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April 19, 2014 / 19 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Begin’

Egyptian Grand Mufti in Jerusalem

Thursday, April 19th, 2012

Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, a top Egyptian Islamic cleric, came to Jerusalem to show support for Palestinian claims to eastern Jerusalem on Wednesday, breaking a long-standing taboo imposed by Muslim clerics, professional and private organizations against visiting Israel.

Gomaa, who prayed in the Al-Aqsa mosque situated on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, wrote on his Twitter account that he made the trip to show solidarity with the Palestinians, according to a report by the Associated Press.

Despite a 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt under Prime Minister Menachem Begin and President Gamael Abdel Nasser, Egypt and Israel share cold relations.  In September, a mob of several thousand rioters threatened to lynch the diplomatic corps at the Israeli embassy in Cairo, leading to the evacuation of the majority of workers and staff.

The Muslim Brotherhood condemned the visit on Thursday, with Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Mahmoud Ghozian saying “Muslim clerics have taken a position that there is no visiting Jerusalem under continued Israeli occupation.  He violated this opinion of the majority of clerics.  Why, I don’t know.”  Abdel-Akher Hamad, the leader of the fundamentalist Al-Gamaa al-Islamiyya associated Gomaa with the ousted regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and said Gomaa would not enjoy his position for much longer.

Though Gomaa’s position on Israel is unclear, a 2007 report in the Egyptian daily al-Ahram newspaper stated that he considered the famous Jewish blood libel, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, to be a forgery, and took a publisher who falsely put his name on an introduction to its Arabic translation to court.

Gomaa was appointed by Mubarak in 2003 to serve as Egypt’s top religious law authority.

Since the expulsion of Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood influence has increased throughout the country, and with it, a decline in sentiment toward Israel.

Bibi Will Fail, Like Other PMs Who Evicted Jews: Begin, Sharon, Olmert

Thursday, April 5th, 2012

I had just wrapped up a pleasant visit with my good friend Jack from the US. As he pulled away, the beeper beeped, with something of a blood-chilling message: “Police have broken into Machpelah House and are expelling its residents.”

Over the past few days, a number of important politicians had visited Machpelah House, including Ministers Yuli Edelstein, Yisrael Katz, Moshe Kachlon, Deputy Minister Gila Gamliel, and MKs Uri Ariel and Tzippy Hotoveli. And there may be others that I’ve forgotten.

When Barak insisted on expelling the families from the building, others, including Gideon Sa’ar and Limur Livnat, protested publicly.

Last night, as we were conducting a small dedication in Machpelah House, Bibi was meeting with a group of ministers to discuss the “crisis.” Unofficial results consisted of “no decision yet” and “no change in status,” at least until of end of April.

So when the storm-troopers crashed the party early Wednesday afternoon, very few people were home. Most were at their “other homes,” getting ready for Passover. It only took a few minutes for the hundreds of police, border police, soldiers and riot squad to round up a few women and kids, and see them to the door. Quiet, peaceful, almost pastoral. Almost. But not quite. Watching a group of about twenty Border-police women surrounding and escorting a young woman with her two very small children isn’t really tranquility-in-action. Actually, it’s rather sickening.

So what happened? Yesterday Bibi said that we’d have some time to prove our case. And today?

It seems that our Prime Minister, as we get close to the holiday celebrating our exodus from Egypt, decided to dress up as the Pharaoh and to assist with another exodus. This one from Hebron. Of course, his original great great granddaddy tried to keep us in Egypt. His great great grandson, the new version of the Pharaoh, is doing the opposite, which is, expelling us – from our homes, our property, our land.

Good ol’ Bibi is the same Prime Minister whose actions took Hebron into Hell. The decision to split the city, leaving most of Hebron with Arafat, including the hills surrounding the Jewish community, led to massive gunfire directed at us for two and a half years. Leading to the killing of Shalhevet Pass, and to the injuring of others, physically and otherwise. Bibi promised us we’d be safe. He lied.

In the government decision of January, 1997, Bibi promised to assist Hebron, building and developing its Jewish community. He lied.

A day ago, Bibi promised that Machpelah House residents would have a chance to prove that they really own the building. He lied.

A true Pharaoh at heart.

Bibi’s coalition is fairly right-wing. The people in his cabinet certainly lean right. Likud’s MKs, for the most part, certainly lean right. His coalition partners certainly lean right.

Except for one: Ehud Barak. Barak is, for all intents and purposes, partyless. He left Labor, and doesn’t have a spot in the polls. He’s a nothing, a political nobody. Yet he is Defense Minister of the State of Israel, and as such, wields tremendous authority. So much so that his lone opinion outweighs that of Netanyahu’s party, MKs, Ministers and coalition. So if Ehud says…, Bibi does.

What a mighty, powerful Pharaoh!

It’s clear that this is not an isolated incident. It fits, hand–in-hand, with Barak’s plans to expel Jews from Migron, Beit El, and who knows where else. This is just the beginning of the rolling of the snowball, whose true goal is the deletion of all Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria.

Other Prime Ministers have expelled Jews from their homes: Menachem Begin, Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert. What happened to them?

That’s where Pharaoh Bibi is headed. In the same direction. He will fizzle and fail. And Machpelah House, as ensconced in the name (Machpelah means ‘double’), will double, triple and quadruple itself, many times over.

Guaranteed!

Preempt Iran — At All Costs!

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

The discussion about the cost of a pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities is valuable only if intended to advance the attack and neutralize the possible retaliation by Iran and its allies. However, such a discussion is harmful, ignores precedents, plays into Iran’s hands and threatens Israel’s existence, if it reflects hesitancy, skepticism and fatalism, aiming to preclude preemption, and assuming that Israel can co-exist with a nuclear-armed Iran.

