Yep, F-5 Tiger II engines from Malaysia. They were found somewhere in South America as I recall...
Israel approves another 1,200 settlement units around Jerusalem
Plan brings total approvals to 5,500 in just over a week as right urges Binyamin Netanyahu to drop two-state solution pledge
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 25 December 2012 13.41 GMT
Binyamin Netanyahu, who is said to be under pressure to drop a commitment to a two-state solution from his election platform. Photograph: Reuters
Israel has given the green light for the fast-track development of a further 1,200 settlement units around Jerusalem. It brings the total number of new approvals to 5,500 in just over a week, the largest wave of proposed expansion in recent memory.
The latest plan, which would see almost 1,000 new apartments built over Jerusalem's green line in Gilo, comes as the Israeli media is reporting mounting pressure on the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, to drop his commitment to a two-state solution from his platform for re-election in January.
The agreement for the Gilo development is only the latest in wave of settlement approvals in Jerusalem agreed by the country's interior ministry and Jerusalem municipality's planning committees before Christmas.
That included proposals, which attracted international criticism, to develop the controversial E1 block to the east of Jerusalem.
Although Netanyahu, who leads a coalition with the ultra-nationalist Avigdor Lieberman, is still expected to win the most seats in the 22 January vote, a new poll suggests he has been losing ground since Lieberman was indicted on anti-trust charges this month and forced to step down as foreign minister.
A poll conducted by Dialog gives 35 of parliament's 120 seats to Netanyahu's Likud-Beiteinu list, down from 39 in the previous Dialog survey. The centrist Labor party polled second, with 17 seats.
The poll shows a continued surge by the rightwing Jewish Home party. Its leader, Naftali Bennett, stirred up a storm last week by saying he would resist evacuating settlements if ordered to do so as a reserves soldier.
The issue of Israel's illegal settlements has come to be a lightning-rod issue in the elections, even as Israel has faced mounting pressure to halt settlement expansion.
The latest wave of approvals followed a vote in the UN's general assembly to upgrade the Palestinian Authority to observer status at the United Nations despite US and Israeli opposition.
With some critics of Israeli settlement policy arguing that the latest approvals mark the death knell for the two-state solution, it has emerged that some members of Netanyahu's own party are also pushing for him to remove his commitment to a future Palestinian state from his election platform.
Netanyahu signed up to the two-state solution in a 2009 speech at Bar-Ilan University, but senior officials from his party, who spoke anonymously to Haaretz, told the paper he was facing increasing pressure to abandon that position.
"Dividing the land will bring about Israel's destruction," one senior Likud official told the newspaper. "We've said that in the past and we say it today. How does this sit with recognising a Palestinian state?"
A second senior party official added: "Likud's platform to date has not recognised the establishment of a Palestinian state, and Yisrael Beiteinu rejects outright the possibility that a Palestinian state could be established alongside Israel."
Israel Fortifies Its Southern Desert Borders
Jan. 9, 2013 - 02:28PM
By BARBARA OPALL-ROME
Tel Aviv — Israel marked two major milestones in the past two weeks in efforts to defend against infiltration along its southern desert borders.
On Jan. 2, the Ministry of Defense announced the completion of a 230-kilometer fortification running from the Kerem Shalom crossing point with Gaza down along its Sinai Egyptian border to just north of the Red Sea resort town of Eilat.
The effort, known here as Project Hour Glass, is likely to exceed $300 million by the time the last 12-kilometer stretch through the Eilat Mountains is completed in May.
Built in less than three years by MoD-managed construction teams working nearly around the clock, the Hour Glass project aims to prevent terrorist infiltration, illegal migrants from Africa, and the smuggling of weapons, drugs and other contraband through the Sinai Desert.
It consists of a 5- to 7-meter-high fence, multiple layers of barbed wire, and patrol paths and access roads. Cameras, radars and other systems are integrated into the Israeli Army’s command-and-control system, allowing for remote surveillance of the vast border area.
Completion of the main stretch of fortifications follows the late December inauguration of a regional brigade — the third attached to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Edom Division — to defend Eilat and surrounding areas against terrorist and criminal threats.
Col. Roei Be’eri, commander of the new Eilat Regional Brigade, is responsible for a vast triangular territory that starts at the tip of the Gulf of Aqaba and straddles some 100 kilometers along Israel’s eastern border with Jordan and the western Sinai border.
“We’re deploying to defend a monstrous area first and foremost from the terrorist threat, and after that from the criminal elements that often work hand-in-hand with the terrorists,” said Be’eri, a former commander of another brigade in the Edom Division who has spent the past three years in Israel’s southern desert region.
In a Jan. 3 interview, Be’eri said his active-duty brigade is supported by an elite counterterrorism reserve unit and other specialized elements, including a company of female observers trained to analyze the integrated data that will stream into his command center from sensors deployed in Project Hour Glass.
“During this year, the fortification barrier will close around Eilat, and we will have the full situational advantage provided by advanced technologies,” Be’eri said. “At the same time, we’re training according to a new operational concept that provides low-signature high security to the people of Eilat and surrounding areas.
“Our mission is to defend the area in a modest yet efficient way, so that residents and tourists won’t see us too much; they’ll only feel more secure,” he said.
The operational urgency for the new brigade followed an Aug. 11, 2011, coordinated terrorist attack near Eilat. Six civilians and two soldiers were killed in the three-stage attack, which started when terrorists fired at an Israeli bus, followed by the bombing of an IDF patrol and an anti-tank missile launch at another vehicle.
