Quotulatiousness

October 7, 2014

Israel’s “Battlefield Internet” at work

Filed under: Middle East, Military, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 14:49

Strategy Page talks about the Israeli deployment of the first reliable Battlefield Internet for ground, sea, and air combat:

The July-August 2014 war in Gaza created some very unpleasant surprises for Hamas, which thought it could risk another war with Israel and come out the winner (to the Arab world at least). Hamas knew that Israel had been working at discovering and countering Hamas tactics, but Hamas was confident they had enough new tricks to stay ahead of the Israelis. Hamas quickly discovered that the Israelis were a lot quicker and better coordinated than in the past. This time around the Israelis learned more from their earlier clashes with Hamas and Hezbollah.

This has happened before, to both the Israelis but mainly to the Arabs. It was only after that war ended that Hamas learned details of what they were up against. It turned out that Israel had managed to create an effective and reliable “Battlefield Internet”. This has been the goal of military communications experts for over a decade. The United States was long the leader, but in mid-2014 Israel was the first to demonstrate a Battlefield Internet that consistently worked under combat conditions. This breakthrough development was largely ignored by the media but military leaders worldwide are paying attention.

[…]

What the Israelis have done with the Battlefield Internet is link everyone involved (pilots, UAV operators, tank commanders and infantry unit commander, plus people at C4i Teleprocessing Branch that managed the flow of data) so all can all see was what each other was seeing of the Hamas commandos. These multiple views eliminated the uncertainty often present when only one view was available. It made all the Israelis involved more confident and that led to speedier interpretation of the situation and decisive action to deal with it. This capability also reduces the risk of friendly fire.

August 30, 2014

That’s not vintage wine. This is vintage wine.

Filed under: History, Wine — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:31

Storing a few old bottles in your cellar? Not as old as these bottles:

Israel isn’t particularly famous for its wine today, but four thousand years ago, during the Bronze Age, vineyards in the region produced vintages that were prized throughout the Mediterranean and imported by the Egyptian elite.

Last summer, archaeologists discovered a rare time capsule of this ancient drinking culture: the world’s oldest known wine cellar, found in the ruins of a sprawling palatial compound in Upper Galilee.

The mud-brick walls of the room seem to have crumbled suddenly, perhaps during an earthquake. Whatever happened, no one came to salvage the 40 wine jars inside after the collapse; luckily for archaeologists, the cellar was left untouched for centuries. [In Images: An Ancient Palace Wine Cellar]

Excavators at the site took samples of the residue inside the jars. In a new study published today (Aug. 27) in the journal PLOS ONE, the researchers describe what their chemical analysis turned up: biomarkers of wine and herbal additives that were mixed into the drink, including mint, cinnamon and juniper.

[…]

The residue from all 32 jars sampled in the study contained tartaric acid, one of the main acids in wine. In all but three jars, the researchers found syringic acid, a marker of red wine. The absence of syringic acid in those three jars may indicate that they contained some of the earliest examples of white wine, which got its start later than red wine, Koh said.

The researchers found signatures of pine resin, which has powerful antibacterial properties and was likely added at the vineyard to help preserve the wine. Scientists also found traces of cedar, which may have come from wooden beams used during the wine-pressing process.

The researchers noticed that the cellar’s simplest wines, those with only resin added, were typically found in the jars lined up in a row against the wall near the outdoor entrance to the room. But the wines with the more complex additives were generally found in jars near a platform in the middle of the cellar and two narrow rooms leading to the banquet hall next door. Koh and colleagues believe the wine would have been brought from the countryside into the cellar, where a wine master would have mixed in honey and herbs like juniper and mint before a meal.

As for the taste, Koh said the ancient booze may have resembled modern retsina, a somewhat divisive Greek wine flavored with pine resin — described by detractors as having a note of turpentine. (Koh said he and his colleagues usually hear two different kinds of remarks about the ancient wine: Some say, “I would love to drink this wine,” while others say, “It must have just tasted like vinegar with twigs in it.”)

