Nate Abroad

"To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries" -Aldous Huxley

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Tisha b'Av

Today is Tisha b'Av, the day that commemorates the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans. It is a big deal here in Jerusalem. Today I am fasting to observe the holiday, although I must admit that saving money on one of the last days of my trip is just as much of a reason for me to fast as religion. Last night, I walked around the city because everybody was out in celebration. At Safar Square, the site of city hall, there were hundreds of people with the orange flags that represent conservative politics. They have been out all week protesting because it is almost a year since the disengagement from the Gaza Strip.







I went to the Western Wall at about midnight. It was quite a site. There was a long line to get in and everyone was there. Of course because Jerusalem has the feel of a small town, I recognized some faces there.



At the wall, I noticed several people crying and pouding their fists against the wall. Although the Temple was destroyed nearly 2000 years ago, the Jewish people have a very long memory. The destruction of the temple is very much a part of the Jewish identity and it certainly plays a role in the conflict.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Building the "New Middle East"

In Israel, there is a lot of talk of a global Jihad against the west. It's easy to fall into that belief seeing terrorist attacks perpetrated or attempted by Islamic terrorist groups in Israel, the US, Canada, London, Madrid and countless other places throughout the globe. Seeing conservative Islamist governments in Iran and Saudi Arabia converting their oil into funding for Islamic terrorist groups throughout the Middle East seems to confirm this belief. Frankly, I believe the Middle East is more complicated than that. Here's an interesting graphic that was printed in the New York Times last week. Click on it for a better look.



What does all this mean? I think it's important for the dialogue about "The New Middle East" that I've been hearing lately. The term Old Middle East is often used to refer to the time when great powers projected their influence into the Middle East at will. This is represented by the fact that even the borders in the Middle East were simply drawn up on maps by countries such as Britain and France. For instance, when I visited the Lebanese border, a man living on a Kibbutz at Mitzgav Am told me a story about why the "Blue Line" is strategically favorable to the state of Israel. His explanation was that the British diplomat had poured a few too many glasses of wine for the French diplomat and was able to take advantage. I don't know if I believe it, but the truth is that these borders were drawn by the great western powers and maintained by them as well. Foreign powers used their money to prop up favorable dictators. When one got out of line, as Mohammed Mossadeq did in the 1950s, threatening to nationalize Iran's oil supply, the foreign powers simply had him removed and replaced with a more favorable figure. This practice of foreign powers buying influence in the Middle East manifested itself even more during the Cold War. Both the US and the Soviet Union poured money and weapons into the Middle East, vying for influence. In the 1950s, the Soviet Union supported Egypt and the US supported Israel. When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, the US supported the religious holy warriors who battled them. It was a political struggle for power, playing out on a regional level as Middle Eastern countries weighed their offers and at a global level as the foreign powers battled for influence.

The result was a region filled with illegitimate autocratic governments that because of oil and foreign aid had no accountability towards their people. Compounding matters was the proliferation of weapons in the region as the Middle East became one of the most militarized regions in the world. A few benefitted, while the majority lived in the despair of poverty and war. On September 11, 2001, the US learned how painful these problems in the Middle East could become for people thousands of miles away.

This talk came to a head in the aftermath of the US war in Iraq. When Bush decided to go into Iraq, he talked of removing a threat to the US and the Middle East. As the war progressed, however, the talk was about creating democracy. According to Bush and the Neoconservatives, democracy was the panacea, the way to solve the problems in the Middle East. They sought to bring about this democracy through force. Although the war and occupation has widely been deemed a failure, some thought it would be worth it to see a democratized Middle East. In the few years right after the war, the US began to see changes. Many pointed to the democratic elections in Lebanon, or the limited ones in Egypt, or in Iraq, or Afghanistan, or in the Palestinian territories. A problem arose, however. In Lebanon, Hezbollah gained political power. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood gained power. In the Palestinian territories, Hamas actually became the majority party. Hopes that these steps would lead to more moderate Islamic groups were not borne out, as Hamas and Hezbollah refused to condemn terrorism and continued attacks on Israel.

