Sunday, September 27, 2020

Coronavirus Suicide Bombers


I think I found a term for these people who in the middle of a near total lockdown protest in thousands in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.  They are self-centered, self-righteous, ignorant, dumb, inadvertent suicide bombers. They expose themselves and everyone else to a deadly virus. The key of their behavior is absolute ignorance of the threat the virus represents.

Of course, you also have the haredi variation and the apolitical hedonistic variation.  On top of that add the greedy power hungry politicians and the result is a catastrophe. 

And yet the root cause of all this is ignorance of science and forgetting that preserving human lives takes precedence over everything else.      

Jerusalem protest disperses after estimated 16,000 rally against Netanyahu  

Letter in the Jerusalem Post on September 30

In Religious leadership in a time of plague” (September 29), Yitz Greenberg is spot on.

In 1848, Rabbi Israel Salanter instructed Jews not to fast on Yom Kippur because of the cholera epidemic. Today during the coronavirus pandemic all rabbis should have followed his example that pikuah nefesh is paramount.

What does 8,000 new infections per day in Israel mean? It means 80 infections per 100,000 population per day and that is 80 times, i.e. two orders of magnitude (!!) more than it is possible to control using a combination of testing, contact tracing, case isolation and extensive monitoring of positive tests. This is insanity!

But the religious are not the only ones. You have people who in the middle of a near total lockdown protest in thousands in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. They expose themselves and everyone else to a deadly virus. The key of their behavior is either absolute ignorance of the threat the virus represents or the maxim that the end justifies the means.

Some on the Left view these demonstrators not as the problem but the cure, yet in a democracy, you topple elected leaders at the polls – or you end up with another French Revolution of 1789 and The Rein of Terror that followed it, or the October Revolution of 1917 and 100 million dead in Communist regimes since.

The root cause of all this is ignorance of science and forgetting that preserving human lives takes precedence over everything else.


Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Bret Stephens column: A rare Middle East triumph


For years, the Trump administration’s peacemaking efforts in the Middle East have been the object of relentless derision in elite foreign-policy circles, some of it justified. Yet with Friday’s announcement that Bahrain would join the United Arab Emirates as the second Arab state in 30 days to normalize ties with Israel, the administration has done more for regional peace than most of its predecessors, including an Obama administration that tried hard and failed badly.

There are lessons in this, at least for anyone prepared to consider just how wrong a half-century’s worth of conventional wisdom has been.

At the heart of that conventional wisdom is the view, succinctly put by U.N. Secretary General António Guterres in February, that “resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains key to sustainable peace in the Middle East.” Untie that Gordian knot, so the thinking goes, and the region’s many problems become easier to solve, whether it’s other regional conflicts or the anti-Americanism that feeds international terrorism.

That thinking was always dubious — what, for instance, did the Iran-Iraq War, in which a million people or more died, have to do with Israelis and Palestinians? — though it had the convenience of giving Arab regimes a good way of deflecting blame for their own bad governance. But since the (misnamed) Arab Spring began nearly a decade ago, the view has become absurd.
The rise and fall of ISIS, civil war in Syria and anarchy in Libya, Turkey’s aggression against Kurds, proxy battles and hunger in Yemen, political turmoil and repression in Egypt and Iran, the bankruptcy of the Lebanese state, the plight of Middle Eastern refugees — if any of these catastrophes have something in common, it’s that they have next to nothing to do with the Jewish state or its policies. One may still hope for a Palestinian state, but it won’t save the region from itself.

What would? The best option is an alliance of moderates and modernizers — anyone in power (or seeking power) who wants to move his country in the direction of greater religious and social tolerance, broader (that is, beyond energy) economic development, less preoccupation with ancient disputes, more interest in future opportunities. Such an alliance is the only hope for a region being sucked into the maw of religious fanaticism, economic stagnation, environmental degradation and perpetual misrule.

Now this alliance may finally be coming into being. Unlike Israel’s peace with Egypt and Jordan — both based on strategic necessity and geographic proximity — the peace with the Emirates and Bahrain has no obvious rationale, even if a shared fear of Iran played a role.

The larger factor is shared aspiration. Israel is the most advanced country in the region because for seven decades it invested in human, not mineral, potential, and because it didn’t let its wounds (whether with respect to Germany in the 1950s or Egypt in the 1970s) get the better of its judgment.

