Sunday 31 October 2010

The Threat of Muslim Terrorism

A story broke late on Friday regarding parcels containing explosive materials that were sent via international courier services, and that were intercepted before they did any damage. The source of the parcels was traced to Yemen, where a further 24 similar parcels were found ready for shipment. Unsurprisingly, the final destination addresses for the parcels were Jewish organisations in Chicago USA. Equally unsurprising is the fact that various security organisations have said that plot bears all the hallmarks of having been hatched by Al-Qaeda.

The world has reacted with shock and horror. Statements have been made by the president of the USA and by government officials in the UK and Dubai where the parcels were found. Even the Yemeni president has come out confirming that intelligence obtained from foreign countries has led the Yemeni authorities to arrest a woman suspected of being involved in the plot. Calls have been made to tighten security in the airline industry even further! International terrorism rears its ugly head once again to place everybody on high alert, and to cause further disruption and inconvenience to those law-abiding citizens who need to travel for business or pleasure.

Events like this cause me to question the intention of Islamic terror. What exactly is this campaign of terror designed to achieve? I know that it is not politically correct to blame Muslims for the terror campaign that the world has experienced since the 1960s and 1970s. It was people like Nobel Peace Prize winner Yasser Arafat who blazed the trail of airline hijackings and acts of international terror. As much as it is not nice to lay the blame of this type of terror entirely at the door of the Muslims, I am not sure what other term to use in order to describe this phenomenon. While it is true that not all Muslims are terrorists, it is increasingly clear that those behind these acts of international terror are all Muslims. What are the intentions of these people? In particular, what compromise solution could be reached in order to convince these Muslims to cease their campaign of international terror?

There are those who hold up the Arab-Israeli conflict as being the cause of all instability in the world. Many have contended that the resolution of the Palestinian issue will somehow magically wipe out all international terror. This has, in turn, placed undue international pressure on Israel to compromise on a peace agreement with the Palestinians in recent years. As if this pressure was really required. I would suggest that the ongoing threat to life and limb of Israelis, and the possibility of the Jewish state being driven into the sea is sufficient incentive to come to any possible agreement with the Palestinians. In recent times, activities of the "infidels" in Iraq, Afghanistan and other similar actions has also been held up as justification for international acts of terror against western countries. Rather than being the real factor which has "forced" Muslims to acts of terror, I believe that these are only weak excuses to try to justify the unjustifiable.

I have often envisaged a Palestinian equivalent of the Irish Good Friday Agreement, or other similar international treaties which have resulted in a significant reduction in violence by virtue of people achieving political compromise. I have wondered what this equivalent of the Good Friday Agreement would look like, or indeed whether the Palestinians or Al-Qaeda are even prepared to enter into one. Unfortunately, I always seem to end up with the same conclusion, no matter which way I look at the situation. My conclusion is that the only agreement that the Muslims will be happy with, is one which is a one-sided agreement; one where they are the sole rulers over the world in every respect and can apply their rule over all inhabitants. Until the Palestinians have full control over Israel, there does not seem to be a compromise agreement that is good enough for them to sign up to. This is my perception of the situation. Acts of international terror, including the most recent parcel-bomb attempts, serve only to reinforce my views in this regard.

Although countries in the west have beefed up their security services, and have vowed to fight international terror "on the beaches, on the landing grounds, in the fields and streets and in the hills, and never surrender", critical mistakes are being made in this battle. One of the biggest mistakes is to refuse to call it what it really is - Islamic terror. The president of the USA feels that it is more important to engage the Muslims and to hold out a hand of friendship in a softly-softly way. This may have something to do with his own Muslim roots, or maybe not. To hold out a hand of friendship to those who will be your friend is acceptable, and there are some Muslims amongst these people. But I feel that it is a huge mistake to actively court Islam as a friend when there is such a significant threat currently originating from this source, and such disdain and disrespect shown to all who are "non believers". A show of weakness like this will be exploited to the maximum, and the Muslim blood flowing through Obama's veins will not save him from the same fate as the rest of us.

