Archive for February, 2008

‘Rumors that Putin’s successor is Jewish has community worried’

February 22, 2008

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(Vladimir Putin and his successor-to-be, Dmitri Medvedev)

(Haaretz) — The Jewish community of Russia is worried over a rumor campaign by nationalist parties claiming that Dmitri Medvedev, President Vladimir Putin’s handpicked successor, is Jewish. Russian Jewish leaders declined to comment on the rumors officially, fearing to lend them credibility. Off the record, however, one said: “I pray it isn’t true, because it would only make trouble, for him and for us.” Medvedev, who recently told a Russian weekly that he was baptized into the Russian Orthodox Church at age 23, has not commented on these rumors. But Russian Internet sites are full of reports about his alleged Jewish roots. The rumors are based in part on the fact that his maternal grandfather’s first name was Veniamin – similar to the Hebrew Binyamin (Benjamin) – while his family name, Shaposhnikov, is sometimes a Jewish name. But beyond that, accusing an electoral rival of being Jewish is a tactic that nationalist parties have employed in the past, both in Russia and in other former communist countries… Click for full article

Comment: Does this story not remind you of the way right wing pundits and Obama opponents in the United States “accuse” Barack Obama of being a Muslim? See for example two articles by conservative commentator Daniel Pipes who puts in considerable effort to investigate Obama’s Muslim heritage in two articles, Was Barack Obama a Muslim? and Confirmed: Barack Obama Practiced Islam. Notice that Obama never bothers to qualify these pundits’ mis-characterizations of him with a follow up statement to the effect of “So what if I was?…” Fox News and Ann Coulter et al. never miss an opportunity to remind us of Obama’s alleged Muslim background, his middle name Hussein, and the fact that his first name rhymes with Osama — apparently a serious blow to his electability by the standards of some American voters.

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‘If talks continue to stall, PA will declare independence’

February 20, 2008
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(Post-independence celebrations in Kosovo)

Oh wise U.S. foreign policy makers (and those of many foreign governments)… How foolish they were to encourage and accept independence for Kosovo. They have no idea what they’re doing, or what a Pandora’s box this will open. Some analysts already warned that encouraging and then recognizing ethnic separatism in Kosovo would serve as a precedent for separatist movements the world over, not only in the Balkans. And this is just the beginning. I agree that Israelis and Palestinians should go their separate ways and each live in their own state (the two-state solution) but a unilateral declaration of independence is sure to lead to a breakdown of any negotiated settlement or worse.

If things are not going in the direction of actually halting settlement activities, if things are not going in the direction of continuous and serious negotiations, then we should take the step and announce our independence unilaterally,” Yasser Abed Rabbo said. “This is what the Israelis are driving us to,” Rabbo later told the Voice of Palestine radio station. However, the chief Palestinian negotiator, Ahmed Qureia, quickly quashed the idea of a unilateral declaration, saying it was never brought before the Palestinian leadership…” Click for full article

Robert Fisk on Imad Mughniyah

February 14, 2008

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(Mughniyeh (left, circled in red) during TWA hijacking. Jpost images.)

Bloody end of man who made kidnapping a weapon of war: “Live by the sword, as they say, and you die by the sword…” Click for full article

Also, further analysis on Mughniyah’s assassination from Andrew Exum, David Schenker and an alternative theory that the Syrians may have been behind it, from John Alterman of the Johns Hopkins Center for Strategic and International Studies.

‘Lebanese Carlos’ Killed in Damascus Blast

February 13, 2008

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My immediate reaction to Imad Mughniyah’s assassination is that it was almost certainly the Israelis, who have had a long-standing and well deserved grudge against him. It appears Israel has adopted the now common Al Qaeda and Hamas post-attack practice of praising the event while denying responsibility for it. Thus, Israeli Environment Minister Gideon Ezra, formerly a senior intelligence officer, stated today, “I, of course, do not know who carried out the assassination of Imad, but he should be blessed.” If it was Israel, it also proves the Mossad still maintains extensive intelligence and operational capabilities in the region for which the organization has become famous. This man, Mughniyah was very difficult to kill. Read for example, about the last botched attempt to kill him in the 1990s when they got his brother instead, a car shop owner in Beirut.

