March 19, 2012

If Iran is really so dangerous...

If Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu really considers Iran an "existential threat", why hasn't he acted to remove other items from Israel's strategic plate? He could stop expanding settlements and take the initiative to resume talks with the Palestinians, so at least he'll have some diplomatic capital to lose if Israel does strike Iran -- at the moment, he's barely treading water. He could act as though Israel is really waiting to see if sanctions work, so he might have a few friends (France, Croatia, USA?) if Israel ends up attacking.

What has Netanyahu actually done so far? He has been lobbying his own Cabinet and assorted Western leaders on the merits of a hypothetical Israeli attack. The result of this down-beat on the war drums has been to undermine credibility of the same crippling sanctions against Iran that Israel has been demanding, and which U.S. President Barack Obama and other allies have been pushing. In Netanyahu's narrative, any sanctions are either too little or too late -- so why bother at all? His policy on settlement expansion has been so defiant (or determined, if you prefer) that the Obama administration has given up on stopping settlements or promoting peace with the Palestinians, and is now indistinguishable from its immediate predecessor on the issue.

What has Netanyahu NOT been doing? He has NOT been preparing Israel for the consequences of any military confrontation with Iran. Even if such a strike were to become unavoidable -- and even if it could succeed in significantly derailing Iran's nuclear program -- the backlash and retaliation against Israel would be devastating. Is there a plan for that, or any urgency to prepare Israel's 8 million inhabitants, most of whom were born after the 1973 war that last brought Israel close to the brink of destruction, for what might easily escalate into a Total War?

March 13, 2012

Remembering the Struma, at 30 and 70 years

Seventy years ago, on February 24, the Struma sank with some 800 starving passengers and crew, deliberately cast adrift and probably torpedoed by a Russian or German submarine. Adding to the tragedy were the circumstances: The Struma had sailed from Constanta, with Jews escaping the Holocaust; Turkey refused them entry at Istanbul unless the British guaranteed their visas to continue on to Palestine; the ship lingered for days, then weeks, and was eventually towed out back out into the Black Sea. Horrible. Unnecessary.

Thirty years after the Struma sank, we spent a long summer in Bucharest, getting to know the brutality of Communism -- and the daily luxuries of the Diplomatic Club -- firsthand. We also spent some wonderful days along the Black Sea resorts, including Constanta -- not yet aware of the dark association with the Struma. The closest friends we made there were Millie and Otto, who were spared the concentration camps of World War II, though Otto had endured the Russian Front and together they faced the darkest of Ceausescu's Marxist fantasies. As a young woman, before the war, Millie had managed to spend a year in the States, so her English was excellent and her regrets consuming.

I gradually absorbed
Millie's story, over successive visits to Romania, as I grew old enough to comprehend. Back in Romania, she was working for the telephone exchange and had saved enough money so that -- when one of her sisters booked passage aboard the Struma with her husband -- Millie was able to pay the fare for a younger sister to join them, presumably heading to safety. Later, as the ship sat in quarantine off of Istanbul, the husband's international firm was able to pull some strings and get landing cards for the married couple -- but not for Millie's second sister. All three stayed together aboard the Struma, and all three perished.

March 9, 2012

Auschwitz won't stop Iran

2009: Bibi proves the Holocaust was real...
I shouldn't have to say this, but: I take the Holocaust very seriously, and much of my schooling and my career has been devoted to studying and honoring the memory of the Holocaust.

Having said that, and setting aside my concerns with some of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's strategic and diplomatic behavior vis-a-vis Iran, he seems dangerously obsessed with applying Holocaust terminology to contemporary situations.

Sometimes, as I blogged last year, he has used the Holocaust to try and impress world leaders with the overwhelming evidence that the Holocaust is a historical fact, and that therefore Iranian President Ahmadinejad is lying... and that therefore Iran has no right to develop nuclear weapons. Right. The problem is, there are a few logical gaps there, beyond the fact that the United Nations -- where he delivered such a speech -- had already established a firm policy of Holocaust commemoration and condemning Holocaust denial. And Netanyahu played no part in that achievement (as reflected in his speech).

Evidently, the Prime Minister was looking to impress his voters back home, and it worked -- as usual. This is becoming a ritual for him, much like Rudy Giuliani trotting out 9/11 at every opportunity back when he was running for President.

March 8, 2012

Time to wake up to Obama's hard line on Iran... or not.

Most of the remaining Republican candidates for President made visits to the recent AIPAC Policy Conference, forcefully decrying President Obama's presumed failure to take seriously Iran's threat to Israel's security. In fact, the Obama administration has enacted a series of tough measures unilaterally, led the United Nations Security Council to adopt a succession of unprecedented sanctions against the Islamic Republic, and pushed a hard line in major international fora including the International Atomic Energy Agency. Both in purpose and in result, President Obama has been more committed to actually stopping Iran's nuclear program than any predecessor, including George the Tsadik, ie., former President George W. Bush (43).

Having recently refocused my career onto more domestic policy issues, I was not able to attend this year's AIPAC events. But I imagine the Republican candidates were all welcomed with ecstatic applause for each of their admonishments against the President. While that is a shame, and a farce, I do not think it will change the President's own commitment to doing what it takes to stop Iran -- and that includes NOT broadcasting military intentions while sanctions and international support are still in the balance.

March 5, 2012

Time for Netanyahu to choose on Iran

It's time for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to stop playing games and talking tough, and start talking some sense into the biggest crowd ever to attend an AIPAC Policy Conference. The United States can afford to have "daylight" between itself and the State of Israel. With Egypt and Syria going down the tubes, and Iran tightening up its regime, the State of Israel does not enjoy that same luxury. If the threat to Israel is severe enough for Netanyahu to be lobbying his own cabinet and the White House for a military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, it ought to be worth dropping the vendetta against President Barack Obama -- even if, in the Likud narrative, Obama 'started it'.

If Netanyahu's initial response to Obama's Sunday speech to AIPAC is any indication (he "appreciated" Obama's SPEECH without mentioning anything about his DEEDS), his own address there will reflect pro-forma pleasantries about Obama's support for Israel's military edge and something about sanctions against Iran, interspersed with applause lines about Israel not compromising on its security and not relying on promises from anyone -- ANYONE. The problem is, Israel actually needs those promises -- especially from the United States, especially now -- and no one with any expertise on these matters believes that Israel can destroy Iran's nuclear program on its own. Even if an Israeli strike could neutralize Iran's capabilities, it could still ignite a major Middle East conflict in which Israel will need every friend it still has after the collapse of peace talks with the Palestinians and Jewish settlements on steroids.

A responsible Israeli leader should ADMONISH the same disciplined, gung-ho AIPAC crowd that applauded reluctantly -- yet again -- for the U.S. President who has been standing up for Israel, and who will have to stand up for Israel when it really counts (think Richard Nixon in 1973). The pro-Israel community, including all those who will vote ABO (anybody but Obama) next November, needs to hear that there is no daylight between the two countries, and that suggesting otherwise undermines the security and the survival of the Jewish people. And they need to believe it.

March 2, 2012

Egypt goes South

I was holding out for Egypt, hoping against hope that the same military-backed regime that controlled the levers since 1952 would now allow some semblance of democracy -- while also honoring the 40-year alliance with the United States and peace treaty with Egypt. It is no longer possible to pretend that any of these imperatives is guaranteed, and the first is most likely unachievable for the near future.

The $4 million just paid to ransom a handful of U.S. non-profit workers -- against the $1.5 billion in aid that we send over every year -- is an imperfect fix to a ridiculous gambit by the regime. We just paid "get lost" money, and we're the ones who are supposed to get lost.