The government that cried wolf (& other pieces)

October 12, 2010

* Ahmadinejad plans to throw a rock at Israel when he visits Lebanon tomorrow

* Now it’s Obama’s allies who are criticizing him – for offering too much to keep Mideast talks going

* Netanyahu offers settlement freeze in return for recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, Palestinians say no

* “Speaking as an American who lives in Europe, I feel it is incumbent upon me to describe what people like me do when we hear warnings like the one issued on Sunday by the U.S. State Dept: We do nothing”



1. “The government that cried wolf” (By Anne Applebaum, Slate, Oct. 4, 2010)
2. “Breaking Israel’s monopolies” (By Daniel Doron, WSJ Europe, Oct. 8, 2010)
3. “Ahmadinejad to throw rocks at Israeli border” (Jerusalem Post, Sept. 29, 2010)
4. “Lebanon: The next Iranian base?” (By Samara Greenberg, JPC, Oct. 5, 2010)
5. “Iran to send man into space by 2022” (Fars News Agency, Iran, Oct. 6, 2010)
6. “Netanyahu offers settlement freeze in return for recognition as Jewish state, Palestinians say no” (Ha’aretz, Oct. 11, 2010)
7. “U.S. giving away too much, too early in Mideast talks, some say” (LA Times, Oct. 7, 2010)
8. “Raped under UN auspices” (By Claudia Rosett, New York Post, Oct. 7, 2010)
9. “Fischer wins best bank governor of the world award” (Yediot Ahronot, Oct. 11, 2010)
10. “Israeli study: Milk drinkers lose more weight” (Israel 21C, Oct. 4, 2010)


I attach articles from recent days concerning a variety of Middle East-related topics. You may want to read or glance at some or all of these. (The headlines in capitals are mine, not those of the authors.)

-- Tom Gross


The government that cried wolf
By Anne Applebaum
Slate magazine
Oct. 4, 2010

“The State Department alerts U.S. citizens to the potential for terrorist attacks in Europe. . . . Terrorists may elect to use a variety of means and weapons and target both official and private interests. U.S. citizens are reminded of the potential for terrorists to attack public transportation systems and other tourist infrastructure. Terrorists have targeted and attacked subway and rail systems, as well as aviation and maritime services. U.S. citizens should take every precaution to be aware of their surroundings and to adopt appropriate safety measures to protect themselves when traveling.”

– State Department travel alert, Oct. 3

Speaking as an American who lives in Europe, I feel it is incumbent upon me to describe what people like me do when we hear warnings like this one issued on Sunday: We do nothing.

We do nothing, first and foremost, because there is nothing that we can do. Unless the State Department gets specific – e.g., “don’t go to the Eiffel Tower tomorrow” – information at that level of generality is meaningless. Unless we are talking about weapons of mass destruction, the chances of being hit by a car while crossing the street are still greater than the chances of being on that one plane or one subway car that comes under attack. Besides, nobody living or working in a large European city (or even a small one) can indefinitely avoid coming within close proximity of “official and private” structures affiliated with U.S. interests – a Hilton hotel, an Apple computer shop – not to mention subways, trains, airplanes, boats and all other forms of public transportation.

Second, we do nothing because if the language is that vague, then nobody is really sure why the warning has been issued in the first place. Obviously, if the American government knew who the terrorists were and what they were going to attack, it would arrest them and stop them. If it can’t do any better than mentioning “tourist infrastructure” and public transportation, it doesn’t really know anything at all.

In which case, why are they telling us about it? Since the warning made breakfast television on Sunday morning, speculation has been rife. So far I have heard at least one full-blown conspiracy theory: Some believe the U.S. government has issued this statement to frighten Europeans into greater intelligence cooperation, and in particular to persuade the European Union to agree to a new system of airline passenger data exchange.

Other rumors say that the CIA believes al-Qaeda, or some al-Qaeda knockoff group, is planning simultaneous attacks on hotels in major European cities, something like the 2008 attacks on the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai. This information, according to the rumor, is supposed to have come from an interrogation carried out last summer.

Yet even if U.S. intelligence agencies possess information as solid as that – and, I repeat, I have absolutely no evidence that they do – there is still no point in the State Department telling us to remain alert when standing next to any American object, because even if we do it today, we won’t tomorrow.

