Friday, October 25, 2013

Of mayors and elephants

On the day after mayoral elections at a chance meeting peace and social activists from different cities exchanged experiences.

The Tel-Avivians among us felt frustrated by the fact that Mayor Ron Chuldai was re-elected, the man who prefers prestigious towers for the rich over affordable housing for ordinary people. The social protest movement of two years ago, starting from Tel-Aviv, manifested itself mainly by complete absence from the polls (instead crowding massively at the performance of Rihanna), 

Some Jerusalemites, for their part, have cast a protest ballot paper bearing the words "Down with the Occupation!" They could not express this in any other way - with the only choice being between the incumbent  Barkat who strongly supports settler activity in East Jerusalem, and the challenger Moshe Leon, who was nominated by the notorious Lieberman, and who called for creating a national park on the eastern slope of Mount Scopus "in order to prevent Arab construction there, because Arab construction will increase crime".

In Carmiel, there was a joint Jewish-Arab list which did not succeed to get into the city council, but did manage to confront racist phenomena and make it a significant issue during the elections campaign. 

The people of Givatayim were, as a matter of fact, happy about a local overturn in their city, and the unexpected victory of an independent oppositionist over a much-disliked incumbent.

For quite a bit of time we talked about these municipal elections -  not immediately plunging in occupation matters. But in the end, the elephant in the room could no longer be ignored. On the list of  the election results appear among the cities also such places as Ariel, Ma'ale Adumim, Karney Shomron and Kiryat Arba - settlements in the depths of the West Bank, which the election law considers full-fletched Israeli cities.

In Kiryat Arba Mal'achi Levinger, son of the notorious Rabbi Levinger, won a very narrow victory over a local rival. Not that we were really interested in the titanic struggle between settler candidates. We did enter a discussion on whether the settlement have  passed the point of no-return; on how to dismantle them if at all.  

I hesitantly mentioned the negotiations and Kerry's promise that they would be finalized within nine months. "From this pregnancy there will not a baby", said a veteran activist who had been struggling for peace even before 1967. "And if there will be, we will be sorry that there had been no abortion".

During the hours that Israeli citizens were invited to the polls, a life and death struggle was going on in the fields near the village of Bil'in on the West Bank. Many hundreds of soldiers on foot and in jeeps and in helicopters hovering above took part in a hunt for a single person: a 28-year old Palestinian named Muhammad Assi. He refused to surrender, hiding in a cave and from there returning fire to the soldiers, until bulldozers were brought in, destroying the cave and enabling the soldiers to shoot on him an anti-tank missile.

According to the army communique, Muhammad Assi was an activist of the Islamic Jihad, and was one of those who planned an attack on a Tel-Aviv bus on November 21, 2012, when the Israeli Air Force was bombing the city of Gaza. It seems that since the cease-fire in Gaza, he did not try further such attacks but according to the communique "he constituted during the past months a grave threat to military forces in Judea and Samaria". In the headlines on the mass circulation Israeli papers was expressed satisfaction with the "liquidation of the dangerous terrorist" and the success of the army to settle accounts. The term "liquidation" usually refers to an operation where it was decided in advance that the hunted person will not come out alive. And indeed, when a flesh and blood person is shot with a missile designed to penetrate the steel plating of a tank the result cannot be in any doubt.

Following these events in their fields, the youths of Bil'in who are rather used to skirmishing with the army, rose up to hours of  clashes. On them, the soldiers did not shoot anti-tank missiles, only very many salvos of tear-gas and rubber-coated metal bullets which sent several TV-crews to days of hospitalization. Only towards the evening the struggle in the fields of Bil'in ended - until  next time.

Also on the same election day, there was another struggle, in other fields. A smaller event than the manhunt, just a chase after shepherds. Shepherds from the tiny village of Ein el-Hilweh, which does not appear on any map,came close with their herds to the fences of the Maskiot settlement. Settler security officers arrived and started a chase, and alerted military forces to join them. The soldiers who soon arrived arrested two young shepherds, named Yasir Qadri and Jilal Adel. The other shepherds were warned by the soldiers never again to come near the settler fences. If it happens again, the army would not only arrest shepherds but also open fire on their sheep.

