Sunday, 29 November 2020

Getting Iran out of Iraq

Admit it or not, US President Donald Trump knows he is in the final phase of his period in office and, like most departing presidents, is working hard on his legacy.  His final weeks are likely to be marked by a fair number of newsworthy announcements.  An early example is his decision to bring home some of the American troops serving overseas.  On November 17, acting US Secretary of Defense Christoph Miller announced that the US troop presence in Afghanistan and Iraq would be reduced to 2,500 each by January 15, 2021, that is just a few days before Trump leaves the White House. 

Mustafa al-Kadhimi, Iraq’s prime minister, who took office only in May, must have received the news with some disquiet, but not with much surprise.  When he met with the US president on August 19, Trump had warned him that he planned to withdraw all American troops within three years, though later he rowed back from that specific timetable.  In Iraq the US military presence has long been a vital bulwark against the efforts of Iran to gain complete control of the nation’s affairs.

Kadhimi inherited a country far too subjugated to Iran, whose power over many aspects of Iraq’s governance is exercised through a clutch of militias, such as Kataib Hezbollah (KH) and Badr, which had virtually taken over the country’s police and paramilitary forces.  Within weeks of taking office Kadhimi began the process of wresting control of the nation from the grip of Iran.  His arm was undoubtedly strengthened by the presence of US armed forces. The thought of a complete American withdrawal had long worried anti-Iranian politicians, many feeling it would foster not only Iran’s influence, but also a resurgence of the Islamist armed groups, both Shia and Sunni, that roamed the country inflicting misery on the population.

Trump’s proposed troop withdrawal was immediately subject to political and media criticism.  To put it in perspective, the current US troop strength in Iraq is around 3000, already down from around 5000 at the start of the year.  Trump proposes to pull back another 500 men, leaving 2,500. Is that sufficient to maintain his “maximum pressure campaign” against Iran? Has he achieved a political plus by bringing American boys back, a move bound to be popular at home, or has he merely given Iran a free boost in its efforts to control Iraq? 

Kadhimi came into office utterly determined to exert his authority over the self-regulating Iran-backed militia groups.  Just about a month after he became prime minister, fourteen members of KH were engaged in setting up rocket attacks on the US embassy and Baghdad airport when, much to their astonishment, troops from the US-trained Iraqi Counter Terrorism Force (ICTS) arrested them.  The security forces then proceeded to raid KH headquarters, seize rockets and detain three leaders of the group.

            KH, a law unto itself for years, tried to assert itself. Its operational commander, Abu Fadak, pulled together a force of around 150 fighters in nearly thirty armored pickup trucks, drove to the prime minister’s residence and demanded the suspects be released to his custody.  Kadhimi declined to do so.  However he placed them under the custody of the PMF (the Popular Mobilization Forces). 

At first glance this might have appeared a somewhat equivocal move, since that body was led by a KH commander, Abu Zainab al-Lami.  But Kadhimi had already taken steps to ensure a new level of control over the PMF, and he retained the whip hand. On June 3 the had instructed the head of the PMF, Faleh al-Fayadh, to announce that all Iraqi paramilitary groups were to be merged into the main organization, which would be subject to new directives as to its future role and function. Kadhimi’s coup was described as “the strongest state action against Iran-backed paramilitaries in years.” 

Kadhimi, who will be facing parliamentary elections in June 2021, plans to continue  weakening the grip of Iran-allied paramilitaries over Iraqi security forces.  He also seeks to reduce the influence of Iran-supporting political groups over the parliamentary process.  

His attempt to gain the upper hand has been a struggle.  Using economic pressures, he has been pushing out members and supporters of the paramilitaries from state institutions. He has targeted corruption and smuggling at border crossings ‒ a major source of income for paramilitaries ‒ by strengthening government control.  Recently he ordered forces to take over the two border crossings at Diyala into Iran, and shortly afterwards to control fourteen overland and sea port border crossings.  In August he set up a committee to investigate corruption at the unofficial border crossings set up to dodge government oversight.

Yet, wedged up hard against his Iranian neighbor geographically, Kadhimi has a tightrope to walk.  Despite his clear intention to take back control of his country, he needs to maintain, and even strengthen, Iraq’s economic ties with Tehran because of the dependence of Iraqi markets on Iranian non-oil exports. During a visit by the Iranian Energy Minister in June, Iraq released $400 million to Iran ‒ half of the electricity debt accumulated under US sanctions ‒ and whereas electricity export contracts between Iran and Iraq are usually renewed annually, this time they were renewed for two years. Reports also circulated about a possible rail connection between Iraq and Iran through Shalamcheh, to improve trade and mobility. Kadhimi hopes that Tehran regards with favor these efforts to build stronger economic ties, even in spite of his efforts at home to regain political, economic and military control of his country.

Iran has been intent for years on exerting a stranglehold over Iraq, as it has nearly succeeded in doing in Lebanon through its puppet Hezbollah organization.  Iraq is a key component of its so-called “Shia crescent”, the string of Shi’ite states it sees as the foundation of its religious and political objective to dominate the Middle East.  In prime minister Kadhimi it has met with a determined patriot. Strongly opposed to the regime of Saddam Hussein, he left his native country back in the 1980s, and spend many years working in the West. 

 If any Iraqi leader is capable of extracting his country from Iran’s suffocating embrace, Kadhimi is surely that man.  


Published in the Jerusalem Post, 25 November 2020:
https://www.jpost.com/opinion/who-can-get-iran-out-of-iraq-opinion-650264

Published in the Eurasia Review, 28 November 2020:
https://www.eurasiareview.com/28112020-getting-iran-out-of-iraq-oped/

Tuesday, 24 November 2020

A Salute to Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks - a light unto his nation

 This article of mine appears in the new edition of the Jerusalem Report, issue dated 7 December 2020


A remarkable man, a truly outstanding figure of our times, has left us.  The death of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks ‒ Anglo-Jewry’s Emeritus Chief Rabbi ‒ at what is today considered the early age of 72, came as a great and totally unexpected shock to Jewry across the world, but especially to the Anglo-Jewish community in the UK.  Chief Rabbi for 22 years between 1991 and 2013, in the past seven his already prodigious reputation has been even further enhanced.  Not only a towering presence within the Jewish community, he became a well-known and greatly respected personality in Britain generally through his radio and television appearances.  He passed away in the early hours of Saturday, November 7, 2020.