One note of caution however: There were a number of other countries and players who were after him. Thus, the possibility someone else could have carried out the assassination, while not likely, can not be ruled out. Dr Eyal Zisser, head of the the Moshe Dayan Center at Tel Aviv University (who is a personal friend of mine) said today that Mughniyah “was wanted by 42 countries, most of the world was after him. Israel’s official denial just adds another question mark to all the others raised by the assassination.” Nonetheless, it remains largely irrelevant because Hizbullah will not wait for an investigation.

Some analysts will probably point to the timing of Mughniyah’s killing to implicate Israel, noting that just this week Israel announced it may launch targeted assassinations against the Hamas leadership in response to ongoing Qassam rocket attacks against Israeli towns in the western Negev — Hamas and Hizbullah being two completely different organizations notwithstanding. Some may conclude it was meant as a signal to Damascus-based exiled Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal that the Qassams must stop, or perhaps there are other recent events to which they will discover a link. But on the contrary, I think timing has very little to do with this. Israel and possibly other players have been trying to kill the elusive Mughniyah for years without success, until today. In the world of intelligence, it’s well understood that when you have a valuable target in your sights, you pull the trigger. The longer you wait, the higher the chance of your plot being uncovered, the greater the danger to your operatives on the ground. Frankly, if it were so easy to assassinate Mughniyah at a given time Israel saw fit to send a message, he would have been killed years ago. Speaking to the Jerusalem Post today, retired Israeli Brigadier-General and senior Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) research fellow Shlomo Brom stated, “As far as timing is concerned, it’s probably little more than grabbing the opportunity. If you read James Bond novels you might think that reaching someone is easy, but in reality a security service can be tracking a person down for years and years before getting a chance to strike.”

Remember that scene in Scarface when Tony Montana is enlisted by Sosa to help his assassin dispose of a journalist who is about to expose the drug trafficking industry? As they sit and wait for the journalist to come out of his hotel, his wife and children get in the explosive-laden car along with him. At this point Montana refuses to allow Sosa’s assassin to push the detonator, despite his insistence to carry out the operation, and Montana shoots him a few moments later in a fit of coked-out rage. Montana turns to Sosa’s man and says, “What’d you think of that, huh? What you think, I’m a fucking worm like you?… I told you, no fucking kids! No, but you wouldn’t listen, why, you stupid fuck, look at you now.” Afterwards the explosive device is found under the journalist’s car and the plot is uncovered.

Mughniyah was truly vicious and nobody should shed a tear for him although some in the Arab world undoubtedly will. But before you go celebrate, know that there will be consequences. Hizbullah has a proven track record of tit for tat responses to Israeli attacks. We don’t know yet when, where or how many dead. First of all, there is the possibility of retaliation against captive Israeli soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, two cards Hizbullah currently holds against Israel. At the very least we should not expect their return anytime soon. However, much more likely is that Hizbullah will retaliate either with a high profile assassination of their own, as predicted by Timur Goksel, lecturer on international relations in Beirut and a former United Nations official in south Lebanon, or will opt for a larger and more gruesome attack against Jewish or Israeli targets abroad, resembling the 1992 attack on the Israeli embassy in Beunos Aires and the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center, also in Buenos Aires, which killed 85 people. These attacks are seen as retaliation for the Israeli assassination of former Hizbullah leader Abbas Musawi in 1992, and for Israel’s 1994 raid on Hezbollah’s Ein Dardara training camp in the Bekaa Valley. Musawi was then replaced by the more charismatic and effective Hassan Nasrallah.

Only in this case, there is no chance any replacement for Mughniyah will be more effective than he was. And Mughniyah won’t be planning the retaliation this time around.

