Iran now on Israel’s border, may soon test new government

March 16, 2015

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu debates his challenger Yitzhak Herzog on Israeli Channel 2 on Friday evening.


* Whoever “wins” the Israeli election tomorrow will have a tough time assembling a stable coalition that will last its term.

* Washington Post op-ed: “War with Iran is probably our best option” -- A small war now is better than a nuclear confrontation later.

* Film star Michael Douglas (writing in the Los Angeles Times): “Anti-Semitism now derives [in part] from an irrational and misplaced hatred of Israel.”

* Official Hamas twitter feed praises BBC’s Jeremy Bowen.


* Please “like” these dispatches on Facebook here, where you can also find other items that are not in these dispatches.



1. Leading Israeli expert: “If Herzog wins, Iran’s proxies will test Israel soon after”
2. Iranian-commanded troops now on Israel’s Golan border, but the BBC ignores this
3. “Combat operations are being directed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp”
4. Iran “will keep Arak reactor, Fordo enrichment plant” in any deal with Obama
5. Just 6 months after war, Hamas says Gaza bases near border rebuilt
6. Official Hamas twitter feed praises BBC’s Jeremy Bowen
7. “The problem with Israel’s political system, and how to fix it” (By Moshe Arens, Haaretz, March 16, 2015)
8. “War with Iran is probably our best option” (By Joshua Muravchik, Washington Post, March 13, 2015)
9. “On facing anti-Semitism” (By Michael Douglas, Los Angeles Times, March 14, 2015)
10. “Hamas owns Netanyahu electoral destiny” (Alresalah, a Hamas newspaper in Gaza, March 16, 2015)

[Notes below by Tom Gross]


Israeli Channel 2’s Middle East expert, Ehud Yaari (generally regarded as the leading expert on the Middle East on Israeli TV), has said that he believes that the election of a new Israeli government headed by Labor’s Yitzhak Herzog and his ally Tzipi Livni will have immediate repercussions on Israel’s borders.

“If a government headed by Herzog is established,” Yaari said, “I will not be surprised if there is an attempt by the Iranian-Hezbollah-Hamas side to test it, very early on,” he said on Friday evening’s primetime broadcast.

“Shiite forces under Iranian command, which were brought there by Iran from Iraq and Afghanistan as well, continue to bomb from the air very close to our border.”



Tom Gross adds: In the past, Israel’s enemies have often tested Israel’s center-left governments, and many recent conflicts have been launched against Israel on their watch, including the second intifada, the 2006 Lebanon war and the 2008-9 Gaza war.

As Iranian forces and their proxy militia in Iraq, Yemen, Syria and Lebanon continue to expand throughout the Middle East (seemingly with the complicity of the Obama administration), growing Iranian military activity in southern Syria along Israel’s border is being all but ignored in the news reports of many major western media.

For example, as far as I can tell the only BBC reference to this was a paragraph contained in an online BBC Monitoring article on March 6 about Saudi Arabian fears over Iran’s nuclear program, which says:

“Iranian forces are reported to have played a large role, alongside Hezbollah and government troops, in a recent offensive against rebels in southern Syria, close to the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Iran admitted in January that a general in the Revolutionary Guard had been killed in an Israeli air strike in the area.”

I have not seen any BBC TV or radio reports on the growing Iranian military activities on Israel’s border. In many ways, you would gain a more accurate understanding of the Middle East from watching Hezbollah’s al-Manar TV than from the BBC, many of whose reporters (such as Jeremy Bowen – see item below, and past items in these dispatches) are instead obsessed with vilifying Israel.

Iranian forces are now openly fighting alongside the Assad regime in Syria, just as they are spearheading the Iraqi army offensive in Tikrit. Iranian-backed Shia militias are carrying out atrocious massacres, just as the (Sunni) Islamic State is, but these are being downplayed by the media.



The Beirut ‘Daily Star’ reports (March 12, 2015):

Allowing Iran and Hezbollah to gain a stronger foothold in the Golan is one of the goals of the current offensive underway in southern Syria…

Combat operations are being directed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp with much of the attacking force composed of IRGC soldiers, Hezbollah fighters and Shiite auxiliary forces from Iraq and Afghanistan…

Abu Ali, a veteran Hezbollah fighter who has served multiple tours in Syria, confirmed IRGC leadership of the southern Syria offensive and that Iranian troops were involved.

‘Iran will be so close to the Israelis that it will no longer need long-range missiles to hit them,’ Abu Ali said. ‘The Golan is going to be a new front line.’

