Poor, poor Saudi Arabia–really

Saudi Arabia is in money trouble. For real. Oil revenues are dropping, government expenditures are rising, foreign currency reserves are disappearing and oil is drying up. I discussed this a few minutes ago with host P.J. Maloney on KQV Radio in Pittsburgh.

To confront this crisis, a Saudi Arabian deputy crown prince (!) has come up with a program called Vision 2030, to try to wean his country off oil revenues. It includes partially privatizing ARAMCO, the nation’s oil industry company.

What it doesn’t do is address education, the dominance of fundamentalist clerics who have scuttled modernization up to now, the centrality of Mecca to Islam and the influence that has over the society, Saudi Arabia’s role as the leader of the Sunni Muslim world alongside its funding of militant Islamists and terrorists, and especially–women.

In crass economic terms, women represent half the potential work force. In human terms, Saudi women are not even allowed to drive, and as in the rest of the Arab world, they are considered the property of their fathers or husbands. There is no way an economy can effectively modernize itself under those conditions.

That’s the real challenge facing Saudi Arabia–and the rest of the Arab world–at a time of regional political and military turmoil. It’s a lot to sort out, and chances of success are slim.

EgyptAir crash–time for profiling?

Last week’s crash of EgyptAir 840 just before landing in Egypt may or may not have been a terrorist bombing–but it has once again brought the practices of airport security into focus. A few minutes ago I discussed the issue with host P.J. Maloney on KQV Radio in Pittsburgh, including the Israeli practice of profiling to single out suspicious passengers before they board.

Post-Brussels, security at European airports has been increased–yet after the EgyptAir plane went down, the assumption was that it wasn’t good enough to keep a bomb off a plane. There are many reasons why that may not be the case, but Paris airport officials went into overreact mode, increasing “security” (those quotes express my view that there’s no security enhancement here at all) and punishing thousands of innocent passengers.

You’ll hear P.J. chafe at the idea that the Israelis might be doing it right by profiling, and the practice is illegal in the US anyway–but in Israel, for decades the first and favorite target of hijackers and terrorists of all types–security overrides everything else.

West arming Libya? What Libya?

The West is going to arm the UN-backed government of Libya, which is fighting ISIS and others there. Sounds good, but this AP story notes that it is “fraught with risk,” without telling you what those risks are, besides the “risk” of another wave of immigrants into Europe.

So here are the real risks: Everyone’s fighting everyone in Libya. The government to benefit from the “training” (here we go again) does not have the backing of most of the people, who would rather support their friendly local militia.

What the West is not willing to recognize is that there isn’t any Libya anymore. The artificially defined nation is in the process of breaking up into at least three entities–in the west, east and south. There is little the West can do to stop that. Arming an artificially constituted “government” in Tripoli, the capital of one of the three entities, will increase the violence and play into the hands of the militants, who will now have their favorite enemy to fight–the corrupt West.

This is the place to note that the West did not “break” Libya by backing the rebels who deposed dictator Muammar Gadhafi. This progression was inevitable. Therefore, the West doesn’t have to try to “fix” Libya. In fact, whatever it tries to do in that area will backfire, anyway, for the above reasons.

What can the West do? It must protect its own security through intelligence, stopping the export of terror cells.

It can beef up Libya’s coast guard to intercept smugglers and refugee transports, which is part of the UN plan, but that’s not the answer. This is:

As with Syria, the West must concentrate on humanitarian efforts to ensure that Libya’s people suffer as little as possible from this turmoil. It’s a long-term commitment, and the only way to rebuild the reputation and brand of the West as the good guys, essential for building future alliances.

Arming this or that Libyan faction will accomplish the opposite.


“Who cares who killed this guy?” Best question yet

It’s unclear who assassinated the Hezbollah military commander, Mustafa Badreddine, in an explosion in Damascus last week. He was in charge of Hezbollah military operations. He was involved in the 1983 bombing of the Beirut Marines barracks, killing 241 soldiers, and that was just the beginning of his terrorist exploits.

