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avigdor lieberman says no

Lieberman to Bibi: “Not this time, habib.”

For one of the few times in the history of his party, Yisrael Beitenu, Avigdor Lieberman is going into the Opposition.  He has turned down Bibi Netanyahu’s offer of the foreign ministry to retreat to the back benches.  He claims that the Likud-led government will lack principle and refuse to destroy Hamas, among other charges.

If you know anything about Israeli politics, you know that political parties do NOT forfeit such political plums when they’re in their grasp.  I’m certain there is another reason for his refusal, though I’m not certain what it is.

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Bibi’s ‘Train to Nowhere': passengers Lieberman ([spying the foreign ministry portfolio], Bennet and Deri–All aboard! (Guy Morad/Yediot)

Whatever the reason, the former Moldovan bar bouncer has left his former mentor and patron in a quandary.  Without his party the ruling coalition will only have 61 seats, a precarious majority.  Bibi will have to recruit another party to replace Yisrael Beitenu.  But post-election negotiations are a cross between a mating frenzy and piranha attack.  If a negotiating partner smells blood in the water, agreements tend to evaporate, demands go sky high and everything in thrown into a tumult.  Which may be precisely what Lieberman wants.

The problem is, Bibi has almost no time left to make new deals.  His negotiating window was already extended once by Pres. Rivlin.  This could mean Netanyahu will lead an exceedingly precarious government which could fall at the slightest breeze wafted by any of the coalition members.

Other reasons Lieberman may’ve balked: he is a devout secularist and has spoken out against including religious parties in previous coalitions.  This one is certain to have at least two Orthodox parties (one Ashkenazi and the other Mizrahi).  Perhaps Lieberman was refused a grant of immunity for his MKs and party members enveloped in a major corruption scandal.  Or the chemistry between Bibi and Yvet had simply become too poisoned.

This theory may be borne out in this searing, slashing attack released by the prime minister’s office and reported by Voice of Israel radio:

A senior Likud source responds to foreign minister Lieberman’s attack on Prime Minister Netanyahu saying that the chair of Yisrael Beitenu is the last person to be teaching lessons about opportunism, since he is the greatest of opportunists…That’s why he’s now sabotaging the current political process in favor of a leftist government led by Herzog.

The source accused Lieberman of serving foreign interests both inside Israel and abroad [a reference to his ‘close ties’ to Russia] in contrast to his promise to his supporters that he would support the creation of a “national” [i.e. nationalist] government.

This is a fascinating charge against Lieberman that never seems to go away.  A few years ago I reported on an anonymous flyer disseminated in Jerusalem explicitly charging him with being a Russian asset.  Haaretz has also reported the Shin Bet refused to give Lieberman full briefings on matters related to Russia for fear that he would relay them to his contacts there.

There’s also innuendo appearing to claim that Russia wants a leftist governing coalition and the Lieberman is doing that country’s bidding in withdrawing support for Netanyahu.  The only other way to describe this is that it accuses Lieberman of doing the bidding of the U.S. in conniving to bring a Labor government to power.  But the notion that Lieberman’s in the pocket of the Obama administration seems far-fetched.  But note that didn’t stop Netanyahu on Election Day from claiming the Labor Party had collaborated with “foreign money” to bring Communists and Arabs to power to the country.

The level of paranoia in this statement is characteristic of Bibi’s governing style.  It’s almost Shakespearean in proportions (think Lady Macbeth).  The only difference is that presumably Bibi won’t conspire to murder his rivals as she did.

The next question is who is rewarded with the foreign ministry. It doesn’t appear there are any parties needing to be wooed with a juicy plum. So the portfolio could go to a Likud loyalist.

At any rate, Lieberman is out and it changes the dynamics of Israeli politics going forward.  As I’ve written here, the biggest losers in the election were Lieberman, Yair Lapid, and Naftali Bennet, whose party representations fell by half or more.  The biggest winner was Moshe Kahlon, founder of the new party, Kulanu.  Kahlon has a powerful mandate for economic reform in response to the calls for social justice from the Tel Aviv Occupy movement known as J14.