That godforsaken hamlet Ein el-Hilweh, not appearing on map - I was there bit more than a year ago, in July 2012, and here is what I then wrote:  

When the people of Ein al-Hilweh put their ears to the ground, they faintly hear the gurgling of water going through pipes underneath – pipes to which they have no access.  The water comes from a spring nearby, a spring which had sustained the life of this community for generations and indeed gave it its name - "Ein al-Hilweh" means  "The Sweet Spring" in Arabic.

The name still remains – but the spring itself, like almost all water sources in the Jordan Valley, has been taken over by "Mekorot", 
the Israeli governmental water company. The sweet spring has been enclosed and surrounded by fences, and industrious pumps installed to channel every single drop into the system of pipes.

Since these words were written nothing changed, except for a great increase of the army's pressure on isolated Palestinian villages in the Jordan Valley - ever since the Jordan Valley became a top issue in the "peace talks." As it happens, exactly now these negotiations centre on the water issue. Dr. Saeb Erekat, the veteran Palestinian negotiator, raised (and not for the first time) the unfairness of the division of water in the West Bank, asserting that Israel is taking for itself most of the water available. It was not published what was the reaction of Justice Minister Livni on behalf of Prime Minister Netanyahu.

One day later, Secretary of State Kerry invited Netanyahu to meet him in Rome, and asked him for his concept of the future borders and  what he suggests to overcome the deadlock in the talks. Seven hours the discussion lasted in which also participated the senior aids of both, and also the US ambassador to Israel and the Israeli ambassador to the US. But a lot of results there were not, at least to conclude from the prime minister's words at the concluding press conference. Like on many previous occasions, Netanyahu re-iterated his strong wish and desire for peace, at the same declaring that under no circumstances would he give up "territories vital for the security of Israel" (i.e. the Jordan Valley).

So, what is going to be the next step of Secretary of State Kerry, and how does he intend to reach an agreement within the stipulated 9 months? It seems that nobody asked that  question in the Rome press conference.

Friday, October 18, 2013

A state within a locked cage? No, thank you.

Until last week Lieutenant General Benny Gantz was not especially known as a demagogue. A professional military officer who had been steadily promoted until reaching the head of the pyramid, and his public appearances were rather dry and matter-of-fact. But at Bar Ilan University he entered with considerable skill into the sphere of horror propaganda, setting out a long list of nightmare scenarios: cybernetic damage to vital services, disrupting daily life in Israel; blood and fire on the Golan Heights;
salvo's of precise and destructive missiles all over the country; and ever more troubles which are about to come down on our heads - unless the government ministers come to their senses and immediately cancel the cuts in the Defence Budget.

Among  his gruesome speculations the Chief of Staff included  "the blowing up of an explosive tunnel, directly under a Kindergarten in a community near the Gaza Strip border." When he delivered his speech, the Chief of Staff already knew that a unit of the army under his command  uncovered a long and well-built tunnel beginning in the Gaza Strip and penetrating several hundred metres into Israeli territory. He knew well that the tunnel ended under ploughed fields, and not near to any Kindergarten whatsoever, and that there was no indication that those who dug the tunnel intended to harm a Kindergarten. The last time when such tunnel was dug from the Gaza Strip, he diggers used it to attack a military camp and capture an Israeli soldier in order to exchange him for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. But "the blowing up of a Kindergarten through a tunnel from Gaza" sounds much more dramatic and frightening.

As public opinion polls have shown over the years and also recently, the citizens of Israel have confidence in the IDF and its commanders. Much more confidence than they have in civilian politicians, communications media, courts of law or any other civilian institute. The Chief of Staff said something? Then, certainly, he knows what he is talking about. Some of the right-wingers with whom I correspond regularly, wrote this week: "Did you hear what your Palestinian friends intended to do? To blow up a Kindergarten! Are these the people with whom you want to make peace?"