He added that tunnel and bunker construction in the Golan has been underway for a year, apparently an attempt to replicate the facilities Hezbollah built in the south before 2006. He added that Allahdadi was conducting an inspection tour of the new facilities when he was killed by the Israeli drones.



Iran is also once again increasing its influence on Israel’s southern borders in Gaza.

The Palestinian Maan news agency (which is more reliable than other Palestinian news sources) reports (March 15, 2015):

Just 6 months after war, Hamas says Gaza bases near border rebuilt: The military wing of Hamas on Saturday said that it had rebuilt a number of military bases near the Israeli border in the Gaza Strip, asserting that it had recovered from Israel’s summer offensive and was “not afraid” of confronting the occupation again.

“No sooner has the war come to an end, than the al-Qassam Brigades started a new stage of the conflict in preparation for the battle of liberation,” a report on the official website of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades said.

The report said that fighters from the group had rebuilt military training sites near the border in the north, east, and west of the Gaza Strip, giving lie to Israeli claims that “Operation Protective Edge” in July-August 2014 had caused the group serious damage.



While U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told a news conference in Cairo on Saturday that a deal with Iran over its nuclear program may be just “days away,” Iran is insisting any deal that will be signed will allow it to develop weapons-grade plutonium at its unfinished Arak reactor and use its Fordo nuclear plant to enrich uranium.

Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency reported, also on Saturday (March 14, 2015)

The Head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) Ali Akbar Salehi stressed that Iran’s redlines for any final nuclear deal with the Group 5+1 (the US, Russia, China, Britain and France plus Germany) remain unchanged, reiterating that Tehran is resolved to keep its Arak heavy water reactor and Fordo Enrichment Plant.

Salehi said on Saturday that “the function and nature of the Arak Heavy-Water Reactor…will remain unchanged as a heavy water facility”.

He also pointed to the Fordo Uranium Enrichment Plant near the city of Qom in Central Iran, and said, “We are determined to make use of this site according to the guidelines of Iran’s Supreme Leader (Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei) and AEOI’s technical needs.”



I attach four articles below.

A note on the authors:

Moshe Arens, author of the first article, is a former Israeli defense minister for the Likud party.

Joshua Muravchik is a fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, and a subscriber to this email list.

Michael Douglas needs no introduction.

Alresalah Paper is a Hamas newspaper published in Gaza. As with many of its news stories, the article below is less than wholly truthful. I attach it as a matter of interest so readers can see Hamas’s take on the Israeli elections. This is the lead story in today’s Alresalah.


(Tom Gross adds: At least Israelis get to hold free and democratic elections, the Palestinians don’t get to hold elections at all. The Palestinian dictator Mahmoud Abbas is now in the 11th year of what was supposed to a four-year term. Many Palestinians I know express great envy that Israelis are allowed to vote.)



Incidentally, in a tweet yesterday, the Hamas PR department named BBC’s Jeremy Bowen as a source of accuracy. Amazingly, Bowen -- despite the wealth of eye-witness reports from both international and Palestinian journalists -- denied that Hamas stored rockets in, and fired rockets from, civilian areas in its war against Israel last summer.

Bowen, the BBC lead Middle East editor, is notorious for his bias against Israel and his highly selective use of facts, and has recently been accused of slipping into outright anti-Semitism (a charge he denies).



The problem with Israel’s political system, and how to fix it

If Israel wants coalitions that last for the duration of a Knesset term, it needs both Likud and Labor to become powerhouse political forces again.

By Moshe Arens
March 16, 2015

Whoever ends up forming the next government will have a tough time assembling a coalition and holding it together while preparing for the next election. When the party forming the coalition has no more than 20-something seats in the Knesset, it is a foregone conclusion that it is not going to be stable. So while worrying about the housing crisis, the cost of living, a nuclear Iran, and the Hezbollah and Hamas rockets aimed at Israel, someone better start thinking about the root cause of the instability of Israel’s political system.

Too many parties, people say. But the number of small parties is a legitimate reflection of Israel’s heterogeneous society. The Arabs, the ultra-Orthodox (both Ashkenazi and Sephardi), the Russian immigrants – and maybe next time the new immigrants from France – want and deserve to be represented in the Knesset by parties that have their particular interests at heart.

