independently corroborated, but its outlines matched accounts by a few of the other boys from Dara’a who have spoken about that period. Three former residents of the city, including two who lived in the same neighborhood as the teenager and his family, confirmed that he was among the boys arrested in March 2011.

Recounting those days, the teenager said he passed a sleepless night after his cousin’s acts of defiance. It was not just the graffiti: the cousin had set fire to a new police kiosk the same day in another act of lashing out. The teenager and his friends did not talk much about politics, but the language of dissent was everywhere on satellite television. Small protests had begun to flare in Damascus. “It was the right time,” the teenager said.

The next morning, he noticed intelligence agents at a school and had little doubt about why they were there. “We knew what we did,” he said.

Over the next few days, the police, the military and the military police roamed the city “day and night,” storming the homes of suspects. The teenager said he went into hiding. “I thought it would pass,” he said. But it did not.

When the police finally knocked on the family’s door, the officers threatened to take a different son. If the father gave up the teenager, the agents promised, he would be held for only a few days. The father complied and took his son to the local security headquarters. The boy started crying, and begging to be taken home. But the father left his son behind. “You are to blame for anything that happens to him,” his wife said when he returned home.

The abuse began as soon as the teenager arrived at a prison in the town of Suwayda, where he was beaten during his interrogations. “Are you the one who wrote it?” the interrogator asked, more a demand than a question.

The teenager said he dropped out of school when he was 8. “I don’t know how to write,” he told the interrogators for three days until, desperate for the abuse to stop, he confessed to spray-painting the phrase, though he had not. He also gave up the names of three other boys who were there that day. Within two weeks of the arrest, the father received a call to go to Dara’a Omari Mosque for a protest, in part to demand the release of the boys. About 10 people had already gathered there. The father said he and the other parents were convinced that if they did not protest, “they would have taken more children.” The demonstration grew, and soon he saw most everyone he knew in the city.

It is impossible to say how things might have turned out had the Assad government taken a more accommodating stance toward the protest. Activists from Dara’a still insist that the pressures could have been contained, compromises reached, even after years of violent repression. Any such hope quickly passed as the deaths began to mount.

“People became uncontrollable,” the father said.

Sometime after the protests in Dara’a started, the father heard that the boys would be freed. The teenager, unaware of the spreading revolt, said he was put on a minibus with other boys from Dara’a and sent home. When he arrived, his father said, “I didn’t recognize him.”

His son fled to Jordan about a year ago, where he spent his time looking for work as a day laborer, and dreaming about returning to fight the government in Syria.

About two months ago, he heard that his cousin who wrote the graffiti and somehow managed to avoid arrest had joined the rebels as a fighter — and had been killed.


Posted on on September 29th, 2012
by Pincas Jawetz (

With an almost professorial air, Mr. Netanyahu held up a diagram of a bomb with a fuse to show the Israeli view of Iran’s progress in achieving the ability to make a nuclear weapon. He drew a red line through the point at which Iran would have amassed enough medium-enriched uranium to make a bomb — which he said would be in the spring or summer of 2013.

His calculus turned on a stockpile of medium enriched uranium — uranium enriched to the level of 20 percent — that Iran has produced, ostensibly to fuel a research reactor, provided to the country by the United States in the days of the Shah. Right now, Iran does not possess enough of that fuel to make a single weapon. In fact, its stockpile of it has declined in recent months, as it has converted some for the research reactor.

But based on current production rates, Mr. Netanyahu said it would have enough in its stockpile by the middle of next year, a conclusion shared by many nuclear experts who have examined the reports of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Mr. Netanyahu asserted that the actual assembly of a bomb could be done clandestinely anywhere in Iran.

“Do we want to risk the security of the world on the assumption that we would find in time a small workshop in a country half the size of Europe?”
he asked.

Iranian officials, including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have declined to rule out the possibility that Iran would continue producing 20 percent uranium, even though it has now made enough to keep its medical reactor running for the next 6 to 10 years.

