Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Did Israel Spy on the US??

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:
Israel is being accused of spying on the secret nuclear talks that took place between Iran and the United States.

The White House says it discovered the spying. In their eyes, they say, that act was a major breach of trust. Friends don't spy on friends and then turn the material they illicitly received over to Capitol Hill for politicians to torpedo.

The report was published on Monday in the Wall Street Journal. An official described how the Americans were convinced that spying was taking place.

The official said: "The White House discovered the operation, in fact, when U.S. intelligence agencies spying on Israel intercepted communications among Israeli officials that carried details the U.S. believed could have come only from access to the confidential talks."

Did you read that correctly? I bet you did.

There was no spying at all. Actually, the source says that the US was spying on their dear friends the
 Israelis. The United States was "intercepting communications" from Israel.
And when the US saw what the Israelis were inter alia communicating about, they concluded that the only way that the Israelis could get that material was by spying on them.

This entire episode is about embarrassing the Israelis.

Israel has denied the accusation from top to bottom. The Israeli minister of defense said that if there was a spy charge, there would have been an official complaint. That is the normal protocol. He checked and rechecked and found no complaint.

There are many ways to get information. The US gives Israel a lot of information - including information on their dealings with Iran. So do other members of the P5+1. And then there are the Iranians.

Israel has assets and spy apparatus set up in Iran.

Since the Pollard affair in the 1980s, Israel has agreed not to spy on the US and not to operate agents in the US.

Israel's foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, known for his undiplomatic and brash responses, made it very clear. He said that Israel does not spy on the US. "There are enough participants in these negotiations, including Iranians," he said. "We got our intelligence from other sources, not from the United States. The instruction has been clear for decades now: you don't spy on the United States, directly or indirectly."

It cannot get clearer than that.
Israel received the information - but not by spying on the talks between the United States and Iran.

There is, ahem, one important point that fell through the cracks in this discussion. It seems perfectly fine for the US to spy on Israel... but it is forbidden for Israel to even gain info, even from other sources, about a risk that directly touches them, their security, the future of their country. 

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

PA PM to Visit Gaza Tomorrow

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

We need to watch internal moves and machinations within the Arab world. We need to see how and if situations change, to know if progress is made and to understand in what directions the Arab world is moving.

When I discovered that Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah will not only visit the Gaza Strip on Wednesday but that he will also spend several days there, I was very interested in knowing the why and how of this visit.

This is the second trip of Hamdallah to Gaza.

Gaza is controlled by Hamas and there is great tension between the Palestinian Authority and Gazans.

It looks like they are now trying to mend fences. I would probably guess that the fence mending has to do with resources - especially electricity and the donor funds that are supposed to pour into Gaza.

I would also guess that in Gaza, Hamas and the PA will also be talking about Iran, about ISIS and about Israel under Bibi.

The biggest question they have, their biggest conundrum, will be how to engage with the United States and either meet or divert the expectations that the West has set for the Palestinian of Gaza and the PA.

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Monday, March 23, 2015

Enough Bickering from the White House

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Enough -- I have heard enough about Bibi Netanyahu saying that he now rejects the two state solution. And enough about how the United States now needs to re-evaluate their relationship with Israel.

The statement made by the prime minister of Israel was not a rejection of the two state solution. It was simply a continuation of statements the prime minister has always been making. There does not seem to be a partner for peace on the Palestinian side of the negotiating table. And until there is a partner, there will be no peace.

Netanyahu has been saying this for three years.

The White House has now become afflicted with selective hearing. When they only hear what they want to hear, entire scenarios become skewed.

There is no convincing way to explain what is happening in the White House and its relationship with Israel. The only person who can adequately explain what is happening is the president himself.

The White House is really not very interested in what was said and why. They are only interested in exacting a penalty - a tax on Israel for not toeing the line. This behavior is called "disciplining" in Washington speak. The White house is using discipline in an effort to control Israel and rein in Netanyahu.

This is not an isolated incident. The White House will continue to discipline Israel. Get used to it.

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Friday, March 20, 2015

Obama & Bibi Sound like Teenage Boys

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Sometimes the people involved in international relations need to rely more heavily on the tools needed to manage adolescent behavior and conflicts than one would imagine. Mediating between presidents, prime ministers and diplomats is very much like dealing with full blown adolescence.

The recent chastisement of Israel by the White House is a perfect example.