Jonathan Sacks was possessed of a combination of qualities not often found together in one individual ‒ a towering intellect allied to deep human compassion and understanding.  He bent his abilities to the service of faith in general and Judaism in particular.  Widely perceived as the public face of Judaism in modern society, he was also highly respected in interfaith circles.  In 2004 his book The Dignity of Difference ‒ a book he agreed to amend for its second edition to avoid offending ultra-orthodox opinion ‒ won the Grawemeyer Prize for Religion for its success in defining a framework for interfaith dialogue between people of all faiths and of none.  When he was knighted in 2005, the citation read: "for services to the community and to inter-faith relations".

Although widely regarded as the leader of Britain’s Jewish community, as Chief Rabbi his writ ran only in the UK’s United Synagogue organization, established by Act of Parliament in 1870. He was not recognized as the religious authority in other Anglo-Jewish movements such as the Haredi (strictly Orthodox), Reform, Liberal, Masorti or Sephardi.  Nevertheless, with only one or two bumps along the way, he established and maintained excellent relations with all, as he did with the leaders of other faith groups in the UK.

It was this broad and enlightened attitude to religion that gained him the respect of many establishment figures in the UK, including members of the royal family.  It was at a royal tribute dinner to mark his stepping down from the Chief Rabbinate in 2013 that Prince Charles described him as “a steadfast friend", "a valued adviser", and “a light unto this nation.”

Born in London in 1948, Sacks was educated at Christ’s College, Finchley ‒ his local grammar school ‒ and Cambridge university, where he read Philosophy.  It was while studying at Cambridge that he travelled to New York to meet the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, who advised him to seek rabbinic ordination ‒ advice he followed.  He gained a double semicha in 1976. one from Yeshivat Etz Chayim, and the other from Jews’ College, London, the seminary which prepares Britain’s rabbis for their ministry.

Sacks's first rabbinic appointment in 1978 was as Rabbi for the Golders Green synagogue in north-west London. In 1983 he moved on to become Rabbi of the prestigious Western Marble Arch Synagogue in London’s West End, a position he held until 1990. Between 1984 and 1990, Sacks also served as Principal of Jews’ College.  He became Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth on September 1, 1991, and in 2009 entered the House of Lords with the title "Baron Sacks, of Aldgate in the City of London.”

Asked once whether his chief rabbinate had been too engaged with the outside world, given his frequent media appearances and his interfaith activities, his response was that extra-communal affairs had taken up about 2 percent of his time.  Up to 98 percent had been spent working within the Jewish community.  In support of this contention, he pointed to the vast bulk of his writing.  One great innovation as Chief Rabbi was his “Covenant and Conversation” website ‒ a concept that would not have been possible for his pre-internet predecessors in office.  Through his website he both published and recorded as videos every week what amounted to a sermon, a perceptive piece of work eagerly awaited and absorbed by thousands in the Anglo-Jewish community. He later gathered these weekly pieces together and published them in several volumes.

Perhaps his greatest and most long-lasting achievement for the community was his work in revising Anglo-Jewry’s old-established and long-revered Authorised Daily Prayer Book.  Known affectionately as Singer’s after the original English translator (described on the title page in characteristically Anglo-Jewish terms as “the Rev. S. Singer”), it was first published in 1890.  It was subsequently reprinted, expanded or re-translated more than 30 times until its final edition appeared in 1992 under the editorship of Chief Rabbi Sacks.

What followed in 2006 was a totally reconceived and much enlarged Authorised Daily Prayer Book, incorporating a new translation by Sacks, together with commentary and notes written by him.  Preceding the prayers in this new edition is his highly insightful article “Understanding Jewish Prayer”, running to no less than 23 pages. 

Anglo-Jewry’s allegiance to the familiar Singer's was hard to break but eventually, often by way of sets of the new siddurim donated by members of the congregation, UK orthodox synagogues switched over to the new, expanded and more useful Sacks version, which is now standard and likely to remain so into the indefinite future.

Something similar is happening with regard to the Machzorim  (the order of prayers for festivals) for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.  Israel-based publishers, Koren, have brought out totally new editions, translated by Sacks, in a revolutionary format – namely with the Hebrew on the left-hand page and the English on the right.  Koren publish two versions of both Machzorim, one for the large US market and the other following “Minhag Anglia” (English custom).  The volumes are worth purchasing for Sacks’s introductory essays alone, to say nothing of his acute commentaries, some quite lengthy, which adorn each volume.  His preliminary article in the Yom Kippur Machzor runs to 63 pages.

As Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks never baulked at ruffling feathers.  Well before the spat with the Haredi over the first edition of Sacks’s prize-winning book The Dignity of Difference, ultra-Orthodox leaders were incensed in 1996 when he attended a memorial service in honour of the popular Rabbi Hugo Gryn, a Holocaust survivor and Reform rabbi. When his placatory letter to the Haredi leaders, intended as a private communication, was leaked, a storm burst around Sacks’s head.

Another brush with his community occurred two years later, when Sacks agreed to attend a reception to mark the 50th birthday of the Prince of Wales on a Friday evening.  Because it was the Sabbath, he made the journey from his Marble Arch Synagogue to Buckingham Palace on foot. Even so community leaders criticized him for not being with his family on the Sabbath. Sacks insisted that it was an established protocol for chief rabbis to accept direct royal invitations, and that an exception should be made for the “expression of Jewish loyalty to the country and its head of state”.  This proved to be a passing storm, soon forgotten as Sacks’s solid achievements in terms of the expansion of education and the rationalization of Jewish social care became manifest.

Sacks was once asked what the toughest moment had been when Chief Rabbi.  His reply was far from what most in the Jewish community would have anticipated.

“There is no question,” he said, “that the toughest moment actually came in 2002 with Jenin.”  In the midst of the Second Intifada the UK media was suddenly flooded with lurid tales of an Israeli massacre of 5000 civilians in the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank, accompanied by horrific and deliberate war crimes. Based on the uncorroborated statement of one individual, the incident at Jenin had been blown out of all proportion, and the UK media seemed to be doing their best to stoke the flames.  “I had to make a calculated decision,” said Sacks.  “I’m not the Israeli ambassador, but is this just too serious to leave?”

So he went on the BBC’s prestigious “Today” programme – sometimes described as the jewel in the crown of BBC radio ‒ and predicted confidently that when the full facts emerged, the death toll would be nothing like the figure widely claimed. Four days later, at a rally in London’s Trafalgar Square, the facts became known for the first time – the Jenin battle had indeed been fierce and bloody, but it had resulted in 52 Palestinian deaths, together with 23 Israeli soldiers. Sacks had known the truth, even before the BBC, because his staff had phoned Israeli soldiers in Jenin and learned it from them.

