Confusion reigns following a variety of regional reports in both the Arab and Israel media that Egypt may have made an offer to Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas of a stretch of land in the Sinai Peninsula - five times the size of Gaza and adjacent to the Hamas stronghold - that could provide a solution to one of the central stumbling blocks of the Israel-Palestinian conflict; the right of return for Palestinian refugees.
On August 31, speaking in Ramallah to members of the Palestinian Authority Fatah party that governs the West Bank, President Mahmoud Abbas, according to a Times of Israel report, made a surprising admission that in a recent meeting with an Egyptian official he had been offered a 617 square-mile stretch of land in the Sinai Peninsula.
The Palestinian Ma’an news service reported Abbas as admitting, “[The Egyptians] are prepared to receive all the refugees, [saying] ‘let’s end the refugee story’... A senior leader in Egypt said: ‘a refuge must be found for the Palestinians and we have all this open land.’ This was said to me personally. But it’s illogical for the problem to be solved at Egypt’s expense. We won’t have it.” The Israel Today newspaper reported that, “According to sources privy to the details of the proposal, Abbas has rejected the initiative despite substantial Egyptian pressure to accept it.”
On September 8, following an item on Israel Army Radio highlighting the proposal, and despite Abbas himself having been quoted by his own Palestinian news agency as having apparently acknowledged the existence of an Egyptian offer, officials rushed to deny the existence of such a proposal.
“The Egyptian and Palestinian leaderships have unified their stance on the establishment of a Palestinian state on the lands occupied in 1967 and Jerusalem as its capital; President Mahmoud Abbas has updated President Sisi on the future vision to reach this goal,” said Tayeb Abdel Rehim, of the Palestinian presidential office.
An Israeli government spokesperson, contacted by FoxNews.com, was also skeptical about any serious offer having been made, suggesting that “Both Abbas and al-Sisi said it never happened, and the Egyptian foreign minister also said it never happened.” There was no-one available for comment on the Palestinian side.
But a number of Israeli politicians, including the former Shin Bet intelligence service head Yaakov Peri of the centrist Yesh Atid party, now Minster of Science and Technology, reacted with cautious optimism to the idea. “There are elements that are worth discussing despite Abbas's refusal,” Peri said. “This could solve problems that weren't given a response in talks between Israel and the Palestinians so far.”
"The solution to the Palestinian problem must be regional and cannot fall on Israel's shoulders alone," Ayelet Sheked of the right-wing Jewish Home party opined.
On the face of it, it might appear to be a genuine solution to the Israel-Palestine arguments over tiny parcels of land on the West Bank. The alleged Egyptian offer reportedly comes with the proviso that the Sinai land will be demilitarized and annexed to Gaza on the condition that Gaza will be governed by the Palestinian Authority, and not the terrorist regime of Hamas that recent fought a bloody 52-day war with Israel.
“Egypt’s offer was, of course, not merely aimed at finally doing the right thing by the refugees” Jonathan Tobin of Commentary magazine noted. “The Hamas stronghold in Gaza is a threat to the Egyptian military government in Cairo because of its alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood. They also recognize how toxic the situation in Gaza—where hundreds of thousands of the descendants of the refugees live—and the need to get these people out of a bad situation that is only made worse by their exploitation by the Hamas terrorist government of the strip.”
“Resettling the refugees could be the first step in neutralizing Hamas as well as in reforming the political culture of the Palestinians to the point where it might be possible for them to start thinking about making peace instead of sticking to demands for a return to Israel,” Tobin added.
Adding to the mixed messages, a report in Monday's Cairo Post indicated that as recently as August 23 Abbas, referring to the notion of a land swap involving Sinai, had told Egyptian [TV] anchorman Ahmed Moussa that, "This is known as [the] Giora Eiland project and we heard in Egypt in the last time... but we rejected it."
In 2010 Israeli Maj. Gen (res.) Giora Eiland published a report entitled ‘Regional Alternatives to the Two-State Solution’, in which he suggested that any land given by Egypt to the Palestinians would be compensated by land in the Negev desert given to Egypt by Israel. For their part, “In return for this addition to Gaza, the Palestinians will relinquish 12 percent of the West Bank, which will be annexed to Israel,” Eiland suggested.