The time has come to leave political correctness behind in the fight for survival. The way to do this is to show strength, and to demonstrate a clear understanding of the enemy's intentions. In this way, the international world can act with true conviction to fight the substantial threat to its freedom, and that is growing daily. The parcel bombs discovered over the past few days serve to remind us of this ongoing threat, and to reinforce the need to take decisive action to punish those responsible for this and many other acts of terror. Unwillingness to do this will unfortunately only result in disaster for the free world as we know it.

Monday 25 October 2010

The Issues Surrounding the Loyalty Oath

The decision by the Israeli cabinet to approve an amendment to the loyalty oath for new immigrants to Israel has created a great deal of controversy, and occupied newspaper columns all over the world. It is the timing of its proposal, the proposed wording of the oath as well as the fact that it currently only applies to some immigrants while not applying to others which has generated the interest and criticism.

A loyalty oath in itself is not a strange or unusual concept. Many countries around the world, including the USA, require new citizens to pledge their loyalty to their adopted country. Until now, Israel required some of its new citizens to pledge loyalty to the state. The main reason for this is the fact that the bulk of the new immigrants have taken up their citizenship under the Law of Return, and they are not required to make the loyalty oath. The Law of Return allows anybody with one Jewish grandparent to immediately claim citizenship of Israel without any naturalisation requirement. So why was it deemed necessary to suddenly amend the loyalty oath at this time?

It is clear that every country has the right to make changes as circumstances demand them. It is interesting to study how America's "Pledge of Allegiance" was initially introduced more than 100 years after the country's independence, and how its wording has been changed four times over the years. So, the idea of amending a loyalty oath is not unique. Like with most things in the Middle East, however, the timing is not coincidental. In Israel's case, the amendment to the loyalty oath has come out of the latest events in the peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

The proposed amendment to the loyalty oath will require new immigrants to pledge loyalty to the "Jewish and democratic State of Israel". The reference to a Jewish state has been added as part of the currently proposed amendment. The issue of recognising Israel as a Jewish state has become a central issue in the ongoing peace talks. Prime minister Netanyahu has insisted that the Palestinians not only acknowledge Israel's right to exist, but recognise her right to exist as a Jewish state as part of the peace agreement. The Palestinians have skirted around this issue for many years, and continue to show an unwillingness to give an undertaking in this form.

The concept of Israel being a Jewish state is not entirely new. Both the Balfour Declaration in 1917 and the UN Partition Plan adopted in 1947 called for the establishment of a homeland for the Jewish people. The Declaration of Independence in 1948 also declared the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz Yisrael, the State of Israel. Surely nothing could have been clearer than this.

Since independence, Israel has continued to operate as a Jewish state, and as a homeland for the Jewish people. Israel's laws relating to marriage and divorce are based upon Jewish religious law. The working week is Sunday to Friday in line with the commandments in the Torah, the Jewish holy bible. There can be absolutely no doubt that the intention continues to be the same as the one expressed at independence i.e. that Israel will be a Jewish state.

So why the attempts to deny this on the part of the Palestinians? It seems as if being prepared to make this "concession" may harm their negotiating position on the return to Israel of the thousands of Palestinian refugees whose predecessors fled their homes upon Israel's independence in 1948. These people continue to be housed in refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, in the West Bank and in Gaza on the promise that they will be allowed to return to Israel to reclaim their homes when a peace agreement is reached. The act of recognising Israel as being a Jewish state means that there can never be an agreement to house millions of non-Jews in Israel who may challenge the Jewish majority.

By proposing a change to the loyalty oath, Netanyahu has tried to utilise all the tools at his disposal to demonstrate to the Palestinians how seriously he takes the issue of Israel being recognised as a Jewish state. Even though this tactic seems to be fairly extreme and has been interpreted by many to be racist, the prime minister has the support of a large section of the population. Finally, a prime minister of Israel has been prepared to stand up in front of the people who have attempted to annihilate the Jews for so many years and drive us into the sea. Finally, he is prepared to say that if you wish to be recognised for what you are, you need to recognise us and our country for what we are. Nothing less will do. The reluctance on the part of the Palestinians says it all.

