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April 17, 2014 / 17 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Red Sea’

J.E. Dyer: Strategic Ambiguity Watch – The Maritime Version

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

No sooner do we establish that (a) Iran wants strategic ambiguity, and (b) Iran’s got it, than we see a fresh round of strategic ambiguity busting out.  Strategic ambiguity looks to be the gift that will keep on giving.

You might think the big news from the last 24 hours would be the report that Iran declined to load a Greek tanker with oil for Greek refineries, thus sparking concerns that the Iranians will cut off oil to hard-pressed Greece entirely.  Tehran has already officially stopped deliveries to France and the UK.  The Europeans are worried that a cut in Iranian oil could sink any hope of a recovery for the Greeks – and that Iran might threaten to extend the embargo to Italy, which also depends on Iranian oil.

In the wake of this report, the Iranian government hastened to announce that it hasn’t cut off shipments to Greece.  So it isn’t clear what’s going on, and strategic ambiguity can check another item off the to-do list.   Gasoline has surged to about $8.10 a gallon in the UK (not yet the $9.00 a gallon being trumpeted by Iranian media), so – check, check!

But that’s not really the big news.  The big news is that the Iranian parliament is working on legislation that would require foreign warships to obtain permission from Iran to pass through the Strait of Hormuz.  How could Iran enforce such a requirement?  Well, that’s exactly the fun of strategic ambiguity.   Maybe they’ll try, and maybe they won’t.  As the Iranians say, ‘it will depend on us.’

Apart from a last-ditch resort to something like mining the Strait of Hormuz (SOH), the most likely Iranian approach would be to take advantage of an incident in the SOH, or even create one, to justify cranking up Iranian oversight of “safety and security” by half a notch or so.  A diplomatic win on that exploratory probe could be leveraged to increase Iran’s effective control incrementally – unless each new measure was directly challenged.  If the US were unwilling to do the challenging, strategic ambiguity would be a lot more fun for Iran than for the rest of us.

You do need a quiescent partner on the other side of the Strait for an oblique approach of this kind.  And sure enough, besides conducting a naval exercise in the Strait of Hormuz (SOH) in mid-February, Iran concluded a new naval cooperation agreement with Oman on the 12th, and plans to conduct a joint naval exercise with Oman in March.  Earlier in February, moreover, the Iranian navy’s commander stated that the Iranian naval task force in the Red Sea would visit the port of Salalah, Oman in March.  That would be a first since the 1979 revolution, and would put the Iranian navy in the company of all the other global navies in the region (including the US Navy), which visit the major port of Salalah on a regular basis.  Iran is establishing a new naval posture as we speak.

The new Iranian naval posture extends its strategic ambiguity to Saudi Arabia.  During the Iranian task force’s triumphal sideswipe at Syria – where the ships reportedly entered port, although the Pentagon “has no evidence of it” (see my comment at this link for a summary of data points on the question) – an Iranian parliamentarian announced that Iran was displaying her naval power in the region, as a warning and a portent.  The ships had stopped in Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea port of Jeddah on the way to the Mediterranean, so this saber-rattling didn’t sit well with the Saudis.

Therefore, the Saudi ministry of defense has just issued a statement clarifying the basis on which it authorized the Iranian warships to visit Jeddah.  And the salient point is that Saudi Arabia wasn’t down for the “naval warning” business.  The Saudis understood they were agreeing to a port visit for ships on a training cruise.

In general, the Saudis are feeling squeezed by Iran; a Die Welt report from 15 February, summarized at the al-Akhbar website on the 21st, indicated that Riyadh sponsored a Gulf States  meeting in January to discuss Iran’s continued arms sales to Hezbollah.  The Saudis didn’t openly disclose anything we don’t already know about the Iranian smuggling routes, but apparently they excluded Qatar from the meeting, because they don’t consider the emirate “reliable on issues related to Iran.”

Meanwhile, down south of the Saudi border, Iran continues to supply the Houthi rebels in Yemen – a Shia group that operates as a scourge of Riyadh as well as Sana’a.  On 15 February, Yemeni authorities reported intercepting another ship from Iran carrying heavy weapons for the Houthis.  It is accepted fact in the Arabian Peninsula that Iran’s paramilitary operates from islands in the southern Red Sea, supporting activities in both Yemen and Eritrea.  In a recently translated al-Arabiya interview from June 2011, a Kuwaiti professor stated that Iran leases three islands from Eritrea and uses them for military training.