Exactly this week, right-wing Knesset Members launched a big offensive against "the incitement by heads of the Palestinian Authority"...

Meanwhile, what is going on in the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks?
So far, it seems nothing much. Veteran journalist Shalom Yerushalmi penetrated this week much of the black-out over the talks in two extensive articles, which were published front page by Maariv:

"Negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians are on the verge of of collapse over the issue of the borders. Israel demands that the IDF be permanently stationed on the border with Jordan, is not willing to consider any alternative, and is also opposed to placing international forces in that area instead. One of the `creative proposals` brought by the Israeli negotiators was that the Palestinians will let the Jordan Valley to Israel under a long-term lease. The Palestinians rejected it out of hand and demanded that it would be their own forces and only them which will be placed in the Valley on the border line, as any other state guards its sovereign borders. The Israeli firmly refused.

"`We are willing to give you a demilitarized state' said the Israelis in the latest round. `What is a demilitarized state?' asked the Palestinians. `A demilitarized state is a state where we control the air space, the sea traffic and the border crossings', answered the Israelis. `A state with such limitations is not a state. It is not even an Autonomy' answered the Palestinians and threatened to break up  the talks. `We demand to have control of our borders, our own international airport, and are own deep water sea port, without any control by you.' We prefer the present situation over getting a demilitarized state within a locked cage.' "

Last Saturday night some 35000 people gathered at the Rabin Square in Tel-Aviv, to mark the 18th anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin. Most of them were young, including many who were not yet born 18 years ago. The keynote speech was delivered by Rabin's grandson, Yonathan Ben-Artzi:

"Mister Prime Minister! My grandfather was murdered for the sake of peace, and you owe us, all of us, to achieve the peace. Sir, you have a unique opportunity to bring us peace. For the first time in years there i9s a special global and regional situation to achieve peace, to resolve simultaneously the Iranian issue as well as the Palestinian one, within a single framework and with the support and encouragement of the entire world. It will not be easy, and certainly will not always be popular, but that is how history shows that leaders are tested. It seems to me, this is your time. From here I call upon you to make use of this opportunity, and bring us peace."

"The word `peace` aroused the youngsters on the square to very prolonged applause", reported Eyal Levy in the NRG news website. The same was observed by Gush Shalom activists who were in the crowd distributing stickers with the two flags side by side; the flag of Israel and the flag of Palestine.

A few days later there was in Jerusalem the State Memorial. There, Rabin's children Daliya and Yuval said similar things in the presence of Netanyahu. So did President Shimon Peres, who had been Rabin's rival and partner. After a bit of lip-service to Rabin the person and general condemnation of assassinations, the prime minister answered all of them bluntly: "Peace you make with enemies, but peace you make with enemies who want peace. We will not let enemies have a foothold in territories which are vital for the state of Israel." In other words: the Palestinians remain our enemies, we don't believe they mean peace, and we are not going to give them the Jordan Valley.

So, what is going to happen? According to several well-informed commentators, some time in the beginning of next year the Americans will come up with their own bridging proposals. And if even so the negotiations will end in failure, the question is who will be saddled with the blame. "We might get into a very difficult situation" says Amnon Lord, the commentator who is very close to Netanyahu. "The Palestinians might bring us back to the harsh diplomatic battlefield in the United Nations, and this time without the American protecting umbrella,

All this will happen some time next year. Meanwhile yesterday morning a Palestinian riding a tractor tried to break into an Israeli military camp in the West Bank area north of Jerusalem, and was shot to death by the soldiers. The latest incident in a lengthening chain of Palestinians who are not members of any organization, who have no contact with each other - all of them fed up with life under occupation and having no expectations of these talks. The writing is on the wall.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

A little girl and a little boy and 120 years of history

Psagot is an Israeli settlement created in 1981 at the top of a mountain overlooking the twin Palestinian cities Ramallah and Al-Bireh. The settlers came and made an accomplished fact placing mobile homes at the mountain. The Palestinian landowners turned to the Supreme Court in Jerusalem but their appeal was rejected. Since then, the settlement has developed and grown and nowadays some 300 families live there. All of them are national-religious families who believe that the whole of Eretz Yisrael was promised to the Jewish people and that it is the right and he duty of Jews to settle in any place of it.

Many times the settlement of Psagot was the focus of violent confrontations, during the first Intifada and the second one, and also in between, continuing after the Oslo Agreement and the creation of the Palestinian Authority. The inhabitants of Ramallah, the PA capital, can see from far Psagot on the mountain top, surrounded by high fences and guarded by soldiers.

Last weekend, a hooded Palestinian cut the fence and entered into Psagot. He encountered a 9-year old girl, named Noam Glick, who was playing in the backyard, and wounded her. The girl cried out and the Palestinian escaped. The girl's father, Israel Glick, who is among the founders of the settlement, told the media representatives who had immediately arrived: "My daughter is a heroine! She saved all of us." The girl was taken to hospital and her wound fortunately turned out to be light.

This case is known to everybody in Israel, even to those who give the news only a brief glance. It was the banner headline in all the papers. In Yediot Aharonot, the whole of the three first pages were devoted exclusively to the heroic child-victim Noam Glick and the anger of her parents and the other Psagot settlers, and the settlers in general, and the right-wing politicians who immediately demanded far-reaching measures against the Palestinians, and Prime Minister Netanyahu.  Also the international media, especially the American, took up this news item.

On exactly the same weekend there was another event, also centered on a child - at the entrance to the el-Fawwar Refugee Camp south of Hebron.

The  el-Fawwar camp was created in 1949 to shelter  Palestinian refugees from Bait Jibrin and Beersheba. Now about seven thousand people live there in crowded circumstances - the original refugees and their descendants. Like other Refugee Camps, el-Fawwar had always been a focus of agitation and militant Palestinian nationalism. Often, the camp youth confront Israeli soldiers who pass at the main highway near the camp, or penetrating into it. So also in recent months. There is certainly felt there the general warming up of the situation in the occupied territories. The same escalation about which Israeli experts again and again make statements such as: "It is not (yet) a third intifada."

Also on this weekend a confrontation developed between soldiers and stone-throwing youths at the gate of el-Fawwar.  The soldiers blocked the gate and started shooting tear gas as well as what is called "rubber bullets". In fact these bullets are of metal, covered with a layer of rubber and - when used   at short range - could be lethal.

On this occasion the range was not that close. Some 40 meters separated the soldiers from the Sarahneh family who were returning home to el-Fawwar after visiting relatives. The 6-year Musab Srahneh was holding his mother's hand when the rubber bullet hit him directly in the eye. He was immediately taken to hospital, but the eye could not be saved. "I still can't believe it. I went out of the home with a child, whole and healthy, and I come back with my little son having to live with only one eye until his last day," said the father to the Palestinian Ma'an press agency. The Palestinian media was the only press reporting on this case.

Two days after the weekend that the Israeli girl and the Palestinian boy were wounded, the prime minister of Israel, Binyamin Netanyahu, delivered a speech at Bar Ilan University. He had once before spoken at this same location - four and half years ago. The 2009 Bar Ilan speech was the occasion where Netanyahu uttered for the first time the words "a Palestinian state", without specifying where it would be and what would be its borders. Also in the 2nd Bar Ilan speech, of this week, Netanyahu did not disperse the fog. He did present a long and substantive list of pre-conditions which Palestinians must meet before the possibility of creating their independent state comes on the agenda. They must give up the Right of Return, and agree that Israel has wide and deep security arrangements within the territory of their state, and of course "recognize Israel as a Jewish state".

Netanyahu drew his arguments from how he sees the history. "The conflict started in 1921 when Arab Palestinians attacked the Immigrants House. That was not because of occupation or territories but because they opposed the immigration of Jews into the country."

