Ed: 37: April/2012
The March 5 summit between US President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu marked an important milestone in the US-Israeli decision-making process on Iran's nuclear program. The meeting helped clarify positions and narrow gaps, yet significant differences remain to be addressed in the coming months.
Imagine the following terrifying scenario for the international community - a rogue, impoverished country armed to the teeth with doomsday weaponry, a regime infamous for its belligerence, yet one whose perceptions of reality and decision-making processes are a mystery. Let us further imagine such a ‘hermit kingdom' with the capacity to inflict the gravest catastrophe on the world yet ruled by an unknown and inexperienced young leader in his twenties.
In four days in early March, well over 200 rockets were fired at southern Israel from the Gaza Strip, injuring several people, sending up to a million Israelis to the bomb shelter, and cancelling school for approximately 200,000 students. Israeli air strikes targeted the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) - the groups responsible for the rocket attacks - killing 25 Palestinians of whom 22 were terrorists, mostly from Islamic Jihad, and many hit in the act of firing rockets.
The violence was triggered when Israel carried out a targeted killing of Zuhair al-Kaissi, the leader of the PRC, whom it said was planning a major attack on Israel through Sinai. This was the fourth major outbreak of conflict around Gaza over the past year.
Since the outbreak of the protests in Tahrir Square, which were led by liberal, secular youth and which led to the ouster of Egyptian President Husni Mubarak, a lot of water has flowed through the Nile. An ailing Mubarak is on trial, possibly for his life, and his declaration that only his regime could block the rise of the Islamists turns out to have been keen and precise. Islamist political parties - the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists - won 75% of the vote in free, fair elections, while the liberal secular youth have been sidelined in terms of political influence in Egypt. The army, which has not given up the reins of government for even a moment, has teamed up with the Islamists, makes concessions in every confrontation with "the street", and retreats further and further from what it declared was its first priority: to promulgate a constitution that would ensure basic rights and a stable democracy.
The Finkelstein Inquiry into the Australian media has provoked a great deal of comment in the Australian media, most of it critical. And I share the view of the majority of commentators that the major proposal put forward by Finkelstein - for a government-funded body empowered to make legally enforceable and unappealable rulings on any alleged failure to meet agreed standards by any media outlet (including small blogs) - is, at the least, problematic. Any cure worse than the disease would be a mistake.
A visit to Semarang, the largest city in Central Java, is in many ways an assault on the senses. The humidity, with searing heat and blustery winds, is unavoidable, as are the blinding colours and the food which comes in two varieties - syrupy sweet or hot and spicy.
My recent trip, to participate as an Australian delegate to the 6th Asia/Pacific Regional Interfaith Dialogue (RID), included assaults, but welcome ones, on two other senses.
The "Israel Apartheid Week" festival continues to excite students on campuses across Europe (forget those pesky events in Syria, Yemen, Egypt and Iran). But while Apartheid Week has come and gone for another year, the BDS campaign - Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions - plods relentlessly on. Why has the Jewish state, the only liberal democracy in the region, become the obsessive focus of vilification, demonisation and delegitimisation? Why is it considered so uniquely evil - a "racist, genocidal state," in the words of one of the leading Israel Apartheid Week celebrants in London?
During the four days of violence starting on March 9 that saw hundreds of rockets fired from Gaza at southern Israel, the Israeli military's precision responses remarkably managed to limit Palestinian fatalities to 25, of whom 22 were terrorists.
However, coverage of the conflict for the Age and Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) by Ruth Pollard, Fairfax's Middle East correspondent, consisted of two pieces that included glaring factual errors, lacked important background detail and obscured this reality.
After a week of intermittent barrages of mortars, rockets, and missiles, relative quiet befell southwestern Israel, in bizarre synchrony with a blessed winter's belated departure.
The weather has been one happy story in Israel this year. After seven years of drought, the skies opened up and by early March, the Water Authority reported that overall rainfall for this year had already exceeded by more than 10% the annual average.
When Israeli jets pounded the Gaza Strip on March 9-12, in the latest round of major fighting around the enclave, they were not fighting Hamas, Israel's traditional bête noire in Gaza. Though radical factions fired more than 300 rockets at Israel, the self-described Islamic Resistance Movement did not claim responsibility for a single attack. It may be the first time the organisation has refused to lead the charge to battle against Israel.
Hamas has a different fight on its hands. Iran, through the use of its proxies, is fomenting instability in Gaza that it is ill-equipped to handle. Indeed, Teheran is punishing Gaza's de facto rulers for leaving their long-standing alliance.