The 2010 report concluded that “Gaza in its current size is not viable. It does not have the minimal territory to maintain a stable economy... The enlargement of Gaza according to the presented outline gives it another 24 km of shoreline. That entails territorial waters of nine miles and reasonable chances to find natural gas in this domain. A territorial supplement for Gaza... would enable the building of a large international port (on the western side of the territory), an international airport at a range of [12 – 15 miles] from the Israeli border, and, most importantly, a new city that could host a million residents.”
Extraordinary pro-Israel interview with the son of a Hamas leader
Please take the time to read the transcript of a Friday, August 1, U.S. TV news interview with Mosab Hassan Yousef, the son of one of Hamas’ founders, Sheikh Hassan Yousef. He explains why the world should condemn Hamas and support Israel’s fight against terror.
Mosab Yousef wrote the best-selling ‘Son of Hamas’ and was also featured in the documentary ‘The Green Prince’.
Brought up to hate Israel and to idolise suicide bombers, Mosab Yousef turned against Hamas and now lives in the U.S from where he explains to the world the tactics of the sinister game that Hamas is playing in Gaza, right now, and the ideology behind those tactics. His views, and his conversion to Christianity from Islam, have reportedly made him a target for assassination by Hamas.
If you have never heard Yousef’s unique insight into Hamas this interview will prove a revelation.
Interviewer: Why do you believe that a lasting peace is never going to happen?
Yousef - “Peace between Israel and Hamas is not going to happen because Israel is a democracy and Hamas is a terrorist organisation. It is an ideological organisation. Is there a possibility for peace between Israel and the Palestinians? That’s possible, but not between Israel and Hamas.”
Asked how Hamas indoctrinated him from early childhood, Yousef said:
“When I was a child the first Palestinian Intifada started and we witnessed violence, many people were dying and we hated Israel. Then the Second Intifada came and waves of suicide bombing attacks, and we blamed Israel, and I used to think that Israel is the enemy, not knowing how my father and his organisation was only a tool in the hands of some regional powers, that they move Hamas and encourage them to kill and fight against Israel for just political gain. At some point I got really tired of this game and I chose a different path for my life.”
Interviewer: What is your reaction to the TV pictures of the many scared, hurt and confused children in Gaza, the fear that Israel in fighting this battle may be stoking the next generation of hate, and how do we stop that from happening, Yousef answered:
“It’s a risk, and I think there are going to be more generations to hate Israel. Unfortunately, Israel has no choice but to defend itself. Now, the only way, I believe, to fight an organisation like Hamas is to unmask them by exposing their ideology; what they stand for. Hamas is not a political party. It’s not even a Palestinian organisation. Hamas hijacked the so-called ‘Palestinian cause’ and infiltrated the society to push their religious ideological agendas.”
“Now, I would like to remind the Palestinian people what Hamas did to their rival party Fatah in Gaza when Hamas took over a few years ago. They killed Fatah the same way they are killing the Israeli soldiers today. Hamas does not care for the lives of Palestinians. Don’t think for a second please that Hamas cares for the children’s blood. They want the children of Gaza to die. This is what gives them Arab and Islamic world sympathy and this is what will condemn Israel internationally. This is their game and they’re happy about it.
Interviewer: How about the US handling of the situation, condemning Hamas but also having harsh words for Israel on the number of civilian casualties?
“Well, what I would like to see form the President of the US.A is not to be a mediator in this situation. Israel is a democracy, and since Socrates and Plato democracies don’t negotiate with terrorists or terrorist organisations. As long as Hamas continues and insists to be a terrorist org suing force to push their political and religious agendas, I think all democracies have to unify top fight this type of organisation. If we fail in fighting Hamas tomorrow there will be a 100 Hamas’ and they will take advantage of our division and disagreement.”
Interviewer: So, is their too much equivocating going on? Is the President right to be calling out the civilian casualties?
“Again, what I would like to see from the President of the supreme power in this world is not to take sides, or even try to be balanced. He comes off balance when he tries to be a mediator in this situation. He needs to stand by Israel, not because Israel stands for all the American values and free world values alone, but because Hamas is the enemy of the United States of America, Hamas is the enemy of the free world, and what Israel is doing today in the region is fighting on behalf of all the free people in western civilisation.”
