Tuesday 28 August 2012

Non-Aligned, But Extremely Maligned

Iran is playing host to the meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) during the course of this week.  The meeting sees 120 developing nations of the world attend, with special attendance by the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki Moon.  Although the original intention of the NAM was to provide a home for countries who were not formally aligned with or against any major power bloc, it has always represented something of a political hot potato.  This is because its membership includes the so-called "axis of evil" countries, and many other pariah states of the world.  The NAM has, perhaps unwittingly, acted as a club for countries that are persona non grata in the developed world.  The best example is the the host of the 16th meeting of the NAM this week, Iran.

Since the NAM was established in 1961, a great deal has changed in the make-up of the world's power blocs.  Despite this fact, it seems as though many of the original members of the NAM remain members to this day.  The changes in the political power blocs have not succeeded in changing  the countries that are aligned with them.  The term "non-aligned", while accurately reflecting the fact that the member countries are not part of any major international power bloc, conceals the fact that many of the member states are aligned with each other in different ways.  It seems as though being non-aligned is not sufficiently compelling to link the NAM countries.  Even these countries need a common cause to create a more substantial link between themselves.  Iran has succeeded in creating a common issue for the NAM countries to rally around, and this is the issue of hating Israel and bringing into question her right to continue to exist.

Iran's policy of publicly humiliating and deligitimising Israel is already not a new phenomenon.  Iranian President Ahmadinejad has been allowed to get away with behaving like a thug on this issue for many years.  He has stood at international gatherings at every opportunity, and ranted against Israel's right to existence amongst the family of nations.  The international community has silently sat back and watched the spectacle without taking action.  This has even been the case when Ahmadinejad has had the audacity to stand up at the United Nations General Assembly, the place that is supposed to protect the rights of nations to exist in peace and harmony, and spew vitriol about the destruction of Israel.   Once again, the UN stands accused of failing to protect the basic rights of member nations by allowing UN Secretary-General Ban Kim Moon to travel to Tehran to attend the NAM.  In so doing, he has legimitised the attendance of all the other countries at the meeting, all of whom will be subject to tirades promoting the destruction of the State of Israel in the usual Iranian way.

Surely, this enough to convince the world of Iran's ban intentions regarding its nuclear program?  The evidence that Iran intends to construct a nuclear weapon is irrefutable.  The subject of Iran's wrath and aggression is equally irrefutable.  The fact that the world allows Iran to threaten Israel in every public forum in the most unashamed manner, is now supported by the world's unwillingness to take tougher action against the nuclear program.  Instead, the world has decided to hide behind the sanctions to defer action on this matter.  It has been clear for some time that the sanctions will neither prevent the countries of the world from buying oil from Iran, nor prevent Iran from continuing to build a nuclear bomb.  Once again, it seems as though it will be left to Israel to take on the world's responsibility in acting against a tyrant.  It is true that Israel is at the front of the line of countries at risk by Iran's aggression, but it is also true that Israel is not the only country at risk.  It is clear that any action by Iran to construct a nuclear weapon will place all of the western world, and beyond, in the firing line.  Perhaps the threat to these countries is not sufficiently pressing now to force them into action.  As has been the case a few times in the past, it will be Israeli soldiers whose lives will be risked to clean up the mess that others are not prepared to take care of.

Israel has acted in the past without the blessing of its allies to take care of problems.  Twice before, Israeli aircraft have destroyed nuclear reactors under construction.  It was notable that the US government opposed Israeli action against both the Iraqi reactor and the Syrian one under construction.  We now know that Israeli action saved some extremely nasty situations from arising, and history books could have looked extremely different had the timely and brave action not been taken in the nick of time.  Fortunately, all Israeli soldiers and equipment was returned to base safely on both previous occasions.  Where Iran is concerned, the operation looks to be infinitely more complicated and risky.  This is partially because the world has failed to take timely action to destroy the threat at a much earlier stage.  Any operation that Israel will mount against Iran is likely to be extremely risky, and will almost certainly result in Israeli loss of life.

