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Parshat Bereishit

Sunday, October 14th, 2012

With the campaigns for the presidency of the United States in full swing people are beginning to imagine the inaugural address that will be delivered this coming January 20. Especially this year, when the candidates offer such different visions for America, rhetoric enthusiasts are expecting whoever wins to deliver an inspiring speech designed to provide a strategy and game plan for the country to move forward.

The challenge for all modern presidents when they deliver their inaugural address is that they are inevitably compared to John F. Kennedy’s classic. As history has so far demonstrated, unlike Olympic records, Kennedy’s address has to date not been surpassed. While most people remember his “Ask not…” exhortation, I would like to focus on a sentence from the beginning of his speech – a sentence infused, simultaneously, with the deep hope and fear that was the product of years of thought and concern on Kennedy’s part.

After his salutary comments, Kennedy described: “The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life.” Kennedy truly feared the dangers inherent in nuclear weapons. In his announcement in 1946 that he would be running for Congress, Kennedy stated, “We have a world which has unleashed the powers of atomic energy. We have a world capable of destroying itself.”

According to Richard Tofel, in his book analyzing Kennedy’s inaugural address, Sounding the Trumpet (2005), JFK contemplated for many years whether democracy as an ideology and way of life would be able to survive the challenges of totalitarianism. “With the advent of nuclear weapons, this uncertainty took on apocalyptic overtones…” (p.95). In his 1958 speech to Washington’s Gridiron Club, Kennedy articulated his concerns very clearly. “The question is—whether a democratic society—with its freedom of choice—its breadth of opportunity—its range of alternatives—can meet the single-minded advance of the Communists….Can a nation organized and governed as ours endure? That is the real question. Have we the nerve and the will? Have we got what it takes to carry through in an age where—as never before—our very survival is at stake—where we and the Russians have the power to destroy one-quarter of the earth’s population—a feat not accomplished since Cain slew Abel?”

By the time he delivered his inaugural address Kennedy’s thoughts had developed and he challenged humanity to overcome the man-made threats to the world. The problem was whether the technology had outpaced its moral masters. While Kennedy in 1958 referred to Cain murdering his brother as a dire warning of the stakes at play, one of the broad themes of this week’s parsha captures the essence of the challenge. There are inherent dangers in knowledge when it is used inappropriately – without the metaphoric brakes being there to pace the engine of progress properly.

The Torah relates (2:17) that G-d granted Adam permission to enjoy all the bounty of the Garden of Eden with the exception of the Tree of Knowledge. The commentators throughout the centuries have analyzed the reason for this prohibition. Whatever the actual reason was, it is indisputable that after Adam and Eve ate from the tree, the world was never the same. Not only did death become part of nature’s course, the very knowledge attained through the act of eating hastened the process.

Carefully examining the events which followed Adam and Eve’s sin it becomes clear that they share a common theme. While human beings made tremendous discoveries, invented life-changing technologies and developed an appreciation for the arts, they did so without moral restraint. Rashi explains (4:20) that Yaval, who is credited with technological advances, adapted his engineering technology to build temples for idolatry. Likewise, his brother Yuval, who is credited with inventing musical instruments, did so for idolatrous purposes. Their cousin Tuval Cain, who invented metallurgy, did so in order to provide weapons for murderers.

All three played critical roles in the advancement of human development. Their efforts would probably earn them a Nobel Prize today. But when Adam ate from the Tree of Knowledge he lost for his children the moral restraints necessary to control knowledge. His descendants used their knowledge for nefarious purposes and helped plant the seeds for the world’s destruction. Not until Noach do we encounter a person who used knowledge in a controlled manner, developing useful agricultural tools and methods. His name derives from the Hebrew word for consolation, for he truly improved the human condition. Unlike the other inventors in the parsha, Noach had no ulterior motives. His was solely to help humankind. Tragically, as we’ll read in next week’s parsha, his efforts were too little, too late to save the world. They were, however, enough to start the world anew.

Israel Should Pre-empt Hizbollah Now

Thursday, September 27th, 2012

As Israel comes closer to a confrontation with Iran, we should note that Iran’s primary strategy is unlikely to be direct conflict with Israel. Iran’s air and missile forces, despite their bragging, are not sufficiently well-developed to support such a conflict.

Instead, I expect that they will depend on their main proxy, Hizbollah. Hizbollah can be expected to attack with its considerable missile forces and even to attempt ground incursions into Israeli territory. At the same time, Iran will try to leverage Western fears of terrorism and oil-supply disruption into pressure on Israel; so we can also expect to see terrorist attacks against Western targets.