The notion that raising the threshold of votes required for representation in the Knesset would contribute to the stability of governing coalitions, by reducing the number of parties in the Knesset, has no theoretical or empirical justification. The recent law increasing the electoral threshold to 3.25% – arbitrarily and brutally forced down the throats of the three Arab parties in the Knesset – will contribute nothing to the stability of the next coalition, while denying Israel’s Arab citizens the opportunity to express their diverse political views on election day.

When two large parties dominate the political scene, stability is undoubtedly enhanced. That was the situation for many years, when the Labor and Likud factions in the Knesset each numbered over 40 MKs. It is the drastic reduction of the parliamentary representation of these parties in recent years that is at the root of the unstable coalitions – whether led by Likud or Labor – that have attempted to govern in recent years.

It is too easy to blame the electorate, most of which casts its ballot for the array of small parties at election time. It is useless to attempt to force the electorate to change its way by introducing half-baked laws like the direct election of the prime minister [which occurred three times between 1996 and 2001] or the raising of the electoral threshold. The first only made the situation worse, and the second contributed nothing while causing harm to the democratic process. It is only when Likud and Labor once again become the two dominant parties in the Knesset that a measure of stability will return to the political scene.

The Labor Party’s deterioration began with the exodus of its leadership to other parties. The list is long: Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak, Amram Mitzna, Amir Peretz. Is it any wonder that many voters likewise deserted the party? The gradual recovery that has become apparent this year [now as Zionist Union] is no doubt the result of the efforts made by its leader, Isaac Herzog, and the party’s able director general, Hilik Bar, to renew and strengthen loyalty to the party.

Likud suffered from a similar affliction, with many of its leaders abandoning the party. This list is also long: Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert, Shaul Mofaz, Tzipi Livni, Dan Meridor, Tzachi Hanegbi [although the latter two did later return to Likud]. And Likud’s leader these past years, Benjamin Netanyahu, has paid little attention to the party and its branches. The virtual absence of Likud from the municipal elections weakened the branches and eliminated them as a training ground for national leadership. Add to that the ill-advised joint ticket with Yisrael Beiteinu in the previous, 2013 election, plus the departures of Moshe Kahlon and Gideon Sa’ar, and it is clear that major changes need to made within the party if it is to reappear as one of the dominant parties in future elections.

Political stability in the future will not be achieved by brute force legislative measures, but rather by hard, diligent work, grooming the next generation of leadership, and building cohesion and loyalty in the ranks of the two major parties – Labor and Likud.



War with Iran is probably our best option
By Joshua Muravchik
Washington Post (Opinion page)
March 13, 2015

The logical flaw in the indictment of a looming “very bad” nuclear deal with Iran that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered before Congress this month was his claim that we could secure a “good deal” by calling Iran’s bluff and imposing tougher sanctions. The Iranian regime that Netanyahu described so vividly — violent, rapacious, devious and redolent with hatred for Israel and the United States — is bound to continue its quest for nuclear weapons by refusing any “good deal” or by cheating.

This gives force to the Obama administration’s taunting rejoinder: What is Netanyahu’s alternative? War? But the administration’s position also contains a glaring contradiction. National security adviser Susan Rice declared at an American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference before Netanyahu’s speech that “a bad deal is worse than no deal.” So if Iran will accept only a “bad deal,” what is President Obama’s alternative? War?

Obama’s stance implies that we have no choice but to accept Iran’s best offer — whatever is, to use Rice’s term, “achievable” — because the alternative is unthinkable.

But should it be? What if force is the only way to block Iran from gaining nuclear weapons? That, in fact, is probably the reality. Ideology is the raison d’etre of Iran’s regime, legitimating its rule and inspiring its leaders and their supporters. In this sense, it is akin to communist, fascist and Nazi regimes that set out to transform the world. Iran aims to carry its Islamic revolution across the Middle East and beyond. A nuclear arsenal, even if it is only brandished, would vastly enhance Iran’s power to achieve that goal.

Such visionary regimes do not trade power for a mess of foreign goods. Materialism is not their priority: They often sacrifice prosperity to adhere to ideology. Of course, they need some wealth to underwrite their power, but only a limited amount. North Korea has remained dirt poor practicing its ideology of juche, or self-reliance, but it still found the resources to build nuclear weapons.

Sanctions may have induced Iran to enter negotiations, but they have not persuaded it to abandon its quest for nuclear weapons. Nor would the stiffer sanctions that Netanyahu advocates bring a different result. Sanctions could succeed if they caused the regime to fall; the end of communism in Ukraine and Kazakhstan, and of apartheid in South Africa, led to the abandonment of nuclear weapons in those states. But since 2009, there have been few signs of rebellion in Tehran.