In April 2006, three people were killed in an Eilat bakery by a suicide bomber who authorities say reached the resort town through Sinai from the Gaza Strip.
And last March, Israel’s Shin Bet security service announced the arrest of a Hamas operative from the Gaza Strip, whom authorities credited with exposing a Sinai-based operation aimed at the abduction of an Israeli soldier and a terrorist attack in Eilat.
At a Dec. 26 inauguration ceremony, Brig. Gen. Nadav Padan, commander of the Edom Division, said the new Eilat Regional Brigade is a manifestation of the IDF’s response to the changing security environment.
“The changes in the region and the influence of Gaza-based and local terror organizations pose new operational challenges,” Padan said. “This reality compels us to change our operational perception. ... [while] adapting to the growing threats and ensuring the quality of civilian life in the area.”
Israel election: country prepares for next act in the great moving right show
Next week's elections are expected to confirm a long-term move away from the secular liberalism that once dominated Israeli politics among voters disillusioned by a failed peace process. Is this a permanent shift in the political landscape?
Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem
The Observer, Saturday 12 January 2013 13.05 GMT
Binyamin Netanyahu's Likud party is predicted to win enough votes in the general election for him to remain prime minister. Photograph: Jim Hollander/EPA
Dalya Steinberger's journey across Israel's political landscape began more than 20 years ago when she cast a vote for Labour, one of almost a million people who helped propel Yitzhak Rabin to the leadership of the Jewish state. A year later, in 1993, Rabin signed the historic Oslo Accords, shaking hands with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on the lawns of the White House. A little more than two years later, the prime minister died at the hands of a rightwing assassin who objected to the prospect of Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank.
In the two decades since that vote, Steinberger's optimism and belief in an attainable and lasting peace with the Palestinians have evaporated. Her disillusion has led her steadily rightwards: in 2006 she voted for the centrist Kadima party; in 2009 for the rightwing Likud; and in a little over a week, she expects to vote for the ultra-nationalist Jewish Home, a party that flatly opposes a Palestinian state and advocates the annexation of large swaths of the West Bank.
"To vote for the left now would feel like committing suicide," says Steinberger, a civil servant who lives on the outskirts of Jerusalem. "We have to protect ourselves and our future and we have to be strong."
Steinberger's rightwards trajectory has not been performed in isolation. Many of her friends and associates have made similar shifts in their political views. As the general election of 22 January approaches, polls predict a clear majority for the Israeli right. According to pollster Rafi Smith, 41% of Israeli voters now define themselves on the right, up from 34% three years ago. The country, he says, "has become more hawkish over the past five to 10 years".
Naftali Bennett, leader of Jewish Home, whose momentum in opinion polls has shaken up the campaign, likens this to a rightwing nationalist uprising. With a nod to regional revolutions, he told a foreign policy debate at Jerusalem's Hebrew University: "A Jewish spring is sweeping Israel these days. What you are seeing with Habayit Hayehudi [Jewish Home] is a dormant desire to restore Jewish values to Israel being uncovered, exploding."
Danny Danon, another extreme rightwinger rising in the political firmament, in his case within the ruling Likud party, describes it is an "awakening". His elevation from 24th place on Likud's list of candidates to fifth "reflects the will of the people", he says.
It is not only politicians and analysts who say Israel's political centre of gravity is shifting to the right. "Something revolutionary is happening," says Nerya Avitan, a 21-year-old campaign volunteer for Jewish Home at an election rally in Rishon Lezion. "People are not ashamed to say the whole of Israel [including the West Bank] belongs to the Jews. The two-state solution is a beautiful idea, but in reality there's no way to get there. Bennett is telling us the truth, and bringing Jewish heritage back to politics. He's telling us to stop living in a movie."
The early scenes of that "movie" told an epic tale of early socialist-Zionists building a new democratic Jewish state. Its stars were the backbone of the kibbutz movement – secular and leftwing European Jews, many of whom gave up professional careers for manual and agricultural labour. These pioneers were committed to equality, inclusiveness and tolerance – at least, among fellow Jews – and some also believed it would be possible to coexist with the Arab population.
A strong nationalist strain was always present, says veteran peace activist and former MP Uri Avnery, who will be 90 this year. "But at the start, most Israelis were sincere in wanting a democratic state. The Zionist movement was idealistic, and it was unbearable to think that we were displacing another people. So it was simply denied."
"Israel was established on a foundation of communal solidarity, a socialist and secular paradigm," says Avraham Burg, a former speaker of the Israeli parliament and chairman of Molad, a leftwing thinktank. "Now, in 2013, Israel is capitalist and religious. The change has been over a long period, and it's not just the paradigm that's changed but also the population. In 1948 Israel's Jewish population was 650,000. Each and every decade of Israel's history has added a different demographic layer, which has shifted Israel to a different place."
The "watershed" moment, says Burg, was the 1967 war, when Israel swiftly defeated its Arab neighbours. The resulting occupation and colonisation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza changed the course of Israeli politics. "The old socialist movement ended its historic rule and redemptive messianic religious Zionism took its place."
Avnery agrees on the significance of 1967. "It was a revolution as well as a military victory. The Labour movement was over in practice and a new elite of settlers, who would never dream of giving back the West Bank, took over.
"Now, if you ask an Israeli taxi driver, he will say, 'I want peace, but there's no chance of it in this or the next generation.' That is now the opinion of 90% of the public. And when people feel there's no chance of peace, the rightwing is more creditable than the left. Today the competition is between the right wing, the extreme right wing and the fascist right wing. They have a solid majority."