Now, there appears to be a regional war. On one side is Israel, armed with American money and on the other is Hezbollah, funded and assisted by Iran and Syria. The temptation is to label this the front of the war between Islam and the West. That ignores some details, however. First of all, governments such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan have not fallen in line against Israel. While they have condemned the bombing of civilians and called for restraint from Israel, they have maintained that Hezbollah is laregely to blame. This illustrates how countries who gain a lot from relationships with Israel and the US can put aside religion. It also illustrates a division within Islam. Although Iran and Saudi Arabia are both very conservative Islamist governments, they represent different sects of Islam. Far from being united, they are engaged in a political battle for power in the Middle East. This is shown in Lebanon, where Iran supported Hezbollah and Saudi Arabia supported the government. Already, Saudi Arabia has pledged 1.5 billion dollars to rebuild Lebanon. Thus, seeing the Sunni Saudi Arabian government using its oil money to spread conservative mosques, to support the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, to prop up Sunni insurgents in Iraq and the Shiite Iran funding Hezbollah, Shiite militants in Iraq and Hamas, it's clear that there is still a political battle for the Middle East. Instead of the US, Britain, France and the Soviet Union meddling in the affairs of the Lebanese, Palestinians and Egyptians, Iran and Saudi Arabia are filling this role. This is why the democracy cannot solve the Middle East's problems right now. These elections are not decided by the people living in the countries. They are decided by the governments in Iran and Saudi Arabia.

These problems are confounded by the US war in Iraq. Removing Saddam Hussein was great, but leaving a power vacuum tipped the balance of power in the Middle East towards Iran. Worse, with its hands shackled down in Iraq, the US is ill equipped to deal with other problems in the Middle East and the world as a whole.

I believe that the Middle East could require a Marshall Plan, similar to the one used by the US in Europe following World War II. After World War II, the US identified Europe as the most strategic region in its struggle against the Soviet Union. It funneled money into Europe, building infrastructure, so that Europe would be able to defend itself from communism. The Middle East is clearly an important strategic region to the US right now and it cannot afford to keep having to get involved in these regional wars. If the US waits back, while Saudi and Iranian money rebuild Lebanon and the rest of the Middle East, the US will find itself in many more wars in the region. The US and the west must build infrastructure to ease the poverty in the Middle East and allow for stronger democracy. There are many problems with this strategy. How can it build infrastructure and democracy without strengthening the hand of terrorist organizations? How can it avoid being perceived as once again meddling in Middle Eastern affairs?

The other thing that I think the US should do is recognize that this is a political battle and not necessarily a battle between good and evil. By using politics, the US could do things like pull Syria away from Iran, but by labeling countries such as Syria as evil and refusing to talk to them, the US pushes them into the hands of the extremists. This is the Middle East and there are no good answers, but I thought I'd share the way I see the Middle East right now as well as provide a framework for the direction in which the US should move. If you agree, disagree or have suggestions, I encourage you to weigh in.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Ismail Khaldi

I met a very interesting person last week. His name is Ismail Khaldi and his name has been in the news a little bit lately because he is in line to become a Deputy at the Israeli Consulate in San Francisco.

Khaldi is a Bedouin, born in the north of Israel, one of 11 children. He is the first Bedouin to earn a position in the foreign ministry. The Bedouins are a nomadic group of Arabs who live throughout the Middle East. There are about 115,000 in the south of Israel and 45,000 in the Galilee region.

Khaldi described his childhood to me. As a child, he would walk about 3.5 kilometers to school every day because the Bedouins did not build schools in their home community and when he would return home, he would help his family with their sheep. He grew up with no electricity.

Khaldi attended high school in Haifa and eventually attended Haifa University, becoming the first member of his family to attend college.

Khaldi spoke very good English and clutched a cellphone as he spoke. He spoke of the tension between his conservative society and living in modern Israel. "If you ask the old generation and some of the young generation if modernization means broadband internet and kids chatting and surfing the internet all night visiting porn sites, I don't want to be a part of that." Still, he recognized the opportunities presented by modern Israeli society.

Khaldi also spoke of being an Arab minority in a Jewish state. "Bedouins are never part of politics. We are nomads. Limitations never have been part of our heritage. You could be in Syria one day, then Jordan, then Israel the next."

Still, Khaldi considers himself an Israeli and an advocate of the state of Israel. "Whatever happens to Israel and it's society will happen to us because we are a part of it." Khaldi pointed out that while Bedouins are not required to serve in the IDF because they may not be able to leave their flock, many do so as volunteers.

Khaldi, like most Bedouins, grew up as a Muslim. Although he comes from a traditional society, he does not buy into the radical vision of Islam that has become a problem in some Middle Eastern societies. He pointed out how the nomadic existence did not allow Bedouins to focus on the rigid practice of religion. There were simply more important and pressing matters.