Discussing that a few minutes ago with host P.J. Maloney on KQV Radio in Pittsburgh, I noted that Israel has always been the first suspect in such assassinations, since Hezbollah was created to fight Israel–but now, with Hezbollah up to its ears in Syria on the side of President Bashar el-Assad, it could be practically anyone. And that’s another sign that the Middle East isn’t what it used to be.

The real answer to BDS–Israel at 68

Israelis are out in the forests, beaches and backyards in their hundreds of thousands today after a night of fireworks and celebrations. Israeli flags are flying everywhere. Independence Day is a real thing here, not just a day off work. Israelis know they have something tangible to celebrate–the existence of their state.

That’s the real answer to BDS and the rest of the Israel-haters. We’re here, growing and thriving, at age 68. The haters have made no impact on us at all. They do make a lot of noise–and they do encourage the widely held view that the whole world is against us, that we’re in constant danger. Israel’s government, and its leader, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, milk that for all it’s worth just to stay in power.

These celebrations show that it’s just not true.


Thousands gather to celebrate Independence Day in Rehovot, a city of 100,000.

Israel’s population has grown tenfold since it was founded in 1948, bolstered by immigration from all over the Jewish world. Israel’s military is so strong that even ISIS knows it better not mess with Israel. We face no existential threats, despite Netanyahu’s dire warnings to the contrary. Yes, it’s a bad neighborhood, and there will be attacks and conflicts, but we are strong enough to withstand them all and keep growing.

Israel is a world leader in many fields, has way more than its share of Nobel Prize winners, has a robust economy, enjoys excellent physical and technical infrastructure and most of all–a democracy that gives its citizens personal freedom.

Oh, I know it’s not perfect here. You can save all those comments that usually include the word “naive.” We have a lot of work left to do. Both sides still suffer from our continuing occupation of the West Bank, and though the Palestinians have turned down our peace offers, we have not taken steps to turn down the heat under the conflict. There are social and religious tensions here that pose danger to the fabric of society. There are regrettable instances of racism. The income gaps are much too big, and some here live in poverty. All these mean we cannot just sit back and say how great we are.


Independence Day fireworks

But for one day a year, we can. I disagree with a respected colleague who says she has trouble singing Israel’s national anthem because the nation’s non-Jewish minorities aren’t included in it. No, this is the day we celebrate the fact that we have a Jewish state, that this is the only place in the Mideast where the Christian population is growing, that we have many good people, including that colleague, who are dedicated to making this place even better by trying to solve the problems I listed above.

Unlike many of my fellow citizens, I lived in the Arab world for two years. I saw how other Mideast societies oppress their people, mistreat their women, kill their minorities. I know it’s a low bar, but Israel, as a Middle Eastern country, is light years ahead of all that.

And even on a world scale, a Western scale, Israel’s society and behavior are exemplary. Much of the outside criticism is hypocritical, coming from people, nations and organizations that do not, cannot, even approach the standards they appear to demand of Israel. Much of that criticism is in the category of hatred.

I know that “haters gonna hate,” but here in Israel, we’re good enough to confront them, shame them, pity them. And today, let’s just ignore them.

Tell those incoming warplanes to wait while I reboot my F-35

I just don’t fly right, says this article in Marine Times. Here’s the best part:

“Development test pilots here at Edwards have trouble booting up their jets about once out of every three flights, though in no cases did a shutdown event prevent the aircraft from eventually taking off, according to the integrated test team.”

Well, that’s a relief.

Israel is still on the hook for lots of these flying lemons. What most people don’t know about US aid to Israel is that almost all of it must be spent in the US, propping up the American military industry to the tune of $2b or so a year–when Israel could make much of this stuff itself, and better.

I doubt that the F-35 will ever contribute anything essential to Israel’s military–but it’s going to cost Israel billions of dollars of American aid that could be used better elsewhere.

I’ve been saying for years that Israel needs to wean itself off American military aid for its own good. Years ago Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed. Not any more. He’s haggling over a ten-year aid package that increases the total, while rejecting the US demand that more of the money be spent in the US.

Israel would do better just to scrap the whole package and go it alone. Of course that would have political and economic implications in the US, which is one reason it isn’t going to happen. Too bad.