The choice for the Arab world is stark. It can follow a similar path as Israel; be swallowed by Iran, China, Russia, Turkey or some other outsider; or otherwise continue as before until, Libya-like, it implodes.

As consequential as the peace deals themselves is the Arab League’s refusal to condemn them, eliciting a furious Palestinian reaction. That’s not surprising: It means the Palestinian grip over the league’s diplomatic agenda may finally be loosening.

Perhaps it also means that the grievance-driven politics that have dominated the Palestinian issue for decades are finally over, too. If so, it’s bad news for those Palestinian leaders and activists who think that, with unflagging obstinacy, they can somehow restore the status quo ante 1948, when Israel didn’t exist.

What’s bad news for some Palestinian leaders may be good news for ordinary Palestinians. Peace between Israelis and Arabs will not come from the inside out — that is, from a deal between Jerusalem and Ramallah that wins over the rest of the Arab world. Decades of diplomatic failure, culminating in John Kerry’s failed mediation efforts in 2014, should put an end to that fantasy.

Yet it isn’t crazy to think that peace might come from the outside in: from an Arab world that encircles Israel with recognition and partnership rather than enmity, and which thereby shores up Israel’s security while moderating Palestinian behavior. If that’s right — and if states like Oman, Morocco, Kuwait, Sudan and especially Saudi Arabia follow suit — then this summer’s peace deals might finally create the conditions of viable Palestinian statehood.

A final point about these deals: This wasn’t supposed to happen. Not under the leadership of Israel’s supposedly bellicose Benjamin Netanyahu; certainly not through the diplomatic offices of the usually crazy/amateurish/perverse Trump administration. Luck and timing played a part, as they always do.

But it behooves those of us who are so frequently hostile to Netanyahu and President Donald Trump to maintain the capacity to be pleasantly surprised — that is, to be honest. What’s happened between Israel and two former enemies is an honest triumph in a region, and a year, that’s known precious few.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Ayaan Hirsi Ali: What Islamists and ‘Wokeists’ Have in Common

Adherents of both pursue ideological purity, refuse to engage in debate and demand submission.

A leftist demonstrator protesting President Trump steps on a burning American flag outside the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires, January 20, 2017.

By Ayaan Hirsi Ali

There were many American heroes on 9/11, but the greatest were the passengers and crew of Flight 93. Not only did they avert what al Qaeda planned—a direct hit on the White House—but they also embodied Patrick Henry’s credo “Give me liberty, or give me death!”

Do those words still have a meaning in the America of 2020? For two decades, I have opposed the fanatical illiberalism of those strands of Islam that gave rise to al Qaeda. I broke with my Somali family and ultimately with their faith because I believed that it is human freedom that should be sacrosanct, not antiquated doctrines that demand submission by the individual.

So implacable are the proponents of Shariah that I have faced repeated death threats. Yet I have always consoled myself that, in the U.S., freedom of conscience and expression rank above any set of religious beliefs. It was partly for this reason that I moved here and became a citizen in 2013.

It never occurred to me that free speech would come under threat in my newly adopted country. Even when I first encountered what has come to be known as “cancel culture”—in 2014 I was invited to receive an honorary degree at Brandeis University and then ungraciously disinvited—I didn’t fret too much. I was inclined to dismiss the alliance of campus leftists and Islamists as a lunatic fringe.

But the power of the illiberal elements in the American left has grown, not just on campus but in the media and many corporations. They have inculcated in a generation of students an ideology that has much more in common with the intolerant doctrines of a religious cult than with the secular political thought I studied at Holland’s Leiden University.

In the debates after 9/11, many people sought materialist explanations for the attacks. American foreign policy in the Middle East was blamed, or lack of education and employment opportunities in the Arab world. I argued that none of these could explain the motivations of the plotters and hijackers, who in any case were far from underprivileged. Their goal was religious and political: to wage jihad against their kin if they didn’t accept a literal interpretation of Islam, to denounce Arab governments as corrupt and their Western allies as infidels, and ultimately to overthrow the established order in the Middle East and establish a caliphate.

American policy makers preferred the materialist explanations, as they implied actions to solve the problem: invasion, regime change, democratization. It was unpopular to suggest that the terrorists might have unshakable immaterial convictions.

Nineteen years on, we see a similar dynamic, only this time it is within our borders. Naive observers explain this summer’s protests in terms of African-Americans’ material disadvantages. These are real, as are the (worse) socio-economic problems of the Arab world. But they aren’t the main driver of the protests, which appear to be led mainly by well-off white people.