How to summarize the achievements of a man so erudite, so prolific, so open-minded, so revered in his own country and across the world?  He was showered with honours – 26 of them; delivered some 60 major courses of lectures; was awarded 14 prizes; authored more than 30 books.  Throughout, his focus was on scholarship, on probing for the truth in Judaism and disseminating it, and on understanding the beliefs of others.

Sacks was once asked about his major achievements as Chief Rabbi.  He singled out the fact that he persuaded community leaders of his orthodox organization to permit women to become chairpersons of synagogues. When he took office “there were no women on synagogue boards, there were no women, except in observer status, on the United Synagogue council. We had to make that a gradual change, and I’m glad that within my term of office women were able to become chair people.”

On leaving office Sacks made it clear that far from slowing down, he intended to expand his activities. He would be going in “the same direction but in a global way – writing, teaching, broadcasting and speaking on a more global forum. There’s a hunger around the world for the message that we’ve been delivering of a Judaism that engages the world. So more teaching, more writing and seeing the possibilities of the web.” 

That is the story of the final seven years of his life.

Published on the Jerusalem Post website, 23 November 2020:
https://www.jpost.com/jerusalem-report/a-salute-to-rabbi-lord-jonathan-sacks-a-light-unto-his-nation-650024

Sunday, 22 November 2020

A post-Trump peace process

 This article appears in the Jerusalem Post today, Sunday 22 November 2020

Back in February 2020, shortly after President Donald Trump had unveiled his Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, Palestinian Authority (PA) president Mahmoud Abbas addressed the UN Security Council. Having categorically repudiated everything about the Trump proposal, he added that he was ready for peace negotiations under the sponsorship of the Middle East Quartet. 

            With Biden in the White House and Trump’s “deal of the century” in limbo, the PA leadership might well be tempted to pursue its overtures to the Quartet ‒ especially if current attempts to glue the PA and Hamas together fail to gell.  In addition, pressure to seize the initiative is mounting as Arab-Israel normalization proceeds apace, and the Palestinian issue is being pushed to one side.

The Quartet was established in Madrid in 2002 and consists of the UN, the US, the European Union and Russia.  Its objective is to take "tangible steps on the ground to advance the Palestinian economy and preserve the possibility of a two state solution.” 

In recent years it has become moribund, but in June 2020 PA prime minister Mohammad Shtayyeh submitted to the Quartet a counter-proposal to the Trump plan.  It envisaged, in his words, the creation of a "sovereign Palestinian state, independent and demilitarized" with "minor modifications of borders where necessary."

Having gone so far, perhaps the PA might be prepared to sit down at the negotiating table under the auspices of the Quartet, without pre-conditions or pre-conceptions, but shielded by support from the Arab League, and especially perhaps from the nations that have signed agreements with Israel – Egypt, Jordan, the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan.

            On September 2, 2018, a delegation from Israel’s Peace Now organization travelled to Ramallah in the West Bank to discuss with Abbas prospects for settling the conflict. The statements that follow such meetings rarely contain anything of substance. This was an exception.   The next morning, the Palestinian Information Center, known as Palinfo, published a deadpan account of Abbas’s conversation with the Israelis. without comment.

          “During a meeting with an Israeli delegation that visited Ramallah on Sunday,” ran the report, “Abbas said that senior US officials, Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, asked him recently about his opinion of a ‘confederation with Jordan’.  Abbas said: “I said yes to the offer, but I want a three-way confederation with Jordan and Israel.”

At the time Kushner and Greenblatt were, of course, heavily engaged in constructing the Trump peace plan.  By the time Abbas made his comment, the word “confederation” had been featuring in the speculation buzzing about the “deal of the century”.  This is why the Jordanians had recently issued a statement rejecting the idea of uniting with, or taking over, the West Bank.  But Abbas’s endorsement of a triangular confederation comprising Jordan, Israel and a sovereign state of Palestine could have been a game changer – and still might be. 

A confederation differs fundamentally from a federation.  In a federation, states hand over some of their sovereignty to a central government; in a confederation, sovereign states retain their sovereignty but agree to collaborate on certain political, economic or administrative matters, appointing a joint central authority to coordinate the arrangement.

In supporting a three-way Jordan-Israel-Palestine confederation Abbas has a good deal of reason on his side. Prowling around the PA stockade is Hamas, ruling over nearly two million Palestinians in Gaza, hungry for power in the West Bank, and harrying Abbas for a decade. No Hamas-Fatah reconciliation is likely to be effective. The PA is set on achieving a Palestinian state by way of an accommodation with Israel.  No matter that the PA leadership sees this as only a step towards eventual control of the whole of Mandate Palestine, Hamas will have no truck with the long game.  Hamas rejects the idea of a peace deal with Israel because it rejects the right of Israel to exist at all, and is dedicated to destroying it.

Abbas fears that if a sovereign Palestine were indeed to be established, it would not take long for Hamas to seize the reins of power just as it did in Gaza. The PA leadership has long feared losing power to Hamas, either by way of a military coup or via democratic elections. Like it or not, Abbas realizes that a new Palestine would need stronger defenses against “the enemy within” than his own resources could provide – one powerful reason for supporting the confederation concept. 

As for Jordan, the last thing it wants is a weak Palestinian state 15 minutes from Amman that could be overrun at any time by Hamas, and possibly become a base for Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards and other elements keen on overthrowing not only Israel, but Jordan as well.

The political reality is that any viable solution to the Israel-Palestine dispute would have to be based on an Arab-wide consensus, within which Palestinian extremist objections could be absorbed. Facilitated by the Quartet, the Arab League could prove a broker for peace acceptable to all parties.  Under its shield the PA could participate with Jordan and Israel in hammering out a three-state confederation – a new political entity, to come into legal existence simultaneously with a new sovereign Palestine that ideally would include Gaza. 

The negotiations to bring about this kind of political solution would be lengthy, intensive and complex, but if successful the end-result would be eminently worthwhile. A Jordan-Israel-Palestine confederation could be dedicated above all to defending itself and its constituent sovereign states, but also to cooperating in the fields of commerce, infrastructure and economic development. From the moment it came into legal existence, the confederation could make it abundantly clear that any subsequent armed opposition, from whatever source, including Hamas, would be disciplined and crushed from within. 

Acting in concert with the defense forces of the other states, the Israel Defense Forces would guarantee both Israel’s security and that of the confederation as a whole.

          A confederation of three sovereign states, dedicated to providing high-tech security but also future economic growth and prosperity for all its citizens − if this is indeed Mahmoud Abbas’s vision, it is a possible route to a peaceful and thriving Middle East.