On May 12, 1948, the pre-state Israeli Cabinet decided by a vote of six to four to declare independence and include Jerusalem within Israel’s boundaries, despite internal opposition and pressure by the U.S. and despite a terrible price: The U.S. withheld military aid, threatened economic sanctions and surmised that the declaration of independence would result in a second Holocaust, this time at the hands of the Arabs. Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion refused to abide by the American pressure to postpone the declaration of independence by a few years, knowing that such a delay would be tragic in the long run, and that independence exacts a painful price.

On Oct. 5, 1973, the eve of the Yom Kippur War, Prime Minister Golda Meir rejected the option of a pre-emptive strike to repel the clear and present danger of a joint Egyptian-Syrian attack. She was concerned about the cost of such a strike — namely appearing as the aggressor and severely damaging ties with the U.S. — and preferred to be portrayed as the victim. However, the terrible, long-term cost of that war has been far greater than pre-emptive action would have been. As expected, Israel was not viewed as a victim, but rather as a country that lost the “spirit of the Six-Day War,” eroding is own deterrent power, and undermining its position as a strategic asset for the U.S.

In June 1981, on the eve of the destruction of the nuclear reactor in Iraq, then Prime Minister Menachem Begin weighed the cost of a pre-emptive strike versus the cost of inaction. The heads of the Mossad and Military Intelligence, former Defense Minister Ezer Weizman, opposition leader Shimon Peres, Deputy Prime Minister Yigael Yadin, Israel’s national security adviser and the Head of the Atomic Energy Commission all opposed striking Iraq. They presented apocalyptic scenarios that would result from such action: an irreparable rift with the U.S., harsh sanctions, conflict with the Soviet Union and Western Europe, reconciliation between Muslim countries and a pan-Islamic attack, threats to the peace treaty with Egypt and other doomsday events. They underestimated the probability of a successful pre-emptive attack and overestimated Iraq’s military capabilities. Some claimed there was a greater chance of seeing Israeli pilots being dragged through the streets of Baghdad than being welcomed back to their bases. But, Begin decided in favor of a pre-emptive strike, determining that the cost of restraint could be far greater than that of a pre-emptive strike; that a nuclear threat would subordinate Israel both politically and militarily; that a nuclear attack could not be ruled out considering the violent, unpredictable and hateful nature of regimes in the region, and that the ratio of Israeli territory to that of surrounding Arab states (0.2%) did not allow for a Mutual Assured Destruction. Begin understood that the window of opportunity for a strike against Iraq’s nuclear reactor was about to close. The destruction of the reactor drew short-term isolation, which was promptly substituted by a long-term strategic esteem and cooperation.

In 2012, after a decade of failed attempts at engagement and sanctions, and in light of the assistance (in terms of development and acquisition) Iran has received from Pakistan, North Korea, Russia and China for its nuclear program, Israel must decide between launching a pre-emptive attack to eliminate that threat or facing it. Opponents of an attack warn that it could potentially result in a harsh response from Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas, and international anger directed at Israel over higher oil prices, a wave of terror and Persian Gulf turbulence. Yet, these pale in comparison to the lethal cost of a nuclear threat, which includes a withdrawal of overseas and Israeli investors from the country, a record number of Israeli emigrants and a sharp decline of Aliya (Jewish immigration), dwindling tourism, intensification of military-political-economic dependence on the U.S., a more powerful and influential Iranian regime that takes control of the Persian Gulf , and the transformation of Israel from a strategic asset to a strategic liability. Israel would wither without even one nuclear warhead needing to be launched.

The discussion about the cost of a pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities is valuable only if intended to advance the attack and neutralize the possible retaliation by Iran and its allies. However, such a discussion is harmful, ignores precedents, plays into Iran’s hands and threatens Israel’s existence, if it reflects hesitancy, skepticism and fatalism, aiming to preclude preemption, and assuming that Israel can co-exist with a nuclear-armed Iran.

Are Small Parties Good for Democracy?

Thursday, January 26th, 2012

Today, Israel has thirteen officially recognized parties represented in the Knesset, with an unofficial fourteenth party consisting only of Chaim Amsalem, who is officially from Shas. The largest parties in the Knesset are Kadima with 28 seats and Likud with 27 seats. Together the two largest parties own 55 seats, representing just 45 percent of the Knesset.

In the 1981 elections Menachem Begin’s Likud won 48 seats, compared to the Alignment (predecessor of the Labor party) under Shimon Peres, which came in second place with 47. These two parties occupied 95 seats of the Knesset’s 120. With almost eighty percent of the votes cast representing just two parties it was the closest Israel has ever come to a two-party system. In total, ten parties passed the required 1% threshold to win at least a single seat. The third largest party was the National Religious Party with six seats.

The larger parties have been troubled by their shrinking numbers. In addition, having numerous parties represented in Knesset has resulted in difficulties forming coalition governments after elections. Kadima conducted a private poll about electoral reform prior to the 2009 elections and found that most Israelis want electoral reform but disagree on the type. Kadima’s solution was to campaign on electoral reform but not disclose exactly what type of reform that would be.

There have since been many proposals for electoral reform from various parties. The goal of the proposals has typically been to reduce the number of parties and thus facilitate the coalition process. The latest measure presented came from Prime Minister Netanyahu, who established a coalition committee to discuss changing the electoral system. The main reason given for the formation of the committee was that too many small parties are bad for democracy. Netanyahu explained that since the leading party is a minority in its coalition they cannot govern properly, and steps need to be taken to change that. Among the measures being considered are raising the threshold for a party to enter Knesset, currently at 2%, to perhaps as high as 5%, or 6 seats. This would be the third time the threshold would be raised since Israel’s establishment. Eight of the current Knesset’s thirteen parties have 5 or fewer seats.

