Commentary Magazine


Topic: Haifa

Israel Makes Preparations for War

Much of the attention about a potential conflict between Israel and Iran has focused on the decision-making process that could lead the Jewish state to act to forestall the creation of a nuclear weapon in the hands of Iran’s Islamist leadership. But while the debate continues about what Israel’s government will decide to do and when they will do it, inside the country, preparations are under way for the aftermath of that decision.

On a cold morning in late January, ambulances raced around Haifa, Israel’s largest port city. There had been an attack with a “dirty bomb,” armed with radioactive cesium 137. Doctors and paramedics cleaned up the survivors, while the authorities informed the public the “unthinkable” had happened in the heart of the Jewish State. It was just a drill, but the exercise code-named “Dark Cloud,” was part of the Israel Defense Force Home Front Command’s plan to prepare the country in case of war with Iran.

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Much of the attention about a potential conflict between Israel and Iran has focused on the decision-making process that could lead the Jewish state to act to forestall the creation of a nuclear weapon in the hands of Iran’s Islamist leadership. But while the debate continues about what Israel’s government will decide to do and when they will do it, inside the country, preparations are under way for the aftermath of that decision.

On a cold morning in late January, ambulances raced around Haifa, Israel’s largest port city. There had been an attack with a “dirty bomb,” armed with radioactive cesium 137. Doctors and paramedics cleaned up the survivors, while the authorities informed the public the “unthinkable” had happened in the heart of the Jewish State. It was just a drill, but the exercise code-named “Dark Cloud,” was part of the Israel Defense Force Home Front Command’s plan to prepare the country in case of war with Iran.

If Israel strikes Iranian nuclear facilities, Tehran has three major targets: the atomic reactor at Dimona, Haifa’s port and refineries, and the area of Zakariya, where Israel stored its missile arsenal. Eyal Eisenberg, head of the Home Front Command, recently declared, “Haifa will be flooded with 12.000 missiles.” Israel’s army estimates that Hamas and Hezbollah have 1,600 rockets capable of hitting targets with high precision. In the words of former Minister Matan Vilnai, in the event of such a war, Israel’s Defense Ministry building “will not remain standing.”

But Israel is no stranger to missile fire. Since 1948, the year of the founding of the state, more than 60,000 rockets have fallen on Israel. In 2006 during the second Lebanon war when Hezbollah rained missiles down on the north of the country, one million Israelis were forced to live in shelters for more than a month. There are estimated to be 200,000 missiles pointed at the country today. The situation is such that, according to a survey conducted by Tel Aviv University, 30 percent of those Israelis with a foreign passport are willing to leave the country. A few days ago, Yediot Ahronot, Israel’s largest circulation newspaper, published a list of “cities of refuge” where it is better to live “in case of emergency.”

Tel Aviv, where 60 percent of Israel’s population reside, is now facing Iran’s “judgment day.” Many security drills are termed “NBC:” nuclear, biological and chemical threats.

Syria is the “most advanced Arab country in the production of chemical weapons,” according to a report by the Center for Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University. Though Syria’s government is preoccupied with the rebellion against the Assad regime, it is still an ally of Iran and might decide that joining in an attack on Israel would be a good way to divert public anger against the massacres of dissidents. Syria has produced hundreds of tons of chemical weapons and bombs filled with sarin and another lethal gas, VX. The idea is that botulinum, anthrax and other lethal pathogens can be used in conjunction with explosives. Just 100 grams of mustard gas would be enough to kill 500 Israelis.

With this sort of threat in view, Israel is preparing its bomb shelters. This week, the Foreign Ministry gave the embassies a list of bunkers available for the diplomats. Only Tel Aviv has as many as 240 bunkers. The Jerusalem railway station is able to accommodate 5,000 people. Even theaters, like Habima in Tel Aviv, will host thousands of people. In Safed, the first hospital-bunker for children is being prepared. Evacuation plans are ready for Ramat Gan, the populous suburb of Tel Aviv hit by Saddam Hussein’s rockets in 1991.

While many Israelis may take shelter in the Negev, up to half a million could take refuge in the Jewish settlements of Samaria. The commander of the Home Front, General Yair Golan, declared that “cities can be transformed into a battlefield” and that masses of people will be forced to flee to a “national refuge” in Samaria in the West Bank. The hospitals have emergency plans. The most important industries, such as the banks and the Bezeq phone company, are preparing alternative technologies in case of national collapse.

Meanwhile, in southern Israel, where Gaza-based terrorists have rained down thousands of missiles in recent years, bulldozers are hard at work building new shelters for the expected next round of shelling. In Sderot, the town that has been hardest hit by Hamas missile fire, virtually every street is already dotted with concrete huts. The government has promised to put a missile-proof security room in every home. Five thousand shelters are planned for a place with just 20,000 inhabitants.

In addition to the shelters, a new alarm system, located in the Negev desert, can calculate the exact trajectory of a missile. The plan is to use this information to alert all the mobile phones in the area via SMS, audio alert and display lighting.

Given the level of preparation for these attacks, these days the State of Israel looks like a bunkered Western outpost threatened with destruction by Iran. The countdown for war may have already begun. But as Israelis start thinking about heading to shelters, the question in their minds is: once the assault on their nation begins, will the West come to their aid?

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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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Afternoon Commentary

A member of the Iranian Qods force, an elite branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard corps, was found to be moonlighting as a Taliban commander. As Stephen Hayes points out at the Weekly Standard, this development is further evidence that the doctrinal differences between Iranians and the Taliban don’t preclude them from working together.

From Scott Brown’s Senate win to Glenn Beck’s big rally, Politico counts down the top 10 political moments of 2010.

While national security experts remain concerned about the growing military capabilities of China’s navy, the Washington Post notes that the country is still struggling with some basic components of its air force technology.

Why do Israelis support a two state solution, but oppose a freeze on settlement construction? Jeremy Sharon argues that it’s because they have become discouraged about the possibility of a peace deal at this point in time: “Support for the notion of ‘two states for two peoples’ remains high at over 60 percent because Israelis acknowledge that ultimately, continued rule over the Palestinians is untenable. But there is no desire to rush into an irreversible agreement which could result not with the shelling of Sderot or Haifa, but of Tel Aviv.”

A member of the Iranian Qods force, an elite branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard corps, was found to be moonlighting as a Taliban commander. As Stephen Hayes points out at the Weekly Standard, this development is further evidence that the doctrinal differences between Iranians and the Taliban don’t preclude them from working together.

From Scott Brown’s Senate win to Glenn Beck’s big rally, Politico counts down the top 10 political moments of 2010.

While national security experts remain concerned about the growing military capabilities of China’s navy, the Washington Post notes that the country is still struggling with some basic components of its air force technology.

Why do Israelis support a two state solution, but oppose a freeze on settlement construction? Jeremy Sharon argues that it’s because they have become discouraged about the possibility of a peace deal at this point in time: “Support for the notion of ‘two states for two peoples’ remains high at over 60 percent because Israelis acknowledge that ultimately, continued rule over the Palestinians is untenable. But there is no desire to rush into an irreversible agreement which could result not with the shelling of Sderot or Haifa, but of Tel Aviv.”

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The Fire, and the Talk

Often, at times of intense national calamity, our energies are focused on watching, listening, or reading the news in high doses. When the calamity passes, the fires are put out, we keep on listening just out of momentum. For days now, like most Israelis, I’ve been riveted on the Mt. Carmel fire. The shift of the winds, the rage of the blaze, the closure of one road after another, the arrival of international help, the destruction of homes, the maps and live video, and learning about the lives of those killed. My kids went to Haifa to volunteer. Elderly relatives relocated. It is all deeply painful.

In all likelihood, the massive firefighting planes from Russia and the U.S., combined with a forecast of rain, will bring this all to an end in the coming hours. Lacking new facts, the opinion-waves are already filled with prattle, and I, in my intensive, consumptive fever, have forgotten to turn them off.

Let’s get a few things straight. This is a major national disaster for Israel. At least 41 dead, more than 12,000 acres — half of Israel’s biggest forest — destroyed, hundreds of homes damaged or destroyed, an entire kibbutz nearly wiped off the map. The only important things to be thinking about right now are (a) caring for the injured and the families of the deceased, (b) figuring out how to help them rebuild their lives and how to rebuild a beautiful, stunning national treasure that was the Mt. Carmel forest, and (c) figuring out what went wrong and how to make sure Israel is prepared for future fires in a way that is reasonable and balanced with other, no-less-pressing, needs.

What is not important right now? Here are my top 10:

1. Explaining how forest fires are caused by Sabbath desecration.

2. Complaining about how the fire hurts Israel’s image abroad.

3. Taking too much credit for our diplomatic successes in getting other countries to help.

4. Telling us why American Jews shouldn’t give to the JNF.

5. Blaming the fire on government funding for the settlements.

6. Calling the fire “Netanyahu’s Katrina” or the Fire Department’s “Yom Kippur War.”

7. Calling an “anti-Semite”anyone who criticizes Interior Minister Eli Yishai.

8. Comparing Israel’s failure to fight the fire with the collapse of the Roman and Ottoman Empires.

9. Dreaming that the fire will help repair ties with Turkey.

10. Using the fire as an excuse to point out the racism in Israeli society.

Not that all these are totally false; they’re just all totally inappropriate at this time. And most of them are pretty dumb. We can sort them out later on.

Often, at times of intense national calamity, our energies are focused on watching, listening, or reading the news in high doses. When the calamity passes, the fires are put out, we keep on listening just out of momentum. For days now, like most Israelis, I’ve been riveted on the Mt. Carmel fire. The shift of the winds, the rage of the blaze, the closure of one road after another, the arrival of international help, the destruction of homes, the maps and live video, and learning about the lives of those killed. My kids went to Haifa to volunteer. Elderly relatives relocated. It is all deeply painful.

In all likelihood, the massive firefighting planes from Russia and the U.S., combined with a forecast of rain, will bring this all to an end in the coming hours. Lacking new facts, the opinion-waves are already filled with prattle, and I, in my intensive, consumptive fever, have forgotten to turn them off.

Let’s get a few things straight. This is a major national disaster for Israel. At least 41 dead, more than 12,000 acres — half of Israel’s biggest forest — destroyed, hundreds of homes damaged or destroyed, an entire kibbutz nearly wiped off the map. The only important things to be thinking about right now are (a) caring for the injured and the families of the deceased, (b) figuring out how to help them rebuild their lives and how to rebuild a beautiful, stunning national treasure that was the Mt. Carmel forest, and (c) figuring out what went wrong and how to make sure Israel is prepared for future fires in a way that is reasonable and balanced with other, no-less-pressing, needs.

What is not important right now? Here are my top 10:

1. Explaining how forest fires are caused by Sabbath desecration.

2. Complaining about how the fire hurts Israel’s image abroad.

3. Taking too much credit for our diplomatic successes in getting other countries to help.

4. Telling us why American Jews shouldn’t give to the JNF.

5. Blaming the fire on government funding for the settlements.

6. Calling the fire “Netanyahu’s Katrina” or the Fire Department’s “Yom Kippur War.”

7. Calling an “anti-Semite”anyone who criticizes Interior Minister Eli Yishai.

8. Comparing Israel’s failure to fight the fire with the collapse of the Roman and Ottoman Empires.

9. Dreaming that the fire will help repair ties with Turkey.

10. Using the fire as an excuse to point out the racism in Israeli society.

Not that all these are totally false; they’re just all totally inappropriate at this time. And most of them are pretty dumb. We can sort them out later on.

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RE: Turkey or Israel

Liz Cheney has no problem choosing sides. In a statement, she declares:

Yesterday, President Obama said the Israeli action to stop the flotilla bound for the Gaza Strip was “tragic.” What is truly tragic is that President Obama is perpetuating Israel’s enemies’ version of events. The Israeli government has imposed a blockade around Gaza because Hamas remains committed to Israel’s destruction, refusing to recognize Israel’s right to exist and using territory under their control to launch attacks against Israeli civilians. The Israeli blockade of Gaza, in order to prevent the re-arming of Hamas, is in full compliance with international law. Had the Turkish flotilla truly been interested in providing humanitarian aid to Gaza, they would have accepted the Israeli offer to off-load their supplies peacefully at the Israeli port of Haifa for transport into Gaza. President Obama is contributing to the isolation of Israel, and sending a clear signal to the Turkish-Syrian-Iranian axis that their methods for ostracizing Israel will succeed, and will be met by no resistance from America. There is no middle ground here. Either the United States stands with the people of Israel in the war against radical Islamic terrorism or we are providing encouragement to Israel’s enemies — and our own. Keep America Safe calls on President Obama to reverse his present course and support the state of Israel immediately and unequivocally.