                                  A possible Jordan-Israel-Palestine Confederation

Published in the Jerusalem Post, 22 November 2020:
http://jpost.newspaperdirect.com/epaper/viewer.aspx

Published in the Jewish Business News, 27 November 2020:
https://jewishbusinessnews.com/2020/11/27/a-post-trump-peace-process/

Monday, 16 November 2020

Hospice and Palliative Care in Israel - the British connection

 This article of mine appears in the current edition of the Jerusalem Report, dated November 23, 2020

          Today in Israel, as in most of the world, hospice and palliative care are readily available for most, if not quite all, patients who require them.  As a form of specialist treatment, the two were conceived together back in the 1960s, and initially developed hand in hand.  They are now recognized worldwide as distinct branches of medical therapeutics.

Institutions dedicated to providing loving care for terminally ill patients have long existed in the western world, but the modern hospice movement, with palliative care as an integral aspect of it, were the brainchild of a most remarkable woman, Cicely Saunders.   Later showered with honors from around the world, she was made a Dame – equivalent to a knighthood – by the Queen in 1979, and was awarded the exclusive Order of Merit ten years later. 

The origins of today’s hospice movement and palliative care have a deep Jewish connection. At a major conference held in London in 1980, Dame Cicely described how she came to found the world’s first modern hospice – St Christopher’s.  Appointed in 1947 as a social worker by St Thomas’, the famous teaching hospital in the center of London, in the first ward she entered she met David Tasma, a Jewish refugee from Warsaw.

            I knew then the truth that he was dying,” she said, “which he did not. So I followed him up and I waited, and when he was admitted to another hospital it was in fact I who finally told him. The foundation of St Christopher's is how we coped with that truth together. He needed skills which were not then available, but still more he needed a sense of belonging and somehow to find meaning. And as he remembered his grandfather, the rabbi, he made peace with the God of his fathers. When he died he left a £500 founding gift, “to be a window in your home.”­­­

            It took her a full 20 years to enlarge that initial £500 to a sum sufficient to construct, equip, staff and open St Christopher’s, but open it did in 1967.  In memory of David Tasma, Dame Cicely, a committed Christian, insisted on calling that 1980 conference its Barmitzvah taking place as it did just 13 years after the opening of her hospice.

            Here I must admit that I played a small part in that conference, and in the subsequent nurturing of palliative care here in Israel.

            In 1980 I was a civil servant in the UK’s Department of Health.  Dame Cicely approached the government for assistance in organizing her Barmitzvah conference, and it fell to me to help plan details, arrange for a health minister to chair the event, and finally to edit and manage the publication of the proceedings under the title “Hospice: the living idea”. 

          Years later, when I had moved on to one of Britain’s leading cancer charities, now known as Macmillan Cancer Support, I helped arrange for a group of Israeli nurses to go over to the UK and participate in a palliative care training programme at the world-famous Royal Marsden hospital. The idea of this project had been readily endorsed by my own boss at Macmillan, and I remember coming over to Israel to discuss it with Israel’s then Health Minister, Chaim Ramon, and the enthusiasm with which he authorized it. 

          Hospice care is intended for patients suffering from a terminal illness when curative treatment is no longer possible. It is an holistic approach to dealing with the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of the patient through a combination of medical, nursing and psychosocial care.  By alleviating pain and other distressing symptoms, it is designed to provide the terminally ill patient with as fulfilling a quality of life as possible, and eventually a peaceful death without either accelerating or postponing it.

These principles underlie palliative care as well, but nowadays palliative casts its net wider than the terminally ill, aiming to manage symptoms and enhance comfort and quality of life for patients at any stage of life.  It is normally introduced when the disease is considered beyond treatment, but it can be delivered alongside aggressive therapies and even, in some cases, together with therapies aimed at cure.

            Israel’s first hospice, located within the Sheba Medical Center, was opened in 1983.  Today there are seven which offer both in-patient and home hospice care services, and palliative care nursing is well established.  All the same, recent research by professor Dena Schulman-Green shows that there is much room for improvement.

For the past few years Schulman-Green has been working in Israel to strengthen the development of palliative care.  “I want everyone in Israel and everywhere to have access to quality palliative care when they need it,” she says, “so that’s the ultimate vision.  But that means that patients and families need to know what it is and to ask for it. And clinicians need to know to offer it and how to provide it.”

Schulman-Green has spent her career seeking to improve the lives of patients with serious, chronic illnesses. The holistic approach of palliative care integrates all aspects of care through a multidisciplinary team that works as an extra layer of support, in partnership with the patient’s other providers and family. Ideally, palliative care is integrated early in the course of a serious, life-limiting illness.

Schulman-Green supports the inclusion of regular palliative care training into the nurse education curriculum, and the full integration of palliative care into Israel’s health care system.

Recent developments have assisted the expansion of palliative care in Israel.  The Dying Patient Law in 2005 led to a directive policy statement in 2009, and in the same year palliative clinical nurse specialists were recognized.  This was followed by the introduction of periodical inspection by the Ministry of Health and the National Plan in 2016.

The National Plan is the result of work carried out in 2015, following a request from the then director general of the Ministry of Health, Moshe Bar Siman-Tov. The program was written by a steering committee and six working teams, which included representatives from “Tamicha”, the Israel Association of Palliative Care, an organization devoted to assisting professionals providing palliative care in hospices and generally. They offer support, training sessions and conferences, and campaign for palliative care to be fully included in the health baskets of the medical insurance companies.

The worldwide struggle for palliative care to be recognized as a medical specialty has been long, and Israel has had to fight as hard as any country.  The 29-year battle was led by

Dr Michaela Bercovitch, the chair of Israel’s Palliative Medical Society and head of the palliative care department at the Sheba Medical Center. The long endeavor was crowned with success in May 2012, when palliative medicine became a recognized subspecialty in Israel.

Even so, a further battle is being waged to ensure that appropriate training modules are included in both nurse and medical training curriculums.  Israeli nurse education is ahead – it incorporates a palliative care module in many post-basic courses.  Medical education has some way to go. A limited university level palliative care education program is available for 130 physicians, and various palliative care studies for medical students are offered at four faculties of medicine, but the holistic principles underlying palliative medicine and care need to be integrated into the education provided in Israel to all medical students as a matter of course. This is already the case in Britain, although not yet fully in the US.
            It is not widely known that in 1996 a Middle East Cancer Consortium (MECC) was established through an official agreement of the ministries of health of Cyprus, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority. Turkey officially joined the Consortium in 2004.

The MECC has established academic-based medical programs that bring together scientists, academicians and clinical professionals from its member countries, joined by medical personnel from many others. Since its inception, one of MECC’s major activities has been the Palliative Care Project, dedicated to promoting the availability of quality palliative care resources to patients and their families throughout the Middle East.  MECC’s motto is: "Respect all people, collaborate in fighting human suffering, and help build a bridge for better understanding among all.”

