Global Thoughts — 20 December 2023

20th anniversary dinner at Boca Raton, Florida

Karen and I shared a salad for our 20th anniversary lunch out. 20 years ago it would have been lots of food and desert. In 30 years will we be sharing our dentures for lunch?

I would like to dare anyone to try to phone in a bomb threat to a 4-star hotel or below in the US. It’s become impossible to reach anyone at any of these hotels. The hotels don’t even bother to advertise a working phone number anymore. Stuff like a DoubleTree Hilton in Miami Beach? Forget about it.

I was horrified to see the NY Times headline that the UN Security Council passed a resolution condemning Ivan Ciment for bringing home crappy Halloween treats. My own kids were leading demonstrations in Times Square against me. I had bought these Z-snack bars that the kids used to love and now they said I committed a crime against humanity. I raced off to the supermarket to come back with Hershey bars. As a test, I offered every trick or treater a choice between the iced oatmeal or a brownie bar or a Hershey’s cookies and cream bar. Not a single kid wanted the Z bars. However, there was always a teenager with the little kids. The teenager indicated his or her choice and the kids followed. Hmm…There’s the making of a good college paper here.

One weekend we enjoyed a staycation, meaning that the rest of us stayed home while our son Jeremy went away to visit his grandparents in Miami. I had a wonderful time not having to walk into his room 3x a day to pick up his clothes and for us to be able to watch TV in the living room without having him kick everyone else out.

I don’t want to sound like a prude but every time I walk in the TV room and someone is watching a show on Netflix, I just hear nonstop 4 letter words and other words that make me cringe. I’m told to come and watch a program and after 2-3 minutes I’ve had enough. A lot of crappy language I hear on those shows is not even what you would hear in an R-rated movie that I would have seen in a movie theater. I walk out and don’t even want to watch the program because I am just totally grossed out. I think this is just a generation getting used to being entertaining by cheap writing. If the writers guild is worried about artificial intelligence taking over their jobs, they will need to produce better product because what I am watching now is so banal that it wouldn’t be hard for a robot to reproduce it.

Happy 18th BIrthday. Maybe you can guess where she’s going to college?

One of our year-end traditions is to have my kids write up notes that I enclose with year-end tips to building staff. I told the building staff this year that these notes would be collectors’ items because it’s the last year Elizabeth will be home to write them. When we moved in, she couldn’t speak or write. Now she is composing lovely cards and moving on. By the way, the staff love those cards and they keep them. I always get a big hug from everyone when I come with these goodies at the end of the year. Of course, they like the cash that comes with the cards too. In Manhattan, these doormen are extensions of family. They watch your kid grow, learn to cross the street, throw tantrums and come back from teenage parties.

My wife went to Macy’s to buy our son a Chanukah present. She wanted some NY Knicks swag. She got a  bro-homie-type salesclerk who sized her up and tried to pawn off some lousy player’s jersey on her. Karen was having none of that, having sat with Jeremy watching enough Knicks basketball games to know the players. “Nope, he’s no good. I want either this player or that player.” Imagine that guy’s surprise.

I would like to give you an idea as to how Global Thoughts is written. What you read is the culmination of several drafts over a month or two. At several points, I print out what I have written on screen in hard copy and read through all of it carefully for grammar, style, consistency and repetition, and ask myself if it’s worth your time to read, is it going to be outdated a week after you read it, and if I am adding real value to the conversation. So I hope you enjoy what I post and that you realize that while these postings might be lengthy, they are by no means streams of consciousness. They are in deep consideration of your engagement and respect the value of your time.

I’m trying to make myself become interested in Nikki Haley, the Republican candidate for President. I see that the GOP is lukewarm toward her and that John Bolton in his memoir called her a “showboat.” There are some pro-Israel people who back her strongly because she was very pro-Israel in her UN position, but others in the GOP say she just did that to ingratiate herself to Trump and pro-Israel money. At least she was governor of a state; I’m tired of seeing senators run for public office when all they do is talk and never actually run anything. I can tell you that the Chinese government has less respect for Biden as a former senator than as a person who has run something.

2024 promises to be an unhappy year for America even if the economy improves. Nobody wants Trump vs Biden and are hoping that something or someone intervenes to get one or both of them off the stage. A year ago the Economist was saying that Trump would be the next president and, as much as I thought that was ridiculous, they might turn out to be right. Democrats sobered up 4 years ago and booed off Bernie Sanders in favor of Biden. It remains to see if the Republicans will realize that supporting Trump is not a joke, but you see all these fruitcakes out there and wonder. The Iowa caucuses is strictly pay for play and Trump has it locked up. It remains to see if New Hampshire primary will be a serious event. I met with a GOP operative who just talks as if Trump is inevitable, which he will be if they all go out and keep voting for him. Biden will go down as the 80+ guy who refused to step aside and lost everything, and the Democratic party is too timid to stop him either. They don’t learn from mistakes.