The difficulty of destroying or seriously damaging Iran’s nuclear capability is much-discussed, but I think the neutralization of Hizbollah will also be a major task, and one of more immediate importance. In the short term, the number of Israeli casualties and the amount of damage to the home front in a conflict with Iran will be proportional to the time it takes the IDF to end Hizbollah’s ability to fight.

Hizbollah is also an essential component of Iran’s long-term strategy, whether or not she succeeds in building a bomb. A nuclear Iran is more likely to pursue her interests in the region by threats and low-intensity conventional conflict under a nuclear umbrella than by actual use of atomic weapons, which would expose her to devastating retaliation.

In 2006, the Bush Administration gave Israel a month to finish Hizbollah. Israel did not make use of the opportunity because of the incompetence of the government and top military commanders, complacency, lack of planning, poor intelligence, etc. I believe that these problems have been fixed to a great extent.

Although one might expect Obama to be less cooperative, it’s possible that the administration’s closeness with conservative Sunni interests — primarily Saudi Arabia, Turkey, or even Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood — which are natural enemies of Hizbollah, might lead it to wait before lowering the boom.

On the other hand, if Hizbollah terrorists are car-bombing buildings in New York, Los Angeles or Washington, there will be enormous pressure on Israel to end the conflict (yes, it’s irrational, but we’ve seen this response before). I don’t think that Israel can count on getting a month this time.

If I were an Israeli planner I would think about a preemptive attack on Hizbollah — separately from and before attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities, for the following reasons:

*Hizbollah is the most immediate threat to Israel;
*Hizbollah will be Iran’s major weapon of retaliation if Israel strikes Iran;
*By not attacking Iran, Israel does not give the regime an excuse to disrupt oil supplies;
*The IDF can concentrate on defeating Hizballah;
*It’s always better to initiate than to respond; and
*The chaos in Syria makes it easier to isolate Hizballah from its source of supply and keeps the Syrian military too busy to intervene.

I would stress the importance of a short campaign, which will probably mean the use of massive force. Hizbollah is very well dug-in in southern Lebanon, and an operation aborted by international pressure could be disastrous.

If Israel can be successful in removing Hizbollah from the equation, Iran will be greatly weakened, Israel’s security and posture of deterrence will be strengthened, and the chances for future military action (or even diplomacy) to keep Iran from getting the bomb will improve.

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The End of U.S.-Israel Strategic Cooperation?

Saturday, September 8th, 2012

“I don’t want to be complicit if they (Israelis) choose to do it (attack Iran’s nuclear program),” said Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey.

News flash, General Dempsey: You are complicit in the way that counts; you are trapped: the Iranian leadership does not care what we say — or what we do — about our military relations with Israel. The Iranian leadership needs the U.S. as its adversary and will not allow you deniability. If there is a strike on Iran, they will need for it to have been the U.S. – will need, General Dempsey, for it to have been you.

It is unlikely, General, that you spoke on your own hook as you are still wearing your stars. The last General who spoke to journalists out of turn and out of the country was Stanley McChrystal – and he lasted only as long as it took to arrive in the Oval Office. Your Commander in Chief appears to have used you to hammer another nail in the coffin of a relationship that had, until he got here, been remarkably productive for more than 30 years.

Since the Reagan administration, U.S.-Israel military relations have generally been buffered from US-Israel political relations. They were not always smooth, but the military establishments were largely left to determine their interests together and separately. The late Caspar Weinberger was not enamored of Israel (certainly he was not enamored of the late Prime Minister Begin nor of the 1982 war in Lebanon), but the designation and early growth of “U.S.-Israel Strategic Cooperation,” and the designation of Israel for Major Non-NATO Ally status came in those years.[1] The Sixth Fleet came to Israel and the Haifa USO was built then to handle the enthusiastic crowds of American sailors and Marines.

Israel had the first wartime operational drones in 1982. The war that Weinberger opposed was a catalyst for U.S. thinking about remotely piloted vehicles. I took a small group of retired American military officers (including the former head of DIA, the former commander of US Air Forces Europe and the former commander of NATO’s Southern Command) to Israel in September 1982 so they could put their hands on the drones that emerged from an Israeli model-airplane-flying club. The officers compared it to the US Army’s then-unsuccessful drone program and the rest is history. U.S. conceived and built drones carry the weight of the Afghan war, but they also carry the history of 1982.

The First Gulf War complicated the relationship when President Bush (41) built a broad Arab coalition to rescue Kuwait. Israel withstood Saddam’s rocket barrage without retaliation because that was what the U.S. wanted, setting into motion deterrence difficulties for Israel that played out later as its closer neighbors acquired and used rockets and missiles. But it also set in motion Israel’s rapid quest for missile defense capabilities, which became an area of close U.S.-Israel cooperation.

