• ZipDialog Roundup for Sunday, April 23

    Topics and articles chosen with care. Linked articles in bold purple

     French head to polls in first round of Presidential election amid tight security. (France 24) The four candidates offer starkly different paths forward. ZipDialog will discuss the two finalists after they are chosen.

    Comment: The stakes go well beyond France. They involve the future of the EU, NATO, immigration, and the economy. Several candidates have ties to Vladimir Putin and Russia, as well.

     A memory from the 1950s: Producer who rigged quiz shows dies at age 95  (New York Times) Now, for $64,000, can you name that producer?

    Albert Freedman, the producer who was pushed by a competing program’s sponsor (Geritol), to find a more appealing figure to appear as winner. He found Charles Van Doren, told him how the scheme would work, and got him to come on Freedman’s program, “Twenty-One.”

    Comment: What Freedman and Van Doren did was standard show biz tinsel–costume jewelry presented as diamonds. But it was the honest 1950s and the quiz shows were being presented as authentic, so its discovery created a huge national scandal.

     In a successful operation, the Surgeon General is removed, replaced temporarily by his deputy  (Washington Post) No side effects.

    The removed physician, Vivek Murthy, was a controversial appointment because the biggest item on his c.v. was his political support for Obama.

    The interim replacement is Rear Adm. Sylvia Trent-Adams.

    Comment: Trump’s political opponents think the frontrunner is Dr. Nick Riviera.

     Headline of the Day: “Florida state senator who resigned over racial slur hired former Playboy, Hooters models (Fox News)

    The Florida state senator who resigned this week after using a racial slur previously hired a former Hooters “calendar girl” and a Playboy model with no political experience to be consultants for his political action committee.

    The PAC for Florida state Sen. Frank Artiles, a Republican, hired the women last year and paid them a total $3,500, The Miami Herald reported Saturday, based on state records. –Fox News, based on Miami Herald reporting

    Comment: Gee, I wonder why you would hire the beautiful women with no political experience as consultants? Hmmmm.

     The Palestinian Authority pays a monthly salary to the families of terrorists who kill innocents. It is their standard policy. Their favorite targets are Jews. The money, of course, comes from western donor governments, who have not insisted that this stop or that their official school textbooks stop their deadly incitement and remove vicious anti-Semitic materials.

    Comment: Beyond shameful. Morally disgusting–both for the Palestinian Authority (of course) and for the donor governments who say nothing. They know their money is fungible, and they know the P.A. is directly subsidizing terrorism, yet they say little and do not insist on a change.

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     Much appreciation to Israel Pickholtz for his information about the Quiz Show Scandals (now updated) and his clarifying question about the Palestinian Authority’s payments to terrorists.

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday, April 18

    Topics and articles chosen with care. Linked articles in bold purple

     The big news continues to be tension in Korea, where Vice President Pence is visiting and told the North Koreans not to mistake the president’s resolve

    Comment: This is a crisis of choice, in a sense. Trump, like Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama, could have kicked it down the road. All those presidents tried and failed to resolve the issue.

    Delay is not always a bad solution, but it’s not always a good one, either. You have to figure out whether time is on your side or your adversary’s.

    The problem here is that North Korea is making steady progress on two deadly fronts, and it is no longer willing to delay them for small bribes, like those paid by previous administrations.

    North Korea is getting better at building nuclear bombs. It is trying hard to make them smaller, so they can fit on a missile, and it is trying to build a hydrogen bomb. Second, it is making steady progress building medium-range missiles and is seeking to build an ICBM. The combination of small nukes and long-range missiles would put the US within range of nuclear attack by a hyper-dangerous regime whose leader does not appear to be calm, steady, and rational.

    The US has long said a North Korean nuclear threat to the US was unacceptable. Saying it, as several presidents have, is a far cry from making it an effective policy. That is what none have been able to do, and not for lack of trying. Trump seems to be doing something. We don’t know exactly what and we don’t know how effective he and his team will be. We do know it is risky to try; the Trump team has calculated that it is far more dangerous in the long run to sit and wait.

    Over the longer horizon, then, it is Pyongyang’s policies and erratic, bellicose pronouncements that created the crisis.

    Over the short term, though, the crisis was initiated by the US.

    My interpretation: Trump, Mattis, Tillerson, and McMaster (and probably Coats and Pompeo) looked that North Korea’s military program and asked themselves a fundamental question: Is time on our side or theirs? If it is on ours, then delay. If it is on their’s, then force the issue. We can see first-hand what their strategic assessment is.

    The hard part now is to force the issue with threats and not the actual use of force, which could lead to vast casualties. 

    In using threats, Trump has a huge advantage over Obama. Trump’s threats to use force are credible. The Chinese and North Koreans–and America’s friends in the region–have to take that seriously for the first time in years.

