Thursday, October 06, 2011

6-Oct-11: Can you understand how these diplomats live with themselves?

On Tuesday, the UN Security Council considered a resolution to condemn the brutal bloodbath being carried out for the past several months by the dictatorial Syrian regime of Bashir al-Assad.

The targets of the despot are his fellow Syrian citizens. The Assad family have led their country to several military disasters but this one they're determined to win. The score until now: 2,900 dead Syrian civilians [source]. The BBC says 16 died in today's clashes alone, at the hands of the well-armed Syrian military forces.

Because this is how things work at the UN, the text of the UNSC resolution was already severely diluted ahead of the vote. It condemned “the grave and systematic human rights violations and the use of force against civilians by the Syrian authorities” but stopped short of imposing an arms embargo on the house of Assad. It called (such optimism!) for an immediate end to violence, support for fundamental freedoms, a lifting of media restrictions and unhindered access for human rights investigators. Powerful stuff, no doubt of it.

And predictably it was defeated in a UN vote.

Reason, once again, for Syrian
dictator and sociopath Bashir al-Assad
to rejoice
The ambassadors of China and Russia exercised their right to veto, bringing the initiative to a screeching halt. Given their history in the Security Council, this was appalling but not surprising. What was a bit less expected, and simply sickening, were the abstentions from India, Brazil and South Africa. The non-permanent members, and the years in which they have to exit, are Bosnia and Herzegovina (2011), Germany (2012), Portugal (2012), Brazil (2011), India (2012), South Africa (2012), Colombia (2012), Lebanon (2011), Gabon (2011), Nigeria (2011). Little was expected from Lebanon which everyone knows is essentially a Syrian puppet. (The five permanent UNSC members are China, France, Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States. Each of them has a right of veto in the Security Council.)

So what can be learnt from this?

One commentator called the debacle "a sad example of the failure of the world’s large emerging democracies to live up to their domestic values and assume the responsibilities of power". Sounds a touch ambitious to us. The US State Dept's spokesperson said yesterday the US leadership "obviously consider that the Security Council failed yesterday to address the urgent moral challenge... History will bear out which nations were right and which were on the wrong side in this vote yesterday.” Fighting words. It's a huge comfort for Israel's citizens to know that the absurd decisions made by the world's parliament year after year are going to eventually be judged by "history".

The Syrians are not only known for being great fighters. They also possess a keen sense of humour. Otherwise how to explain their decision this past May to compete for a seat on the UN's Human Rights Council as one of four Asian delegates? Better than most, they knew the UN General Assembly - which does the voting - has a proclivity for granting membership to dictatorships with a history of violence against their people.

Norman Cousins, editor of The Saturday Review for more than 30 years, once said: "If the United Nations is to survive, those who represent it must bolster it; those who advocate it must submit to it; and those who believe in it must fight for it."

He must be turning in his grave.

6-Oct-11: Those rock throwing "youths" are proliferating

We wrote last week on the mostly-ignored dangers of lethal rock-throwing Arab "youths" (25-Sep-11: "Only" rock throwers - but now a father and his infant son are dead). Now there's published evidence that, statistically, we're experiencing a significant rise in that aspect of the terror warfare being waged against Israeli civil society, its roads and its drivers.

A Haaretz analysis, "Israel Defense Forces: Rock-throwing in West Bank reaches new high", says incidents of deliberate rock-throwing at Israelis rose by 33% last month compared with the monthly average of the past year. There were 498 incidents and two Israeli deaths during September and some 3,484 rock-throwing attacks in Judea and Samaria during the first nine months of 2011. That's 387 per month on  average, up from 303 per month in 2010.

Israel's restraint, both officially and on the part of ordinary Israeli drivers, is extraordinary. By comparison:
  • On 30th July 2011, Syrian forces opened fire on rock-throwers in the town of Deir el Zour, killing three of them [source].  
  • Rock-throwing along the U.S.-Mexico border is very common, and law enforcement officials have been badly injured. In a June 2010 incident, a 14-year-old Mexican boy on the US side of a bridge in El Paso, Texas, on the Mexican border, was shot and killed by US Border Patrol agents. At the time, the president of the National Border Patrol Council was quoted by AP calling it a "justified" deadly force encounter [source]. 
  • Tasmanians are struggling with similar issues [source]. Cars traveling along the Midland Highway have been struck in recent days by golfball-size rocks, and the police and  the Australian media say these "rock-throwing fools" can easily kill or maim people, and would face manslaughter charges if they continued their "incomprehensible stupidity". 
Needless to say, the rocks hurled at Israeli drivers are somewhat larger than golfball-size, and considerably more lethal. What's more, the rock-throwers around us here are not bored teenagers out to fill some spare time. A recent AP report points out that "many Palestinian parents see their children as young fighters resisting Israel's occupation of the West Bank. Rock throwing, specifically, is seen as symbolic of their struggle. The issue has flared in the past few years as Palestinians hold weekly demonstrations in West Bank villages in which young men and boys pelt rocks and chunks of concrete at Israeli soldiers.