Personally, I don’t believe Kahlon can or will engineer such major reforms.  The prerogatives of Israel’s 18 oligarchal families are too entrenched.  Netanyahu  always maneuvers to frustrate the agendas of his internal rivals.  Plus, Israel is a society designed for stasis, nor revolutionary change.

But if Kahlon dies manage to succeed, he is Bibi’s logical successor for leadership of the Likud when he retires from politics.  Kahlon projects a softer, more pragmatic image than Bibi, at least on social and economic issues.  This could mean a Likud that moderates its tone (rather than substance) somewhat.

Here is Yossi Verter’s analysis of the current political predicament in Haaretz (Hebrew).

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garland police killing

Save us oh SWAT from Muslim terror

Pam Geller is basking in her hour of glory.  She’s finally done something so odious, so revolting, and so offensive, that someone equally lunatic has been moved to respond in the manner she devoutly wished.  In the midst of a weekend Islamophobe convention in Garland, TX, at which she planned to give $10,000 to the “artist” who created the most disgusting image of the Prophet possible, two gunmen drove up to the hall and opened fire.  The forty police officers for whom the city of Garland forced Geller to pay $10,000, to protect her from such nutcases, opened fire and the gunmen were raised to their own heavenly reward.

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Pam Geller’s promotional poster for her Blaspheme the Prophet event.

The image of a heavily armed Texas SWAT team protecting Pam Geller from a Muslim hit squad is like manna from heaven for her.  It’s what she wants to turn the U.S. into as far as Islam is concerned.  Arrest Muslims, put them in concentration camps, like her friend David Yerushalmi advocates.  Turn this country into a militarized state which hunts down Muslims or turns them into “good” Americans.

Geller is no doubt declaiming to the world media that her PhobeFest was a shrine of devotion to free speech.  That what she was doing was in the finest tradition of our sacred First Amendment.  It’s all a sack of (&$*.  Geller has been poking the bear for years hoping for this sort of response.  Now she has it.  She was the Jewish version of Pastor Terry Jones.  He burned Qurans, she insulted the Prophet.

Now, she’s created a Muslim version of Anders Breivik.  She’s become Theo Van Gogh without having to die in the process.  She’s now automatically become an illiterate version of Salman Rushdie.  Personal bodyguards will follow her everywhere.  What an orgy of delight she must feel.

But I warn the U.S. authorities: Pam Geller is a danger to herself and to any community in which she appears.  She’s a latter day version of Father Coughlin.  In the 1940s, the Catholic Church was able to rein in the rabble-rousing pro-Nazi cleric.  There is no corresponding power which can moderate Pam Geller.

But know that she is not a moral crusader.  She is not a kook.  She is not an aberration.  She is a movement.  She is dangerous.  She is hate.  She will bring more death as sure as I’m writing this.  Meir Kahane was the same sort of flamethrowing hatemonger.  Look at his fate.  Do something before it’s too late.  Don’t let her become a martyr.  Instead, make her irrelevant.

Years ago I wrote this Paean to Pam.  It’s worth rereading.

In case anyone has concerns about why I featured this poster, note that it has nothing to do with Islam or Muhammad.  It is nothing but two-bit propaganda and provocation.  Can you imagine an artist drawing a picture of Jesus Christ painting himself as God?  It’s preposterous, not to mention insulting or even blasphemous.  But Christians don’t understand this.  They should.  I want people to see how idiotic her efforts are–in the flesh, as it were.


Israel’s Beast of Burden

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Israel’s ‘beast of burden': mounted Israeli policeman charges into crowd of Ethiopian Israelis protesting police violence  (Baz Ratner/ Reuters)

I saw this image tonight and had such an intense wave of disgust wash over me.  This is the proverbial picture worth a thousand words.  It displays a vicious visual ‘poetry’ and deserves to win photographer, Baz Ratner, a Pulitzer Prize.  The picture was shot at a protest by thousands of Ethiopian Israelis angry about an assault on an Ethiopian IDF soldier by police.