Biden’s vulnerability is that people see him as weak. Truth be told, the Biden administration has been weak against Russia and Iran, and these wars from Gaza to Ukraine and maybe Taiwan in the future can all be traced to his failures against Russia, Iran and Afghanistan. The economy has been pretty decent, but Biden is being blamed more for inflation than credited for job creation. I think inflation will go down during the year to the point where the issue will go away, but the weakness issue overall is crux. Trump looks like the more resolute guy people of average intelligence will trust if they see hard times ahead and I expect Putin or Iran will plan an October surprise for America to make it look weak under Biden and accentuate his vulnerability.

GERMANY is on my radar. The current coalition government is very unpopular and the chancellor has been tone deaf on issues such as immigration, a home heating tax that is very unpopular (backed by Green climate change activists in his coalition), and an economy that is not doing well and that is making working class people upset. There has been a lot of political infighting and scandal. The far-right AFD party is gaining ground in the country especially in certain districts, and, if they actually beat out the other parties, it will be because the current government did not pay attention to the complaints of the people. This is becoming a threat and Germany is a pretty large European country. Stay tuned.

Mohonk Mountain House in upstate NY in the background.

I’ve rented cars for over 30 years but this is the first time I wrote Avis afterward and said I didn’t want a particular kind of car. I got an all electric car and when you’re a tourist you don’t want to have to worry all the time where you will recharge it. The hotel said twice that they would and didn’t. You can’t just pull into a gas station with the car. The only consolation is that you don’t have to refill the car before returning it. I also found the design of my Hyundai awful; on the dashboard I couldn’t see how fast I was going or the range of the car behind the steering wheel even after I adjusted it. Now the Wall Street Journal reports that insurance premiums for these cars is 35% higher than regular cars because the cost of repair is significantly higher and takes longer than regular cars. Hertz lost profits this last quarter because of unanticipated repair cost to their electric vehicle fleet. I think that like many other things, the all-EV craze is more hype than it should be and will wind up being less popular than imagined. I prefer the hybrid cars; you still have the option of putting gas into them but they go much further and recharge themselves through usage.

I was talking to a Russian friend who recently visited Moscow. He figures it’s just a matter of time before Ukraine cries Uncle and accepts some sort of deal from Russia. Russia just completely outnumbers Ukraine and their whole economy is on a war footing enabling them to produce armaments and supply troops; Western sanctions have not really hurt the Russians who have mostly figured how to get around them (which is why economic sanctions never actually work to deter bad behavior). The Ukrainians only have so many people and the West is just not giving them all that they need to move forward but just enough to keep fighting where they are. There is an argument to be made that had the West provided more stuff more quickly the war might have gone better while the Russians were doing poorly the first year of the war. Of course, Putin hopes Trump will become president and let him have the place for free. The hollowness of Europe’s defense capabilities is on full display and in a sense I agree with Trump that if the Europeans don’t give a shit about investing in their own security, why does it have to be our problem? He was also telling me how Russians are enjoying cheap Chinese electric cars that you can buy for $25,000. In the US, tariffs have kept those cars out of the market. My friend said they’re great cars and Americans are paying too much for cars because they are hellbent on keeping the Chinese out. What this also means is that the average Russian is getting things he wants at good prices and the war is not bothering people in Russia.

I went to this NYC martial arts tournament, and I figured I’d see a bunch of tough guys and gals fighting. But there was a strange snow-flakiness to the whole scene. Virtually everyone who fought got a bulky medal hung around their neck. I figured the tournament fee included a medal. My instructor said that they used to grade people on a 10 point scale but now everyone just gets a 9 and some decimal points. What is it about people that require constant validation and to be crowned winners or second place (with only two people competing in any fight)? I know people who just love going to run in some kind of race every week just so they can get a photo of them crossing the finish line looking all victorious and then getting some kind of medal to hang up with all the others. I figure that if I compete in next year’s tournament, I’d be the one guy who didn’t get a medal to make up for all the others. How many 58 year olds fight in these tournaments (at least those who have not been fighting all their lives)?