If Keep America Safe is calling on the White House to support Israel unequivocally, why aren’t American Jewish organizations doing the same? It is apparently oh-so-hard for them to choose, as well: unequivocal support for a liberal president or unequivocal support for Israel. Like Cheney said, there is no middle ground here.

Liz Cheney has no problem choosing sides. In a statement, she declares:

Yesterday, President Obama said the Israeli action to stop the flotilla bound for the Gaza Strip was “tragic.” What is truly tragic is that President Obama is perpetuating Israel’s enemies’ version of events. The Israeli government has imposed a blockade around Gaza because Hamas remains committed to Israel’s destruction, refusing to recognize Israel’s right to exist and using territory under their control to launch attacks against Israeli civilians. The Israeli blockade of Gaza, in order to prevent the re-arming of Hamas, is in full compliance with international law. Had the Turkish flotilla truly been interested in providing humanitarian aid to Gaza, they would have accepted the Israeli offer to off-load their supplies peacefully at the Israeli port of Haifa for transport into Gaza. President Obama is contributing to the isolation of Israel, and sending a clear signal to the Turkish-Syrian-Iranian axis that their methods for ostracizing Israel will succeed, and will be met by no resistance from America. There is no middle ground here. Either the United States stands with the people of Israel in the war against radical Islamic terrorism or we are providing encouragement to Israel’s enemies — and our own. Keep America Safe calls on President Obama to reverse his present course and support the state of Israel immediately and unequivocally.

If Keep America Safe is calling on the White House to support Israel unequivocally, why aren’t American Jewish organizations doing the same? It is apparently oh-so-hard for them to choose, as well: unequivocal support for a liberal president or unequivocal support for Israel. Like Cheney said, there is no middle ground here.

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Times Square Bomb: An Israeli Perspective

Like all of us, I am greatly relieved that the Times Square car bomb didn’t go off, that we can talk about fear rather than death, about catching the perps rather than treating the wounded and comforting the bereaved. Judging from news reports, the bomb seems to be the work of amateurs more concerned with not being detected as they bought their supplies than with the actual deadliness of the explosion. Janet Napolitano, the Homeland Security secretary, has called it a “one-off.” Let’s hope she’s right.

Because if she’s not, what now looks like a policing success will start to look more and more like an intelligence failure. Here in Israel, the security of citizens has been bought after many years of fighting bombers, suicide and otherwise, the success of which battles forced our enemies to resort to lobbing rockets across the southern and northern borders — still a war, but somehow a lot more tolerable. Yes, part of it was good policing and the alert responses of civilians, some of them armed, in tough situations. And part of the credit goes to building a big, long wall between us and the terrorist hornet’s nests in the West Bank and Gaza. But the biggest factor in preventing terror attacks today is undoubtedly the vast intelligence apparatus that has prevented literally thousands of attacks like the Times Square bomb from being launched in the first place. Many of the IDF operations you hear about, and many more that never make the news, are acting on intel about planned terror attacks. Terrorists are arrested, sometimes killed, before they make it to our teeming public squares.

There is little one can do to prevent a determined nutcase, acting alone, from buying stuff that can blow up and parking his car in a public place. But if it turns out that the Taliban really were behind it, or that some other international terror group has determined to wreak havoc on New Yorkers again, the first question to ask will be why intel didn’t know about it in time to prevent it. It may sound unfair to place that kind of a burden on intelligence — after all, they can’t know everything, can they? But it’s been by setting the bar that high, and by allocating the resources to make it realistic, that has made it possible for me today to sit on a train between Tel Aviv and Haifa and write these words to you without feeling like my life is at risk.

Of course, America is much bigger, and its terrorist enemies live across Asia and the Middle East, not just in the relatively small areas of the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and a few other places. Yes, America is much bigger — but then again, so is the federal budget, right?

Like all of us, I am greatly relieved that the Times Square car bomb didn’t go off, that we can talk about fear rather than death, about catching the perps rather than treating the wounded and comforting the bereaved. Judging from news reports, the bomb seems to be the work of amateurs more concerned with not being detected as they bought their supplies than with the actual deadliness of the explosion. Janet Napolitano, the Homeland Security secretary, has called it a “one-off.” Let’s hope she’s right.