Of course, the demonstration was about more than this, but that was the match that lit the fire.  Ethiopians, brought to Israel decades ago as part of Operation Solomon are the underclass of society.  The euphoria and jubilation of the airlift were replaced by the sober reality of life the morning after.  Israel has not been a pleasant refuge for them.  Poverty, joblessness, and discrimination lurk everywhere.  Israeli Jews turn away from Ethiopians in disgust.  They often won’t let their children study with them in the same classroom.

I’ve reported another related story under Israeli gag order.  Many months ago, an Ethiopian Israeli crossed the border into Gaza.  He was taken by Hamas which now has him in custody.  It wants to return him to Israel.  But naturally wants something in return.  Israel has no interest in bargaining.  Now ask yourself, if Israel bargained for months over Gilad Shalit and exchanged 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for him; and it won’t talk about or release a single prisoner for this poor Ethiopian, what does that tell you about Israeli racism?

If there is a hierarchy of misery ranked by ethnicity, African refuges are the lowest of the low, followed by West Bank Palestinians, Israeli Palestinians, Ethiopians, Mizrahim and Ashkenazim.

The Ethiopians are furthered distinguished by their skin color (Mizrahim and Palestinians can often be mistaken for each other) which makes it much easier to identify and stigmatize them.  That is what happened to Damas Pakada, an Ethiopian IDF soldier accosted by a police volunteer, who then assaulted him aided by a police officer.  Israeli media are asking the proper question: would this have happened to an Israeli Jew?  Of course not.

The echoes of Baltimore and Ferguson are ringing in our ears as well.  Police brutality knows no special language, nationality or border.  But one thing we can say is that Israel offers new & innovative techniques to the world’s police for assaulting their citizens.  Police departments in the U.S. (including Ferguson) are considering purchasing the patented “stink cannon” which spews feces-scented liquid upon protesters (Palestinian in Israel’s case, Black in America’s).  The material can’t be washed off by normal means and lingers for weeks afterward.

Further, U.S. police departments make regular “pilgrimages” to learn about the crowd-control techniques of Israeli police.  As riots contort more and more U.S. cities, and police forces become more and more frightened of those they’re supposed to protect, the Israeli model has a fatal attraction: see citizens as the enemy and prepare for the worst.  It’s a legacy for which Israel can be proud.

Returning to that picture: it is an emblem of what Israel has become.  The horse standing, massive and blinded like Samson by a mask, and mounted by the police officer in visored riot-helmet.  They look like the Dark Knight, a satanic version of medieval chivalry.  Below them, the protesters cower like ants.  This is the power of the Israeli State brought to bear on the dissidents, the have-nots, the untermenschen.  The message: accept what little you are offered from us without complaint or we will wield our power like horses hooves. We will trample you underfoot.

Look at this poor horse, this blind beast of burden forced to implement the sins of the Israeli State.  It reminded me of the Rolling Stones song:

I’ll never be your beast of burden
My back is broad but it’s a hurting

I’ll never be your beast of burden
I’ve walked for miles my feet are hurting

Yeah, all your sickness
I can suck it up
Throw it all at me…

Even Jerusalem Post reporter Ben Hartman, not usually sympathetic to the Israeli underclass, tweeted this:

beersheba great mosque

Beersheba’s expropriated Great Mosque

The second portion of this post reveals another deep Israeli injustice that betrays the sin of ethnic-cleansing and Islamophobia going all the way back to the founding of the State.  Before 1948, the 10,000 Bedouins of the Negev gathered to pray at the Great Mosque.  During the War, Israel expelled Muslims from the building and turned it into a prison.  As this was the main center of worship for the region’s Muslims, they were left with nowhere else to pray.