Watching the clips of the college presidents of Harvard, Penn and MIT testifying before Congress about campus antisemitism, I was thinking that had they been white straight men everyone would have just assumed they were racist bigots and were par for the course. This whole DEI movement catapulted these people into those positions with the expectation that they would be more sensitive to these kinds of things. Harvard’s prez I’m told has published a total of 11 articles in her professional life and would never have gotten that job if she wasn’t black, gay and female. Same for her plagiarism which wouldn’t have survived scrutiny had she been a white, straight male. The moral bankruptcy of the movement was evident in their twisted legalese and Penn’s president’s inability to say if she would have allowed a conference of 25 white supremacists on campus after allowing a conference of 25 known antisemites on that campus. Just because you are black, female and gay doesn’t give you a hall pass to look the other way at antisemitism. Just as people still view the scene in Congress with anti-communist crusader Eugene McCarthy as a turning point 50 years ago “Have you no sense of decency?” and Bill Clinton’s parsing of the word “is”when asked about his sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky, I think that years from now people will watch this scene as a seminal point in America’s history in terms of its inability to speak plain truth or be on the right side of history. I also recall that the majority of the people on the Nazi committee recommending the Final Solution (to exterminate the Jewish population of Europe) had PhD’s. Higher education has since not looked as low thanks to these modern godsends of educational leadership. I think the Republicans have a winning issue on this DEI thing, even if the lady flinging the questions is herself a subscriber to all sorts of conspiracy theories and was more interested in scoring political points than serving as a paragon of virtue. It also doesn’t help that Qatar gives Harvard 1.5 billion dollars (which it tries to hide but which investigators can trace) and the school says it has nothing to do with all this antisemitism in their Middle East studies program. Nobody is really talking about this pay for play in academia.

Remember I wrote a few months ago that American Jewish students would not drop everything the next time Israel was attacked and that they would not just fall into line with Israel. Jewish students have not been thrilled to see other Jewish students taking leadership positions within student groups that are siding with the Palestinians on this issue.

It will be interesting to see if the Democrats in the US House of Representatives cut a deal with moderate Republicans to freeze out the radicals in the Republican party that have been making the chamber ungovernable. They did that with the defense bill in December but so far haven’t done anything to help Ukraine which surprisingly has become a partisan issue held hostage to immigration policy. So far the Democrats seem to be happy letting the Republicans stew and maybe think that having a crazy leadership will give the Democrats a better target to campaign against in 2024. The problem is that this is unlikely to turn the House Democratic. People generally vote in congressional elections for the candidate, not the party. If they like their congressman or woman, they keep the person in office. Once in a blue moon, a president wins in a landslide and carries party votes across the spectrum. The US has not had a landslide election in about 40 years and there is no indication that will happen now. People have no idea about most of this stuff. Republicans have rallies where people go into a frenzy against death taxes – something that almost nobody in those rooms will ever have to pay. As I mention later in this posting, a professor found that when he explained students demonstrating for Palestine the details of what was actually going on, 80% of the students said they changed their mind.

Meanwhile, did you know that Facebook’s stock is up 250% over a year ago? People had thought the company was near death and it came back strong. Count me in as one of those who sold out even though they have rebounded from the abyss several times. Also, health care costs around the world have stopped going up. They are close to 2008 levels – a combination of productivity growth, technology, generic drugs and the fact that the rich world has become less rich and therefore spends less, have contributed to this reduced rate of spending.

Your humble correspondent almost died crossing the street. I was crossing a one-way street running to catch a bus when someone on a motorized skateboard was going in the wrong direction at over 25 MPH. He came within 5 feet of me. Had he hit me, I have no doubt October’s posting would have been my last and you wouldn’t be reading this now. People on motorized vehicles need to be licensed and get insurance. The whole thing has become intolerable because nobody is keeping tabs on this stuff. I’m usually careful about looking both ways even on one-way streets, but sometimes you forget to look the wrong way because it is after all a one way street.

We did a little traveling during the past 2 months. The Mohonk Mountain House in upstate NY has been a family favorite since the kids were little and remains so. It grows with you and people of all ages can enjoy it. The Minard Family farm in New Paltz NY is just 20 minutes away from the resort for some fun apple picking in mid-October. For Thanksgiving weekend, we went to the Boca Raton Resort which has been revamped with about $250 million of investment by Michael Dell (of Dell Computers). I like Boca Raton because it is less of a circus than the Miami Dade County area. We didn’t even get to the Beach Club; even though the hotel is about a mile inland, it has great facilities and we were perfectly happy there.

I read “Target Tehran” by Yonah Jeremiah Bob, defense correspondent for the Jerusalem Post. I also met with him briefly during his recent visit to NYC. He details 30 years of cloak and dagger activity by Israel’s Mossad against Iran through the beginning of 2023. His verdict: While the Mossad scored victories in delaying Iran’s nuclear program, the Iranians always seemed to recover. While 20 years ago there were fewer players in that program in Iran, now the program is many times larger and fortified, making it that much harder to stop. The Abraham Accords provides for a more open opposition to Iran by the various Sunni Arab countries, but the US is an unreliable leader of this coalition and the Israelis are ultimately left to wonder if they are ultimately alone to oppose Iran. Unless Iran changes its government (the clerics are probably going to be replaced by the Revolutionary Guards promising more of the same), this game could go on endlessly to a draw.