After 9-11, Americans instinctively understood that we had been hammered by something with which the Israelis were familiar. “We Are All Israelis Now” was the headline in a major American paper. The Israelis “opened their closets” to help the U.S. deal with Islamic terrorism, urban warfare and counter-terror operations. Israel taught members of the U.S. Army to train bomb-sniffing dogs. While the work was going on, Israel loaned I.D.F. dogs to the Americans – Hebrew-commanded dogs were in Baghdad.

As the U.S. has become more adept in the ways of Middle East ground warfare, it is the Americans who have technology, tips and training to share with Israel.

“Complicity” is the wrong word for a relationship between countries that was grounded in the most fundamental agreement on democratic governance, civil liberties, minority rights, rule of law, and what constituted the enemy – at least until now.

General Dempsey meant Iran, but there is more than a divergence on Iran going on here. There has been a determined shift of emphasis in the current administration. President Obama has elected to focus on how and where the U.S. might find partners in the Arab/Muslim world – not itself a bad thing, but dangerous if it means a) eroding the definition of an ally to mean anyone with any set of political/religious/strategic beliefs that does not involve killing Americans outright; and b) throwing the Jews down the well (to channel Borat).

FM Liberman Says Israeli Policy Needs a New Focus: ‘Abbas Must Go’

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

Israel’s problem with the Palestinians is that it has not established a clear strategy, or any strategy at all for that matter, regarding its most intimate neighbors, “and that is why we are not leading any course of action except merely responding,” argued on Thursday Israel Beitenu leader and Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman.

“All we try and achieve with the Palestinians is to keep the quiet at all costs,” he complained.

Liberman’s contribution would be to remove the current president of the PA, Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas):

“Between Abu Mazen and Khaled Mashaal there is a clear division of labor. Khaled Mashaal leads the armed terror and Abu Mazen the diplomatic terror. This is the division of labor and all of Abu Mazen’s initiatives in the international arena point to diplomatic terror: The Durban Conference, accusations that Israel is an “Apartheid” state, filing alleged war crimes charges at The Hague against the IDF, the creation of an investigative commission at the UN Human Rights Council, boycotts against Israel, Israeli academia and Israeli products, unilateralism at the United Nations and UNESCO and the charges against Israel of stealing natural resources from the Palestinians. All of these are examples of blatant diplomatic terror that is led by Abu Mazen himself.”

Wait, there’s more:

“Other examples of this, are calls for a square named after the ‘Engineer’ Yehiya Ayyash and a street named after Dalal Mughrabi. Both were vicious murderers responsible for the deaths of hundreds of innocent women, children and infants.

“In addition, Abu Mazen organized a homecoming celebration for the terrorists released in the Shalit deal, including those responsible for the murders in the Sbarro Restaurant and the Park Hotel in Netanya, who he called ‘freedom fighters’ – and gave them a financial reward of $5,000 and an apartment.”

In Liberman’s view, “These facts speak for themselves.”

But even if Israel were to forgive Abu Mazen all of his underhanded tactics, and decided to trust him with her security, the problem remains that, according to Liberman, “Abu Mazen is unable to deliver the goods.”

It’s been several years since the Fatah has lost control over Gaza, where the ruling government is sworn to eliminate the Jewish state. But Abu Mazan’s legitimacy is problematic in the PA as well.

“He continuously postpones the elections for the presidency, the parliament and municipal elections for years,” argued Liberman. Therefore, “there is also a clear understanding that in Judea and Samaria he also has no real control. He has no legitimacy, and even if we were to sign an agreement with Abu Mazen, it is clear that any Palestinian government that arises after him will claim that the agreement has no support and will not be recognized. They will then say: What he received, we received and now we will start again from scratch.”

Liberman, who has written to the Quartet of Mideast mediators – the U.S., the UN, the EU and Russia – this week, calling for new elections in the Palestinian Authority in order to replace Abbas, and accusing the Palestinian Authority of being ‘a despotic government riddled with corruption,’” says it’s time Israel start to “initiate and lead courses of actions, and not remain passive and only react to the initiatives of others.”

Abbas’ spokesman, Nabil Abu Rdeneh, said Liberman’s statement to the Quartet was an “incitement to violence” that “doesn’t contribute in any way to an atmosphere of peace.” He said Israel and the international community must condemn the letter.

But then, elections for new Palestinian leadership were scheduled for 2010, and have been delayed because it’s quite possible Hamas could take over in Judea and Samaria as well..