"I grew up on Islam," Khaldi said. "Islam calls for tolerance, not killing and wasting innocent lives."

He talked about Israeli society as an accepting society. "That's the state of Israel today. One culture that combines different people. It's an umbrella."

He's obviously a minority who feels very included in the Jewish state, so I asked him about those who don't. Recently, a pair of brothers, three and nine years old, in Nazareth were killed by Hezbollah rockets. Some of the town's residents blamed Israel and said that the casualties should be counted on the Lebanese side.

Khaldi explained that these feelings come from an Arab nationalism, but more from a sense of frustration. He noted that many Arabs do not have it as good in Israel as the Jews. He pointed the finger at Arab leaders, who instead of advocating their constituents to integrate into the Jewish state have advocated that they lash out against it. Still, it's important to recognize, as I learned last week from talking to an Ethiopian Jew, that minorities are still struggling in Israel and the state must do a better job to make them feel included.

As an Israeli living in the North, Khaldi talked about the situation in his hometown. "It's bad. It's bad and it's sad and it's a balaigan [my favorite Hebrew word meaning chaos or disaster]. The village is under siege. Kids can't go anywhere. It's like they're in jail. Stay there or die."

His assessment of the situation was not optimistic. "The problem is not Israel, not America, not Syria, not Jordan. Lebanon is suffering from a civil war. Even if superman comes overnight, it probably won't be solved. Lebanon needs a strong government."

Despite that dark painting of the situation, I found the meeting very uplifting to see an Israeli Arab feel like a valuable citizen of Israel.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Moshav

On Saturday night, I went to a concert at Club Syndrome, which is actually right across the street from my office on Hillel Street. I went to see a couple members of a band called Moshav, formerly the Moshav Band. They played an acoustic show. The band is from Israel, but moved to Los Angeles recently where they signed a deal with Sony. It was an interesting musical collaboration. One of the guys had a very country-esque sound, while the other had this combination of soul and Middle Eastern music. If I had to come up with a comparison, I'd probably say that they sound a little bit like Guster.

Club Syndrome was a very nice place to watch a show. It was very small and it had pictures of American musicians such as Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia and Jimi Hendrix on the walls. Behind me was a Blues Brothers poster.

As for the show, it was decent music, but kind of a bizarre show. The band talked a lot and one of the band members was a little too drunk, in my opinion. Plus, I kind of thought they took themselves too seriously, telling some people in the crowd not to talk. I had to watch what I said though because I was sitting next to the band's family. Here are some pictures from the show.









I'm going to see Ziggy Marley play in Tel Aviv on Thursday. Israel has this strange infatuation with Bob Marley, Reggae and Rastafarian culture. Bob Marley's face is all over the place. Even at the Moshav show, they played a cover of Redemption Song by Bob Marley. I'm sure I'll find more out about that infatuation this weekend.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Que Sera, Sera

I had a very interesting cab ride yesterday. I wanted a little break from the routine, so I decided to go to an American movie, Pirates of the Caribbean. As usual, the cabride was the most interesting part of the night.

The cabdriver's name was Avner. He spoke very good English and asked lots of questions about our trip. When we got to the subject of the current situation, he apologized and said that we had come at a bad time. "Every two years, every five years, we have a war," he said. Earlier in the week, I heard a slightly more conservative statement. Nachman Shai, IDF Spokesperson during the Gulf War, explained that every decade Israel has another major war. On an interesting note, an Israeli explained to me that Shai, who was the one who would come on TV and tell people to wear their gasmasks, became a bit of a folk hero in Israel. She shared stories of her and her husband watching TV in their gasmasks and laughing at how ridiculous the situation was.

Shai's statement is born out by history. In 1948, Israel had to fight for its independence. In 1956, in response to statements by Egypt that Israel should be destroyed, Israel invaded the Sinai. In 1967, Israel fought another war with Syria, Egypt and Jordan. In 1973, Israel was attacked by Egypt, Syria and other Arab states. In 1982, Israel invaded southern Lebanon to remove the PLO threat from the region. The 1990s did not feature a major war, but it did feature rampant terrorist attacks on Israel. I don't know how this war will be viewed in a few years, but many journalists here feel it is a turning point.