Their ideology goes by many names: cancel culture, social justice, critical race theory, intersectionality. For simplicity, I call it all Wokeism.

I am not about to equate Wokeism and Islamism. Islamism is a militant strain of an ancient faith. Its adherents have a coherent sense of what God wants them to achieve on earth to earn rewards in the afterlife. Wokeism is in many ways a Marxist creed; it offers no hereafter. Wokeism divides society into myriad identities, whereas Islamists’ segmentation is simpler: believers and unbelievers, men and women.

There are many other differences. But consider the resemblances. The adherents of each constantly pursue ideological purity, certain of their own rectitude. Neither Islamists nor the Woke will engage in debate; both prefer indoctrination of the submissive and damnation of those who resist.

The two ideologies have distinctive rituals: Islamists shout “Allahu Akbar” and “Death to America”; the Woke chant “Black lives matter” and “I can’t breathe.” Islamists pray to Mecca; the Woke take the knee. Both like burning the American flag.

Both believe that those who refuse conversion may be harassed, or worse. Both take offense at every opportunity and seek not just apologies but concessions. Islamism inveighs against “blasphemy”; Wokeism wants to outlaw “hate speech.” Islamists use the word “Islamophobia” to silence critics; the Woke do the same with “racism.”

Islamists despise Jews; the Woke say they just hate Israel, but the anti-Semitism is pervasive. The two share a fondness for iconoclasm: statues, beware.

Both ideologies aim to tear down the existing system and replace it with utopias that always turn out to be hellish anarchies: Islamic State in Raqqa, the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone in Seattle. Both are collectivist: Group identity trumps the individual. Both tolerate—and often glorify—violence carried out by zealots.

This Sept. 11, then, let’s dismiss the fairy stories about the enemies of a free society. Their grievances aren’t merely economic and they won’t be satisfied with jobs or entitlements. Their motivations are ideological and they will be satisfied only with power.

I cling to the hope that most Americans are still willing as a nation to fight and, if necessary, to die to preserve our freedoms, our rights, our customs, our history. That was the spirit of Flight 93. It was the spirit that ultimately defeated al Qaeda and Islamic State. But it is not the spirit of today’s “woke” protesters. And it is time that we all woke up to that reality.

Ms. Hirsi Ali is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and founder of the AHA Foundation. She served as a member of the Dutch Parliament from 2003-2006.

Monday, September 7, 2020

PM Netanyahu has lost it.

PM Netanyahu has lost it. His appeasement of the Haredim at the expense of the health of the citizens of Israel is a disgrace and is unacceptable. PM Netanyahu should have put his foot down and declared that the health of Israeli citizens takes precedence over dangerous and illogical demands of the ultra-religious, else he will have inexorably pushed this country into a split between the ultra-religious and the  secular.  
All of PM Netanyahu's achievements through the years, his warnings of the continuing existential Iranian nuclear threat, his standing up to the absurd Obama policies in support of the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran Deal, his freeing of the Israeli economy and his contribution to the prestige of Israel around the world and new ties with UAE - all will be forgotten – since we will remember that he has failed in protecting our lives.  

Update:  Published as a letter to the editor in the Jerusalem Post on Sept 9, 2020

Douglas Murray: "We Are Standing on the Precipice"

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Will Israel strike Iran?

 Yaakov Amidror

Could the prospect of US elections prompt Israel to attack?

The year 2020 has seen significant changes in the handling of the Iran’s malevolent behavior by the US and Israel. From the American targeted assassination of Qasem Soleimani, the brains of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Quds Force, along with Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis the leader of the most significant Iranian-controlled Shi’ite militia in Iraq (Kataib Hezbollah), to the mysterious explosions throughout Iran’s infrastructure including sensitive locations for Iran’s nuclear weapons industrial complex, to Israel’s increased attacks on Iranian assets in Syria, this year may well be decisive in determining if a northern regional war is on the horizon.

In response to the escalating situation, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley flew to Israel this summer to speak to Israel’s military, security and intelligence leadership. As Efraim Inbar, president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security said, “The strike on Soleimani warns Iran that the option for expanded US use of force against Iran is on the table.” But make no mistake about it, Iran is a sophisticated enemy who has made a strategic decision to accelerate its nuclear program in coordination with its increased activity in Lebanon and Syria. It has directed Hezbollah to act more provocatively from both Lebanon and Syria, while pursuing its never-ending transfer of precision guided missile technology, which threatens all of Israel. It continues to challenge Israel by further entrenching itself in Israel’s neighbors, moving into southern Syria opposite the Israeli Golan to fortify its new frontier from the northeast.