I’ve seen that the Israelis have a very extensive target list inside Iran and that indeed they really could strike hard to set back their nuclear program. I’ve said before that the debate about bunker-busting bombs is a red herring, in part because Israel doesn’t have the runways needed to launch those bombers. But I’m being told that if you drop a 5,000 pound bomb on the same target 4 times, you get the same effect as bombing it once with a 20,000 pound bomb. The Israelis can certainly do that. The Iranians should be nervous. Perhaps the Israelis and Hizbullah in Lebanon will come to an agreement to move more of their stuff behind the Litani River as they were supposed to based on an agreement in 2006 (about 10-20 miles from the international border depending on the zig zag of the river) because the Israelis are signaling that they cannot live with all this offensive capability sitting right across their border. The Iranians don’t want Hizbullah to be destroyed by the Israelis; they want to maintain that deterrent. The Americans want to sweep this problem under the carpet for the time being. At some point though, this has to be dealt with because Israelis in the North are not going home until they feel safer than they do and the rest of the country does not want to have 150,000 rockets, roughly 10% of them with precision guidance systems, raining down on central Israel at a moment of Hizbullah’s choosing.

The remainder of this posting is a collection of my thoughts about the last two months of goings on between Israel and Gaza. If you don’t want to read about it, you can stop here and know you read everything else. The main overarching points that I start from is that Israel was running a shit show and still is. Netanyahu continues to run the war as if he is campaigning and trying to outfox his political opponents. Nobody believes him or likes him. The government can’t make commitments to anyone because they are all on their last legs. But maybe not – who knows in Israel what people will actually do when they vote again? Biden knows that Bibi will try to run against him, which makes for a great wartime alliance. Nobody sees any good options for the Day After. I said two months ago that it would suck if the Israelis went in there without a plan and just overran the place with nobody else to take it over. Which they did. The northern border, which is 10x more threatening than the Gaza border, remains as much of a problem as it did before. The Israelis have killed over 20,000 people ensuring the creation of a generation across the region of people that hate them, and it’s not clear to me bow much they have really accomplished and how much of Hamas they really have destroyed. Whoever runs Gaza will probably have Hamas as part of the government. Nobody is going to invest in the place if they think Hamas will just regroup and keep attacking in a few years and we have to be realistic that they are not going to disappear. Israelis are going to be really bummed as to how all this plays out and they might vote for right-wing parties who won’t play ball with the rest of the world. A big question to me is what does Qatar do? Will they play both sides of the fence and keep Hamas alive to fight again? Would you want to invest in the future of Gaza at this point if Qatar is playing against you? So pardon me if you don’t see me smiling about a great future coming out of all this. How’s that for starters?

OK, so let’s get into the details of the past 2 months.

I have a strong hunch that Israel knows quite well where the top Hamas leaders are in Gaza but doesn’t want to kill them too soon. That would mean the end of the war. They want to get rid of the infrastructure that enables them to rule Gaza. That may be why they allowed them to escape from the Gaza City hospital and go south to Khan Younis for the final battles to come. Israel has a strange back-door relationship with a lot of its enemies. (Remember it was that kind of back-door relationship with Hamas based on Netanyahu’s version of realpolitik that ultimately turned on it this past October.) It will quietly warn Hizbullah in Syria that it is going to attack Iranian troops in Syria and to get out of the way at a certain day and time; interestingly, Hizbullah does not turn around and tip off the Iranians. Evidently, Israel has a different type of relationship with Hizbullah in Syria than it does in Lebanon.

There isn’t much of the Gaza war to see on TV. The Israelis have been good at shutting the pictures out. But the cable networks have to put something on. I thought about the puppy bowl that ran once during halftime in a super bowl. How about dressing up dogs in Hamas and Israeli army uniforms and letting them duke it out on TV? I’ll bet Fox News would do it; at least it wouldn’t be biased TV. In my book, the BBC made some big mistakes early on and lost credibility when it didn’t just fess up and move on.