The above, at least, is how these lines were translated into English. But it is an inexact translation, since the Hebrew which Netanyahu used included terms whose connotations cannot really be conveyed in any other language. It was not "the immigrants house" but "the house of the Olim", not "immigration of Jews into the country" but "Aliya to the historic Homeland". The term "Aliya" means that a Jew who moves to this country from any other place has ascended upwards, performed a virtuous deed deserving  praise. This good deed can only be performed by a Jew. For example, Jews who came here from Egypt are "Olim" (i.e.: they came back from exile to the land of their ancestors). On the other hand, Muslims or Christians who did the same track from Egypt to here are not considered such. By this ideology, they are considered as "invaders, and unwanted guests in the Jewish ancestral land."

The concepts "Aliya" and "Olim" and the ideology behind them, the Palestinians refused and refuse to accept - in 1921 and nowadays. Also in the year 2013 the Palestinians will not declare the Zionist project to have been justified all the way, and proclaim that it was by right that the Jews have come to inherit the lands where their biblical ancestors lived - even if the Palestinians do accept the accomplished fact, called "the State of Israel" and are willing to make peace with it in the borders which it had until June 1967.

The right-wingers, who had been a bit apprehensive, sighed in relief after hearing Netanyahu - quickly congratulating the PM for "good, strong, Zionist words." Only Yossi Beilin, of Oslo agreement fame, spoiled the party, delving deeper into the depths of Zionist history. In 1891, precisely 30 years before the attack on the House of Immigrants, there arrived in this country Asher Ginsburg, better known as "Achad Ha'am", who was among the founders and important thinkers of the Zionist movement. He visited the first Zionist colonies and was quite disturbed by what he saw. After going back to Russia, he wrote an article which was called "Truth from Eretz Yisrael." This article is usually not included in the curriculum of Israeli schools, which gives precedence to his less controversial ones. But Yossi Beilin took care to publish significant quotations this week:

"Abroad, we are used to believe that the Arabs are all desert savages, who don't see and don't understand what is going on around them. But this is a big mistake. The Arab, like all Semites, has a sharp mind and is full of cunning. The Arabs, and especially the city dwellers, see and understand what we are doing and what we are trying to achieve in the country. However, they keep silent and pretend not to understand, because at the moment they don't regard our acts as a danger to their future. But if the moment will come when the life of our people in Eretz Yisrael will develop to the point that we will displace, to a lesser or greater extent, the people of the land, these people will not easily make place. (...)

"This certainly we could have learned from our past and present, that we must be careful not to arouse the anger of the people of the land by despicable acts. We must be very careful in our behavior towards the strangers among whom we come back to live, behaving to them with honor and respect, and needless to say: with justice. And what do our brethren in Eretz Yisrael do? Precisely the opposite! Slaves they have been in the land of their exile. And suddenly they find themselves in boundless liberty, wild liberty as can only be found in such a country as Turkey. This sudden change has aroused in their hearts a tendency towards despotism, as always happens when 'the slave becomes a king.' They are behaving to the Arabs with hostility and cruelty, unjustly trespass on their land; beating them shamefully without any sufficient reason, and even boast of all these deeds. There is nobody to stand in the bridge and stop this despicable and dangerous tendency. Indeed our brethren are right when they say that the Arab respects only who shows him strength and courage. However, this is only when he feels that his opponent is right. It is not like that when he has good reason to consider what his opponent does as outright injustice and robbery. In that case, though the Arab may keep silent and restrain himself for some time, he will keep the grudge in his heart and there is nobody like him to take revenge."

Hundred twenty two years after Achad Ha'am wrote these lines, Lior Dayan went to Ramallah. Lior Dayan, an Israeli writer and journalist, grandson of the general and politician Moshe Dayan, and son of the actor and film director Assi Dayan, has prepared an extensive TV reportage of what he has seen among the Palestinians in a city which is half an hour drive of the center of Jerusalem and which most Israelis never visited.

