Commentary Magazine


Topic: Deputy Foreign Minister

Israel: 1991-2011

Twenty years ago, Saddam Hussein’s Scud rockets began to rain down on Tel Aviv. The specter of a chemical attack was Israel’s nightmare, because anthrax was a reality in Saddam’s Iraq. Thirty-nine missiles fell on Israel. On those cold nights, the Israelis wore gas masks, because Saddam had revived the idea in the Israeli unconscious that the Jews could be gassed again. The Israelis checked the shelters, sealing doors and windows, they stood in line for gas masks in the hallways of neighborhood elementary schools, and watched chemical-warfare defense videos. Food cans quickly disappeared from the supermarkets. “Drink a lot of water” was the army’s advice against the effects of a possible biochemical attack. Saddam’s Scuds damaged 4,393 buildings, 3,991 apartments, and 331 public institutions. This accounting does not include the incalculable costs of equipping every Israeli with a gas mask, of the need for every Israeli family to prepare sealed rooms, of the national disruption caused by multiple alerts, and of lost business and tourism.

Twenty years ago, Saddam Hussein threatened to “burn half of Israel.” Today Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has promised to wipe out the “dead rats,” as he called the Israelis. Tehran is the biggest strategic threat to Israel’s existence, especially by the terror satellites of Hezbollah and Hamas. According to the new Israeli intelligence reports, Iran would now be able to launch 400 “lethal” missiles on Tel Aviv. Hezbollah could launch up to 600 rockets per day. From Teheran to Tel Aviv, an Iranian Shihab-3 rocket would take 12 minutes to hit the Jewish state. The Dan area of Tel Aviv, where live a quarter of the entire Israeli population, is the target of the next war, about which nobody knows if and when it will burst, but everyone knows that it will have emblazoned within it the eyes of the ayatollahs.

Israel is investing in its own survival. Both Tel Aviv and the port city of Haifa were severely hit by the rockets of 1991. But, for the first time since the birth of Israel, tomorrow these cities could be reached by devastating bombs. The power of death in the region has risen dramatically. It has been estimated that four years ago, Syria had 300 missiles that could reach Tel Aviv, a dozen for Hezbollah, 50 for Iran, and nothing for Hamas. Two years later, Syria had 1,300, Hezbollah 800, Hamas a dozen, and Iran 300. Today it’s 2,300 for Syria, 1,200 for Hezbollah, 400 for Teheran, and a good arsenal of Fajr-5 for Hamas. Jerusalem could be hit with a precision that would leave intact the Al-Aqsa Mosque. So Tel Aviv today is not extending only to the sky with its beautiful skyscrapers but also sinks into the ground because it’s a new target for Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas. Read More

Twenty years ago, Saddam Hussein’s Scud rockets began to rain down on Tel Aviv. The specter of a chemical attack was Israel’s nightmare, because anthrax was a reality in Saddam’s Iraq. Thirty-nine missiles fell on Israel. On those cold nights, the Israelis wore gas masks, because Saddam had revived the idea in the Israeli unconscious that the Jews could be gassed again. The Israelis checked the shelters, sealing doors and windows, they stood in line for gas masks in the hallways of neighborhood elementary schools, and watched chemical-warfare defense videos. Food cans quickly disappeared from the supermarkets. “Drink a lot of water” was the army’s advice against the effects of a possible biochemical attack. Saddam’s Scuds damaged 4,393 buildings, 3,991 apartments, and 331 public institutions. This accounting does not include the incalculable costs of equipping every Israeli with a gas mask, of the need for every Israeli family to prepare sealed rooms, of the national disruption caused by multiple alerts, and of lost business and tourism.

Twenty years ago, Saddam Hussein threatened to “burn half of Israel.” Today Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has promised to wipe out the “dead rats,” as he called the Israelis. Tehran is the biggest strategic threat to Israel’s existence, especially by the terror satellites of Hezbollah and Hamas. According to the new Israeli intelligence reports, Iran would now be able to launch 400 “lethal” missiles on Tel Aviv. Hezbollah could launch up to 600 rockets per day. From Teheran to Tel Aviv, an Iranian Shihab-3 rocket would take 12 minutes to hit the Jewish state. The Dan area of Tel Aviv, where live a quarter of the entire Israeli population, is the target of the next war, about which nobody knows if and when it will burst, but everyone knows that it will have emblazoned within it the eyes of the ayatollahs.

Israel is investing in its own survival. Both Tel Aviv and the port city of Haifa were severely hit by the rockets of 1991. But, for the first time since the birth of Israel, tomorrow these cities could be reached by devastating bombs. The power of death in the region has risen dramatically. It has been estimated that four years ago, Syria had 300 missiles that could reach Tel Aviv, a dozen for Hezbollah, 50 for Iran, and nothing for Hamas. Two years later, Syria had 1,300, Hezbollah 800, Hamas a dozen, and Iran 300. Today it’s 2,300 for Syria, 1,200 for Hezbollah, 400 for Teheran, and a good arsenal of Fajr-5 for Hamas. Jerusalem could be hit with a precision that would leave intact the Al-Aqsa Mosque. So Tel Aviv today is not extending only to the sky with its beautiful skyscrapers but also sinks into the ground because it’s a new target for Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas.

The Habima Theater, for example, will have four underground floors, with entrances on each side. Jerusalem should see the opening of the largest nuclear bunker across the country: 80 feet underground to accommodate 5,000 people. Haifa, the third-largest city in Israel, is building “the largest underground hospital in the world.” And the state is continuing the distribution of gas masks. These first appeared in 1991, when Benjamin Netanyahu, then the Israeli deputy foreign minister, appeared on CNN with a mask. Today thousands of private Israeli homes have been equipped with nuclear-proof shelters ranging from air filters to water-decontamination systems.

Drills have become a routine all over the country. Hospitals and emergency facilities have to be ready in case of necessity, and the municipalities have evacuation protocols. A postcard of the Home Front Command, delivered to Israeli citizens, divide the country into six regions, from the Negev to the Golan. Each region has different times of reaction in case of attack. If you live along the Gaza Strip, you have 20 seconds to shelter. In Jerusalem, it’s three minutes. But if you live close to Lebanon or Syria, the color red means that, unless you are already in a bunker, you just have to wait for the rocket. The Knesset, Israel’s parliament, is building a labyrinth of underground tunnels and rooms where the Jewish leadership would guide the country in case of attacks.

Twenty years after the first Gulf War, Israel remains the only “bunkered” democracy in the world and is now even more relentlessly demonized and ghettoized. But if in 1991 Israel responded with understatement and quiet civil courage, it will probably react differently to Iran’s nuclearization. Because, as Joe McCain wrote few years ago, “the Jews will not go quietly again.”

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Middle East Chaos

It is not simply that Iran is moving steadily toward membership in the nuclear powers’ club. It is not only that the UN is plotting to carve up Israel. No, these are symptoms of an underlying problem: the U.S.’s retreat from the Middle East and the decline of American influence. There are other signs as well.

The administration has been demonstrating abject weakness with Syria. It mounted no meaningful response to violations of UN Resolution 1701. It has attempted to confirm and redeploy an ambassador to Damascus. Back in March, Elliott Abrams reeled off the list of “engagement” moves that bore an uncanny resemblance to appeasement:

* High level envoys have been sent to Damascus: Under Secretary of State William Burns visited Syria in mid-February, the highest ranking U.S. official to set foot there in more than five years, and Middle East envoy George Mitchell has visited three times. High-ranking Central Command officers have been sent to Damascus to discuss cooperation against terrorism.

* President Obama has now nominated an ambassador to Damascus, the first since Margaret Scobey was withdrawn in 2005 after the murder of former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri in Lebanon (which was widely blamed on the Assad regime).

* The president has also removed the American block to Syria’s attempt to join the World Trade Organization.

* The United States has eased some export licenses for Syria, mostly in the area of aircraft.

* Syria’s deputy foreign minister was invited to Washington in October, the first such visit in several years.

So how’s that working out? As we’ve seen, Bashar al-Assad has moved ever closer to Iran (the opposite reaction intended by the Obama team), even as he displays his contempt for the U.S.:

Syria’s president has accused the United States of sowing chaos overseas, snubbing Washington’s efforts to improve ties with Damascus. Syrian President Bashar Assad told Al-Hayat newspaper in an interview published Tuesday that the US “created chaos in every place it entered.” “Is Afghanistan stable? Is Somalia stable? Did they bring stability to Lebanon in 1983?” Assad asked, referring to US intervention in Lebanon’s 15-year civil war that ended in 1990.

To this, the U.S. replied, “Are not.” In diplomatic terms: “Spokesman P.J. Crowley charged that Syria is destabilizing Lebanon by supplying arms to militants and issuing arrest warrants for Lebanese officials. ‘These activities by Syria directly undermine Lebanon’s sovereignty and directly undermine Syria’s stated commitments to Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence,’ Crowley said. ‘We believe we’re playing a constructive role in the region, and we believe that Syria is not.”’ This “tough retort,” according to the press account, is what passes for the administration’s Syria policy.