The Supernatural Miracle

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

In September 2010, BBC, Reuters and other news agencies reported on a sensational scientific discovery. Researchers at the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research and the University of Colorado showed through computer simulation how the division of the Red Sea might have taken place.

By sophisticated modeling, they demonstrated how a strong east wind, blowing overnight, could have pushed water back at a bend where an ancient river is believed to have merged with a coastal lagoon. Sixty-three mph winds from the east could have pushed the water back at an ancient river bend. The water would have been pushed back into the two waterways, and a land bridge would have opened at the bend, allowing people to walk across the exposed mud flats. As soon as the wind died down, the waters would have rushed back in. As the leader of the project said when the report was published: “The simulations match fairly closely with the account in Exodus.”

So we now have scientific evidence to support the biblical account, though to be fair, a very similar case was made some years ago by Colin Humphreys, professor of Materials Science at Cambridge University and professor of Experimental Physics at the Royal Institution in London, in his book, The Miracles of Exodus.

To me, though, the real issue is what the biblical account actually is, because it is just here that we have one of the most fascinating features of the way the Torah tells its stories. Here is the key passage: “Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left” (Exodus 14:21-22).

The passage can be read two ways. The first is that what happened was a suspension of the laws of nature. It was a supernatural event. The waters stood, literally, like a wall.

The second is that what happened was miraculous, not because the laws of nature were suspended. To the contrary, as the computer simulation shows, the exposure of dry land at a particular point in the Red Sea was a natural outcome of the strong east wind. What made it miraculous is that it happened just there, just then, when the Israelites seemed trapped, unable to go forward because of the sea, unable to turn back because the Egyptian army was pursuing them.

There is a significant difference between these two interpretations. The first appeals to our sense of wonder. How extraordinary that the laws of nature should be suspended to allow an escaping people to go free. It is a story to appeal to the imagination of a child.

But the naturalistic explanation is wondrous at another level entirely. Here the Torah is using the device of irony. What made the Egyptians of the time of Ramses so formidable was the fact that they possessed the latest and most powerful form of military technology: the horse-drawn chariot. It made them unbeatable and fearsome in battle.

What happens at the sea is poetic justice of the most exquisite kind. There is only one circumstance in which a group of people traveling by foot can escape a highly trained army of charioteers, namely when the route passes through a muddy seabed. The people can walk across, but the chariot wheels get stuck in the mud. The Egyptian army can neither advance nor retreat. The wind drops, and the water returns. The powerful are now powerless, while the powerless have made their way to freedom.

This second narrative has a moral depth that the first does not – and it resonates with the message of the book of Psalms: “His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor his delight in the legs of the warrior; the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love” (Psalms 147:10-11).

The elegantly simple way in which the division of the red sea is described in the Torah is such so that it can be read at two quite different levels – one as a supernatural miracle, the other as a moral tale about the limits of technology when it comes to the real strength of nations. That, to me, is what is most striking. It is a text quite deliberately written so that our understanding of it can deepen as we mature, and we are no longer so interested in the mechanics of miracles, but rather more interested in how freedom is won or lost.

So while it’s good to know how the division of the sea happened, there remains a depth to the biblical story that can never be exhausted by computer simulations and other historical or scientific evidence. It depends instead on being sensitive to its deliberate and delicate ambiguity. Just as ruach, a physical wind, can part waters and expose land beneath, so ruach, the human spirit, can expose, beneath the surface of a story, a deeper meaning beneath.

Rain In Biblical Art

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

One of the most iconic works of art I have ever seen is Japanese painter and printmaker Katsushika Hokusai’s c. 1831-1834 Cresting Wave Off the Coast of Kanagawa. The woodcut—which has held up remarkably well even as it has become an object of kitsch, plastered all over t-shirts, mugs, and posters—depicts an enormous wave (a tsunami perhaps) about to engulf a boat. The wave and foam are rendered in such a stylized manner that they resemble snow and icicles. And in the background, one can just make out the mountain.

Katsushika Hokusai. “Cresting Wave Off the Coast of Kanagawa,” or “The Great Wave,” from the series 36 Views of Mt. Fuji. Color Woodcut. C. 1831-1834.

A short essay on the website of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (under the banner, “Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History”), which refers to the print’s “sheer graphic beauty,” notes the unusual perspective, where the wave dwarfs the mountain. “Hokusai characteristically cast a traditional theme in a novel interpretation,” the timeline states. “In the traditional meisho-e (scene of a famous place), Mount Fuji was always the focus of the composition. Hokusai inventively inverted this formula and positioned a small Mount Fuji within the midst of a thundering seascape.”