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu disassociate himself from the Liberman letter. An official in the prime minister’s office told the AP: “While Abbas has created difficulties for restarting negotiations, the government of Israel remains committed to continuing efforts to restart a dialogue with the Palestinians.”

Not exactly a ringing endorsement…

Monetizing Debt: A Historically Disastrous Policy

Thursday, July 19th, 2012

As European nations seek economic lifelines, the Germans have a financial history lesson for Europe, America and the rest of the world. It’s found in a revealing self-critical painting, “Eclipse of the Sun,” created by a 1920s Berlin artist, George Grosz, which hangs at the Heckscher Museum of Art in Huntington.

Few understand better than the Germans how economic self-destruction can bring a nation and the world to the edge of abyss. The crushing debt imposed on them at the end of World War I led to unprecedented hyperinflation as they monetized their obligations, running their printing presses to create millions of worthless marks.

Middle-class Germans became destitute as their life savings could no longer buy so much as a loaf of bread, much less secure their retirement. So corrosive was this monetized debt that the marginal Nazi Party, initially dismissed as a group of anti-Semitic street thugs, was voted into office by 1932. That is why Grosz’s post-World War I painting remains so powerful almost a century later. His contorted caricatures capture the revealing self-loathing of an economic and political landscape that would ultimately lead to the rise of the Third Reich.

“Monetizing debt” may sound like economists’ jargon, but it is an economy’s ultimate poison pill when politicians print money to cover government deficits rather than engage in difficult policy decisions. Argentina, Thailand and Zimbabwe have all used this strategy, and it consistently led to chaos. In the America of 2012, far too few appreciate the perils to our citizenry from a national debt in excess of $15 trillion and more than $60 trillion in unfunded liabilities. Some, such as former presidential hopeful Ron Paul, have suggested we return to the Gold Standard, a proposal that would be a difficult strategy to even consider, given our limited gold reserves. A far more rational idea is for us to get off the Debt Standard, but Washington can’t seem to agree on any course of action.

Economic policy has become a captive of politics, particularly in the House of Representatives, where a two-year term guarantees distraction by a constant campaign for re-election.

There was a time when if you were a Democrat, it was a given that you favored significant deficits for “pump priming” and expanded social programs. If you were a Republican, you advocated for lower taxes and the forces of a free market to create jobs and power the economy. There was room for compromise and negotiation. Our current political environment has become so venomous that an ideological holy war is holding hostage a bipartisan resolution of the debt crisis. We have become incapable of governing through compromise.

There needs to be a dramatic and strategic response to this institutional paralysis. History has repeatedly taught us that otherwise rational people have turned to monetizing debt to achieve a political “quick fix” — an action the Federal Reserve has undertaken since 2008 by printing new currency to buy up bonds. Voters need to alert elected officials on both sides of the aisle that they will judge them on their ability to resolve this emergency.

Meanwhile, though the ongoing European debt crisis seems irrelevant to our own lives, were Europe’s economy to freeze, the results would be immediate and devastating here. Unlike the Germans who now practice budgetary austerity with the pursuit of a converted zealot, there is little in our collective experience that allows us to appreciate the depth of the danger.

History has taught that the collapse of strong nations has traditionally occurred from strategic failures within. It’s a powerful lesson that our founders tried to instill in future generations when Patrick Henry offered, “I know of no way of judging the future but by the past.” Consider it a warning that our nation is in danger from a runaway debt that has the power to eclipse the sun.
Originally published by Newsday and the Gatestone Institute  http://www.gatestoneinstitute.org 

Rubin Reports: Will the Rebels Win Syria’s Civil War and What That Means

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.co.il/2012/07/will-rebels-win-syrias-civil-war-and.html

The tide seems to be turning in Syria. While the civil war is far from over, the regime is clearly weakening; the rebels are expanding their operations and effectiveness. There have also been more high-level defections. What does this mean and why is this happening? There are three main factors that are making a rebel victory seem more likely.

First, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, with Turkey’s facilitation and U.S. coordination, are sending arms to the opposition.

Second, the regime has been rushing the same trusted units around the country to put down upsurges and these forces are getting tired and stretched thin.

Third, President Bashar al-Assad really has nothing to offer the opposition. He won’t leave and he can’t share power. His strategy of brutal suppression and large-scale killing can neither make the opposition surrender nor wipe it out. Even if he kills civilians and demonstrators, the rebel military forces can pull back to attack another day.