In the 1950s, the mosque was turned into a museum.  Muslims could not enter to pray unless they paid the regular admittance fee:

Aqel Abu Freih, from the Negev village of al-Araqib, said: “I remember when I finished the 10th grade I used to come to the mosque to pray and pay for a ticket to enter the mosque as a visitor and pray.”Is it reasonable that a Muslim would have to pay to pray in the Israeli state in the 21st century?”

For decades, the local Muslim community petitioned authorities to allow them to pray regularly at the mosque.  In 2011, their appeals were exhausted when the Supreme Court (that purported upholder of the religious and civil rights of Israel’s minorities) ruled it could be turned into a museum dedicated to Islam (!).

The parallel I’m about to draw is much more severe in the case of the original incident than the one of the Beersheba mosque.  But the similarities in brutality, thoughtlessness, and racism struck me nevertheless.  During the Holocaust, Hitler devised a plan to create a museum dedicated to the memory of European Jewry.  It was called the Museum of the Extinct Race.  It was to be housed in a magnificent Prague synagogue and contain the finest examples of Jewish ritual objects, sacred texts, Torah scrolls.  To this end, the Nazis looted the synagogues of the countries they conquered and sent to Czechoslovakia the finest of what they found.

To be clear, the Nazi concept in creating the museum was to highlight their extermination of European Jewry.  Israel hasn’t done anything nearly as “ambitious.”  But it has engaged in a brutal, heartless act of cultural erasure.  It’s the religious equivalent of ethnic cleansing.  As if the expropriation of the building wasn’t bad enough, the idea of dedicating the former mosque to Islam, is an even worse insult.  Who will visit it?

Muslims will not visit it except in its capacity as a mosque.  Israelis will visit it as a tourist attraction allowing them to view the local Muslims and their religion as a cultural artifact for study by the Jewish majority.  In fact, a few years ago the mayor came up with the bright idea of hosting a beer and wine festival on the mosque grounds.  Local Muslims were, as you can imagine, delighted to hear their sacred shrine would be defiled by alcohol.

This holy shrine may not be a mosque because Israeli Jews do not want Muslims as living, thriving members of their society.  They vastly prefer them, as Hitler did, to a memory.  Something that can neatly fit into a museum.  So Jews can say they honor Muslims, but behind plexiglass and at a distance.

The Great Mosque is another example of the sins of the Israeli State ranging all the way back to its founding.  The continuing injustice for 67 years reminds us of the true nature of this State, which no matter how many good intentions its founders may’ve had, is mired in its Original Sin.


IDF Takes Control (Tacitly) of Syrian Golan

Earlier in my reporting on the Syrian civil war, I sketched out what I thought was Israel’s strategy in containing or managing the conflict there.  In the past, Israel had learned to live with a Syria governed by a strongman-authoritarian system (the Assad family).  It enjoyed the same relationship with Egypt’s Mubarak and Jordan’s Hussein-Abdullah dynasty.  It even has excellent, though covert relations with the House of Saud.  Israel likes it Arabs (leaders, that is) to be docile, corrupt, and brutal.

With the war and dissolution of central power, Israel now moved to a preferred model of a weak, dysfunctional Syrian state.  Either one with warring rebel factions killing each other; or, if Assad could not be felled, a state divided up into ethnic cantons.  One of those cantons would be the Golan.  Israel, I maintained, intended to carve out a buffer zone much as it did in southern Lebanon after its 1982 invasion.  At the time I wrote this, there wasn’t nearly as much evidence to support this plan as there is now.  I pointed then to a FoxNews report showing Israeli special forces returning from liaison with what a confidential Israeli source told me was local Syrian Druze rebels.

In past months, evidence to support Israel’s intensive intervention on behalf of the Syrian Islamist rebels has grown exponentially.  The latest is a report by Yediot Achronot’s military correspondent, Alex Fishman.  He writes today in Israel is up to its neck in Syria:

…Ever since most of the Syrian Army was driven back from the border area and its positions were taken by radical Islamic organization such as Jabhat al-Nusra, there has not been a single incident of a Jihadi group attacking Israel. This seems to indicate that Israel has total control – intelligence and operational – over both sides of the border.