The twin factors of demographic change and the failure of the "peace process" aimed at establishing an independent Palestinian state alongside a democratic Israel over the last 20 years underlie the rightward shift, say analysts.
Among Israel's 7.9 million people, only 14-15% now describe themselves as secular Jews, whereas about 50% identify themselves as traditional, religious or ultra-Orthodox, according to Smith's polling figures. As a proportion of the population, the ultra-Orthodox are growing rapidly as a result of their large families. Jerusalem has become a bastion for those communities.
The vast majority of such traditional and religious Israeli Jews are on the political right – 79% of the ultra-Orthodox, compared with only 17% of secular Israelis. "The religious are clearly to the right – that's how they define themselves," says Smith. "The demography does not look good for the centre-left. Secular people are becoming a small minority."
The second significant demographic factor is the influx of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, who now make up nearly 15% of the electorate. In the last election, around half voted for former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman's ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu, now in a rightwing electoral alliance with Likud, the party led by prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Many are instinctively on the political right after enduring years of repression in the former Soviet bloc. Their politics combined with their numbers have helped tip Israel's political balance, leading former US president Bill Clinton to describe Israel's Russian-speaking community in 2010 as "an obstacle to peace with the Palestinians".
On the political front, the moribund peace process is the main factor behind changes in public opinion, say many analysts. The Oslo Accords created a surge of optimism dashed by a wave of violence during the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising. The withdrawal of Israeli settlers from Gaza in 2005 was followed by Hamas rule, rocket fire and two conflicts. Regional upheavals in the last two years have added to Israel's sense of insecurity.
There is a siege mentality, says Smith. "People believe the missiles are coming. So, as a whole, society is becoming very hawkish."
Carlo Strenger, a psychologist and commentator, says: "The bottom line is that Israelis have become so mistrustful of the prospects of peace that they are moving to the right because quite simply they are scared. And they prefer parties that they feel will safeguard their security. Most have not moved to the right in a deep ideological sense. The truth is that, for most Israelis, security is the primordial and primary issue."
Some analysts dispute the premise that Israeli public opinion has moved to the right, pointing to polls predicting that more than a third of parliamentary seats will go to centrist or left-of-centre parties. Reuven Hazan, a political scientist at Jerusalem's Hebrew University, says the notion of a fundamental rightwards shift is "completely wrong". "In the current election campaign, we see a small shift to the right, but this is minor compared to the convergence on the centre."
But with the Israeli political spectrum moving rightwards, the centre is much further to the right than in most western democracies. "The right has become the far right," wrote commentator David Horovitz on the Times of Israel website last week. "On the Israeli right in 2013, Binyamin Netanyahu, rhetorically at least, is a discordant relative moderate."
There is little doubt that Netanyahu will still be prime minister after the election. A series of opinion polls on Friday predicted that the Likud-Beiteinu alliance would win between 33 and 38 seats in the 120-seat parliament, way ahead of Labour, the next biggest party, which is forecast to get between 16 and 18 seats. Bennett's Jewish Home is expected to come third, with 13 or 14.
But Netanyahu's parliamentary group will be markedly more rightwing after 22 January. Several relatively moderate voices in Likud will not be members of the next parliament, replaced with hardliners such as Danon – whose top priority is "loyalty to the land of Israel" and who says "it is a fatal mistake to try to appease Europe or America" – and Moshe Feiglin, a radical national-religious settler.
Among Jewish Home's MPs are likely to be two hardline settlers from Hebron, a Palestinian city fraught with tension because of the extremist Jewish settlement at its heart. And, while the settler presence in the parliament grows, the next Knesset is likely to be the first without a single member from a kibbutz.
Meanwhile, Labour, led by former journalist Shelly Yachimovich, has abandoned its traditional platform of seeking a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, focusing almost exclusively on socioeconomic issues. The "alternative voice" is silent, wrote Horovitz. "The party of… Yitzhak Rabin, the one-time party of government, has offered no leadership in these elections on shaping our relations with the Palestinians."
That ground appears to have been ceded to the right. The compromises necessary for peace seem even less likely in the next government than the present one. Many liberal Israelis and foreign diplomats fear that the chances of a two- state solution will finally be snuffed out.
Amos Oz, a celebrated author and a supporter of the leftist Meretz party, expected to win about five seats, warned last week that without a two-state solution Israel was heading towards apartheid. The right wing, he told a meeting, "believes that Jews can rule over an Arab majority for a long time". The inevitable collapse of an apartheid state would mean the end of the Jewish state.
But for Dalya Steinberger, the opposite is true: the move to the right is essential for Israel's survival, she says. "This is our country. We are here to stay. We can't afford to be soft or generous, or do what the world wants us to do. There is only one Jewish homeland and we cannot risk losing it."
Jewish Americans may be increasingly disenchanted with Netanyahu. But their priorities lie elsewhere
Peter Beinart is the American author of the controversial book The Crisis of Zionism and is the editor of the Daily Beast blog OpenZion.com
The Observer, Saturday 12 January 2013 13.41 GMT
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photograph: Pool/Reuters
In Israel, public discourse is moving right. You can see it in the rise of Israel Hayom, the free, pro-Likud newspaper that has eclipsed Israel's more traditional, centrist press. You can see it in the rise of Naftali Bennett, the settler leader whose party could come in third in the elections due later this month. You can see it the election campaign as a whole, in which the two-state solution is a virtual afterthought.