Because if she’s not, what now looks like a policing success will start to look more and more like an intelligence failure. Here in Israel, the security of citizens has been bought after many years of fighting bombers, suicide and otherwise, the success of which battles forced our enemies to resort to lobbing rockets across the southern and northern borders — still a war, but somehow a lot more tolerable. Yes, part of it was good policing and the alert responses of civilians, some of them armed, in tough situations. And part of the credit goes to building a big, long wall between us and the terrorist hornet’s nests in the West Bank and Gaza. But the biggest factor in preventing terror attacks today is undoubtedly the vast intelligence apparatus that has prevented literally thousands of attacks like the Times Square bomb from being launched in the first place. Many of the IDF operations you hear about, and many more that never make the news, are acting on intel about planned terror attacks. Terrorists are arrested, sometimes killed, before they make it to our teeming public squares.

There is little one can do to prevent a determined nutcase, acting alone, from buying stuff that can blow up and parking his car in a public place. But if it turns out that the Taliban really were behind it, or that some other international terror group has determined to wreak havoc on New Yorkers again, the first question to ask will be why intel didn’t know about it in time to prevent it. It may sound unfair to place that kind of a burden on intelligence — after all, they can’t know everything, can they? But it’s been by setting the bar that high, and by allocating the resources to make it realistic, that has made it possible for me today to sit on a train between Tel Aviv and Haifa and write these words to you without feeling like my life is at risk.

Of course, America is much bigger, and its terrorist enemies live across Asia and the Middle East, not just in the relatively small areas of the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and a few other places. Yes, America is much bigger — but then again, so is the federal budget, right?

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Peace in Our Time: A Tale of Two Port Cities

There is a certain sense of melancholy in watching the “Syrian Missile Crisis” unfold this month. For the first time in two decades, U.S. and Russian warships have conducted — during the crisis itself — what we might call competing port visits to the principal nations involved. The Russian port visit was not related to Syria’s deployment of Scud missiles with Hezbollah, but its timing was certainly emblematic of the trend in Russian policy in the region.

The Russian nuclear-powered cruiser RFS Pyotr Veliky, flagship of the Northern Fleet, pulled into Tartus, Syria, on April 13. Pyotr Veliky is the warship that visited Venezuela and operated in the Caribbean in late 2008. Russia’s navy continues to struggle in rebuilding its once-aggressive profile on the high seas; port visits like this one have yet to become routine again, although Russia still keeps the small logistic detachment in Tartus that has been there for decades. The Tartus port visit this month was attended by ceremony, high-level meetings, and pointed statements from Russia’s ambassador in Damascus.

The day of Pyotr Veliky’s arrival, Shimon Peres announced Israel’s information on the transfer of Syrian Scuds to Hezbollah. The warship’s presence is not, of course, evidence of Russian involvement in that joint action by Syria and Iran, but it unquestionably symbolizes Russia’s regional links at an informative time. The media furor over the Scud transfer has produced very little reaction from Russia; it apparently interfered in no way with the fraternal amity of the port visit, which Russian media covered extensively. Pyotr Veliky left Tartus and headed south through the Suez Canal on April 16.

The visit to Haifa of USS Ramage (DDG-61), an Aegis destroyer, has presented an interesting contrast. The lack of even the usual low-level fanfare about the port visit may be due to Ramage’s peculiar capabilities: the destroyer is one of the U.S. Navy’s few Atlantic-based warships outfitted with the ballistic-missile defense (BMD) package. Ramage deployed to the Mediterranean in January specifically to provide a BMD contingency presence, a relatively new mission. The ship arrived in Haifa on the 18th, five days after the Peres disclosure was picked up by U.S. media.

Ramage’s quiet dispatch to Israel is thought-provoking, in light of Russia’s lack of embarrassment at favoring Syria with a flagship port call just when word was getting out about Syrian missiles being proliferated to the terrorist group Hezbollah. It reminds me that the Obama administration has not affirmed a commitment to Israel’s national integrity in the wake of the Scud story. Its spokesmen have emphasized instead that giving Scuds to Hezbollah could “destabilize the region” and “put Lebanon at risk.”

Perhaps Ramage has been sent to Israel’s coast solely as a counter to “regional” destabilization — and making a stop in Haifa is a mere convenience given Israel’s long history of logistic accommodation in that regard. But to make such disingenuous assertions, the Obama administration would have to be talking deliberately about defense commitments in the first place. It does not do so, however, nor does it occur to today’s U.S. media to ask it to. Russia, Iran, and Syria, by contrast, suffer from no such reticence.