A recent poll showed that in 2009 55% of Israeli voters in the 18-35 age bracket voted for small parties. While young voters are embracing the smaller parties, those parties will likely need to merge in the event the threshold is raised. But are small parties really bad for democracy, as Netanyahu charged?

The answer lies in how you define democracy. Is Democracy a form of government in which all citizens have a representative say in the decisions that affect their lives or is democracy achieved when only large groups have that say. If you agree with the former, raising the threshold of votes required for a party to enter the Knesset would be undemocratic. According to the latter it would be undemocratic not to raise the threshold.

Thirty years ago Shulamit Aloni entered the Knesset with 1% of the vote as the lone representative of the Ratz party, the predecessor of Meretz, which reached a high of 12 seats in 1992. Since then the threshold has been raised twice. The latest parties to lose out were the Green party, which received 1.5% of the vote, and the Green Leaf party, which received 1.3% of the vote, in the 2006 elections.

A common criticism of Israel’s current style of government is that nothing ever gets done. What it offers, though, is that when something does get done usually a majority of Israelis agree with it. Those who preach electoral reform feel minority groups shouldn’t have such a powerful say in a democracy. Those who oppose it feel the minorities’ representation is what makes Israel a democracy.

Will the system ever be changed? How will the new system work? We don’t know yet. Geographic voting districts could eliminate the smaller parties, but determining how to divide up those districts would raise a whole new set of issues. Electoral reform will continue to be discussed, but I expect only a small increase in the threshold. Smaller parties will probably merge and one day some might surpass the current larger parties. In the meantime, the larger parties should examine why they are losing their voters instead of forcing the smaller parties to merge.

3 Likud Ministers Oppose Likud Bill Authorizing Migron Outpost Community

Sunday, January 15th, 2012

Likud ministers Benny Begin, Michael Eitan, and Dan Meridor staunchly opposed a bill presented at the Likud ministers’ meeting Sunday morning that would legalize outposts in Judea and Samaria.

The proposed bill states that if a land owner in Judea or Samaria fails to take legal action within four years of the moment a home is built on his land, the structure will not be torn down. In such cases, the landowner will receive other forms of compensation.

The three ministers implored Prime Minister Netanyahu to demolish Migron in accordance with the High Court’s ruling.

Fire From The Skies

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

Thirty years ago next week – shortly after 5:30 p.m. on June 7, 1981 – Israeli fighter jets flew undetected through hundreds of miles of Arab air space and rained fire from the skies over Baghdad, laying waste an atomic reactor and depriving a brutish dictator the potential for mass destruction.

“The precision of the bombing,” marveled a French technician who viewed the wreckage, “was stupefying.”

Ze’ev Raz, the mission’s lead pilot, recalled years later in an interview with The Jewish Press that “things happened there that to this day we have no explanation for. For instance, according to all calculations the Iraqi radar systems were supposed to have spotted us at least 15 minutes before the bombing despite the fact that we flew at very low altitude.

“That’s why we had eight and not four F-16 fighters, because we thought for sure the Iraqis would spot us and send several MIGs to try to down us. We thought we would encounter heavy resistance.

“Don’t forget, the Iraqis were threatened by Iran too, so for sure they had their radar system and fighter MIGs on alert. We never thought we would take them by such complete surprise. But they didn’t do a thing.

“Here is another inexplicable thing: King Hussein was vacationing in Aqaba and saw us on our way toward Iraq. He immediately phoned Amman – our intelligence picked up the whole conversation then – and reported it to them. But those idiots ignored it and didn’t do anything . Of course it was a miracle. How is it possible that even after we bombed the reactor not one plane tried to down us?”

Miracle or not, the world was outraged. Voices that had been silent for years, while Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein courted the feckless nations of the West in his quest for nuclear bombs, were suddenly raised in a chorus of indignation:

“We don’t think [Israel's] action serves the cause of peace in the area.” – French Foreign Minister Claude Cheysson, whose country supplied Hussein the ill-fated reactor.

“Provocative, ill timed and internationally illegal.” – U.S. Senator Mark Hatfield.

“Armed attack in such circumstances cannot be justified; it represents a grave breach of international law.” – British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

“Israel’s sneak attack…was an act of inexcusable and shortsighted aggression.” – New York Times editorial.

“[The attack] did severe damage to the hope in which Israel’s true security must lie: the hope of realistic relations with all its neighbors.” – New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis.

“[Israel has] vastly compounded the difficulties of procuring a peaceful settlement of the confrontations in the Middle East.” – Time magazine.

Innocent souls unschooled in the machinations of diplomatic flimflam were no doubt mystified by the uproar.

After all, wasn’t the act of separating a ruthless tyrant from a state-of-the-art nuclear arsenal a good thing?

And wasn’t Saddam Hussein, at the very time of the Israeli attack, a year into his bloody invasion of Iran?

And hadn’t Hussein worked long and hard to earn the nickname “Butcher of Baghdad”?

* * * * *
For Saddam Hussein, procurement of an arsenal that could mean the destruction of Israel was a goal of the highest priority.

Iraq had never been reticent in displaying its animosity toward the Jewish state. When the Arab League organized an “Inter-Arab Command” in the months before Israel’s birth, an Iraqi general was placed in charge, and at the conclusion of the first Arab-Israeli war, Iraq refused to sign an armistice – in stark contrast to the Arab front-line states of Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

More recently, nine Jews had been hanged in Baghdad in 1969 on trumped-up charges of spying for Israel.

Iraq’s interest in nuclear technology dated back to 1959, when the Soviet Union, looking to expand its influence in the region, agreed to provide Baghdad with a reactor, enriched uranium and a team of scientists and engineers. After several delays – the Iraqis accused the Russians of dragging their feet – the reactor finally went operational in 1968.