Hokusai’s print often pops up in my mind around the holiday of Sukkot, when the prayer over rain (Tefilat Geshem) is recited at the end of the holiday. The prayer, which addresses the angel Af-Bri, who is appointed over the rainclouds, comes to a crescendo in the statements: “For a blessing and not for a curse! For life and not death! For plenty and not dearth!” Therein lies the dual nature of water. It is simultaneously the bearer of all life, and a force that can—and recently has—destroyed in unprecedented ways.

John Martin. “Noah Giving Thanks After the Flood.” Oil on canvas. C. 1840. Art Institute of Chicago.

Perhaps the greatest biblical example of the destructive power of water is from the original Flood. English painter John Martin’s Noah Giving Thanks After the Flood shows Noah’s sacrifice in front of a rainbow – the symbol that divine retribution would never again take the form of a flood – that emanates from the ark and calm waters. A waterfall, the symbol of the receding floodwaters, dominates the foreground, while in the background, receding storm clouds dissipate. Martin’s decision to juxtapose the stormy and calm waters underscores how quickly peaceful water can become a nightmare, and how, with Divine help, it can again become harmless.

The Schoken Bible, published in Germany in the 14th century, also juxtaposes good and bad waters. On the bottom of the frontpiece for the book of Genesis, depictions of the parting of the Red Sea and the drowning Egyptians appear on the end of a row of illustrations and the beginning of the next row respectively. As Moshe waves his staff at the Red Sea, two other men—stand-ins for the rest of the Israelites—follow behind him with their hands on his shoulders, hora style. In the next circular frame, the Jews have safely passed through the dry path in the ocean, and the waters have come crashing in on the Egyptians. The Egyptian soldiers drown in the ocean with their feet up in the air. The same waters which proved saviors to some were the undoing of others.

Crossing of the Red Sea. Rylands Haggadah, 14th century.

Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities – 4/15/11

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

Dear Readers,

The Gemara declares the art of matchmaking to be as complex as krias Yam Suf – the splitting of the Red Sea. According to the interpretation of the Divrei Chaim (the Sanzer Rav zt”l), the word kasha (difficult) can be understood as hekesh (comparison or connection) — thereby the comparison of Hashem’s wonders at krias Yam Suf with His miracles in the pairing of zivugim.

The Divrei Yoel (the Satmar Rebbe zt”l) held that it is all in the timing. The sea received its divine instructions to split at a certain point in time, way back when the world was first created. Though to human perception the sea appeared to be reluctant to split, it actually waited for the right moment to dawn, and when that moment came the sea parted seamlessly. So it is with zivugim — when the right time comes, the seemingly difficult and impossible fall smoothly into place.

Below, one young reader shares her story of how she arrived at that sublime moment in her own life.

 

My Story

Part 1

Many of us girls have much in common, going through “rough” patches before finding the “one.” But even those trying times are all meant to be.

Here I was in my mid-twenties, self-confident and an independent thinker, and yet I lost myself for a while. For about a year and a half I found myself stuck on a certain fellow. I was a bundle of nerves for most of that time. Why? Why would anyone like me lose herself over a guy?

What was it about him? Why did I let him take over my life? I can think of a few reasons, but you might say, “What kind of reasons are those to let someone almost ruin your life?” Well, I thought that he was what I was looking for, so I just ran after it. He was charming, good-looking and kindhearted. He was also a number of years older than me and had been on the dating scene for quite some time.

We became acquainted by chance and were simply “friends” for a while. During that time, I had sympathy for the girls he dated because I knew that each was just another of his conquests. He would get bored with them or not feel attracted to them anymore, and dump them. I kind of felt bad for him, too, wondering if he would ever find true love.

He always seemed to have the upper hand in our relationship, and the ball seemed to always be in his court. It bothered me tremendously that it was I who needed to run after him. It was a game, and I disliked playing it intensely. The few times I would find the ball in my court were brief; he always managed to retrieve it by finding yet another girl to date.

I was a strong woman and never let my pain show. He always knew to tell me, “There’s nothing between us.” Oh, how it hurt! And, still, I kept falling back into his trap. Like all girls, I love being complimented, and he knew it…

Ironically, I had a few friends in similar situations and it was I who would talk them out of it, support them, and eventually they would get out of that bad relationship. It was I who would say, “If he isn’t running after you, it won’t work.” There are exceptions to the rule, of course. But, let me tell you something, girls: if you’re running after him and texting him after he didn’t answer you for two hours, GET OUT! It’s not worth making yourselves miserable. There will be another someone waiting for you, and he will love you without all the game-playing.