There is a certain sense of melancholy in watching the “Syrian Missile Crisis” unfold this month. For the first time in two decades, U.S. and Russian warships have conducted — during the crisis itself — what we might call competing port visits to the principal nations involved. The Russian port visit was not related to Syria’s deployment of Scud missiles with Hezbollah, but its timing was certainly emblematic of the trend in Russian policy in the region.

The Russian nuclear-powered cruiser RFS Pyotr Veliky, flagship of the Northern Fleet, pulled into Tartus, Syria, on April 13. Pyotr Veliky is the warship that visited Venezuela and operated in the Caribbean in late 2008. Russia’s navy continues to struggle in rebuilding its once-aggressive profile on the high seas; port visits like this one have yet to become routine again, although Russia still keeps the small logistic detachment in Tartus that has been there for decades. The Tartus port visit this month was attended by ceremony, high-level meetings, and pointed statements from Russia’s ambassador in Damascus.

The day of Pyotr Veliky’s arrival, Shimon Peres announced Israel’s information on the transfer of Syrian Scuds to Hezbollah. The warship’s presence is not, of course, evidence of Russian involvement in that joint action by Syria and Iran, but it unquestionably symbolizes Russia’s regional links at an informative time. The media furor over the Scud transfer has produced very little reaction from Russia; it apparently interfered in no way with the fraternal amity of the port visit, which Russian media covered extensively. Pyotr Veliky left Tartus and headed south through the Suez Canal on April 16.

The visit to Haifa of USS Ramage (DDG-61), an Aegis destroyer, has presented an interesting contrast. The lack of even the usual low-level fanfare about the port visit may be due to Ramage’s peculiar capabilities: the destroyer is one of the U.S. Navy’s few Atlantic-based warships outfitted with the ballistic-missile defense (BMD) package. Ramage deployed to the Mediterranean in January specifically to provide a BMD contingency presence, a relatively new mission. The ship arrived in Haifa on the 18th, five days after the Peres disclosure was picked up by U.S. media.

Ramage’s quiet dispatch to Israel is thought-provoking, in light of Russia’s lack of embarrassment at favoring Syria with a flagship port call just when word was getting out about Syrian missiles being proliferated to the terrorist group Hezbollah. It reminds me that the Obama administration has not affirmed a commitment to Israel’s national integrity in the wake of the Scud story. Its spokesmen have emphasized instead that giving Scuds to Hezbollah could “destabilize the region” and “put Lebanon at risk.”

Perhaps Ramage has been sent to Israel’s coast solely as a counter to “regional” destabilization — and making a stop in Haifa is a mere convenience given Israel’s long history of logistic accommodation in that regard. But to make such disingenuous assertions, the Obama administration would have to be talking deliberately about defense commitments in the first place. It does not do so, however, nor does it occur to today’s U.S. media to ask it to. Russia, Iran, and Syria, by contrast, suffer from no such reticence.

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: A Third Lebanon War Could Be Much Worse than the Second

Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah recently announced that he could hit any and every place in Israel with long-range missiles. That would mean that, unlike in 2006, Hezbollah could strike not only the northern cities of Kiryat Shmona and Haifa but also Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Ben-Gurion International Airport, and the Dimona nuclear-power plant.

I dismissed his claim as a wild boast last week, but Israeli army commander Major General Gabi Ashkenazi confirmed it this week. So while we’ve all been worried about Iran’s nuclear-weapons program, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been quietly arming his chief terrorist proxy with more advanced conventional weapons.

To read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah recently announced that he could hit any and every place in Israel with long-range missiles. That would mean that, unlike in 2006, Hezbollah could strike not only the northern cities of Kiryat Shmona and Haifa but also Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Ben-Gurion International Airport, and the Dimona nuclear-power plant.

I dismissed his claim as a wild boast last week, but Israeli army commander Major General Gabi Ashkenazi confirmed it this week. So while we’ve all been worried about Iran’s nuclear-weapons program, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been quietly arming his chief terrorist proxy with more advanced conventional weapons.

To read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

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Nuke Teheran?