Though the Soviets upgraded the reactor’s output (from two to five megawatts) three years later, they steadfastly refused to supply the Iraqis with any material that could have been used in the manufacture of nuclear bombs.

Iraq in the early 1970s had come under the de facto control of Saddam Hussein, though officially Hussein was second in command to General Ahmed Hassan-al-Bakr. Described by those who knew him as “power hungry to the point of insanity,” Hussein destroyed his political enemies, in the process raising the practice of torture to an art form. His stated goal was to succeed the late Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser as undisputed leader of the Arab world.

Possession of nuclear weapons was central to Hussein’s ambitions. But since the Soviets had unequivocally rejected the Iraqis’ requests on that score, the search was on for a country more willing to deal. Fortunately for Hussein, his rap sheet of bloodshed and megalomania meant nothing to the French, who loved to make new friends, particularly ones swimming in oil.

In 1974 France’s foreign minister, Michel Jobert, went to Baghdad and pledged any assistance Iraq might need to build up its technological infrastructure.

“I am happy,” Jobert said in a toast to his Iraqi hosts, “that your great country will now have the means to restore its past glory.”

Not to be outdone by Jobert’s groveling, the French prime minister, Jacques Chirac, paid a call on Hussein the following year and proclaimed the Iraqi dictator a “great statesman whose qualities will lead his people toward progress and national prosperity.”

It wasn’t long after Chirac’s visit that France agreed to build a nuclear reactor in Iraq – strictly for research purposes, both sides claimed.

“Research” was, of course, the last thing on Hussein’s mind, and he let it be known he was in the market for a hot cell – a piece of equipment that would enable Iraq to develop weapons-grade plutonium. Italy proved eager to sell Iraq what it needed, and at that stage only the blind or the French could fail to see what Hussein had in mind.

All the while Israel had been keeping a wary eye on Iraq’s nuclear ambitions. When Menachem Begin took office in 1977, he stepped up behind-the-scenes efforts to prevent Iraq from becoming a nuclear threat. The U.S. was Begin’s best hope, but the Carter administration, for all its talk of the need to halt the spread of nuclear weapons, was less than energetic in pursuing the matter.

As Israel’s diplomatic efforts foundered, pressure of a different sort was brought to bear on the Iraqis. In April 1979, just days before the French were scheduled to ship the nearly completed reactor to Iraq, saboteurs infiltrated a warehouse near the port of Toulon and attempted to blow up the reactor’s core. Damage, however, was relatively minimal.

Fourteen months later, the head of Iraq’s nuclear program was killed in his Paris hotel room.

Israeli agents were believed responsible for both incidents.

* * * * *
Sabotage and assassination notwithstanding, work continued as planned on the reactor the French had name Osirak but the Iraqis called Tammuz 1. By the autumn of 1980, Begin had concluded that Israel would have to take direct military action. As his military strategists set to work on a plan to take out the reactor, Begin kept up the diplomatic entreaties, all to no avail. The French insisted that Iraq’s intentions were of a purely peaceful nature.

By early 1981 the only question remaining for Begin was when to launch an attack on the reactor. The operation was postponed on more than one occasion when members of Begin’s cabinet voiced concerns over how the U.S. would react to the attack.

For his part, Begin expected a sharp reaction from Washington, perhaps even a U.S. vote to condemn Israel in the UN. But, he thought, it would all be so much window-dressing. Ronald Reagan had defeated Jimmy Carter the previous November, and Begin regarded President Reagan and his secretary of state, Alexander Haig, as warm friends of Israel.

As winter turned to spring, Begin began bracing himself for a final decision to strike at Iraq. He’d informed Labor party leader Shimon Peres of the plan to bomb the reactor. Peres made clear his opposition to the idea. Begin now knew the operation would bring harsh reaction not only from the outside world but from within Israel as well.

Adding to his uncertainty, Israelis would be heading to the polls in just a few weeks. Begin was locked in an extremely tight race with Peres and feared he would be accused of staging the raid as an election ploy. But he had an even greater fear – one that convinced him of the need to act before the election and a possible Peres victory.

“He really believed that Peres would never have the guts to order the raid,” said a Begin aide. “And Begin couldn’t bear the thought of Israel living in terror of an Iraqi bomb.”

The attack on the Iraqi reactor was set for early May but Begin called it off at literally the last moment when he learned that precise details of the mission had been leaked to Peres. If Peres
knew about it, Begin feared others – and not just in Israel – might have the same information.

* * * * *
Four weeks later, Begin decided he could wait no longer. In the early afternoon hours of Sunday, June 7 – the eve of the festival of Shavuot – Israeli pilots went through one last rehearsal. Shortly after 4 p.m., the planes – eight F-16s and several F-15 interceptors – took off from southern Israel.

The F-16 pilots were Ze’ev Raz, Amos Yadlin, Dobbi Yaffe, Hagai Katz, Amir Nachumi, Iftach Spector, Relik Shafir, and Ilan Ramon (who would go on to become Israel’s first astronaut, only to perish in the Columbia space shuttle disaster in 2003).

Begin summoned his cabinet to his home in Jerusalem. “Welcome, my friends,” he greeted the assembled group. “At this very moment our planes are approaching Baghdad.”

Not long afterward, Begin received the message he’d been anxiously awaiting.Thereactor had been destroyed and the pilots were on their way home.

Baruch Hashem,” Begin exclaimed. “What wonderful boys we have.”

In Israel, news of the raid set off an atmosphere of euphoria not felt since the 1976 Entebbe rescue. As expected, the Labor opposition was highly critical of the operation and its timing, but the criticism was quickly toned down once Peres and his colleagues realized how out of sync they were with the mood in the street.

