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February 7, 2010: Is It Just Me?

May 16, 2010

Last week, Syrian president Bashar Assad, in a statement made to Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, which was carried by Syrian media, observed that, “Israel is not serious about achieving peace since all facts point out that Israel is pushing the region towards war, not peace.”

This was followed by a statement by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem that “Israel should not test Syria’s determination. … Israel knows that war will move to the Israeli cities. … Israel has to commit to the just and comprehensive peace requirements.”

This is saber rattling, with the message being that we had better start thinking about relinquishing the Golan Heights (which is the Syrian version of “just and comprehensive peace requirements”).


Our Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who takes no guff from anyone, responded in a speech at Bar Ilan University on Thursday:

“Assad should know that if he attacks, he will not only lose the war. Neither he nor his family will remain in power.

“Our message should be that if Assad’s father lost a war but remained in power, the son should know that an attack would cost him his regime.  This is the message that must be conveyed to the Syrian leader by Israel.”


Thus my question: Am I the only one who thinks this tough talk is just fine?

Some members of the Knesset were horrified. And Netanyahu’s office released a statement indicating, “that the government’s policy is clear: Israel’s face is directed to peace and carrying out diplomatic negotiations with Syria without preconditions.”

Tensions have been high between Syria and Israel, and the Prime Minister was seeking to cool things down. The question is whether “talking nice” genuinely serves our interests better than tough talk does.

Lieberman would say that it does not.  In an interview on Friday, in which he defended himself, he commented that, “I don’t work for the media or for public opinion.

“A red line was crossed like we have never seen before. A direct threat to attack population centers.  What I said was at the right time in the right dosage…

“I think that the Golan Heights need to remain a part of Israel…”

“My response, which I made in order to clarify that the situation [with Syria] is unbearable, was immediately met with a hysterical reaction in Israel of ‘how dare we anger the nobleman.’

He said that he found it unfortunate the Israeli left tends to react as it does: “I think that in the Middle East, we cannot let grave things go without a response.”

To this, I say, Right on!

When he speaks of how the left reacts, he means with an attitude of appeasement, or self-abasement.  What I would questions is whether it’s only the left that this is true of. It’s a very bad, and fairly mainstream, mode of thinking here in Israel.


I far prefer the tone of Lieberman to that of Defense Minister Ehud Barak (and yes, he’s on the left), who spoke last week at the Herzliya Conference.  It was critical, he said, to begin negotiations with Syria soon, while Assad perceived us as being strong. “In the absence of a deal with Syria, we could reach an armed conflict that could develop into a full fledged war.”

But what does this mean?  He seems to be suggesting that it’s not enough to talk to Syria, we must reach a deal. If Syria insists that “a deal” requires us to relinquish the Golan, does that mean we relinquish it to avoid an “armed conflict” that could lead to “a full fledged war”?  Hopefully this is not what Barak meant, but it sure sounds like it — sounds like he advocates our making concessions to avoid that war.  This sort of talk renders us weak, not strong.

There is an increase in the warlike bombast coming from Syria, and thus unease about the possibility that we’re facing war to the north.  Caroline Glick certainly voiced this opinion in her Friday column.

Strong means delivering to Assad the sort of message that came from Lieberman: Don’t even think of starting with us, or you’ll be the loser.


If you agree with me, you can tell Defense Minister Lieberman you’re behind him:

Phone: 02-675-3231  (From the US: 011-972-2-675-3231)

Fax: 02-640-8921  (From the US: 011-972-2-640-8921)

E-mail: aliberman@knesset.gov.il


Glick, by the way, noted that the “incendiary comments threatening Israel with war” came from the Syrian government on “the same day that the US informed Syria of its intention to send an ambassador to Damascus for the first time in five years.”


As to our strength, or deterrence power, I note this aside, which I’ve picked up from a couple of different sources now:

While we are being accused of having assassinated key Hamas figure Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai last month, we are certainly not taking credit for this, and indications are that there were many others who would have been glad to eliminate him. (Latest news is that those who assassinated al-Mabhouh used Irish passports.)

Whatever the case, the word on the Arab street is that we did it.  And so, whether we actually did or not, the perception that we are capable of this increases our deterrence.  Perception is all important.


Yes, I confess, I missed it entirely, even though I had written about this in the past:

Last January there was a fight between the PA and Hamas regarding when Mahmoud Abbas’s term as PA president was over.  Hamas said the term was for four years, and Abbas had served for four years, so he was out.