July 25, 2014

The eternal refugee problem

Filed under: History, Middle East, Religion — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:19

Mark Steyn quotes himself extensively about the Palestinian refugees:

I’m often asked why I don’t write more about the Palestinian situation, and the reason I don’t is because the central fact of the dispute — the Palestinians’ Jew hatred — never changes. So I said what I had to say about it many years ago, and there’s very little to add. For example, in The National Post on April 18th 2002 I quoted an old Colonial Office hand:

    “All British officials tend to become pro-Arab, or, perhaps, more accurately anti-Jew,” wrote Sir John Hope-Simpson in the 1920s wrapping up a stint in the British Mandate of Palestine. “Personally, I can quite well understand this trait. The helplessness of the fellah appeals to the British official. The offensive assertion of the Jewish immigrant is, on the other hand, repellent.” Progressive humanitarianism, as much as old-school colonialism, prefers its clientele “helpless,” and, despite Iranian weaponry and Iraqi money and the human sacrifice of its schoolchildren, the Palestinians have been masters at selling their “helplessness” to the West.

In Europe, colonialism may be over, but colonialist condescension endures as progressive activism, and the Palestinians are the perfect cause. Everywhere else, from Nigeria to Nauru, at some point the natives say to the paternalist Europeans, “Thanks very much, but we’ll take it from here.” But the Palestinians? Can you think of any other “people” who’d be content to live as UN “refugees” for four generations? They’re the only “people” with their own dedicated UN agency, and its regime has lasted almost three times as long as Britain’s Palestine mandate did. To quote again from that 2002 Post column:

    This is only the most extreme example of how the less sense the Arabs make the more the debate is framed in their terms. For all the tedious bleating of the Euroninnies, what Israel is doing is perfectly legal. Even if you sincerely believe that “Chairman” Arafat is entirely blameless when it comes to the suicide bombers, when a neighbouring jurisdiction is the base for hostile incursions, a sovereign state has the right of hot pursuit. Britain has certainly availed herself of this internationally recognized principle: In the 19th century, when the Fenians launched raids on Canada from upstate New York, the British thought nothing of infringing American sovereignty to hit back — and Washington accepted they were entitled to do so. But the rights every other sovereign state takes for granted are denied to Israel. “The Jews are a peculiar people: things permitted to other nations are forbidden to the Jews,” wrote America’s great longshoreman philosopher Eric Hoffer after the 1967 war. “Other nations drive out thousands, even millions of people and there is no refugee problem … But everyone insists that Israel must take back every single Arab … Other nations when victorious on the battlefield dictate peace terms. But when Israel is victorious it must sue for peace. Everyone expects the Jews to be the only real Christians in this world.”

    Thus, the massive population displacements in Europe at the end of the Second World War are forever, but those in Palestine a mere three years later must be corrected and reversed. On the Continent, losing wars comes with a territorial price: The Germans aren’t going to be back in Danzig any time soon. But, in the Middle East, no matter how often the Arabs attack Israel and lose, their claims to their lost territory manage to be both inviolable but endlessly transferable.

And so land won in battle from Jordan and Egypt somehow has to be ceded to Fatah and Hamas.

As I said, this is all the stuff that never changes, and the likelihood that it will change lessens with every passing half-decade. I wrote the above column at the time Jenin and the other Palestinian “refugee camps” were celebrating their Golden Jubilee. That’s to say, the “UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees” is older than most African, Caribbean or Pacific states. What sort of human capital do you wind up with after four generations have been born as “refugees”? If you’ve ever met a charming, urbane Palestinian doctor or lawyer in London or Paris, you’ll know that anyone who isn’t a total idiot — ie, the kind of people you need to build a nation — got out long ago. The nominal control of the land has passed from Jordan and Egypt to Israel to Arafat to Abbas to Hamas, but the UNRWA is forever, runnning its Mister Magoo ground operation and, during the periodic flare-ups, issuing its usual befuddled statements professing complete shock at discovering that Hamas is operating rocket launchers from the local kindergarten.

July 23, 2014

The Yom Kippur War of October 1973

Filed under: History, Middle East, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

In History Today, Colin Shindler reviews a recent collection of essays on the initially successful surprise attack on Israeli forces by Egypt, Syria, and a token brigade from Jordan in early October, 1973.