Netanyahu pressed hard to make the case that “red lines don’t lead to war; red lines prevent war.”
He argued that faced with red lines Iran would “back down.”   He urged listeners to be realistic: “today, a great battle is being waged between the modern and the medieval…The forces of medievalism seek a world…in which not life but death is glorified.”

The New York Times
September 28, 2012
Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel displaying his red line for Iran’s nuclear program.

In his speech at the annual General Assembly, Mr. Netanyahu dramatically illustrated his intention to shut down Iran’s nuclear program by drawing a red line through a cartoonish diagram of a bomb. But the substance of his speech suggested a softening of what had been a difficult dispute with the Obama administration on how to confront Iran over its nuclear program.

Only two weeks after that dispute broke into the open, Mr. Netanyahu on Thursday praised the warning Mr. Obama gave Iran in his own General Assembly speech on Tuesday.

“I very much appreciate the president’s position, as does everyone in my country,” he said. The Israeli leader’s speech also suggested that his deadline for a military strike was well past the American presidential election and into 2013 — perhaps as late as next summer.

Mr. Netanyahu said in an interview on “Meet the Press” on NBC that was broadcast on Sept. 16 that he believed Iran was six months from amassing most of the enriched uranium needed for a bomb. “You have to place that red line before them now,” he said. But his speech on Thursday was more explicit about his time frame for a military strike.

While such a strike seemed like a receding possibility in recent weeks, it had remained a possible “October surprise” that worried the White House and military planners.

Mr. Netanyahu’s softened tone may also have also reflected Israel’s reading of the American presidential polls, which have shown Mr. Obama’s lead widening somewhat since the prime minister’s harsh words in mid-September, when he said the United States had no “moral right” to hold back Israel from taking action against Iran because the Obama administration refused to set its own red line.

“It seems that Netanyahu’s Iran policy is becoming more Obama-friendly,” Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-Israeli lecturer at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzilya, Israel, said in an e-mailed reaction to Mr. Netanyahu’s speech.

“What was most impressive was that he drew a red line, without committing himself to it,” Mr. Javedanfar said. “He also did it in a way which takes the pressure off Obama, illustrated by the fact that he pushed back the timelines to next year.”

Michael Herzog, a former chief of staff to Israel’s defense minister and an Israel-based fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said it was implicit in Mr. Netanyahu’s remarks that “there are six or seven months more to continue to pressure the Iranians. The international buzz before was that Israel had to act before the November elections.”

Mr. Netanyahu’s speech also came against a backdrop of revived international diplomacy with Iran, which has insisted its nuclear program is peaceful. Foreign ministers from the so-called P5-plus-1 group of countries — the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany — met to discuss how to advance negotiations with Iran that have been stalled since June.

“All of the ministers were unified in their belief that diplomacy is the much preferred way forward,” a senior Obama administration official said after the meeting.

A new report by Israel’s Foreign Ministry calls for another round of sanctions against Iran, seemingly another acknowledgement by the Israelis that there might be time to stop its rival’s nuclear program by means other than military action.

The report, published on Thursday by the newspaper Haaretz, states that the international sanctions already imposed are having a deep effect on Iran’s economy, and may, according to some assessments, also be affecting the stability of the Iranian government. But because the sanctions have not persuaded Tehran to suspend the program, the report concludes, “another round of sanctions is needed.”


The Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, presented same day his grievances against Israel and tried to revive the fading dream of a two-State solution.

Both issues – Iran’s dangerous nuclear ambitions, and the Palestinian right to a secure State of their own, need to be dealt with seriously, but neither speaker at the UN podium acknowledged the other’s priority, nor spoke for a common path towards peace talks. It seems that by themselves alone they will not be able to come up with a solution to their mutual problem.


Now a crazy idea that crossed our mind – what if Ahmedi-Nejad decides to become a statesman and offers to open Iran to the World Inspectors from the  old Quartet of the UN, US, UK, and Russia, perhaps with add-ons India and Brazil, and Germany, and that in order to see that Iran destroys all its Uranium enrichment capacity in exchange for the creation of a Palestine on land freed of Israeli settlements like Sadat did by trading Peace for a Sinai freed of Israeli settlements?