I've noted in the last few months that an idea I floated back in August 2010 on this blog has begun to gain coverage in a number of quarters. Little has changed since then, with the exception of the current impasse in peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, but in view of the current situation on the ground in Israel and Gaza I still feel that my gut feeling then was not so far from the mark.
I hope you'll take a few moments to read on and consider my suggestion of nearly four years ago.
Time for a three-state solution? 08/12/2010
I've been away on holiday in England for the past few weeks and have only occasionally been tapping into the wealth of news coverage that focuses on the Middle East, and on Israel, in particular.
In my case however, out of sight has certainly not been out of mind, and following the death of the Israeli soldiers close to the northern border with Lebanon from Hizbollah shelling, and the missiles fired out of Gaza to Ashkelon, (not to mention those that appear to have emanated from Sinai and landed both close to Eilat and in Aqaba in Jordan), I've been toying with the idea that something radical needs to be done to change the state of play at the moment.
It seems to me that there is no doubt that an increase in the marginalization of the Hamas regime in Gaza can only help to serve Israel's interest. Looking back to 2005 when the decision to unilaterally withdraw from the territory was taken by the government of Ariel Sharon, I was amongst the many people who were enthusiastic at the prospect of the Palestinian people in Gaza being given the chance to prove that they really just wanted to live a life of peace, earn enough to keep a roof over their head and food on the table, and go about life in much the same manner as the rest of the people of the region, and indeed across the world.
How demoralizing then it was when, given 'relatively' free elections, they voted in the one party who placed the destruction of the State of Israel and the driving out of Jews from the region as their top priority. When Hamas came to power they moved swiftly to eliminate as many supporters of their secular rival Fatah from the Strip as possible, human rights groups confirming mass executions, widespread maiming, and the intimidation of anyone who didn't share their radical, violent agenda. Fatah were all but eliminated from the territory and the free elections the international community had encouraged only served to usher in a tyrannical and destabilizing presence in the region, a group funded and supported in many ways by Iran.
The Gaza War that inevitably followed as a result of the thousands of missiles launched by Hamas into southern Israel following their ascent to power, highlighted the danger that Hamas poses, not only Israel, but to Egypt as well. Interestingly, whilst Israel sought neutralize the threat posed by the Hamas missiles, Fatah, the party that governs the West Bank, remained conspicuously silent. For them, (although not prepared to admit it publicly for fear of incurring the wrath of the Arab world), Israel was doing their dirty work, weakening their Palestinian opposition. I would not be in the least bit surprised to learn one day that Fatah's internal security services had offered some support to Israel's effort to diminish Hamas' effectiveness in Gaza.
The fact is that whilst the people of Gaza have been driven into poverty by the actions of their own terrorist government, the Palestinians in the West Bank have seen a marked change in their fortunes over the last few years. With security and commercial agreements with Israel appearing to be holding up well on the whole, the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, (despite widespread allegations of corruption), has overseen a significant improvement in the standard of living and quality of life of its citizens. Businesses are flourishing in Ramallah, Hebron, Bethlehem and Jericho, average wages have soared and their economy is growing at a reported 10% per year at a time when much of the world is still teetering on the brink of recession.
Although in public the peace process appears to be gaining little ground, there have been a number of indications that suggest that behind the scenes some progress is being made as both Israel and the PA grudgingly realize that they are going to have to work with one another, like it or not.
Surely, the average Palestinian living in Gaza, talking regularly by phone to his cousins in Ramallah and hearing about the flourishing economy and much improved standard of living, would be bound to wonder to himself how much better life might be for him if Hamas were no longer in a position to rule his life. He shouldn’t have voted for them, he should distance himself from their ideals and seek to find a way to support Fatah and undermine those in power.
Such is Hamas' grip on Gaza though that any dissent is very dangerous. Aside of Israel returning to the territory, (a military option that would cost many lives on both sides, enrage much of the Arab word – though not all - and return the Jewish state to a status quo they were happy to rid themselves of five years ago), a popular uprising seems the only logical way that Hamas might be removed from power.
By way of encouraging such a happening, I suggest that serious consideration should be given to Israel making peace with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, a scenario that is not very far from the current situation on the ground. Israel would receive significant positive reaction from around the world, the PA would gain more credibility, Hamas would become further marginalized and Israel would be shown to be genuine in wanting to secure a deal with a real partner for peace.