This sort of thing has happened before. In 2004, the employees of the IMF and World Bank in Washington arrived at work to find themselves the subject of sudden media interest: Maps and detailed plans of their offices had been found on a laptop in Afghanistan, and a warning had been issued as a result. But, of course, it wasn’t realistic to maintain a vigilant watch of indefinite length on a building used by hundreds of people every day, many of them suspiciously foreign-looking. And, of course, the advice was quickly forgotten, and everyone went back to work.

In truth, the only people who can profit from such a warning are the officials who issue it. If something does happen, they are covered: They warned us, they told us in advance, they won’t be criticized or forced to resign. And if nothing happens, then we’ll all forget about it anyway.

Except that we don’t forget about it. Over time, these kinds of enigmatic warnings do al-Qaeda’s work for it, scaring people without cause. Without so much as lifting a finger, Osama bin Laden disrupts our sense of security and well-being. At the same time, such warnings put the U.S. government in the position of the boy who cried wolf. The more often general warnings are issued, the less likely we are to heed them. We are perhaps unsettled or unnerved, but we don’t know what to do. So we do nothing – and wish that we’d been told nothing as well.



Breaking Israel’s monopolies
By Daniel Doron
Wall Street Journal Europe
October 8, 2010

While the world focuses on yet another putative “peace process,” Israel’s internal struggle to break up its concentrated economy receives scant attention. The Bank of Israel’s annual report on the economy published in April included a study showing that “some twenty business groups, nearly all of family nature and structured in a pronounced pyramid form, continue to control a large proportion of public firms (some 25% of firms listed for trading) and about half of market share.” These business groups, the bank warned, show “higher levels of financial leverage – and therefore also of risk,” than stand-alone companies.

Reforming this unproductive economic structure, inherited from the socialists that ruled the country for decades, will have a great impact on Israel’s capacity to initiate peace through economic development. As events in Europe and elsewhere have shown, prosperity can mitigate conflicts and facilitate their resolution. Before the first intifada in 1987, an informal economic peace process had done wonders to reconcile Jews and Arabs.

Given the Israeli economy’s remarkable resilience, some may question the urgency for unraveling these conglomerates. Since a 2005 financial reform liberated Israel from some of its statist rigidities, it has grown by almost 5% annually, despite the world financial crisis. The country boasts more than 3,000 start-ups, more than in all of Europe and almost as many as in the U.S.

But this growth may not be sustainable as long as Israel’s economy remains dominated by about 20 politically connected families that own so much of the country’s traded assets, which they acquired from the government and labor unions in a privatization process with credit provided by the nationalized banks. These cross-sectoral, multi-layered conglomerates have evolved into monopolies that inhibit competition, efficiency, and growth, and choke Israel’s hapless consumers. Israeli citizens – overtaxed and underpaid, and shouldering three years of service in the regular army and a month to 45 days yearly in reserve duty – must also pay monopoly rents of between 20% and 30% on everything they consume, as researchers at Israel’s ministry of finance calculated. All that makes Israelis poorer.

These vertically integrated groups have cross-holdings in both industrial and service companies, and in financial firms. The result is a misallocation of credit to companies owned by these tycoons. Consider that until the 2005 financial market reform, 70% of credit was granted to just 1% of lenders. Meanwhile, Israel’s small and medium-sized businesses – the chief engines of Israel’s economic growth – have been squeezed. Particularly in Israel’s “periphery,” the Negev and the Galilee, smaller firms suffer from a permanent credit crunch.

The largest of these pyramid-style conglomerates is also one of the most powerful and complex. Through his IDB Holdings, Nochi Dankner controls 60 companies through several layers of ownership. Among these companies are Israel’s cement and paper monopolies (Nesher and Hadera Paper), one of Israel’s two largest insurance companies (Clal Insurance), its largest grocery retail chain (Shufersal), its largest cellular-phone operator (Cellcom), one of its largest real-estate groups (PBC), a leading internet company (013 Netvision) – you get the idea. Mr. Dankner controls all these companies, with consolidated assets of $35 billion, through an equity position of around $300 million, or less than 1% of those assets.

Faced with similar pyramidal groups, economists in the Roosevelt Administration in the 1930s convinced the U.S. Congress that this sort of economic concentration causes moral hazard, problems of corporate governance, tax avoidance, and excessive political influence. The U.S. government’s response – effective or not – was to tax intercorporate dividends, exempt the liquidations of controlled subsidiaries from capital gains taxes, and to restrict the ability of business groups to file consolidated returns. Later, in 1957, Congress passed the Bank Holding Company Act to prevent investment companies from controlling banks.