"The issue has flared" because Arab youths and young men are being urged to do it by their leaders. The Palestinian Authority headed by Mahmoud Abbas has long promoted rock-throwing through its production and distribution of video and music clips adulating the rock-throwers [some examples here]. In their hands, rocks are weapons in every sense, and the targets are civilian Israelis. And resort to those weapons is on the rise.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

5-Oct-11: Quote of the day: Sinai is 100% safe

Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi
While Israel recovers from a series of terror attacks emanating from Egyptian-controlled Sinai, there's this report tonight:
Egyptian military ruler Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi said Wednesday that the security in the Sinai Peninsula was "100% under control," a day after a US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta urged Cairo to strengthen its security in the region. "The security situation in Sinai is 100% safe," MENA news agency quoted Tantawi as saying. [Source]
While you're absorbing it, cast a glance at what we wrote a little over a week ago (27-Sep-11: Egypt-to-Israel gas pipeline sabotaged for sixth time this year) and before that, at the end of August (30-Aug-11: Dark clouds over Israel's south - hard to see from most newspapers, TVs and web pages)

Keep in mind also the words we quoted in our August 30 2011 blog entry from one of Australia's leading foreign affairs commentators (Greg Sheridan, "Freedom for extremists could make Sinai the new Somalia"):
Although, with Israel's agreement, Egypt has sent more troops into Sinai to try to restore order, it has essentially lost control of Sinai, where non-integrated Bedouin tribes are happy to co-operate with Islamist terrorists." 
The Tantawian view of Sinai is, to say the least, not shared in Israel. We remembers how, on August 18 2011, eight Israelis died and at least 40 were wounded in a multi-pronged terror attack near the southern-most Israeli city, Eilat. The attackers are believed to have infiltrated from Sinai. Israel's military leadership has had to assign substantially increased numbers of soldiers and equipment to protect Israel's southern flank from the threat of attack from Sinai and Gaza.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

4-Oct-11: Rockets continue to be fired into Israel by Gazan jihadists

There are reports this evening of two separate rocket firings on Israel, both originating (as if anyone needs to be told) in Hamas-controlled Gaza and both intended to produce injuries, deaths and destruction to Israeli civilians and their property.

One landed in the Hof Ashkelon region during the late afternoon after the Color Red missile alert warning was sounded. No injuries or damage are reported.

The second evidently misfired and crashed to earth on the jihadist side of the Gaza/Israel boundary, possibly causing damage or injury. But as we have learned in previous such mishaps, casualties under such circumstances tend to be ignored by both the media and by the Hamas authorities.

4-Oct-11: An opportunity to gain invaluable insight into Iranian financing of terror

From the website of MelliBank's UK subsidiary [source
An article appearing today on the Commentary Magazine website ("Who Will Question Iranian Terror Financier in Canada?", by Michael Rubin), refers to a time-limited opportunity for the authorities to get to the heart of Iranian finance of global terror in the wake of what is being called the largest case of embezzlement in Iran’s history:
The Iranian press is reporting an embezzlement scandal. Three billion dollars went missing from an Iranian bank, the largest single instance of embezzlement in a regime where graft is commonplace. Now, Mahmoud Reza Khavari, the managing director of Bank Melli, has reportedly fled to CanadaBank Melli has been involved in the transfer of funds to Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Hizbullah through the Qods Force, as well as Iran's nuclear program. Bank Melli was among the Iranian financial institutions which the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned in 2007. Khavari's flight provides a potential windfall for Western intelligence analysts. Given his position, Khavari likely knows the ins-and-outs of Iranian terror finance. His testimony can provide smoking guns with regard to Qods Force head Qasem Suleimani and other senior Iranian officials.
According to the Council on Foreign Relations, the U.S. State Department considers Iran the world's "most active state sponsor of terrorism." U.S. officials say Iran provides funding, weapons, training, and sanctuary to numerous terrorist groups--most notably in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Lebanon--posing a security concern to the international community.

