Monday, September 28, 2009

Iran is Testing (missiles and mindsets)

Iran is not going away anytime soon.
Right after reading this article from professor and former Condoleeza Rice cabinet member (not to mention member of my mishpacha) on the Wall Street Journal website I saw this picture on the

Oh boy is right. The caption under the picture said, and I quote, "Iran showed new defiance Sunday by test-firing three short-range missiles near the city of Qum." Iran's case of classic showboating comes just after the U.S.-British-French joint statement announcing the location of the site. Meant perhaps to show that 'we know what you're up to and you won't get away with it,' Iran's response is a clear indication that is does not care what the West thinks. In fact, it has and will continue to ignore international pleas for talks and negotiations, will continue to train fighters for proxy terrorist wars abroad, and will continue to suppress its myriad oppositional dissidents at home. President Obama continue to push for economic sanctions that will force Iran back to the nuclear negotiation table. While some countries (a la France and England) have vocally supported the president, noticeable others (China and Russia who not surprisingly has vested economic interests with Iran) have not. Sanctions are useless unless everyone is on board.

Iran tested three missiles on Sunday and plans on testing out some longer range ones on Monday--not coincidentally on the Jewish holy day, Yom Kippur. Testing mid range missiles on the most important Jewish day of the year (a day in which Israel has already been surprise attacked in the past, lest we forget) is sure to goad the already fragile mindset of the Israeli people and government. This is exactly what Ahmadinejad and company want: a provocation that would not be large enough to be considered an outright act of war, but would prompt Israel to preemptively strike Iran. It is assumed that any Israeli military strike would provoke a larger, Middle East war--something that would be very costly and probably no Israeli wants.

Iran pushed dangerous buttons today, and barely anyone even blinked. It will do the same tomorrow, and will continue to do so on until it is stopped. Whether it is through sanctions that actually 'cripple the economy' or through a decisive military strike, who is going to step up and do something?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Keys to Israeli-Syrian Success

It is easy to forget that even when governments are officially not talking to each other, they still really probably are. In today's online edition of the Jerusalem Post, I spotted an article announcing that over 550 Druze religious leaders and elders living in northern Israel just began a five day trip into Syria to see religious holy sites and reunite with family members who live in across the border. The Druze are a religious minority group in Israel. They split from Islam in the 11th century and its people are spread mainly throughout Israel, Syria, and Lebanon, although they also have diaspora communities throughout the world.

Over the past couple of months, the Obama administration has asked neighboring Arab states to grant confidence building measures to Israel (like opening cultural attache offices in various Middle Eastern cities and granting Israel flyover airspace en route to other destinations). These requests were made so that Israel might back any concessions it makes to its hesitant constituency (specifically regarding the halt of settlement activity in the West Bank). The Arab states however have overwhelmingly rejected this notion and refused to cooperate with President Obama. It is noteworthy, then, to discuss why this specific measure--taken on jointly both by Israelis and Syrians, is not receiving greater publicity. Although the two governments aren't officially talking with each other, and the article does stress that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has been shuttling back and forth figuring out the minutiae, surely there must be significant cooperation between the two governments (i.e. within their defense and interior ministries) to successfully pull off a stunt of this size. We're not talking about an individual family crossing the border and receiving special immunity, we're talking about hundreds of people with Israeli citizenship and full right, many of whom have served in the Israeli military, being bussed around for almost a week in what is officially enemy territory. Remember, Syria remains in a perpetual declared "state of war" with Israel. According to Post article, the Druze Member of Knesset (Israeli Parliament) Ayoub Kara helped orchestrate this diplomatic opening. In fact, it is part of his greater platform to organize border openings of these sorts once a month. If he were to succeed at opening the borders even bi-monthly, surely many would consider that a significant confidence building measure from which to build on.

For any sort of progress to be made, these sorts of steps must always be taken when made available: small tokens of cooperation now open up larger options down the road. In the case of Syrian-Israeli relations, this type of measure might eventually lead to bi or trilateral negotiations for peace. Israel conquered the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and Syria refuses to negotiate unless Israel completely evacuates the Golan and returns it to Syria. However, Israelis fear that giving back the region where much of Israel's natural, flowing water resources begin would be suicidal: not only would Syria be able to block the already scarce water sources from entering Israel, it could poison them, use them for sewage diversion etc. But, if you build trust through cooperative gestures, you get to negotiate on a serious level. If you solve the water disputes, you solve the Golan Heights (to grossly simplify this complicated topic, many, including me, believe that there is a way for Israel to give back almost all of the Golan to Syria and still leave its water security completely in tact). If you solve the Golan Heights, you get peace with Syria.

In a scene where prospects for peace are bleak, one has to believe that big things can happen when small steps are taken. A signal of cooperation between Israel and Syria is always a sign for optimism, but only if the two nations capitalize on the little thing to further the greater, underlying peace process will such signals have any meaning.

An edited version of this article can also be found on the online edition of the Columbia Spectator Newspaper here.
The Jerusalem Post article can be found here.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Part of the Problem... that this whole settlement thing is easier to push for religious Zionists.
MK Shalom is looking (per usual) to the religious Zionist leaders to help settle the periphery and Druckman, one such leader, laments (per usual) that a larger, religious U.S. aliyah never occurred to settle the north and south. While pledging to back job fairs, tax and housing incentives, and revamping of absorption centers are all important general steps, the bigger problem is finding work for everyone. People won't stay if there are no jobs. Thus, funds would probably be most well spent in areas surrounding job creation. That is to say, serious research analyzing what the demands are of the periphery environments needs to be done. This should be followed by developing ways to build up a market for skilled, young workers to come in, build new homes, and supply the workforce for the needed industries and firms. Finally, this all should go in conjunction with bolstering the nascent groups already in existence--both secular (a la the well-known-to-you-by-now NGO I was a part of this past semester, Ayalim) and religious (a la Or, see website: