#syria

Israel – myths and realities

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You’ll never understand Israel until you visit it. Almost everything you read in the media is a falsehood. Nadav Tamir, former advisor to the late Prime Minister Shimon Peres, sarcastically quipped this week, “if Moses had possessed GPS there is no way he would have picked Israel as it is the only place in the Middle East without oil.” It might explain why this nation has had to work so hard to be innovative in order to survive. It has no natural resources. It had to invent drip irrigation so it could turn the arid chalky soil into fertile green pastures. Much of the technology inside your smart phone was designed in Israel. Household names Intel, Microsoft and Apple have all established their core R&D centers in the tiny nation state. Israelis are pragmatic and know too well that necessity is the mother of invention. Perhaps the great grandmother might be more apt.

It is perhaps one of the best kept secrets in the world. Sadly also one of the most misreported countries on the planet. Make that the most. Israel wants peace with its neighbors. Yet the mainstream media will not report the fact that Israeli hospitals are treating wounded Syrian troops of Assad as CM writes, The media won’t report that the local Druze population is livid that their fellow Israelis are doing this. Where are the media reporting the fact that hospitals not far from the Gaza Strip are caring for children who can’t get proper access to medical attention because Hamas is only concerned with spending on more rockets and building tunnels using the supplies given to it by the people supposedly oppressing it? Unfortunately the press seem to be stuck in the “if it bleeds, it leads” narrative.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry has launched a program of soft force. PM Benjamin Netanyahu launched a website in Farsi with full details of how to overcome drought gripping Iran through drip irrigation for free. While Iran shouts “Death to Israel”, Israelis shout, “we want to give life to the Iranian people.” Who is the aggressor? The Foreign Ministry is also gaining huge traction with Iraqis with an Arabic Facebook page discussing Iraqi-Jewish history. It launched in May 2018 and has 34,000 followers. Israel believes that the ‘digital embassy’ is an impactful way to get around the hatred often espoused by the regimes.

Then people miss out on news of amazing people like Tanya Oziel,  CEO of the Trans Tasman Business Circle who led a delegation from Australia & NZ to investigate tech fusion in Israel. Tanya, a Sydney based Jew of Iraqi origin, is someone of such passion and foresight that she arranged for AFL legends like Ron Barrassi to come to Israel to train local and Palestinian kids to play a game with a ball they’d never seen in mixed teams. All of a sudden the noise of the two peoples supposedly at each other’s throats was replaced by a sense of common purpose. While some of the Palestinian kids have been pilloried by some quarters in their community they still remain actively engaged with Tanya. They look beyond the hateful rhetoric so often fueled by the media. She has every right to be proud. The idea that this is some sort of jackbooted police state is engaged in apartheid and genocide is patently untrue.

Apartheid is a strange word to be used in an Israeli context. In a tiny country of just under 8 million citizens, the country’s 1.5 million Arabs, whatever challenges they may face enjoy full freedoms, voting rights and serve in the Knesset and the Supreme Court. Ask yourself how many Jews serve in any capacity (much less live) in Egypt, Morocco, Syria, Iraq, Algeria or many other countries? Egypt had 75,000 Jews once upon a time. Algeria 140,000, Iraq 135,000 Jews. Syria 30,000 Jews. Next to none now. Where is the apatheid? Where are their Jews?

Palestine is often a point of deep criticism. At the time of the State of Israel in 1948, 90% of Palestinian Arabs lived in Transjordan. A movement to create a Palestinian state never existed at the time. In fact it wasn’t until 1964 that the PLO was first established at a time the West Bank belonged to Jordan.

What is conveniently forgotten is that of the c.4mn refugees scattered across 60-odd refugee camps, the Palestinians have automatic rights to Jordanian citizenship yet they only covet Israel. Even though 21 Arab nations share a common language, they won’t offer asylum to Palestinian refugees which seems rather calculated. It provides a convenient excuse to maintain hostilities to Israel using the suffering of Palestinians as the bait.

Jordan doesn’t actively push Palestinians to take up citizenship which is their right to do so. While Israel remains an open, democratic and multi-ethnic society the PA has proven itself to be an intolerant, corrupt and self-serving dictatorship which has little interest in serving its constituents as the comptroller of its first ever audit revealed. International aid money lined the pockets of the leaders of the PLO. The French money laundering authorities discovered that Arafat’s wife’s bank account had amassed $3bn over 20 years. It is ironic that most of the original founders of the PLO didn’t live in the Palestinian Mandate when Israel was created. Arafat was born in Egypt. 

How is it that the army of Jordan’s King Hussein murdered thousands of PLO militants in 1970 yet the PLO has never called for the overthrow of the Hashemite monarchy? How is that even with the Oslo peace process coming into effect in 1993 that the PLO carried out 4,000 attacks till 1999. The Israelis so desperate (under Ehud Barak of all people) for peace gave the PLO 95% of their territorial demands yet they still kept up the attacks killing more than 1,000 Israelis, a total exceeding the previous 25 years combined. 

Arafat was presented with an outcome he did not want – peace with the State of Israel. Despite this serious peace offering Arafat accelerated the intifada. These are sad truths.

We need only look at the siege of Masada, the tale of the final revolt of the Jews against the Romans in 73CE. It truly points to the stoic nature we see today. Despite burning the citadel atop Masada and the killing of their families to evade capture, the Jews left the grain and food stores untouched as a way to tell the invaders that they were never at risk of starving but preferred death to being bonded in slavery. It typifies their pride and refusal to submit to persecution.

Jerusalem, the nation’s capitol, holds deep significance as it has been for millennia. CM’s grandfather stood by the Western Wall in 1940. The Jewish people who saw his picture felt a sense of deep gratitude that he helped defend her. The walls were built around the summit of Mount Moriah, where biblically, Abraham offered his son, Isaac, as a sacrifice. In 1948, the Jordanians took control of the wall and it was only in 1967 that Jews were able to pray at the foot of the Temple Mount again. To witness prayers on the Sabbath is something powerful. There is not one whiff of hatred. The chants, songs and prayers resonate throughout the walls. There is nothing but love in what they do. There is no extrapolation of the ancient texts to take extreme measures to murder in the name of their religion.

To witness Judaism, Christianity and Islam in the one city, one can honestly sense and feel similarities than differences. Think of the prophets. Abraham to the Jews was known as Ibrahim to the Muslims. Same for David/Daoud, Mary/Miriam and so on. Indeed if the Jews were as intolerant, racist and deranged as made out surely they would use the pretext to flatten the Al Aqsa mosque built over the Temple Mount ruins and restore it to its former glory.

Modern day history has been tough for Jews. The horrors of the Holocaust are documented at Yad Vashem. Trans Tasman Business Circle leader Johnny Weiss told the tale of how one of the guides showed a series of pictures of supposedly murdered Jews. One of them was his mother who is still alive at the ripe age of 94. What is more amazing is that she cut the guide off to say that “You are wrong. I know that girl is still alive. She is me!” After revealing her tattoo the entire tour group were floored by the revelation. Powerful beyond words. Living history as it were.

So when people wonder why the Jewish state take such measures against those that threaten to “drive them all into the sea” forgive them for doing their best to protect themselves. The last time they did not push back, 6 million died. It has taken 70 years to replenish those stocks. 70 years!

CM could go through the depths of innovation that was the key tenet of this tour. The sheer intelligence of those kids who learn advanced computer coding from age 7. We could discuss a 35 year old university doctor who has over 20 patents to his name but there is so much more to Israel. Its history has forced it to be the most advanced nation on earth. The start up nation is exactly that. When PM Benjamin Netanyahu says “we want your business” at a cyber conference speaking of the $50bn sunk cost in critical cyber infrastructure in the Negev Desert, he means it!

To sum up two weeks in Israel with this simplistic blog doesn’t do it justice. Israel is a proud country. Often brutally direct. Israelis will argue that if you think you’re the smartest in the room then it is time to change rooms. They are confident in their future because they back themselves explicitly. Failure is a good thing. Failing big is even better. Israelis think that experience is a hard teacher: they get the test first and the lesson afterwards. They believe that hard work, persistence and thinking outside the box is what counts. The education ecosystem breeds brilliance. There is no other word for it. This is deeply cultural and exceptionally hard to master.