I’m told that there have been high level off the record meetings between American and Israeli officials about the Day After this war. All the options being considered are rotten and nobody likes them. And a good portion of the people in the Israeli government have ideas for Gaza that nobody else wants. It is for good reason that the Israelis really don’t want to think about the Day After. This is making everyone else in the world mad (not to mention the army and intelligence services inside the country which want direction), but as I’ve said before, why would a government that knows it will be out of power soon want to make commitments about what comes afterward that wouldn’t be worth anything and why would anyone else want to deal with them now? I have no doubt that Team Biden finds it awful to deal with this government and can’t wait to see the back of Bibi. Bibi’s team probably also thinks that Biden’s team is filled with sanctimonious progressives who don’t live in the real world and would prefer useful idiots from Team Trump instead.

In my first posting after October 7, I said that it would be crucial for Israel to clearly identify its objectives at the start of their attack on Gaza. They never did it and this is why support for their position is withering and why the end result will be less than satisfying. The problem is that the objectives of this government are not those that anyone else agrees with, which is why they can’t come out and say what they want to achieve. What are they going to say, that they want to drive out Palestinians from Gaza into Egypt?

Despite some of the recent losses, considering that the Israelis have lost about 115 soldiers after a good 7 weeks of ground fighting (after you exclude the first few weeks of air-only and the ceasefire), that’s a pretty amazing result but it comes at the price of convenience bombing from the air while leaving most of Hamas underground waiting for the Israelis to come and engage them. They’ve killed over 7,000 Hamas fighters. Netanyahu scared his cabinet a decade ago not wanting to go into Gaza because he leaked out projections of thousands of Israeli casualties. Given the results, it would have made more sense to go in there a decade ago and then they wouldn’t probably be in there today. One thing that happened is that prisoners the Israelis released a decade ago are now running Gaza and are their biggest wanted men. It’s an important reason why the last thing the Israelis now want to do is trade Palestinian prisoners that are of high value to the other side; they’ve seen this movie before. At some point, they will have to get their hands dirtier in order to end the war and it looks like the Americans want this to end in another few weeks. (They’ve basically told the US air carriers they can resume service in January.) The Americans are essentially telling the Israelis to take more casualties and stop bombing so much if they want to go after Hamas and not just the people of Gaza. So the state of play at this point seems to make some sense. The Israelis have done a good job of blacking out Gaza so that very little useful information is coming out. Some of the analysis from Al Jazeera is more illuminating than what is coming out of the Israeli press.

We have a long-planned trip to Israel for mid-February. Our standard will be that if the American air carriers will fly into the country, we will go there. We figure that if the rockets are still flying around, they won’t resume service. I don’t really want to fly in with El Al with rockets going off in the background as the planes land, which is what I’ve seen in videos.

Ehud Barak, a former Israeli prime minister and defense minister, wrote a scathing article in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz saying that nobody trusts anything Netanyahu says and that he is not fit to be running this war. And that all the theses he put forth over the past 2 decades have been proven wrong. And that at a certain point the Americans are not going to keep cutting him slack. It’s not going to end well. You can’t ignore Ehud Barak. I agree with him.

I was nauseated all summer long watching the Israeli shit show with this judicial reform, and now I’m pretty grossed out reading about all the warning signs leading up to October 7 which were ignored. Exposes in the press showing years of evidence – reports by border guards of actions that could not be dismissed; short selling of stocks by Hamas traders just before the war, and books of attack plans published in advance and shared on social media, plus tons of evidence of Hamas’s finances – all of which were known to Israel and some of it to the US Government – and all of it ignored. And all those meetings in Lebanon planning the war which couldn’t have escaped notice. It seems that if men rather than women had been broadcasting some of these warnings they might have been taken more seriously. In retrospect, it’s insane how Hamas was broadcasting clear as day over social media what they were doing over several years and that hardly anyone was taking them seriously. It’s like me talking to my son and telling him something he needs to know half a dozen times over several days such as the time and place of a doctor’s appointment, and then realizing that he is completely ignoring me and just pretending to listen.

I suppose one of the goals of this war in Gaza should be that Palestinian civilians will never want Hamas in charge over their territory again. When asked why the militants didn’t create any shelters or reserves for civilians, their leader said from his cushy hotel room chair in Qatar that it wasn’t their job. He said those were only for the militants. Let the Israelis and the UN protect Gazans, he said in Arabic on TV. I’m sure Arabs must have cringed when they heard that piece of candor and callous disregard for 2 million civilians being used as human shields.

My daughter noticed that many of the people at the Palestinian demonstrations don’t really know what they are demonstrating for and just seem to be parroting chants. Some university professor did a study where they told the kids what was actually going on and 80% of the kids changed their mind on this issue. They didn’t know which river to which sea they were talking about and who was actually who with this whole Palestine thing.