And speaking of Lebanon:

The Obama administration, already struggling to stave off a collapse of Middle East peace talks, is increasingly alarmed by unrest in Lebanon, whose own fragile peace is being threatened by militant opponents of a politically charged investigation into the killing in 2005 of a former Lebanese leader.

With an international tribunal expected to hand down indictments in the assassination of the former prime minister, Rafik Hariri, in the coming months, the Hezbollah militia is maneuvering furiously to halt the investigation, or failing that, to unseat Lebanon’s government, which backs it.

The New York Times helpfully offers that the Obama team has, contrary to appearances, really (honestly!) not been obsessed with the failed Palestinian-Israeli non-peace talks. It has instead been focused on this looming crisis:

The administration’s worries go beyond Lebanon itself, and help explain why it, and not the stalled Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, has been the major preoccupation of American foreign policy officials for the last few weeks. The diplomatic activity follows a splashy tour of Lebanon by Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who got an ecstatic reception from members of Hezbollah, the Shiite movement financed and equipped by Iran. American officials were particularly struck by Mr. Ahmadinejad’s trip to a small town a few miles north of the Israeli border, where he called for the “Zionists to be wiped out.”

With unintended comedic effect, the dispatched U.S. envoy, Jeffrey D. Feltman, proclaims: “You don’t want the perception of a vacuum. … You don’t want the perception that Ahmadinejad is the only game in town.” Umm, it’s a little late for that realization, isn’t it? And if that’s the problem, then throwing ourselves at the mullahs’ feet in order to restart the charade of nuclear talks is hardly going to improve matters.

It is not simply that Iran is moving steadily toward membership in the nuclear powers’ club. It is not only that the UN is plotting to carve up Israel. No, these are symptoms of an underlying problem: the U.S.’s retreat from the Middle East and the decline of American influence. There are other signs as well.

The administration has been demonstrating abject weakness with Syria. It mounted no meaningful response to violations of UN Resolution 1701. It has attempted to confirm and redeploy an ambassador to Damascus. Back in March, Elliott Abrams reeled off the list of “engagement” moves that bore an uncanny resemblance to appeasement:

* High level envoys have been sent to Damascus: Under Secretary of State William Burns visited Syria in mid-February, the highest ranking U.S. official to set foot there in more than five years, and Middle East envoy George Mitchell has visited three times. High-ranking Central Command officers have been sent to Damascus to discuss cooperation against terrorism.

* President Obama has now nominated an ambassador to Damascus, the first since Margaret Scobey was withdrawn in 2005 after the murder of former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri in Lebanon (which was widely blamed on the Assad regime).

* The president has also removed the American block to Syria’s attempt to join the World Trade Organization.

* The United States has eased some export licenses for Syria, mostly in the area of aircraft.

* Syria’s deputy foreign minister was invited to Washington in October, the first such visit in several years.

So how’s that working out? As we’ve seen, Bashar al-Assad has moved ever closer to Iran (the opposite reaction intended by the Obama team), even as he displays his contempt for the U.S.:

Syria’s president has accused the United States of sowing chaos overseas, snubbing Washington’s efforts to improve ties with Damascus. Syrian President Bashar Assad told Al-Hayat newspaper in an interview published Tuesday that the US “created chaos in every place it entered.” “Is Afghanistan stable? Is Somalia stable? Did they bring stability to Lebanon in 1983?” Assad asked, referring to US intervention in Lebanon’s 15-year civil war that ended in 1990.

To this, the U.S. replied, “Are not.” In diplomatic terms: “Spokesman P.J. Crowley charged that Syria is destabilizing Lebanon by supplying arms to militants and issuing arrest warrants for Lebanese officials. ‘These activities by Syria directly undermine Lebanon’s sovereignty and directly undermine Syria’s stated commitments to Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence,’ Crowley said. ‘We believe we’re playing a constructive role in the region, and we believe that Syria is not.”’ This “tough retort,” according to the press account, is what passes for the administration’s Syria policy.

And speaking of Lebanon:

The Obama administration, already struggling to stave off a collapse of Middle East peace talks, is increasingly alarmed by unrest in Lebanon, whose own fragile peace is being threatened by militant opponents of a politically charged investigation into the killing in 2005 of a former Lebanese leader.

With an international tribunal expected to hand down indictments in the assassination of the former prime minister, Rafik Hariri, in the coming months, the Hezbollah militia is maneuvering furiously to halt the investigation, or failing that, to unseat Lebanon’s government, which backs it.

The New York Times helpfully offers that the Obama team has, contrary to appearances, really (honestly!) not been obsessed with the failed Palestinian-Israeli non-peace talks. It has instead been focused on this looming crisis:

The administration’s worries go beyond Lebanon itself, and help explain why it, and not the stalled Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, has been the major preoccupation of American foreign policy officials for the last few weeks. The diplomatic activity follows a splashy tour of Lebanon by Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who got an ecstatic reception from members of Hezbollah, the Shiite movement financed and equipped by Iran. American officials were particularly struck by Mr. Ahmadinejad’s trip to a small town a few miles north of the Israeli border, where he called for the “Zionists to be wiped out.”

With unintended comedic effect, the dispatched U.S. envoy, Jeffrey D. Feltman, proclaims: “You don’t want the perception of a vacuum. … You don’t want the perception that Ahmadinejad is the only game in town.” Umm, it’s a little late for that realization, isn’t it? And if that’s the problem, then throwing ourselves at the mullahs’ feet in order to restart the charade of nuclear talks is hardly going to improve matters.

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A Two-State Solution but Not Two Peoples?

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has long been the poster child for Palestinian moderation toward Israel, but his transparent attempts to manufacture a domestic constituency (as opposed to his considerable cheering section in the United States) are rapidly undermining the notion that he is a stalwart advocate of peace. Earlier this year, he staged a photo opportunity in which he led the burning of Israeli goods that he wished Palestinians to boycott. Now he is refusing to pay even lip service to the idea that a two-state solution to the conflict would allow one of those states to be the home of the Jews.

According to the Jerusalem Post, Fayyad stormed out of a United Nations committee meeting in New York and canceled a scheduled joint press conference with Danny Ayalon, Israel’s deputy foreign minister, because Ayalon refused to sign off on a summary of the encounter that mentioned the goal of the negotiation as being “two states” but that also did not include the phrase “two states for two peoples.”

Some peace processors have viewed Ayalon as a troublemaker, but he does not deserve to be blamed for upsetting the Americans’ favorite Palestinian. During the course of this round of peace talks — and every previous one — the Palestinians have always refused to accept the idea that a final resolution of the conflict will recognize Israel as a Jewish state, even as they demand that the other half of the two-state solution be recognized not only as a Palestinian state but one in which no Jews or Jewish community will be permitted to dwell. The “moderate” Fayyad has now apparently extended this lack of recognition to not even acknowledging that another people has a right to live there either. As Ayalon put it, “If the Palestinians are not willing to talk about two states for two peoples, let alone a Jewish state for Israel, then there’s nothing to talk about and … if the Palestinians mean, at the end of the process, to have one Palestinian state and one bi-national state, this will not happen.”

The point here is more than mere sophistry. If the peace talks do not result in recognition of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, then the conflict will not be over. While some groups are putting pressure on Israel to concede its right to build in disputed territories prior to even the start of negotiations (such as the left-wing lobby J Street, which published a full page ad in the New York Times today demanding that Israel freeze settlements without mentioning any corresponding concessions from the Palestinians), the PA won’t even admit that a two-state solution will allow for one of the two to be Jewish. One needn’t be a peace-process cynic to understand that what is going on now is a charade, not a genuine negotiation.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has long been the poster child for Palestinian moderation toward Israel, but his transparent attempts to manufacture a domestic constituency (as opposed to his considerable cheering section in the United States) are rapidly undermining the notion that he is a stalwart advocate of peace. Earlier this year, he staged a photo opportunity in which he led the burning of Israeli goods that he wished Palestinians to boycott. Now he is refusing to pay even lip service to the idea that a two-state solution to the conflict would allow one of those states to be the home of the Jews.

According to the Jerusalem Post, Fayyad stormed out of a United Nations committee meeting in New York and canceled a scheduled joint press conference with Danny Ayalon, Israel’s deputy foreign minister, because Ayalon refused to sign off on a summary of the encounter that mentioned the goal of the negotiation as being “two states” but that also did not include the phrase “two states for two peoples.”

Some peace processors have viewed Ayalon as a troublemaker, but he does not deserve to be blamed for upsetting the Americans’ favorite Palestinian. During the course of this round of peace talks — and every previous one — the Palestinians have always refused to accept the idea that a final resolution of the conflict will recognize Israel as a Jewish state, even as they demand that the other half of the two-state solution be recognized not only as a Palestinian state but one in which no Jews or Jewish community will be permitted to dwell. The “moderate” Fayyad has now apparently extended this lack of recognition to not even acknowledging that another people has a right to live there either. As Ayalon put it, “If the Palestinians are not willing to talk about two states for two peoples, let alone a Jewish state for Israel, then there’s nothing to talk about and … if the Palestinians mean, at the end of the process, to have one Palestinian state and one bi-national state, this will not happen.”

The point here is more than mere sophistry. If the peace talks do not result in recognition of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, then the conflict will not be over. While some groups are putting pressure on Israel to concede its right to build in disputed territories prior to even the start of negotiations (such as the left-wing lobby J Street, which published a full page ad in the New York Times today demanding that Israel freeze settlements without mentioning any corresponding concessions from the Palestinians), the PA won’t even admit that a two-state solution will allow for one of the two to be Jewish. One needn’t be a peace-process cynic to understand that what is going on now is a charade, not a genuine negotiation.

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Obama Boxed In

Obama has been postponing the inevitable — the eventual realization that there is no Middle East peace agreement to be had at this stage (or any time soon). For reasons that not even the PA can fathom, the Obami chirped optimistically about the prospects for success. Somehow, the Obama team expected to keep everyone in the room to at least continue talking and mask the failure of his Middle East policy. Obama would publicly pressure Bibi on the settlement moratorium. He would plead with Abbas. And if the talks ended, the blame could be placed (after all, the groundwork has already been laid) on Bibi.

Unfortunately for Obama, Bibi and Israel’s supporters wised up this time around. As I noted yesterday, Bibi has already made clear that the basic issue is not settlements but Abbas’s refusal to recognize the Jewish state and give up the dream of a one-state solution. Bibi is laying some groundwork of his own, it seems. Read More

Obama has been postponing the inevitable — the eventual realization that there is no Middle East peace agreement to be had at this stage (or any time soon). For reasons that not even the PA can fathom, the Obami chirped optimistically about the prospects for success. Somehow, the Obama team expected to keep everyone in the room to at least continue talking and mask the failure of his Middle East policy. Obama would publicly pressure Bibi on the settlement moratorium. He would plead with Abbas. And if the talks ended, the blame could be placed (after all, the groundwork has already been laid) on Bibi.

Unfortunately for Obama, Bibi and Israel’s supporters wised up this time around. As I noted yesterday, Bibi has already made clear that the basic issue is not settlements but Abbas’s refusal to recognize the Jewish state and give up the dream of a one-state solution. Bibi is laying some groundwork of his own, it seems.

Deputy Prime Minister Danny Ayalon got into the act, too:

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad angrily left a UN Ad-Hoc Liaison Committee  meeting and canceled a scheduled subsequent press conference with Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon in New York on Tuesday, after Ayalon refused to approve a summary of the meeting which said “two states” but did not include the words “two states for two peoples.”

“What I say is that if the Palestinians are not willing to talk about two states for two peoples, let alone a Jewish state for Israel, then there’s nothing to talk about,” Ayalon told the Post in a telephone interview. “And also, I said if the Palestinians mean, at the end of the process, to have one Palestinian state and one bi-national state, this will not happen.”

But that wasn’t all. As this report makes clear, Israel’s American supporters have been busy — and clever:

A bipartisan group of senators are circulating a new letter urging President Obama to speak out publicly to pressure the Palestinian leadership not to abandon the Middle East peace talks.

The new initiative comes ahead of the Sept. 26 deadline expiration of Israel’s 10-month settlement construction moratorium, which presents the first obstacle to the direct peace talks being spearheaded by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has repeatedly stated that he will withdraw from the negotiations if settlement construction resumes, but Israeli leaders have been equally adamant that they will not extend the moratorium.

President Obama has told Jewish leaders to ignore negative public statements by Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu and Abbas, calling it all part of the diplomatic game. But the administration has publicly called on Israel to extend the freeze, at least in part.

Lawmakers, who have also bristled at the administration’s public pressure on Netanyahu, are now calling on Obama to make it clear to Abbas that even if the freeze isn’t extended, he should stay at the table.

It is a not-so-subtle message from lawmakers (Barbara Boxer, Robert Casey, Johnny Isakson, and Richard Burr are the initial sponsors, more signatories are expected) that there will be little patience with finger-pointing at Bibi should/when the talks collapse:

“Obviously this is a direct message to President Abbas, and President Obama, that many in Congress … want the Palestinian leadership to stop making what they see as threats and to put public pressure on the Palestinian Authority to move their position,” said one Capitol Hill insider who had seen the letter.

“Many Capitol Hill office see Abbas quitting the talks over the settlements as him using the same issue he was clinging to when trying to set preconditions for the talks in the first place.”

No, these letters don’t just appear on their own, so credit goes not only to the clear-minded senators but also to pro-Israel advocates who decided it would be much more productive to box in Obama than to gloss over his anti-Israel moves (e.g., opening the door to a UN investigation of the flotilla incident). This is, I would suggest, one more sign that Obama’s prestige and authority are slipping fast. Lawmakers and Jewish groups aren’t about to put up with Obama’s Israel-bashing any longer and have decided that they’ve carried enough water for him when it comes to the Middle East.

For more than 18 months, Obama and his hapless envoy, George Mitchell, have made zero progress in promoting peace in the Middle East. Rather, they have strained relations with Israel, raised and then dashed the Palestinians’ hopes, annoyed American Jews, and emphasized the growing alienation of Obama from his own party. If friends of Israel thought it would help, they might suggest that Mitchell join Larry Summers in the “retired in failure” club. But so long as Obama is in the Oval office, there is little possibility that our Middle East diplomacy will get any smarter. Let’s pray it doesn’t get worse.

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RE: Defending the Gaza 54

A reader of Jeffrey Goldberg argues that Israel’s government shouldn’t have “snubbed” J Street’s sponsored delegation of congressmen, arguing that this is somehow an embarrassment for Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon. (Why? Because five congressmen who call for lifting the Gaza blockade and who reflexively vote against Israel should be rewarded with attention?) The reader, however, then makes a U-turn toward reason, arguing:

There’s a fine line between pushing a friend to do something that you believe is in her best interest and taking pleasure in sticking your finger in the eye of someone who has the audacity not to see the correctness of your position. I believe that J-Street crosses that line. So while I couldn’t claim that they are anti-Israel — not like, say, Syria — I certainly don’t see them as friends of mine. And especially now, with Israel’s precarious diplomatic position, we could use less “friends” causing us harm (like being the catalyst of the stir with the congressmen in the first place) in the name of friendship.

So if J Street is no friend of “ours” — presumably, friends of Israel — then why should Israel meet and greet with its handpicked congressional delegation? Israel is not obligated to bolster the credibility of those who take positions antagonistic to its interests. The congressmen do not represent the official position of the U.S. government nor are they offering Israel anything of benefit. (Unlike an Arab state, J Street doesn’t really have anything Israel might be remotely be interested in obtaining or discussing.)

The J Streeters are there to create the appearance that J Street is something that it is not (supportive of Israel’s fundamental interests) and that it is able to influence American and Israeli decision makers. Israeli leaders have figured out, just as Goldberg’s reader has, that the J Street gang is causing harm (to the extent the group is relevant at all) “in the name of friendship.” J Street can take whatever positions it wants. It can call itself pro-Israel or pro-anti-mullah or anti-neocon or anything else it chooses. But Israel doesn’t have to buy it and doesn’t have to encourage the pantomime of those who always seem to be on the side of those seeking to enfeeble the Jewish state.

A reader of Jeffrey Goldberg argues that Israel’s government shouldn’t have “snubbed” J Street’s sponsored delegation of congressmen, arguing that this is somehow an embarrassment for Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon. (Why? Because five congressmen who call for lifting the Gaza blockade and who reflexively vote against Israel should be rewarded with attention?) The reader, however, then makes a U-turn toward reason, arguing:

There’s a fine line between pushing a friend to do something that you believe is in her best interest and taking pleasure in sticking your finger in the eye of someone who has the audacity not to see the correctness of your position. I believe that J-Street crosses that line. So while I couldn’t claim that they are anti-Israel — not like, say, Syria — I certainly don’t see them as friends of mine. And especially now, with Israel’s precarious diplomatic position, we could use less “friends” causing us harm (like being the catalyst of the stir with the congressmen in the first place) in the name of friendship.

So if J Street is no friend of “ours” — presumably, friends of Israel — then why should Israel meet and greet with its handpicked congressional delegation? Israel is not obligated to bolster the credibility of those who take positions antagonistic to its interests. The congressmen do not represent the official position of the U.S. government nor are they offering Israel anything of benefit. (Unlike an Arab state, J Street doesn’t really have anything Israel might be remotely be interested in obtaining or discussing.)

The J Streeters are there to create the appearance that J Street is something that it is not (supportive of Israel’s fundamental interests) and that it is able to influence American and Israeli decision makers. Israeli leaders have figured out, just as Goldberg’s reader has, that the J Street gang is causing harm (to the extent the group is relevant at all) “in the name of friendship.” J Street can take whatever positions it wants. It can call itself pro-Israel or pro-anti-mullah or anti-neocon or anything else it chooses. But Israel doesn’t have to buy it and doesn’t have to encourage the pantomime of those who always seem to be on the side of those seeking to enfeeble the Jewish state.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Howard Fineman gives credit where credit is due: “In a city obsessed with visibility and celebrity, it largely goes overlooked that the plodding, unglamorous [Mitch] McConnell is Obama’s most powerful foe—the man he must outmaneuver, or at least neutralize, if he wants to reach the sunny uplands of (bipartisan) legislative accomplishment, not to mention a second term in 2012. It will not be easy.”

CONTENTIONS’s Pete Wehner writes: “Republican officeholders and candidates need to make specific, detailed criticisms of Obama’s agenda without being personally nasty toward or disrespectful of Obama himself. … To the GOP’s credit, much of this is already going on. We’ve seen it in the campaigns run by Bob McDonnell in Virginia and Scott Brown in Massachusetts, which will be models for others to follow; in the governing record of Indiana’s Mitch Daniels; and in the health care and budget plans put forward by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.” The Left keeps rooting for that GOP “civil war” to break out, but so far no luck.

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Ayalon on J Street: “The thing that troubles me is that they don’t present themselves as to what they really are. They should not call themselves pro-Israeli.” Actually, even the J Street gang is nervous about the “pro-Israeli” label.

CNN’s latest: “According to the poll, 44 percent of registered voters say Obama deserves re-election, with 52 percent saying the president does not deserve a second term in office. The survey also indicates that 49 percent of Americans approve of the job Obama’s doing as president, with half of the public disapproving of his job in the White House.” Congress does worse: “Fifty-six percent of people questioned in the survey say that most Democrats in Congress do not deserve to be re-elected. An equal amount also say that most congressional Republicans don’t deserve re-election.” Republicans lead in the generic polling in this survey, 47 to 45 percent, an eight-point swing their way since November.

More bad polling news the Obami will no doubt ignore: “In a brutal assessment of the Democratically authored healthcare reform bills pending in Congress and the party’s approach to healthcare, more than half of the respondents to a new Zogby International-University of Texas Health Science Center poll said that lawmakers should start from scratch.”

A fine idea that conservatives should embrace: “The Obama administration, advancing nuclear power use to help cut greenhouse gas emissions, will announce on Tuesday an $8.3 billion loan guarantee to help Southern Co. build two reactors, a government official told Reuters.” Now if we can agree on domestic oil and gas development, there could be a real bipartisan energy policy.

Even California is less Blue than it used to be: “Former eBay CEO Meg Whitman now runs dead even with likely Democratic nominee Jerry Brown in California’s gubernatorial contest.”

Hispanics aren’t thrilled with the Democrats either. Almost like there’s a wave building.

Not even Democratic Senate candidate Richard Blumenthal wants Obama’s help — in Connecticut. Well, if he doesn’t help in Massachusetts, you can understand.

James Taranto relays that Phil Jones, director of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, “admits that the periods 1860-80 and 1910-40 saw global warming on a similar scale to the 1975-98 period, that there has been no significant warming since 1995, and that the so-called Medieval Warm Period calls into question whether the currently observed warming is unprecedented. … So ‘the vast majority of climate scientists’ don’t think the debate is over? Someone had better tell the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change], Al Gore, the Norwegian Nobel Committee and most of our colleagues in the media, who have long been insisting otherwise–and indeed, who continue to do so.”

Howard Fineman gives credit where credit is due: “In a city obsessed with visibility and celebrity, it largely goes overlooked that the plodding, unglamorous [Mitch] McConnell is Obama’s most powerful foe—the man he must outmaneuver, or at least neutralize, if he wants to reach the sunny uplands of (bipartisan) legislative accomplishment, not to mention a second term in 2012. It will not be easy.”

CONTENTIONS’s Pete Wehner writes: “Republican officeholders and candidates need to make specific, detailed criticisms of Obama’s agenda without being personally nasty toward or disrespectful of Obama himself. … To the GOP’s credit, much of this is already going on. We’ve seen it in the campaigns run by Bob McDonnell in Virginia and Scott Brown in Massachusetts, which will be models for others to follow; in the governing record of Indiana’s Mitch Daniels; and in the health care and budget plans put forward by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.” The Left keeps rooting for that GOP “civil war” to break out, but so far no luck.

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Ayalon on J Street: “The thing that troubles me is that they don’t present themselves as to what they really are. They should not call themselves pro-Israeli.” Actually, even the J Street gang is nervous about the “pro-Israeli” label.

CNN’s latest: “According to the poll, 44 percent of registered voters say Obama deserves re-election, with 52 percent saying the president does not deserve a second term in office. The survey also indicates that 49 percent of Americans approve of the job Obama’s doing as president, with half of the public disapproving of his job in the White House.” Congress does worse: “Fifty-six percent of people questioned in the survey say that most Democrats in Congress do not deserve to be re-elected. An equal amount also say that most congressional Republicans don’t deserve re-election.” Republicans lead in the generic polling in this survey, 47 to 45 percent, an eight-point swing their way since November.

More bad polling news the Obami will no doubt ignore: “In a brutal assessment of the Democratically authored healthcare reform bills pending in Congress and the party’s approach to healthcare, more than half of the respondents to a new Zogby International-University of Texas Health Science Center poll said that lawmakers should start from scratch.”

A fine idea that conservatives should embrace: “The Obama administration, advancing nuclear power use to help cut greenhouse gas emissions, will announce on Tuesday an $8.3 billion loan guarantee to help Southern Co. build two reactors, a government official told Reuters.” Now if we can agree on domestic oil and gas development, there could be a real bipartisan energy policy.

Even California is less Blue than it used to be: “Former eBay CEO Meg Whitman now runs dead even with likely Democratic nominee Jerry Brown in California’s gubernatorial contest.”

Hispanics aren’t thrilled with the Democrats either. Almost like there’s a wave building.

Not even Democratic Senate candidate Richard Blumenthal wants Obama’s help — in Connecticut. Well, if he doesn’t help in Massachusetts, you can understand.

James Taranto relays that Phil Jones, director of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, “admits that the periods 1860-80 and 1910-40 saw global warming on a similar scale to the 1975-98 period, that there has been no significant warming since 1995, and that the so-called Medieval Warm Period calls into question whether the currently observed warming is unprecedented. … So ‘the vast majority of climate scientists’ don’t think the debate is over? Someone had better tell the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change], Al Gore, the Norwegian Nobel Committee and most of our colleagues in the media, who have long been insisting otherwise–and indeed, who continue to do so.”

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Expel the Journalists!

There has been a long-running debate — well, a serious one, anyway, since the second intifada — on the question of whether the Israeli government should take disciplinary action against journalists whose “reportage” on Israel is unmistakably reeking of bias and outright mendacity. To take one of the more obvious examples: should the reporters and news organizations who for weeks so enthusiastically disseminated the Jenin massacre myth really have retained their work visas and press credentials?

For Israel, which probably is the most media-saturated country in the world, the relentless procession of false stories in recent years has done real damage to the country’s image abroad, and to its morale at home. Mohammed al-Dura, Jenin, the June 2006 Gaza beach explosion, the Qana bombing during the Lebanon war, the Gaza “blackout” this winter — these are just a few examples of crises created for Israel by journalists who are either staggeringly credulous (or incredibly cynical) in their willingness to promulgate a sensational story.

The main reason Israel should never expel journalists, say government and military officials when one broaches the matter, is because Israel would be consumed by international outrage over such supposedly fascistic tactics. I’ve always been skeptical of this claim: journalists, in my experience, are far more concerned with their own careers and notoriety than they are with defending the supposedly inviolable principles of their profession (for which many reporters operating in Israel don’t have much regard in the first place). My sense of things is that, especially among foreign correspondents, maintaining access is the preeminent interest.

Well, last week Israel did the unthinkable and put the kibosh on an entire news organization: Al Jazeera.

[Israeli] Ministers will refuse to do interviews and will deny visa applications from its staff, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Majali Wahbe said.

He accused the Qatari-owned station of prioritising Palestinian suffering.

The station’s Jerusalem bureau chief denied bias and said Israel was trying to influence media coverage.

Israeli officials backed their claim by saying al-Jazeera had covered the Gaza incursion but not the Palestinian rocket attacks against the Israeli city of Ashkelon.

This story has gone almost totally unnoticed, leading one to believe that there is actually not much outrage in the offing should the Israeli government take similar measures against other organizations that operate under the false pretense of being journalistic — while actually being propagandistic — concerns (have you ever read the Guardian‘s coverage of Israel?). And even if Israel does get criticized, pushing back against the worst of the activists masquerading as journalists is a fight that desperately needs to happen. And it is a fight that Israel can win.

There has been a long-running debate — well, a serious one, anyway, since the second intifada — on the question of whether the Israeli government should take disciplinary action against journalists whose “reportage” on Israel is unmistakably reeking of bias and outright mendacity. To take one of the more obvious examples: should the reporters and news organizations who for weeks so enthusiastically disseminated the Jenin massacre myth really have retained their work visas and press credentials?

For Israel, which probably is the most media-saturated country in the world, the relentless procession of false stories in recent years has done real damage to the country’s image abroad, and to its morale at home. Mohammed al-Dura, Jenin, the June 2006 Gaza beach explosion, the Qana bombing during the Lebanon war, the Gaza “blackout” this winter — these are just a few examples of crises created for Israel by journalists who are either staggeringly credulous (or incredibly cynical) in their willingness to promulgate a sensational story.

The main reason Israel should never expel journalists, say government and military officials when one broaches the matter, is because Israel would be consumed by international outrage over such supposedly fascistic tactics. I’ve always been skeptical of this claim: journalists, in my experience, are far more concerned with their own careers and notoriety than they are with defending the supposedly inviolable principles of their profession (for which many reporters operating in Israel don’t have much regard in the first place). My sense of things is that, especially among foreign correspondents, maintaining access is the preeminent interest.

Well, last week Israel did the unthinkable and put the kibosh on an entire news organization: Al Jazeera.

[Israeli] Ministers will refuse to do interviews and will deny visa applications from its staff, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Majali Wahbe said.

He accused the Qatari-owned station of prioritising Palestinian suffering.

The station’s Jerusalem bureau chief denied bias and said Israel was trying to influence media coverage.

Israeli officials backed their claim by saying al-Jazeera had covered the Gaza incursion but not the Palestinian rocket attacks against the Israeli city of Ashkelon.

This story has gone almost totally unnoticed, leading one to believe that there is actually not much outrage in the offing should the Israeli government take similar measures against other organizations that operate under the false pretense of being journalistic — while actually being propagandistic — concerns (have you ever read the Guardian‘s coverage of Israel?). And even if Israel does get criticized, pushing back against the worst of the activists masquerading as journalists is a fight that desperately needs to happen. And it is a fight that Israel can win.

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Top Five Handshakes of 2007

The most choreographed aspect of any meeting between two heads-of-state is the handshake. Of course, some handshakes are better choreographed than others, but the essential elements are usually the same: warm smiles, tight clenches, and an eye towards the camera—no matter what the two leaders think of each other.

Given the prevalence of the handshake in international relations, most handshakes are entirely unspectacular. Yet, among the thousands of picture-perfect handshakes that leaders deliver to the media each year, some inevitably stand out as especially encouraging, disappointing, or ironic. With this in mind, I present the top five handshakes of 2007:

5. Saudi King Abdullah greets Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at Annapolis.

5. Russian President Vladimir Putin and George H.W. Bush’s dog. Granted, this isn’t a handshake, per se. Yet the intense look on Putin’s face indicates that serious business is being accomplished. With a respected former president looking on, Putin’s meeting with the well-connected mutt has the appearance of a major diplomatic success.

4. French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi. This handshake proves that memories are impressively short in international affairs. In 1989, Libya was implicated in the UTA 772 bombing, in which 170 people were murdered while flying to Paris; a French court found Qaddafi’s own brother-in-law, among five others, culpable. But this month, Qaddafi—having since accepted responsibility for the attack, compensated the families, and destroyed his WMD—was welcomed in Paris. It rarely gets more awkward than this, and not just because of Qaddafi’s beatnik-styled facial hair.

Read More

The most choreographed aspect of any meeting between two heads-of-state is the handshake. Of course, some handshakes are better choreographed than others, but the essential elements are usually the same: warm smiles, tight clenches, and an eye towards the camera—no matter what the two leaders think of each other.

Given the prevalence of the handshake in international relations, most handshakes are entirely unspectacular. Yet, among the thousands of picture-perfect handshakes that leaders deliver to the media each year, some inevitably stand out as especially encouraging, disappointing, or ironic. With this in mind, I present the top five handshakes of 2007:

5. Saudi King Abdullah greets Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at Annapolis.

5. Russian President Vladimir Putin and George H.W. Bush’s dog. Granted, this isn’t a handshake, per se. Yet the intense look on Putin’s face indicates that serious business is being accomplished. With a respected former president looking on, Putin’s meeting with the well-connected mutt has the appearance of a major diplomatic success.

4. French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi. This handshake proves that memories are impressively short in international affairs. In 1989, Libya was implicated in the UTA 772 bombing, in which 170 people were murdered while flying to Paris; a French court found Qaddafi’s own brother-in-law, among five others, culpable. But this month, Qaddafi—having since accepted responsibility for the attack, compensated the families, and destroyed his WMD—was welcomed in Paris. It rarely gets more awkward than this, and not just because of Qaddafi’s beatnik-styled facial hair.

3. U.S. President George W. Bush poses with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. As I noted last month, the Annapolis Conference ended with a shutout: three Olmert-Abbas-with-Bush-in-between handshakes, and zero peace-promoting accomplishments.

2. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad greets his favorite basketball player Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. I know: Syria sent its deputy foreign minister to Annapolis, so it’s entering the U.S. orbit and moving away from Iran. Apparently the Syrian president and his Iranian counterpart haven’t gotten the memo.

1. Abbas shakes hands with Hamas leaders Khalid Meshal and Ismail Haniyeh. Like so many Hamas-Fatah truces before it, this one started with Hamas’s reeling from Israeli strikes and political isolation and ended with Hamas stronger than it had ever been previously. Hamas now controls Gaza, and has set its sights on the West Bank. Yet, for a few moments in February, this latest Hamas-Fatah truce held so much promise—as a symbol of their unity, Abbas, Meshal, and Haniyeh had even coordinated their outfits. It doesn’t get more choreographed than that.

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The Price of Engaging Syria

After the Annapolis conference, there was a brief burst of optimism about the prospects of “engaging” rather than confronting Syria. Advocates of this approach pointed to the fact that Syria agreed to send its deputy foreign minister to this meeting as a great triumph. They also pointed to more ambiguous evidence of a reduction in the number of jihadists crossing from Syria into Iraq, although it’s unclear whether this is due to action on the part of the Syrian government or by American and Iraqi security forces, or whether it is due simply to an overall decline in the number of terrorists willing to kill themselves in a losing cause.

A further cause for optimism was said to be the agreement reached between Syrian-backed forces in Lebanon and their Franco-American-backed adversaries for the army commander, General Michel Suleiman, to take over as the country’s President, thus breaking a long impasse.

Then this week a car bomb rubs out Brigadier General Francois Hajj, one of Suleiman’s top officers and a leading candidate to succeed him as army chief of staff. No one knows who planted the bomb, but suspicions naturally focus on Syria, which has a long history of using such weapons to kill and intimidate its opponents in Lebanese politics. Indeed, a special UN tribunal has found Syrian fingerprints all over the car bombing that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005.

Syria seems plainly intent on reestablishing Lebanon firmly within its sphere of influence, using Hizballah and Sunni terrorist groups as proxies. The price of “engagement” is to let the Syrians have their way, thus betraying Lebanon’s Cedar Revolution. That’s a high price to pay, especially since it’s far from clear what, if anything, Syria will do for us in return.

After the Annapolis conference, there was a brief burst of optimism about the prospects of “engaging” rather than confronting Syria. Advocates of this approach pointed to the fact that Syria agreed to send its deputy foreign minister to this meeting as a great triumph. They also pointed to more ambiguous evidence of a reduction in the number of jihadists crossing from Syria into Iraq, although it’s unclear whether this is due to action on the part of the Syrian government or by American and Iraqi security forces, or whether it is due simply to an overall decline in the number of terrorists willing to kill themselves in a losing cause.

A further cause for optimism was said to be the agreement reached between Syrian-backed forces in Lebanon and their Franco-American-backed adversaries for the army commander, General Michel Suleiman, to take over as the country’s President, thus breaking a long impasse.

Then this week a car bomb rubs out Brigadier General Francois Hajj, one of Suleiman’s top officers and a leading candidate to succeed him as army chief of staff. No one knows who planted the bomb, but suspicions naturally focus on Syria, which has a long history of using such weapons to kill and intimidate its opponents in Lebanese politics. Indeed, a special UN tribunal has found Syrian fingerprints all over the car bombing that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005.