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Benny Gantz meeting with Druze elders

Contrary to Israeli claims (including by Fishman himself) that this doesn’t constitute “taking sides” or intervening in the civil war, of course it does.  When you flick a match into an oil drum it doesn’t matter that the match is very small and the drum very big.  All it takes is a small spark.  Therefore, any significant interference in Syria’s internal affairs is an intervention and taking sides against Assad and for the Islamists.  Further, as my last post indicated, Israel has both acted affirmatively on behalf of the al Qaeda affiliated al-Nusra and refused to punish ISIS for mortar fire that struck Israeli-occupied territory.  Thus, Fishman’s title: Israel is up to its neck with Islamist rebels.

alex fishman druze golan syria idf

Alex Fishman reports a deal between Druze in Israeli-occupied Golan and the IDF to protect their Syrian relations.

The Israeli journalist offers further proof of Israeli control of the Syrian battleground by noting in the original Hebrew version of his article (which curiously was omitted in the English translation) that there are five Syrian Druze villages in the northern Golan.  Despite the fact that they are strong supporters of the Assad regime, Syrian rebels have not attacked them.  In fact, their lands are among the last that have remained untouched in the region of those which do support the government.

They are protected, according to a report in a Lebanese media outlet, by an agreement between the IDF and Druze leaders in Israeli-occupied Golan.  A few months before outgoing chief of staff Benny Gantz left his post, he visited with the elders of the Druze community.  There he promised them that their relatives in Syria’s Druze villages would not be harmed.

Fishman notes that whether or not the report is true, in practice this is what is happening.  He continues:

Such a pledge could only be made by someone in a position to control the [battle]field.

This makes Israel an aggressive, interventionist state.  We’ve known this for decades based on Israel’s willingness to pre-emptively attack enemies in war and carve up their territory and place it under control of vassals like the South Lebanon Army.  But Syria offers further proof that Israel is a rogue state which refuses to acknowledge its behavior for what it is.

Despite Fishman’s claims that Israel’s intervention is relatively benign, Israel has long passed that point.  Though he is “late to the party,” I think this warning worth considering:

The more time that passes, the more the operational arm and the decision-makers in Jerusalem tend to fall in love with the results, increase the stakes and take more risks.

The selection of targets will become less and less strict; relying on the weakness of the enemy will up the ante, and Israel could find itself becoming an integral part of the conflict in Syria.

Yes, Hezbollah may end up with fewer advanced and accurate missiles in Lebanon, but the Golan Heights will become a battle zone.

It already is.  But better a late warning than none at all.


U.S. counter-intelligence figures calculate that Israel is the third most active country in spying in and on the U.S.  Jonathan Pollard, Larry Franklin, Ari Ben Menashe, and scores of other American Jews who spied for Israel are almost household words in the spy trade.  Not to mention Israeli-Americans like Arnon Milchan, who pursued their careers while also lending their hands to Israeli intelligence efforts.

nahum ziv

Nahum ZIv (1924-2015), Israel’s “man in New York”

But it’s much less well-known that Israeli intelligence efforts in the U.S. go all the way back to the 1940s, even before the founding of the State.  After World War II, Israel viewed the U.S. (and other nations as well) as potential sources for weapons, pilots, and general intelligence information.  It posted covert agents to pursue these objectives.  One of them was Nahum Ziv, who died recently.  In its obituary profile, Haaretz called him, with typical Israeli worship of derring-do, “the Jewish James Bond in New York.”

Ziv’s family fled Ukraine in 1925 and emigrated to Canada, where he joined HaShomer HaTzair.  During World War II, he served in the Canadian Air Force.  Beginning in 1944, Ziv spied on behalf of the Jewish Agency and the Haganah.  He was given enormous sums to recruit fighter pilots and cultivate weapons sources.