Iran will thus also forgo the offensive anti-Zionist language, the un-nerving ranting about the Holocaust, and recognize Israel as a legitimate partner in Middle-East development so that Iran is not viewed like a potential North Korea, but it becomes a true motor for the world in the 21st century. Iran will get all the nuclear power fuel it needs for its reactor or future reactors, and this choice made by Iran will then turn it into the true leader of a revived larger Middle East – the original cradle of civilization – with Iraq and Turkey further main partners. Iran then becomes the de-facto leader of World Islam as Egypt had the potential of achieving this crown thanks to the Sadat deal of a free Sinai in exchange for a Peace Agreement with Israel. Israel could then also freeze its own nuclear program and the other States of the region forgo their own plans for creating the bomb.


Above idea came to our mind thanks to an article we received from Uri Avnery on which we model these suggestion.

Uri Avnery

September 29, 2012


I AM sitting here writing this article 39 years to the minute from that moment when the sirens started screaming, announcing the beginning of the war.

A minute before, total quiet reigned, as it does now. No traffic, no activity in the street, except a few children riding bicycles. Yom Kippur, the holiest day for Jews, reigned supreme. And then…

Inevitably, the memory starts to work.

THIS YEAR, many new documents were released for publication. Critical books and articles are abundant.

The universal culprits are Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan.

They have been blamed before, right from the day after the war, but only for superficial military offences, known as The Default. The default was failing to mobilize the reserves, and not moving the tanks to the front in time, in spite of the many signs that Egypt and Syria were about to attack.

Now, for the first time, the real Grand Default is being explored: the political background of the war. The findings have a direct bearing on what is happening now.

IT TRANSPIRES that in February 1973, eight months before the war, Anwar Sadat sent his trusted aide, Hafez Ismail, to the almighty US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger. He offered the immediate start of peace negotiations with Israel. There was one condition and one date: all of Sinai, up to the international border, had to be returned to Egypt without any Israeli settlements, and the agreement had to be achieved by September, at the latest.

Kissinger liked the proposal and transmitted it at once to the Israeli ambassador, Yitzhak Rabin, who was just about to finish his term in office. Rabin, of course, immediately informed the Prime Minister, Golda Meir. She rejected the offer out of hand. There ensued a heated conversation between the ambassador and the Prime Minister. Rabin, who was very close to Kissinger, was in favor of accepting the offer.

Golda treated the whole initiative as just another Arab trick to induce her to give up the Sinai Peninsula and remove the settlements built on Egyptian territory.

After all, the real purpose of these settlements – including the shining white new town, Yamit – was precisely to prevent the return of the entire peninsula to Egypt. Neither she nor Dayan dreamed of giving up Sinai. Dayan had already made the  (in)famous statement that he preferred “Sharm al-Sheik without peace to peace without Sharm al-Sheik”. (Sharm al-Sheik, which had already been re-baptised with the Hebrew name Ophira, is located near the southern tip of the peninsula, not far from the oil wells, which Dayan was also loath to give up.)

Even before the new disclosures, the fact that Sadat had made several peace overtures was no secret. Sadat had indicated his willingness to reach an agreement in his dealings with the UN mediator Dr. Gunnar Jarring, whose endeavors had already become a joke in Israel.

Before that, the previous Egyptian President, Gamal Abd-al-Nasser, had invited Nahum Goldman, the President of the World Jewish Congress (and for a time President of the World Zionist Organization) to meet him in Cairo. Golda had prevented that meeting, and when the fact became known there was a storm of protest in Israel, including a famous letter from a group of eighth-graders saying that it would be hard for them to serve in the army.

All these Egyptian initiatives could be waved aside as political maneuvers. But an official message by Sadat to the Secretary of State could not. So, remembering the lesson of the Goldman incident, Golda decided to keep the whole thing secret.