In addition to what was broadcast on TV, Lior Dayan expressed his impressions also verbally: In Ramallah I felt anger in the streets. Everywhere you get the feeling that you are on the threshold of a flare-up. My feeling, when I was there, that it is just a matter of time until the next Intifada breaks out. On the day when I came back from Ramallah, there already started stormy demonstrations following the hunger strike of the Palestinian detainees in Ofer Prison. Therefore there is in my eyes supreme importance to seeking an agreement with the Palestinians and moving to a two-state solution. That's what I understood in Ramallah: we live on boroughed time, we are two minutes before the next explosion. I saw it in the looks of the people, in the graffiti on the unpainted walls, in the eyes of Arafat and Abu Mazen which looked to me from framed photos everywhere where I entered; from the despair of the taxi driver who told me that his two sons can't find a job.

It is important to admit that this fury has good reason. To go through the Qalandiya checkpoint is as enjoyable as going through a meat grinder. From day to day there are more settlement buildings on the Ramallah horizon, and on the way to Ramallah you pass Refugee Camps which provide the human eye with unendurable sights."

The similarity to the warning of Achad Ha'am, not heeded by his generation, may not be accidental.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

About ambiguity and hypocrisy

In the midst of the intensive debate about the Iranian nuclear program (the uranium enriching centrifuges “turning round and round in underground installations protected with thick layers of concrete”) suddenly, there came nuclear news from Israel’s own past. Simultaneously in the United States and in Israel was published the recorded testimony of the late Arnan Azaryahu  - a former senior ministerial adviser who had been party to many secrets. He told of what occurred on the 7th of October 1973 , the second day of the Yom Kippur War - when the admired Defense Minister Moshe Dayan was badly rattled by the initial successes of the Egyptian and Syrian armies. He therefore asked Prime Minister Golda Meir to authorize a "demonstrative use" of Israel's nuclear arsenal , and brought with him to the Inner Cabinet meeting the Head of Israel’s Atomic Energy Commission, so that  preparations for this nuclear demonstration could begin immediately.

What would have happened, had Dayan got the authorization to demonstratively set off a nuclear warhead - probably in the air over an uninhabited area in Egypt or Syria or both? The Soviets had already placed in Egypt (still their ally at the time) nuclear armed missiles of their own. The United States declared at that time a high alert - higher than then  at any other time except for the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Moshe Dayan was definitely playing with fire . Fortunately Prime Minister Golda Meir and her close adviser, Minister without Portfolio Israel Galili , along with Dayan’s great rival Yigal Allon, immediately removed the matches from Dayan’s hands. Which is quite a positive moment in the career of people otherwise remembered mainly for having conducted a policy of nationalist arrogance in the years after 1967 and having laid the foundations for the settlement enterprise in the Occupied Territories.

Ultimately, Israel successfully conducted the war by conventional means and it ended without an unequivocal victory to either side - and such wars are often the ones most likely to end with peace. But Israel's nuclear arsenal remains in place, like a sword hanging over the Middle East , though not pulled out of its sheath.

This is far from the first revelation regarding the history of Israel's nuclear program, what Prof. Avner Cohen called "Israel’s worst-kept secret”. Quite a lot has already come out, in one way or another. It is known that as part of the military alliance which Israel forged with France and Britain in order to launch the attack on Egypt in 1956, then Deputy Defense Minister Shimon Peres gained French assistance in establishing the nuclear reactor in Dimona. It is known that Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion became entangled in a prolonged conflict  with U.S. President John F. Kennedy, who insisted on monitoring what was going on in what Israel  the officially termed "The textile factory in Dimona”. It is known that sophisticated means of deception were used, including the erection of an entire fake floor in the Dimona Pile, so that it could be presented to  the American inspectors who were eventually allowed to get there. (The similarity to the means of deception used forty years later by the Iranians to hide their own nuclear program might not be entirely coincidental.) . And despite all the sophisticated deceptions, it is known that President Kennedy remained suspicious of the Israeli reactor at Dimona right up to the moment when the assassin’s bullet ended his life at Dallas.