During the early afternoon of October 6th, 1973 the Egyptian army crossed the Suez Canal and overran the Israeli Bar-Lev line on the eastern bank. This assault on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, was designed to reverse Israel’s conquest of the Sinai peninsula during the 1967 Six Day War.

Six hundred Syrian tanks, outnumbering Israel’s 178, also advanced to reclaim the Golan Heights and to threaten a penetration of Israel’s heartland. The mehdal (blunder) indicated a profound intelligence failure and cost 2,691 Israeli lives. Forty years on, Asaf Siniver has gathered his colleagues to dissect this war in a series of essays.

The October or Ramadan War – as it is known in Egypt – is celebrated as a holiday even though Arab losses were around 18,000. The Yom Kippur war – as it is known in Israel – is regarded more as an enforced stalemate, even though Israeli forces crossed back over the canal, encircled the Egyptian Third Army and were 60 miles from Cairo. The Syrians, too, were pushed back and the Israelis shelled the outer suburbs of Damascus. Soviet threats to involve the USSR directly in the conflict forced President Nixon to stop the Israelis in their tracks.

Yom Kippur War - Sinai front 6 October -15 October (via Wikipedia)

Yom Kippur War – Sinai front 6-15 October, 1973 (via Wikipedia)

Yom Kippur War - Sinai front 15-23 October, 1973 (via Wikipedia)

Yom Kippur War – Sinai front 15-23 October, 1973 (via Wikipedia)

Yom Kippur War - Golan Heights front (via Wikipedia)

Yom Kippur War – Golan Heights front (via Wikipedia)

July 18, 2014

The Israeli-Palestinian situation is difficult to solve, but not complex

Filed under: Media, Middle East, Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:14

David Harsanyi responds to a silly post at Vox by Max Fisher:

    This is the one thing that both Hamas and Israel seem to share: a willingness to adopt military tactics that will put Palestinian civilians at direct risk and that contribute, however unintentionally, to the deaths of Palestinian civilians. Partisans in the Israel-Palestine conflict want to make that an argument over which “side” has greater moral culpability in the continued killings of Palestinian civilians. And there is validity to asking whether Hamas should so ensconce itself among civilians in a way that will invite attacks, just as there is validity to asking why Israel seems to show so little restraint in dropping bombs over Gaza neighborhoods. But even that argument over moral superiority ultimately treats those dying Palestinian families as pawns in the conflict, tokens to be counted for or against, their humanity and suffering so easily disregarded.

A “partisan” writing about a conflict as if he we an honest broker is distracting, but read it again. You might note that one of the institutions he’s talking about is the governing authority of the Palestinian people in Gaza, which, applying even the most basic standards of decency, should task itself with safeguarding the lives of civilians. Instead, it makes martyrs out of children and relies on the compassion of Israelis to protect its weapons. This is a tragedy, of course, but Israel does have to bomb caches of rockets hidden by “militants” in Mosques, schools, and hospitals. Since Hamas’ terrorist complex is deeply embedded in Gaza’s civilian infrastructure there is really no other way. And that only tells us that one of the two organizations mentioned by Fisher has purposely decided to use Palestinian as pawns and put civilians in harm’s way.

It is also preposterous to claim that Israel is showing “little restraint in dropping bombs over Gaza neighborhoods.” Actually, Israel is far more concerned with the wellbeing of Palestinians civilians than Hamas. This week, 13 Hamas fighters used a tunnel into Israel and attempted to murder 150 civilians in Kibbutz Sufa, with Kalashnikovs and anti-tank weapons. On the same day, Israel issued early warnings before attacking Hamas targets – as it often has throughout this conflict in an effort to avoid needless civilian deaths Hamas is hoping for. It was Israel that agreed to a five-hour cease-fire so that UN aid could flow into Gaza last week. It is Israel that sends hundreds of thousands of tons of food to Gaza every year, millions of articles of clothing and medical aid. That’s more than restraint.