THUS AN incredible situation was created. This fateful initiative, which could have effected an historic turning point, was brought to the knowledge of two people only: Moshe Dayan and Israel Galili.

The role of the latter needs explanation. Galili was the eminence grise of Golda, as well as of her predecessor, Levy Eshkol. I knew Galili quite well, and never understood where his renown as a brilliant strategist came from. Already before the founding of the state, he was the leading light of the illegal Haganah military organization. As a member of a kibbutz, he was officially a socialist but in reality a hardline nationalist. It was he who had the brilliant idea of putting the settlements on Egyptian soil, in order to make the return of northern Sinai impossible.

So the Sadat initiative was known only to Golda, Dayan, Galili and Rabin and Rabin’s successor in Washington, Simcha Dinitz, a nobody who was Golda’s lackey.

Incredible as it may sound, the Foreign Minister, Abba Eban, Rabin’s direct boss, was not informed. Nor were all the other ministers, the Chief of Staff and the other leaders of the armed forces, including the Chiefs of Army Intelligence, as well as the chiefs of the Shin Bet and the Mossad. It was a state secret.

There was no debate about it – neither public nor secret. September came and passed, and on October 6th Sadat’s troops struck across the canal and achieved a world-shaking surprise success (as did the Syrians on the Golan Heights.)

As a direct result of Golda’s Grand Default 2693 Israeli soldiers died, 7251 were wounded and 314 were taken prisoner (along with the tens of thousands of Egyptian and Syrian casualties).

THIS WEEK, several Israeli commentators bemoaned the total silence of the media and the politicians at the time.

Well, not quite total. Several months before the war, in a speech in the Knesset, I warned Golda Meir that if the Sinai was not returned very soon, Sadat would start a war to break the impasse.

I knew what I was talking about. I had, of course, no idea about the Ismail mission, but in May 1973 I took part in a peace conference in Bologna. The Egyptian delegation was led by Khalid Muhyi al-Din, a member of the original group of Free Officers who made the 1952 revolution. During the conference, he took me aside and told me in confidence that if the Sinai was not returned by September, Sadat would start a war. Sadat had no illusions of victory, he said, but hoped that a war would compel the US and Israel to start negotiations for the return of Sinai.

My warning was completely ignored by the media. They, like Golda, held the Egyptian army in abysmal contempt and considered Sadat a nincompoop. The idea that the Egyptians would dare to attack the invincible Israeli army seemed ridiculous.

The media adored Golda. So did the whole world, especially feminists. (A famous poster showed her face with the inscription: “But can she type?”) In reality, Golda was a very primitive person, ignorant and obstinate. My magazine, Haolam Hazeh, attacked her practically every week, and so did I in the Knesset. (She paid me the unique compliment of publicly declaring that she was ready to “mount the barricades” to get me out of the Knesset.)

Ours was a voice crying in the wilderness, but at least we fulfilled one function: In her ‘March of Folly”, Barbara Tuchman stipulated that a policy could be branded as folly only if there had been at least one voice warning against it in real time.

Perhaps even Golda would have reconsidered if she had not been surrounded by journalists and politicians singing her praises, celebrating her wisdom and courage and applauding every one of her stupid pronouncements.

THE SAME type of people, even some of the very same people, are now doing the same with Binyamin Netanyahu.

Again, we are staring the same Grand Default in the face.

Again, a group of two or three are deciding the fate of the nation. Netanyahu and Ehud Barak alone make all the decisions, “keeping their cards close to their chest”. Attack Iran or not? Politicians and generals are kept in the dark. Bibi and Ehud know best. No need for any other input.

But more revealing than the blood-curdling threats on Iran is the total silence about Palestine. Palestinian peace offers are ignored, as were those of Sadat in those days. The ten-year old Arab Peace Initiative, supported by all the Arab and all the Muslim states, does not exist.

Again, settlements are put up and expanded, in order to make the return of the occupied territories impossible. (Let’s remember all those who claimed, in those days, that the occupation of Sinai was “irreversible”. Who would dare to remove Yamit?)