In Jewish America, by contrast, public discourse about Israel is moving left. You can see it in the increasingly harsh criticism of Binyamin Netanyahu's government by mainstream Jewish commentators such as New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman and New Yorker editor David Remnick. You can see it in the inability of rightwing Jewish figures such as former Bush administration official Elliot Abrams and Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens to derail Chuck Hagel's nomination as secretary of defence by calling him (absurdly) an antisemite. And you can see it in the rise of the liberal lobby group J Street, which after some initial stumbles has developed strong relationships with influential Jewish Democrats such as California senator Dianne Feinstein.
So are the world's two largest Jewish communities headed for a clash? Not necessarily, because public discourse only matters so much. The dirty little secret of Jewish America is how disconnected most American Jews are from the Jewish state, a country most have never visited and know little about. That's especially true for younger American Jews, only 58% of whom, according to a recent J Street survey, could even identify who Netanyahu is. Are many of these liberal, relatively secular Jews, especially in the younger generation, uncomfortable with Israel's current drift? Yes. Is this discomfort increasingly felt even by prominent Jewish writers such as Friedman and Remnick? Yes. Does this discomfort drive the organised American Jewish community? No, because the Jews most uncomfortable with Israeli policy have the least contact with the organised American Jewish community. To the extent that they're politically active, it's on American domestic issues such as abortion, gun control, gay rights and healthcare. For the most part, liberal Jews leave Israel to their richer, older, more religious and more tribal co-religionists who populate groups like the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (Aipac). And it's Aipac, and organisations like it, which wield the most influence in Washington, thus helping prevent the Obama administration from challenging Netanyahu's pro-settlement policies.
It's a bit like gun control. A majority of Americans think letting lunatics get automatic weapons is, well, lunatic. But a majority of Americans involved in gun-related lobbying groups don't.
So is Netanyahu free to do whatever he pleases without worrying about the American Jewish response? On the Palestinians, maybe. But on Iran, no. That's because war with Iran, a war in which the US could easily become engulfed even if we don't drop the first bomb, is a much higher priority than the Israeli-Palestinian peace process (or lack thereof). It's a higher priority for Americans, for liberal American Jews, and for America's president. It's an issue on which Obama, as evidenced by the Hagel nomination, is not prepared to defer to Aipac. And it's an issue that could, if America goes to war, mobilise those liberal American Jews who would not mobilise politically on the peace process but did mobilise against the war in Iraq.
The key things about the 70% of US Jews who voted for Obama is that, politically, they're more focused on America than Israel and more focused on being liberal than being Jewish. Whether or not Netanyahu understands that will help determine relations between the world's two largest Jewish communities in 2013.
Binyamin Netanyahu 'wasted $3bn on Iranian attack plan'
Israel's former prime minister Ehud Olmert accuses Israeli PM of preparing for war that never took place
Peter Beaumont, foreign affairs editor
The Observer, Sunday 13 January 2013
Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert has accused the current prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, of wasting $3bn preparing for a war on Iran that never took place. Photograph: David Furst/AFP/Getty Images
Israel's former prime minister, Ehud Olmert, has accused the current prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, of wasting almost $3bn preparing for a war on Iran that never took place, underlining how seriously Netanyahu considered launching an attack in the last two years.
The public criticism of Netanyahu, who is expected to be re-elected later this month, follows some scathing criticism of the prime minister by the former head of Israel's domestic intelligence agency Shin Bet, Yuval Diskin. Diskin accused Netanyahu of spending the money on "harebrained adventures that haven't, and won't, come to fruition". The charge was levelled by Olmert as Netanyahu once again pledged that Iran would be top of his agenda if he was re-elected.
Speaking in a television interview on Israel's Channel 2, Olmert said: "In the last two years, 11bn shekels [$2.9bn] were spent on operations which were not and will not be carried out. These figures go well beyond the multi-year budgets. We were told that 2012 was the decisive year. They managed to scare the entire world, but nothing was done in the end."
Olmert also appeared to back the claims by Diskin that Netanyahu and the defence minister, Ehud Barak, discussed launching an attack on Iran over alcohol and cigars.
"Did I hear about it? Yes. Should Diskin have talked about it? I'm glad he didn't reveal operative details, but when it comes to issues like this, it was his duty to speak up," said Olmert.
"If a man like Diskin, who has behaved responsibly during all his years of public service, reaches the conclusion that the Israeli public must know what's going on when their fates are being decided on, it is vital that he does so."
Former Israeli Security Chief Slams Netanyahu, Barak
Claims Push for Iran Attack Is Ego-Driven
Jan. 14, 2013 - 09:51AM
By BARBARA OPALL-ROME
TEL AVIV — Israel’s former Shin Bet security chief has joined a growing list of retired officials publicly critical of what they view as the diplomatically shortsighted, militaristic manner in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are managing the Iranian nuclear threat and Palestinian peace process.
In a damning indictment published Jan. 4 in Yediot Ahronot, Israel’s largest daily newspaper, Yuval Diskin describes an opportunistic, ego-driven duo lacking the leadership qualities necessary for steering the ship of state.
“My colleagues and I did not have a sense of security in the ability of Netanyahu and Barak to lead an action against Iran,” said the man who served eight years as Shin Bet director under three prime ministers and worked closely in a deputy capacity with another four heads of state. “It’s relatively easy to enter into such an event. All you need is to decide: ‘Let’s attack Iran.’ But once we’re in this event, will these two — Bibi and Barak — be truly able to get us out of it with results desirable to the State of Israel?”
Naming former Mossad chief Meir Dagan and retired Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, the former Israeli military chief of staff, Diskin added, “We didn’t feel comfortable with the motivations of [Netanyahu and Barak].”
