Tag Archives: Israel

A Glimmer of Optimism

For those who follow the ins and outs of the Middle East peace process, the past 13 months have been certifiably depressing.  Since Israel’s military operation in Gaza last January, no progress whatsoever has been made in making peace with the Palestinians, Syria, or any one else.  The year has been replete with pre-conditions, freezes, blockades, declarations, and even good will gestures, but there has been a severe drought of actual peace and progress.

In that light, I was pleasantly surprised to read Joel Rubin’s commentary and analysis of the Herzliya Conference last night.  The conference is Israel’s largest annual global policy forum and is a perennial gathering of political heavyweights from the region and diplomats stationed in Israel.

Left and Right, those who spoke in Herzliya such as Opposition leader and Kadima Chair MK Tzipi Livni, Deputy PM Dan Meridor, and Deputy FM Danny Ayalon (of Turkish sofa incident fame) all stressed the essentiality of striking a two-state solution.  As Rubin puts it, “none of [them] declared this for sentimental reasons.” That is the essential point.  In today’s world, a comprehensive peace agreement is a strategic necessity for all parties involved.  The balance of power in the Middle East is rapidly changing, and overwhelming American preponderance is slowly eroding into a thing of the past.  That isn’t to say that the US has become irrelevant in the Middle East.  It still will play a central role in forging a future for the region, but the game has certainly changed.  The rising threat of Iran is an undeniable reality, and a regional peace agreement in the Middle East is invaluable in suppressing that threat as it will undoubtedly quell the flow of arms and money from Iran to other actors in the region like Hezbollah, Hamas, and Syria.

Consensus on a two-state agreement is not enough to make a stable, peaceful, and prosperous Middle East a reality.  It will require tough decisions and compromises from both sides of the negotiating table, and today we have not even returned to the negotiating table.  Despite the setbacks of 2009, Joel Rubin gets it right here:

There may not yet be peace…but this day may well have granted Obama a subtle victory, as the broad political recognition in Israel of the importance of a two state solution was made urgently clear.

My hope is that broad political recognition can be transformed into sweeping political action that delivers.

The Stuff of Hollywood Spy Thrillers

The Arab and Israeli Press have both been reporting this week on the death of Hamas leader Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh in Dubai, UAE.  Initially, Emirati authorities pronounced him dead after a heart attack, but after subsequent blood tests trace elements of poison were found in his blood.

Hamas, for their part, immediately and publicly accused the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad, of committing the deed, but the case remains unresolved.  Here are the latest updates.

Haaretz is reporting that the Dubai police Chief Dhahi Khalfan has narrowed the list of suspects down to 7 individuals carrying “various European passports.”

The Times of London is also claiming that Al-Mabhouh was injected with a poison that induced cardiac arrest in his hotel room, that the assassains photographed all the documents in his briefcase, and left the room with the “Do Not Disturb” sign hanging on the door.

This murder  harkens back to the 1997 assassination attempt of Hamas Chairman Khaled Meshaal in which Israeli intelligence agents  failed to murder him in Amman, Jordan.  Avi Shlaim, in his book The Iron Wall elaborates on this attempt:

Mossad prepared a plan to kill Khalid Meshaal…by injecting a slow-acting poison into his ear as he entered his his office in Amman…Meshaal was injected bu not killed, and his bodyguard captured the two Mossad agents, who were disguised as Canadian tourists…King Hussein [of Jordan]…said that he felt as if somebody “had spat in his face.”  Great was his surprise…when he learned that Netanyahu himself had ordered the bizarre operation in Jordan’s capital.  (pg.585-586)

That assassination attempt occurred just days after Hussein and Netanyahu had met in Jordan to discuss cooperation on the issue of Islamic terrorism.  Similarly, the UAE had just  hosted an Israeli cabinet minister, an unprecedented gesture, as part of a broader conference on energy in Dubai.  The UAE generally  refuses entry to all Israelis regardless of the purpose of visit.

I do not mean for this post to be a defense of Hamas or Al-Mabhouh. Nor do I intend to scathingly indict Netanyahu.  It does seem, however, that Bibi does have a penchant for timing his intelligence activities in a very careless way or he is clearly sending a message.  What that could be and how it is constructive in building diplomatic relations in the region…I have no idea.

***UPDATE***

It appears that the Mossad or Israel may not have been involved at all, and is likely that Egypt, Jordanian GID, or Palestinian Autority Security Services were involved.

There are also conflicting reports of Al Mabhouh’s cause of death.  In today’s article, Haaretz is reporting that local authorities attribute the cause of his death to asphyxiation, most likely with a pillow, and there was evidence of electrocution behind both of his ears.

Israel and the Brain Drain

David Brooks has written a pretty celebratory op-ed in the New York Times about Israel’s high-tech economy and its ability to weather the global financial crisis.  I have mixed feelings about his pretty unqualified optimism.  Yes, its great that Israel’s economy is growing and increasing overall wealth in the Jewish state.  It is undoubtedly raising the quality of life for many Israelis.

What Brooks misses in large part, however, is the phenomenon of the Israeli brain drain.  Brooks alludes to it in passing when he says “American Jews used to keep a foothold in Israel in case things got bad here. Now Israelis keep a foothold in the U.S.”  The problem is real, though. So many entrepreneurial, creative, and brilliant Israelis, those who possess great leadership potential, are leaving Israel or going into the private sector.  This has left many crucial  jobs–teachers, university professors, and government officials–in the hands of individuals we might not characterize as the best and brightest.  Israeli discontent with their choice of candidates in Knesset elections is largely attributed to the fact that those who do possess the skills have chosen to lead their lives abroad.

I think we can celebrate Israel’s accomplishments.  After all, many of the dreams of the Zionist ideal have been fulfilled.  Brooks gets it right when he says:

The country was not founded so stray settlers could sit among thousands of angry Palestinians in Hebron. It was founded so Jews would have a safe place to come together and create things for the world.

And they have, but the first sentence of this excerpt cannot be ignored.  When Israel  catches up politically to its economic achievements, it will be a cause for complete and total celebration.