In response, Israel not only continues its relentless strikes on Iranian infrastructure in Syria but has allegedly been behind the attacks within Iran proper that have unnerved its revolutionary leadership. A “pandemically” dazed world has hardly taken notice of the significant geopolitical changes happening in the region.

Not since the Stutnex cyberattack more than 10 years ago has the Iranian nuclear weapons infrastructure been so significantly damaged, at least publicly. Of course, Israel’s legendary heist of Iran’s nuclear plans in 2018 should have reminded the world that despite Iranian promises and the ayatollahs alleged fatwa against nuclear weapons, the West remains oblivious to its practice of taddiyah, religiously sanctioned dissimulation i.e. lying, for the greater good of Iran’s Twelver Shia Islamist project.

The most important take-away lesson from all of these reported attacks is that Iran remains vulnerable to both cyber and conventional sabotage at its most guarded sites in Iran, as well as conventional attacks of its forces and assets in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.

So the question is, if Israel has shown that it can delay Iran’s march to nuclear weapons capabilities, why does it still contemplate a complex air and missile attack in the Iranian homeland, knowing all the political risks and inevitable international fallout?

The answer is that there is only so much that clandestine espionage and advanced computer attacks can do, even with Israel’s impressive intelligence capabilities. Sooner or later Israel will have to make a monumental choice regarding preemptive strikes on targets in Iran, if it concludes that Iran is getting too close to possessing nuclear weapons, an existential threat that no Israeli leader across its political spectrum could countenance. Every year Iran’s “zone of immunity” increases, where their “nuclear infrastructure becomes so well-protected or dispersed that an attack would be futile.” The Iranian regime is extremely patient, and its vision to destroy the Jewish state is not necessarily in one blow. Its goal is to demoralize Israeli society over time with the constant fear of missiles being indiscriminately sent into its population’s centers, hoping over time that the Jews will abandon their homeland and with-it Zionism.

Iran began this project decades ago in Lebanon with Hezbollah, then turned to Gaza with Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, then turned to Syria making Assad dependent on its militias, with its next goal a revolution in Jordan and the West Bank, with the emergence of an Islamist leadership there under Iran’s thumb or at least in cahoots with it.

Now add to this puzzle a Joe Biden presidency and a Democratic victory in Congress this November, with the promised reversal from US President Donald Trump’s approach that withdrew from the nuclear deal and imposed maximal sanctions. The stakes may never be higher for an Israeli decision to prevent Iran from crossing the threshold as an established nuclear power with all of its perilous consequences. It is possible this is Israel’s last realistic chance to strike, but that ship may have already sailed.

Biden is not alone in wanting to reengage with Iran. Trump, despite withdrawing from the Iran agreement (JCPOA), in part due to his administration’s assessment that the deal undermined long-term American interests, has said he too wants to renegotiate a grand deal if reelected, and it’s not too far-fetched to believe that the Iranians may decide that they cannot survive another four years of the maximum pressure campaign without risking a popular rebellion.

The stark difference is that Biden is willing to re-enter the Obama-era nuclear deal and ease sanctions before renegotiating significant outstanding issues, while Trump has said he will not end any sanctions until a deal is concluded. Some fig-leaf concessions from Iran before re-joining the JCPOA will be attempted by a Biden administration to camouflage what is really going on. Giving away the store first with the hope for reciprocity is always a losing strategy in the Middle East, perceived as a sign of weakness. As Biden said, “I would rejoin the agreement and use our renewed commitment to diplomacy to work with our allies to strengthen and extend it.” This spring, Biden’s top foreign policy adviser Tony Blinken said that if Iran came back into full compliance of its obligations to the JCPOA, Biden “would come back into compliance as well.” If this is true, and there is no reason to believe otherwise, all of the maximum sanctions leverage would disappear, which would also mean according to the deal’s provisions, allowing Iran to buy an unlimited number of conventional weapons, as the sunset provision for arms sales to Iran expires October 2020.

Knowing that a Biden victory is a strong possibility, Israel may decide to act in its national interest and attack Iran’s nuclear infrastructure sooner rather than later, before Biden could be in office to stop it. Although Trump has said in the past that he would back an Israeli strike, there is no guarantee he would give Israel a green light if he believes it would drag America into a Middle East war.