Diskin went further than Dagan, Ashkenazi and others, including President Shimon Peres, who limited public criticism to the wisdom of a prospective Israeli unilateral attack on Iran.
“Extraordinarily severe assessments from an extraordinarily serious professional with intimate knowledge of what went on. ... His words should not be ignored,” a former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff told Defense News on Jan. 7 of the Diskin interview.
In a May 2011 Hebrew University address, 16 months after retiring from more than eight years as head of Mossad, Dagan said plans by Netanyahu and Barak were “the stupidest thing I ever heard.” And in an August 2012 interview with Israel’s Channel 2 television, Peres said it was “clear to us” that Israel “can’t do it alone. We have to proceed together with America.”
Both men were subjected to ad hominem attacks by anonymous officials in the prime minister’s office, including some who threatened to investigate Dagan for security infractions.
“If I’m a criminal from field security, they should charge me in court,” Dagan fired back at his anonymous accusers at a November 2011 gathering of the Israel Commercial and Industrial Club.
In his unprecedented interview with Dror Moreh, an Israeli filmmaker whose latest documentary on the Shin Bet, “The Gatekeepers,” is up for a U.S. Academy Award, Diskin claimed Netanyahu and Barak lack essential leadership qualities — such as the ability to make decisions and take responsibility for their consequences — that he saw in former Israeli prime ministers.
“When I take the spectrum of leaders under whom I served, I can say there were leaders that always gave me the sense that in the moment of truth — when the national interest conflicted with their personal interests — that they would prefer the national interest above all,” he said. “Sorrowfully, my sense and that of many senior officials, some retired and others still serving in the defense establishment, is that with Netanyahu and Barak, their actions and decisions are led, above all, by personal, opportunistic and immediate interests.”
Diskin said he broke the vow of silence that governed his 33 years in the secret service due to the need for public debate over Netanyahu’s management of the national security agenda during this time of strategic change sweeping the region.
Netanyahu’s office, however, said Diskin’s decision to go public now, after more than a year in retirement, was a politically motivated attempt to influence Jan. 22 elections.
“Diskin’s baseless comments ... were motivated by personal frustration at not being appointed head of the Mossad,” the prime minister’s office said in a prepared statement.
Barak’s office released a similar statement assailing Diskin’s “baseless” comments and questioning the personal motivations of the former Shin Bet chief.
Regardless of his reasons, the Diskin interview provided riveting accounts of dysfunctional closed-door deliberations, including new details of a 2010 showdown between the security chiefs and Netanyahu and Barak over orders that could have sparked regional war.
“They tried to drag us into activating the military and security system for an operation which was sure to bring us into war,” Diskin said of the opposition he shared with counterparts from the Israel Defense Forces and Mossad. “This forced all three of us to stand up and say the decision was illegal; they could not give us such an order ... that launching a war is a decision only the government is authorized to take.”
When asked what he thought motivated the two officials, Diskin replied, “I won’t get into a professional psychological assessment, but I think it has a lot to do with ego. I have a very deep sense that on the Iranian issue, Netanyahu is haunted by Menachem Begin, who attacked the [nuclear] reactor in Iraq; and by [Ehud] Olmert, to whom the attack on the Syrian reactor is ascribed.
“Bibi wants to go down in history as the one who did something much bigger. It wasn’t only once that I heard him disparage what his predecessors had done by saying that his mission — Iran — was of an entirely different magnitude.”
He added, “Luckily, Bibi is usually hostage to his fears and suspicions, and therefore I am a little less concerned about him [acting] alone without someone at his side who he can pin the blame on if things go wrong. He [Netanyahu] will find it hard to take significant decisions without a strong military chief of staff or defense minister by his side.”
Rami Tal, a veteran commentator who worked closely with Netanyahu on his 1993 book, “A Place Among Nations,” said Diskin reinforced his belief that the Israeli premier would not order a unilateral attack on Iran.
Squandered Peace Prospects
On the stagnation and persistent recriminations characterizing the Israeli-Palestinian peace track, Diskin warned that Netanyahu’s policies over the past four years are reducing the prospects — however slight — of securing two states for two peoples.
He dismissed as “empty words” Netanyahu’s much-vaunted Bar Ilan University speech of June 2009, in which the Israeli premier pledged to pursue “a demilitarized Palestinian state side by side with the Jewish state.”
“Netanyahu remains ideologically suspicious of a two-state approach, and his personality is not built for making the momentous decisions that were made by Begin and [Yitzhak] Rabin,” Diskin said of the former’s peace deal with Egypt and the latter’s agreement with former Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat.
The retired Israeli counterterror chief accused Netanyahu of squandering the hard-fought operational achievements that restored calm in the West Bank.
“I’ve been in this game most of my adult life. In the end, the security forces need to do the hard and sometimes dirty and unpleasant work. But the job of the security forces is to create the conditions for action by the political echelon,” Diskin said.
Warning of the third intifada to come from the prolonged stalemate, Diskin appealed for greater involvement from Washington in prodding diplomatic progress before extremists from both sides spark further violence.
“Sadly, the Americans are not applying their influence,” he said.
Without a diplomatic horizon, Israel will eventually need to use force to suppress the resentment percolating in the Palestinian streets of the West Bank.
“When the ground is bubbling, we’ll have to take steps. And forceful measures breed forceful reactions, which in turn creates a process that leads us to a third intifada,” Diskin warned.
According to Diskin, Netanyahu’s primary objective during his four-year term was the survival of his coalition government rather than the national imperative of reaching a two-state solution. He insisted that Netanyahu’s constant belittling of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) has strengthened Hamas and other extremists unwilling to renounce terror and recognize Israel.