It sounded like 15 year old kids playing a game of "dare", albeit with much higher stakes. Like kids who say things they should not be saying just to get a rise out of the other side.

This was more or less the tone of the White House statement:
"We are thinking of withdrawing our cover for Israel at the UN."

Many people were livid that this sentiment, even in an unattributed statement, would be expressed.

The media grabbed it.

Republicans went berserk.

In the end, it will never happen. It is a ploy. It is all about the reaction it will illicit. It is so adolescent. 

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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Media Tried to Defeat Bibi

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

I have been asserting that the media was biased against Netanyahu.

That the media used its power of communication to influence voters to cast their ballots not for someone, but against Bibi.

Ten days before the election, one of the leading papers in Israel ran an expose on Prime Minister Netanyahu. This newspaper and its very popular website made it very clear that they do not like the sitting prime minister.

News should be news - and it should be objective.

The expose was framed as a news item but the timing of its publication made the agenda very clear.
The story is still running on the web site. I ask you, how many stories stay up on the internet for two weeks - the internet where news changes every few seconds.

The expose was written by Nahum Barnea, an excellent commentator and analyst with extremely good contacts and reliable sources. Barnea listed all the concessions Netanyahu was prepared to make with the Palestinians. He wrote about secret negotiations that took place between Israel and the Palestinians in London.

Ultimately, according to the expose, Netanyahu was ready to give up on almost everything in order to get a deal.

This information could have killed any chance Bibi had of winning the election. Obviously, as we all now know, it did not ruin his chances. Any why not? Because the expose was deemed, by readers as well as by other media outlets, as interesting but not germane to the business at hand.

The article challenged the right wing bona fides of Netanyahu. How could he be a rightist leader if he was willing to capitulate on so much. The implication was that if you are a right winger you should not vote for Bibi and Likud --- you should instead vote for a marginal small party.

If that had happened, if that advice had been followed, Likud would not have received the votes it got or the seats it has or the royal crown worn by the winner. 

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Bibi Wins & Why!!

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

There are several important lessons to be learned from this Israeli election.

First has to do with polling and coverage.

A man from Mars watching the coverage leading up to the election would have been convinced that Netanyahu and his Likud party --- in fact, the entire nationalist camp would be trounced.

But that did not happen.

For three months the Israeli media painted a portrait of a Bibi Netanyahu as a loser. In the final weeks before the election, many media outlets here in the United States jumped on that bandwagon. Not only was he not ousted, he came out a winner, much as he predicted for himself three months ago when he called for new elections.

It was not really analysis, it was wishful thinking. It was a prophecy that many pundits wanted to see fulfilled.

Next was the belief that the vast majority of Israeli voters are in the center - perhaps center right, or perhaps center left, but somewhere in that wide center swatch . And the largest block of voters, it was believed, was center right.

That belief is correct. That's the way it up until this election and that is what we are seeing post this election.

We were told that Israel needs change. We were told that all Israelis want change. And yet, the only real change to emerge from this election is that the political power of extremists on the right and left was severely diminished. Other than that, little has changed

The results we have today will not be the results we have tomorrow. The final breakdown will still change. Ah! Finally, a change! But the big winners will remain the big winners. Old time Likud and the new party on the block, Kulanu, led by Moshe Kahlon, which garnered 10 or 11 seats will be the big players come coalition building time.

The fun and games of campaigning are over. Now comes the real work. Building a government, or, in this case, cobbling together a coalition that will be willing and able to govern. 

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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Saudis Want What Iran Gets

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Today is election day in Israel. The vote is still up in the air so I will not write about it - for now. But

I know that these election results and their aftermath will be dominating my writing for the
next few weeks.

And, as it turns out, there really are other noteworthy events taking place in the world right now.
For instance, a very senior Saudi prince announced that a deal between the West and Iran will spark a Middle East nuclear arms and technology race.

Prince Turki al-Faisal, former Saudi ambassador to DC and London as well as the former head of Saudi intelligence, said: "I've always said whatever comes out of these talks, we will want the same."
He made this statement, almost a declaration, in a BBC interview that aired on Monday.

The point al-Faisal is making is quite clear. If Iran gets any nuclear technology, Saudi Arabia will demand and quickly get it also.

The delicate balance of power will be upset if Iran gets such technology. Other Gulf States will follow Saudi Arabia's lead.

This is an important variable and it deserves serious consideration. 

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