Too big to fail but big enough to dominate, Israel’s large, multi-layered conglomerates have acquired huge political clout, enabling them to obtain monopoly privileges and other benefits worth billions of shekels from the government. And that’s even before considering the fact that as the country’s biggest employer and buyer in the Israeli economy, the government naturally tends to favor big business.

This clout also enables the conglomerates to erect a thicket of entry barriers and keep their would-be competitors out. This lack of rivalry, combined with so-called “progressive” labor laws, have contributed to low per-capita productivity (about half that of the U.S.) and in the dismally low wages of Israeli workers.

Despite his understandable focus on foreign challenges, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, together with his Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, has publicly expressed his determination to address this complex problem. Mr. Netanyahu did not flinch from fierce media attacks demanding that he should focus instead on issues like poverty; as if it were not clear that poverty is in large part a result of consumer exploitation by the monopolies.

Reason demands that Israel’s reformers will proceed with their reforms without delay. But reason does not always influence political developments, not even in Israel. Let us hope for the sake of Israel’s future viability, and for the sake of peace, that this time it does.

(Daniel Doron is a subscriber to this list.)


A workman puts the finishing touches on a billboard of the Iranian president in a stadium in Southern Lebanon.


Ahmadinejad to throw rocks at Israeli border
Jerusalem Post staff
September 29, 2010

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad plans to throw a rock at Israel to demonstrate his hatred on his planned trip to Lebanon, London-based paper Al-Quds al Arabi reported on Tuesday.

Ahmadinejad plans to meet with Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, as well as other Lebanese officials, on October 13. During the two-day visit, the Iranian president will participate in events near the Israeli border.

One event is the inauguration of a garden in southern Lebanon, during which Ahmadinejad plans to throw the rock, Al-Quds reported.

Another event is the establishment of an Iranian center in the village of Maron A-Ras, where IDF soldiers fought in the Second Lebanon War.

Ahmadinejad is expected to discuss Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in a speech in Bint-Jbil, another battle site. Hizbullah operatives are reportedly providing security for the Iranian president on his trip to Lebanon.



Lebanon: The next Iranian base?
By Samara Greenberg
Jewish Policy Center
October 5, 2010

Laborers in Lebanon will soon complete the construction of a mosque resembling the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem only a few hundred meters from the border with Israel in the village of Maroun al-Ras. The mosque, constructed in honor of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s upcoming visit on October 13-14, will look exactly like its Jerusalem prototype with the exception of one difference: An Iranian flag will perch its top as a tribute to its sponsor.

The mosque will also include a boardwalk and a lookout point from which Ahmadinejad plans to throw a symbolic stone at Israel during his visit. The president will also inaugurate the mosque, and participate in other events near the Israeli border commemorating the Second Lebanon War. Ahmadinejad plans to meet with Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, as well as other Lebanese officials. Hezbollah operatives will reportedly provide security.

Ahmadinejad’s visit is receiving a significant backlash, even stirring controversy among Beirut’s political circles. “The message is that Iran is at the border with Israel,” Fares Souaid, coordinator of the Western-backed March 14 Alliance, told AFP. “Ahmadinejad through this visit is saying that Beirut is under Iranian influence and that Lebanon is an Iranian base on the Mediterranean,” he said. Unsurprisingly, Israel, for its part, asked Lebanon to cancel the visit, as Ahmadinejad’s presence would undermine regional stability and the Middle East peace talks.

The Iranian president’s new mosque in, and visit to, Lebanon should serve as a wakeup call. The regime in Tehran is clearly and openly expressing that it has direct influence over the politically weak country that still struggles to contain the independent militias left-over from its civil war that roam the streets - including Iran’s proxy, Hezbollah.

For the sake of stability within Lebanon and all sovereign nations, every country and international organization – both from the West and the Arab world – should denounce Ahmadinejad’s visit to, and meddling inside, Lebanon. Indeed, the president’s visit is providing the international community with an opportunity to stand up for state sovereignty. It is an opportunity that should not be missed.



Iran to send man into space by 2022
Fars News Agency (Iran)
October 6, 2010

TEHRAN (FNA) - Iran has prepared the necessary technological grounds to send man into space by 2022, Deputy Head of the Iranian Space Agency (ISA) for Technology Mohammad Mardani said on Wednesday.

“Iran will send man into the space in the next 12 years,” Mardani said on the sidelines of a ceremony to inaugurate an exhibition named ‘Man and Space’ here in Tehran.