Ha’aretz: ‘Gaza Strip blockade could seriously harm Israel’s economy’

February 10, 2008

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(Farming produce entering from Gaza into Israel through the Karni crossing in 2006 [AP])

Interesting article from Ha’aretz about the economic implications of the Gaza blockade both for Israel, the PA and Gaza. So far most analyses on the blockade have been confined to political implications. We knew the blockade would be harmful on the Gazan side (that’s what it was designed to do) but as Ha’aretz correspondent Meron Rapoport argues here, the current blockade and long term separation between Israeli and Palestinian economies will significantly harm the Israeli economy, too.

I disagree with Rapoport’s long term assessment, although of course he is right in the short term. He forgets that economies can re-adjust. Forcing the Palestinian and Israeli economies together in an unharmonious marriage has not and will never bring the two sides together peacefully. As Israel pushes to further divorce itself from Gaza, both economies will have to re-adjust, plain and simple. Israel can step up produce exports elsewhere, such as in Europe, including to an expanded list of less prosperous Eastern European or Balkan countries, and/or increase local exports to peaceful neighbors such as Turkey or possibly Egypt and Jordan, while Gaza simultaneously integrates its economy more closely with Egypt. It is true that these non-‘captive markets’ will not buy the second or third rate fruit which goes to Gaza, but it may be worth it in the final balance sheet. Rapoport doesn’t speak of the military expenditures, the bloodshed or the cost to Israel’s image worldwide which result from continued conflict in Gaza. For example, if there was no economic integration between the two, there could be no siege. And let’s not forget how many agricultural exporting countries around the world survive without reliance on a ‘captive market’ resembling the case of Gaza. Many are beginning to agree that a separation is both logical and inevitable, whether or not the Mubarak regime wants much to do with Gaza, or the Palestinians think that integration with Egypt amounts to an abandonment of their struggle.

(Ha’aretz) — “Despite all the intifadas, the Palestinian Authority is the second biggest customer of Israeli exports, after the United States.”A death blow” is how Hillel Adiri, a former director general of the Agriculture Ministry, describes the economic blockade on Gaza… If the blockade becomes permanent policy, Israel will lose a large part of its “captive market” – a stock phrase which in this case literally describes Gaza. “Israel benefited from its relations with the Palestinians,” says Dan Catarivas, head of the foreign commerce branch of the Manufacturers Association and a former senior official in the finance and industry ministries. “And at the end of the day, it will lose if these ties are cut.” The Gazans buy from Israel between 60 and 80 tons of fruit per year – bananas, apples, pears, peaches and avocados. Eshel estimates that some 10 percent of the Israeli fruit harvest goes to Gaza. This statistic can be misleading. “There are producers for whom it is 100 percent of their harvest,” Adiri says.

Closing Gaza to Israeli exports, Eshel says, will lead to a situation where “we will have to uproot 20,000 dunams of fruit, and someone will have to compensate us for that.” One dunam of orchard brings in about NIS 6,000 to NIS 10,000 per year. But even if all these avocado and pear trees are uprooted, the problems will not be solved. Eshel says that third-class fruit is sent to Gaza.

“This is fruit that is good but slightly damaged or too small, which the Israeli market is not prepared to buy.” A source familiar with the situation says that Gaza is a kind of security valve for Israeli agriculture. “When there are surpluses, they are marketed in Gaza so that the prices in Israel will not hit rock-bottom,” he says…” Click for full article

Suicide bombing revives Israeli push to finish Egypt/Israel barrier

February 10, 2008

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(Current state of the Egypt/Israel border in the Sinai. Uriel Sinai/Getty Images/File

(Christian Science Monitor) — In the aftermath of the first Palestinian suicide bombing in more than a year, many Israelis have returned to an old conclusion: build a barrier. Some politicians said that the answer to Monday’s attack on the southern town of Dimona was to resurrect an existing, but never-implemented, plan to build some combination of a wall and fence between Egypt and Israel. The barrier would be similar to the West Bank wall that Israel started erecting more than six years ago, at a time when there was an almost nonstop cycle of violence between Israelis and Palestinians… Click for full article