I hate to go into Shabbat with this sort of message, but it’s a simple fact: What’s going on around me has been making me soul weary. It’s not just that things are tough. It’s that there is stupidity and malice, and a good deal of self-serving behavior. Just sometimes, it feels a bit like standing at the center of Maelstrom (a whirlpool) with events moving about me faster than I can keep track of them all — some of those events foolish and some deadly serious.
I thought, after my last post, I was done for a while with Ground Zero mosque issues, but it seems not.
From Daniel Halper in the Weekly Standard , I have learned that a statement by Mayor Bloomberg defending the construction of a mosque at Ground Zero was run verbatim on a website affiliate with the State Department. And his comment was the only one that ran.
After a “no comment” from a State Department representative, State’s spokesman, P.J. Crowley (whom I seem to be citing frequently these days) has now offered an explanation:
The State Department does “not take a position” on the Ground Zero mosque but merely wanted to help people abroad “understand” the debate on the issue:
“The posting on www.america.gov was geared toward helping people elsewhere understand both an issue of some debate in this country, but most importantly that we were going to be guided in resolving this issue by our values…And we thought it was useful for them to hear directly from one of the participants in this issue, Mayor Bloomberg.”
Commented Halper: “Considering the myriad opinions on this topic, picking a single set of remarks, and choosing to publish those but not others, could be considered an endorsement of sort of that particular position. But Crowley vigorously denied this was the case.”
You didn’t expect balance from the State Department, did you?
And then there’s the flotilla incident and the never-ending news about it. Two matters with regard to this to report here. One is the fact that Turkey is now starting its own investigation. Sigh…
But then, the Turkel Commission testimony — which, as I’ve indicated, is an internal Israeli affair — and related issues, for me far more soul-wearying than Turkey’s decision:
When PM Netanyahu testified, he said that he was out of the country at the time (in Canada) and Defense Minister Ehud Barak was in charge. The seven-minister inner cabinet, he said, discussed only public relations aspects of the situation.
When Barak testified before the Commission, he said, contradicting the prime minister, that, “The decision to stop the flotilla, which was made by the prime minister and the seven-minister forum, was arrived at after examining the entire situation and the dilemmas…the discussion that was held by the seven-minister forum dealt not only with the media aspects of stopping the flotilla, but also with the military aspects.”
Barak reported that Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi was present, and, while raising PR concerns, said, ‘”It won’t be easy, but we will carry out the mission.”
According to Barak, while it was understood that this would be tough, no one imagined that there would be violent resistance aboard the Marmara. If major problems were anticipated, he said, it would have been up to the IDF to raise them.
When finally Chief of Staff Ashkenazi spoke, he said, forthrightly, that he takes responsibility for what happened. “The commandos exhibited calm, bravery and morality in accordance with IDF values…From the moment the operation began, it was clear that the circumstances were unprecedented.”
Ashkenazi then spoke about what was not anticipated and what mistakes were made, adding that, “The IDF is a transparently controlled organization which studies from its mistakes and is committed to examine its actions and investigate every operation.”
Herb Keinon, writing in the JPost, made an additional point: This testimony was for the Commission. Both Netanyahu and Barak — whose Commission testimony was filled with “yes, but” qualifiers — then changed their stories when speaking to the press, or having their PR people to do so. For the Commission, it seemed wise to them to avoid responsibility for the flotilla mistakes as much as possible. For the public, they deemed it wiser to seem to be leaders of strength.
Ashkenazi, said Keinon, was the only one who didn’t change his story. He was the “man’s man” in this situation, and came out looking the best.
OK, now enter Minister of Strategic Affairs Moshe Ya’alon. Lt. Gen. Ya’alon was once chief of staff himself. I consider him both tough minded and relatively speaking (all these guys are self-serving to some degree) very much a straight shooter.
In a closed forum, in a private home, he made comments about the testimony, which have now become public. Naturally. “He didn’t let anyone get involved and now he’s shifting responsibility on everyone,” said Ya’alon, referring to Barak. Agreeing with Netanyahu, he said that the inner cabinet did discuss only PR issues.
Then he added, “the events of the past week emphasize what I have been saying about the snakes in the Kirya base (the IDF and defense minister’s headquarters).”
[Note: in Netanyahu’s absence, Ya’alon was acting PM at some basic level, but my impression is that he had no opportunity to call the shots and that Barak rather steam-rolled him in controlling the meeting.]
So, we must first cry out with the most obvious of questions: Dear Heaven, where are our leaders in this difficult time for Israel?
Then we have to wonder if and how this will weaken or tear apart the coalition. Severe tension between Barak and Ya’alon is inevitable. Especially is this so because of other tensions (which I won’t explore here) involving Barak and Ashkenazi, who is to be replaced as chief of staff shortly.
Already Labor is saying that if Netanyahu doesn’t either publicly chastise Ya’alon or relieve him of his position, Labor will consider leaving the government. The vast likelihood is that Netanyahu will do his best, in his style, to smooth matters over. But I ponder as well how completely he is willing to swallow Barak’s duplicity (as Barak blatantly and fallaciously contradicted Netanyahu’s testimony to protect himself) in order to keep his government together.
One thing I will say without equivocation. Barak IS a snake in the grass. He has been behaving abominably with regard to communities in Judea and Samaria, eager to flex his leftist muscles. If there were a way to get rid of him as defense minister, without a collapse of the coalition that would end up bring in Livni, it would be a great blessing for the nation.
The ideal would be to place Ya’alon in that position, but that’s a pipe dream and will not happen.
Switching to another “fun” subject: PM president Mahmoud Abbas was in Cairo this week, and reported to President Mubarak, and then Jordan’s King Abdullah, who was also in Egypt, that he is under huge pressure from the US and the EU to come to the negotiating table.
Abbas is worried that he is going to suffer loss of funds from both the US and the EU, if he doesn’t go along. There are hints, no more than hints at this point, that he thus may be caving. Not now…but headed in that direction. JPost editor David Horovitz says Abbas was in Egypt to consult with Mubarak and Abdullah about “bowing to the inevitable.” There are some suggestions that talks might begin after Ramadan, which has just begun.
It seems to me that if Abbas does move forward he will expect some sort of face-saving concessions, even if he doesn’t get everything he originally demanded. Saving face is no small matter in the Arab culture.
A report from Reuters has it that the Quartet is working on a statement that would set a basis for direct negotiations.
Let’s end with something good:
A plan is soon to be approved by PM Netanyahu, reports the JPost, that would turn Israel into a space superpower.
This is a multi-year plan that would have the government increase support of space research and development by large sums. The focus would be on developing new platforms for Israel’s niche market — “mini satellites — that would hopefully yield billions in sales.
According to Professor Haim Eshed, head of the Defense Ministry’s Space Division, who participated in drafting the plan, Israel is one of the few countries that can independently develop, manufacture, and launch satellites. Investment would go towards miniaturization of satellites and their payloads.
That is our specialty: We recently launched the Ofek 9 satellite, which weighs just a few hundred kilograms, compared to the satellites of the US and Russia, which weigh several tons.