[…]

I often hear people claim that the Israel-Palestinian situation is complex. It isn’t. It’s difficult to solve, indeed, but it’s not complex. One side refuses to engage in any serious efforts to make peace with modernity and with Jews. So, for those like Andrew Sullivan and some of the folks at The American Conservative, who argue that Israel is the one drifting from Western ideals, I think Douglas Murray has the best retort:

    A gap may well be emerging. But not because Israel has drifted away from the West. Rather because today in much of the West, as we bask in the afterglow of our achievements — eager to enjoy our rights, but unwilling to defend them — it is the West that is, slowly but surely, drifting away from itself.

Update: Charles Krauthammer says this is a rare moment of moral clarity.

Israel accepts an Egyptian-proposed Gaza ceasefire; Hamas keeps firing. Hamas deliberately aims rockets at civilians; Israel painstakingly tries to avoid them, actually telephoning civilians in the area and dropping warning charges, so-called roof knocking.

“Here’s the difference between us,” explains the Israeli prime minister. “We’re using missile defense to protect our civilians and they’re using their civilians to protect their missiles.”

Rarely does international politics present a moment of such moral clarity. Yet we routinely hear this Israel–Gaza fighting described as a morally equivalent “cycle of violence.” This is absurd. What possible interest can Israel have in cross-border fighting? Everyone knows Hamas set off this mini-war. And everyone knows Hamas’s proudly self-declared raison d’être: the eradication of Israel and its Jews.

[…]

Why? The rockets can’t even inflict serious damage, being almost uniformly intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system. Even West Bank leader Mahmoud Abbas has asked: “What are you trying to achieve by sending rockets?”

It makes no sense. Unless you understand, as a Washington Post editorial explained, that the whole point is to draw Israeli counterfire.

This produces dead Palestinians for international television. Which is why Hamas perversely urges its own people not to seek safety when Israel drops leaflets warning of an imminent attack.

To deliberately wage war so that your own people can be telegenically killed is indeed moral and tactical insanity. But it rests on a very rational premise: Given the Orwellian state of the world’s treatment of Israel (see: the U.N.’s grotesque Human Rights Council), fueled by a mix of classic anti-Semitism, near-total historical ignorance, and reflexive sympathy for the ostensible Third World underdog, these eruptions featuring Palestinian casualties ultimately undermine support for Israel’s legitimacy and right to self-defense.

July 17, 2014

Israel’s Iron Dome systems

Filed under: Middle East, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

Austin Bay discusses the relative success of the Israeli anti-missile defence system called Iron Dome:

According to the Israeli government, in this latest round of Israel-Hamas combat, Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system has (so far) intercepted 90 percent of targeted incoming Hamas rockets.

Iron Dome is a very sophisticated tactical (short-range) anti-missile and anti-artillery projectile defense system. In terms of combat operations, Iron Dome’s “sensor-shooter” system is a drastically scaled-down strategic anti-missile defense system, a mini-ABM system in the mold of the Reagan administration’s Strategic Defense Initiative. In fact, Iron Dome is an SDI descendant and a cousin of the current U.S. Missile Defense program. I will return to the cousin connection in a moment.

For good reason the 2006 Israel-Lebanese Hezbollah War is also called “The Rocket War.” Hezbollah fired several thousand unguided rockets into Israeli territory.

Human Rights Watch, a non-governmental human rights organization, accused Hezbollah and the Israeli Defense Forces of launching “indiscriminate” attacks that killed civilians on both sides of the border. As usual, HRW’s legalistic accusations against Israel received more international media attention. Though Hezbollah rocketeers frequently fired from positions within civilian neighborhoods (as Hamas rocket teams are doing in 2014), HRW argued that the Israelis “failed to distinguish between civilian and military targets.” HRW berated the IDF for employing cluster munitions.

However, to its credit, HRW’s detailed 2007 investigation of Hezbollah confirmed the harsh but obvious conclusion that Hezbollah had “deliberately targeted” civilian areas within Israel. HRW’s report concluded that, “Hezbollah repeatedly fired rockets in the direction of civilian-populated areas in which there was no evident military target.”

An HRW press release summarizing the investigation said that indiscriminate rocket fire directed at densely populated civilian neighborhoods “killed or injured civilians in Jewish, Arab and mixed villages, towns and cities.” In other words, Hezbollah wanted to spill civilian blood — lots of blood — and if it happened to be Arab blood, so be it.