Life in Israel goes on, however. Israelis have unfortunately become accustomed to these situations. Last night, the movie theater was completely packed. Although some major events in have been cancelled, such as this weekend's Tel Aviv Goldstar Beer Festival, there are still people going out each night and the streets are still crowded. Up in the North, people are confined to their bomb shelters and the streets are deserted as I have heard, but many people are still going to work.

In the middle of the cab ride, the driver began singing along with the radio. "Que sera, sera...Whatever will be, will be...The future's not ours to see...Que sera, sera." By the end of the ride we were all singing along with him. Que sera?

Monday, July 17, 2006

Sderot

I'm really behind on writing on this because of the rapidly deteriorating situation here. Yesterday's missile attack (I use the word missile for a reason. The IDF believes that Hezbollah was using Iranian-made Fajr rockets) on Haifa was an escalation. There is a lot of concern here about the kinds of rockets or missiles that Hezbollah possesses. Already, they've shown much more precision and range than they did in previous Katyusha attacks on the North. So, today there was an attack on Afula. Afula is 45 kilometers from the Lebanese border, farther than any projectile attack so far. Yesterday, the entire country north of Tel Aviv was put on alert by the IDF and as the attacks steadily creep southward, I think the country is getting ever more tense. Yesterday, I talked to a guy in an elevator who told me that this was the worst its been here in the 20 years he's been here. He admitted that the Gulf War may have been slightly more intense because of the gas masks, but he said this was almost as bad.

The attack on Afula was not the only sign of escalation of the conflict today. Last night, al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade (Fatah's terrorist wing) in Nablus lobbed a bomb at a patrol of soldiers, killing one and wounding five more. St.-Sgt. Osher Damari, 20, was killed in the attack. According to the Jerusalem Post, a group of Palestinians gathered to celebrate around the soldier's body parts. This was a terrifying news story for me this morning because the IDF threatened dire retribution if it did not receive the body parts. With the situation in Gaza as well as the situation in Lebanon, the last thing the IDF needs is an operation in the West Bank. Luckily, al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade announced that it will return the body.

The other big story was the attempted suicide bombing in Jerusalem. A 25-year old Palestinian male from the West Bank was caught carrying a 5-kg bomb in a bag. He was caught by a security check on Jaffa Road, just outside of Jaffa Gate. That is at most a 10 minute walk from where I'm staying, so that story really hit home. I had just found out today that the son of one of my co-workers lost an eye in a terrorist attack. Israel's a small country and it seems like everybody's lives have been touched by terrorism in a way. Another wave of terror would be just too much to bear emotionally.

I wanted to recount my trip to the western Negev last week. First, I stopped off at Sha'ar HaNegev (Gate of the Negev) to meet with a representative from the regional council there. A regional council in Israel is like a municipality, except it serves rural areas. There I met with Eliyahu Segal, secretary for the regional council.

Although Sha'ar HaNegev has a population of 6,000, it serves an area of 50,000 people. It is sparsely populated desert land. The claim to fame for Sha'ar HaNegev until very recently was that it is the home of Sappir College and also Ariel Sharon's farm. Recently, however, the area has become more well known for the Kassam rockets that have been launched there from Gaza. More than a thousand kassams have landed there in the past three and a half years.

"I must say the truth," Segal said. "The last year, or two years, have been very hard days and nights. Every night, I get up every hour or every half hour and I hear the bombs."

Segal described how he would count the second between the launching of bombs and the time of impact in Gaza. I thought it was ironic that instead of counting sheep in bed, he counted the sounds of the blasts.

Segal told a story that took place in Sha'ar HaNegev, just three weeks before I arrived. One Saturday night, a group of parents went to the head of the regional council and argued that he should close down the schools. He originally protested because he believed that the community had to go on.

Yet, the parents insisted and he agreed. The next day, when the students were supposed to be at school, a kassam rocket landed outside of the school, sending a janitor the hospital with shrapnel wounds. One can only speculate what could have been.

"We have luck," Segal said. "Every day, we pray to have another day and another day without a problem."

One interesting aspect of the conversation was that Segal supported the disengagement. There has been a lot of protest in places like Sderot from people who feel that the kassams would not be falling if it weren't for disengagement. When the disengagement occurred, many of the uprooted families moved to Sha'ar HaNegev, where the council built housing.

It's hard to think that these people left their houses for "peace" and now they must live in fear of Kassam rockets.

Segal left me with a message of hope.

"I love this place and I'm sure we can find, I don't say peace, but quiet," he said.