Calling for the Israelis to stop occupying Gaza is a bit silly since the Israelis withdrew from there nearly 20 years ago and had zero interest in going back in. If Hamas wasn’t using the place as a launching pad for rockets and invading the border, the Israelis wouldn’t have a siege on their border. But the Egyptians also border them and have every bit as much of a siege on the place if not more because Hamas also wants to overthrow the Egyptian government. The Egyptians have made it clear for 50 years that they want no part of Gaza. This means that if the Israelis didn’t exist, it’s not at all clear that Gaza would be any better. Just look at Lebanon; the Israelis pulled out of there over 20 years ago and Hizbullah isn’t even pretending that it is in Lebanon to resist the Israelis; it’s there to destabilize and control Lebanon and everybody knows it, most of all the Lebanese who don’t want Hizbullah to get in a war with the Israelis and bring further ruin to Lebanon. In Gaza, Hamas threw out the Palestinian Authority about 15 years ago in less than 24 hours and threw its officials from the sides of buildings. Hardly anyone in Gaza wants them back.

If I were a Palestinian protester, instead of running around blaming Israelis for all their problems, they should be demonstrating and asking their Arab brothers to crack heads against the wall and come up with an Arab solution that will let the West Bank, Gaza and Lebanon live in some kind of decent society that is not ruled from the barrel of a gun. Israel faced this very situation 75 years ago when it had competing militias; the government used deadly force against one such militia to set the tone of the new country and it has held the peace within Israel for 75 years. The Palestinians have never seen it that way; each government tries to create several militias within a state to keep itself in power with everyone around it off balance. This model is not working well for them.

Besides, is it really best for Palestinians to want Israel to disappear? In the 20 years before Israel was established, the rate of Palestinian immigration into Palestine was significantly larger than it was into neighboring states. They were attracted to the growing agricultural and industrial economy that the Jewish settlement was creating. It’s not true that Jewish settlement during the 1930’s and 40’s drove Arabs out. It is true that in the 1948 war, about half a million Arabs either were driven out or left. Roughly the same number of Jews were also displaced from Arab countries and lost their fortunes in the process. If you really want to turn the clock back to 1948, you have to consider what it really means to do that because it cuts both ways.

Did you know that about the same number of Palestinians were expelled from Iraq and Kuwait after Iraq invaded the place about 30 years ago? This happened because the Palestinians criticized Saddam Hussein for invading Kuwait, and it turned out for a while that the Palestinians had sided with the loser (meaning Kuwait which had been invaded and lost its sovereignty). Yasser Arafat said that what Saddam Hussein did to them was worse than what Israel did. But nobody demonstrated. Arabs doing things to Arabs doesn’t make headlines.

Here’s one point that is sad to me about the whole thing: The kibbutzes on the Gaza border were among the most left-wing in Israel and were going out of their way to welcome Gazans and to work with them. Hamas knew this and targeted those kibbutzes precisely because it wanted to destroy those who were most willing to pursue peaceful relations with Gazans. They planted spies among the workers who enabled the attacks to be so pinpointed. The goal was to destroy trust and that’s why from the Israeli point of view across the board Hamas has to be taken out of power in Gaza. This is why it is going to be so hard to stomach for Israel having to include Hamas in a future government despite the fact that nobody outside of Israel has a clue how it will work without them being a part of it if left to play the part of the spoiler pissing into the tent.

I read dueling essays of Anwar Sadat and Golda Meir in Foreign Affairs in the year prior to the Yom Kippur War of 1973. It’s interesting how the region has not changed in 50 years. Those same articles could have been written today and that is very sad. She made two points in the article; one of which I mentioned above about Arab settlement of Palestine in the 20 years before 1948. The second point I didn’t know was when Israel and Egypt negotiated an end to the 1956 Sinai campaign through intermediaries, Egypt had agreed to keep its army out of Gaza. Within hours of the Israeli withdrawal, they went in anyway. Golda Meir flew to Washington to protest and met with the US Secretary of State and the UN Secretary General. The UN Sec-Gen said “Is it really worth going back to war over this?” She said that this was a lesson to Israel not to trust agreements brokered by third parties that were not kept by the principles.

This is a strange war because the US inserted itself in it on Israel’s side. On one hand, it’s a close embrace, on the other hand the US has interests that do not always coincide with Israel and the US doesn’t want to be dragged into everything that Israel decides to do. I think that Biden figured if he held Israel close, it would give him room to control what the Israelis would do. It was clear that America did not trust Netanyahu to do this with a free hand and didn’t want to write a blank check even though it appeared that it was doing so. The Arab world in the street is angry at the optics of America taking Israel’s side, but I think it is more complicated than that. We know that almost all Arab governments want Hamas destroyed but want it done somehow done through an immaculate conception. The Americans want Israel to succeed but for Netanyahu to fail. He wants the same from his end. It all makes for a lousy war-time relationship.