In the interests of international diplomacy and world peace, the UN Secretary-General will appear alongside the world's thugs including Ahmadinejad, Zimbabwe's President Mugabe and others.  Instead of protecting the interests and the freedom of the democratic world, he has chosen to legitimise the unacceptable behaviour of those countries who present the greatest threat to world peace.

The NAM conference has given Ahmadinejad the perfect opportunity to stand up in front of the non-aligned, and malign them against Israel and the west.  In a few weeks' time, we will expect to see another of his tirades at the UN General Assembly in New York.  All of the actions that turn a blind eye to Ahmadinejad's bad behaviour, simply empower him even further.  He understands that the world does not set any limits in terms of acceptable behaviour, and will exploit this to the maximum extent possible.  As before, it will be left to Israel to draw the line and to take the required action.  It is my hope and prayer that our soldiers and our civilians will not be endangered in the process.

Thursday 23 August 2012

A Damaging Debate

The debate about whether Israel should or should not attack Iran's nuclear facilities has broken out into the public arena in the strangest possible way.  Over last weekend, the press reported a disagreement between the prime minister and the president over whether attacking Iran at this time is the correct course of action.

Indications are that Prime Minister Netanyahu is one of two lone voices calling for Israel to take military action to stop Iran building a nuclear bomb.  Ironically, his only supporter is Defense Minister Ehud Barak.  This is ironic due to the completely opposite ends of the political spectrum that these two politicians come from.  At the moment, however, they are bedfellows in calling for the IDF to act in the near future to strike at Iran's nuclear facilities.  President Shimon Peres is advocating a completely different approach.  He would prefer to allow America to take the lead, and is currently trusting President Barack Obama's approach in waiting to see whether the sanctions will bring the desired result.  Ultimately, Peres is opposed to Israel acting unilaterally against Iran.  Peres, always a dove in his approach over many years, was also opposed to the strike that Israel carried out on the Iraqi nuclear reactor in1981.  We know how crucial that operation ultimately proved to be.

Peres is not alone in Israel in his opposition to an attack on Iran.  From recent press reports, it is understood that the military leadership in the IDF is also opposed to such an attack.  This does not mean that they are not prepared to carry out such an attack, or that they would not do so if the government decided that this is the correct approach.  It is just that military leaders, in their individual and professional capacities, believe that this would not be the best approach.  In addition to this, it is reported from surveys undertaken, that most Israelis also do not support military action.  The Israeli public seems concerned about the safety of the home front in the event of an attack on Iran.  It is well understood that Iran will almost certainly take retaliatory action in the event that there are strikes on her nuclear facilities.  This puts the Israeli public at risk, as Iran's Shihab missiles are armed and ready to fire towards Israeli territory.  Clearly, this nervousness is influencing the view of the general public such that they are opposed to attacking Iran, even if this is by a slim majority.  Some Israelis feel so strongly that we should not be attacking Iran, that an online petition has been launched imploring Israeli air force pilots to reject orders to strike Iran if called upon to do so.  While the prospect of Israel's pilots not carrying out orders is something we could not contemplate, I guess that it does show the strength of the feelings.

The fact that this entire debate is being conducted via the press and in the public, is not positive.  While democratic principles are important in our society, and especially maintaining the right to freedom of speech, I believe that certain discussions are much better held out of the public domain.  This particularly refers to matters of national security, which this clearly is.  It may be true that President Peres should not be interfering in government business, and that he has previously made incorrect calls on whether the IDF should attack targets or not.  I feel, however, that these points should be made directly to him rather via articles in the weekend newspapers.  My choosing to use the media to canvass internal support for their respective positions, the prime minister and the president may have forgotten that our enemies (including Iran) have intelligence officers who are scrutinising every article that is published.  What sort of message are we sending to them?  I believe that sending a message which shows a lack of unity in our government potentially weakens our situation in  the eyes of the Iranians.  If we cannot even agree on the fundamental issue of whether we should be taking military action to protect Israeli sovereignty for ourselves and future generations, how are we expected to agree on more substantial matters?  Iran has reacted as we would expect, by making fun of our internal squabble, and by continuing at full steam to develop a nuclear weapon.