Syria seems plainly intent on reestablishing Lebanon firmly within its sphere of influence, using Hizballah and Sunni terrorist groups as proxies. The price of “engagement” is to let the Syrians have their way, thus betraying Lebanon’s Cedar Revolution. That’s a high price to pay, especially since it’s far from clear what, if anything, Syria will do for us in return.

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Schoenfeld vs. Sharansky

Natan Sharansky was in town yesterday and dropped by the offices of COMMENTARY– where I challenged him to a game of chess, thereby fulfilling a decades’ long dream. The trouble was, we did not have a chess set handy, which led him to remark that this meant that COMMENTARY was not a Jewish magazine. One of my colleagues ran out to the wonderful stationery store, Sam Flax, which agreed on the spot to sponsor the match and provided us with an odd but perfectly usable set.

During long years as a Soviet refusenik, and then a decade in the Gulag on the trumped-up crime of treason, Sharansky had a lot of time to ponder the fine points of the royal game. As the New York Times reported, “he had little time for chess during his dissident years in the Soviet Union, but he recovered his skills in prison, where he said he spent the long days in solitary confinement playing three simultaneous games in his mind.” Sharansky told the newspaper, “I played thousands of games, and I won them all.”

In Russia, he had earned the title of candidate master, which is equivalent to the rank of American master. The latter is the title I earned in 1989, the last year in which I played a game of competitive chess. Sharansky has played twice against the former world champion Garry Kasparov, emerging with one draw and one victory, an excellent score for an amateur even considering that both games took place at exhibitions in which Kasparov was playing multiple players simultaneously.

Lately, however, Sharansky has devoted most of his time to preventing the state of Israel from (to use chess lingo) sacrificing its pieces without adequate compensation. And so his chess, though strong, may not be as strong as it once was. When we sat down to play, I had little idea what I would be up against.

In our first game, playing black, Sharansky responded to 1.e4 with the ultra-aggressive Schliemann Defense in the Ruy Lopez. Unfortunately, I fell into a trap and the game was over in a mere seven moves, a humiliation for Connecting the Dots akin to the Arab defeat in the Six-Day war, and one that cried out for another round.

In our second game, I had the black pieces. I steered into one of my favorite lines of the rock-solid Caro-Kann. Before too long, I was able to exchange off some of Sharansky’s most actively placed pieces and then I managed to win one of his central pawns, obtaining a very strong position. On his 24th move, Sharansky made a blunder and gave up a second pawn. The game was now all but won.

But my opponent proved to be nothing if not resourceful, and unfortunately, through inaccurate play, I helped him along. As I pushed my pawns forward he managed to maneuver his rooks onto the seventh rank, whereupon I agreed (prematurely, it turns out) to a draw. At a score of 1/2 to 1 1/2, I ended up with the same result against Sharansky that Garry Kasparov had obtained against him, a score that left me immensely satisfied that I had been able to lay a finger on this remarkable Russian, Israeli, Jewish hero.

GAME 1

Schoenfeld vs. Sharansky

Ruy Lopez

1.e4 e5

2.Nf3 Nc6

3.Bb5 f5

4.Bxc6 dxc6

5.Nxe5 fxe4

6.Nc3 Nf6

7.0–0??

chess-pic-1b.jpg

POSITION AFTER 7.0-0??

White walks right into a trap and the game is over. I should have resigned immediately after Sharanksy’s next move, but was too stunned by the sudden turn of events.

7… Qd4

8.Re1 Qxe5

9.Nxe4 Nxe4

10.d3 Bf5

11.dxe4 Bg6

and realizing, belatedly, that I was lost, I resigned.

0–1

 

GAME 2

Sharansky vs. Schoenfeld

Caro-Kann

1.e4 c6

2.d4 d5

3.Nc3 dxe4

4.Nxe4 Nd7

5.Nf3 Ngf6

6.Ng3 e6

7.Bd3 Bd6

8.0–0 Qc7

9.c4 0–0

10.c5 Be7

11.Re1 b6

12.b4 a5

13.cxb6 Qxb6

14.bxa5 Rxa5

15.Bd2 Ra8

16.Qc2 Ba6

17.Bxa6 Qxa6

18.Ne5 c5

19.Nxd7 Nxd7

20.d5?

Akin to pulling out of Gaza. This gives up a pawn without compensation.

20… Bf6

21.Bc3

If 21.dxe6 Bxa1 22.exd7 Qxa2 23.Qxa2 Rxa2 24.Bg5 f6 25.Bf4 Be5 26.Bxe5 fxe5 27.Rxe5 Ra1+ 28.Nf1 Rd1 and white is up the exchange for a pawn in a winning endgame.

21… Qc4

22.Rec1 Qxc3

23.Qxc3 Bxc3

24.Rxc3 exd5

Black’s imposing central pawns give him a powerful advantage.

25.Nf5 Rfe8

26.a4??

Sharansky is momentarily distracted and drops a pawn after I explain to him that at Annapolis Olmert has just yielded the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem in exchange for the right to shake hands with the Saudi deputy foreign minister.

26… Rxa4

27.Rd1 d4

28.Rf3 Ne5

29.Rg3 g6

30.Nd6 Re6

31.Ne4 Rc6

32.f4 Nc4

33.Ng5 f5?

Unnecessary. Better to proceed simply with the attack via 33. Ne3.

34.Nf3 Ne3

35.Rc1 d3

36.Nd2 Ra2

37.Rxe3 Rxd2

38.Re7 Rc2?

Never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity, I make the worst move on the board, giving white a draw. Far better is 38…Rb6 39.Ra1 Rb8 40.h3 Re2, and black runs out of threats.

39.Ra1 Rc8

40.Raa7 Re2

41.Rg7+ Kf8

42.Raf7+ Ke8

43.Rd7??

chess-pic-2b.jpg

POSITION AFTER 43. Rd7??

A disastrous comedy of errors. Sharansky would have had a simple draw by repetition after 43.Rb7. But my own play is even worse since I now offer a draw in a won position. 43…d2! wins.

1/2-1/2

Natan Sharansky was in town yesterday and dropped by the offices of COMMENTARY– where I challenged him to a game of chess, thereby fulfilling a decades’ long dream. The trouble was, we did not have a chess set handy, which led him to remark that this meant that COMMENTARY was not a Jewish magazine. One of my colleagues ran out to the wonderful stationery store, Sam Flax, which agreed on the spot to sponsor the match and provided us with an odd but perfectly usable set.

During long years as a Soviet refusenik, and then a decade in the Gulag on the trumped-up crime of treason, Sharansky had a lot of time to ponder the fine points of the royal game. As the New York Times reported, “he had little time for chess during his dissident years in the Soviet Union, but he recovered his skills in prison, where he said he spent the long days in solitary confinement playing three simultaneous games in his mind.” Sharansky told the newspaper, “I played thousands of games, and I won them all.”

In Russia, he had earned the title of candidate master, which is equivalent to the rank of American master. The latter is the title I earned in 1989, the last year in which I played a game of competitive chess. Sharansky has played twice against the former world champion Garry Kasparov, emerging with one draw and one victory, an excellent score for an amateur even considering that both games took place at exhibitions in which Kasparov was playing multiple players simultaneously.

Lately, however, Sharansky has devoted most of his time to preventing the state of Israel from (to use chess lingo) sacrificing its pieces without adequate compensation. And so his chess, though strong, may not be as strong as it once was. When we sat down to play, I had little idea what I would be up against.

In our first game, playing black, Sharansky responded to 1.e4 with the ultra-aggressive Schliemann Defense in the Ruy Lopez. Unfortunately, I fell into a trap and the game was over in a mere seven moves, a humiliation for Connecting the Dots akin to the Arab defeat in the Six-Day war, and one that cried out for another round.

In our second game, I had the black pieces. I steered into one of my favorite lines of the rock-solid Caro-Kann. Before too long, I was able to exchange off some of Sharansky’s most actively placed pieces and then I managed to win one of his central pawns, obtaining a very strong position. On his 24th move, Sharansky made a blunder and gave up a second pawn. The game was now all but won.

But my opponent proved to be nothing if not resourceful, and unfortunately, through inaccurate play, I helped him along. As I pushed my pawns forward he managed to maneuver his rooks onto the seventh rank, whereupon I agreed (prematurely, it turns out) to a draw. At a score of 1/2 to 1 1/2, I ended up with the same result against Sharansky that Garry Kasparov had obtained against him, a score that left me immensely satisfied that I had been able to lay a finger on this remarkable Russian, Israeli, Jewish hero.

GAME 1

Schoenfeld vs. Sharansky

Ruy Lopez

1.e4 e5

2.Nf3 Nc6

3.Bb5 f5

4.Bxc6 dxc6

5.Nxe5 fxe4

6.Nc3 Nf6

7.0–0??

chess-pic-1b.jpg

POSITION AFTER 7.0-0??