He further stressed the need for the development of Iran’s space technology and know-how due to its direct ties with the other political, social, security and defense arenas.

Mardani also announced that Iranian scientists are currently working on the designs of 10 to 15 more Iran-made satellites.

“We have plans for the next 15 years and now we are designing and building a satellite for the 36,000km orbit which will provide service in telecommunication, radio and TV fields,” Mardani added.

Iran has recently taken wide strides in aerospace. The country sent the first biocapsule of living creatures into space in February, using its home-made Kavoshgar-3 (Explorer-3) carrier.

Omid (hope) was Iran’s first research satellite that was designed for gathering information and testing equipment. After orbiting for three months, Omid successfully completed its mission without any problems. It completed more than 700 orbits over seven weeks and reentered the earth’s atmosphere on April 25, 2009.

After launching Omid, Tehran unveiled three new satellites called Tolou, Mesbah II and Navid, respectively. Iran has also unveiled its latest achievements in designing and producing satellite carriers very recently.

Also, Iran has recently unveiled a new generation of home-made satellites and a new satellite carrier called Simorgh (Phoenix).

Iran is one of the 24 founding members of the United Nations’ Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS), which was set up in 1959.



Netanyahu offers settlement freeze in return for recognition as Jewish state, Palestinians say no
By Ha’aretz Service, Reuters and AP
October 11, 2010

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered Monday to halt settlement construction if the Palestinians were to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, but the Palestinian leadership was prompt to reject the proposal.

“If the Palestinian leadership will say unequivocally to its people that it recognizes Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, I will be ready to convene my government and request a further suspension,” Netanyahu said while speaking at the opening of the third session of the 18th Knesset.

“Just as the Palestinians expect us to recognize their state, we expect reciprocal treatment,” said Netanyahu.

“This is not a condition but a trust-building step, which would create wide-ranging trust among the Israeli people, who have lost trust in the Palestinian will for peace over the last 10 years.”

However, Nabil Abu Rdainah, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said a return to U.S.-backed peace talks required a freeze on settlement building by Israel.

“The issue of the Jewishness of the state has nothing to do with the matter,” Rdainah said.

Netanyahu stressed that Israel is willing to make concessions, and that a peace deal and a Palestinian state could be achieved if the Palestinians would be willing to recognize Israel as the Jewish homeland.



U.S. giving away too much, too early in Mideast peace talks, some say
By Paul Richter
Los Angeles Times
October 7, 2010

Only a month into a new round of peace talks, the Obama administration is drawing criticism from allies and veteran diplomats that it is giving away too much just to keep negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians from collapsing.

Administration officials have offered an assortment of inducements to persuade Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to extend a freeze on Jewish construction in the West Bank for two months. Palestinian officials have threatened to break off the talks, perhaps as early as this week, unless Israel extends the freeze that expired Sept. 26.

The U.S. has been wooing Netanyahu for weeks with offers including a squadron of F-35 fighters, support for a long-term Israeli troop presence in a new Palestinian state, and a pledge to veto any anti-Israel resolutions passed by the United Nations Security Council. The U.S. also is offering access to its satellites that could offer early warning of attacks.

To the Palestinians, the White House is pledging support for their position on the exact location of borders for a future state in exchange for a promise to continue negotiating even if Israel refuses to extend the construction moratorium.

While the Obama administration was expected to eventually dole out incentives to keep the negotiations alive, diplomats and other observers say they are surprised that it has offered so much, so early, for such a small victory – a commitment by both sides to keep talking.

“From the left to the right, people are saying that the administration is looking desperate,” said Robert Danin, a former U.S. official and adviser to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, an envoy to the region for the U.N., U.S., European Union and Russia.

The U.S. offers have made waves in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Some Israeli lawmakers have urged Netanyahu to hold out for even more. Others believe the U.S. pledges are so generous that Israel can’t rely on Obama to make good on them.

“Bizarre Bazaar – Haggling over the Price,” was the headline this week in the Yediot Ahronot newspaper.

The Palestinian leadership has been shocked by the U.S. pledge to support a long-term Israeli security presence in the Jordan Valley, on the eastern edge of a future Palestinian state.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was “pale and incredulous” when he announced the offer to his team, according to one person close to him. Palestinians were expecting that any agreement on an Israeli security presence in the Jordan Valley would be negotiated well down the line in the horse-trading before the final deal.

The White House’s willingness to pay a steep price so early in the game reflects the huge stakes for the administration. Obama has said repeatedly that peace in the Middle East is vital to U.S. national security.