The amended loyalty oath will probably never be adopted. It seems not to have the support of the majority of the Knesset, and perhaps it is just as well. Despite debates about whether it should, in its revised form, apply to Jews as well as non-Jews, the truth is that this act will probably not bring the recognition nor the peace that we wish for. By raising this issue into the public domain in such a visible way, however, it has brought focus on Israel's continued desire to be acknowledged as a Jewish state more than 62 years after world voted in favour of this at the UN.

Then like now, the Arab nations are not prepared to accept this fact. They pursued war on that occasion in the belief that the Jews could be driven out. Now they sit at the negotiating table in the begrudging knowledge that the Jews are here to stay. Somehow, they can still not find it in themselves to openly admit and acknowledge the right of the Jewish state to exist alongside their own state. They would rather not have a state than be forced to concede to this. But this is what peace agreements are made of, and peace is not possible when you refuse to acknowledge the nature and character of the other party. Denial has brought war. Only acknowledgement can lay the basis for peace.

Sunday 17 October 2010

Six Weeks Later and The Time Article Looks So Different

The article published in Time Magazine on the 2nd September 2010 went under the heading "Why Israelis Don't Care About Peace." The heading was not a question, it was a statement. The article tried to create the impression that Israelis have no interest in the peace talks with the Palestinians, or whether a peace agreement is achieved or not. After interviewing 3 or 4 Israelis who sent the message that the ongoing peace talks were not on the forefront of their minds, Time writer Karl Vick concluded that this attitude applies to all Israelis.

The article was taken by many Jews around the world to be anti-Semitic, and as an unjustified criticism on Israelis and Israeli society. It is certainly a judgement on Israelis in the sense that it expects them (us) to be preoccupied with making peace with the Palestinians, instead of concerning ourselves with daily issues. Millions of citizens around the world are entitled to live their lives by worrying about their children, making a living, and other daily concerns. Israelis, however, are seemingly obliged to be preoccupied by peace-making. In the event that Israelis have the audacity to enjoy the "good life" and reap some of the benefits of 62 years of sweat and toil, does this mean that they are doing the wrong thing? Is it a requirement that Israelis not have fun or enjoy everyday activities until there is peace with the Palestinians? This could produce generations of very miserable people, as peace does not seem imminent.

The reality is that, when the article was written some 6 weeks ago, the prospects for peace were looking more optimistic. The Palestinians had decided, seemingly against their better judgement, to enter into direct peace talks with the Israelis. There was talk of peace within 12 months, which seemed to ignore the reality that, over decades and even hundreds of years, there has been an inability to reach a peace. There was the sense of being on the verge of a great achievement, which was particularly felt by the USA and other countries who were involved in attempts to bring Palestinians and Israelis to the negotiating table. Optimism was felt by many people around the world, and the impression was that it was only a matter of time before peace would suddenly break out. For Israelis, however, the same level of enthusiasm was not felt. After all, this is the nation that has been through similar events over many years at Wye Plantation, at Camp David and numerous other peace meetings. All of the previous peace-making attempts proved to be unsuccessful, even when it seemed as though many of the most important issues had already been agreed upon. It is surely unwise and inadvisable to begin to pop the champagne corks before even the first key meeting has taken place. History has made the Israelis realise that it is better to lower expectations until the final outcome is decided. This is the way to avoid feeling disappointed, and let down over and over again.

Now, 6 weeks later, with the Palestinians refusing to return to the negotiating table, it would seem as if the "lack of interest" in peace may have been justified. Whether the Israelis are to blame for not unilaterally agreeing to extend the construction moratorium, or whether the Palestinians are to blame for not agreeing to recognise Israel as a Jewish state is not really the issue here. The fact is that the peace process is, once again, in tatters. It is just as well that nobody raised their expectations or devoted too much of their time to it. Perhaps the optimism of a couple of months ago was simply an illusion created by the international community for public consumption, which was not necessarily felt by the parties to the discussions? I wonder whether Karl Vick would still be so critical of Israelis for not caring about peace under the current circumstances. The question that I ask is "what peace?"