Next, I traveled to Sderot. Before Kassams started hitting Ashkelon, a major city with a large population and important role in Israel's energy production, Sderot was the focus of the situation with Gaza. Sderot is a small Israeli town of 25,000 in the western Negev, less than a mile from the Gaza border.

Before the incursion of the IDF into Gaza, many of the Sderot residents were protesting the inaction of the government. Part of this is due to the right wing ideology of people who would choose to live so close to Gaza.







Yet, looking at a fairly rundown, depressing community, I realized that there was another issue at play. With it's low budget housing and depressed economy, Sderot is also home to people who live there because they cannot afford to live anywhere else.

Walking around, I noticed that there were very few signs written in English. One of the few signs read, "Do you feel safe? Can you sleep well? Do you feel protected? Well...we don't...It's time to wake up from the nightmare, say 'No' to Kassam!! Say 'yes' to life."

In Sderot, I talked to one of the few fluent English speakers Atara Orenbach, a mother of six. Orenbach is a school teacher who learned English from her parents, who immigrated from New York. Seven years ago, she decided to move from a settlement to Sderot. Moving to Sderot, she thought things would be much quieter than in the settlements.



"We decided that we should look for a place where we could do as much as possible for Israeli society," Orenbach said.

In Sderot, she took a job as a high school computer science teacher, offering children a skill to help them advance. Her husband teaches Judaic studies at the high school as well. One day, while he was teaching his students the Torah out of his classroom, a Kassam rocket went through the roof of his classroom. Just by chance, that day he had extended Torah study so the students were outside of the room at the time.

"It was just a miracle, one of the many miracles we've had in Sderot" Orenbach said.

Orenbach discussed the conversations she's had with her children about security.

"I taught them, even the three-year old, if you hear the alarm, you leave your bike and run to the house," she said. "It's very hard to get a three-year old to leave his possessions."

Still, Orenbach said with a saddened expression that all her children, even the three-year old were now experts in what to do if attacked by a missile. She described how her family no longer sleeps upstairs anymore, choosing to sleep together in the basement. When her seven-year old wants to take a shower, she refuses to do it alone, in case the alarm goes off and there's nobody to tell her.

"My children should be allowed to sleep quietly at night," she said. "My children should be allowed to go to the playground."

Driving through Sderot, I saw evidence of Kassam attacks on rooftops, streets and playgrounds. These are not precise weapons by any stretch, but they can kill and they have this community living in fear. With all the attacks in the north right now, the attacks in Sderot seem to be an afterthought, but they are still happening every day. I think the message that I took from my trip there is even if massive numbers of people aren't dying, whole communities are living in fear. Worse yet, this is a normal feeling for a generation of children.

Here's a hole in a fence caused by shrapnel from a Kassam that crashed through a roof next door.



Here's a mark in the street from a Kassam. Just up the block was a playground.



Later in the day, I went to the Gaza border, where things did not look so good. Throughout the day I could hear Israeli shells and when I arrived at the border, I saw smoke rising from Gaza City. I was told that the smoke bombs are fired before the real ones to tell civilians to leave, but I have not confirmed that. Whatever it was, it did not look pretty.

Here is smoke rising from Beit Hanun, where most of the Kassams originate.

Friday, July 14, 2006

War

On Wednesday morning I went to work and was reading the news. I had read all the news stories, mainly about Hamas and Gaza and prisoner negotiations and then at about 10 o'clock, a newsflash appeared on the Jerusalem Post website. Hezbollah was resuming Katyusha fire on the north of Israel. This was a frightening headline, but I didn't have time to explore deeper. My group was going to meet with a group of Palestinians who run a newspaper for youth to give them a non-violent outlet for expression. As I waited for the cab, I started to speculate. All these weeks, everybody had been concerned about Kassams from Gaza. Suddenly, that story began to seem irrelavent.

I got in the cab and the cabdriver was listening to the news in Hebrew. One of my Hebrew speaking friends gasped. "Hezbollah says they have two Israeli prisoners hostage," she said. I asked the cabdriver if the report was confirmed. I found out that it wasn't. I asked him if he believed them. He said he wasn't sure yet.

I got out of the cab at around 10:45 for my meeting. I sat down at the conference table. "Now, we have two fronts," one of my right-wing friends said. The next two and a half hours we talked with the Palestinian kids. It was much more uplifting than the last meeting. These were smart kids. They offered rational arguments. The main argument was about the legitimacy of Hamas. The whole time I was wondering what was going on with Lebanon.