“This has become all about American credibility, and that’s why there’s such an effort to keep it going,” said one person close to the talks, who was unwilling to be identified by name because of the sensitivity of the subject.

Netanyahu, who wants to preserve good ties to the United States, appears to be leaning toward accepting the deal to extend the construction moratorium if he can garner enough support from some moderate Cabinet members.

But one Israeli official said the terms haven’t been finalized and that Netanyahu hasn’t made up his mind. “We’re not there yet,” he said.

Obama has vowed that the United States would help broker a peace deal, but also has emphasized that “we cannot want it more than the parties themselves.” Yet observers say the U.S. appears to be in precisely that position.

The U.S. “is projecting the image of wanting it too much, which is not a good place to be in any negotiation,” said Robert Malley, who was a chief Mideast peace negotiator for President Bill Clinton.

If Netanyahu accepts the deal, complaints about the U.S. approach are likely to subside. If he ends up snubbing Obama, an Arab diplomat said, “people in the region will say, ‘You mean you can’t even bring along the Israelis?’ “



Raped under UN auspices
By Claudia Rosett
New York Post
October 7, 2010

Can United Nations peace keeping deliver peace? It sure failed this summer in an eastern province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where armed groups went on a spree of gang rape just 20 miles up the road from a contingent of dozens of UN blue helmets. Despite warnings of trouble, it took three days – during which the raping of hundreds of women continued – before a UN patrol showed up.

It took more than a week before the head of the UN’s Congo peacekeeping mission, US diplomat Roger Meece, says he learned of the rapes. And it took almost three weeks before the UN special representative for ending sexual violence in conflict zones, Margot Wallstrom, says she heard about it – from media reports.

The United Nations then responded with a ritual mea culpa. First blaming Congo authorities, a UN assistant secretary-general for peacekeeping, Atul Khare, said “Clearly we have also failed . . . We must do better.”

Dream on. The United Nations is forever promising to do better. Instead, what it mainly does is get bigger, especially in the peacekeeping department.

During the UN’s first 45 years, from 1945-1990, it launched a grand total of 18 peacekeeping missions. In the 20 years since, it has initiated more than twice that number. Over the last decade, the number of UN peacekeeping personnel in the field has soared ninefold, to 124,000, involved in 16 operations, and the UN’s annual peacekeeping budget has more than quadrupled, to almost $8 billion – of which the United States supplies 27 percent, or more than $2 billion.

The record is at best one of fitful peace, punctuated by UN scandals and failure to prevent atrocities or even war and genocide. Examples abound, from Somalia to Rwanda, Srebenica, Haiti and Darfur.

Too often, the United Nations serves as a fig leaf for politicians, including American ones, while obfuscating or even perpetuating conflicts. In Lebanon, for instance, the UN has had peacekeepers in place since 1978. Under their noses the Iranian-backed terrorists of Hezbollah stockpiled weapons for the 2006 summer war with Israel. Under the gaze of a now-expanded UN peacekeeping force, Hezbollah is reportedly rearming, with deadlier weapons.

The current round of UN peacekeeping in the Congo dates back to 1999. Since then, the UN has more than tripled the number of uniformed personnel in the field, and since 2003 it has spent more than $7.5 billion on this mission. Yet the assaults, rapes and conflicts among warring factions have continued. This week, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon excused UN failures on grounds that “our resources are too limited.”

The real problem is that the opaque and diplomatically immune UN is far better at catering to itself than helping those it proposes – often unrealistically – to protect. UN peacekeeping is a gravy train for UN bureaucrats and for governments of many of the countries providing troops (the top five currently being Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Nigeria and Egypt).

With its multibillion-dollar budget, peacekeeping has been one of the most corrupt arenas of UN activity, a locus of what UN internal investigators in 2006 labeled “a culture of impunity.”

In the field, including the Congo, that UN culture has led to a series of scandals since 2004 involving not just peacekeepers ignoring rape right down the road, but doing it themselves. Despite a policy of “zero tolerance,” the United Nations itself reports more than 200 confirmed cases of sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers since the start of 2007, with findings on another 200 or so allegations still pending, including 35 alleged instances in the first half of this year.

A UN fact sheet euphemistically notes that such abuse “continues to be a major challenge for the peacekeeping family.”

This week, the United Nations announced that together with Congo government forces, its peacekeepers had captured the man suspected of orchestrating the gang rapes this summer. That’s good news, but too late for those who were assaulted while UN troops failed to respond. To keep pouring billions into UN peacekeeping fuels a vehicle with a record of too many failures.