None of this would be easy, but nothing in our part of the world is easy. The situation in Gaza poses a massive threat to Israel's security and to the stability of the region. Hamas must be removed from power, and it might just be that following the old adage of 'divide and rule', by genuinely forging a peace deal with Fatah, Israel can retake the intiative and set a positive agenda in the region.
I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.
2013 was a tough year for people across the Middle East, but will 2014 be any better? I hope that in some of the cases below I am proved wrong in my assessment of what might come to pass over the next 12 months, but here are my predictions for the year ahead in our particularly tough neighbourhood.
1 – Israeli-Palestinian peace process
I’m not optimistic about the prospects of any real progress being made in the John Kerry-brokered peace negotiations currently taking place between Israel and the Palestinians. The sad fact is that the will to reach a genuine deal does not appear to be there on either side. Kerry seems naive, if arguably well intentioned, but both sides are apparently doing little more than going through the motions in order to ensure continued patronage from their U.S. sponsor.
PM Netanyahu’s latest release of 26 convicted Palestinian terrorists (December 30) without receiving anything in return (the third of four such tranches), has not gone down well in Israel across much of the political spectrum and has further undermined Kerry’s position as a credible peace broker. It was Kerry personally who pressured the Israeli PM to make the releases as a “gesture of goodwill”. Local reports suggesting the Americans objected at the last minute to the release of one of the 26 when they realised he had killed a U.S. citizen, have been met with cries of hypocrisy in the Israeli media. The suggestion is of a glaring double-standard on the part of Washington when it comes to equating the value of Israeli and U.S. lives. In what might be interpreted as a slight to the U.S., the murderer of the American citizen was released as planned, despite their objections.
Israel’s ongoing building in disputed areas remains a major stumbling block to the peace negotiations, whilst the Palestinian Authority’s reluctance (or inability) to rein in terror groups within their territory also gives little cause for genuine optimism. The sinister arrival of Al Qaeda in the West Bank as well as in Hamas-controlled Gaza is another major barrier to peace and could signal further weakening of President Mahmoud Abbas, whose administration in Ramallah remains the subject of major corruption and cronyism allegations.
The UN’s decision to make 2014 the Year of Palestinian Solidarity is ill-judged and counter-productive.
2- Syria and Lebanon
2013 saw tens of thousands more deaths in Syria, many of the dead being innocent women and children. Syria is a place of misery and tragedy on a massive scale. The refugee situation is already a major crisis and is only set to further deteriorate with the prospect of peace seemingly a long way away.
The broadly positive developments on the removal of chemical weapons from the Syrian regime of disgraced President Assad have been counter-balanced by the continued proliferation of lethal conventional weapons on both sides. With indications suggesting that the planned peace negotiations are unlikely to make much headway, the year ahead looks to hold little prospect of peace breaking out in the war-ravaged country. U.S. influence on the conflict is now all but non-existent after President Obama’s dithering in the summer of 2013. Russia, who along with China refused to join the international criticism of Assad, now appears to be the main power broker. Iran, however, is the core problem in the noxious mix that is the Syrian civil war.
Could the nuclear weapons negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran hold the key to peace in Syria? If a final deal is made conditional on Iran – Assad’s main supporter and financier – backing away from their alliance with the Syrian president in return for the green light being given to a limited nuclear development program, there might be some light at the end of the tunnel. For Israel however that light would represent an oncoming train and raise further concerns about Iranian nuclear intentions. Would Iran seriously be prepared to ditch its closest regional ally and its direct corridor to its proxy army, Hezbollah, in south Lebanon?
The most likely long-term scenario in Syria remains the break-up of the country into a federation of states representing different religious and cultural groups. One for Assad’s Alawite sect, one for the Druse, one for the Syrian Kurds in the north of the country, and one or possibly two states for the Islamists – the diminishing number of moderates, and the radicals - who now include elements of Al Qaeda and other unpalatable groups that have come to dominate the Free Syrian Army that opposes Assad’s rule. This, or a variation on the federal states theme, might be a solution for eventually ending the Syrian civil war, but the presence of Islamist regimes bordering both Lebanon and Israel is surely a recipe for another regional conflict soon after.