     “Calexit” supporters drop their secession bid . . . for now (Washington Post)

    Comment: Ken Burns is particularly disappointed.  His proposed PBS series began with a letter,

    My dearest Tiffany–
    If we should lose tomorrow’s battle, if I should die far from the gnarly waves of Newport Beach, I want you to know . . . .

     New York Times runs op-ed by “a leader and parliamentarian.”  That’s what the NYT calls him–and that’s all they say.

    The paper overlooked his day job: he’s a convicted terrorist who murdered five Israelis.

    Comment: You really can’t blame the Times if a writer omits a detail from their résumé.  

    Of course, the writer is the most prominent Palestinian terrorist in jail. The NYT deliberately hid the crucial information about his murders from readers.

    To compound this nasty piece of work, the Times ran it to gin up American public support for a hunger strike by jailed Palestinians.

    The Daily Caller excoriates the paper, rightly.

    And Elliott Abrams, writing for the Council on Foreign Relations blog, rips the Times a new one. Well worth reading. His conclusion nails a crucial point: the readers deserve the information.

     Shocking News: The US economy keeps growing but electricity use is flat. That’s what Bloomberg says. Per capita, it has fallen for six straight years.

     Lawsuit of the Day:

    • Professor comes into Wal-Mart to get fishing license
    • Get license but finds his employment listed as “toilet cleaner”
    • Humorless fisherman files suit

    The AP story is here.

    Comment: According to the lawsuit, the professor feared mockery every time he yelled “I caught another big one.”

     A serious story on the sexual-harrassment allegations against Bill O’Reilly  (Washington Post)

    A key part of the story is the allegation by a Los Angeles author and radio personality, Wendy Walsh, who is not seeking money, which then led to an independent investigation by the prominent NYC law firm. It was the law firm’s negative findings on Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes that led to his departure.

    As the Washington Post puts it:

    A similar fate [to Ailes] could await O’Reilly; a negative finding by the law firm could force the hands of Fox News Chairman Rupert Murdoch and his sons, James and Lachlan, who run Fox’s parent company.–Washington Post

     Here is tomorrow’s Washington Post opinion page. Notice a pattern?

    The list continues beyond this screenshot. It is, as the mathematicians say, “finite but large.”

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Robert Lieber and Ed Lasky
    for different reports on the New York Times‘ hiding the background of a Palestinian terrorist.

     

  • ZipDialog Explainer: What is a Passover Seder?

    What is a Passover Seder?

    Two friends asked various questions about what the Seder is, how it is conducted, what people traditionally eat, and so on.

    Glad to respond via ZipDialog’s new feature: “The Explainer,” which seeks to offer clear, succinct answers to reader questions.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦

    The Passover Seder celebrates the Jewish people’s exit from slavery in Egypt, a story told in the book of Exodus. It is family-and-friends dinner celebration, held each spring. The date varies because it is set by the lunar calendar, just as Easter is. The connection to Easter is no accident. Jesus’ Last Supper was a Passover Seder. Both use common symbols of springtime rebirth, such as eggs and lambs.

    So, what happens at a seder?

    The main point is to read the story of the Exodus as a group activity with friends and family, with periodic prayers over wine, food, and such.

    The service is normally conducted at home, or perhaps a club or synagogue dining area.

    It is not a synagogue service, such as the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

    The content of Passover services varies a bit–in length, in the amount of Hebrew used, and in whether it is celebrated on only the first night or the first two.

    The holiday itself lasts eight days, but the full Seder is normally conducted only at the beginning.

    Matzoh, or unleavened bread, is eaten for the entire week. No leavened bread.

    For Jewish homes that keep Kosher, there are special rules for keeping Kosher on Passover. The point is to ensure that you do not touch, much less eat, leavened foods. That typically requires separate china and silverware and a rigorous cleansing of the house to get rid of all leavened products. What counts as “leavened” differs among rabbis.

    The normal Jewish rule applies: if there are two rabbis, there will be at least three opinions, all deeply held and based on multiple rabbinic sources.

    Although family seders differ, they have a lot in common.

    All Passover Seders 

    • Are based on participants reading together from a “Passover Haggadah,” or prayer book.
      • There are many variations of these prayer books. Book collectors and rare-book libraries have assembled thousands from medieval Europe, the ancient Middle East, and all countries of the Jewish Diaspora
    • Emphasize the Exodus from Egypt in the “present tense,” as if we are reliving the flight to freedom;
    • Ask and answer “Four Questions,” focused on the central question: “Why is tonight different from all other nights?
    • Use the prayer service to answer the four questions, reinforced by eating symbolic foods, such as
      • Horseradish to emphasize the pain of slavery and
      • Parsley dipped in salt water to emphasize the slaves’ sweat and tears and the parting of the Red Sea
    • Include a symbolic plate, with items such as the horseradish, parsley, eggs, and a lamb’s shank bone, which are directly related to the four questions and the prayer service
    • Highlight a specific food, matzoh, which symbolizes the need to leave Egypt hurriedly, without waiting for the bread to rise.