It is a good thing that we have an environment which supports internal debates and disagreements, and that we have the freedom to be able to express ourselves openly in the national media.  Better decisions are often made when there is a minority that disagrees, and that is strong enough to bring the majority to consider their view before the final decision is made.  Where issues relating to how we deal with Iran are concerned, the debate should be held in the well-secured hallowed halls of government and the IDF, and not in the press.  Although we are very used to playing out party political agreements in the media, there are times when this approach is not appropriate.  This is clearly one of those times, and the national security of the country must surely take preference over all other matters.

Sunday 12 August 2012

The Second Time Around Simply Doubles the Pride

It seems like only yesterday that we were on our way to the IDF recruitment base to deliver our elder son to begin his military service.  Ten months have since passed, and he has thankfully found his path in the military jungle.  He continues to seek out ways to make his service as meaningful and effective as possible, in order to allow the State of Israel to get the best out of him that he can offer.  I now find myself back  in a similar situation, and on my way to deliver my younger son for the start of his military service.

The fact that I now have a slightly better understanding of the military, does not make the second time around any easier.  I feel the same fears, concerns and trepidations now that I felt on the first occasion.  I am still worried for his well-being, and concerned that he will find his way to ensure that he can make his contribution to his country and to his people in the best possible way.  The thing that has changed on this second occasion, is the level of pride that I feel.  This has now been doubled.

I feel immense pride in my sons for the way in which they have approached their military obligation.  They have understood the importance of every Israeli boy and girl being recruited to defend their country and their people.  Together with their friends, these young men have decided that they will fulfil the obligation to serve their country, and have decided to do it willingly and to the best of their ability.  Thousands of young men and women will be joining the military over the course of the next few weeks, and will give their time and energy to ensure the well-being of the State of Israel.  All of these young people have witnessed the threats that the State of Israel has been forced to live under in recent times, and understand the importance of having a strong army to counter these threats.  Many of them have visited concentration camps such as Auschwitz, that bear testament to the consequences of not having a strong Jewish army to defend our people.  They have resolved not to allow these events to repeat themselves while we have the ability to defend ourselves with a strong army.

Israelis and Jews around the world are indeed fortunate to have a young generation of the type that Israel has.  These young people are not only seeking ways to fulfil their obligation in a minimalist way.  They are happy to volunteer to be members of elite units, and to take on the toughest and most dangerous of jobs in maintaining freedom for Israelis and Jews.  These jobs require training that is extremely demanding, and frequently put our young men and women in harm's way.  This does not deter them from agreeing to these conditions, and even frequently signing up to serve for more time than the law requires if this is what it takes.

For you, my son, today is a day that will change your life.  The time that lies ahead of you will ask the most difficult questions of your physical and mental strength.  I know that you are up to the task, and I have every confidence in you.  I know that you and your friends will do a great job in defending our land and our people.  You understand the consequences are of not having our own army, and you will keep this in the back of your mind when you are having hard days.  All I can offer is to be there for you in every way I can.  I will be available to you at all times of the day and night, and I will be ready to do anything and everything in order to give you the support that you need.  We will eagerly await every moment that you will be allowed to spend time with us at home.

I wish you a successful period of service that will contribute to your personal growth, and that will give you a sense that you have made your contribution to your country and your people.  May Hashem protect you in all that you do, wherever you are.  You are true heroes for Israelis and for Jews around the world.

Even though the level of my anxiety is doubled today with the start of your service, my pride is equally doubled.  Go well, and return home safely.