Dame Cicely Saunders was a fervent opponent of euthanasia because she argued, from long and deep personal experience, that effective pain control is possible, that distressing symptoms can be effectively relieved, and that terminally ill patients can die peacefully and in dignity. People gravitated towards euthanasia, she believed, because knowledge of what palliative care could achieve for those suffering terminal illnesses was not well enough known, nor widely enough available.

Towards the end of her life she herself developed breast cancer. She died in 2005 at the age of 87 in her beloved St Christopher’s Hospice.

Sunday, 15 November 2020

Iran's governments-in-waiting

 This article appeared in the Jerusalem Post on Sunday 15 November 2020

          October 31, 2020 marked the 60th birthday of the man born to be Shah of Iran and who, for the first nineteen years of his life, was the heir apparent ‒ Reza Pahlavi.  When his father, faced by an army mutiny and violent public demonstrations, went into voluntary exile on January 17, 1979 young Pahlavi was a trainee fighter pilot at a US air base in Texas.  Two weeks later Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the spiritual leader of the Islamic revolution, returned to Iran after 15 years and took control of the country.  Neither Pahlavi nor his father ever set foot in Iran again. 

Inwardly, however, Pahlavi says he has never left.

“Iran has been my daily life,” he says. “It’s all I have...If I were to step off the plane right now in Tehran my chances of survival are next to zero. But the moment I could return, I’d be on the first flight.”

And to return to his homeland has been his purpose in life for the past 42 years.  Though living in the West under the constant threat of assassination, Pahlavi has been campaigning constantly to return home in order to create a new modern, liberal democracy that respects human rights, freedom and equality. 

In pursuit of his aim to overthrow the rule of the Ayatollahs, he leads a body called the National Council of Iran for Free Elections.  The Council, an umbrella group of exiled opposition figures, seek to restore Pahlavi to the leadership of Iran, either as Shah or as president.  Meanwhile it acts as a government-in-exile, and claims to have gathered "tens of thousands of pro-democracy proponents from both inside and outside Iran."  

As an underground movement, operating through electronic communications and word of mouth, Pahlavi says it has drawn support from within the regime.  “We have former diplomats, media people, branches of the military, including the Revolutionary Guard.”

            After Donald Trump had won the 2016 presidential election but before he had taken office, Pahlavi addressed an open letter to him about his future relations with Iran.

“Today, the Iranian people, the Middle East and the free world face an existential threat from radical Islam,” he wrote, “which is a direct by-product of “Khomeinism” and its revolution in Iran in 1979. This regressive ideology has spread like a cancer across the globe: from the Middle East to Asia and Africa, and even to Europe and the Americas‎."

Pahlavi urged the president-to-be to support the anti-regime forces within and outside Iran, and help bring about what he called "a swift, non-violent transition to a secular and democratic government through free and fair elections in Iran.‎"

Whether this plea had any effect on shaping Trump’s policy toward Iran is open to question.  Even when he was withdrawing from the nuclear deal and imposing strict sanctions, Trump always maintained that he had no wish to effect regime change in Iran. 

Meanwhile Iran has never been entirely free from internal opposition, often erupting into open violence.  Widespread demonstrations followed the 2009 presidential election, which it was generally believed were subject to vote rigging and election fraud. By January 2018 Iran was again in turmoil.  Rallies and street protests erupted throughout the nation centering at first on the worsening economic situation, and the ever-rising food and commodity prices. These grievances soon morphed into opposition to the regime in general, and the Supreme Leader in particular.

Dissent was voiced especially against the foreign adventures indulged in by the regime, including direct involvement in the Syrian civil conflict, and costly military and logistical support for Hezbollah in Syria, for the Houthis in Yemen and for Hamas in Gaza.  The vast sums expended in these foreign adventures were seen as being at the direct expense of the Iranian population. 

These mass anti-government demonstrations rumbled on into the early months of 2020.  Then in the summer Iran was rocked time and again by a series of mysterious and still-unexplained explosions, often at or near nuclear facilities.  Shaken though the Iranian government must have been, there was no sign of their losing their grip on power.  The National Council was unable to exploit the situation to its advantage.

   A major problem for Reza Pahlavi and his government-in-exile is that he is not the only contender for power in a democratic post-Ayatollah Iran.  Seeking the same outcome, and operating its own government-in-waiting, is an organization calling itself by the worryingly similar title of “The National Council of Resistance of Iran” (NCRI).  On the face of it the NCRI would appear to be a more structured organization and have many more adherent groups than Pahlavi’s National Council.  Even more of a worry must be that one of NCRI’s founding members is the MEK (the People’s Mujahedin Organization of Iran), which the Iranian regime itself regards as its greatest enemy.

            The NCRI was founded in 1981. With 560 members including representatives of Iran's religious and ethnic minorities, the NCRI seeks to establish a pluralistic, multi-party and democratic system in Iran. It has established 25 committees to serve as the basis for a provisional government.  It will run the country for no more than six months, during which its primary task would be to set up free and fair elections for a national assembly.

            Little contact seems to exist between these two Councils, both seeking essentially the same outcome for Iran.  The main difference is that the NCRI has no thought of restoring the monarchy, but aims to establish a republic in post-Ayatollah Iran.  Pahlavi says that would be fine with him.  He stands ready to serve his country regardless.

 “Everybody knows that I carry the monarchic heritage,” he says, but “if the country is more ready for a republic, even better. That’s great.”

To achieve success in their common purpose it would seem essential for the two National Councils come together, thrash out an agreed policy, and amalgamate.

Published in the Jerusalem Post on-line on 15 November 2020 as "Who are the two competing governments waiting to govern Iran?":
https://www.jpost.com/opinion/who-are-the-two-competing-governments-waiting-to-govern-iran-649111

Published in the Jewish Business News, 20 November 2020:
https://jewishbusinessnews.com/2020/11/20/irans-governments-in-waiting/

Published in the Eurasia Review, 21 November 2020:
https://www.eurasiareview.com/21112020-irans-governments-in-waiting-oped/

Published in The Times of Israel, 15 November 2020:
https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/irans-governments-in-waiting/



Sunday, 8 November 2020

Israel in the post-Brexit world of CANZUK

    This article of mine appeared in the Jerusalem Post on 8 November 2020

                                                     The symbol of CANZUK

 It did not take long for “Brexit”, a portmanteau term invented in 2012, to become common usage the world over.  Since then a new expression has been bidding for its place in the sun – CANZUK.