Despite the impression that Vick left readers of his story with, Israelis do care about peace. They care very deeply about peace, due to the fact that each and every citizen has an interest in a peace agreement. The main reason for this is because a lack of peace continues to put Israel at war with its neighbours. This is a war that has lasted for 62 years and even longer. In order to fight this war, Israel has been forced to call upon every citizen of the country to participate in fighting the war. All the time that young men are conscripted for 3 years, and young women conscripted for 2 years in the defence of their country, Israelis are "forced" to care about peace. As the parent of conscription-age children, I know that any peace agreements will go some way towards creating a safer environment for my children during the time of their national service. There is no family in Israel that does not have some link to children currently serving in the army, or due to serve in the army in the near future. There can be no greater incentive to care about peace than this.

The colloquial term to describe an Israeli is a "Sabra", a prickly pear. The reason why Israelis are called Sabras is because they are believed to have a tough and prickly exterior to those who first meet them. The comparison continues in the contention that, once the thick exterior is peeled away, there is a soft and sweet interior which is only visible to those who care to delve deeply enough. The hard outer shell not only allows Israelis to somehow survive 62 years of incessant war, it also gives protection against the raising of expectations, which are largely dashed soon afterwards. After all, this seems to be part of the daily cycle of life in Israel. This may give the impression that Israelis don't care about peace, but nothing can be further from the truth. After all, their very existence and future is ultimately dependent upon finding a secure, just and lasting peace.

It may be that Karl Vick has not been able to see pass the outer shell of the prickly pears that he has met. His article shows an extremely superficial analysis of the way in which Israelis think, and sees past the things that truly affect their lives. The fact that the people that he interviewed succeeded in convincing him that they are able to continue with their lives despite the unstable political and security situation in which they are forced to live, is perhaps a tribute to the determination and the resilience of the Israeli spirit. But don't, for a moment, interpret this to mean that we do not care.

Monday 11 October 2010

Jerusalem is Always Full of Surprises

I truly love visiting the Holy City of Jerusalem. There is no doubt that it has a certain spiritual atmosphere that I have not experienced in any other city in Israel, or elsewhere in the world. I am not sure to what extent this atmosphere is real, or created as a result of my expectation that I will feel it. The only thing that is important is that I feel it, and enjoy it very much. I usually try to make a point of setting aside at least one day each year to visit Jerusalem as a tourist. I like to travel around to the famous sites and vantage points and just experience the unusual things that can happen only in Jerusalem.

People in Jerusalem are totally different, and a good number seem crazy to me. Many of its residents have one religious leaning or another, and behave in ways which would not be acceptable or seen anywhere else. Where else in the world would it be completely normal for men to enter the bus at the front, with women getting on at the back. Although I find this odd, and even offensive, the residents in Jerusalem do it like it is the most normal thing in the world. This strange behaviour even seems to rub off onto the tourists who visit the city. Jews, who would not be seen dead wearing a kippa (skullcap) in public in their home towns, are all of a sudden enjoying wearing it in Jerusalem. There are those who experience Jerusalem Syndrome and other strange psychological occurrences, apparently all unique to this much fought-over city, which is holy to the three monotheistic religions, and the capital of the State of Israel.

On Friday, I had the good fortune to have an excuse to pay Jerusalem a fleeting visit. The occasion of a visit by friends to Israel from abroad took me to the City of Zion. I was, however, wholly unprepared for I what I was to witness. After entering the city from the north, and then heading eastward towards French Hill, I made a stop on Mount Scopus. In my quest to get from there to the area of the Germany Colony, I managed to take a wrong turning and momentarily lose my way. As a result, I was forced to drive unexpectedly through Wadi El Joz, an Arab neighbourhood of East Jerusalem. I had driven down these roads on a number of previous occasions, and had no hesitation about following this route to my destination. Even though the character of this neighbourhood is clearly different from that found in the neighbourhoods of the western parts of the city, or even the area within the walled Old City of Jerusalem, there seemed to be no logical reason not to travel this way.