Tuesday 7 August 2012

Remembering the Munich 11

The start of the 2012 London Olympic Games has arrived with great excitement and expectation for thousands of athletes and coaches, and for millions of viewers around the world.  For some, however, the Olympic Games represents negative feelings and bad memories.  Chief amongst those are the families of the 11 Israelis who were killed 40 years ago at the Munich.  For these people, the Olympic Games will always represent a reminder of the cruel way in which innocent lives were cut short in their prime.

With the passing of 40 years since those tragic events, has come a concerted effort by the bereaved families of the athletes and coaching staff to hold a formal commemoration at the London Olympic Games in memory of the victims.  These efforts have been formally supported by millions around the world, including a number of national governments.  Special resolutions and requests to hold a minute's silence at the London opening ceremony were adopted by governments in Australia, Canada and the USA amongst others.  It is astonishing that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games have opposed these efforts, and decided against holding a minute's silence in memory of the murdered athletes and coaches as well as the German police officer who was also killed by the terrorists.

This decision is almost tantamount to the  IOC denying the link between the cruel loss of life, and the Olympic movement.  There can be no denying that the athletes and coaches were in Munich, in the Olympic village, only for the purpose of competing in the games.  They were kidnapped and killed on the watch of the IOC and the organising committee of the Munich Games.  Nothing would be more appropriate, than for a minute's silence to be held at the biggest event of the games, which is undoubtedly the opening ceremony.  This would allow the IOC to acknowledge the tragedy that was allowed to take place when the IOC was on duty, and also to memorialise the names of the innocent victims in the tragedy. The act of opposing a formal memorial at the opening ceremony is a way of denying responsibility for the event, and also serves to reduce the significance of this tragedy.

In response to the decision by the London organisers not to hold a formal memorial ceremony, chairman of the Palestinian Olympic Committee  Jibril Rajoub has written to the IOC President to thank him.  He wrote, "Sport is a bridge for love, unification and for spreading peace among the nations.  It must not be a cause for divisiveness and for the spreading of racism'".  Perhaps Mr Rajoub conveniently forgot that it was terrorists linked to his own organisation who carried out the heinous crime,  murdering 11 innocent sportsmen and a police officer in cold blood.  It is clear that Mr Rajoub didn't wish to miss an opportunity to make a fool of himself in writing such a ridiculous letter.  It is fair to say, however, that the IOC invited such a response by behaving in a way that can be interpreted as denying the importance of such a commemoration.

Various commemorations which have been held on the fringe of the games, one at the Olympic village and one hosted by the Israeli ambassador to the UK, do not go far enough to formally respect the memories of innocent people who should have been protected by the IOC and games organisers.  They were let down by these people who allowed them to be kidnapped from the campus of the games.  The only crime that they committed which resulted in them being given the death sentence, was that they were Jews and Israelis.  Surely, the least that the IOC can do is to allow their memories to be formally commemorated?

The English Football Association has provided a great example for the IOC in the way that the Hillsborough disaster, and the 96 Liverpool fans killed in 1989, continue to be commemorated.  A minute's silence is held at every football ground across the country on the date that is the anniversary of this tragedy.  This includes grounds which have nothing to do with either of the teams in the game on the day, or the ground where the game was held.  It is a true mark of respect when even those unrelated to the event are able to stand silent for a minute in memory of the victims.  It remains unclear to me why this was not possible at the opening ceremony.

While the memories of those who were killed will never be forgotten by their families and the people of Israel, the time has come for the IOC to memorialise the names as well.  A minute's silence at the opening ceremony is the respectable and respectful way to do this.

Until such time as the victims get the public recognition that they deserve, we can each play our part in ensuring that their memories are not forgotten.  The Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth has written a prayer to commemorate the victims.  This can be found using the following link.  Please do read it, and encourage those around you to do the same.

May the memories of the 11 be for a blessing for their families, and for all Israeli sportsmen and women.