Some thoughts on the situation:
Bibi’s upcoming speech at Bar Ilan: Obama gave a big speech that almost everyone in the world loved. Obama’s Cairo University speech was seen live by hundreds of millions of people. How many people will watch Bibi live? Bibi is to deliver his speech at Bar Ilan University’s BESA Center in Ramat Gan. Bar Ilan University is the bastion of the center right, and Bibi should find an adoring audience there, just as Obama found in Cairo. Bibi will be tailoring his message to the Likud, Bar Ilan is closely associated with the Likud, with the moderate National Religious and secular Right. He wants to be interrupted by applause – when he says Israel wants peace with the Palestinians, but a peace that will not jeopardize Israeli security. He doesn’t want to be interrupted by catcalls from the Knesset plenum. In Bibi’s mind, if anyone can match Obama for rhetorical prowess, for delivery, it’s Bibi. All that’s necessary is a solid stage, a sturdy podium, good air conditioning [that he doesn't sweat], and a receptive audience [definitely not the Knesset]. In 2002 Netanyahu gave a speech to the Likud half of which was devoted to the issue of a Palestinian state. You can read it here. It will be interesting to compare that speech with what Bibi says next Sunday. Continue reading
No longer a purely guerrilla organization, Hizbullah is engaged in a huge political battle that culminates in the June 7 elections. “The Party of God” is in the pro-Iranian and Syrian camp facing off against the Hariri camp supported by America, Saudi Arabia and France.
The assessment in Israel is that Hizbullah will win the election and put “acceptable faces” in the cabinet to consolidate its rule. This will be another political victory for the radical Muslim axis following Hamas’s victory in the 2007 Palestinian elections. Continue reading
Syria’s Bashar Assad, derided as the son even his own father didn’t want to succeed him, is turning out to share many of Hafez’s wily and cautious traits. Despite a series of recent blows to his homeland security (the killings of Hizbullah terror chief Imad Mughniyeh and Syrian military adviser Muhammad Suleiman, the IAF’s destruction of his nascent nuclear plant, and an American Special Forces raid on his border with Iraq), Assad junior is managing to keep a steady hand on the reins of power.
Early intelligence assessments that he would prove a weak and perhaps even quickly disposable successor have been disproved.
Assad Jr. is plainly looking to the long-term. He has accounts to settle with several players in the region, but for the moment he’s playing it cool. And for this, and his indirect talks with Israel, the West, and notably France, have rewarded him with greater acceptance. Continue reading
It’s telling that neither Hamas nor Israel has announced the end of the tahadiyeh. Hamas said the cease-fire was “teetering” and vowed to respond to the latest attack, but it has no interest in sparking a war with Israel that would threaten its hold on the Gaza Strip.
In Hamas’s mind, digging a tunnel under the border through which its fighters can crawl to an IDF position, kill and/or kidnap Israeli soldiers and take them back to Gaza is not a violation of the cease-fire, whereas an Israeli preemptive reaction to that is.
But despite the recent flare-up, both sides have an interest in maintaining the cease-fire and averting an escalation. Continue reading
Here are the latest rumors floating around the Middle East:
Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah was poisoned by a highly toxic chemical just a few days ago and his life saved by a special team of 15 Iranian doctors jetted into Lebanon. Which could maybe explain why he’s not going to Egypt.
For starters, what kind of medical team is made up of 15 doctors? That’s almost an entire emergency ward – how many second opinions can one poison victim need?
And in any case, Nasrallah gave an interview this weekend where he called the rumor of his demise ‘psychological warfare’. He should know…
Interesting story here about who would replace him as head of Hizbullah should he be knocked off. Continue reading
Experts believe Hizbullah is more interested in perpetrating a terror attack against Israeli and/or Jewish targets abroad than in kidnapping Israelis. Kidnapping people in a foreign country is the most complex of operations and one that does not yield the greatest results.
Abducting even just a handful of foreign nationals, getting them on a plane and smuggling them out of a country is an extremely difficult and complex business. Even in remote and undeveloped locations, a missing foreign national won’t go unnoticed for long, as evidenced in the latest case of the Ra’anana man kidnapped in Port Harcourt, Nigeria.
Getting hostages through airports and sea ports is also not easy, even under the most lackadaisical port conditions.
Kidnapping or murdering a handful of Israelis overseas is not the kind of response Hizbullah envisions to the assassination of its operations chief Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus last February. One veteran observer of Hizbullah’s activities abroad terms this type of operation “revenge of the poor.” Continue reading
Just minutes after we started noticing a terror warning on Israelis traveling and living abroad on several Hebrew websites, I received an SMS message from my cellular phone operator: “Planning a vacation abroad? We offer you the chance to enjoy our attractive tariffs for overseas calls.”
It would have been good to receive the terror alert on my cell phone too, as a kind of public service. What a pity that the government didn’t think of that, since most Israelis currently sitting by pools in Turkey and Thailand are not going online to look for news about terror alerts.
In any case, the airports authority has just announced that today there will be 58,000 Israelis passing through the country’s airport on their way overseas. This is a national high, despite the fact that yesterday, we received a serious terror threat on Israelis abroad. Here it is:
The following is a statement just released by the Anti-terrorism bureau of the Prime Minister’s Office. [It is a repeat of a similar release after the assassination of Hizbullah operations chief Imad Mugniyeh. The PMO calls this current release a 'sharpening' of the travel advisory.]