CANZUK is an acronym formed from the initial letters of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom – and it emerged following a bout of vigorous activity by a body founded in Canada in 2014 called the Commonwealth Freedom of Movement Organization (CFMO).   It was set up to expand the historical connections between the citizens of those four countries by creating a sort of travel-free alliance between them, thus encouraging their governments to strengthen and expand economic, political, trade, investment, military and diplomatic relationships.

The imminent departure of the UK from the European Union spawned an off-shoot in the shape of CANZUK.  Eminent British historian, Professor Andrew Roberts believes that the CANZUK countries should form "a new federation based upon free trade, free movement of peoples, mutual defence, and a limited but effective confederal political structure.”  He points out that were CANZUK to become a union, “it would immediately become one of the global great powers alongside America, the EU and China. It would be easily the largest country on the planet, have a combined population of 129 million, the third biggest economy and the third biggest defense budget.” 

In favour of the argument, he points out that the CANZUK countries already have a common head of state in the British monarch, a majority language, legal systems based on Magna Cara and the common law, Westminster parliamentary tradition, and a long history of working together. All they lack is geographical proximity, which is becoming less and less important in the modern world.

Momentum towards creating such an entity is mounting.  CANZUK launched a petition on its website urging the UK government to establish free movement and trade agreements with Canada, Australia and New Zealand.  The rules governing petitions to the British parliament are detailed, but any that reach 100,000 signatures are almost always debated. The CANZUK petition has so far  attracted more than 310,000 signatures. 

Suppose such a third major political force were indeed to emerge on the world stage, what might its attitude be towards Israel?  Judging by Israel’s current relationship with the countries involved, the connection would be considerably warmer than the wary and arms-length association that has developed between Israel and the EU.  It would be boosted by the thriving Jewish communities in all four CANZUK nations

In the meantime the CANZUK dream is taking shape.  While the UK is readying itself to leave the EU on December 31, it is negotiating a comprehensive deal with Australia to include tariff reductions and labour mobility.  UK minister Liz Truss said: “Both countries are committed to removing trade barriers and creating new opportunities for business, and believe a deep and dynamic agreement can send a clear signal to the world that both the UK and Australia are prepared to fight protectionism and advance free and fair trade.”

          Leaked reports indicate that the UK-Australia trade deal will probably allow young Australians to live in the UK for more than two years, with a similar extension for Britons going to Australia. Enhanced freedom of movement was said to be a high priority for the Australian government.

          Meanwhile the Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, announced on October 29 that the Canadian government is likely to conclude a post-Brexit trade deal with the UK in the coming weeks.  The aim is to eliminate tariffs and other trade barriers between the countries.  Trudeau said that work was already under way to ensure that an agreement is in place before the end of the year.

Israel’s relations with the UK were particularly close during David Cameron’s premiership, and have remained so.  A post-Brexit trade deal between Israel and the UK is signed and sealed and ready to be implemented. Government trade ministers recently announced a bid for a new “higher ambition” UK-Israel trade agreement after Brexit, calling the two countries “tech superpowers”.  Israel-UK bilateral trade has increased year by year for the past decade, and international trade minister, Ranil Jayawardena, said annual bilateral trade between the UK and Israel in 2019 exceeded £5 billion, but could be more.

The four CANZUK countries could be a new, strong entity on the world scene, very favourably disposed towards Israel. Professor Roberts goes so far as to believe that its emergence could bring about the fulfilment of Winston Churchill’s great dream of a Western alliance based on three separate blocs. “The first and second blocs – the USA and a United State of Europe – are already in place,” says Roberts. “Now it is time for the last – CANZUK – to retake her place as the third pillar of western civilization.”

Israel is exceptionally well-placed to tap into any formal CANZUK union or federation that may eventually emerge.

Published in the Eurasia Review, 6 November 2020, titled: "The Post-Brexit world of CANZUK"
https://www.eurasiareview.com/07112020-the-post-brexit-world-of-canzuk-oped/

Published in the Jewish Business News, 6 November 2020:
https://jewishbusinessnews.com/2020/11/06/israel-in-the-post-brexit-world-of-canzuk/

Published in the Jerusalem Post on-line, 7 November 2020, under the heading: "Where will Israel be in the post-Brexit world of the Commonwealth?"
https://www.jpost.com/opinion/where-will-israel-be-in-post-brexit-world-of-the-commonwealth-648356




Friday, 30 October 2020

Why are big powers so interested in a small local conflict?

            No one could call Nagorno-Karabakh the centre of the civilized world.  It is a small chunk of land in a remote region in the southern Caucuses, flanked on one side by Armenia and on the other by Azerbaijan.  Both, though at one time within the orbit of the Soviet Union, are now small independent states.  Yet a long-simmering tussle between them over ownership of Nagorno-Karabakh has suddenly flared into open conflict, and the world and his wife are busily involving themselves in the dispute. 

The US, Russia, France, Turkey, Iran – all now have their fingers in the pie, converting a little local difficulty into a world-wide diplomatic war-game.  The US and Russia have tried, though with little success, to enhance their global image by brokering a ceasefire; Turkey and Iran seem intent on boosting their regional influence by stoking the flames of conflict.  France appears to be using this situation as a proxy for other weightier concerns, and declares unequivocally that it supports Christian Armenia in opposition to Turkey’s equally unequivocal support for Muslim Azerbaijan.

Up in its extreme north, Iran has a border with both Armenia and Azerbaijan. Following stray fire from the fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh, Iran has deployed troops of its IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) across the border region. Its mission, spokesmen declared, was "to protect national interests and maintain peace and security".  Iran’s national interests are tied to the fact that approximately one-third of its 84 million population are Azerbaijani Turks.  They have not been silent during the recent upsurge.  Waves of protests have broken out in various cities across Iran, including the capital Tehran, orchestrated by  dissidents objecting to Russian military aid getting to Armenia with Iran’s help, and demanding that the border with Armenia be closed.  This issue has rapidly become one more among the many causes of popular protest within Iran.

Officially Iran recognizes Azerbaijan’s claims to the disputed territories, but for decades it has maintained good relations with Armenia.  During the conflict it has been helping president Armen Sarkissian by transferring Russian military equipment across Iran and into Armenia.  When this became known, Iran hastened to deny the story, despite confirmatory video footage.

Turkey’s involvement in the conflict stems from a long-standing relationship with Azerbaijan.  Turkey was the first nation to recognize Azerbaijan's independence in 1991. Former Azeri president Heydar Aliyev once described the two as "one nation with two states".  Even though Turkey has no border with Azerbaijan, and the two countries are separated from each other by Armenia, they share a Turkish culture.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey has backed his vocal support for Azerbaijan’s president Ilham Aliyev with military equipment including drones, and also extremist mercenaries recruited in Syria.  With Turkey’s help, Azerbaijan has slowly pushed Armenian forces back and seems to have gained the upper hand in the conflict. 