The U.S. reacted much the way Begin thought it would. The Reagan administration voted to condemn Israel in the UN, and several F-16s scheduled for shipment to Israel were held back a few weeks. At the same time, President Reagan called Begin to assure him of his continued support.

“Technically,” Reagan would write years later, “Israel had violated an agreement not to use U.S.-made weapons for offensive purposes, and some cabinet members wanted me to lean hard on Israel because it had broken this pledge … but I sympathized with Begin’s motivations and privately believed we should give him the benefit of the doubt.”

Begin survived the international firestorm of criticism and went on to win reelection. His defense of the raid was blunt and emotional.

“The Iraqis were preparing atomic bombs to drop on the children of Israel,” he told a gathering of foreign correspondents in Jerusalem several days after the attack.

“Haven’t you heard of one-and-a-half million little Jewish children who were thrown into the gas chambers? Another Holocaust would have happened in the history of the Jewish people.

“Never again, never again. Tell your friends, tell anybody you meet, we shall defend our people with all the means at our disposal.”

Many of Begin’s Israeli critics would admit to having second thoughts in the weeks and months following the raid.

“Up to this point in time, the fact is that I was not right,” conceded Labor’s Mordechai Gur.

“It was a triumph, no diplomatic harm was caused and Israeli deterrence was reinforced,” said Abba Eban.

Moshe Dayan may have put it best: “Not one Arab would shed a tear were Israel to vanish off the face of the map…. To me, the raid was a positive action. Iraq was producing nuclear weapons against Israel, and we were obliged to defend ourselves.”

It took the rest of the world a little more time to come to grips with Saddam Hussein, but few illusions remained by the time Iraq invaded Kuwait in the summer of 1990.

In 1981 the Soviet Union had characterized the attack on Saddam’s reactor as “an act of gangsterism”; nine years later the Soviet chief of staff called it understandable.

In the fall of 1990, as an American-led coalition prepared for war with Iraq, U.S. defense secretary Dick Cheney publicly thanked Israel for its action.

* * * * *

In his 2007 interview with The Jewish Press, Ze’ev Raz looked back on the raid he led:

The General Staff originally wanted us to carry out the bombing after sunset so it would be harder for the Iraqis to attack us on the way back. But I was opposed to that. I thought if we did the bombing after sunset there wouldn’t be enough light and our planes would miss their target – so I insisted that the bombing take place before sunset.

As a result, we flew back as the sun was setting. But since the planes were traveling at such a fast speed, the sun was out all the time and never set. It was as though it remained standing in the middle of the horizon.

At that time we pilots all radioed each other reciting the same exact biblical verse – Joshua 10:12: “Sun, stand still over Gibeon, and moon, over the Valley of Ayalon.”

You know, as I am recalling this now I am getting goose bumps.

Tales Of Begin (And Other Prime Ministers): A Conversation with Ambassador Yehuda Avner

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

Political intrigue. Backroom discussions. Revealing portraits. These and more fill the pages of a new memoir by Ambassador Yehuda Avner, The Prime Ministers: An Intimate Narrative of Israeli Leadership (Toby Press). Hailed as the “ultimate insider’s account,” this 731-page book reveals hitherto unknown stories based on recollections and notes Avner took while working for four different Israeli prime ministers.

Avner served as an adviser and English speechwriter to Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir, Yitzhak Rabin, and Menachem Begin, and later as Israel’s ambassador to Great Britain, Ireland, and Australia.

This month he heads to the United States for a book tour.

The Jewish Press: You write in the book that Menachem Begin was “the most exceptional” of the various prime ministers you worked for. How so?

Avner: I’m an observant Jew. Eshkol, Meir, and Rabin were total secularists. So it was tremendously refreshing after 20 years of working with these others to suddenly find myself in the proximity of a man – Begin – who was a quintessential Jew. I don’t say he was totally observant at home, but certainlyb’farhesia, outside, he was very strict, and he understood me and I understood him – it was intuitive.

The first Friday after Begin entered office, I received a phone call from a bachur at the Chevron Yeshiva – his name was Herzog, although I don’t think he was any relation to the famous Herzog family – who said he wanted to come to the prime minister’s residence to check the mezuzot. I, having been almost conditioned by working with the other agnostic prime ministers, was taken by surprise and said I didn’t know whether the prime minister would want someone to check his mezuzot. So I said, “Leave me your telephone number.” Then I went in to say “Shabbat shalom” to Begin and told him [about Herzog's offer]. He said, “Oh, zeh chashuv, it’s important, let him come and check.”

So Herzog came, took off the mezuzah, checked it, and found that it was passul. Begin then took the klaf that Herzog had brought with him and affixed the mezuzah himself, making the berachah, b’shem malchut, by heart. I was looking around for cameras, because politicians do things to make an impression on the public, but [there were none].

Wasn’t Begin the first prime minister who asked for kosher food when traveling?

He was the first to insist that all public dinners abroad be kosher l’mehadrin. At Begin’s first meeting at the White House, Jimmy Carter himself made an announcement and said, “This is a truly historic occasion. For the first time in the history of the White House, a dinner is being served that is totally kosher under the supervision of rabbis.”

What would Begin say concerning Israel’s political situation were he alive today?

He would never say, “two-state solution.” He would say “hamoledet, the homeland, the sacred homeland” – that its territory must be untouched and there can be no compromises. So he would sharply differ with Bibi Netanyahu’s present approach.

But many people blame Begin for being the first to accept the notion of “land for peace,” by signing the Camp David accords in 1978.