Perhaps the highlight (there were too many to count) from the trip came on the final day. A photographer at a Tel Aviv flea market showed a picture (above) he took which chronicled a security checkpoint in 1990. The Israeli soldier and Palestinian female look tired of the situation. Things are not like that today. It feels no different to Japan. Not for one second has there been a nervous feeling about personal safety and security. Everyone who visits Israel for the first time will leave with the opposite preconceptions that they came with. It is by no means perfect but name a country that is.

It is with deep regret CM must board a flight tomorrow and leave a country that surprised on pretty much every level. It really is that amazing. Forget what you read in the papers. It is seriously fake news. See it with your own eyes and be prepared to blow your mind. Do it,

What happens when you poke a Russian bear?

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As written earlier in the week, regardless of one’s views on the righteousness of any attack on Syria, Putin is being faced for the first time in a long time, a leader of a foreign nation (nations as it turns out) prepared to stand up to him. Obama fled the Syria battlefield after being given a two hour window when Russia first went to the aid of Assad. If that wasn’t the ultimate sign of a bully in the Kremlin it is hard to think of what is. While sanctions may have bitten to a degree post Ukraine and the shooting down of a Malaysian Airlines flight, Syria is essentially a testing ground for Putin to weigh up Western (specifically Trump’s) resolve. If we look at Russia’s response post the Syrian strike,

The worst apprehensions have come true. Our warnings have been left unheard…A pre-designed scenario is being implemented. Again, we are being threatened. We warned that such actions will not be left without consequences…All responsibility for them rests with Washington, London and Paris…Insulting the President of Russia is unacceptable and inadmissible.

Kind of says it all really – Russia hasn’t been insulted. Putin has. He must have a glass jaw  like Trump! Two bullies flexing muscle. In a show down Should Putin wish to pick a direct conventional fight against 3 nuclear powers (explicitly mentioned), he knows that ‘mutually assured destruction’ is the very last option in the drawer and next to no chance of being selected despite all of the media beat up. On a conventional basis, Putin wins more battles by stirring up the hornet’s nests in other regions. Lending more support to Iran, Lebanon and Yemen. Destabilize Saudi Arabia and antagonize Israel.

CM wrote,

It is worth nothing that Syria is Rosoboronexport’s (Russia’s military export wing) 2nd largest customer after Iran. Putin is sick of having the West try to remove his clients. Assad is key to Russia’s foothold in the Middle East. With an essentially pro-Iran Iraqi government and Syria as well as Hezbollah Putin has a geopolitical doormat from the troubled separatist states to Russia’s south to Lebanon.

Some arguments have been made about the risks of the American, French or UK strikes killing Russian troops or civilians on the ground in Syria handing Russia free will to attack its enemies. Scroll back to November 2015 when the Turkish Air Force shot down a Russian Su-24 fighter it claimed entered its airspace. Two Russian pilots were killed in the shooting and subsequent rescue. The Russians were incensed but President Erdogan is still in power and Ankara isn’t flailing after seeing its capitol turned into smoldering rubble.

This argument that the Russians weren’t given advance warnings of the attack is ridiculous. Had the Russian defence forces been on proper alert (they most definitely weren’t passed out behind their radar screens after a vodka binge) they would have detected the missile launches. Wind back to the 59 missile launch earlier last year against Syrian chemical facilities. We didn’t hear a peep from Putin. Why now? Of course he is incensed over the booting of diplomats on the nerve agent scandal but this is a showdown of ego.

Think of the long geopolitical chess board here. Should Trump have backed down on Putin’s threats, wouldn’t China’s Xi feel equally empowered to annex Taiwan by telling POTUS that he risks ‘grave reprisals if he meddles with Chinese sovereign territory’?

For all the initial snubbing of Trump by Macron on his historic election win in France, there is no way he would have gone in alone to attack a chemical facility without the guarantee of the military might of America. It is unlikely Theresa May would have done it either. So for all of the ‘unhinged’ lunatic rhetoric bandied about by the media, foreign nations don’t gamble their own sovereignty lightly, especially over something like Syria.

General Mattis has said they plan no further strikes at this stage. Does Putin order his forces to sink a US destroyer in the Mediterranean which launched those missiles? Highly unlikely. He does have the best weapon available to do that (the ‘Sunburn’) but sending US naval vessels to the bottom of the sea on a strategic strike would seem a big response to a targeted hit.

Let there be no mistake. There is a new sheriff in town. Russia has a bloody nose it didn’t think it would find itself. Putin miscalculated that Trump isn’t all Twitter-fueled bluster. Uncertainty in foreign leaders is always a risk for enemies. Trump has shown Putin he won’t be bullied like his predecessor.

Putin doesn’t want a hot war with America. The best way to strike at the US is like the last 6 decades. Undermine her at every opportunity. Supply her enemies. As mentioned before, if the Russians didn’t think it worth hitting back at Turkey for deliberately targeting its fighters, it is unlikely that Putin, no matter how ‘insulted’ he might feel will take a strike not aimed at Russians as a pretext to pick a fight with Trump. Putin has worked out the US president’s measure. He miscalculated. He won’t make that mistake twice.

For the media, running all the scare campaign stories is not only highly irresponsible (as it did over Yemen’s attacks on Saudi Arabia) but proving the lack of depth of analysis. They can beat Trump over the head all they wish but should note the actions of Macron and May following him into the region as a tacit approval of the US leader. Was he the madman they portrayed him as in the first place they would have stayed well out of it.

Watch for Putin’s response (unlikely but will threaten it will come when the evil Americans least expect) and think deeply about why it is important that the real despots (Putin, Xi, KJ-U, Erdogan) around the world no longer have the ability to exercise free will in knowledge that the worst they face is a slap on the wrist from the UN.

Sounds more like grounds for congratulation than censure. 

World on the brink of WW3? Press on the blink more like it

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When you read a title like “world on the brink” it is easy to be misled to thinking this is a Trump/Putin related incident. The fact is the Iranian backed Houthi in Yemen have been lobbing ballistic missiles at Riyadh and staging border skirmishes for years. The Americans have been advising Saudi Arabia where to strike the Houthi in Yemen. This is a decades old fight and since the death (assassination) of former President Saleh last year the Houthi have become even more emboldened than they were during the Arab Spring 8 years ago.

Yet it is so easy to draw conclusions. Did the mainstream media report the sinking of a Saudi naval frigate in the Bab-al-Mandeb strait in Jan 2017 which took the lives of 176 sailors? Has the Israeli shekel collapsed since Trump and Putin exchanged verbal salvos? No. The Tel Aviv indices? No. Surely a relatively liquid financial barometer in a country that has been warned not to intervene by Putin too. Would quickly price in any fears.

The situation over Syria may be tense but if you look at what Putin is really trying to do he is weighing the size of Trump’s guts to call his bluff. We shouldn’t forget when Russia first intervened in Syria several years ago, Putin told Obama that US forces had two hours to get out of harm’s way. That is the warning one would give the Luxembourg armed forces, not the most powerful military in the world. Obama heeded Putin. Putin had carte blanche. That’s why nothing happened with the Ukraine. Sanctions were put in place but no one made any attempt to ‘change behviours.’

It is worth nothing that Syria is Rosoboronexport’s (Russia’s military export wing) 2nd largest customer after Iran. Putin is sick of having the West try to remove his clients. Assad is key to Russia’s foothold in the Middle East. With an essentially pro-Iran Iraqi government and Syria as well as Hezbollah Putin has a geopolitical doormat from the troubled separatist states to Russia’s south to Lebanon.

The problem Putin faces is if Trump yanks his chain, does he shoot US missiles down as threatened? He said they’ll attack launch sites which effectively equals sinking US naval vessels as that is how they are launched. This is perhaps the easiest way to escalate a skirmish out of Putin’s control. If Putin doesn’t do anything, Trump holds one over him. So Putin is hoping by the use of very strong language that Trump backs down. It is not exactly the best way to handle on either side but this is the first time in almost a decade where the US has a leader that won’t be pushed around. Unpredictablity is a strength not a weakness

Looking at history. The NVA was supplied by the Russians during the Vietnam War and the Afghans were supplied by the Americans in the war with Russia. Nothing new. The Russians returned the favour when the “Coalition” deposed Saddam and entered Afghanistan. Proxy wars have been fought for over 50 years.