[…]

In the last two weeks, Iron Dome has demonstrated that it can successfully protect people. Several press reports have noted the Israeli claim that Iron Dome’s demonstrated capabilities have given the Israeli government something very precious in a crisis: time. Instead of facing demands to strike back immediately, the government can consider military and political options.

July 14, 2014

Militant wings – “the evil twins of geopolitics”

Filed under: Middle East, Military, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:50

Jim Geraghty from today’s Morning Jolt email:

Ah, the “military wing.” Hamas’ Khaled Meshaal told Al-Jazeera last month, “Hamas is comprised of a political wing and a military wing.”

Really? Because from over here, it looks like a public-relations wing and a convenient-scapegoat wing. “Oh, it wasn’t us that fired those rockets! It was our militant wing!” Militant wings are the evil twins of geopolitics. If your organization has a military wing — as opposed to an actual, declared, uniforms-and-everything-military — you’re probably a troublemaker. You notice the good guys in life rarely have a militant wing. “I’m with a hardline faction of the Red Cross.” “I’m with Mother Theresa’s paramilitary branch.”

These groups really seem to think that the political wing can’t be blamed for what the militant wing does. Guys, you’re two halves of the same chicken. Colonel Sanders just sees one bird.

The Israeli Defense Forces Twitter feed declared this morning that: “Since July 8, 38 rockets fired from Gaza have fallen within Gaza. Hamas fires from civilian areas … and hits its own people.” They’ve also released video of three airstrikes called off because of risk to civilians.

Hamas uses its own people as human shields, in an effort to get international sympathy. How does Hamas continually sell this strategy to the Palestinians? Remember, they’ve won elections! How do you win at the ballot box with the slogan, “To protect ourselves, we’re going to use you and your children as human shields!”? You’re really awful, Fatah; you lost an election to an alternative that promises to get the voters killed!

March 4, 2014

Obama’s Netanyahu media ambush claims one casualty – the peace process

Filed under: Middle East, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 11:14

Jonathan Tobin identifies the problem with President Obama’s pre-emptive media strike against Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu:

President Obama may have thought he was being very clever ambushing Prime Minister Netanyahu with scathing comments about Israeli policies that would be published just before he arrived in the United States for a meeting at the White House and to speak at the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). By slamming Netanyahu’s policies as the primary, if not the sole obstacle to peace in the Middle East, in the now infamous interview with Bloomberg’s Jeffrey Goldberg, the president put the Israeli on the defensive and undermined his attempts to rally support for his positions with both AIPAC members and Congress. That should also have made it more difficult for Netanyahu to resist American pressure to make concessions to the Palestinians in order to help the negotiations sponsored by Secretary of State John Kerry succeed. But the president’s move had to leave those who have actually been following the talks with the Palestinians scratching their heads.

Kerry’s current objective is to get both parties to agree to a framework for continued talks. As has been widely reported, Netanyahu has already signaled his consent to the framework even though he and his Cabinet have grave misgivings about where the talks may eventually lead. By contrast, the Palestinians have repeatedly and publicly rejected the framework. The Palestinians have angrily rejected the framework’s requirement that they recognize Israel as a Jewish state, which is to say they agree to end the conflict rather than merely pause it. They also reject the West Bank security guarantees included in the framework even though it also contains their basic demands about a Palestinian state whose borders will be based on the 1967 borders while leaving open the possibility of territorial swaps. In other words, the Israelis have already given Kerry what he wanted while the Palestinians have done the opposite. Yet Obama still treats Israel as the truant and lauds Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas as a trustworthy warrior for peace even though his government is a font of incitement for hatred against Jews and Israelis and he has repeatedly rejected every previous offer of statehood because he and his people remain unable or unwilling to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.

By speaking in this manner about Israel, Obama has pleased the Palestinians, Netanyahu’s Jewish critics and Israel-bashers everywhere. But it will also do something else that perhaps the president never intended. He has killed any chance that Kerry’s peace talks could possibly succeed.