Charles Krauthammer lays out the case today for a U.S. nuclear guarantee to Israel. “It’s time to admit the truth,” he writes. “The Bush administration’s attempt to halt Iran’s nuclear program has failed.” He proposes instead that George Bush should take a leaf from the Cuban missile crisis and issue a ringing declaration that:

“It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear attack upon Israel by Iran, or originating in Iran, as an attack by Iran on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon Iran.”

This should be followed with a simple explanation: “As a beacon of tolerance and as leader of the free world, the United States will not permit a second Holocaust to be perpetrated upon the Jewish people.”

Such an approach has its undeniable appeal, but would it suffice to assure Israel’s security needs, or even survival, in the face of a nuclear-armed Iran?

In some scenarios, perhaps. It certainly might give the Iranians pause before launching a nuclear-missile fusillade against Tel Aviv directly from their soil. But there are many far more ambiguous forms in which an Iranian nuclear weapon might be employed, and not only against Israel, but against other countries in the region. The provision of a nuclear weapon to a terrorist surrogate group under Iranian control is one. Coercive nuclear threats are another.

Would the United States really follow through on its word and destroy Tehran if, say, Hizballah smuggled a nuclear device into Haifa and detonated it? Somehow, I doubt it. And we are not even contemplating here the possibility that it might be Barack Obama who has to answer the phone at 3AM before calling General McPeak and asking him what to do.   

The fact is that a nuclear-armed Iran will be a far more assertive and dangerous power than it already is. No words from an American president, no matter how ringing, can solve Israel’s defense dilemma at a stroke. Unless the U.S. or Israel takes action, we may yet have to learn to live with an Iranian bomb. But it’s folly to believe we can solve major security problems with declarations.

Charles Krauthammer lays out the case today for a U.S. nuclear guarantee to Israel. “It’s time to admit the truth,” he writes. “The Bush administration’s attempt to halt Iran’s nuclear program has failed.” He proposes instead that George Bush should take a leaf from the Cuban missile crisis and issue a ringing declaration that:

“It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear attack upon Israel by Iran, or originating in Iran, as an attack by Iran on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon Iran.”

This should be followed with a simple explanation: “As a beacon of tolerance and as leader of the free world, the United States will not permit a second Holocaust to be perpetrated upon the Jewish people.”

Such an approach has its undeniable appeal, but would it suffice to assure Israel’s security needs, or even survival, in the face of a nuclear-armed Iran?

In some scenarios, perhaps. It certainly might give the Iranians pause before launching a nuclear-missile fusillade against Tel Aviv directly from their soil. But there are many far more ambiguous forms in which an Iranian nuclear weapon might be employed, and not only against Israel, but against other countries in the region. The provision of a nuclear weapon to a terrorist surrogate group under Iranian control is one. Coercive nuclear threats are another.

Would the United States really follow through on its word and destroy Tehran if, say, Hizballah smuggled a nuclear device into Haifa and detonated it? Somehow, I doubt it. And we are not even contemplating here the possibility that it might be Barack Obama who has to answer the phone at 3AM before calling General McPeak and asking him what to do.   

The fact is that a nuclear-armed Iran will be a far more assertive and dangerous power than it already is. No words from an American president, no matter how ringing, can solve Israel’s defense dilemma at a stroke. Unless the U.S. or Israel takes action, we may yet have to learn to live with an Iranian bomb. But it’s folly to believe we can solve major security problems with declarations.

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Lebanon III?

Today Israeli radio reported a massive effort underway to contact IDF reserve soldiers and verify their contact information. Yesterday, Israel deployed Patriot missiles next to the northern city of Haifa, for the first time since the 2006 Lebanon war. Inside Lebanon, anti-Hizbullah rhetoric is heating up, with Prime Minister Fouad Seniora blaming Hizbullah for bringing war upon Lebanon, and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt warning of a possible civil war against the Iranian-backed organization. And today’s Jerusalem Post reports that Israel is deeply concerned about the possible collapse of UNIFIL, the 15,000-man strong UN force which has been in southern Lebanon since the end of hostilities in 2006. Things have not looked so unstable along the Israel-Lebanon border since the war ended.

Hizbullah, having taken a massive blow with the killing of its top military commander and terror architect, Imad Mughniyeh, is not likely to take its humiliation lying down. Hassan Nasrallah has declared an “open war” against Israel and Israeli targets around the world. The pundits are busily speculating how Hizbullah might respond — with an assassination attempt against an Israeli leader, with a massive terror attack on a Jewish or Israeli target somewhere in the world, or possibly with the launching of chemical missiles or unmanned aircraft at Israeli population centers. But we should assume Israel will not sit back and wait for the response, either. The next move may be Israel’s.