Again, multitudes of flatterers, media stars and politicians compete with each other in adulation of “Bibi, King of Israel”. How smoothly he can talk in American English! How convincing his speeches in the UN and the US Senate!

Well, Golda, with her 200 words of bad Hebrew and primitive American, was much more convincing, and she enjoyed the adulation of the whole Western world.  And at least she had the sense not to challenge the incumbent American president (Richard Nixon) during an election campaign.

IN THOSE days, I called our government “the ship of fools”. Our current government is worse, much worse.

Golda and Dayan led us to disaster. After the war, their war, they were kicked out – not by elections, not by any committee of inquiry, but by the grassroots mass protests that racked the country.

Bibi and Ehud are leading us to another, far worse, disaster. Some day, they will be kicked out by the same people who adore them now – if they survive.


And a voice from Israel  the same Uri Avnery in a new  Column looks in a different direction. He rather views only the US-Israel angle and does not consider anymore anything like my proposed dream of a hand outstretched by Iran. Have we really passed the point of no return? I do not think so –
the present problems of the Rial may change Iran’s vision.

Of Bombs and Comics

MY FIRST reaction to Binyamin Netanyahu’s exhibition of comics at the UN General Assembly was shame.

Shame that the supreme elected representative of my country would stoop to such a primitive rhetorical device, bordering on the childish.

(One Israeli commentator suggested putting him on a rug with a lot of paper and Indian ink, and letting him play to his heart’s content.)

He was speaking to a half-empty chamber (Israeli TV was careful not to show the entire hall during the speech), and the audience consisted of second-grade diplomats, but these were still educated people. Even Netanyahu must have realized that they would despise this display. But Netanyahu was not talking to them at all. He was talking to the Jewish audience at home and in the US.

THIS AUDIENCE was proud of him. He succeeded in touching their deepest emotions.

To understand this, one must recall the historical memories. Jews were a small, powerless community everywhere. They were completely dependent on the Gentile ruler.

Whenever their situation was in danger, the Jews chose the most prominent person among them to plead their cause before the emperor, king or prince. When this “pleader” (Shtadlan in Hebrew) was successful and the danger was averted, he won the gratitude of the whole community. In some cases, he would be remembered for generations, like the mythical Mordecai in the Book of Esther.

Netanyahu fulfilled this function. He went to the very center of Gentile power, today’s equivalent of the Persian Emperor, and pleaded the case of the Jews threatened with annihilation by the current heir of Haman the Evil (same Book of Esther).

And what an idea of genius to exhibit the drawing of the Bomb! It was reproduced on the front pages of hundreds of newspapers and on TV news programs around the world, including the New York Times!

For Netanyahu this was “the Speech of his Life”. To be precise, as one TV commentator dryly pointed out, it was the 8th Speech of his Life at the General Assembly.

His popularity soared to new heights. Moses himself, the supreme pleader at the court of Pharaoh, could not have done better.

BUT THE crux of the matter was hidden somewhere between the torrents of words.

The “inevitable” attack on Iran’s nuclear installations to prevent the Second Holocaust was postponed to next spring or summer. After blustering for months that the deadly attack was imminent, any minute now, no minute to spare, it disappeared into the mist of the future.

Why? What happened?

Well, one reason was the polls indicating that Barack Obama would be reelected. Netanyahu had doggedly staked all his cards on Mitt Romney, his ideological clone. But Netanyahu is also a True Believer in polls. It seems that Netanyahu’s advisors convinced him to hedge his bet. The evil Obama might win, in spite of the Sheldon Adelson millions. Especially now, after George Soros has staked his millions on the incumbent.

Netanyahu had the brilliant idea of attacking Iran just before the US elections, hoping that the hands of all American politicians would be tied. Who would dare to restrain Israel at such a time? Who would refuse help to Israel when the Iranians counter-attacked?

But like so many of Netanyahu’s brilliant ideas, this one, too, flopped. Obama has told Netanyahu in no uncertain terms: No attack on Iran before the elections. Or else…

THE NEXT President of the United States of America – whoever that may be – will tell Netanyahu the same after the elections.