The problem isn’t Israel (although they’ve made the situation tougher to resolve in several ways): the problem is that no Palestinian leader dares to accept any proposal that explicitly accepts Israel’s right to exist. If Abbas agreed to that, Abbas himself would probably cease to exist in short order. Arafat at the height of his power didn’t dare to take that step, and no Palestinian leader since Arafat has had as much control, power, or influence among the factions and groups that loosely form Palestine politically. This is known to the American government — it can hardly be much of a secret — but for political reasons it can’t be stated. If one side cannot possibly agree, then in the looking glass world of diplomacy, you must berate the other side for their intransigence. It doesn’t matter who is President … this is the reality that must be ignored or wished away (because it’s not going away on its own).

August 25, 2013

Another (pointless) round of Mideast peace talks

Filed under: Middle East, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:53

Strategy Page on the upcoming “negotiations” over the Israeli-Palestinian situation:

Why are the Palestinians participating in yet another round of American- sponsored peace talks with Israel? It’s mostly about money. This round was forced on the Israelis and Palestinians by the U.S., which threatened to withhold aid (1.3 billion a year to Israel about half as much to the Palestinians) if the two did not at least go through the motions. Many knowledgeable observers see another round of talks as pointless. Arabs and Palestinians have not changed their “kill all Jews” attitudes towards Israel and the Israelis have still not agreed to just disappear. Because of the continued Arab intransigence over Israel, opinion polls show that most Israelis are opposed to any peace deal with the Palestinians that involves withdrawing Jews from the West Bank or Jerusalem and believe the peace talks will fail.

The Americans want the talks for domestic political reasons. The Israelis don’t mind having another opportunity to force the Palestinians to admit all their hypocrisy and anti-Semitism. The Palestinians don’t care about that because they are in big trouble. The current Fatah leadership (Hamas, which runs Gaza, is not participating) is in a desperate situation. Fatah is committed to pushing for “statehood” in the UN, but has been told by the U.S. that such a move will mean withdrawal of $600 million a year in American aid. Israel said it will withhold $100 million a year in customs taxes it collects for Fatah. Backing away from the UN statehood effort would be very embarrassing. The “peace talks” provide a credible excuse to back off.

Given the heat Fatah has been taking from Palestinians over more than a decade of increasing corruption and poverty, losing $700 million a year in aid would put Fatah out of power and probably out of business. So Fatah will go through the motions to calm down the Americans and Israelis while a new strategy is developed and sold to Palestinians. The current one got going in 2000, when Fatah turned down the best peace deal it was probably ever going to get (and would probably accept today) because the Palestinian radicals threatened civil war if Fatah took the Israeli offer. In retrospect that was a hollow threat, but at the time it seemed a good idea to turn down the peace offer and start a terrorist campaign against Israel. That failed, and was largely defeated by 2005. But it all made the Palestinian radicals stronger and too many Palestinians unemployed, broke and angry. It also allowed Islamic radical group Hamas to take control of Gaza, where 40 percent of Palestinians lived. To make matters worse the great Palestinian patron Saddam Hussein lost power, and his life, cutting off another source of cash. Palestinian children are still taught to honor and praise Saddam, which has become something of a media liability. Other Arab allies have become less supportive and more insistent that the Palestinians make peace with Israel and stop being professional victims and career beggars.

June 5, 2013

US policy on Syria is 1979 all over again

Filed under: Middle East, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:38

In the Miami Herald, Glenn Garvin points out that the US went down this geopolitical path in 1979, with less than stellar results:

The problem in our capital is not that there’s too much division between Republicans and Democrats, but that they’ve merged into a single War Party when it comes to the Middle East.

There might have been at least a tenuous case to be made for intervention in Syria back at the beginning of its civil war, at least if you accept the view that the United States cannot disengage from the Middle East because it is, for the foreseeable future, joined at the hip with Israel.

Unlike Libya or Somalia, strategically useless states in the middle of nowhere in which Washington mysteriously chose to intervene, Syria is a pivot point in the Middle East. It shares long borders with our two major allies in the region, Israel and Jordan, who cannot help but be affected by what goes on in Syria.

Two years ago, we could have acted decisively to end the Syrian civil war before it really got started. We could have made a realpolitik decision to support Assad, who, though a vicious brute to his own people, mostly minds his own business. Or we could have thrown in wholeheartedly with the rebels, picking one faction to provide with arms and international prestige, keeping (maybe) the worst elements out of power.