I think that is a gross misreading of the truth. The peace treaty with Egypt in Begin’s view was of momentous strategic importance because Egypt is the largest and most powerful and influential of all the Arab countries. There never was a war against us – and I’m quoting Begin now – which Egypt did not launch and there never was a war that ended without Egypt being the first to pull out. In other words, the key to war and peace of all the Arab states against Israel was always Egypt. And he was determined to break that cycle, and the fact is that he did make peace with Egypt and that cycle has been broken.

But “land for peace” is now applied to the West Bank as well.

Begin was an ardent follower of Ze’ev Jabotinsky and his philosophy, and Jabotinsky had too much respect for the Arabs to believe that they would ever accommodate themselves to living in peace with Zionism and a Jewish state. So it was he who conceived the idea of giving autonomy to the Palestinian Arabs.

What to do, though, when those Arabs abuse their autonomy and attempt to eradicate the people who gave it to them?

I cannot answer that question. I’m not indulging it because I don’t know.

Today, “transfer” is a dirty word, but in the first half of the 20th century, transferring Arabs out of Palestine was favored by such personalities as Presidents Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt. Did Begin or any of the other prime ministers you worked for ever consider transferring the Arabs out of the West Bank?

Never.

You spend five pages in The Prime Ministers talking about the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Why?

Because the Lubavitcher Rebbe was very important to Begin. They were very good friends. Begin was no Lubavitcher – he came from Brisk – but over the years they had established a very close friendship. He had tremendous admiration for the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

I understand that relations between the two cooled after Camp David. Is that true?

There are relations which are eternal and there are opinions which can differ. The Lubavitcher Rebbe considered Camp David a mistake. I sat with him for over five hours going over the material at Begin’s request, document by document. He thought it was a strategic mistake to return the whole Sinai and dismantle the settlements. He was categorical on this, but Begin had a different view and I communicated Begin’s view.

Begin, incidentally, also had a very close relationship with Reb Moshe Feinstein that went back over many years.

Begin resigned as prime minister in 1983 and went into virtual seclusion until his death in 1992. Do you have any insight as to why?

I don’t pretend to have a full answer to that question. I don’t think anybody has a full answer. The closest I can get to it is that he’d lost his life’s partner, his wife, who had been with him through thick and thin. Then there were the casualties of the first Lebanon War which pained him deeply. Then there was the fact that he’d had two heart attacks, a minor stroke, and had broken his hip. He also had differences of opinions with Ronald Reagan when he was president. I think he just got to the end of his strength. His words to the cabinet when he resigned were, “Eini yachol yoteir, I just can’t go on.”

You have an interesting story in the book about eating kosher food at the White House while working for Yitzhak Rabin.

Yes. President Ford made a dinner for Rabin in the White House with about 200 of the Who’s Who of Washington. Because I was in the White House so often, I had gotten to know the White House housekeeper very well. Her name was Mary Lou. She knew about my kosher needs and always made sure I had a vegetarian dish.

On this particular occasion, everybody was eating roast pheasant with roast potatoes and decorative garnished beans while my place setting was empty. They had misspelled my name – instead of “Yehuda Avner,” my place card read “Yeduha Avner” – and I thought that might be the reason I had not yet received my dish. Now, on my right was Barbara Walters and on my left was the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Brown. At one point, General Brown leaned over to mark my name and said to me, “Yeduha, you’re not eating with us tonight?”

Whereupon a butler stepped forward and placed before me an extravaganza of color that consisted of a base of lettuce, on top of that a mound of diced fruit, on top of that a blob of cottage cheese, and on top of that a swish of whipped cream, so that the whole thingamajig stood about a foot high. Compared to everybody else’s deep ground roasted pheasant it sparkled like a firework, and Barbara Walters began to applaud. This caught the attention of the president, and he half rose to see what was happening. He then whispered something into Rabin’s ear and Rabin whispered something back into his ear, and then the president stood up and called out to me, “Happy birthday, young fella!” That got the whole hall standing on its feet singing, “Happy birthday, dear Yeduha.”

In the ballroom after dinner I asked Rabin, “Why on earth did you tell the president it was my birthday?” and in all seriousness he shot back and said, “What? I should have told him the truth and tomorrow will be a headline in the Israeli newspapers that you ate kosher and I didn’t and the religious parties will bolt the coalition and I’ll have a government crisis on my hands? Ani meshuga?” Those were his very words.

[Immediately after, Rabin faced a personal crisis as] President Ford swept Leah Rabin onto the brightly lit ballroom floor and waltzed her around to general applause, while First Lady Betty Ford flashed a smile at Rabin, awaiting his invitation to follow suit. With nowhere to run he grimly made his way toward Mrs. Ford and croaked, “Please forgive me, I can’t [dance].”

“Can’t dance?” The woman seemed astounded, as if she had never heard of such a thing. “Not a step,” blushed the prime minister. “I’ll be treading on your toes all the while. I’ve tried it before. I’m no good at it.”

“Have no fear, Mr. Prime Minister,” chortled a buoyant Mrs. Ford, taking him by the hand and leading him onto the ballroom floor. “When I was younger I used to teach dance, and I protected my toes from men far less skillful than you. Now this is how you do it .” and she rotated the crimson-faced premier around and around, he staring fixedly at the first lady’s toes until [Henry] Kissinger tapped him on the shoulder, and said in deadly seriousness, “Yitzhak, give up while you’re ahead. Mrs. Ford, may I have this dance?”

“By all means,” she said, letting go of Rabin, who tottered toward his chuckling staffers, muttering, “If Henry Kissinger does nothing else for Israel but save me from that embarrassment I shall be forever in his debt.”

Why Not the Worst? Recalling the Carter Presidency

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

Next week marks the 32nd anniversary of Anwar Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem, an event that set into motion a process that would result, nearly a year and a half later, in the signing of a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.