Otherwise, only military actions — by Israel against Iraq and Syria, and through the specter of U.S. force against Libya — have halted nuclear programs. Sanctions have never stopped a nuclear drive anywhere.

Does this mean that our only option is war? Yes, although an air campaign targeting Iran’s nuclear infrastructure would entail less need for boots on the ground than the war Obama is waging against the Islamic State, which poses far smaller a threat than Iran does.

Wouldn’t an attack cause ordinary Iranians to rally behind the regime? Perhaps, but military losses have also served to undermine regimes, including the Greek and Argentine juntas, the Russian czar and the Russian communists.

Wouldn’t destroying much of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure merely delay its progress? Perhaps, but we can strike as often as necessary. Of course, Iran would try to conceal and defend the elements of its nuclear program, so we might have to find new ways to discover and attack them. Surely the United States could best Iran in such a technological race.

Much the same may be said in reply to objections that airstrikes might not reach all the important facilities and that Iran would then proceed unconstrained by inspections and agreements. The United States would have to make clear that it will hit wherever and whenever necessary to stop Iran’s program. Objections that Iran might conceal its program so brilliantly that it could progress undetected all the way to a bomb apply equally to any negotiated deal with Iran.

And finally, wouldn’t Iran retaliate by using its own forces or proxies to attack Americans — as it has done in Lebanon, Iraq and Saudi Arabia — with new ferocity? Probably. We could attempt to deter this by warning that we would respond by targeting other military and infrastructure facilities.

Nonetheless, we might absorb some strikes. Wrenchingly, that might be the price of averting the heavier losses that we and others would suffer in the larger Middle Eastern conflagration that is the likely outcome of Iran’s drive to the bomb. Were Iran, which is already embroiled in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Gaza, further emboldened by becoming a “nuclear threshold state,” it would probably overreach, kindling bigger wars — with Israel, Arab states or both. The United States would probably be drawn in, just as we have been in many other wars from which we had hoped to remain aloof.

Yes, there are risks to military action. But Iran’s nuclear program and vaunting ambitions have made the world a more dangerous place. Its achievement of a bomb would magnify that danger manyfold. Alas, sanctions and deals will not prevent this.



Michael Douglas finds Judaism and faces anti-Semitism
By Michael Douglas
Los Angeles Times (Opinion page)
March 14, 2015

Last summer our family went to Southern Europe on holiday. During our stay at a hotel, our son Dylan went to the swimming pool. A short time later he came running back to the room, upset. A man at the pool had started hurling insults at him.

My first instinct was to ask, “Were you misbehaving?”

“No,” Dylan told me through his tears.

I stared at him. And suddenly I had an awful realization of what might have caused the man’s outrage: Dylan was wearing a Star of David.

After calming him down, I went to the pool and asked the attendants to point out the man who had yelled at him. We talked. It was not a pleasant discussion. Afterward, I sat down with my son and said: “Dylan, you just had your first taste of anti-Semitism.”

My father, Kirk Douglas, born Issur Danielovitch, is Jewish. My mother, Diana, is not. I had no formal religious upbringing from either of them, and the two kids I have with Catherine Zeta-Jones are like me, growing up with one parent who is Jewish and one who is not.

Several years ago Dylan, through his friends, developed a deep connection to Judaism, and when he started going to Hebrew school and studying for his bar mitzvah, I began to reconnect with the religion of my father.

While some Jews believe that not having a Jewish mother makes me not Jewish, I have learned the hard way that those who hate do not make such fine distinctions.

Dylan’s experience reminded me of my first encounter with anti-Semitism, in high school. A friend saw someone Jewish walk by, and with no provocation he confidently told me: “Michael, all Jews cheat in business.”

“What are you talking about?” I said.

“Michael, come on,” he replied. “Everyone knows that.”

With little knowledge of what it meant to be a Jew, I found myself passionately defending the Jewish people. Now, half a century later, I have to defend my son. Anti-Semitism, I’ve seen, is like a disease that goes dormant, flaring up with the next political trigger.

In my opinion there are three reasons anti-Semitism is appearing now with renewed vigilance.

The first is that historically, it always grows more virulent whenever and wherever the economy is bad. In a time when income disparity is growing, when hundreds of millions of people live in abject poverty, some find Jews to be a convenient scapegoat rather than looking at the real source of their problems.