Bank Melli is also known as the National Bank of Iran. Established in 1927 by the order of the Majlis (the Iranian Parliament) and since then has consistently been one of the most influential Iranian banks. In 1931 the Iranian Majlis (parliament) authorized the bank to print and distribute the Iranian currency rial. BMI acted as the central bank of Iran until Bank Markazi was established in 1960, after which all of its central banking responsibilities were transferred to the new central bank. It is now the largest commercial retail bank in Iran and in the Middle East with over 3,300 branches and 43,000 employees. Bank Melli Iran has 18 international branches and services in 11 countries.

4-Oct-11: Luck, wisdom, thoroughness? US again escapes mass terror damage

Rezwan Ferdaus, alias Dave Winfield, alias Jon Ramos
From Reuters, a report this morning of yet another lucky escape from the deadly machinations of jihadist terrorists in the United States:
A man accused of plotting to fly explosives-packed remote-controlled model planes into the Pentagon and the U.S. Capitol pleaded not guilty Monday. The bail hearing that had been scheduled for Rezwan Ferdaus, of Ashland, was delayed for several weeks because his lawyer, Catherine Byrne, asked for more time to prepare.
Authorities said Ferdaus, a 26-year-old Muslim American with a physics degree from Northeastern University, was arrested in Framingham last week after federal agents posing as al-Qaida members delivered what he believed was 24 pounds of C-4 explosive. They said the public was never in danger from the plot... Also in attendance were the parents of Tarek Mehanna, another Massachusetts man arrested in a different terror plot. They said they did not know Ferdaus' family but went to show their support. Mehanna is scheduled for trial later this month; authorities say he conspired to provide material support to al-Qaida and kill U.S. troops in Iraq. [More]
From a Boston-area news channel, some background about the accused and the charges.
  • Aged 26, with a Bangladeshi background, he is a 2008 graduate of Northeastern University in Boston, where he earned a degree in physics. Graduated from Ashland High School in 2003. 
  • Ferdaus used the aliases "Dave Winfield" and "Jon Ramos" 
  • Mother is a health coordinator; father is an engineer. 
  • "Despite living in the neighborhood for 14 years, none of their neighbors seemed to know much about them." 
  • Charged with a plot to damage or destroy the Pentagon and U.S. Capitol as well as attempting to provide support and resources to foreign terrorist organization al Qaeda 
  • Arrested by undercover agents posing as terrorists. He thought he was going to receive 25 pounds of C-4 explosives. 3 hand grenades. 6 fully automatic AK-47 rifles. He wanted to have remote control drone airplanes, packed them with explosives, crash them into the targets. The planes are about 5 feet long with a 4 foot wingspan. 
  • Instead, he was busted.  
  • He traveled to DC in May 2011 and chose sites where he would launch these drone planes filled with explosives. Was planning to attack DC for 2 years. He wanted to kill women and children and as many Americans as possible. 
  • "Ferdaus was also the drummer for the band Goospimp Orchestra."
Doesn't look much like a terrorist. What does that mean?

4-Oct-11: Both sides of the lens

Here's what Ruben Salvadori says about himself:
I'm an Italian student currently dual majoring in International Relations and Anthropology/Sociology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel. I'm planning to get my MA in Photojournalism and Documentary Photography in 2011/12 at the London University of Arts, College of Communication, UK.
What brought this perceptive young man to our attention is a brief video that's online in various places (and now here, below) that thoughtfully examines the interplay between photographers and their subjects. In his words, it's "an auto-critical photo essay showing the paradoxes of conflict-image production and considering the role of the photographer in the events."

We've written often about the power of imagery in telling the stories of the complex Arab/Israel conflict. There's no lie greater than the old cliche "the camera never lies". In reality, the camera lies almost every time the shutter clicks. And when the photographer herself is animated by a political, activist agenda, the lies can be especially articulate.

Salvadori is not concerned with exposing lies. He takes no political or ideological position in his project. It's enough that he raises some important questions. We'd paraphrase it this way: Why are most people so unaware that photographers play a role in the news, and not only by reporting it? Their role is little noticed, rarely remarked upon or analyzed, and frequently manipulative. How dangerous is this?

Several of his images are below. Others can be seen at Ruben Salvadori Photography Blog – Open Your Eyes: Presenting Photojournalism Behind the Scenes.

He points out that the iconic imagery above of a young and (by obvious implication) angry Palestinian Arab is something of a co-production in which the assembled media professionals (below) are active and knowing collaborators.

Here's the action behind another iconic image: the child rock-thrower at the flaming barricades - Little David vs Zionist Goliath:

An especially evocative image below captures the reality that some (from our experience many, and some say most) of the media professionals capturing and marketing the imagery of Palestinian Arabs conducting a confrontation with Israeli society are themselves drawn from the same society. This picture below shows the videographer laying aside his tools of trade and praying alongside the subjects of his photography.