This all changed when I suddenly observed three or four young Arab children, perhaps ten or eleven years of age, hurling rocks at passing cars. I was travelling up the hill past them, and they seemed only to be throwing rocks at the cars travelling down the hill. I could not quite figure out why they were throwing rocks at some cars, but not others. Perhaps they thought that they could identify Arab cars and spare them a pelting. Whatever it was, my shock turned to real anxiety when I was detained behind a bus and a long queue of cars heading up the hill. My car was brought to a halt directly opposite these children while I waited for the traffic to proceed. For some reason, they chose not to direct their attack at my car, and my anxiety became relief when the traffic proceeded, and I left the location of the random violence in my rear-view mirror.

After returning home later in the day, I read of the incident involving settler leader David Be'eri, who was filmed driving into a group of Arab children who were pelting his car with stones in the Silwan neighbourhood of East Jerusalem. This was not far from where I experienced my incident. Be'eri claims to have acted in self defence as he felt his life was in danger. There are many questions to be asked about this incident, especially how come an Associated Press film crew just "happened" to be on hand to film the incident, and then post the film clip on the Internet. Although I don't subscribe to Be'eri's right-wing brand of politics, I honestly understand what he means when he says that he felt threatened. I felt the same fear, and I did not even have a stone thrown in my direction.

This incident, although fairly minor in the overall scheme of Middle East politics, made me wonder a great deal about what is acceptable, and what is not. There can be no doubt that the extremism that people demonstrate in Jerusalem is a cause for many of its problems. When can it be OK for children as young as ten years old, to be stoning cars of innocent passers-by? What do we expect of these children when they eventually grow to twenty and thirty years old? Is this fight really about the Holy City of Jerusalem, or is it about the fact that possession is nine tenths of the law, and it is worth taking any actions to retain the possession? It left me feeling less optimistic and less spiritually cleansed by being in Jerusalem.

Later in the afternoon, while enjoying a late lunch in Emek Refaim Street with our friends, the first rain of the season arrived. These were the first drops of rain seen in Jerusalem for at least 5 months, and almost seemed to try to wash away the negative memory that still lingered in my mind following the earlier incident. As exciting and welcome as the few drops of rain were, they could not eradicate the picture imprinted in my mind of the young children seemingly randomly throwing rocks at passing cars.

This was certainly not the Jerusalem that Jews pray about in their daily prayers. Nor is it the Jerusalem which is holy to Islam and Christianity. This is the Jerusalem of violence, extremism, political brinkmanship and film cameras. Although I loved Jerusalem more before this act of random violence on Friday, nothing will stop me from cherishing it as the holiest place in the Jewish religion, and as the undivided and eternal capital of the State of Israel.

Monday 4 October 2010

The Warfare of the Future

Reports have surfaced in the international media over the past week regarding a computer virus that has infiltrated computers at Iran's Bushehr nuclear plant. It has been claimed that the deadly Stuxnet virus has infected computers at the plant, which has damaged some of the reactors and delayed the program of loading enriched nuclear fuel into the reactor.

Almost simultaneous to these reports, were the claims that the Israeli secret service was involved in creating the virus and infecting the Iranian computers. The claims allege that the virus was actually intended for the Natanz plant, which is considered to have a higher risk of producing nuclear bombs. In addition, there have been assertions that the Israelis have infiltrated the supply chain for the Iranian nuclear program, and have succeeded in supplying faulty hardware for the centrifuges. The result of this is that up to 3,000 centrifuges at Bushehr have been damaged. All of this has not sufficiently affected the nuclear plant to prevent the continued enrichment of uranium, but it has certainly caused a setback to Iran's nuclear plans.