Car bombings and the assassination of key figures in Lebanon seem destined to make 2014 a difficult year for the country that has bounced back so well from the devastating civil war of the 1980’s and ‘90’s. Recent events suggest more strongly than ever that the broadly sectarian Shia-Sunni war in Syria is on the verge of dragging neighbouring Lebanon into the conflict as Sunni militias –amongst them Al-Qaeda affiliates and jihadists – seek to punish Shia Hezbollah in their own backyard for meddling in Syria on the side of Assad.
3 – Egypt
The fall of the Muslim Brotherhood government of President Mohammed Morsi in the summer of 2013 has seen the return to the helm of the Egyptian military.
Morsi made the fatal error of confusing his narrow mandate to govern with a green light for rewriting the new constitution with a distinctly Islamist/Muslim Brotherhood slant, a constitution that had been so hard-earned with the violent fall of Hosni Mubarak a year earlier. Under Morsi’s watch Egypt’s economy completely collapsed in 2013 despite massive financing from the Gulf state of Qatar, a move that well and truly blew up in Qatar’s face.
Now, under General Sisi, Egypt has effectively returned to military rule. Not that Sisi’s takeover was your run-of-the-mill coup. On this occasion literally millions (some estimate as many as 22 million) Egyptians turned out to call for Morsi’s overthrow and for the military to re-establish some semblance of normal life. To some degree that has happened, along with the outlawing of the Muslim Brotherhood and the arrest of most of the Muslim Brotherhood leadership.
Sisi, despite losing the backing of the US (who disappointingly expressed dismay at the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood administration), has gone after the Islamist terror organizations in the Sinai that flourished while Morsi was president. He has made the pursuit of Islamist terrorists such as Al Qaeda and its affiliates in the extremely dangerous Sinai Peninsula a top priority. President Obama’s lack of support for Sis has however presented an open goal to Vladimir Putin who has moved quickly to offer Russian support and enhance Russian influence in this most significant of Arab countries.
Scheduled new presidential elections in 2014 should see Sisi given a mandate by the Egyptian people to continue in charge. While he is far from being an angel, he does appear to offer a chance of stability and the prospect of improved conditions for many Egyptians.
2014 should be a better year for the Egyptian people than the year before.
4 – Iran
2013 was a very good year for the Iranian regime, and 2014 also appears to hold plenty of promise with crippling international sanctions having been eased slightly and Iran’s profile in the world having been given a swift makeover.
The US, the EU, and others, appear to be guardedly optimistic that Iran will come to sign a genuine deal to limit its nuclear capabilities, this despite a plethora of signs that there have already been many breaches of the interim agreement signed in Geneva in November. Iran’s charismatic new president is the acceptable face of the Islamic Republic, but the truth is that the strings continue to be pulled by one man and one man only, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameinei. The Ayatollah, who has the feared Republican Guard at his disposal, continues to spout anti-Israeli, anti-Zionist, and anti-Semitic rhetoric to the Iranian people and the international community at every given opportunity.
Israel is more or less alone in publicly opposing the Iranian rapprochement, warning that Iran is just buying time to continue its nuclear development by subterfuge and that the Ayatollah and his cronies are having a laugh at the western powers.
Diplomatically, Iran has run rings round the West with its new photo shopped image. But this is no cuddly regime. This is a country that routinely abuses human rights on a massive scale, carries out an unprecedented number of executions each year, violently suppresses freedom of speech, and continues to sponsor major terrorist activity via its proxies Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, as well as renewed support for Hamas.
The Iranian veil will surely slip at some point in 2014, but will the world be wise to it when it happens? Might Israel choose to go it alone in attempting to limit Iran’s capabilities as it did in Iraq in 1981 and Syria in 2007, or will PM Netanyahu continue to be perceived across the globe as The Boy who Cried Wolf? We’ll have to wait and see.
5 – Netanyahu’s China syndrome
If you haven’t been following the whole sorry tale of China turning a blind eye to the facilitating of Islamist terror through Chinese banks, then here’s a brief overview of a major story that could haunt Binyamin Netanyahu in 2014.