It’s been a cold peace, to be sure, but contrary to widespread fears at the time, it’s held up for a full three decades now. In its first 25 years of existence Israel fought four wars (five, if one counts the 1968-70 War of Attrition) with Egypt – but none since Sadat first began signaling his desire for a negotiated settlement.

It’s inevitable that the role of former president Jimmy Carter comes up whenever the discussion turns to Sadat’s visit and the Camp David talks that eventually ensued.

Carter spent much time and political capital as an intermediary between Sadat and Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin, and when an accord was finally signed in Washington in March 1979, a beaming Carter took center stage with Sadat and Begin.

But the fact remains that Carter’s involvement was nothing so much as an accident of history. The president of the United States – any president of the United States – is the only individual in the world with the power and prestige to broker a peace deal between two countries within the sphere of American influence and assistance.

And Carter had a much different (and potentially incendiary) approach in mind to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict. It was Sadat’s distress at Carter’s emerging Middle East policy that pushed the Egyptian president to make his journey to Jerusalem – a move that forced an initially recalcitrant Carter to scrap his plan to include the Soviet Union as a full partner in a new round of Mideast negotiations.

It was with no apparent sense of irony that Jimmy Carter’s 1976 campaign autobiography was titled Why Not The Best? That very question would come up with increasing frequency in the years after Carter’s election, only then it was being asked not as a rhetorical device to sell books but by Americans who refused to believe that this ineffectual, uninspiring milquetoast was the best a great nation could do.

For those with eyes to see, there were hints during the 1976 campaign of the trouble to come.

* Early that year, Harper’s magazine published “Jimmy Carter’s Pathetic Lies,’ a detailed expos? of Carter’s record in Georgia by a then little-known journalist named Steven Brill.

The rest of the media yawned.

* Reg Murphy, the respected veteran newspaperman who as editor of the Atlanta Constitution had kept a close eye on Carter’s rise in state politics, declared that “Jimmy Carter is one of the three or four phoniest men I ever met.’

Nobody listened.

* Several prominent evangelical leaders questioned the authenticity of Carter’s vaunted “born again’ religious experience in light of his positions on key social issues and his vocal admiration for the work of liberal theologians – somewhat analogous to a Jew proclaiming himself Orthodox while quoting almost exclusively from the teachings of Reform rabbis.

The glaring inconsistency was all but ignored.

* A young speechwriter named Bob Shrum, who would later emerge as a leading Democratic strategist, quit the Carter campaign after just a few weeks, disgusted with what he described as Carter’s penchant for fudging the truth. He also related that Carter, convinced the Jewish vote in the Democratic primaries would go to Senator Henry (“Scoop’) Jackson, had instructed his staff not to issue any more statements on the Middle East. According to Shrum, Carter’s words were, “Jackson has all the Jews anyway. We get the Christians.’

Did anybody care about all this? Certainly not Jews, who come November would vote for Carter by a margin of 71-27 percent.

And so it came to pass that in that bicentennial summer of 1976, Americans were giving a previously unknown state senator and governor from Georgia a 30-point lead over the incumbent president, Gerald Ford, in all the public opinion polls.

Traumatized by Vietnam, Watergate, and what they perceived to be the relentless unraveling of the nation’s social fabric, voters responded to Carter’s basic campaign pitch, a treacly line of empty drivel almost embarrassing to recall today, but apparently beguiling to otherwise rational people 33 years ago:

“If we could just have,” Carter bleated in speech after speech, his Southern-fried cadences rising into the ether, “a government as good and as honest and as decent and as competent and as compassionate and as filled with love as are the American people, that would be a wonderful thing.”

He would invariably end each therapy session/campaign appearance by promising to never, ever lie to the American people.

But the act eventually started to wear thin, and Carter’s poll numbers in September and October fell like so many autumn leaves. Evidently, a significant number of Americans were having second thoughts about replacing a president who had done a relatively decent job with a candidate who offered little more than a toothpaste smile and a pocketful of promises.

Carter’s margin of victory on election day was barely more than two percentage points, and pollsters speculated that the results probably would have been reversed had the election taken place just two days later, so strong was Ford’s momentum the last week of the campaign.

Despite the populist touches he experimented with early on in his presidency – addressing the nation while outfitted in a cardigan sweater, doing a radio call-in show with CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite – Carter failed to make a strong impression with the public. His popularity rating remained high for his first 100-plus days in office (the usual “honeymoon” period for new presidents), but by summer’s end he was already being viewed as a disappointment.

And no one was more disappointed than those Jews who had voted for Carter thinking he’d be better for Israel than Gerald Ford.

From the vantage point of 2009, it is difficult to convey just how shocking it was three decades ago to hear an American president call for a “homeland’ for the Palestinians.

That is precisely what Carter did in a series of statements between March and May of 1977, the first of which he delivered shortly after a visit to Washington by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

The reaction of Israeli officials and American Jewish leaders to Carter’s pro-Palestinian declaration was one of outrage and betrayal. Carter did some backpedaling in the weeks that followed, going so far as to declare that he would “rather commit political suicide than hurt Israel,” but permanent damage had been done to his relationship with the Jewish community.

Meanwhile, a political earthquake shook Israel in May as the Labor party, which had ruled the country for its first 29 years of existence, was voted out of power and replaced by the consummate outsider in Israeli politics, the former leader of the pre-state underground Irgun, Menachem Begin.

Relations between Carter and Begin were tense from the moment the two first met at the White House in July. But it was two months later, during another high-level visit to Washington by Israeli officials, that the animosity of the Carter administration really began to make itself felt.

Moshe Dayan, whom Begin had appointed foreign minister as a gesture of reconciliation to his Labor party foes, captured the atmosphere of those talks (which he called “ugly”) in Breakthrough, his surprisingly frank account of that period:

“You are more stubborn than the Arabs, and you put obstacles on the path to peace,” Carter berated Dayan, setting the tone for what became a full-scale anti-Israel barrage by both the president and his vice president, Walter Mondale.