A second root cause of anti-Semitism derives from an irrational and misplaced hatred of Israel. Far too many people see Israel as an apartheid state and blame the people of an entire religion for what, in truth, are internal national-policy decisions. Does anyone really believe that the innocent victims in that kosher shop in Paris and at that bar mitzvah in Denmark had anything to do with Israeli-Palestinian policies or the building of settlements 2,000 miles away?

The third reason is simple demographics. Europe is now home to 25 million to 30 million Muslims, twice the world’s entire Jewish population. Within any religious community that large, there will always be an extremist fringe, people who are radicalized and driven with hatred, while rejecting what all religions need to preach — respect, tolerance and love. We’re now seeing the amplified effects of that small, radicalized element. With the Internet, its virus of hatred can now speed from nation to nation, helping fuel Europe’s new epidemic of anti-Semitism.It is time for each of us to speak up against this hate.

Speaking up is the responsibility of our political leaders. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has made it clear that anti-Semitism violates the morals and spirit of France and that violent anti-Semitic acts are a crime against all French people that must be confronted, combated and stopped. He challenged his nation to tell the world: Without its Jews, France would no longer be France.

Speaking up is the responsibility of our religious leaders, and Pope Francis has used his powerful voice to make his position and that of the Catholic Church clear, saying: “It’s a contradiction that a Christian is anti-Semitic. His roots are Jewish. Let anti-Semitism be banished from the heart and life of every man and every woman.”

In New York, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan is well-known for building a bridge to the Jewish community. His words and actions and the pope’s are evidence of the reconciliation between two major religions, an inspiring example of how a past full of persecution and embedded hostility can be overcome.

It’s also the responsibility of regular citizens to take action. In Oslo, members of the Muslim community joined their fellow Norwegians to form a ring of peace at a local synagogue. Such actions give me hope — they send a message that together, we can stand up to hatred of the Jewish people.

So that is our challenge in 2015, and all of us must take it up. Because if we confront anti-Semitism whenever we see it, if we combat it individually and as a society, and use whatever platform we have to denounce it, we can stop the spread of this madness.

My son is strong. He is fortunate to live in a country where anti-Semitism is rare. But now he too has learned of the dangers that he as a Jew must face. It’s a lesson that I wish I didn’t have to teach him, a lesson I hope he will never have to teach his children.



(Tom Gross adds: At least Israelis get to hold free and democratic elections, the Palestinians don’t get to hold elections at all. The Palestinian dictator Mahmoud Abbas is now in the 11th year of what was supposed to a four-year term. Many Palestinians I know express great envy that Israelis are allowed to vote.)

Hamas Owns Netanyahu Electoral Destiny
March 16, 2015

Gaza (— Keeping the Israeli public in the dark in relation to losses and casualties of the Israeli army in the last Israeli offensive on Gaza, chairman of Israeli Likud party Benjamin Netanyahu is almost blind and afraid he will have no political position in the coming election if Hamas reveals content of the “Black Box” over the Israeli offensive on Gaza in 2014.

Informed sources stated to Alresalah paper at condition of anonymity that Netanyahu is seriously concerned that Hamas may reveal the secret information it has previously called the “ Black Box” of the Israeli aggression on Gaza in the last hours before election.

Some of Hamas prominent leaders, including vice speaker of Hamas political Bureau Ismael Hanneya, have frequently talked about secret information “ Black Box” over Israel’s failure in the last offensive it waged on Gaza in 2014.

“This city keeps a lot of war secrets and it’s a black locked Box” Hanneya said in a visit to Rafah city after the Israeli offensive on Gaza.

The same sources pointed out that Netanyahu is strongly keen not to raise scandals of the Israeli offensive on Gaza, particularly the file of captive Israeli soldier Shaul Aaron al-Qassam Brigades captured in the last summer offensive. Netanyahu fears his opponents may exploit this file to highlight his failure in Gaza, which will put his political future at risk.

The sources added that If Hamas reveals some information that confirm its narration and refute the Israeli one over what had really happened in the Israeli offensive on Gaza , including the captive Israeli soldier as well as other lost Israeli soldiers , Netanyahu’s political future will be completely smashed which will be a heavy price he pays.

“If Hamas does, Netanyahu and his party will be shown as liars and cheaters in front of the Israelis, which will inevitably lead him to be overthrown, and he will lose the parliamentary election.” The sources continued.

The sources revealed that international parties contacted Hamas recently over a potential prisoners swap deal to return the captured Israeli soldiers. Yet, talks over the file were postponed post the Israeli elections that will take place on Friday. Hamas made no comments on this.

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