White walks right into a trap and the game is over. I should have resigned immediately after Sharanksy’s next move, but was too stunned by the sudden turn of events.

7… Qd4

8.Re1 Qxe5

9.Nxe4 Nxe4

10.d3 Bf5

11.dxe4 Bg6

and realizing, belatedly, that I was lost, I resigned.

0–1

 

GAME 2

Sharansky vs. Schoenfeld

Caro-Kann

1.e4 c6

2.d4 d5

3.Nc3 dxe4

4.Nxe4 Nd7

5.Nf3 Ngf6

6.Ng3 e6

7.Bd3 Bd6

8.0–0 Qc7

9.c4 0–0

10.c5 Be7

11.Re1 b6

12.b4 a5

13.cxb6 Qxb6

14.bxa5 Rxa5

15.Bd2 Ra8

16.Qc2 Ba6

17.Bxa6 Qxa6

18.Ne5 c5

19.Nxd7 Nxd7

20.d5?

Akin to pulling out of Gaza. This gives up a pawn without compensation.

20… Bf6

21.Bc3

If 21.dxe6 Bxa1 22.exd7 Qxa2 23.Qxa2 Rxa2 24.Bg5 f6 25.Bf4 Be5 26.Bxe5 fxe5 27.Rxe5 Ra1+ 28.Nf1 Rd1 and white is up the exchange for a pawn in a winning endgame.

21… Qc4

22.Rec1 Qxc3

23.Qxc3 Bxc3

24.Rxc3 exd5

Black’s imposing central pawns give him a powerful advantage.

25.Nf5 Rfe8

26.a4??

Sharansky is momentarily distracted and drops a pawn after I explain to him that at Annapolis Olmert has just yielded the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem in exchange for the right to shake hands with the Saudi deputy foreign minister.

26… Rxa4

27.Rd1 d4

28.Rf3 Ne5

29.Rg3 g6

30.Nd6 Re6

31.Ne4 Rc6

32.f4 Nc4

33.Ng5 f5?

Unnecessary. Better to proceed simply with the attack via 33. Ne3.

34.Nf3 Ne3

35.Rc1 d3

36.Nd2 Ra2

37.Rxe3 Rxd2

38.Re7 Rc2?

Never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity, I make the worst move on the board, giving white a draw. Far better is 38…Rb6 39.Ra1 Rb8 40.h3 Re2, and black runs out of threats.

39.Ra1 Rc8

40.Raa7 Re2

41.Rg7+ Kf8

42.Raf7+ Ke8

43.Rd7??

chess-pic-2b.jpg

POSITION AFTER 43. Rd7??

A disastrous comedy of errors. Sharansky would have had a simple draw by repetition after 43.Rb7. But my own play is even worse since I now offer a draw in a won position. 43…d2! wins.

1/2-1/2

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ANNAPOLIS: Bush’s Image Problem

It’s worth recalling a few details of Annapolis’s origins in order that they may shed some light on what is happening, and not happening, this week. On July 16th, a few weeks after Hamas took Gaza by force, President Bush delivered a speech about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that announced the administration’s intention to hold a peace conference. He said:

The world can do more to build the conditions for peace. So I will call together an international meeting this fall of representatives from nations that support a two-state solution, reject violence, recognize Israel’s right to exist, and commit to all previous agreements between the parties.

When the list of Annapolis invitees was released last week, it became clear—to nobody’s surprise—that not one of those four requirements had been enforced. This nonchalant way of doing business in the Middle East has become a pattern for the Bush administration, especially when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the peace process. The administration has continuously reconfigured its principles and goals in order to elide intransigent problems.

In 2003, the administration committed itself to the Roadmap, which created a sequential, three-phase set of requirements whose fulfillment would allow the creation of a Palestinian state. When the Palestinians could not even begin to fulfill the first phase—waging an internal battle against terrorists and eliminating incitement—the Roadmap was simply ignored in favor of various other, more convenient, strategies, such as attempting to accomplish Phase 3 (“final status”) before Phase 1, and, today, the pursuit of a “parallel,” rather than sequential, process. In July, Bush said that a fall peace conference would concern itself with Palestinian institution-building, good governance, and Arab support for the peace process. Yet between then and now there has been virtually no progress on internal Palestinian reform, and no progress on cajoling “moderate” Arab states into attending a conference under the original conditions. As a result, the administration has simply discarded the original raison d’etre of the conference in favor of something else, a farrago of previous commitments and strategies. And so tomorrow, the deputy foreign minister of Syria will be in Annapolis representing a country that is at war with three American allies (Israel, Lebanon, and Iraq), that makes itself a base of operations for Hamas and a smuggling conduit for Hizballah, and that is allied with Iran. In being unable to distinguish between friends and enemies, the administration is sacrificing America’s long-term credibility for short-term accomplishments—and dubious ones, at that.

It has been said many times that the three main participants at Annapolis are politically weak. In this case, the prime reason for American weakness is not Bush’s domestic approval ratings, or our problems in Iraq, but rather the entirely legitimate perception of the Bush administration as an unreliable, easily-manipulated interlocutor.

It’s worth recalling a few details of Annapolis’s origins in order that they may shed some light on what is happening, and not happening, this week. On July 16th, a few weeks after Hamas took Gaza by force, President Bush delivered a speech about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that announced the administration’s intention to hold a peace conference. He said:

The world can do more to build the conditions for peace. So I will call together an international meeting this fall of representatives from nations that support a two-state solution, reject violence, recognize Israel’s right to exist, and commit to all previous agreements between the parties.

When the list of Annapolis invitees was released last week, it became clear—to nobody’s surprise—that not one of those four requirements had been enforced. This nonchalant way of doing business in the Middle East has become a pattern for the Bush administration, especially when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the peace process. The administration has continuously reconfigured its principles and goals in order to elide intransigent problems.

In 2003, the administration committed itself to the Roadmap, which created a sequential, three-phase set of requirements whose fulfillment would allow the creation of a Palestinian state. When the Palestinians could not even begin to fulfill the first phase—waging an internal battle against terrorists and eliminating incitement—the Roadmap was simply ignored in favor of various other, more convenient, strategies, such as attempting to accomplish Phase 3 (“final status”) before Phase 1, and, today, the pursuit of a “parallel,” rather than sequential, process. In July, Bush said that a fall peace conference would concern itself with Palestinian institution-building, good governance, and Arab support for the peace process. Yet between then and now there has been virtually no progress on internal Palestinian reform, and no progress on cajoling “moderate” Arab states into attending a conference under the original conditions. As a result, the administration has simply discarded the original raison d’etre of the conference in favor of something else, a farrago of previous commitments and strategies. And so tomorrow, the deputy foreign minister of Syria will be in Annapolis representing a country that is at war with three American allies (Israel, Lebanon, and Iraq), that makes itself a base of operations for Hamas and a smuggling conduit for Hizballah, and that is allied with Iran. In being unable to distinguish between friends and enemies, the administration is sacrificing America’s long-term credibility for short-term accomplishments—and dubious ones, at that.

It has been said many times that the three main participants at Annapolis are politically weak. In this case, the prime reason for American weakness is not Bush’s domestic approval ratings, or our problems in Iraq, but rather the entirely legitimate perception of the Bush administration as an unreliable, easily-manipulated interlocutor.

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ANNAPOLIS: There Has to Be Something to It, Right?

Over the past few weeks, consensus has continually held that little should be expected from the Annapolis conference, which opens tomorrow. Op-ed after op-ed and poll after poll have dictated that Israeli and Palestinian leaders are too weak, if not too far apart in their positions, for any meaningful progress towards peace to take place.

Yet it’s hard to reconcile the notion that Annapolis is little more than an impressive photo op with the serious diplomatic capital that Arab states have invested in it. Over the weekend, Saudi Arabia announced that it would send Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, marking the first time that the Saudis are participating in talks with Israelis present. Representatives of Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Qatar, Sudan, Tunisia, and Yemen will also participate. Indeed, the Annapolis conference has achieved such profound legitimacy that Syria—believing that it risked regional isolation by not attending—announced that it would send its deputy foreign minister.

How can we explain this broad participation in a conference doomed to failure? Below, I weigh the compelling and insufficient aspects of three possibilities that have been tossed around in recent weeks:

1. It’s all about Iran. As David Brooks argued a few weeks ago, the Israeli-Palestinian focus of this conference is a proxy for creating a regional consensus for confronting Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Compelling because of the broad (Sunni) Arab participation in the conference. King Abdullah of Jordan has warned of a “Shiite Crescent” of regional Iranian influence, running through Iraq, Syria, Lebanon (Hizballah), and the Palestinian Authority (Hamas); Sunni unity—sponsored by a U.S.-led peace effort—provides a possible diplomatic antidote. Meanwhile, Israel has embraced strong Arab participation, even though this will increase pressure for concessions. This implies that Israel’s priorities lie with countering Iran, perhaps at the expense of other cards it holds.