“The quiet that was achieved in the last few years should never have been wasted. So one can label Abu Mazen a peace refusenik. I say this is not so. He’s not an easy partner for peace, but let’s face facts: Are we ourselves easy partners?”
Israel’s Electoral Shift Unlikely To Boost Peace In Near Term
Jan. 26, 2013 - 02:08PM
By BARBARA OPALL-ROME
TEL AVIV — Contrary to claims of an Israeli electoral shift to more moderate, middle ground, the new government to be formed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is projected to retain its right-wing reticence for a Palestinian peace deal and its insular, threat-driven approach to strategic changes sweeping the region.
At best, political scientists and experts here are depicting Netanyahu’s next term as right-light, presuming he honors a Jan. 23 pledge to form “as broad a government as possible” to bring about changes demanded by a disgruntled electorate.
In postelection interviews, experts cautioned against drawing false conclusions from the Jan. 22 ballot, which stripped Netanyahu’s merged Likud-Israel Our Home party of 11 seats and ostensibly restored a near balance between the 61-seat voting bloc of the Israeli right to the 59 seats constituting the center-left.
Netanyahu needs to supplement the 31 seats secured in last week’s election with at least an additional 30 to meet minimum government control of Israel’s 120-seat parliament. He has already initiated coalition discussions with party leaders across the political spectrum to fortify his presumptive government’s chances of surviving a full four-year term.
But in an election driven largely by Israel’s domestic agenda, labels are deceiving, and hardly reflect a broad-based repudiation of Israel’s current political-military course.
Rather, last week’s ballot marked a stinging rebuke of Netanyahu’s pandering to Israel’s draft-evading Haredi religious sector and his failure to enact meaningful reforms demanded by the mass social protests from summer 2011.
“Make no mistake, this election was not a referendum on war and peace,” said Ron Ben-Yishai, a veteran political and security analyst.
In a Jan. 23 interview, Ben-Yishai said international observers should not expect “any breakthroughs” toward a Palestinian peace deal or new, diplomatic strategies for coping with strategic challenges in the region. “On diplomatic issues, we may see some changes in nuance. ... Hopefully, the coalition will be more reasonable and sane; less willing to go head-to-head with the United States.”
In Israel’s next government, centrist labels can actually mean right, as in the case of Yair Lapid, the surprise victor in last week’s ballot with 19 seats for his Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party.
Lapid, a celebrity broadcaster, author and entertainer, campaigned on improved education and more equitable sharing of the military burden and social benefits now favoring Israel’s highly subsidized ultra-religious sector. Lapid now controls the second-largest voting bloc, behind Netanyahu’s 31 seats, and several choice ministerial portfolios are his for the taking in a presumptive Netanyahu-led center-right government.
But how centrist is the political newcomer? Like Netanyahu and the few remaining non-ultra right members of his Likud party, Lapid endorses unconditional negotiations toward a two-state solution to the Palestinian conflict. But like the most pedigreed right-wingers, he rejects compromise on Jerusalem and supports continued construction in major Jewish settlement blocks of the occupied West Bank.
On issues of regional security, Lapid is considered a centrist hawk. While critical of the red lines that Netanyahu wants to set for military action against Iran, he has not made a campaign issue of Israel’s growing diplomatic isolation or the prime minister’s strained ties with U.S. President Barack Obama.
Alternatively, center-left can mean nothing, as evidenced by the enigmatic foreign policy platform of opposition Labor Party leader Shelly Yachimovich, whose 15 seats were secured solely on social issues.
And in the case of Naftali Bennett, whose ultra-nationalist Jewish Homeland party garnered 12 seats in last week’s ballot, far right was marketed as mainstream while parts of its platform tilted toward fascism, if not messianism.
Aside from the party’s purported God-given claim to settle in all of the country, Jewish Homeland vows to revamp Israel’s Supreme Court, which it derides for being “historically dominated for generations by the liberal left.” The party also aims to correct “the over-judicialization of Israel … through excessive intervention [of courts and the state attorney] in the policy-making and spirit … of the Jewish and Zionist values of the country.”
Bennett, a young, modern Orthodox former Seyeret Matkal commando from the suburbs, made millions from the sale of his high-tech startup firm before serving a short stint as Netanyahu’s senior staffer. He controls the fourth-largest voting bloc, mainly by siphoning votes from Likud and other supporters not fully aware of his party’s radical slant.
With the exception of Arab sectorial parties and left-wing Meretz — the flag bearer of Israel’s peace camp with its unequivocal calls for an end to the West Bank occupation — voters did not respond well to calls for a significant reversal of Israel’s political-military course.
Meretz doubled its representation from three to six seats.
Centrist parties led by Tzipi Livni, a former foreign minister, and Shaul Mofaz, a former defense minister, that targeted Netanyahu’s security agenda got little satisfaction at the polls.
Livni — the big star of Israel’s last election, who actually won more votes than Netanyahu, but failed to cobble together a coalition government — managed a mere six seats in her latest incarnation.
Mofaz — who succeeded Livni as head of what remained of the Centrist Kadima party of former prime ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert — eked into the next government with an anemic two-seat mandate.
“Those who campaigned on diplomacy got no traction at the polls. Look what happened to Livni, not to mention Mofaz,” said Efraim Inbar, a professor of political science and director of the Begin Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University.