In 2006, Daniel Wultz, a teenage American on holiday in Israel, was killed in a bomb attack at Tel Aviv central bus station. Two years later his grieving parents were tipped off by Israeli intelligence to the fact that funds used to facilitate the bombing had been transferred to his killers through a Chinese bank. The Israeli government encouraged the Wultz family to pursue a case against the Chinese in the U.S. courts and promised to pass on all the intelligence gathered on the movements of funds through the Chinese accounts. They sought a successful prosecution of this and other similar cases in which Israelis and others had been killed by Islamist terrorists as a result of funds acquired through Chinese banks.
The Wultz family set out on the legal battle and made significant progress, to such an extent that in 2013 they stood on the verge of winning a landmark case that could have resulted in the banning of Chinese banks from the U.S., a decision that would have a multi-billion dollar impact on China’s plans to expand its business influence into North America.
In May 2013, PM Netanyahu went on an official visit to China where his hosts reportedly promised significant investment in Israel and the opening up of markets in China to Israeli businesses on the condition that Netanyhu block a key Israeli witness in the Wultz case from giving evidence.
In a decision he may live to regret, Netanyahu - the man who likes to portray himself as the scourge of Arab terrorism - allegedly agreed to the offer, placing business ahead of seeking justice for victims of acts of terror. The Wultz case appears to have been severely compromised. The Chinese may well avoid being blocked out of the US financial markets unless Netanyahu allows the witness – who has already given a sworn affidavit to the court – to travel to New York to give evidence in person, as required. The Israeli leader has conveniently cited “national security” as the reason for not allowing the witness to testify.
This complex and internationally significant case has the potential to cause irreparable damage to Netanyahu and shake up Israeli politics if the Israeli PM can personally be held liable for the decision to ditch the Wultz case in favour of sucking up to the Chinese.
Rural Zichron Yaakov – 11pm. A clear night. Just me and the ‘hund’ pounding the beat before turning in for the night.
On the edge of the Carmel – adjacent to the Ramat Hadiv nature reserve – jackals are often heard howling to attract a mate. At least I thought it was a jackal I heard howling a love-sick lament the other night, until a neighbour sheepishly refused to make eye contact with me following morning and left me wondering if I had heard something quite different!
In five years of ‘tiyulim’ with my faithful hound Mocca, I’ve spotted owls, snakes, wild boar, and eagles, but nothing quite as surprising as this latest encounter.
It began when a lady ‘of a certain age’ who tends to trot her poodle around the same block at a similar time to me, stopped and breathlessly informed me that she had just seen a ‘durban’ just around the corner. I thought it more than a touch surprising that the sighting of a South African late at night would leave the lady all of a quiver, but she explained that a ‘durban’ was one of those big hedgehog creatures with spines that it shoots at you when sensing danger.
She had hurried along in fear that the ‘durban’ might take a shot at her pooch and render him senseless. It took me a moment before I understood she had seen a porcupine; and a big one, at that. I wasn’t aware that we had porcupines in Israel, so left the lady (and her poodle) and headed along with my fearless mutt to the scene of the alleged sighting. Nothing. I hung around for a moment or two outside the house in question then, sure enough, heard a rustling noise coming from the vicinity of the neighbour’s trash.
And there he was. Much bigger than I had anticipated, snouting around a bag of garden cuttings, and quite superb. He saw me, Mocca woofed, and then ‘Porky’s’ quills all stood to attention fanning out in the same way a peacock displays its plumage. (The thought crossed my mind that an umbrella might have been a good line of defence at this point.)
But he didn’t take aim and …fire. He just scuttled away under a parked car. I stood back a few yards, crouched down, and waited for him to reappear.
A car approached and the driver stopped to ask me if everything was OK? Clearly the sight of a grown man kneeling down on a pavement late at night had set alarm bells ringing. I told him what I had seen and he duly parked his car and came over to join me, stating that he had lived in the area all his life and never seen this notoriously private, nocturnal creature. A curious neighbour - who had been viewing the whole scene from across the road with some
bemusement - came out to join the observation crew, as did my wife and eldest daughter, who I had contacted to come out and see our unexpected visitor.
‘Porky’ clearly had time on his quills because he wasn’t in any hurry to ‘play ball’, but then a cat came bounding along and ran under the parked car and ‘Porky’ came darting out the other side and sped along the street – faster than the famed Penelope Pitstop from ‘The Wacky Races’ – making good his escape, accompanied by gasps of amazement from my band of onlookers.