Surely, for the tormented places of the world, it’s time the leaders of the 21st century came up with new coalitions and better ways to pursue and keep the peace.

(Claudia Rosett is a subscriber to this list.)



Fischer wins best bank governor of the world award
By Zvi Lavi
Yediot Ahronot
October 11, 2010

Governor of the Bank of Israel Stanley Fischer on Sunday won the best bank governor in the world award for 2010 in Washington DC.

Fischer received the award just a day after he was named best regional central bank governor for the Middle East and North Africa. In addition, he was also chosen as one of the seven outstanding central bank governors in the world two weeks ago.

He was chosen by Euromoney a leading international banking, finance and capital markets news publication. Fischer received the award based on the decision of the magazine’s editorial board, which has been giving out the award to the outstanding central bank governor for the last 30 years.

The selection process is a lengthy one and the magazine editors decide on the winner by secret ballot. The title of banker of the year was awarded to him by the chairman of the magazine during the closing ceremonies for the IMF’s convention, which was held at the Willard Intercontinental hotel in DC.

The magazine gave Fischer an honorable mention for his “success in finding the optimal balance between inflation and recession, and supporting the Israeli market’s economic recovery after the international financial crisis. Israel’s durability during and after the financial crisis, proves that Stanley Fischer deserves the honor he receives among the elite of the international financial community”.

The magazine editors also mentioned the “brave steps taken by Fischer in raising the interest rates in September 2009, where Israel was the first country to raise the rates after the crisis. It became evident that this was the right step to take, as it foresaw the future. Later interest increases were well timed and allowed Israel’s economy to grow at a handsome rate of 4.7% in the second quarter of 2010”.

The decision emphasizes that “interest rate increase were implemented while keeping a close reign on the inflation rate – at 1.8%”, and also refers to the governor’s involvement in the foreign currency market, with the massive daily dollar purchase that began on the eve of the crisis. The magazine added that “Fischer’s revolutionary policy, though controversial at the time, was the root of the Israeli foreign currency advantage while stimulating exports.

“Export stimulation was fundamental to the success of the Israeli economy, in spite of political and regional difficulties which Israel endures. Fischer’s policies promoted Israel’s acceptance into the OECD in May 2010” the magazine summed up.



Israeli study: Milk drinkers lose more weight
Israel 21C
October 4, 2010

A new weight loss study conducted in Israel has revealed that dieters who consume milk or milk products lose more weight on average than those who consume little to no milk products.

The two-year dietary intervention study, of 300 overweight men and women in middle age, was carried out by Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU). The researchers found that regardless of diet, dieters with the highest dairy calcium intake - equal to 12 oz. of milk or other dairy products, lost about 12 pounds (6kg) at the end of two years.

Dieters with the lowest dairy calcium intake - about half a glass of milk, only lost seven pounds on average.

The researchers, led by Dr. Danit Shahar, of BGU’s Center for Health and Nutrition, and the Faculty of Health sciences, also discovered that levels of vitamin D found in the blood, also affected the success of weight loss treatments. The results confirmed existing research showing that overweight participants have lower blood levels of the vitamin.

“It was known that over-weight people had lower levels of serum vitamin D but this is the first study that actually shows that serum Vitamin D increased among people who lost weight,” says Shahar. “This result lasted throughout the two years that the study was conducted, regardless of whether [participants] were on a low-carb, low fat or Mediterranean diet.”

Vitamin D increases calcium absorption in the bloodstream and in addition to sun exposure can be obtained from fortified milk, fatty fish and eggs. Americans generally consume less than the recommended daily requirement of Vitamin D which is found in four glasses of milk (400 international units).

The study, which was published in the current issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, was part of the Dietary Intervention Randomized Control Trial (DIRECT) held at the Nuclear Research Center in Israel in collaboration with Harvard University, the University of Leipzig, Germany and the University of Western Ontario, Canada.

Some 322 moderately obese people, aged 40 to 65, took part in the study evaluating low fat, Mediterranean or low-carb diets for two years.

In earlier findings, scientists discovered that low-fat diets aren’t the best way to lose weight, but that dieters are likely to lose more weight on a Mediterranean diet, or a low-carb diet.

The study was supported by the Israel Ministry of Health and the Israel Dairy Council, the Israel Chief Scientist Office, German Research Foundation and the Dr. Robert C. and Veronica Atkins Research Foundation.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.