He was also asked to spy on the Saudi UN delegation to determine its strategy regarding the 1947 UN Partition Plan, then being debated by the General Assembly.  In an age even before tape recorders and bugs, the Israelis wired the hotel room of the Saudis and seven floors above listened and simultaneously transcribed the conversations.  Since there was no means of recording them, the translation and transcription had to be immediate and simultaneous, no mean feat.

Because many of the ambassadors conducted diplomatic business in their vehicles as they traveled to the sessions at Lake Success, the Israelis followed them and listened in as they drove.  As the ruling colonial power, it was important to know the British thinking on these matters.  So they spied on the ambassador’s car as well.

The work product was relayed back to Israel to figures like Golda Meir, who used them to plot political strategy.  Golda was astonished to discover, as a result of the spying that the Saudis were also somehow listening to her own telephone conversations!  He told her: “You know it’s not only Jews who know how to do this sort of thing.”

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Benjamin Blumberg pictured in 1940, one of the few known images of him.

In 2005, Haaretz published a profile of another Israeli “man of the shadows,” Benjamin Blumberg.  He was known as a key figure in the Israeli nuclear program and served in highly sensitive and critical roles.  He was one of the most powerful figures in this realm.  He had three simultaneous roles: he oversaw all military weapons purchases, the Israeli reactors at Dimona and Nahal Soreq, and the biological weapons program at Nes Ziona; he was a unit chief in the Shabak; and he directed LEKEM, the Israeli intelligence agency tasked with stealing commercial and military secrets (including enriched uranium for the Dimona reactor) from foreign nations.  This unit was so secret that even Iser Harel, the Mossad chief at the time, claimed not to know it existed.

In the 1960s, after France withdrew from the Israeli nuclear project, Israel realized it must cultivate new sources for the equipment and technical know-how required to build an atomic bomb.  Blumberg developed a secret program through LEKEM, which involved appointing Israelis as scientific attaches serving with the foreign ministry.  In reality, their jobs were to secure information and material for Israeli intelligence, either through publicly accessible means or through outright theft.  In some instances the agents came close to being caught and imprisoned.  But this didn’t raise the alarm bells it should have with Blumberg.

In one incident going back to 1951, the FBI caught four agents of Israeli military intelligence (AMAN) and the Mossad red-handed.  One of these was the military attache, Chaim Herzog (later to become Israel’s sixth President).  Another was Shalhevet Freier, later one of the key figures in Israel’s nuclear program, including director general of the country’s atomic energy agency.  The only fact that prevented all of them from prosecution and imprisonment was that they were recruiting Arab diplomats as double agents and not gathering intelligence from American sources.  Luckily for Israel, only one of the four was expelled from the country.

Though I’m not an expert in Israeli intelligence history, I’ve never heard of any Israeli who achieved the power and stature of Blumberg.  But like many great men who sit at the apex of power, there was a fall.

When Begin came to power in 1977, the Likud naturally wanted to clean house and put their own men into power.  But Blumberg appealed to Begin to remain.  Given that the spymaster had kept a very low political profile during his entire career, Begin agreed.

But in 1981, Begin appointed Sharon defense minister and there were no reprieves.  One day, a rumor circulated at work that a senior official had been removed.  Blumberg called a colleague asking who it was.  The co-worker replied: “Didn’t you know, it’s you!”  And that was how Ariel Sharon treated a man who’d given thirty years of his life to the State.  In his place, Sharon appointed his own confidant, presumably another figure with a knife in his teeth, Rafi Eitan, who became director of LEKEM.

Though Blumberg may’ve engaged in some questionable behavior in his day, he never overreached by recruiting an American Jewish spy and then abandoning him to the feds when exposed.  That was Eitan’s legacy.  He recruited and “ran” Jonathan Pollard.  It was only after the FBI exposed Pollard that the full extent of the spy agency’s work became known in both the U.S. and Israel.  As a result, LEKEM was disbanded with promises (never kept) that Israel would never recruit American spies or even spy on American territory.

