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January 18, 2012: Switching Gears

January 18, 2012

On Sunday I had written that a major joint Israeli-US military exercise — to be the biggest ever held — which had been scheduled here for this spring had been cancelled, allegedly for budgetary reasons.  The news was brand-new when I put it out.

In the days since, there has been much said about this cancellation, and every pundit, every writer, has a different take.  You have your choice: both countries decided together to cancel/Israel cancelled/the US cancelled.  It was for Israeli budgetary reasons/to punish Israel/to allow adequate time for planning. And on and on.


My own best guess is that it was the US that cancelled.  There seems to me to be one quite plausible reason for this: The US does not want to stir things up and appear aggressive, while the situation with Iran is so “sensitive.” 

When she made her statement denying any US role in the assassination of Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, Secretary of State Clinton also said:

“We believe that there has to be an understanding between Iran, its neighbors and the international community that finds a way forward for it to…rejoin the international community.” 

This was just two days before the joint exercise was cancelled. 


Now, Clinton’s statement sounds delusional to rational people. I would say it is delusional (and destructively so).  But from her perspective there was reason for the position she was publicly espousing: 

Over the past several days, there has been covert communication between the US and Iran via Turkey.  Last week US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns was dispatched to Turkey where he met with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who is known to have traveled to Iran, and to have he met with Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani. 

The original message to Iran is widely understood to have been with regard to Iranian threats to close the Strait of Hormuz.  But
subsequent to these meetings, Larijani, in Ankara, declared at a press conference that Iran is ready to resume nuclear discussions with the West: “I believe all issues can be easily solved through negotiations.”  And Davutoglu has let it be known that Turkey would like to host international talks on Iran.

Even in light of this information, the US approach will still sound delusional to rational people, who know full well how deceitful Iran is and how its leaders use “talks” as a stalling device.  But imagine the hope that sprang up anew in Obama regarding a possible breakthrough with Iran via peaceful means — precisely what he had championed all along.  This would preclude any need for war with Iran and give him a boost for the election.  Essential, then, that the US not appear to Iran to be “war-like.”


Not incidentally, this would explain Clinton’s rush to deny any involvement in Ahmadi Roshan’s death — and, further, to actually condemn the fact that this scientist who was involved in Iran’s nuclear efforts was killed.  After all, how can the Americans “effectively communicate” with Iran, if its leaders perceive the US as condoning assassinations of Iranians?

On the flip side, we can only imagine how maddening this must be to the decision-makers in Jerusalem, whom I count as among the most rational of all with regard to this issue.  Picture attempting to deal with a US that is conducting itself this way, in the face of imminent threat.


There is one additional theory regarding the cancellation of the maneuvers that I rather like, although, in light of the above, I don’t know that it sufficiently accounts for it.  Very recently, Minister of Security Affairs Moshe (Bogie) Ya’alon observed that:

“In the United States, the Senate passed a resolution, by a majority of 100-to-one, to impose these sanctions, and in the US administration there is hesitation for fear of oil prices rising this year, out of election-year considerations.”

Ya’alon is absolutely correct that Obama has demonstrated reticence with regard to fully imposing sanctions, and he may well be correct as to why this is the case.  Obama’s ability to be re-elected depends in some good measure on the state of the US economy come next November. 

The theory is that this public comment by Ya’alon so piqued the US administration, that the joint exercise was cancelled almost immediately thereafter.


A public confession here: I find Ya’alon to be the straightest, the most honest, and the most “right-on” member of the government.


Here I recommend an important article by Frank Gaffney, President of the (Washington DC based) Center for Security Policy, “No-kidding red lines”:

“…Such warnings [from the US telling Israel not to attack Iran] have become more shrill as evidence accumulates that Israel is getting ready to move beyond what is widely believed to be a series of successful – but insufficient – covert actions against the Iranian nuclear program, missile forces and associated personnel.

“Some U.S. officials reportedly think the Israelis are just posturing…

“Others point, however, to evidence that the Israelis are concealing key military movements from our intelligence assets as an indicator that they are going for it – and want to keep us from interfering…    

“…At the end of the day, the fundamental difference between the U.S. and Israel is that the Israelis have laid down ‘red lines’ with respect to the Iranian nuclear enterprise…

“To be sure, the United States says it has red lines, too….