The reports suggest that this is a new development in the conflict between Israel and those Arab and Muslim countries seeking her destruction. While the world has focused on possible military options available to Israel to destroy the Iranian nuclear threat, it would seem as if the Israelis have been seeking out different solutions in an attempt to catch the Iranians off-guard. But how new is the idea of cyber or electronic warfare? Is it really a new development, or is this something that has been around for a while?

According to the New York Times, the unit in the Israel Defence Force (IDF) which is responsible for the creation of the Stuxnet virus is the 8200 unit (known in Hebrew as "shmone matayim" or eight two hundred). This is the Central Intelligence Gathering Unit of the Intelligence Corps, and is responsible for collection of signal intelligence and code decryption. This unit has been around for many years - since before the Six Day War - even though the intelligence-gathering was probably less sophisticated or hi-tech in the earlier years. This unit now oversees a dedicated unit which engages in defensive and offensive digital warfare. This is only one small part of a central pillar in IDF strategy to vigorously pursue all aspects of cyber and electronic warfare. The pursuit of options for sabotaging the core computers of foes like Iran, along with mechanisms to protect its own sensitive systems, were unveiled last year by the military intelligence chief, Major-General Amos Yadlin. Even though these public statements are new and recent, the work being done by units dedicated to digital warfare is certainly not.

A recent article in the Jerusalem Post presented details of a unit in the Israeli Air Force (IAF), the Sky Crows Squadron. This is the cyber warfare unit of the IAF that uses intelligence for two main purposes. The first is to block enemy communications and the second is to disrupt enemy radar systems. Probably the most well-known of the Crows' successes was the 2007 attack on the nascent Syrian nuclear reactor along the Euphrates River. The IAF F-15I aircraft probably could not have entered Syrian airspace and successfully dropped their payloads on Syrian radar installations and on the nuclear reactor itself, were it not for the fact that the Crows had succeeded in deactivating all Syrian air defence systems. All of this was achieved without sustaining as much as a scratch on an IAF aeroplane. During the Second Lebanon War and Operation Cast Lead, the unit was again activated but this time mostly to break into Palestinian and Lebanese TV and radio channels to push anti-Hamas and anti-Hezbollah propaganda.

During 2010, the Sky Crows Squadron will be celebrating its 40th anniversary. The IAF has been engaging in electronic warfare for quite some time already. This is one of the ways that the IDF feels that it will be able to maintain its military advantage in the Middle East, and around the world. This is particularly true during an era of an unprecedented military build-up in the region. This is best epitomised by the recent $60bn arms deal to Saudi Arabia, and the construction of the Iranian nuclear reactors. Israel is often unable to spend the same sums of money spent by her adversaries, and the qualitative military edge is what allows Israel to create its ultimate advantage.

The technological changes in our world have created an ideal operating environment that play to Israel's strengths. Communications and computer networking have become the core of our work and social worlds, and also form the backbone of military attack and defence systems. Israel is the country which was first to create a firewall to protect computer networks. Having access to brains that can protect networks from all manner of attack also means having the ability to create attacks that can overcome these protections. This technological capability is being nurtured and developed in the next generation of IDF soldiers, starting from a very young age. Israeli schools run a wide number of programs to develop computer and technology skills in children to ensure that the IDF has a wide choice of top-notch resources to call upon for its needs in the foreseeable future.

The Iranians have meanwhile predictably announced that a computer virus was not to blame for the delays at its reactors. No nation would wish to admit to having its secret installations infiltrated in such a blatant way. In an attempt to avoid further embarrassment, an announcement was issued that arrests have been made of people who are suspected to have been involved. Israel seems well positioned to take advantage of the change in the nature of military conflict. Military strength was once measured in terms of numbers of aircraft, soldiers, tanks and missiles. Military attacks were once in the form of bombs launched and weapons fired. Although this has not completely gone away, it is clear that the rules of the game are changing.

If Iran is continuously scanning its airspace in the belief that clear skies mean the nuclear reactors are safe, it seems as if it may be looking in the wrong place for the source of the real danger. Electronic warfare is set to become the military playground of the future.