In a Jan. 23 interview, Inbar noted that a significant share of votes for Lapid, a so-called centrist, and Bennett, the right-wing nationalist, would have gone to Netanyahu. “Many of them were Netanyahu supporters who knew Netanyahu would be the prime minister and, for various reasons, allowed themselves to vote for other parties.”
As for the perceived shift to the more moderate center, Inbar replied: “It’s nonsense to say that the Israeli public is shifting away from the consensus that we have to block a nuclear Iran, we have to be strong in the face of terrorism, and that the Palestinian issue should stay on the back burner until there is a partner for negotiations.”
Israel admits it was holding Prisoner X after court eases gagging order
Prisoner who died in Israeli prison in 2010 held Australian and Israeli citizenship and is said to have been agent of the Mossad
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 14 February 2013 04.12 GMT
Ayalon prison in Ramle near Tel Aviv, where 'Prisoner X' killed himself in 2010. Photograph: Nir Elias/Reuters
In the midst of an escalating international row with Australia, the Israeli government has been forced to admit that it secretly imprisoned a "dual-nationality" citizen – known as "Prisoner X" – who subsequently killed himself while being detained in Ayalon prison.
Ben Zygier. Photograph: ABC TV
Prisoner X has widely been reported as being 34-year-old Ben Zygier, who had both Australian and Israeli citizenship and has been described as an agent of Israel's external intelligence agency, the Mossad, who was arrested in Israel in 2010 on serious but unspecified charges.
The information was released after a draconian gag order preventing reporting of the case in Israel was partially lifted by a court on Wednesday evening after media and political pressure.
According to reports earlier in the week, Zygier had been held in circumstances of such secrecy and isolation that even his prison guards did not know his identity or alleged offence.
The document released admitted that an inmate was registered under a false identity "for security reasons", but added that his family in Australia – who have refused to comment on the case – were notified immediately upon his arrest.
It added that the secret detention of Prisoner X was authorised by the most senior officials in Israel's justice ministry; and that the prisoner – referred to as "John Doe" – had been represented by three Israeli lawyers. The document did not make clear either the charge he faced or whether the lawyers were appointed by the state in secret.
Israel's belated admission of the existence of Prisoner X follows a two-year effort to gag any media reporting about the controversial case which saw the office of Israel's prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, threaten editors with fines or jail if they disclosed details about the case earlier this week.
That effort backfired as Israel faced a deluge of embarrassing revelations about the case which appeared to expose the detailed workings of its overseas intelligence agency in the most graphic detail, as well as the growing irritation of Israel's allies over the Mossad's behaviour.
The disclosure came at the end of a day of extraordinary new details about the alleged double life of Zygier. It emerged that Zygier had been confronted shortly before his arrest by Australian journalist Jason Koutsoukis of Fairfax newspapers, who accused him of being a spy.
Koutsoukis told the Guardian Zygier had been identified to him as one of three Australian-Israeli citizens working for the Mossad under the cover of a European front company that sold electronic equipment to Iran.
He also said Zygier was under investigation by the Australian intelligence services and was close to being arrested for using his Australian passport for espionage.
As the scandal over Zygier's treatment and suicide in Israel's Ayalon prison continued to grow, the Australian government was forced to admit that Israeli officials had briefed Australian diplomats over the case. Previously it had been claimed they knew nothing of Zygier's detention and death until his family asked for help to repatriate his body.
In an embarrassing about-face on Thursday, Australia's foreign minister, Bob Carr, said his country had been made aware of Zygier's detention in February 2010. He said Australia had been given assurances by Israeli intelligence sources about Zygier's safety.
"The Israeli government further advised the Australian government the individual would be treated in accordance with his lawful rights as an Israeli citizen," Carr said.
"The Australian government relied on these assurances. At no stage during his detention did the Australian government receive any request from the individual or his family to extended consular support.
"The Australian government was advised through intelligence on 16 December 2010 of this individual's death on the previous day and the deceased family had been notified by Israeli authorities."
According to the secretary of Australia's department of foreign affairs, Peter Varghese, who is carrying out a review of how the Zygier case was handled, the Australian embassy in Tel Aviv had not been involved in the Zygier case but instead communications were carried out through intelligence channels.
"The decision to continue communications through intelligence channels rather than to deal with this as a more normal consular case, can only I assume reflect a judgment that, given the nature of this case and that the charges pertained to national security issues, the more effective means of continuing to communicate would be through intelligence channels," Varghese told a Senate committee.
Carr said a review would be conducted of his department's handling of the prisoner, who was found hanged in an Israeli prison cell in 2010.
In Israel, meanwhile, the media was on Wednesday able to report parts of the story for the first time after the government partially lifted its ban on reporting any details of Zygier's imprisonment, imposed by an Israeli court after his arrest.
The case has triggered demands by Israeli opposition politicians, human rights groups and sections of the media for Netanyahu's government to supply more information about his imprisonment and death, and to reform its antiquated and authoritarian military censorship rules.
Zygier, who was married to an Israeli and had two young children, was found hanged in his cell in late 2010. His body was flown to Melbourne for burial the following week.
While the case remains murky, the new revelations will be deeply embarrassing to the Mossad, not least because they shed new light on how the Israeli spy agency acquires cover identities for agents.
In the last three years the Mossad department charged with providing cover identities has been caught out in a series of high-profile bungles as it has been found to have been improperly using foreign passports for its operations.
According to Australian media reports, Zygier had applied for Australian passports using three identities over the years – those of Ben Alon, Ben Allen and Benjamin Burrows.
It is still not clear whether he was actively working for the Mossad, or whether he simply acquired passports for the spy agency to use in its overseas operations.