“The difference between American and Israeli red line, of course, is that the latter may actually take seriously the breaching of theirs.  Presumably, that would be because the government of Israel has drawn them so as to define existential threats to the state, not simply as a matter of rhetorical posturing intended mostly for domestic political consumption. (Emphasis added)

“By contrast, we know that at least some Obama administration officials are persuaded the United States can live with a nuclear Iran.  They are said to be working up plans to contain, or at least, accommodate themselves to such a prospect…

“So far, though, in what may be seen from Tehran – whether rightly or wrongly – as submission to the new, Iranian-dictated order of things, we have chosen to remove all carrier battle groups from the Gulf…

“Worse yet, even if President Obama actually wanted to enforce his administration’s red lines, he has further compromised America’s ability to do so with his wholesale abandonment of Iraq, draconian defense budget cuts and the emasculated national security strategy he claims is all we can afford.

“Thus, the Israelis could reasonably view the United States as less-than-serious about the threats posed by Iran and as wholly unreliable when it comes to keeping them from metastasizing further.  Under such circumstances, if the Jewish State feels it has no choice but to be deadly serious with respect to its red-lines, its leaders must be expected to act as Iran violates them. (Emphasis added)

“The likelihood for such action can only have grown as a result of the contempt with which President Obama has treated Israel, our most important regional ally.  Dissing its Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is one thing.  Allowing our own red-lines to be flouted with impunity, signals that Israel is on its own and must proceed accordingly. (Emphasis added)

“If we are going to stop the nightmare of a messianic regime armed with nuclear missiles, somebody better do it soon – and with something more effective than sanctions.  America should take the lead.  But, if the Obama administration won’t, it should get out of the Israelis’ way.”  (Emphasis added)



In my last post on the legalities of expulsion from Mitzpe Avichai, I relied upon information from the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel.  Moshe Eyal of the Legal Forum will be visiting communities in the US from February 14 – 23.  His goal is to raise funds to further the work of the Legal Forum; to that end he would be pleased to meet with people, explain the group’s work and answer questions.  If you have an interest, please let me know.


A very delightful, and fascinating “good news” story.  In Hebrew, “hibuki” means “hug,” and “hibuki” is “huggy.”  That’s the name of a sad-eyed toy dog made in China, which is being used by therapists here in Israel. 

When children, moved from their homes because of falling rockets, were traumatized during the Second Lebanon war, psychologists Dr. Shai Hen-Gal (pictured below), a trauma specialist, and Professor Avi Sadeh developed the technique of using a stuffed animal for their treatment.  This particular stuffed animal, which came to be known as “Hibuki,” was discovered in a store by Sadeh.  It wasn’t selling well because its sad face didn’t appeal to parents, but it turned out to be perfect for distressed children.

“A traumatized child identifies more with a sad animal because it’s easier for him to project his own sadness onto it,” Hen-Gal explains. “Another advantage of this stuffed animal was its human expression, plus the long arms with Velcro at the ends that can hug the child and cling to him. The child hugs the puppet and the puppet hugs him. That’s where the name comes from.” 

Children were told to “take care” of Hibuki, and the psychologists found that the therapeutic results were enormous.  Within a matter of days, stress-related behaviors were reduced by 40%, and the effects of “Hibuki” were found to be long-lasting.  Since 2006, over 50,000 of these sad-eyed stuffed dogs have been utilized in Israeli communities whenever children are exposed to trauma.  During Operation Cast Lead, for example, or after the Carmel fire.  The Education Ministry keeps several thousand Hibukis in storage for emergencies.

The Hibuki success was described by Sadeh and Hen-Gal in the journal Pediatrics, which is how Daniella Hadassi, a therapist who works in disaster zones on behalf of the Foreign Ministry, learned about Hibuki.  She quickly perceived that it might be very helpful in Japan, which has a puppet-oriented culture, and made appropriate contacts.

Hibuki - Yanai Yechiel - January 2012
Credit: Yanai Yechiel

Switch to Japan, after the tsunami, when many thousands of Japanese children were traumatized.  A team of three Israeli experts came to help last August, having been invited by the Japanese Puppet Therapy Association.  One of these was Dr. Hen-Gal, who had 180 of these stuffed animals with him.

The Israelis found the situation daunting, not only because of the number of children affected, but because there is not in Japan a highly developed mental health system: Japanese culture fosters keeping a stiff upper lip, and not expressing feelings. A problematic situation when dealing with traumatized children.  Hibuki, however — after the Israeli team explained how to utilize it — was a great success in Japan.

Sadeh reports that Cambodia has now expressed an interest.


© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.



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