The video below includes some commentary by the young photographer himself.

A picture is worth a thousand words. And as with words, it's important to know something about the author and the circumstances and never to suspend one's critical faculties.

Monday, October 03, 2011

3-Oct-11: Quote of the day: Pres. Obama says Al Qaeda leadership decimated and therefore...

Via Reuters this evening:
"U.S. President Barack Obama said Monday it would be "very difficult" for al Qaeda to launch another major attack on the United States, as its leadership has been decimated... Asked by ABC News whether the "strategic defeat" of al Qaeda was at hand, Obama said: "We have done more in the last couple of years than any time in the last 10 years to bring that about... When you look at the entire leadership tier of al Qaeda, they have been decimated... I think we're in a position over the next couple of years, if we stay on it, that it's going to be very difficult for them [al Qaeda] to mount the kind of spectacular attacks that we saw on 9/11".
Let's hope these are mere political sentiments (meaning: never to be taken seriously - issued in order to achieve an effect in the world of public opinion) and not a reflection of the core assumptions behind day-to-day, life-and-death US government policy.

3-Oct-11: So do those security checkpoints serve their purpose or not?

Hawara checkpoint, some years ago
There's a report this afternoon (Monday) from the Hawara security checkpoint near Nablus.

IDF forces arrested a Palestinian Arab carrying a 10 centimeter long knife and an improvised gun. He is now being questioned by security officials over the possibility (as Ynet puts it) that he was intending to carry out a terror attack.

Notwithstanding the constant criticism from anti-Israel sources, Israel's part-constructed security barrier and its multiple checkpoints constitute one of this country's most effective counter-terrorism measures.

The numbers put this beyond doubt. That critics can - and obsessively do - call it an "Apartheid Wall" reveals something about the shortage of intellectual honesty in such attacks. The fact that the barrier and the checkpoints have had a clearly positive effect on terror statistics, greatly reducing deaths and injury on both sides, ought to be central to any discussion about them, but is not.

There's useful background on the issues in a monograph written by Prof. Gerald Steinberg called "The UN, the ICJ and the Separation Barrier: War by Other Means" [online here].

Sunday, October 02, 2011

2-Oct-11: Signs that our neighbours know we're in the middle of High Holyday season

Israeli servicemen on duty during the High
Holyday season enjoy a platter of apples dipped in honey,
a traditional symbol of the Jewish people's constant hopes
for a better, sweeter, more peaceful year. [Source]
Israel almost entirely shut down over the past three days. Wednesday night through Friday night were Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year and a time devoted to family, prayers and introspection. And the Sabbath followed immediately on Friday night, making for a three-day interlude of holiness or vacation, depending on your outlook.

Our Palestinian Arab neighbours along with the Arab states surrounding Israel have never shown any inclination for respecting the Jewish people's religious sensitivities (remember the co-ordinated massive attacks by multiple Arab armies on Israel on Yom Kippur 1973?). Hardly a surprise then that the past several days have seen several civilian-focused rocket attacks by the terrorist gangs of the Gaza Strip.
  • Tuesday, two rockets fired from Gaza exploded in the Sha'ar Hanegev region of southern Israel. One exploded next to an electricity line, causing damage to property. The second landed in an open field. [Source] Both were intended to kill civilian Israelis and cause maximum damage to non-military targets. 
  • Thursday evening, yet another Qassam rocket fired by the jihadist terrorists of the Gaza Strip landed in an unspecified open area inside Israel. No injuries or damages are reported. [Source
  • Saturday: In Beit Hanun, in the northern Gaza Strip, a gang of Palestinian Gazan Arab terrorist jihadists was spotted by Israeli intelligence in the act of preparing to launch multiple long-range rockets into Israel. The Israelis called in Israel Air Force fire of the pinpoint variety for which the IDF is famous. Though the potential for collateral damage in the heavily populated area from which the terrorists love to fire is great, the IAF achieved a direct hit on the gang members. Ynet says they are connected with Hamas. There are three of them, and all are injured, one critically. The IDF says the same three were behind the Thursday rocket firing and previous such terror attacks. The official Chinese newsagency rather ingenuously says the three (it calls them "a group of people") were attacked by "an Israeli reconnaissance drone [that] fired at least one missile". Reconnaissance drones carry sensors but no weapons, but if the terrorist thugs were stopped, we're more than happy to accept the Chinese distortions.
Daily rocket fire directed at Israeli civilians is not exactly what we have been praying for these past three days. But if an alert, rapid, accurate and effective defence force is part of the divine plan for protecting our land and our people from the barbarian practitioners of terror in the coming year, we'll accept that as a blessing too.