    All Seders stop near the conclusion of the prayer service for a regular dinner (explained below), followed typically the final prayers, some group songs, and a child’s game, hunting for a piece of matzoh (the afikoman) hidden by the adult in charge of the service. The child who finds it receives a small reward, such as sweets or money.

    The regular dinner served on Passover

    What everybody starts with, in my experience, is matzoh-ball soup and some gefilte fish (a mix of fishes, served as a cold patty).

    The main course is usually chicken or lamb–there is no standard.

    Wine is passed around freely and there are multiple times when it is drunk during the service itself, a rare feature among Jewish festivals.

    In 1940s and 50s America, most homes served a dreadful sweet wine: Manischewitz Concord Grape (pronounced Man-i-shev-its).

    Although wine stores are now stocked with fine “Kosher for Passover” wines, all Baby Boomer Seders include a bottle of Manischewitz to remind them how we not only escaped from Egypt, we took at detour through Napa Valley before arriving in the Land of Milk and Honey.

     

    Finally, every Seder ends with the same brief statement of hope: “Next Year in Jerusalem”

    The complete phrase is often said as:

    This year we are here, next year we will be in the Land of Israel.

    This year we are slaves, next year we will be free.

    Next year in Jerusalem. –said joyously at the conclusion of Passover Seder

    There are many interpretations, naturally. Here is mine.

    For Americans, this is not a hope to leave a country we love. We could leave freely if we chose to do so. Most do not, anymore than Irish-Americans or Italian-Americans return to their ancestral homes.

    For Jews, though, the statement has three intertwined meanings.

    First, it underscores a cultural connection to the land where Jews have lived for thousands of years. (We stated this wish at every Passover for centuries, long before anti-Semites began denying Jews had any historic connection to the land of Israel, a truly vile trope.)

    Second, it underscores a connection to Jews across the world, all of whom are saying the same thing in Hebrew and their native languages.

    Third, and most important for observant Jews, it means we will all return to Jerusalem–the Biblical ideal–when the Messiah comes and the Temple is rebuilt. That is why even Jews who live in Jerusalem can pray, “This year we are here. Next year in Jerusalem.”

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Hat Tip from ZipDialog Explainer to

    * Susannah McCafferty Sanders for asking this question, and to

    * Scott Stantis for raising some related questions after he had attended a Seder this week.

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Thursday, April 6

    Topics and articles chosen with care. Linked articles in bold purple

     A word of caution on two evolving scandals: Russia-Trump and Susan Rice

    • If there is evidence of serious crimes, each of these could become truly major events.
    • But so far we have few hard facts, shrouded in extremely sharp partisan attacks, mimicked and exacerbated by the news media.

    Russia’s role in the US election:

    • The mainstream media continues to say that Russian interference in the US election (a fact) also involved direct collusion with senior Trump officials (a conjecture). So far, top intel officials not associated with Trump have said there is zero evidence of collusion.
    • There is an FBI counter-intelligence investigation of these issues. If it finds some self-dealing from Trump officials, using their positions to make money, that’s bad news for them and certainly newsworthy, but it is not a catastrophic national scandal. If if finds significant collusion between Russians and top Trump officials, that is a truly enormous crime against our democracy.

    Susan Rice:

    • We know Rice lied publicly when she told PBS two weeks ago that she knew nothing about the unmasking of names.
    • Her story has changed. Now, she simply says she did nothing improper.
    • That may be correct. It seems to be very unusual to ask for as many unmasked names as Rice requested, but she will undoubtedly say she needed to know them to understand US intelligence. Whether that is true or false will depend on the scale of her requests and especially on the type of information contained in the intercepted conversations. If they were entirely related to US national security, she’s in the clear, or at least she can plausibly argue that she had good reasons for doing what she did. If the conversations are far removed from US national security issues, she’s in trouble–and so is the country for having a National Security Adviser who used US intelligence resources for domestic political purposes.
    • At this point, we simply do not know enough to discriminate between those two interpretations, one benign and one malign.

     News you haven’t seen about Susan Rice, the Obama Administration, and spying on US Citizens: 

    Lee Smith, writing in The Tablet, says Rice “may have been rifling through classified transcripts for over a year” with info about Trump and associates. 

    Smith focuses on the Iranian Nuclear Deal and says the US spied extensively on Israeli officials (who opposed the deal). No problem there; that is completely within the purview of the intel agencies. Since Israeli officials worked closely with US citizens, including lawmakers, who opposed the deal, their conversations were picked up, too. The question is whether the Obama White House, in possession of this information, restricted its use to national security or went beyond that, abusing the foreign intelligence system.

    Smith reaches a devastating conclusion:

    I believe the spying was real and that it was done not in an effort to keep the country safe from threats—but in order to help the White House fight their domestic political opponents.