We decided to let ‘Porky’ be and leave him to find his way back to the nature reserve from where we assumed he must have emerged some time earlier.
Apparently the Indian crested porcupine is a secretive native of Israel, and after doing just a little research I read that they had caused damage to the famous/infamous ‘alleged’ research facility at Dimona back in 2007, chewing through important cables. Reuters reported at the time that the porcupines were tempted out into the open by a combination of “potatoes and chocolate milk”.
Of the same incident, Yediot Aharonot quoted one David Golan from the Dimona centre as saying, “a porcupine explosion posed a security threat.” Could exploding porcupines possibly be Israel’s much whispered secret weapon? Thrilling as the sighting of my spiky friend was, maybe it was also a sign that something’s afoot in my neck of the woods!
Note to self: Add chocolate milk to weekly shopping list from now on.
The events of last week in Boston, Massachusetts, may finally have given a proper wake-up call to those who still believe there is no agenda on the part of radical Islamists in the U.S. to undermine mainstream society.
Although investigations are ongoing and no concrete facts have yet been presented as to the definitive inspiration behind the awful double bombing of the Boston marathon, there appears sufficient circumstantial information to indicate that a degree of Islamist ideology and anti-American sentiment was a significant contributing factor to the actions of thesarnaev
More than 11 years on from the 9/11 atrocities the U.S. was gripped with the hunt for the two men. The death of the older brother in a shootout with police – which cost the life of a Boston police officer – quickly followed by the apprehension of the younger brother, sparked hysterical scenes of jubilation from the mainly young folk of the city, an outburst of relief that the siege of the city that had been on total lockdown was finally over.
Youthful ebullience and enthusiasm aside, such scenes of cheering and raising a beer at the capture of the suspect, combined with communal chants of “U.S.A, U.S.A” demonstrate a distinct lack of understanding of what had occurred in the previous days in the city. Instead of this being the end of the threat to their society, the actions of the Tsarnaev brothers – who quite likely received guidance or physical support from within America – should be a clear alarm call that this is just the tip of the iceberg and there are plenty of other would-be terrorists “sleeping” across the length and breadth of the country.
In Israel, where the pursuit and apprehension of terror suspects is an ongoing part of everyday life (although we thankfully don’t receive every detail in the mainstream media), you will not see triumphalist whooping and hollering every time a terror suspect is apprehended.
Israelis know that each instance of a foiled terrorist attack is just another battle in the war against those seeking to undermine their society. It is not a cause for celebration, more a pause to draw breath, to reconsider, and to learn a little more about the enemy.
The relief of Bostonians in being able to return to normal everyday life is understandable, but their collective experience should surely make them pause to think hard about the safety of their society and maybe appreciate a little more the tribulations of far away Israel, where such threats and occurrences are, sadly, all too familiar.
(Originally published in Times of Israel, April 22, 2013)
(First published Times of Israel 23rd January, 2013) - Remember Bibi’s AIPAC speech of earlier this year when our silver-tongued PM addressed an adoring audience of supporters and proceeded to give them the old ‘duck’ routine?
You know the one, “If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, if it quacks like a duck, then what is it? That’s right, it’s a duck! But this duck is a nuclear duck. And it’s time the world started calling a duck, a duck!”
Bibi may very well be spot on in drawing world attention to Iran’s sinister nuclear ambitions, but within the space of a quite breathtaking 15 hours of polling yesterday he went from crowing rooster to potential lame duck and into a tailspin that sent feathers flying in all directions on the political compass.
The ‘Honourable Member for Caesarea’ will nonetheless almost certainly bring together a new set of partners to head a governing coalition, but having only weeks ago been expected to be an untouchable powerhouse, strutting his stuff, sitting on an overwhelming majority, dominating Israeli politics and ruling with an iron fist while dictating his vision of Israel to the outside world, he will now surely find his wings clipped, having to take proper account of the opinions of others from an unexpectedly broad political spectrum.
(It might have been broader still if the 1 in 3 of the Israeli electorate who didn’t had actually turned out to vote. Apparently, they couldn’t give a ‘Donald’ – as the cockneys say…erm…a duck!)