Those in Congress and in the Israel Lobby who sing hosannas to the eternal friendship between Israel and the U.S. should remember that our interests have never been the same.  We have always spied on each other.  We have never fully trusted each other despite being allies.  That does not mean that Israel is an enemy of the U.S.  But it does mean that we are separate countries and it is a terrible mistake to act as if our interests are one and the same.

This is especially true regarding Iran and negotiations surrounding its nuclear program.  Israel wants Iran denied nuclear weapons at all costs, because it sees Iran as a regional rival.  While the U.S. would prefer Iran not nuclearize, the more pragmatic in our government understand that it would be far more realistic to contain and regulate Iran’s nuclear efforts than ban them or bomb them.  Iran is not our rival nor does it have to be our enemy.  There is a fundamental difference in this between Israel and U.S. interests.


ISIS Shells Israeli-Occupied Golan, IDF Holds Fire

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Israeli news headline confirms ISIS mortar fire struck Israel-occupied Golan

Over the past few years of the Syrian civil war, government and rebel forces have regularly fired shells that landed inside the Israeli-occupied Golan.  Most often the shells were fired deliberately (by Hezbollah or Assad loyalists), but often they were errant shots.  In most cases, the IDF, in an act of deterrence, would return fire targeting the positions that had shelled Israeli-held territory.

But yesterday, the Israeli army didn’t follow that protocol.  Two different rebel groups were fighting for control of a Syrian village just over a mile from the armistice line.  The groups contesting the territory were ISIS and the Free Syrian Army/al-Nusra.  Several shells overflew their target and landed near an Israeli kibbutz.  Instead of firing back, Israel did nothing.

Which raises an interesting question: why?  I’ve documented ere the IDF’s ongoing military alliance with al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria.  Walla! reports the firing came from ISIS forces.  If this is true, it would indicate the Israeli army is tacitly collaborating not just with al-Nusra (bad enough), but with ISIS (specifically, Saraya al-Jihad) itself.  It would mean that Israel is refusing to intervene on behalf even of the most moderate elements of the Syrian rebels, the FSA.

The prospect of Israel aligning itself with the hardest of hardline Islamists, the same ones who only a few months ago beheaded an Israeli (and American) citizen, Steven Sotloff, is beyond bizarre.  It makes you realize that Israel’s policies have nothing to do with morality, consistency or even long-term goals (how can an alliance with Islamists be in Israel’s long-term interests?).  They are designed to ensure Israel’s shortest of short-term interests.  Those who determine Israel’s strategy have determined that they’ll forge a deal with the Islamists because Assad, Hezbollah and Iran are worse enemies.  If the Islamists eventually win, then Israel will deal with it.

s-300 missile system

Russia’s S-300 anti-aircraft missile system

A new article in Middle East Eye offers a fascinating “take” on Vladimir Putin’s recent announcement that Russia would resume delivery to Iran of its $800-million S-300 anti-aircraft system.  After intensive lobbying by Bibi Netanyahu, in 2009 Pres. Obama pressured Putin to delay shipment of the advanced weapons system.  Putin agreed the following year.  The delay meant that Israel would during that period have an opportunity to attack Iran without having to penetrate one of the more advanced anti-aircraft systems produced in the world.

According to a Daily Beast report:

“Many US defence officials from the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps agree that the Russian missile system effectively renders entire regions no-go zones for conventional jets … [and] only high-end stealth aircraft like the $2.2 billion B-2 Spirit – of which the Air Force has exactly 20 – and the high-performance F-22 Raptor [and] … F-35 joint strike fighter … [will be able] to operate inside those zones.”

However, the report goes on further to say that several military experts contend that “no warplane now operating can remain inside those well-defended areas for long”.

If Iran were to obtain the S-300 system, that would be “a complete game changer. … That thing is a beast and you don’t want to get near it,” a senior US Marine Corps aviator told The Daily Beast.