One thing non-Israelis are underestimating is the significance of the fact that the second wave of people who came over from Gaza were said to be civilians. These civilians were really bloodthirsty doing things that nobody even wants to read about, and they did most of the kidnapping.  It was one thing for militant soldiers to go around shooting women and children and taking hostages; Israelis are traumatized to see civilians doing it. Some of these people were employees of various kibbutzim that had tried hard to have peaceful relations with Gazans and the Gazans could have avoided attacking those places. It seems the more you wanted to pursue peace, the more they wanted to kill you, precisely because Hamas exists to prevent peace. The peace camp in Israel has a lot of egg on its face and hell hath no fury like a lover scorned. Progressive Jews abroad were shocked to find that their fellow ideologues had no sympathy for them and are wondering just who are these people they associate with. I don’t get it – every couple of years these Jews find out that their supposed allies are a bunch of anti-semites who are not the comrades they hope they are. Remember the Women’s March of about 5 years ago that all of a sudden turned into a Free Palestine thing? I think this time the hurt is so great that many interfaith and progressive causes will see less Jewish involvement and support.

For the past 2 months, I’ve been rather suspicious of what I’ve been reading in the media about this war. To give you an idea: For a few days at the beginning, attention was fixated on Israel shutting off the water to Gaza, then turning it back on in the South, where they wanted people to go after evacuating the north. Then you read Al Jazeera who says this is a total PR exercise because the water pipes there have been broken for years and there is no water anyway. Then you read an Israeli paper and it says the reason the water pipes are broken for years is that Hamas stole the pipes to turn them into pipe bombs and hasn’t cared to use any of its money to fix the water system. Then you hear screams about the lack of fuel and electricity. The Israelis claim with photos to back them up that Hamas has tons of fuel hidden below ground for its own military use and is choosing not to share it with the civilians in Gaza. What is anyone on the outside supposed to make of this?

Then for a few days people were fixated on some trucks bringing aid to Gaza. We are talking about 20 trucks. To put this in perspective, someone threw a bar mitzvah weekend party recently at my synagogue and it took about 3-4 trucks to bring food for roughly 350 people for 3 meals. This was a catered event and of course it was fancy and plentiful. But figure that one truck would bring food for 300 people so that means 20 trucks would bring one nice dinner for 6,000 people. Even 10,000 people. But that’s a drop in the bucket for a place with 2 million people.

In my last posting I put forth Plan A and Plan B for Gaza. Plan A was to reoccupy the place and try to turn it over to other Arabs. Plan B was to carve out a buffer zone if Plan A was not possible or not worth the bother.  So how feasible is Plan B? More than I surmised. Egypt created its own buffer zone by razing the town of Rafah on its border with Gaza. They literally destroyed everything there, flooded the tunnels and moved everyone out. Egypt has been generally insulated from anything going on in Gaza. I just feel that the Israelis might be best off doing the same here and not bothering to go in and try to change the place. The problem is that the buffer zone idea is panned because Gaza is a small area to begin with and the zone will be filled with militias trying to attack Israelis just like Lebanon’s buffer zone was 20 years ago until the Israelis withdrew from it. There is a misunderstanding here. My feeling is that part of the buffer zone should extend within Israeli territory. I don’t see why Israelis should be living within a few hundred yards of their international borders if they think that people will literally walk across the borders and come into their homes and shoot them. It might offend their sense of sovereignty but to me it is just plain common sense. Israelis don’t think that way though.

I had thought Israelis might learn from this ordeal that having a larger buffer zone would be a good idea. You can run from a kibbutz to Gaza in about 90 seconds and you can throw a baseball from Metulla in Israel to a Hizbullah soldier in Lebanon. To an American mind it seems logical: Safety First. But to an Israeli, the mentality is “We made a mistake. We’ll fix it so it doesn’t happen again. We will go back to the same place and resume our lives.”

Here is some important guidance: My non-Israeli sources tell me that Arab states are privately signaling at the highest levels that if the Israelis clean up Gaza, they will get their hands dirty with the reconstruction phase. They are privately signaling that they want Hamas out and they want the Israelis to get the job done as quickly as possible. As I’ve written previously, the Moslem Brotherhood (Hamas is an offshoot of it) is a direct threat to most of them. I’m told that Saudi Arabia’s MBS is the kind of guy who wants to show that when the Saudis get involved, they make the difference. And I’m being told that the Palestinians are not expected from this earthquake to develop any new leadership alternatives. However, there is a suggestion that elections could be held in Gaza about 1-2 years after a civil administration is set up there and that hopefully some Palestinians will rise to the occasion producing local leaders who win the trust of the district’s residents.