While I was on this up and down rollercoaster, a friend suggested that I see a certain rabbi who visits here from Israel from time to time and who is said to have helped countless people in different ways. I, for one, credit this special man with changing my life. That is not to say that seeking such input is for everyone. I will, however, say that if you just let G-d play out your life, everything will fall into place.

I remember Rabbi B. looking at me with sadness, though I can’t quite recall what he said to me back then. He did not mention the man I was driving myself crazy about, and I think it’s because he knew I’d have been unable to handle what he had to say. That’s how these intuitive people work. They only tell you what you are capable of dealing with. Amazingly, he told me things about me he could never have known, plus things I needed to work on. My life didn’t change right then and there, but the transformation had begun.

While I still kept up the rollercoaster ride with my male friend, I constantly prayed to G-d to help me get off it. When I received an e-mail letting me know that Rabbi B. would be in town again. I was elated! I knew I needed to see him; I needed more guidance.

Once again, there was this sadness in his eyes. He told me things I’d already heard from him before, and I asked him about my zivug (soul-mate). He said, “don’t worry; you’ll cover the pot on someone” (a metaphor for finding the right one). That was good to hear, but couldn’t he be more specific as to when that would be?

When the session was coming to a close, I was reluctant to go. Rabbi B., as usual, read my mind. “You want more?” He asked. Maybe I should have left when the going was good — it hurt to confront reality. “You like a boy…” he began. I burst into tears. We spoke a little about it, he gave me a bracha and I left.

 

The conclusion in next week’s issue…

* * * * *

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Commemorate And Celebrate

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

     Pesach, the holiday of freedom, is over but in Israel we have several other holidays of freedom immediately following Pesach. Unlike the rest of the world, Israel takes Holocaust Memorial Day very seriously. Not only is there an official, government-sponsored ceremony at the Kotel in Jerusalem, but many large and small communities also commemorate the day. We remember the six million who were murdered and gratefully acknowledge that we are alive and free, despite the terrible attempts by many nations to eradicate us. 

     My community of Hashmonaim held a very emotionally charged ceremony, in which our youth acted out scenes from the Holocaust. Our young participants quoted children who did not understand why they were being singled out for the terror and horror perpetrated by the Nazis, and they portrayed families torn asunder by the anti-Semitic European nations of that day: the Germans, Poles, Hungarians, Austrians, Russians and their allies. 

     Our rabbi strongly condemned the modern day Hitler/Haman of Iran, Ahmadinejad and called upon us all to strive never to allow our enemies to cause another Holocaust. Six torches were lit by by survivors, their children and grandchildren. Unfortunately, many nations of the world receive the Iranian terrorist with warmth and understanding and agree to listen to his hatred and evil. 

     Despite the hundreds of participants at our commemoration, not one sound was heard during the presentation. Our community remained absolutely silent as the emotional story unfolded. It was an amazing demonstration of how this day of remembrance affected our community. 

     Holocaust Memorial Day requires its own week of reflection, and the other commemorations and celebrations are not held until one week later. 

     Monday evening, April 27, marked Memorial Day. We commemorate the sacrifices of so many of our youth who died on the battlefield to ensure that Jews can live free from Arab tyranny.  We have public commemorations, but most of this day is spent in private reflection and mourning for parents, children or friends who lost their lives to keep Israel free and independent. The emotional commemoration is especially poignant for those youngsters who are still serving in the Israel Defense Forces (including three of my grandsons), who understand the importance of their service to the nation.

 

      It is a day of personal and public mourning as sirens cry out across the country and cars, trucks and buses stop and the country stands at attention in silent anguish for their sacrifice. What other entire country stops for a moment and remembers together? 

     Several of these sacrifices were not made years ago, but rather yesterday, last week and last month. Every Jewish cemetery in the country has its memorial services with prayers and tears. There is a collective sorrow that may even be greater than that felt on Holocaust Memorial Day. This loss is close to everyone in the country. 

     Yet, we cannot live with the pain and sorrow without relief and joy. As the sun sinks below the horizon, a spontaneous shout of joy is heard at the start of Israel IndependenceDay. People dress in their holiday finery and celebrate with happiness and prayers of thanksgiving for the creation of the Jewish State. Many of us recite the Hallel prayers of thanksgiving to G-d because of the many miracles that occurred leading up to this day.    

 

          Most religious and non-religious Israelis are aware that we could not have achieved this victory against millions of enemies without G-d’s help. It was G-d’s hand that defeated the Egyptians at the Red Sea, and it is He who defeated the Egyptians, Syrians, Jordanians, Lebanese, Saudi Arabians, and their many supporters during Israel’s War of Independence and all subsequent wars. 