    “At some point, the administration weaponized the NSA’s legitimate monitoring of communications of foreign officials to stay one step ahead of domestic political opponents,” says a pro-Israel political operative who was deeply involved in the day-to-day fight over the Iran Deal. “The NSA’s collections of foreigners became a means of gathering real-time intelligence on Americans engaged in perfectly legitimate political activism—activism, due to the nature of the issue, that naturally involved conversations with foreigners. We began to notice the White House was responding immediately, sometimes within 24 hours, to specific conversations we were having. At first, we thought it was a coincidence being amplified by our own paranoia. After a while, it simply became our working assumption that we were being spied on.”

    This is what systematic abuse of foreign-intelligence collection for domestic political purposes looks like: Intelligence collected on Americans, lawmakers, and figures in the pro-Israel community was fed back to the Obama White House as part of its political operations. –Lee Smith in The Tablet

     Pres. Trump harshly condemns Syria after deadly sarin gas attack, calling it “horrendous” and saying it crossed “several” red lines, deliberately invoking Obama’s language

    Comment: The shift in US policy was abrupt. Only a few days earlier the US had resigned itself to Assad’s continued rule. The change is clearly the result of the chemical attack. Pres. Trump’s language, especially his use of Obama’s term, signals some kind of military strike.

    I would be shocked if the US put troops into this no-win situation. The US can certainly damage the Assad regime from the air, but, even there, a strike runs the risk of conflict with Russia, which (along with Iran) is the main foreign support for Assad’s regime. 

    The larger strategic problem for the US is that there is no way to stand up a pro-western regime there without enormous costs and high risks.

    Two big Thursday events: Chinese leader Xi meets Trump in Florida, US Senate moves to end debate and vote on Gorsuch for Supreme Court

    Comment: More on them tomorrow when we have real news.

     McMaster asserts his control over the National Security Council

    • All news outlets are reporting Steve Bannon is out (he should never have been in);
    • What many are not noticing is that McMaster is filling out his organization with skilled professionals.

    Good report at Politico.

     

     

     

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Thursday, March 23

    Topics and articles chosen with care. Linked articles in bold purple

     Health Care Bill in the Intensive Care Unit.

    Doubts Ryan and Trump have the votes to pass the bill in the House, but the arm twisting continues to move Freedom Caucus members to the “yes” side.

    If the vote is postponed, you will know Ryan did not convince enough members on the party’s right.

    The New York Times has the most accurate headline: Leaders Struggle to Unite House Republicans Behind Health Bill. The words in the article are “uncertain fate.”

     Islamist attack near Big Ben and Parliament kills 5, including a police officer, and injures dozens

    The extent of the terrorist’s support network and connections are being investigated urgently by British police and intelligence units.

    Prime Minister Theresa May was resolute in response, saying Parliament would not postpone its Thursday session.

    Comment: Before becoming PM, May was in charge of Britain’s homeland security and was highly regarded in the position. She’s the ideal politician to lead her country through this difficult time.

     “House Intelligence chair says Trump campaign officials were ensnared in surveillance operations” (Washington Post)

    The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday accused U.S. spy agencies of abusing their surveillance powers by gathering and sharing information about President Trump and his transition team, an unproven charge that was quickly embraced by the White House but threatened to derail the committee’s investigation of possible Trump campaign ties to Russia.

    Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), one of Trump’s closest allies on Capitol Hill, said he was alarmed after seeing intelligence reports disseminated after the Nov. 8 election that made references to U.S. citizens affiliated with Trump, and possibly the president-elect himself. –Washington Post

    His Democratic counterpart on the committee, Adam Schiff, immediately blasted Nunes for revealing this to Trump and to the public before disclosing it privately to fellow committee members.

    Comment: I watched CNN’s take on this. It skimmed over the issue headlined in the Washington Post and, instead, emphasized Adam Schiff’s position that Nunes had destroyed the investigation and that an independent commission was now needed. The cable channel virtually ignored the substance of Nunes’ comments, which implied that some intelligence agencies did collect information on Trump campaign officials and might have shared it within the Obama White House, a serious charge.

    CNN panelists kept emphasizing the Russia investigation and suggesting that Trump’s impeachment was a real possibility if collusion was found. The CNN story is here.

     “Iran Charges Russia with Selling Out its Air Defense Secrets to Israel” (Popular Mechanics)

    An engineer with Tehran’s Ministry of Defense alleged that codes forcing anti-aircraft missiles to treat hostile Israeli fighters as friendly were sold to Tel Aviv, effectively neutralizing Syria and Iran’s S-300 surface-to-air missile systems.