One thing to keep in mind for the next round of reconstruction: The experts are pretty unanimous that the tight lid Israel kept on Gaza didn’t work to prevent all the military capability from being built up since the last mowing of the grass. All it really accomplished was to make everyone angry at the Israelis for being seen as the oppressors of Gaza. When the Day After comes, the Israelis need to lift the quarantine around Gaza and find a better way to keep military stuff out of the district. Hamas successfully imported new kinds of armaments and kept them hidden until they decided to use them after an invasion. They also built huge tunnels you could drive trucks through that went for miles that the Israelis did not know about.

I wanted to see what happened with Elon Musk’s Star Link satellite internet service when he wanted to provide it to Gaza after Israel blacked out Gaza. If they show that they can jam or destroy it, the Russians will do the same to the Ukrainians. The Taiwanese will be very afraid. The future of warfare depends on what happens here. It seems we don’t know the answer because Musk and the Israelis came to some sort of deal on this. Later I hope to find out what it was.

As if you didn’t need anything else, how about them Houthis in Yemen? They have medium-range ballistic missiles and they can give Israel a bad time. Over time this may be worse than the Hizbullah threat from Lebanon. The Houthis have been tormenting the region for 20 years already and the Saudis and Emiratis have not been able to get them to stop having failed to beat them in a long-standing war of attrition. The Iranians are funding them and Yemen is a hard place to strike back. The Americans are hesitant to attack them and the Arab countries nearby are afraid for their own reasons of working with the Americans to deal with this. Consider that the general in charge of the naval command in that area is Saudi and he is the one directing forces to shoot down missiles heading toward Israel. It’s a problem that’s only going to get worse and it’s complicated.

Iran is at the root of this whole problem: They are the big bully directing traffic across the region, but the truth is they don’t want to get hit. Hit them and they’ll back down. But the Americans have consistently avoided going up against Iran; several Republican presidents took their bye and stayed away from the match. The Israelis can’t seem to do it themselves or the Americans hold them back. Until someone makes the Iranians pay a price for their proxies, Israel will keep living surrounded by proxies taking pot shots at it. They have said for years that it is not an existential threat; the truth is that it is an existential threat and October 7 shows that it is. It will take years to rebuild these communities, nobody wants to go back to where things were and the threats that exist have not been diminished.

Something to think about that goes beyond Israel: The Israelis made a mistake of underestimating their enemy and thinking of the “dumb” Arabs. Well, looking at the first 4 hours of the invasion, they utterly outfoxed and outclassed the Israelis. They did their homework and training, and had great intelligence. The reports of the ease of penetration and the taking out of defenses are just devastating. The US had better think about the Chinese with more respect after this episode. Just because their armies don’t have a lot of combat experience doesn’t mean they are stupid. Hamas didn’t have combat experience and they did a great job of sticking it to the Israelis.

Why couldn’t Israel be located in Latin America? Every time I go around the city, the Latinos are always happy and listening to music and dancing around. Just see how happy everyone is on the subway when the Mexican mariachi band comes aboard. Ay yay yay yay…. Israel would be so much more chill if they would be among Latinos rather than Arabs. Panama has so many kosher restaurants and is so much easier to get to – just move the Jewish State to Panama and let’s just have a big party all the time and have kosher waffles with ice cream. Let the ultra-Orthodox go to the Western Wall (they’ve taken it over anyway and shut out the other 90% of the Jews from doing anything there) and leave the rest of us alone. The rest of us can bring over some stones and build a lovely replica. They did this at a synagogue in Australia and my kids were really impressed with it. Whoever is running the place will be happy to have Jewish tourists visit holy sites; most never will and most Israelis never go to Jerusalem. Hey, think about it. Pay Panama enough to lease some territory and they’d carve out a district for us. They would figure out what the Arabs haven’t – that having a successful state on their borders would be good for them instead of trying to throw it into the sea. I know this sounds like a joke but I’m not really joking about this – there is a separate article being posted on the site that delves into this idea more seriously. I basically state that the Jewish state need not be in Israel and that it would probably be much more successful in its next 50 years if it rebooted somewhere else on the planet and tried to follow a more Singaporean model.

I’ve been living this soap opera called Israel for over 50 years and maybe we ought to sit down and think hard about all this. I keep playing all this out and I don’t see any good coming down the pike. Is this really the best we can do? This war is going to end and Israel is going to be mighty angry when they look around and see that nothing has really changed and that the Iranians are even closer to nuclear Armageddon.  Not the kind of situation that would make people see a great future. Take a read of this link to the article, and see if you think I’m onto something.

Hope you enjoy the festive season and I’ll see you in the New Year.

 

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