Neither Hizbullah nor Israel really wants full-scale war right now, however. Israel is unlikely to get the kind of diplomatic air cover from Washington the way it did in 2006, if for no other reason than because of the instability it might bring to John McCain’s campaign. Hizbullah, too, stands to lose a great deal, not just from defeat, but even from another stand-off, which would likely hurt its public image in Lebanon even further, and possibly bring on civil war. So the most likely outcome is saber-rattling, and possible surgical strikes.

But if war does break out, Hizbullah should be prepared for a far more costly adventure: The IDF today is not the IDF of 2006. Not just the replacement of the labor union leader Amir Peretz (who heard of a “strike” against Hizbullah and took out his megaphone) with the former IDF chief-of-staff and Prime Minister Ehud Barak in the position of defense minister; and the replacement of Dan Halutz as IDF chief-of-staff with Gabi Ashkenazi; but a lot of money, training, and equipment has built up the IDF, which did not wait for the Winograd Commission’s report to start learning the lessons of Lebanon II. Rebuilding the IDF was Ehud Barak’s excuse for remaining in the government, despite promises to the contrary, after the report came out. The man wants to be Prime Minister. And Ehud Olmert, whose party is looking at a massive drubbing in the next election, needs to save his own political career. This is a war that neither of the Ehuds can afford to lose — and anything less than decisive victory, for these purposes, would be a loss.

For the people in charge on both sides, in other words, the stakes have never been higher.

Today Israeli radio reported a massive effort underway to contact IDF reserve soldiers and verify their contact information. Yesterday, Israel deployed Patriot missiles next to the northern city of Haifa, for the first time since the 2006 Lebanon war. Inside Lebanon, anti-Hizbullah rhetoric is heating up, with Prime Minister Fouad Seniora blaming Hizbullah for bringing war upon Lebanon, and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt warning of a possible civil war against the Iranian-backed organization. And today’s Jerusalem Post reports that Israel is deeply concerned about the possible collapse of UNIFIL, the 15,000-man strong UN force which has been in southern Lebanon since the end of hostilities in 2006. Things have not looked so unstable along the Israel-Lebanon border since the war ended.

Hizbullah, having taken a massive blow with the killing of its top military commander and terror architect, Imad Mughniyeh, is not likely to take its humiliation lying down. Hassan Nasrallah has declared an “open war” against Israel and Israeli targets around the world. The pundits are busily speculating how Hizbullah might respond — with an assassination attempt against an Israeli leader, with a massive terror attack on a Jewish or Israeli target somewhere in the world, or possibly with the launching of chemical missiles or unmanned aircraft at Israeli population centers. But we should assume Israel will not sit back and wait for the response, either. The next move may be Israel’s.

Neither Hizbullah nor Israel really wants full-scale war right now, however. Israel is unlikely to get the kind of diplomatic air cover from Washington the way it did in 2006, if for no other reason than because of the instability it might bring to John McCain’s campaign. Hizbullah, too, stands to lose a great deal, not just from defeat, but even from another stand-off, which would likely hurt its public image in Lebanon even further, and possibly bring on civil war. So the most likely outcome is saber-rattling, and possible surgical strikes.

But if war does break out, Hizbullah should be prepared for a far more costly adventure: The IDF today is not the IDF of 2006. Not just the replacement of the labor union leader Amir Peretz (who heard of a “strike” against Hizbullah and took out his megaphone) with the former IDF chief-of-staff and Prime Minister Ehud Barak in the position of defense minister; and the replacement of Dan Halutz as IDF chief-of-staff with Gabi Ashkenazi; but a lot of money, training, and equipment has built up the IDF, which did not wait for the Winograd Commission’s report to start learning the lessons of Lebanon II. Rebuilding the IDF was Ehud Barak’s excuse for remaining in the government, despite promises to the contrary, after the report came out. The man wants to be Prime Minister. And Ehud Olmert, whose party is looking at a massive drubbing in the next election, needs to save his own political career. This is a war that neither of the Ehuds can afford to lose — and anything less than decisive victory, for these purposes, would be a loss.

For the people in charge on both sides, in other words, the stakes have never been higher.

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