Instead, the Obama administration dithered, denouncing Assad and drawing lines in the sand over his behavior, then backing away every time he crossed one. We managed to alienate both sides as well as convincing all concerned that our bark had no bite.

In short, Obama has adopted as his guide Jimmy Carter’s foreign policy of 1979, when the United States cluelessly half-yanked the rug from beneath the shah in Iran and Anastasio Somoza in Nicaragua, then primly tsk-tsked their opponents. The eventual result was that two of our allies were replaced with regimes implacably hostile to our interests, which quickly began destabilizing everything around them. Sadly, that’s now the best possible outcome in Syria. If the War Party get its way, you’ll see the worst.

H/T to Nick Gillespie for the link.

May 4, 2013

Israeli air attack on missile shipment in Syria

Filed under: Middle East, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:05

It’s almost anti-climactic to report that the Israeli defence ministry is confirming that an air strike was launched against Syria yesterday. The unexpected part of the news is that the attack was on a shipment of missiles, not a chemical weapons depot:

Israeli officials said the shipment was not of chemical arms, but of “game changing” weapons bound for the Lebanese militant group. The airstrike took place early on Friday, but did not say where it took place.

American officials earlier told the Associated Press of an airstrike. One report had suggested the strike was on a chemical weapons facility.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, has repeatedly warned in recent weeks that Israel would be prepared to take military action if chemical weapons or other arms were to reach Hizbollah.

Lebanon’s army said pairs of Israeli airplanes entered Lebanese airspace on three occasions overnight between Thursday and Friday.

The move will raise tensions in the Middle East and comes amid mounting pressure over the alleged use of chemical weapons by president Bashar Assad’s regime.

May 1, 2013

Syrian use of nerve gas

Filed under: Middle East, Military, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:13

Strategy Page outlines what we think we know about the use of nerve gas in Syria:

In Syria the rebels have been accusing the government of using nerve gas shells and bombs. Israel is convinced this is so and the U.S. is inclined to agree with them. The known incidents occurred in the northern city of Aleppo where government forces are taking a beating. Syria insists that no nerve gas was used, but the nerve gas may have been ordered as a desperate measure to halt the advancing rebels, with instructions that “this never happened”. Israel insists it has definitive proof and apparently that is convincing many NATO members, including the United States. Moreover a Syrian general defected in late April and said he was ordered to use chemical weapons against rebels in the southwest recently, but fired shells with harmless chemicals instead. The general offered to reveal where he had buried the actual chemical shells.

Syrian nerve gas is stored at some fifty locations all over the country. A large number of troops are devoted to defending these stockpiles and some chemical weapons have been moved to avoid capture by the rebels. Officially Syria has no nerve gas, but the Assad government has recently made statements indicating that it is abandoning that fiction. Syria has maintained stocks of chemical weapons for decades as a last ditch weapon for any future war with Israel (which few Syrians believe could be won). Israel has prepared accordingly. Recently Syria announced that it never had any intention of using nerve gas against Israel. This all gets even stranger as Israel has recently advised the United States to stay out of Syria, even if nerve gas is being used. That’s apparently because Israel wants to take care of this problem itself, as its Israeli civilians who are likely to die if Syrian nerve gas is captured by Islamic terrorists (who still want to use nerve gas against Israel).

Photos of dead civilians the rebels claim were nerve gas victims do show signs of nerve gas in use (foaming at the mouth and contracted pupils). The only way to obtain conclusive evidence is for someone to bring out the bodies of victims (or blood samples) and soil samples from the area where the nerve gas was used. If the rebels want to prove their accusations of nerve gas use they just have to collect these samples and get them out of the country. Apparently that has been done, at least to the satisfaction of Israeli intelligence. The U.S. said it would intervene militarily if Syria used chemical weapons and demands conclusive proof (blood and soil samples) before deciding and acting. Now the U.S. has apparently been shown evidence of Syrian use of chemical and is debating what to do about it.