A powerhouse no more? A lame duck stymied by the head-scratching mathematics of a virtually hung parliament? We’ll have to wait and see. But as long as Bibi doesn’t sell his soul to the even further right ultra-religious parties and instead goes into government with more rational minds that contribute their fair share to Israeli society, both he and the Israeli people might end up being all the better for the experience and, who knows, the duck might eventually turn into a swan – or is that taking the analogy just a little too far?
It might have been one of the toughest of nights for Bibi – doubtless Sara and the family were ‘treading on eggshells’ this morning – but let’s wish him (and more importantly Israel), the very best of luck.
Let’s hope that all concerned in the frenetic ongoing coalition negotiations think more about what’s good for the country than in just feathering their own nests to the exclusion of all others.
As a departure from my recent missives focusing on politics and current events in this troubled corner of the world, I thought I’d share with you a little excitement that has been building up on
the horsey front!
Those familiar with my work will know that I used to ply my trade as a racing journalist and commentator and have been sorely missing the day-to-day contact with the sport in recent times. By way of ‘keeping my hand in’, I took part in the annual ‘Ten To Follow’ competition run by the Tote, which invites contestants to pick (surprisingly enough) 10 horses to follow through the Flat racing season out of list of 500 possible nags.
Now, out of around 25,000 entries to the contest from all points of the compass, all of whom are striving to get their ‘sticky mitts’, (that’s not a reference in any way, shape, or form, to the Republican presidential candidate), on a whopping first prize of no less than £76,485(!), ‘yours truly’ is currently lurking and preparing to pounce (panther-like) in joint-55thplace with just 17 days to go until the end of the competition, with a fine running total of 684 points.
The game works like this. Every time a horse that is selected manages to win you get points, and the bigger the race it wins, the more points you accrue. And I’ve been accruing very nicely thankyou since the spring with nearly all my horses winning the top races of the season. This Sunday is one of the world’s biggest races, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in Paris, and as of Monday amongst my ‘Ten to Follow’ three were in the race, all of whom were amongst the leading fancies.
I’m sure, dear reader, you are already getting a sense of foreboding, as around 1100 hours on Monday news broke that my leading fancy for the race, German champion Danedream, would not be travelling to France as one of the horses at her stable compound in Cologne had caught a dose of something nasty, and now the whole bloomin’ lot are in quarantine! I was not best pleased, but consoled myself with the fact that I still had two of the leading fancies – Nathaniel and Camelot.
After a lunch of schnitzel and mash I returned to my desk to see a newsflash on the venerable Racing Post website declaring that Nathaniel would “miss the Arc” after being found to have a high temperature at morning stables. I don’t know what the wretched creature had been doing the night before to come home in such a state – the mind boggles - but he is now well and truly a non-runner. So, having been ‘sitting pretty’ with three hot chances, I’m now down to Ireland’s great hope Camelot, who will be ridden by everyone’s favourite Italian, Frankie Dettori, a man with even more ‘mazel’ on the big occasion than his late countryman, ‘Lucky’ Luciano.
Camelot may well be sent off favourite, but the horse had a hard race when losing for the first time ever at Doncaster three weeks ago as he finished a close second in his bid to land the Triple Crown, and I just hope that unlike Nathaniel he hasn’t been burning the candle at both ends in the interim and arrives in Paris with a hangover and runs like a drain!
Of course, the nature of the ‘Ten to Follow’ contest means that nearly all the others up there vying for the prize also have Camelot, so I must also hope that my French selections Cirrus des Aigles and Moonlight Cloud, can manage to win their respective races on the same day at Longchamp and boost my points total to propel me even closer to the pot of gold.
Being the bright spark that I am and choosing to live in one of the few countries in the world that almost unbelievably has no horse racing, I have to say that the £10 spent in entering the competition way back at the end of April has kept me well and truly in touch with the sport I love on a daily basis. With all the other names on the leader board emanating from Britain, Ireland, and France, (plus a few other waifs and strays like P Alster), wouldn’t it be nice for someone – i.e me –from a country where racing doesn’t even exist, to come through strongly inside the final
furlong and beat the lot of them in the dying strides to grab the 76 grand?
Somehow, I can’t believe it will happen, bit win, lose or draw, I’ve had a fine run for my money.