In the end, a mutually-satisfying solution was found. Prime Minister Levi Eshkol who replaced Ben Gurion reached an agreement with President Lyndon Johnson who replaced Kennedy, an agreement establishing the  "nuclear ambiguity " which persists to this day. The State of Israel has never officially declared its possession of nuclear weapons nor did it hold any test of such a weapon. ( At least, not a test whose origin can be clearly attributed - the question of who it was who once detonated a nuclear device over the Indian Ocean, thousands of miles from the coasts of Israel, remains unanswered).

So long as the State of Israel does not announce its possession of nuclear weapons , there is no reason to invoke against Israel the clause of U.S. law which mandates the cessation of all aid to a country which developed nuclear weapons. That is, apparently, why the government  of Israel continues to prevent the "Nuclear Whistleblower " Mordechai Vanunu from leaving Israel's territory , even many years after his having served the eighteen- year prison term imposed on him. Were Vanunu to show up on Capitol Hill and hand to Senators and Representatives signed affidavits, testifying to his having witnessed the manufacture of nuclear arms in Dimona , would it cause a stop of all U.S. aid to Israel? That is not very likely. It would, however, cause a headache to American and Israeli policymakers, who would need to find a creative face-saving formula , such as the one found to explain that the seizure of power by the Egyptian Army is not really a military coup . Rather than having to go through that, it is far more simple  and easy to have the Minister of the Interior  extend each April by one more year the administrative decree which prohibits Mordechai Vanunu from leaving Israel's borders and even approaching  the gates of a foreign embassy.

Professor Avner Cohen , an Israeli who dwells in the United States and from there researches the Israeli nuclear program , is a nuclear whistleblower of a completely different type than Vanunu . Not for him Vanunu’s way of entering into an all-out confrontation with the entire military and political hierarchy, disclosing all that he knew and paying  the full heavy price . Avner Cohen is collecting written documents and interviewing people who had been present at crucial decisions and who in their old age agreed to disclose some of what they had heard and seen. Over many years he is writing articles and books and playing cat and mouse games with the state authorities and the military censorship . No one would seriously consider sending Mossad agents to kidnap this  Research Fellow from the Woodrow Wilson Institute in Washington D.C. and haling him to an espionage trial in Israel. He and his associate, journalist Ronen Bergman in Yediot Aharonot , have steadily nibbled at the Israeli Nuclear Ambiguity. So did quite a few other. By now, there is not a lot left to reveal.

On the pages of  "Makor Rishon", the right-wing columnist Amnon Lord this week pointed out what seems to him a grave new threat : "The outlines of the sophisticated new Iranian strategy can already be discerned. It is a strategy similar for that used by the Palestinians. As the Palestinians suceeded in internationally de-legitimizing Israel through the so-called "occupation", so might Iran do in the nuclear sphere . ( ... ) There is reason to think that the Iranians might begin calling upon the International Community to strip Israel of its nuclear option . They might take this as their task for the coming decade”.

 For the time being , this is no more than a small cloud on the horizon . For the time being, the United States is formally committed to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons , by diplomatic means if possible , while at the same time being careful not to look what lies behind Israel’s Nuclear Ambiguity. For the time being, the State of Israel can stridently demand a further exacerbation of the economic sanctions which already brought Iran’s economy to the brink of collapse, and the very same time  strongly demand of the Dutch government to avoid such a minimal step as marking settlement products , a move that could lead consumers in Amsterdam to take their own decision on whether or not to purchase them. It is still possible to demand that the Iranians freeze the enrichment  of uranium while negotiations continue on the fate of their nuclear program - and at the same time firmly reject the demand that Israel freeze settlement construction while it is negotiating the fate of the territory where the settlements are being established.

Still, ultimately, the main argument for the State of Israel to demand a preferential treatment and the exclusive right to hold nuclear weapons in the Middle East is based on its being "The Only Democracy in the Region",  a supposedly respectable and responsible member of the family of Western democracies . With every year that the Israeli occupation of millions of Palestinians continues to deepen, this argument sounds ever more hollow.