The US is dispatching a carrier battle group to the Mediterranean. Theresa May is sending a UK submarine. The Russians are conducting military exercises with 11 warships in the same area. Of course scare stories are amock and clickbait media will report how we’re two seconds from a thermonuclear exchange.

It begs the question had Obama suggested to Putin he was bombing Syria, he would be praised for level headed genius. If Trump managed to bomb Syria with no Russian response then would we see the media have a mea culpa moment? Not a chance. It would be palmed off as a lucky break. If we go back in history, we can see good nations that did nothing let tyrants get away with murder. Have a look at Russia and China in the last decade. Man made military bases in territorial waters of other nations, early warning systems on the contested  Spratly’s and agreements in Vanuatu and Sri Lanka which provides naval ports for China. Putin is getting the old ‘union’ back together and there are plenty of willing despots happy to ride his coattails.

Putin is livid at the outcome of the nerve agent scandal seeing the expulsion of so many diplomats. He is not one that likes criticism as many an oligarch has found out the hard way. The question for those that fear what Trump might do should worry more about what will happen if he doesn’t. The downside is that the media likes Putin more than Trump. For a president with a glass jaw, his moves will be far more heavily scrutinized than Putin’s. He’s damned whichever way he turns. Putin on the other hand  willl be excused for being a dictator, whatever he chooses to do. The media will hope it dies down as they turn a blind eye and pillory their own governments for not taking in enough refugees.

Appeasement is an ever widening feature of governments in the West today. There are Neville Chamberlains everywhere. Who will stand up to Putin if Trump doesn’t? Whether Syria is the right battleground is beside the point. Because if it isn’t Syria it will end up being somewhere else.  The problem is only Trump “can” credibly shirt-front the former KGB officer.

 

Israel & Saudi cooperation a surprise to Bloomberg News

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Bloomberg has written a puff piece wrapped in surprise on how the Saudi’s are likely to seek Israeli approval for a bridge which crosses from a new city Neom to Africa. There is one reason and one alone – Israel has a naval base at the Port of Eilat (in blue) at the southern tip of the country. If the height of the bridge is too low and surface naval ships can’t pass then the navy would be boxed in. Almost like ships in the Black Sea. So of course the Saudis won’t do it single handedly.

As much as people might think the Saudis hate Israel, they acknowledge the security Israel buys them vis-a-vis defending against a mutual enemy in the form of the Iranians who are active on SA’s southern border with Yemen. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard has been active in Yemen, Syria, Gaza, Lebanon and Iraq in recent decades supplying weapons and training. So sometimes mutual benefits (peace between the two countries) outweighs trying to  pull a fast one on them. It is likely the US State Department might send a friendly reminder of what is at stake geopolitically. In actual fact this discussion has been ongoing for a long time.

What did people expect? Understanding Middle Eastern politics

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One would have to be as isolated as a Japanese Imperial Army soldier discovered 40 years after the war ended to be surprised at Trump’s strike on Syria after a gassing. Do people honestly think drawing criticism from Iran or Russia is some mysterious happening? This is sadly the result of 8 years of impotent foreign policy which made America a laughing stock to despots. From Michelle Obama hashtagging Boko Haram on Twitter to release kidnapped school girls to allowing China to build man made islands in disputed territories.

Blowing up infrastructure in another sovereign nation is always going to create its own set of problems and questions. However the response from bully nations who have been used to running the school yard in recent times are naturally going to feel precious when given a taste of their own medicine.

As mentioned in the previous dispatch, geopolitical jigsaws aren’t first derivative. They’re usually 2nd,3rd and 4th interconnections.

Iran has long used Syria as a ‘highway’ into Lebanon to maintain influence in the region. Russia has only been too glad to be its arms supplier of choice. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard has been present in Syria for decades and ever since the Arab Spring has been making sure Assad keeps the highway open to Lebanon. Does it surprise you that Iran has been active in Yemen with the Houthi tribe to overthrow the Saudi loyal government in Sana’a and create instability in Riyadh?