As I have said before (excuse me for quoting myself again), a military attack on Iran is out of the question. The price is intolerably high. The geographic, economic and military facts all conspire to prevent it. The Strait of Hormuz would be shut, the world economy would collapse, a long and devastating war would ensue.

Even if Mitt Romney were in power, surrounded by a crowd of neocons, it would not change these facts one bit.

Obama’s case is very much strengthened by the economic news coming out of Iran. The international sanctions have had amazing results. The skeptics – led by Netanyahu – are in disarray.

Contrary to the anti-islamic caricature, Iran is a normal country, with a normal middle-class and citizens with a high political awareness. They know that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a fool and if he had really wanted to produce a nuclear bomb, would he have made all these idiotic speeches about Israel and/or the Holocaust? Shouldn’t he have kept his mouth shut and worked hard at it? But since he is about to go away anyhow, no need to make a revolution just now.

The practical upshot: Sorry, no war.

THE WHOLE affair brings up again the Walt-Mearsheimer controversy. Does Israel control US policy? Does the tail wag the dog?

To a very large extent, that is undoubtedly the case. Enough to follow the present election campaign and perceive how both candidates treat the Israeli government obsequiously, competing to outdo the other with words of flattery and support.

Jewish votes play an important role in swing states, and Jewish money plays a huge role in financing both candidates. (O tempora, o mores! Once there was a Jewish joke: A Polish nobleman threatens his neighboring nobleman: “If you hit my Jew, I shall hit your Jew!” Now one Jewish billionaire threatens another Jewish billionaire: If you give a million to your Goy, I shall give a million to my Goy!”)

The Obama administration’s Middle East policy staff is manned by Zionist Jews, down to the US ambassador in Tel Aviv, who speaks better Hebrew than Avigdor Lieberman. Dennis Ross, the grave digger of Middle East peace, seems to be everywhere. Romney’s neocons, too, are mostly Jews.

Jews have a huge influence – up to a point. This point is extremely significant.

There was a minor illustration: Jonathan Pollard, the American-Jewish spy, was sent to prison for life. Many people (including myself) consider this penalty unduly harsh. Yet no American Jew dared to protest, AIPAC kept quiet and no American president was swayed by Israeli calls for clemency. The US security establishment said No, and No it was.

The war on Iran is a million times more important. It concerns vital American interests. The American military opposes it (as does the Israeli military). Everybody in Washington DC knows that this is no side issue. It touches the very basis of American power in the world.

And lo and behold, the US says NO to Israel. The President says coolly that in matters of vital security interests, no foreign country can order the US Commander in Chief to draw red lines and commit himself to a war. Especially not with the help of a comic-book drawing.

Israelis are astounded. What? We, the country of God’s chosen people, are foreigners? Just like other foreigners?

This is a very important lesson. When things really come to a head, the dog is still the dog and the tail is still the tail.

SO WHAT about Netanyahu’s Iran commitment?

Recent I was asked by a foreign journalist if Netanyahu could survive the elimination of the “military option” against Iran, after talking for months about nothing else. What about the Iranian Hitler? What about the coming Holocaust?

I told him not to worry. Netanyahu can easily get out of it by claiming that the whole thing was really a ruse to get the world to impose tougher sanctions on Iran.

But was it?

People of influence in Israel are divided.

The first camp worries that our Prime Minister is really off his rocker. That he is obsessed with Iran, perhaps clinically unbalanced, that Iran has become an idée fixe.

The other camp believes that the whole thing was, right from the beginning, a hoax to divert attention from the one issue that really matters: Peace with Palestine.

In this he has been hugely successful. For months now, Palestine has been missing from the agenda of Israel and the entire world. Palestine? Peace? What Palestine, What peace? And while the world stares at Iran like a hypnotized rabbit at a snake, settlements are enlarged and the occupation deepened, and we are sailing proudly towards disaster.

And that is not at all a comic book story.