“Our talk lasted more than an hour and was most unpleasant,” wrote Dayan. “President Carter … and even more so Mondale, launched charge after charge against Israel.

Mondale, wrote Dayan, could not control himself: “Whenever the president showed signs of calming down and holding an even-tempered dialogue, Mondale jumped in with fresh complaints which disrupted the talk.”

By the end of his first year in office, Carter was piling up mistakes and blunders at a startling pace. Former British prime minister Harold Macmillan echoed the view of many, abroad and at home, when he described the Carter administration as “the weakest American administration in my lifetime.”

Standing out among Carter’s flubs was his decision to issue a joint statement on the Middle East with the Soviet Union. This totally unexpected document, released on October 1, 1977, marked the first time the U.S. officially employed the phrase “legitimate rights of the Palestinian people.”

The communiqu? also recommended the conveying of an Arab-Israel peace conference in Geneva, with the participation of Palestinian representatives and with the Americans and the Soviets acting as joint guarantors of any agreement that might be reached.

Reaction in the U.S. was immediate – and furious. “[A] political firestorm erupted,” wrote Middle East expert Steven Spiegel. “After American officials had worked successfully for years to reduce Russian influence over the Mideast peace process and in the area as whole, critics could not understand why the administration had suddenly invited Moscow to return.”

If there was anyone more incensed at Carter than the Israelis and most American lawmakers, it was Anwar Sadat. It had been just five years since the Egyptian leader stunned the world by unceremoniously expelling thousands of Soviet military advisers and their families from Egypt, his most concrete signal to date of his desire to align his country with the West.

Sadat, who neither liked nor trusted the Russians, had taken a considerable risk by breaking with them so dramatically, and here were the Americans blithely escorting them back into the picture.

And so Sadat decided to kill the U.S.-Soviet initiative in the womb. Several months earlier, Menachem Begin, newly installed as Israeli prime minister, had asked Morocco’s King Hassan to convey information to Sadat of a Libyan-backed plot to overthrow the Egyptian government.

The grateful Egyptian president, who had been mulling some sort of dramatic gesture to signal his readiness to talk peace, was now convinced he could do business with Begin. Carter’s invitation to the Soviets was the impetus he needed.

The announcement that Sadat would go to Jerusalem and speak to the Knesset electrified the world – and caught the Americans completely off guard.

Eventually, of course, the U.S. would broker what became known as the Camp David accords and oversee the signing of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. But Carter had been blindsided by Sadat, with the compliance of Begin, in response to the American president’s inexplicable decision to involve the Soviets in the peace process.

And Carter was far from a dispassionate third party; his disdain for Begin and near hero-worship of Sadat was clearly reflected in his demeanor. He continually browbeat Begin throughout the Camp David summit and the eight months of diplomacy that followed, while White House aides fed stories to the press of the Israeli prime minister’s alleged intransigence.

Carter, whose approval ratings at the end of his presidency were lower even than those of Richard Nixon at the height of Watergate, was humiliated in the election of 1980, managing to win just six states against his Republican challenger, Ronald Reagan. Jewish support for Carter had fallen from 71 percent in 1976 to 45 percent four years later.

Americans had just plain had enough of the runaway inflation and interest rates that characterized the Carter era, and of the country’s loss of respect abroad, epitomized by the ordeal of the American hostages in Iran.

Rather than retire into well-deserve obscurity, Carter launched a new career as Public Nuisance. The liver-lipped scold interjected himself into foreign policy debates, traveling from one international hot spot to another, usually without the blessings of the State Department and against the wishes of whoever the president was at the time.

Closest to his heart was the cause of the Palestinians. In The Unfinished Presidency, his book about Carter’s activities after leaving the White House, historian Douglas Brinkley devoted considerable space to the ex-president’s obsessive efforts to help Yasir Arafat polish his image.

Carter, according to Brinkley, regularly advised Arafat on how to manipulate the media and shape his message for Western journalists.

After meeting Arafat for the first time, in 1990, Carter returned to Georgia and, wrote Brinkley, “drafted on his home computer the strategy and wording for a generic speech Arafat was to deliver soon for Western ears.”

Carter unabashedly supported the Palestinian intifada, or uprising, that began in 1987. “He view[ed] the unarmed young Palestinians who stood up against thousands of Israel soldiers as ‘instant heroes,’ ” wrote Brinkley. “Buoyed by the intifada, Carter passed on to the Palestinians, through Arafat, his congratulations.”

If anything, Carter’s animosity toward Israel has only increased with time. His numerous anti-Israel op-ed articles, speeches and books, and the glaring fact that his Carter Center is heavily funded by Arab nations and interests, have made it impossible for even many former supporters to defend him.

All one needs to know about Carter’s views and attitudes was conveyed years ago by two generally reliable sources.

In his 1984 bestseller Mayor, former New York City mayor Ed Koch recounted a conversation he had shortly before the 1980 election with Cyrus Vance, who had resigned earlier that year as Carter’s secretary of state. Koch told Vance that many Jews would not be voting for Carter because they feared “that if he is reelected he will sell them out.”

“Vance,” recorded Koch, “nodded and said, ‘He will.’ “

In Dangerous Liaison, their 1991 book on the covert side of the U.S.-Israel relationship, Andrew and Leslie Cockburn reported that at a meeting in March 1980 with some of his senior political advisers, an irritated Carter, discussing his fading reelection prospects and his unpopularity in the Jewish community, snapped, “If I get back in, I’m going to [expletive deleted] the Jews.”

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/front-page/why-not-the-worst-recalling-the-carter-presidency-2/2009/11/11/

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