In the current climate, in which a nuclear deal with Iran appears likely, Putin rightly judged that the S-300 would no longer pose a drawback to any possible international developments regarding Iran.  When the resumption of the sale was announced, Prime Minister Netanyahu railed against it.  But curiously, Pres. Obama did not.  In fact, the article quotes him as saying:

“I’m frankly surprised that [the ban on the S-300 delivery to Iran] held this long, given that they were not prohibited by [UN Security Council] sanctions from selling these defensive weapons,” remarked Obama.

He added, “This is actually a sale that was slated to happen in 2009, when I first met with then-Prime Minister [Vladimir] Putin. They actually stopped the sale, paused or suspended the sale, at our request.”

This reactions shows a few important things about Obama’s approach to Iran: first, that he doesn’t share Israel’s blanket opposition to every aspect of Iranian military power.  Rather, Obama is concerned about one thing alone: Iran’s nuclear program.  He is realistic enough to understand that the U.S. cannot police and restrain the entire Iranian military arsenal.  So Obama seems to be saying: if Israel wants to do this, be my guest, but it’s not going to be U.S. policy.

The MEE author also raises another interesting basis for Obama’s response: he may be looking toward a future detente between the U.S. and Iran.  Both the U.S. and Russia see Iran as a potential huge Middle East trade market.  Iran has oil and 70-million citizens yearning for many of the products western nations produce.  It could be a win-win for both sides.

Not to mention:

Iran and the US, now moving into a state of détente, each hope to resolve Iran’s nuclear crisis and later align their interests in fighting Salafi extremists, resolving the Syrian crisis, and perhaps the unfolding crisis in Yemen.

If Obama steps out of the way of the S-300 transaction, he builds potential good will with critical forces within the Iranian political and military elite.  Not to mention that if Russia completes the deal (which became mired in an international arbitration dispute brought by Iran after the suspension), it places Putin in an excellent position to reap benefits when the walls fall and sanctions are lifted.

But I set yet another reason for Obama’s stepping out of the way: Netanyahu’s growing alliance with the GOP far-right, the Congressional speech, and his screaming opposition to an Iran deal–all of these have been pokes in the eye to Obama.  We’ve already seen one response to this: when Netanyahu let loose the dogs of racism just before the recent Israeli election and summarily rejected a two state solution, the U.S. refused to allow the prime minister to walk his statements back.  We correctly said, No, the Bibi we know is the one who made these odious statements, not the one apologizing for them.

I doubt anyone believed this cold, hard response to Netanyahu was the final such sleight coming (despite statements from DC insiders that that Israel was gradually coming in from the cold).  In fact, I believe Obama’s refusal to criticize the S-300 resumption is meant as yet another poke at Netanyahu.

When the Obama administration spoke of actions it might take to express displeasure at Netanyahu’s backtracking on a two-state solution, officials said we might refuse to veto Security Council resolutions embarrassing to Israel.  But standing back when Russia delivers one of the most advanced weapons systems in its arsenal to Israel’s arch enemy sends a message as well: you made your bed, Bibi, now lie in it.

In the two years remaining in Obama’s last term we can clearly expect many more such face slaps.  It could be an interesting time.

Though chances that Israel would’ve attacked Iran were slim before, they’re almost non-existent now.  Iran will have a system that can knock out of the sky multiple targets.  While Israel may’ve prepared for the eventuality that Iran would procure this system and built counter-measures, the S-300 is regarded as a highly effective weapon.  It makes Israel’s chances of knocking out Iran’s nuclear facilities that much harder.  This can’t sit well with Bibi.  But he’ll just have to grin and bear it.

Similarly, the chances of the U.S. attacking Iran were even slimmer than those of Israel attacking.  But agreeing to allow the deployment of S-300 means that Obama has, especially in light of an imminent nuclear deal, taken such an American attack completely off the table (though he hasn’t admitted it in so many words).  The President sees the Iran of the future as, if not an ally, then at least a partner in specific political endeavors that could stabilize the region.  Not to mention the possibility of resuming trade ties and of hosting a general cultural and artistic engagement between two great nations.