When the US pulled out of Iraq in 2011 they left a huge power vacuum which was filled with pro-Iranian elements. Then Shi’ite Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki had worked with the US to clean out pro-Sunni Saddam- loyalists and when Obama withdrew al-Maliki sold them out. He then accused the US of backing ISIS to reestablish a military presence in Iraq in 2014.

For Russia, Syria gives it a naval port and access to geopolitical weapons to exploit against the West. If the US puts missile defenses in Poland or the Czech Republic, Putin can flare up a crisis in the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia values Israel. Not on any religious grounds but as a buffer against Iran.  Far better to have a strong power act on their behalf than risk direct confrontation. It makes sense. Iran use Syria and Hizbollah to supply Palestine with rockets to nip at the heels of Israel and make them look like oppressors. That brings worldwide condemnation and led the likes of Obama to abstain from a vote to undermine a loyal ally.

So people need to separate fact from fiction. Trump is keen on reestablishing American dominance on the world stage. Foreign policy is never a pleasant or easy business when dealing with nations who have long histories and longer memories. The missile strikes in Syria were multi faceted. On one hand to counter chemical attacks. On the other to put Russia back in its box showing a new kid is on the block and Putin will gain far more being inside the tent pissing out than on the outside pissing in.

Of course the foreign ministries are sending strong messages of anger, condemnation and a halt to cooperation. That is page 1 section 1 of the manual. Cooler heads prevail and countries move to working out how to turn an ugly situation that allows Russia to keep skin in the game, the US to look tough again and the overthrow of Assad (he can live in Zimbabwe) without leaving a huge vacuum. In case you were wondering most of the pro-Iranian Syrian  Army top brass are Sunni. To them the luxuries they are afforded as elites outweighs their religious preference.

Markets will react. The mainstream media will dig up conspiracy theories and predict we’re on the brink of war but this is Trumps’s first message to the world – That guy you had for the last 8 years is no longer around. Things are different under new management.

Trump is unpredictable and whether we like it or not that actually makes the best leader to tackle such crises. One always has to second guess the real intentions of someone who can change on a whim.

Don’t believe the hype.

Trump’s first strike – what it means

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The world has awaited Trump’s first strategic strike of any relevant size. Lobbing missiles at a Syrian airbase is a tactical inconvenience for Syrian forces which supposedly used it to launch gas attacks on civilians. Before we see the mainstream media go off on a tangent of “there we told you so” headlines trying to justify the President as unhinged (Obama would have been showered with praise as a humanitarian for exactly the same mind you) understand the geopolitical jigsaw that is Syria.

Syria is important to Russia as its largest arms customer. It is also vital to Putin because it gives him an excuse to sail his navy into The Mediterranean because of the Syrian port of Tartus. In short Putin hates having his clients removed by the Americans.

Scroll back when Putin first stepped up his campaign in Syria. Putin gave America two hours of warning to get any troops and special forces out of harms way. Before he started his attacks. 2 hours! If it had been Luxembourg being told to ship out in that time I’d understand but it highlighted the complete lack of respect Putin had for Obama’s impotence on foreign policy. Trump in part is redressing the balance.

Assad is Putin’s customer. When that customer gasses his own civilians he gets admonished by the world and for Putin to say nothing only lowers his stock. So Watch Putin and Trump team up on a managed solution to sideline Assad, whack ISIS and allow Putin to keep some other tinpot surrogate that allows Putin to hold onto the strategic asset.

It it also sends a message to two others. One is Kim Jong-Un. The other China’s President Xi who is in residence in Florida.

For North Korea, Syria is a shot across the bows  don’t try anything stupid. For China it is a case of an unpredictable US President which makes their responses harder. No more building man made islands in the South China Sea without protest.

Global politics for the last decade has been typified by appeasement, apologists and half measures which have festered to today. Trump is setting his mark on the global geopolitical stage. Like it or not Trump will not hesitate in being a global cop if people/regimes cross a line. We should be thankful that finally we have a politician that is prepared to move away from the kryptonite that has weakened the US on the global stage. Sadly tough measures have to be taken and soft virtue signaling via twitter hashtags don’t prevent criminal behavior. Action speaks louder than words.