Even though the fighting may go on for months, then, it is time to start assessing what outcomes might look like. Here are some suggestions:

–Ethnic massacres? While there have been reports of such actions — the regime killing Sunni Muslims; the opposition killing Alawites and Christians — what we’ve seen already might be nothing compared to what is to come. Such murders might take place during the civil war or after it ends.

–An Alawite fortress? Assad has built up his defenses in northwest Syria where most of the Alawites live to make a last stand or to try to hold out. How would such a final phase in the war go and could Assad keep the rebels from taking this stronghold?

–Obama Administration bragging rights? We’ve already had leaks about U.S. covert involvement in the anti-Assad effort. If the rebels seem to be winning or do in fact win the war before November, the White House will claim Syria as proof of its tough, triumphant foreign policy (The elections in Libya, in which reportedly the Islamists were held off by a U.S.-backed government, will be cited as another example of success).

–But at great risk. What if the Obama Administration increasingly claims credit for regime change in Syria and then has to take blame for massacres or an Islamist takeover?

–The Kurdish factor. Syria’s Kurds have essentially walled off their northeast section of the country. Their armed militia, helped by their compatriots in Iraq, can hold out against all but the most concerted force. The Kurds generally view the regime as repressive Arab nationalists while they see the opposition as Islamists and Arab nationalists. Would a new regime in Damascus make a deal with them for autonomy, or would it be tempted to try to conquer the area? If so, how would the opposition’s Western backers react to such an assault?

–And then there’s the biggest question of all: Who among the opposition forces would take power? Syria is quite different from such relatively homogeneous countries as Egypt and Tunisia. Let’s just list the different groupings:

Alawites now rule and in general support the regime. The treatment of the Alawites—who pretend to be Shia Muslims but really aren’t Muslims at all—would be a key indicator for a new regime. Would it seek conciliation or would it massacre large numbers of them? Unless Assad can hold out in the northwest, the Alawites will have little role in a post-Assad Syria.

Christians also generally support the regime because they fear Islamists taking power. Will they face massacres and flee the country or will the new regime work to accommodate them?

Alawites and Christians together number more than one-fourth of the country’s population.

The Kurds have been discussed above. Their goal is autonomy, one that a new central government could meet but will it want to grant them such status?

The Druze, who live in the southwest of the country, have not played a major role in the rebellion. They tend to accommodate themselves to the status quo. Will they organize communally and seek some autonomy? The Druze strategy is of special interest to Israel since they live closer to the Golan Heights and, indeed, Israel rules a Druze population there most of whose members identify as Syrians. Would a new regime’s treatment of the Druze make the Golan Heights’ residents more rebellious against Israel or more eager to remain under Israeli rule? Israel’s military intelligence commander has already warned of the danger of jihadists infiltrating into the border area, though one might add that Israel already has strong defenses in place there that would stop any cross-border attacks, a contrast of course with the Sinai.

Who Told You to Buy Gold?

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

Have you ever dreamed of being like the mythical King Midas whose touch turned everything into gold? There is no question about it – gold symbolizes wealth and riches. Even though the Gold Standard is no longer the world’s main monetary system, this precious metal still carries a certain mystique.

Today plenty of people are looking to invest in gold. But is it really such a good idea? Many people got the “gold bug” over the past year, only to get shaken by its volatility. This may be because in January 2012, the London Bullion Market Association published a survey that predicted a rise in gold prices to $2,000 per ounce. However, since then, gold prices have oscillated sharply, only reaching $1600 at the end of May, having fallen as low as $1540 in the preceding days.

Despite its volatility, there are various reasons why people want to buy gold. Some investors have little faith in hard currency and prefer to invest in a commodity such as gold, which they believe will always have value. Indeed, the value of the precious metal often rises when other currencies fall, and in today’s shaky economy may be more dependable. History also works in favor of the gold investor. The gold rushes of yesteryear have left supplies depleted, and this scarcity adds significantly to the value of this precious metal.

However, not all is plain sailing. The scarcity of gold that makes it such a sought-after commodity also means that it may never again hold the currency value that it possessed in the past. Many people also argue that gold has no intrinsic value that can be measured logically. More to the point, unlike stocks and bonds, if you invest in gold bullion you will not receive any dividends or interest. Additionally, gold bars or jewelry may look very beautiful, but if they are extremely valuable, they shouldn’t be kept in an unprotected jewelry box. Safe storage and insurance policies come at their own costs.

If you are considering owning gold as part of a diversification strategy, make sure you believe in its inherent value, and aren’t blinded by its shine. For those folks who invest in gold and silver coins, remember that you can lose money in the gold market.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/goldstein-on-gelt/who-told-you-to-buy-gold/2012/06/13/

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