Insufficient because a conference that cannot actually deliver Israeli-Palestinian peace cannot create regional consensus around Israeli-Palestinian peace, which is necessary to foster and support any long-term regional strategy against Iran. Moreover, is Syria so desperate for the return of the Golan Heights that it would spurn its historic ties with Iran—particularly at the moment that Iran is most regionally ascendant?

2. It’s aimed at achieving broad consensus on Israeli-Palestinian peace to legitimize final status negotiations. The International Crisis Group, one of the few think tanks to take a mildly optimistic view of Annapolis, has argued that Annapolis should be a platform for deliberation on final status issues, with Arab engagement exchanged for Israeli concessions.

Compelling because the Bush administration emphasized the discussion of final status issues in its successful effort to lure Arab states to Annapolis. Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert have called for a final settlement before the expiration of Bush’s term. Furthermore, broad Arab consensus for such a settlement might undermine Hamas’s rejection of peace efforts.

Insufficient because Arab political unity has had little bearing on Arab public opinion in recent years: contrast Arab governments’ condemnation of Hizballah during the 2006 Lebanon war with the popularization that followed throughout the region of Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah. Moreover, public opinion has hardly constrained Hamas, which seized control in Gaza this past June with little Palestinian public support. If Hamas responds to (the highly unlikely) Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank with another takeover, as Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar of Hamas recently announced, Arab unity will prove impotent once again.

3. The Bush administration is using the Annapolis conference to shore up its legacy. Numerous American dailies attribute the Bush administration’s pursuit of the Annapolis conference to the “legacy” issue, while Dov Weissglas, former senior adviser to Ariel Sharon, believes that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is “led by the desire to get a Nobel Prize.”

Compelling because the Bush administration arguably has dedicated more attention to the Middle East than any previous presidency, with few concrete successes. Democratization efforts have stalled or failed in Egypt, Lebanon, and the Palestinian Authority; Iraq is improving but remains unstable; Iran is ascendant; and American popularity in the Middle East is at an all time low. Israeli-Palestinian peace might provide one last chance at securing a favorable legacy in foreign affairs.

Insufficient because psychoanalysis is no substitute for policy analysis.

Over the past few weeks, consensus has continually held that little should be expected from the Annapolis conference, which opens tomorrow. Op-ed after op-ed and poll after poll have dictated that Israeli and Palestinian leaders are too weak, if not too far apart in their positions, for any meaningful progress towards peace to take place.

Yet it’s hard to reconcile the notion that Annapolis is little more than an impressive photo op with the serious diplomatic capital that Arab states have invested in it. Over the weekend, Saudi Arabia announced that it would send Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, marking the first time that the Saudis are participating in talks with Israelis present. Representatives of Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Qatar, Sudan, Tunisia, and Yemen will also participate. Indeed, the Annapolis conference has achieved such profound legitimacy that Syria—believing that it risked regional isolation by not attending—announced that it would send its deputy foreign minister.

How can we explain this broad participation in a conference doomed to failure? Below, I weigh the compelling and insufficient aspects of three possibilities that have been tossed around in recent weeks:

1. It’s all about Iran. As David Brooks argued a few weeks ago, the Israeli-Palestinian focus of this conference is a proxy for creating a regional consensus for confronting Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Compelling because of the broad (Sunni) Arab participation in the conference. King Abdullah of Jordan has warned of a “Shiite Crescent” of regional Iranian influence, running through Iraq, Syria, Lebanon (Hizballah), and the Palestinian Authority (Hamas); Sunni unity—sponsored by a U.S.-led peace effort—provides a possible diplomatic antidote. Meanwhile, Israel has embraced strong Arab participation, even though this will increase pressure for concessions. This implies that Israel’s priorities lie with countering Iran, perhaps at the expense of other cards it holds.

Insufficient because a conference that cannot actually deliver Israeli-Palestinian peace cannot create regional consensus around Israeli-Palestinian peace, which is necessary to foster and support any long-term regional strategy against Iran. Moreover, is Syria so desperate for the return of the Golan Heights that it would spurn its historic ties with Iran—particularly at the moment that Iran is most regionally ascendant?

2. It’s aimed at achieving broad consensus on Israeli-Palestinian peace to legitimize final status negotiations. The International Crisis Group, one of the few think tanks to take a mildly optimistic view of Annapolis, has argued that Annapolis should be a platform for deliberation on final status issues, with Arab engagement exchanged for Israeli concessions.

Compelling because the Bush administration emphasized the discussion of final status issues in its successful effort to lure Arab states to Annapolis. Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert have called for a final settlement before the expiration of Bush’s term. Furthermore, broad Arab consensus for such a settlement might undermine Hamas’s rejection of peace efforts.

Insufficient because Arab political unity has had little bearing on Arab public opinion in recent years: contrast Arab governments’ condemnation of Hizballah during the 2006 Lebanon war with the popularization that followed throughout the region of Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah. Moreover, public opinion has hardly constrained Hamas, which seized control in Gaza this past June with little Palestinian public support. If Hamas responds to (the highly unlikely) Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank with another takeover, as Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar of Hamas recently announced, Arab unity will prove impotent once again.

3. The Bush administration is using the Annapolis conference to shore up its legacy. Numerous American dailies attribute the Bush administration’s pursuit of the Annapolis conference to the “legacy” issue, while Dov Weissglas, former senior adviser to Ariel Sharon, believes that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is “led by the desire to get a Nobel Prize.”

Compelling because the Bush administration arguably has dedicated more attention to the Middle East than any previous presidency, with few concrete successes. Democratization efforts have stalled or failed in Egypt, Lebanon, and the Palestinian Authority; Iraq is improving but remains unstable; Iran is ascendant; and American popularity in the Middle East is at an all time low. Israeli-Palestinian peace might provide one last chance at securing a favorable legacy in foreign affairs.

Insufficient because psychoanalysis is no substitute for policy analysis.

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Iran: A Surprise Resignation

Today, Iran’s government announced that Ali Larijani, the country’s chief nuclear negotiator since 2005, had resigned, effective immediately. The official IRNA news agency stated that Saeed Jalili, deputy foreign minister for European and American affairs, would probably replace Larijani. Said Gholam-Hossein Elham, a government spokesman: “Larijani has resigned due to personal reasons, but this does not mean changes in policies and programs.”

There may be no change in Iran’s underlying approach, but the surprise resignation heralds a shift in tactics. And this development also indicates there are deep rifts in the regime between hardliners like Larijani and even tougher types like President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. With the less experienced Jalili now in place, Ahmadinejad, who is not even in favor of talks with the West, is expected to exercise more control over nuclear policy.

This change in negotiators occurs at an especially sensitive time. The Security Council is waiting for the results of last-ditch discussions between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog. Moreover, Iran seems to have turned down a compromise offered by President Vladimir Putin earlier this week. Larijani had originally confirmed Russia’s “special message,” but on Thursday, Ahmadinejad denied its existence. In effect, the Iranian president killed Moscow’s attempt at eleventh-hour diplomacy.

So Ahmadinejad is about to get the global confrontation he has wanted for so long. He is now giving the international community no choice but to have it out with him next month, when the Security Council takes up the matter. We should thank him for forcing the issue at this moment, not two years from now when he will have developed the bomb.

Today, Iran’s government announced that Ali Larijani, the country’s chief nuclear negotiator since 2005, had resigned, effective immediately. The official IRNA news agency stated that Saeed Jalili, deputy foreign minister for European and American affairs, would probably replace Larijani. Said Gholam-Hossein Elham, a government spokesman: “Larijani has resigned due to personal reasons, but this does not mean changes in policies and programs.”

There may be no change in Iran’s underlying approach, but the surprise resignation heralds a shift in tactics. And this development also indicates there are deep rifts in the regime between hardliners like Larijani and even tougher types like President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. With the less experienced Jalili now in place, Ahmadinejad, who is not even in favor of talks with the West, is expected to exercise more control over nuclear policy.

This change in negotiators occurs at an especially sensitive time. The Security Council is waiting for the results of last-ditch discussions between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog. Moreover, Iran seems to have turned down a compromise offered by President Vladimir Putin earlier this week. Larijani had originally confirmed Russia’s “special message,” but on Thursday, Ahmadinejad denied its existence. In effect, the Iranian president killed Moscow’s attempt at eleventh-hour diplomacy.

So Ahmadinejad is about to get the global confrontation he has wanted for so long. He is now giving the international community no choice but to have it out with him next month, when the Security Council takes up the matter. We should thank him for forcing the issue at this moment, not two years from now when he will have developed the bomb.

Read Less




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