    An Iranian official, described by the Jerusalem Post as a senior member of Iran’s Defense Ministry, told the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida that Russia had sold “codes” to Israel that identified Israeli aircraft as friendly. The codes were used by Israel to prevent its aircraft from being targeted. Israel has flown dozens of air raids over Syria, and despite advanced air defenses, only the latest raid, flown last Friday, involved an actual missile launch. –Popular Mechanics

    Comment: Well, those allies in the Syrian fight seem to have some differences.

    Hard to know if the Iranian charges are true, but it is known that the Israelis generally have good relations with Russia and have worked assiduously to make sure Israeli planes do not create problems for Moscow when they fly over Syria to interdict Tehran’s shipments to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Hezbollah is a client Iran supplies with lethal tools to threaten Israel. Israel, in turn, tries to prevent those ships as they transit Syria, and it wants to do so without creating conflicts with Moscow.

     “New research identifies a ‘sea of despair’ among white, working-class Americans”  (Washington Post)

    Sickness and early death in the white working class could be rooted in poor job prospects for less-educated young people as they first enter the labor market, a situation that compounds over time through family dysfunction, social isolation, addiction, obesity and other pathologies, according to a study published Thursday by two prominent economists [Anne Case and Nobel-prize-winner Angus Deaton] –Washington Post

    Comment: This confirms what Charles Murray wrote in his pathbreaking book, Coming Apart. Murray, you will recall, is the scholar whose presence at Middlebury College set off left-wing students, who rioted, prevented him from speaking, and injured Prof. Allison Stanger, who was escorting him.

    ◆◆◆◆◆◆◆

     

  • World Council of Churches attacks Israel . . . again

    The World Council of Churches versus the Jewish State, Once Again,” writes Gerald Steinberg (Religious News Service)

    The WCC attacked Israel for its March 6 vote in the Israeli parliament (Knesset) that would deny entry visas to activists who call for the boycott of the Jewish state. Olav Fykse Tveit, secretary-general of the WCC, told numerous media outlets that the new law would “make it impossible for him or senior people in his organization to visit member churches or sacred sites in what Christianity regards as the Holy Land.” …

    Ironically, the church body deserves much of the credit for inspiring the entry ban through its campaigns to isolate and demonize Israel internationally.

    For years, the WCC has played a leading role in this harsh political warfare. The organization’s top officials participated in the virulently anti-Semitic NGO Forum of the 2001 U.N. Durban Conference, at which Israel was labeled as an apartheid state. –Gerald Steinberg

    This latest attack is part of a pattern of anti-Israel advocacy, according to NGO Monitor.

    The WCC is a central promoter of the Kairos Palestine document, which characterizes terrorist acts of “armed resistance” as “Palestinian legal resistance” denies the Jewish historical connection to Israel in theological terms, calls to mobilize churches worldwide in the call for BDS, and compares Israel with the South African apartheid regime. . . .

    WCC documents (May 2013) imply that Israel’s very existence is illegitimate, accusing it of “sixty-five years [] of continuing dispossession of Palestinian people—Christian and Muslim alike—from their land by Israeli occupation.”

    Refers to Christian Zionism “as a form of Christian fundamentalism” and claims that “Christians who promote “Christian Zionism” distort the interpretation of the Word of God and the historic connection of Palestinians—Christians and Muslims—to the Holy Land, enable the manipulation of public opinion by Zionist lobbies, and damage intra-Christian relations.”

    During the 2014 Gaza conflict, WCC released several statements placing sole blame for the conflict on Israel and ignoring Hamas terrorism against Israeli civilians. –NGO Monitor

    Comment: Israel and its supporters take the boycott movement very seriously, less because it directly affects their economy, more because it aims at delegitimizing the very existence of a Jewish state in the Middle East. That’s the point of using vitriolic and misleading terms like “apartheid” and “colonialism,” which imply Israel is not only acting badly, its existence is a colonial outcropping that should be removed. The World Council of Churches has repeatedly endorsed these anti-Israel views without directly saying Israel should not exist.

    The WCC’s position–demonizing Israel and often demonizing America–matches that of left-wing Christian denominations in the US. Those denominations are shrinking and are increasingly organized around a romantic, progressive political vision rather than worship. What’s growing? Evangelicals who are focused on their religious beliefs and, typically, are patriotic and pro-Israel. Their support for Zionism is at least as strong, and often stronger, than the liberal wing of American Judaism.

  • Anti-Missile Tech Keeps Getting Better: Israel’s Arrow System intercepts a Syrian Missile (UPDATED)

    As more and more bad actors get intermediate- and long-range missiles, the technology to intercept them becomes more and more important.

    The technology is significantly different from that used to intercept short-range missiles, which Israel’s Iron Dome has used successfully many times, protecting civilians living near the Gaza Strip.

    Israel’s Arrow Anti-Missile System is designed for these intermediate- and long-range threats. Last Friday, it was used for the first time in combat, against a missile fired from Syria, probably a Russian SA-5 (aka S-200).

    BBC report here: “Israel’s Arrow anti-missile system ‘in first hit'”  Times of Israel report here.