There has also been no official explanation from Israel for why Zygier was secretly imprisoned without trial, and information on his case ruthlessly suppressed. But speculation is growing that he may have offered to provide information to a foreign power.
Zygier, known as Benji, was approached by Koutsoukis shortly before his arrest in 2010 and asked whether he was an Israeli spy after being accused of travelling back to Australia to change his name and obtain a new Australian passport.
At the time Zygier said: "I have never been to any of those countries that you say I have been to, I am not involved in any kind of spying. That is ridiculous."
In recent years the issue of the Mossad operations involving citizens of friendly nations and use of passports of allies has become a source of serious friction with governments usually friendly with Israel.
"There are informal rules," said one person familiar with intelligence co-operation arrangements. "You inform your allies if you want to speak to someone or do something. There is a feeling the Israelis don't play by the rules."
The Mossad's use of foreign passports led to an international storm not long before Zygier's secret arrest and detention when it was revealed that the spy agency had used almost a dozen such passports in its assassination of Hamas's Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, in a Dubai hotel, in January 2010.
In seven cases it turned out that the passports used were in the name of Jews who had moved to Israel from Britain and Germany and had no knowledge someone using their identity had visited Dubai.
In a further deeply embarrassing development for the Canberra government, Carr was forced to revise his claims that the Australian embassy in Tel Aviv knew nothing of the case until after Zygier died when his family, a prominent Jewish family in Melbourne, asked for his body to be repatriated.
Carr's office now admits an Australian diplomat (not the ambassador) was aware Zygier was being held.
The case has provoked a host of unanswered questions, as Zygier's family and friends in Australia remained tight-lipped about the circumstances of his death, refusing to discuss the case with the media.
Israeli government 'to compensate family of Prisoner X'
Reports of deal emerge as calls mount for the Mossad and Israeli prison service to be investigated over death in custody
Phoebe Greenwood in Tel Aviv and Peter Beaumont
guardian.co.uk, Friday 15 February 2013 18.50 GMT
The Ayalon prison near Tel Aviv where Prisoner X Ben Zygier took his own life after being secretly imprisoned. Photograph: Nir Elias/Reuters
The Israeli government has reportedly offered to pay hundreds of thousands of pounds in compensation to the family of "Prisoner X" – an agent of the Mossad with Australian and Israeli citizenship who took his own life while secretly imprisoned for undisclosed "grave charges".
An unnamed source was quoted in the Haaretz newspaper claiming a compensation deal was agreed six weeks ago following the conclusion of an official inquiry into the death of Ben Zygier, who was imprisoned in 2010 under a false identity and who killed himself in Unit 15, a "secret prison" within Ayalon jail near Tel Aviv.
Reports of a secret deal with the family follow claims by Zygier's lawyer that he had protested his innocence on the day before his death in a cell that was supposed to have been monitored 24 hours a day.
Its also comes amid mounting calls for the Mossad and the Israeli prison service to face investigation over their alleged negligence in the scandal. A justice ministry official said the judge who had originally handled the case has demanded a further inquiry "to examine issues of negligence".
"If she [the judge] had not found anything suspicious, she would not have transferred the case," said the official, adding that charges would be filed if the investigation finds there was any negligence in monitoring Zygier during his detention.
Neither Zygier's Israeli wife nor his Australian parents have spoken publicly about his detention or his death. His wife is believed to have fled her home in Israel owing to the unrelenting media interest in her late husband. The Prisoner X case, which was thrust into the international spotlight after an Australian documentary named Zygier earlier this week has prompted a furious debate in Israel over both its military censorship regime, which had tried to silence reporting about the case with draconian gagging orders, and the ability of Israel to "disappear" some prisoners.
As Israeli officials moved to say that Zygier was treated fairly, media in the country revealed that the case was not been unique and others suspected of security offences have been subjected to similar treatment. Several papers on Friday carried details of other 'Prisoner Xs', including Mordechai Kedar, a military intelligence officer who murdered a collaborator, KGB spies Marcus Klingberg and Shabtai Kalmanovich and Nahum Manbar.
According to one unnamed source familiar with the Zygier case who spoke the YNet website: "When an Israeli is detained for security offences, a process begins, but no one knows how it will end. He disappears into interrogation rooms, and no one knows where he is. They do it using two tools: A gag order and an injunction that prevents the detainee from meeting with an attorney.
"In this manner, the detainee is interrogated without being aware of his rights and without meeting anyone. The entire system is recruited to make him disappear."
Although it has not be revealed what crime Zygier was charged with, details about his life and the case have emerged in recent days, including a claim that he had been one of several Israelis with Australian passports who had worked for business exporting telecommunication equipment from Italy to Iran that was a cover for an espionage operation.
It has also been alleged that the Australian intelligence service Asio – which was already investigating the misuse of several Australian passports Zygier had acquired – believed he was about to disclose information about operations by the Mossad.
Zygier is known to have operated under several monikers, including Ben Alon. It was under this name that he visited Iran, Syria and Lebanon. The Age newspaper has also listed Benjamin Burrows as a name Zygier adopted while studying for an MBA at Monash University in Melbourne.
The latest claims came as Avigdor Feldman, a prominent human rights lawyer in Israel who visited Zygier in the days before his death to offer advice on the plea bargain he was negotiating, voiced his doubts over the official verdict of suicide.
Feldman told ABC: "I was impressed by a person thinking of his future and the decision he was about to make. I met someone who was definitely apprehensive, but with the rational apprehension of a person in his situation. The end of the affair is something that needs to be investigated."