     Israel, its leaders and its soldiers are greatly in need of your prayers – maybe even more than in the past. Many of today’s leaders have little faith, and we must ask G-d to open their eyes and give them understanding, so that Israel will survive and flourish.  

     If you do not have a copy of the “Prayer for the Soldiers” and “Prayer for the State of Israel” in your siddur, please send me an email message (dov@gilor.com) and I will email you a copy to print, or you may send me a stamp-self-addressed envelope c/o The Jewish Press.

The Suicide Bomber, Again

Wednesday, February 14th, 2007

My daughter once worked on a kibbutz near Eilat, so the suicide bombing on January 29 in that normally tranquil Red Sea resort is especially sobering. This Palestinian “freedom fighter” struck a small bakery, killing three shoppers who had stopped by for bread and cakes. The two groups taking responsibility for the terror, Islamic Jihad and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, were ecstatic about the success of their “military operation.”

This is what the civilized world is up against, in the United States, Europe, and of course in Israel. The suicide bombers who enthusiastically maim and murder defenseless civilians are celebrated for “bravery” by literally millions in the Islamic nations. Yet, the “death” the bombers expect to endure is merely a temporary inconvenience.

“Verily,” said the late King Ibn Saud to a British guest, “the word of G-d teaches us, and we implicitly believe it, that for a Muslim to kill a Jew, or for him to be killed by a Jew, ensures him immediate entry into Heaven and into the august presence of G-d Almighty.” This is what the bombers still believe.

The “suicide” bomber never really commits suicide, only homicide. For the young murderer, self-immolation between the croissants and the cupcakes is a most perfect way of warding off death. We must never forget that the suicide bomber is religiously convinced that in murdering any Jew, he will reach immortality. There are also other very palpable rewards (72 virgins in heaven), but immortality is always cited first, especially where the promise is extended to other family members.

In the mosques today, in the Friday sermons, there are frequent citations to the following verse of Koran: “And slay them wherever ye find them, and drive them out of the places whence they drove you out, for persecution is worse than slaughter. And fight not with them at the Inviolable Place of Worship until they first attack you there, but if they attack you there then slay them. Such is the reward of disbelievers.” (Koran 2:191)

“Persecution is worse then slaughter.” What exactly is this “persecution?” The bakery bomber, Mohammed Saksak, 20 years old, was from Gaza – an area from which Israel had “disengaged” in the interests of peace. Significantly, in the midst of a frenzied Palestinian civil war within “liberated” Gaza, the only source of mortal danger to Arabs is fromother Arabs.

The Friday sermons make everything quite clear: “The truth is simple: Israel is land confiscated from the Arabs, and they are trying to get it back…Jews and Israel are the reason for this endless cycle of violence. If the Jews have reasons in the Bible to get the land by hook or by crook, then the Muslims have the right to defend themselves and get back the land from where they have been driven out, by any means.”

The suicide bomber believes that he is engaged in self-defense. His attacks on bakeries and similar “military targets” are always agreeable to him because “persecution is far worse than slaughter.” With this illuminating view, is revealed the still-prevailing Islamic perspective on the “Middle East Peace Process.” With this perspective is revealed the utter futility of further territorial surrenders by Israel.

The message of the Hamas led Palestinian Authority and the terrorist-appointed clergy should finally be understood by both Israel and the United States. It does not need to be decoded. As I have been saying to my readers in The Jewish Press for a long while, the Washington-engineered “Road Map” is an openly twisted piece of cartography, leading Israel not to peace, but to the grave.

Israel itself, all of Israel, not merely Judea/Samaria, is presumed “stolen” territory and must therefore be “returned” to the Arabs. The Palestinian terrorists of every stripe will never cease their murders of Jews until there is an end to “persecution,” that is, until there is an end to Israel.

Israel’s intended Palestinian destroyers are brutally honest about their intentions. The problem is that Jerusalem and Washington never bother to listen. Let them begin by heeding the closing words of a recent sermon in a Jerusalem mosque: “Say [O Muhammad] ‘O ye who are Jews! If ye claim that ye are favoured of Allah apart from [all] mankind, then long for death [emphasis in original] if ye are truthful.’”

Copyright The Jewish Press, February 16, 2007. All rights reserved.

LOUIS RENE BERES was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971) and publishes widely on Israeli security matters. The Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press, he is well known in Israel’s political, military and intelligence communities.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/columns/louis-bene-beres/the-suicide-bomber-again/2007/02/14/

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