    What is the Arrow Anti-Missile System?

    Here is what Defense Industry Daily says:

    The Arrow project is a collaboration between Boeing and IAI [Israel Aerospace Industries] to produce the missile interceptors that accompany the required radars, satellites, command and control systems. . . .

    In general, the Israeli Arrow is a more advanced weapon than the Patriot and possesses far more range, undertaking high altitude interceptions and covering a wide area (est. 54 mile range, maximum altitude 30 miles for Arrow 2) as a Theater Missile Defense system. Unlike the USA’s THAAD, PAC-3, or SM-3 which all use “hit to kill” technology, Israel’s Arrow relies on a directed fragmentation warhead to destroy enemy missiles. –Defense Industry Daily

    Here’s a clear visual representation:

    The Arrow System and Israel’s Tough Neighborhood: Syria, Hezbollah, and Iran

    A skilled Israeli observer, Ofer Bavly, offers his concise observations on the Arrow system and its use to protect Israel against regional threats:

    On Friday night Israel for the first time launched an Arrow missile under operational circumstances. The event occurred as the Israeli Air Force was launching an attack on a convoy carrying long-range missiles and other advanced weaponry from Syria to the Hezbollah terror organization in Lebanon. While Israeli attacks on Hezbollah convoys are not a new phenomenon, Israel usually does not publicly admit such attacks and sometimes even denies them so as not to force the hand of Syria or Hezbollah in retaliation. This attack was different in that as the jets were making their way back into Israeli territory, Syria launched surface-to-air missiles at them. It is not common for Syria to try and shoot down Israeli jets. The Russian-made missiles that they launched, SA-5, are not modern or very efficient. As such, they did not at any time endanger the Israeli pilots. However, computer models tracking the missiles showed that they would be falling in Israeli territory, so the Air Force decided to intercept them using the Arrow missile. The interception was successful and was the first such operational interception since the Arrows came online. The system is designed to handle more modern and more efficient missiles including those that would exit the atmosphere and would be intercepted in outer space. Debris from the interception fell in two locations inside Jordan. Sounds of the explosions could be heard in Jerusalem and along the Jordan Valley.

    Although tested extensively on dummy targets in the past, this is the first time that the Arrow is used against an actual threat.

    The event is also significant for the fact that Syria tried to shoot down Israeli jets, a rare move which may signify that the Assad regime, now propped up and supported by Russia and Iran, feels emboldened enough to attack Israeli planes. This may be a step up in the level of Syrian belligerency towards Israel, which may affect future Israeli operations in the north, or it may be an isolated case. In any case, the use of SA-5 missiles which are relatively old and ineffective against modern jet fighters, may show that Syria does not have more advanced anti-aircraft missiles. So while the event revealed an important Israeli card, it also exposed the weakness of the Syrian army.

    –Ofer Bavly, private communication (published with his permission)

    Beyond the threat from Syria and Hezbollah lies a far bigger threat: Iran, which is working closely with North Korea to develop effective long-range missiles and, many fear, the miniaturized nuclear weapons to fit on them.

    UPDATE: Blake Fleisher on Missile Defense in Israel: From Reluctant Acceptance to Full Embrace

    Fleisher, a policy analyst at the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (Washington), comments:

    Arrow was Israel’s first missile defense system and at the time the Israelis were skeptical about the project because it didn’t fit into their offensive doctrine.

    They supposedly took it on to benefit from US aid (Reagan’s SDI), but the catalyst was Saddam Hussein firing ballistic missiles in the 80s and 90s.

    Ironically, today Israel uses lots of missile defense and you can’t imagine the country without it. –Blake Fleisher, 

    For those interested in more detail, Fleisher recommends a study from the US Army War College:

    Jean-Loup Samaan, Another Brick in the Wall: The Israeli Experience in Missile Defense (PDF online here)

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Thanks to

    • Ofer Bavly
    • Jay Tcath
    • Blake Fleisher
    • Robert Lieber

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Friday, March 18

    Hand-picked and farm-fresh–
    Linked articles in bold purple

    ◆ Happy St. Patrick’s Day

     House, Senate Republicans don’t care for Trump’s Budget (Washington Post)

    • Defense not raised enough, say hawks
    • Welfare programs cut too deeply, say some rural congressmen

    Nobody thinks the budget is going anywhere. Obama’s didn’t, either.

    The House GOP plan to revise the Affordable Care Act is embattled, as is Trump’s push to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. His tax reform and infrastructure plans have yet to get off the ground.