The PA argued that the election for president that placed Abbas in office was held a year earlier than would be the case normally — at a time that coincided with parliamentary elections, because Arafat had died and his successor had to be chosen. Thus, went the argument, Abbas would stay in office for five years.

Well, as of last month the five years was also over.  But of course no elections were held because Hamas will not permit balloting in Gaza.  So where does this leave Abbas now?  He’s a lame, lame-duck president.  Or something.

What, we may ask, gives him legitimacy to negotiate anything?  The issue is moot with regard to the legislature, which is not meeting in any event.  But Abbas is carrying on, as if…

And the Obama administration, which is pushing “peace negotiations,” ignores these niceties all together.


Abbas, meanwhile has said he is considering the Obama proposal for indirect negotiations and will announce a decision.  He indicated, however, that the PA was not willing to “offer more compromises” to get the process going.

“More”?  Incredible.


I refer above to the speech by Barak at the Herzliya Conference and now want to return to discuss what Prime Minister Netanyahu said at the same conference, which offered a generous measure of good news.


Netanyahu said — this is NOT the good news — that he had reason to believe that within weeks talks with the Palestinian Arabs would begin again, without preconditions.  I have no idea what prompted him to make this announcement, which seems very far removed from the reality (unless he was referring to the “proximity” diplomacy), or why he should consider this a positive.  It seems mostly pro forma, rather than something of import to him.

But what did have import was his statement that:

“Here in the land of our fathers, which is also the land of our children and grandchildren, in order to determine our fate we need to strengthen our collective efforts in three primary spheres: security, economy and education.”

He then spoke about security, and the need to strengthen the IDF, because “The weak do not survive in the difficult geographic region in which we find ourselves.”   And of the need to have a vibrant economy to support the defense needs.

However, he said, what is also needed is a commitment from the people, and an understanding of why we are here.  And for this, we must look to education, with the strengthening and deepening of “all of our connection to each other and this place…I think that this type of education begins with the Book of Books, it begins with the Bible.”


He added, with regard to the Bible, that “this is a subject close to my heart these days.”

This is clearly the case, in part, because his son, Avner, 15, just won the Jerusalem Regional Bible Quiz for state schools — which perhaps tells us something.  But I think, from off-the-record information I’ve received, that he’s coming closer to Jewish tradition for other reasons as well.

Just as he says that the people need the connection to the Bible, to understand why we are here, so is his connection heartening, because it will help point him in the right direction. 


Netanyahu is absolutely on the mark in fingering the need for the people of Israel to understand why we are here.  The education necessary for the survival of Israel, he said, starts with the Bible and moves through our history to the Zionist present. 

That he says this is exceedingly good news.  So often I’ve lamented the fact that our leaders have failed to tell our narrative.  But here he’s prepared to recapture it.

Very soon, said the prime minister, he was going to be introducing a “Heritage Plan” to preserve archeological sites and historical sites.  There will also be museums, where documents and photographs and films will be preserved and made available to the public.

Part of this heritage plan, said Netanyahu, would be the introduction of two Trails, to complement the already existing Israel Trail.  Studies show that young people who have walked the land are highly motivated to serve in the military — they feel connected to the land.

Now there will be a “Land of Israel trail, which will connect between dozens of ancient archaeological sites. Within our tiny piece of land, there are 30,000 ancient sites, 800 of which have clear national importance. Sadly, only 50 of those sites are open to the public, and even they are not in great shape. That is going to change on a huge scale.

“The second trail will be the “Israel Experience” trail. This trail will include the treasures of our country, and will serve as a living Land of Israel museum. It will connect between dozens of stops celebrating the history of the Jewish Yishuv [the Jewish population before the establishment of the State of Israel]. It will include historic buildings, settlement sites, small museums, memorial sites and personal stories – all of which are part of our Zionist heritage.”

“I know people will ask: ‘This is the topic you chose to speak of here, at a discussion about our national strength?” My answer is yes. Sometimes small steps lead to great things.”

This plan, if carried out, is nothing short of marvelous.


You can see his entire talk here:



Please, thank Netanyahu for his vision. 

Ask him to be sure that the plan will include archeological and historical sites beyond the Green Line, which is where much of our ancient history unfolded:

Fax: 02-670-5369 (From the US: 011-972-2-670-5369) 

Phone: 03-610-9898 (From the US: 011-972-3-610-9898) 

E-mail: Memshala@pmo.gov.il and also pm_eng2@it.pmo.gov.il (underscore after pm) use both addresses




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