Americans have been hearing about the threat of a nuclear Iran for three decades with still no bomb. For much of the US foreign policy establishment, Israel is like the boy who cries wolf, threatening to strike but never acting. It should be recalled that Netanyahu and his former defense minister, Ehud Barak, were in favor of attacking Iran, but were thwarted in 2010 by then-IDF chief Gabi Ashkenazi. Then in 2011, the security cabinet, heeding the advice of intelligence agencies, voted against a strike.

Iran has now breached the nuclear limits of the JCPOA by enriching past the 3.67% limit, shortening the breakout time from a year to just a few months to cross the uranium enrichment threshold, so counting on cyber and small clandestine targeted strikes will likely not be enough. Just as signal intelligence cannot completely replace human intelligence, there is only so much cyber-terrorism can do.

The JCPOA mistakenly or deliberately allowed Iran to continue research and development on advanced centrifuges, increasing the chance for a quick breakout to just a month or two, way too late for Israel to act. That clearly means that a coordinated attack to select sites throughout Iran that could cripple its breakout capacity for years is already being considered.

Even proponents of the JCPOA have to acknowledge that the restrictions of the Iran deal, modest as they are, will all sunset over time, and barring a regime change, the Islamic Republic will also then have the international community’s seal of approval for its terrorist state to possess nuclear weapons.

All of this may be a house of cards, as the West only looks at Iran’s declared nuclear program. The JCPOA did not allow IAEA inspections of military sites for suspected nuclear development, and believing that they are not actively working at military sites requires the willing suspension of disbelief. Based on Israel’s outing of Iran’s past nuclear work two years ago, the IAEA finally requested permission to inspect two undeclared Iranian sites.

Is Israel’s alleged activity this summer against Iranian nuclear facilities a harbinger of a large-scale attack? According to John Hannah at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, “Between an exclusive reliance on additional sanctions and a dangerous military strike, there may still be room for coercive diplomacy to play an important role. Specifically, the United States, Israel, or preferably both could communicate to Iran a set of red lines regarding its current nuclear expansion that, if crossed, would dramatically increase the likelihood of a forceful response.” Unfortunately this won’t work with the Europeans, who have little problem pretending they don’t see what Iran is doing, so long as they can make money dealing with the regime. As an example, in July 2020 Josep Borrell – the EU high representative for foreign affairs and security policy in charge of the JCPOA – said, “Owing to the unprecedented level of access... IAEA was able to confirm... Iran had met all its obligations under the deal.” Yet just a month earlier, according to The Wall Street Journal, “Member states from the United Nations atomic agency board voted to condemn Iran for failing to cooperate with its probe of Tehran’s nuclear activities.” This is because inspections for clandestine work at military sites was not included in either the JCPOA or UNSC 2231.

Until the Iranian people overthrow their repressive regime, Iran’s current leadership will not change its spots, and Tehran will want nuclear weapons if only for the immunity it provides against offensive attacks. Which brings us back to the possibility of a strike on Iran’s nuclear infrastructure to kick the can much farther down the road than cyber-terrorism, assassinations, or sabotage can do, assuming the zone of immunity has not already been reached.

If an Israeli attack is possible, knowing Iran will never negotiate honestly, it seems inevitable that Israel will have to decide at some point whether it can live with the possibility of an Iranian nuclear weapon protected by a non-foolproof missile defense. Then Israel would live with the hope that mutually assured destruction, as the US and Soviet Union did during the Cold War, would restrain Iran. That could be a miscalculation of the highest order.

How should Israel approach the future? According to Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Yaakov Amidror of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, “a nuclear Iran could pose an existential threat to Israel in the future, or at least launch a very aggressive policy against it, under a nuclear umbrella... Preventing Iran’s military nuclearization is Israel’s biggest challenge.” Yet he cautions Israel to “navigate its path based on the assumption that it cannot... fundamentally change the situation in the Middle East, neither by political agreements nor by using military force.” Knowing there are no easy answers with the stakes so high, the question is, would a Biden or Trump presidency increase the chance that Israel would choose to act sooner rather than later. We have been down this road before, but one day it may become a reality. 

The writer is the director of MEPIN (Middle East Political Information Network), and regularly briefs members of Congress and their foreign policy aides, as well White House advisers.