Erdogan undoubtedly sees the dispute as an opportunity to strengthen his position in the Middle East generally, and in particular in the Islamist world.  Even though Shi’ite Muslims predominate in the capital Baku, it is to the Sunnis , who comprise more than 80 percent of Azerbaijan’s population, that he makes his pitch.  Even so, he has an uphill struggle.  Azerbaijan has been designated one of the most secular of Muslim states – indeed, tolerance and respect for religious diversity are built into its constitution.  This runs counter to the whole tenor of Erdogan’s domestic strategy, which has been to turn back the clock on the secularization and religious tolerance of the founder of modern Turkey, Kemal Ataturk.

Secularization is at the heart of Erdogan’s latest well-publicized spat with French president Emmanuel Macron, with whom he has a multi-faceted dispute.  In recent weeks France has supported Greece and Cyprus against Turkish claims to explore for oil and gas in the Mediterranean.  France and Turkey are also at odds over the power struggle in Libya, backing opposing sides in the dispute.  More recently still, Erdogan denounced Macron’s wholesale condemnation of the beheading of a teacher in France by an Islamist extremist who objected to children being shown cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad.  Utterly rejecting any justification for the act, Macron declared war on “Islamist separatism” which, he said, was taking over some Muslim communities in France in defiance of the secularization that is at the heart of the French constitution.

Erdogan denounced not only Macron, but the whole French state, as Islamophobic.  Despite being separated by the Shia-Sunni divide, Erdogan’s charge was echoed by the Iranian regime, as was his call for a boycott of French goods, a move later supported by Qatar and Kuwait.  The exchange descended into personal abuse when Erdogan suggested that Macron needed “a mental health check-up”, a classic case, perhaps, of the pot calling the kettle black.  His intemperate reaction may well have triggered the latest terrorist outrage in France, when three people were murdered in a Nice church.

The Erdogan-Macron antagonism displays itself to the full over the Nagorno-Karabakh issue, where the two leaders are at loggerheads. Erdogan has declared that Turkey is "fully ready" to help Azerbaijan recover the enclave, while Macron has announced: "I say to Armenia and to the Armenians, France will play its role."  No doubt Macron has in mind the fact that hundreds of thousands of French citizens are of Armenian descent.

          Nagorno-Karabakh has become a convenient setting for some major world powers to act out their differences or pursue their broader interests. When and how Armenia and Azerbaijan finally resolve their dispute may have consequences far beyond the narrow confines of the Caucuses. 

Published in the Eurasia Review, 30 October 2020:
https://www.eurasiareview.com/30102020-nagorno-karabakh-why-are-big-powers-so-interested-in-a-small-local-conflict-oped/

Published in the Jewish Business News, 30 October 2020:
Jewishbusinessnews.com/2020/10/30/why-are-big-powers-so-interested-in-a-small-local-conflict/

Published in The Times of Israel, 5 November 2020:
https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/why-are-big-powers-so-interested-in-a-small-local-conflict/

Wednesday, 28 October 2020

"Kin or Country" - A flight of fancy into 2048

I review this new book by Paul Alster on the Jerusalem Post website at: https://www.jpost.com/jerusalem-report/a-flight-of-fancy-into-2048-647258

Back in 2017 journalist Paul Alster, acting on behalf of the Jerusalem Report, interviewed officials working in Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) in Givat Shaul, Jerusalem, the nerve centre of a myriad of facts and figures relating to Israeli life. Sparked by what he learned on that visit, Alster found himself speculating about the possible future of the State of Israel.  Finally he decided to give his imagination free rein, and "Kin or Country" ‒ his first novel ‒ is the result.

            The book is a flight of fancy into the year 2048, exactly a century after the founding of the state.  It is still a recognizable world, even if sophisticated smart speakers are now commonplace and vehicles drive themselves.  Back in the late-2030s, following a peace accord between Israel and the Palestinian leadership, part of the West Bank had been incorporated into a new state of Palestine, and East Jerusalem had become its capital.  Gaza had fallen under international supervision, and Arab states harbouring the descendants of refugee Palestinians had agreed to offer them citizenship. 

            With the Israel-Palestinian dispute no longer a factor, Alster’s starting point is the divergence, apparent in Israel from its very beginning, between the political and life-style imperatives of the ultra-orthodox ‒ the Haredi ‒ and those of the secular population.  In Alster’s vision of the future, that gap has widened to the point where the political and social influence exercised by each side has become intolerable to the other. Jerusalem, Jewish areas in the West Bank and a number of adjacent towns have become almost wholly haredi, while other areas, with Tel Aviv as their hub, are heavily secular.  As a result, political movements have sprung up asserting that the two ways of life are incompatible and demanding that they separate ‒ an issue, and the only one, uniting large sectors of both the haredi and the secular communities.

            The political pressure forces a vote in the Knesset to approve a national referendum on whether the nation should be divided into two independent states, Israel and Judea, the former with its capital in Tel Aviv, the latter based in Jerusalem.  The vote passes, and Kin or Country takes us through an imagined final eleven days in the countdown to the national referendum.

            Those eleven days are filled with dramatic incident.  Not only political wheeling and dealing, but death stalks them, and the novel could be described as a political murder mystery.  Even though we are in no doubt about the culprit in one of the killings, the police investigation that slowly uncovers the truth creates a tension of its own, inextricably linked to the political manoeuverings as the national vote draws closer by the day. The identity of a second guilty party we learn only at the end of the novel, and it is a revelation full of irony.  But the heart of the drama lies in the twists and turns on the political scene that leave the result of the national ballot ‒ and with it the future of the Jewish nation ‒ uncertain right up to the wire.

Applying his imagination to political and social factors already apparent within Israeli society, Alster ingeniously projects them a little way forward.  For example, he postulates a community of interest between the extreme right wing of the ultra-orthodox, Neturei Karta, and Iran’s Islamist regime.  A secret deal between Iran and the haredi “Yes” campaign forms a vital element in the overall political mix.  The US political situation, too, bears heavily on the relative fortunes of the two referendum campaigns. Into the narrative Alster adds the human and emotional stories of individuals caught up in the intense political issues being played out. 

The question throughout the novel is whether Israel is to remain a united nation, the one and only Jewish state, or whether there are to be two Jewish states – Israel and Judea ‒ one a secular democracy, the other a theocracy.  We learn Paul Alster’s prediction only in the closing pages. The result is a truly gripping vision of the way Israel could travel in the next quarter of a century, an exciting and mind-stretching literary experience. 