February 12, 2013

Palestine as a useful symbol, but Palestinians as inconvenient “guests”

Filed under: History, Middle East, Politics — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:28

Strategy Page on the paradoxical Arab view of Palestine as worth fighting for, but actual living Palestinians as less-than-welcome pests (or worse):

While most Arabs will admit they hate Israel, they will also deny that this has anything to do with anti-Semitism and has everything to do with the Palestinians. This is not true, as Arabs have long demonstrated a hostility towards the Jews, something which is part of their religion. It’s in their scriptures, the stories of how Jews refused to support Mohammed, the founder of Islam. Long held grudges are popular in this part of the world.

Meanwhile, there are many more recent reasons for Arabs to dislike the Palestinians. When the state of Israel was established in 1947 there began a series of bad decisions by Arab governments that are setting records for failure. Although the UN tried to broker the creation of Israel, Arab nations misjudged their own power and told Arabs in Israel to flee their homes, so that the Arab armies could come in and kill all the Jews. When that didn’t work, the Arabs refused to absorb the 600,000 Arab refugees, and continues to treat (actually, mistreat) them as refugees. At the same time, the Arabs expelled 600,000 Jews who had been living among them for centuries. Most of these Jews went to Israel and become Israelis, and prospered.

Thus began decades of hostility between Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world. The Palestinians that fled to Lebanon proceeded to trigger a 15 year long civil war (1975-90) that devastated the country and left in place a Shia militia in the south (Hezbollah) that prevents the country from being truly united. The Palestinians that fled to Jordan eventually (1970) staged an uprising against the king, and were defeated and largely expelled. The Palestinians that went to Kuwait welcomed the Iraqi invasion of 1990 because Saddam Hussein had always been very loud about wanting to destroy Israel. When Arab and Western troops tossed Saddam out of Kuwait five months later, the Palestinians were forced to flee the vengeance of the Kuwaitis. The Palestinians that went to Iraq also had to flee in 2003, because they had helped Saddam terrorize the Shia and Kurdish majority and were, well, you know the story.

February 6, 2013

Municipality really eager to get their parking revenues

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Law, Middle East — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 10:18

A woman in Tel Aviv was lucky to be able to get security camera footage to prove her innocence here:

The Tel Aviv Municipality found itself in hot water on Tuesday, after a Facebook post by a woman whose car was towed after city workers painted a handicapped space around the vehicle went viral, becoming a mini-scandal and garnering coverage across Israeli media outlets.

Security camera footage from a store above the parking spot on Yehuda Halevi Street shows the car parked at a legal blue parking spot, before city workers arrive and paint a handicapped spot around the car, which is towed shortly thereafter.

The video was obtained by the owner of the car, Hila Ben-Baruch, from the surveillance camera of the store above the parking spot.

I once saw something similar happen in real time: in the mid-1970’s, I was waiting for a Mississauga Transit bus when a work crew from the city came along. The crew started putting up “No Parking” signs along the road, and a Peel Regional Police officer came along a few minutes later to write parking tickets for all the cars which were now illegally parked. The bus I was waiting for was on something like a 45 minute schedule, so this all took place within that stretch of time.

November 24, 2012

Israel: where the 1970s never ended

Filed under: Middle East — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 12:15

Kathy Shaidle reports on her recent trip to Israel:

Folks who say visiting Israel is like traveling back in time don’t know the half of it.

Say: Do you find yourself missing the 1970s — even though, like me, you vowed you never would?

That is: Do you miss litter, graffitti, off-leash dogs, free range cats, smoking on the beach, 13 TV channels, no wheelchair ramps — plus polyester everything?

Because if so, Israel is the 70s with cellphones! You’ll love it! Heck, the same war’s still going on!

Seriously: This shiksa just got back from her second trip to Israel — not a moment too soon, from the looks of things — and I’m here with the first of a series of articles that will go from macro to micro.

PJMedia’s own Barry Rubin literally wrote the book on Israel. I read it before I left and recommend it highly. But he’s a Jew who has lived there for years. I’m writing as a gentile two-time visitor.

To that end, I’ll start off with an overviews of major cities and regions in Israel, then drill down in the coming weeks, to cover specific attractions; define words that don’t mean what you (or more accurately, your dorky grad student nephew) think they mean (i.e., “check point,” “settlement,” “refugee camp”); then offer tips on food, language, manners and more.

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