There are currently some 600,000 Israelis vacationing abroad, and I’m wondering how on earth the government hopes to get this message through to them. This travel advisory refers to all Israelis vacationing everywhere. The statement says that “Hizbullah is working constantly, tirelessly to harm Israelis all over the world, with a special emphasis on kidnapping operations.”
Today’s statement [in quotes], and my interpretation follows.
“Raise your level of awareness and sensitivity to anything and everything that strikes you as unusual.”
In essence, the PMO is telling Israelis to become extremely paranoid. Unless you have to, don’t leave your hotel room. When visiting an exotic location, do not take part in any local customs or cultural activities whatsoever. Treat everyone with suspicion. Continue reading
Since the conclusion last week of the Goldwasser-Regev-Kuntar deal, several leading commentators have argued that the Israeli families’ campaigns to free their sons hampered the deal, setting a higher price for the Israeli side. They accuse the media of playing up the personal tragedy that has befallen the families over the strategic interests of the country. The commentators urge the media and the family and friends of captured soldier Gilad Schalit to learn the lessons of the Hizbullah swap, and to lower their profile. They say that the national-strategic interests of dealing with the Hamas terrorist entity in Gaza and its long-term effects on the region far outweigh the personal-private interests of a family wanting to get their son back from captivity. Don’t confuse the big picture with the family photograph, they say.
This view frames Gilad Schalit as an IDF soldier, captured in battle, and whose return should be negotiated within the larger strategic picture of the Israel-Hamas-PA matrix. He is not my brother, my son, my army buddy or the boy next door, they say.
To the Schalit family, their friends and Gilad’s army buddies, Gilad is first and foremost a son, a brother, an army buddy, whose negotiated release should be prioritized over the long-term plan of how to deal with Hamas. The Hamas problem is not going away so quickly, there is time to work out the bigger picture. They are against the framing of this issue as purely the personal versus the national. They see Gilad as part of the national, a part that can be dealt with easier and quicker than the bigger picture. The Gilad camp wants the Israeli government, who wants to make a deal, to make up its mind quicker. Continue reading
While on a recent trip abroad, a senior Israeli defense official was asked by a foreign diplomat why Israelis were making such a fuss about the Schalit, Goldwasser and Regev kidnappings.
“I mean, aren’t you the ones who invented kidnappings in the Middle East?” the diplomat asked the Israeli.
True, Israeli commandos have, in the past, kidnapped Syrian and Egyptian generals from their beds, and Lebanese and Palestinian terrorists from their bases. Mossad agents even captured and smuggled Eichmann from Argentina and Vanunu from Italy.
So what’s all the fuss about? Why are we so emotionally vulnerable to kidnappings of our soldiers that the public pressure exerted on the government, via the media, corners the decision-makers and forces their hand in hostage negotiations? Why do we allow the kidnap weapon to be used to such effect against us by our enemies? Continue reading
“Gathering intelligence in Shiite neighborhoods is complex, of course, the nature of the neighborhood almost didn’t allow them to walk around on foot and look at things, neither were they able to drive around in a rented car. One of the buildings in the street matched the description given to them in an intelligence briefing by a local agent. After several turns in the area at different hours of the day, a car that was also seen at his office was noticed parked outside the building on the residential street. The next day, when they waited for him to leave the neighborhood in the early morning hours, they identified the man himself and his car. Now was the time to move. He finished assembling the bomb quickly and lifted it carefully – nobody enjoys walking around with a kilo of explosives in his hands. He quickly moved towards the car and crawled underneath it, took out the tools from his pocket, and placed the bomb under the chassis.” – Duet in Beirut, by Mishka Ben David, 2002.
No need to wait for the book on Imad Mughniyeh’s demise in Damascus. It may already have been written.
Duet in Beirut by former Mossad operative Mishka Ben-David is a work of fiction, but owes its wealth of detail to the author’s intelligence experience. Published in Hebrew six years ago, it describes a Mossad hit team traveling to Beirut, stalking the head of Hizbullah’s foreign terror department and assassinating him in a car bombing. Perhaps unfortunately for Mughniyeh, it was not translated into Arabic; had he read it, he might have taken greater precautions. Continue reading
The fact that a permanent successor to outgoing National Security Council chief Ilan Mizrahi has not been chosen reflects poorly on the prime minister’s contention that much has been learned and fixed since the Winograd Committee issued its interim report in April.
In its final report issued on Wednesday, the committee found “serious failings and shortcomings in the decision-making processes and staff-work in the political and the military echelons and their interface,” and “serious failings and flaws in the lack of strategic thinking and planning, in both the political and the military echelons.”
The words “decision-making,” “staff work” and “strategic thinking” pop up everywhere in the report, invariably along with terms like “failed,” “flawed,” “absent” or “inadequate.” That the National Security Council remains sidelined is one of the central factors behind this.
The serious failures in the process of decision-making by Olmert, wartime defense minister Amir Peretz and then IDF chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz were highlighted in the interim report a full nine months ago. Apart from the continuing National Security Council debacle, in the intervening months, the Strategic Affairs Ministry was established, but saw little cooperation from the Defense and Foreign Ministries. With the departure of strategic affairs minister Avigdor Lieberman from the government, greeted with glee within the defense establishment, that ministry is left without a head. Assuming it is carrying out important work, why has Olmert not found an immediate replacement? Continue reading