Hamas tunnel expert’s capture triggers flareup with Israel

It looks like the typical flareup between Israel and Hamas–but it isn’t. I discussed this a few minutes ago on KQV Radio in Pittsburgh with host P.J. Maloney.

Hamas is firing mortar shells at Israeli forces operating on the border–and across it–looking for tunnels Hamas has built underneath. It’s the new Hamas war strategy–tunnels to send terrorists directly into Israel to kill and capture soldiers and civilians. Gaza militants have also been firing rockets into Israel, but as the Hamas-Israel conflict in 2014 showed, Israel has an answer to that–its Iron Dome system to shoot down rockets headed for populated areas. Hence the new tunnel strategy.

Now that strategy is in trouble, with the capture of a Hamas tunnel expert, Mahmoud Atawa. He’s been telling his Israeli interrogators where the tunnels are, the Israelis are going after them–and Hamas is trying to stop them, unsuccessfully.

This is the place to point out that the siophisticated attack tunnels are sucking up much of the building supplies that are shipped into Gaza, ostensibly to rebuild housing destroyed in the 2014 conflict. Instead, many Gazans are still homeless as the concrete goes underground.

Hamas is signalling that it doesn’t want a new war, while Israel is saying it’ll keep going after the tunnels. Stay tuned…

Intel officer fired for cursing? We’re all in trouble now

BREAKING NEWS–THE INTEL OFFICER GOT HER JOB BACK. I hope Nancy’s report had something to do with that.

Don’t take it from me–take it from ace Pentagon reporter Nancy Youssef, telling this surreal story of an officer who apparently blew the whistle on cooked ISIS intel and was fired–for potty mouth. From the MILITARY, FOR F#CK SAKE.

“After all,” Nancy writes, “if cursing were really a fireable offense in the military, every soldier, sailor, Marine, and Defense Department civilian would have to be sent home.” Not to mention most of us reporters.

And we are left to wonder…if the government had received real intel about the rise of ISIS, would it have stumbled farther into a land war, or would it have done the right thing–let it play out on the ground while protecting the homeland and allies through intelligence?

Somehow I’m afraid that intelligence (both kinds) is getting to be a rare commodity in the US of A.


Life in Damascus is improving, for now: reporter

One of the best reporters I’ve had the privilege of working with got into Damascus for the first time in three years and found that there’s a new patina of normality there.

Slobodan Lekic writes for Stars and Stripes, the excellent military-oriented daily that has become a landing spot for several other ex-AP types. Click here to check it out. Slobo is an expert on military matters and a seasoned, no-nonsense journalist–if this had come from somewhere else, I would have thought it was Syrian government propaganda. That said, in answer to my question, he agreed that the positive atmosphere in Damascus could be a fool’s paradise, a temporary upturn that could be overwhelmed by the reality of destruction from Syria’s civil war.

As I posted earlier this week, it’s rare for a Western journalist to get into Damascus to do some serious reporting. That’s one of the main factors limiting our ability to understand what’s going on there. Like so many other places in the Mideast, the lack of hands-on coverage also limits the world’s response, as the misguided conclusion in this age of instant communications is, if we didn’t see it on TV, it didn’t happen. It’s so easy to manipulate that attitude simply by keeping reporters out, and that’s what most regimes in this region do.

Most news from Syria is second-hand

On KQV Radio in Pittsburgh today, we were going to talk about the collapsing cease-fire, but we started with how news is covered from Syria–by remote control. Foreign correspondents rarely get into Syria at all, and when they do, their movements are restricted by the Syrian government, rebel groups and safety concerns.

A tragic, infuriating reminder of the impossible situation is the air strike that hit a pediatrics hospital in Aleppo a few days ago, killing 50 people. Some reports say one of the dead was the city’s last pediatrician–but for the reasons cited above, we can’t confirm that. The hospital was on the first five floors of the building in the photo above.

We talked on the radio as US Secretary of State John Kerry was arriving in Geneva for talks about the cease-fire with the the UN representative and the foreign ministers of Jordan and Saudi Arabia. They really should be concentrating on humanitarian efforts, because it’s beyond their powers to stop the fighting.