    As he passes the halfway mark of his first 100 days, Trump is under increasing pressure to show that he can make good on his ambitious promises. –Washington Post

     Two Federal judges block Trump’s latest travel ban (New York Times)

    Comment: I am no lawyer, but I do think about constitutional issues. In the temporary immigration ban and court rulings, I see several thorny constitutional/legal issues:

    • First, the President has very clear, wide-ranging statutory authority to issues these bans, using his national-security authority
    • The President’s authority in this area has not been limited by Supreme Court rulings, as far as I know
    • On the other hand, the US does have various laws, court rulings, and regulations that prevent religious discrimination and prohibit “religious tests.” The courts blocking Trump seem to rely heavily on those laws and rulings.
    • To say that non-citizens, who are not already on US soil, have some constitutional rights related to our immigration laws is very striking–and perhaps novel. The courts know that and have been very reluctant to even make those arguments. They seem to say that the rights apply to US citizens who want their sister to come here from a banned country. Whether that is a stretch or not will have to be determined by higher courts.
    • The courts’ rulings against Trump explicitly say they are not ruling based solely on the text of the Presidential order. Rather, they are “putting this it in context.” The context is that candidate Trump explicitly promised a ban on Muslim immigration. Since the banned countries are Muslim, that must have been his intent. (His counter-argument is that other Muslim countries are not included in the ban and, in any case, the courts have no business ruling on this matter, which is solely within the President’s discretion.)
    • SUMMARY COMMENT: I see four big questions here.
      1. Should court rulings be limited to a law’s explicit text or should they take into account the broader political “context” (and, if so, how should judges determine the appropriate context)?
      2. Previous court decisions (on other issues) have explicitly ruled that a candidate’s statements are not relevant to subsequent laws and regulations, passed after the candidate takes office. Why shouldn’t that restriction apply here?
      3. Do these courts imply that non-US citizens, who are not already on US soil, have some constitutional rights that the courts must protect?
      4. Are these rulings–and the clear distaste for Pres. Trump they evince–the prelude to courts assuming a much larger role in national-security issues than they have previously? That would be an important change. It would also put the courts in an very tenuous position. They lack the information (including classified information) and the expertise to make policy judgments in this area. That is why they have normally deferred to the President unless there were clear constitutional violations. The courts are vulnerable to arguments that they are overreaching to impose their own preferred policies in an area where they should be more restrained. They would rightly receive withering criticism if those rulings lead to bad outcomes.

     Syria fired missiles into Israel after the Israeli Air Force struck targets in Syria (Associated Press)

    Israeli Channel 10 TV reported that Israel deployed its Arrow defense system for the first time against a real threat and hit an incoming missile intercepting it before it exploded in Israel. –Associated Press

    The Jerusalem Post also has a story, reporting Israeli air defense sirens sounded in the Jordan Valley.

    Comment: Israel has been very careful about being drawn into the Syrian conflict, but it does have two vital interests that could lead to military strikes. Both involve Iran. The Israelis do not want to see Iran’s Revolutionary Guard shipping missiles to Hezbollah (based in southern Lebanon) through Syria. They have bombed those shipments when they learn of them. They are increasingly concerned that the Iranians are moving troops into Syrian territory bordering Israel.

     US economy’s strength apparent in new data on housing, unemployment, and consumer confidence (Reuters)

    Interest rates are slowly returning to normal, too, after years of near-zero rates, designed to buoy a flagging economy.

    U.S. financial markets were little moved by the data as investors digested the Fed’s decision on Wednesday to raise its overnight benchmark interest rate by 25 basis points to a range of 0.75 percent to 1.00 percent. The U.S. central bank also forecast two more rate hikes this year. —Reuters

     Venezuela: When a socialist economy has no bread, they know exactly how to solve the problem. They nationalize the bakeries(Miami Herald)

    Comment: Sean Penn had no comment.

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    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Barry Shaw
     for the Israel missile story

     

  • Amb. Nikki Haley at UN: Palestinians, stop your incitement so we can move forward

    US Ambassador to UN Nikki Haley: Palestinians Must Stop Incitement, Engage in Direct Peace Talks With Israel (Algemeiner)

    The Palestinian Authority must “stop its incitement to violence” and engage with Israel in “direct peace negotiations, rather than looking to the UN,” a top American diplomatic official said on Tuesday.

    US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley made the statement after meeting with her Palestinian counterpart, Riyad Mansour — an encounter she described as “productive.”

    “The US is committed to supporting a true peace process between Israel and the Palestinian Authority,” she said.

    Last month, Haley received warm praise from the pro-Israel community in both the US and abroad after taking the UN Security Council to task for its double standards when it comes to its treatment of the Jewish state. –Algemeiner

    What does this incitement look like? The examples are too numerous to cite, but here’s a recent one.

    Palestine Liberation Organization names children’s camp for terrorist bomber who killed 37, including a dozen children  (Palestinian Media Watch)

    Terrorist bomber families are also compensated by the Palestinian Authority, which money that comes indirectly from Western donor states.