For some it might also serve as a dire warning about a possible dystopian future.  For, as Alster himself says about the novel: “It foresees a scenario that could easily become reality in the homeland of all the Jewish people, unless drastic societal changes come to pass in the next few years. Israel truly faces formidable and unique challenges. More than anything else though, this is a story about the dangers of religious coercion, about flawed morality across the political spectrum, but ultimately about human emotions and family relationships that apply equally to people of all faiths, creeds and colours”.

          For anyone interested in Israel’s present situation, in the cracks and flaws within Israeli society which, if left unattended, could develop into chasms and lead to an unimaginable future, Kin or Country is required reading.  A gripping page-turner it certainly is, but it is much more – a convincing vision of a possible future that few would desire for the nation.


Published in the Jerusalem Post on-line:
https://www.jpost.com/jerusalem-report/a-flight-of-fancy-into-2048-647258

Published in the Eurasia Review, 14 November 2020: :https://www.eurasiareview.com/14112020-kin-or-country-will-this-be-israels-future-a-flight-of-fancy-into-2048-book-review/        

Published in the Jewish Business News, 13 November 2020:
https://jewishbusinessnews.com/2020/11/13/will-this-be-israels-futurea-flight-of-fancy-into-2048/

 

Saturday, 24 October 2020

Why Lebanon needs its revolution

                      

             On October 27, 2020, a year after former Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri was dismissed from office, he was reappointed by President Michel Aoun.  Despite Hariri’s previous inability to manage Lebanon’s growing economic and political chaos, he has one characteristic that sets him apart from many of his fellow politicians and even from his president.  Even though he has had to compromise from time to time, he is a long-standing opponent of Hezbollah.  He has good reason.  Hezbollah, it has been shown, was involved in the assassination of his father, Rafik Hariri, back in 2005.

Saad Hariri faces a totally unstable situation.  Lebanon is a seething cauldron of popular discontent.  It took decades for the head of steam to build up but finally, on October 17, 2019, the country blew its top.  That was the day the government, in a desperate attempt to get a grip on the failing economy, announced that new taxes were to be imposed on an already poverty stricken population, and that the cost of gasoline, tobacco, and internet calls such as What’sApp were to be hiked up. 

Crowds took to the streets. The proposed taxes were the trigger, but the underlying causes of the widespread fury soon emerged. They ranged from opposition to the basic system of government by religious affiliation ‒ a system established when Lebanon became independent of colonial France in 1944 ‒ to the stagnant economy, unemployment at very nearly 50 percent of the working population, endemic corruption in the public sector, and the totally inadequate provision of public services such as garbage collection, water, electricity and sanitation.

Come the first anniversary of the national uprising on October 17, 2020, anti-government protesters attended rallies the length and breadth of the country chanting “Revolution, revolution.”  Yet revolution seems reluctant to show its face in Lebanon.  The population, apparently ready for radical change, appears unable to bring it about. 

In recent years the Lebanese people have endured a civil conflict, a long Syrian occupation, two wars with Israel, several economic crises, huge unemployment and political assassinations. The past twelve months alone has seen the country very nearly brought to its knees from a collapse of the currency, the onset of the coronavirus, the devastating explosion in Beirut port and two changes of prime minister. Yet the old ruling establishment ‒ moribund, corrupt and inefficient ‒ continues in power.

In the perception of a large proportion of the population enough is enough, and only root and branch reform will put the country back on its feet. Ever since that outburst of national rage in October 2019, demonstrators have been demanding the resignation of all those in power from the president down. All, without exception, are seen as the same power-hungry chieftains who led their followers into the 1975-1990 civil war before making peace with one another, and going on to enrich themselves.

One key factor in the malaise afflicting Lebanon is the fact that, embedded within the establishment structure, is the Iranian-supported Hezbollah organization.  Founded by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, shortly after he took power in 1979, it declared that its aims and purpose were entirely at one with Iran’s. Over the past few decades it has been consuming the political, military and administrative organs of the state, until only the outer shell of an independent sovereign country now remains.   Many now believe that the Lebanese state and Hezbollah are in effect indistinguishable. It follows that if there is no place in a reformed Lebanon for those who run the present state, there is no place for Hezbollah.

During the first riots in 2019 protesters smashed the offices of Hezbollah MPs in southern Nabatieh.  Before October was out, Hezbollah had rallied hundreds of supporters including an armed militia, and mounted a charge on protesters in central Beirut. As Amnesty International, making no distinction between Hezbollah and government forces, put it: “The largely peaceful protests since October 2019 have been met by the Lebanese military and security forces with beatings, teargas, rubber bullets, and at times live ammunition and pellets.”

France’s president Emmanuel Macron, who visited Lebanon twice in the aftermath of the Beirut port explosion, said the country’s ruling class had “betrayed” the people by failing to act swiftly and decisively against the party suspected of importing and storing the chemicals, Hezbollah. 

If the Lebanese government has undertaken any positive action in the recent past, it is the decision to participate in the US-mediated talks aimed at demarcating the country’s maritime border with Israel.  The situation is awkward.  Following the 2006 conflict Israel and Lebanon  are not technically at peace, but both are adhering to a UN-sponsored ceasefire. So the talks are being held at arm’s length.

All the same it is not Lebanon that is pledged to eliminate Israel, but Iran-backed Hezbollah, and the 2006 conflict was triggered by the armed forces of Hezbollah, not those of the state.  It is scarcely surprising that Hezbollah and its main ally, the Amal Movement, are opposed to the maritime negotiations.  They perceive the move, and perhaps they are correct, as an extension of the normalization agreements reached between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. 

All the same, some in Lebanon welcome the development. Ziad Assouad, a member of President Aoun’s party, said Lebanon’s dire economic situation meant that it should have no qualms about holding even direct negotiations with Israel. 

Realistic thinking is called for within Lebanon’s administration. How long can the country’s affairs be dictated by an organization dedicated to the interests of a foreign state?  If anyone is prepared to face down the vested interests within Lebanon linked to Hezbollah, it is Saad Hariri. Sooner or later the Lebanese establishment must recognize the inevitable.  The time for fundamental change has arrived.

Published in the Eurasia Review, 24 October 2020:
https://www.eurasiareview.com/24102020-why-lebanon-needs-its-revolution-oped/

Published in the Jewish Business News, 23 October 2020:
https://jewishbusinessnews.com/2020/10/23/why-lebanon-needs-its-revolution/

Published in The Times of Israel, 29 October 2020:
https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/why-lebanon-needs-its-revolution/