On the cab ride back, I asked the driver about it. It was about 2:15. I asked him if he believed that Hezbollah had captured the soldiers. He said, "Of course." Its unclear whether there had been confirmation or he just believed it himself.

At work, my Israeli co-workers were very pessimistic. This can only get worse was the attitude. I took another cab at about 7:30 p.m. This cabdriver spoke about as much English as I speak Hebrew. I tried to ask him about the news. We could only agree on two words: "Not good."

After work, I walked the dogs that I'm watching this weekend and then went to dinner with one of my Israeli friends. We talked about the situation. She agreed that things would get worse, but that Israel had to respond in a way that would really hurt these guys. We talked about how depressing the day was. She talked about how depressed she was during the Intifada.

Yesterday, I read the news very carefully and thoroughly. It was bad. In the morning, I took the garbage downstairs, but the garbage can was full. So, I put my garbage bag next to the can. A few minutes later, a man came up speaking angrily in Hebrew. Apparently, they thought the garbage bag was a bomb. Things were tense.

I continued reading the news. First, I learned that Hezbollah was using rockets with a longer range than previously expected. There was speculation that if they possess Fajr-5 rockets, they could almost reach Tel Aviv, putting 30 percent of the Israeli population in rocket range. Israel was bombing targets in Lebanon. Still, the IDF was avoiding the word "war." "High volume conflict" was the term of choice. Then, Katyushas nailed Nahariya, a major city, killing a woman. I thought of my previous trip up north, where I went to a Kibbutz overlooking the Lebanese border. I remembered them talking about the days when they basically lived in bomb shelters.

Later in the day, Katyushas hit Tzfat. Tzfat was one of the first places I ever went to in Israel. It is home of the Caballa, a city with a real spiritual feeling. My Orthodox friend informed me that it is the second holiest city in Israel. I thought how the international reaction would be vastly different if somebody bombed Medina.

Later, Hezbollah threatened to hit Haifa. Haifa is one of my favorite cities in Israel. I was actually planning on going there this weekend.

Before work, I talked to my boss about security. He said that he expected more terrorist attempts, but he felt safe because of the security fence.

Finally, I left work. A friend called me and informed that Haifa had been hit. I knew that that meant this was no longer a "high volume conflict."

I think the important thing to remember when analyzing this conflict (including the Gaza conflict) is that Gaza and Lebanon are not the targets. The real problem is in Syria and Iran.

You can't analyze this story without looking at the context. Right now, Iran is being pressured by the world community to give up its nuclear program. A few weeks ago, there was an interesting news story. Syria and Iran had signed a defense agreement. Next, about 20 days ago, Hamas creates a major escalation with Israel, going into Israeli sovereign territory, killing soldiers and kidnapping another. The architect of the Hamas plan is widely believed to be Khaled Mashaal, who is harbored in Syria. It was very telling that after the kidnapping, the IAF flew planes over the house of Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president. Israel knew that the release of Gilad Shalit could not be secured in Gaza, but in Damascus.

Then, a few days ago, the attack comes from Lebanon. Not from Lebanon specifically, but from Hezbollah. To understand Hezbollah, its important to follow its funding. By all accounts, Hezbollah receives its weapons and funding from Iran. Syria is the intermediary, allowing weapons and money to flow freely into southern Lebanon in exchange for political support. It's not surprising that Hezbollah is openly pro-Syrian. It's also not surprising that after the Hezbollah attack, Olmert and the cabinet once again pointed the finger at Syria. While Olmert said that he held the Lebanese government responsible, he also said that he hoped the military operation would "echo in the right places" (read: Damascus). It's clear that Olmert understands that just as he had to do with the Hamas situation, he had to pressure Syria.

Yet, it all goes back to that defense agreement. Today, I read that Ahmadinejad threatened Israel that Iran would get involved with the war if Israel attacked Syria. Thus, unless Israel wants a war with the entire Middle East, it cannot attack the source of its security problems.

Iran and Syria wanted war in the Middle East for a few reasons. One, they are both openly anti-Israel. Two, another Middle Eastern war could take the pressure off of Iran's nuclear program, giving Iran an opportunity to balance Israeli power in the region. By funding terrorism, they have found a way to fight this war without going head-to-head with the IDF.

The picture is very bleak right now. As far as my daily life goes, though, things are relatively quiet in Jerusalem. Hopefully they stay that way.


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