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Wednesday, February 22

    Hand-picked and farm-fresh–
    Linked articles in bold purple

     Two fascinating articles by Paul Roderick Gregory investigating Russian hacking (Forbes.com)

    The media’s focus on Trump’s Russian connections ignores the much more extensive and lucrative business relationships of top Democrats with Kremlin-associated oligarchs and companies. Thanks to the Panama Papers, we know that the Podesta Group (founded by John Podesta’s brother, Tony) lobbied for Russia’s largest bank, Sberbank. “Sberbank is the Kremlin, they don’t do anything major without Putin’s go-ahead, and they don’t tell him ‘no’ either,” explained a retired senior U.S. intelligence official. According to a Reuters report, Tony Podesta was “among the high-profile lobbyists registered to represent organizations backing Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich.”  …

    That’s not all: The busy Podesta Group also represented Uranium One, a uranium company acquired by the Russian government which received approval from Hillary Clinton’s State Department to mine for uranium in the U.S. and gave Russia twenty percent control of US uranium. –Paul Roderick Gregory for Forbes

    Gregory is a professor of economics at the University of Houston, specializing in Russia, and a research fellow at the Hoover Institution

     “Actually, Sweden is having big trouble with Mideast refugees,” writes Rich Lowry, who focuses on economic issues rather than crime  (New York Post)

    By welcoming a historic number of asylum-seekers proportionate to its population, Sweden has indeed embarked on a vast social experiment that wasn’t well thought-out and isn’t going very well. The unrest in the Stockholm suburb of Rinkeby after police made an arrest the other night underscored the problems inherent in Sweden’s immigration surge.

    Sweden’s admirable humanitarianism is outstripping its capacity to absorb newcomers. …

    There’s a stark gap in the labor-force-participation rate between the native-born (82 percent) and the foreign-born (57 percent). As the Migration Policy Institute points out, Sweden is an advanced economy with relatively few low-skills jobs to begin with. …

    The fiscal cost is high. According to Swedish economist Tino Sanandaji, the country spends 1.5 percent of its GDP on the asylum-seekers, more than on its defense budget. Sweden is spending twice the entire budget of the United Nations high commissioner responsible for refugees worldwide. Pressed for housing, Sweden spends as much on sheltering 3,000 people in tents as it would cost to care for 100,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan. –Rich Lowry for New York Post

    ◆ There is better news from Sweden: “Confused Randy Elk Mounts Wooden Elk in Swede’s Garden” (The Local, Sweden)

    Actual quote from the article:

    “I shouted at him ‘get lost’, but he didn’t give a toss,” [79-year-old Ove] Lindqvist said, explaining that the elk only left once it was content. –The Local

    Apple iPhones working for real-time facial recognition to log in  (Fox Tech)

    Amid rumors that the iPhone 8 will incorporate advanced facial recognition features, the Hebrew-language website Calcalist (via Times of Israel) is reporting that Apple recently acquired Realface, an up-and-coming Israeli startup with impressive real-time facial recognition software.

    Lending credence to rumors that the iPhone 8 may forgo the use of Touch ID in favor of facial recognition, Realface’s software is said to be sophisticated enough such that it can reliably be used as a foundation for mobile-based biometric authentication. –Fox Tech 

    The Times of Israel story on the buy-out is here.

    Israel is a high-tech powerhouse, and Apple has moved to capitalize on those capabilities, purchasing four Israeli high-tech firms in recent years.

     Kenneth Arrow, a Nobel Prize economist and a true great, has died, aged 95  N (New York Times)

    When Professor Arrow received the award in 1972, [Paul] Samuelson wrote, “The economics of insurance, medical care, prescription drug testing — to say nothing of bingo and the stock market — will never be the same after Arrow.”

    Professor Arrow — a member of an extended family of distinguished economists, including Professor Samuelson and Lawrence H. Summers, the former Treasury secretary and adviser to President Barack Obama — generated work that was technically forbidding even to mathematically oriented colleagues.

    But over the decades, economists have learned to apply his ideas to the modern design of insurance products, financial securities, employment contracts and much more. –New York Times

    The extended obituary concludes with a wonderful story about his prodigious, wide-ranging learning:

    Eric Maskin, a Harvard economist and fellow Nobel winner, told of a good-natured conspiracy waged by junior faculty to get the better of Professor Arrow, even if artificially. They all agreed to study the breeding habits of gray whales — a suitably abstruse topic — and gathered at an appointed date at a place where Professor Arrow would be sure to visit.

    When, as expected, he showed up, they were talking out loud about the theory by a marine biologist — last name, Turner — which purported to explain how gray whales found the same breeding spot year after year. As Professor Maskin recounted the story, “Ken was silent,” and his junior colleagues amused themselves that they had for once bested their formidable professor.

    Well, not so fast.

    Before leaving, Professor Arrow muttered, “But I thought that Turner’s theory was entirely discredited by Spencer, who showed that the hypothesized homing mechanism couldn’t possibly work.” –New York Times

     

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