Editor’s Notes: Signs of the times

By David Horovitz June 17, 2005

At a dinner at the home of Dr. Marouf Bakhit, Jordan’s newish ambassador here, we’re talking student statistics. There are, it turns out, in excess of 1,000 Israelis studying at Jordanian universities this year, their tuition subsidized by a variety of scholarship programs.


Well, to be more specific, Israeli Arabs.

What about Israeli Jews, I ask? Any of them at university in the Hashemite kingdom?

Not one, I’m told.

How about Jordanians studying in Israel? I venture again, remembering the trickle of Jordanians a few years back to overseas programs at our major universities, and to less mainstream initiatives like an environmental study program at Kibbutz Ketura, north of Eilat. Are any of them left these days?

A pause. There is one Jordanian student, I’m told, studying for his doctorate at an Israeli university. But please, I’m urged, don’t go seeking him out and writing about him. He’s desperate to avoid publicity. You’ve no idea what kind of trouble it would make for him when he gets home.

* * *

AS ZERO Hour approaches, the various Israeli security apparatuses are stepping up their interaction with the press, grappling with the logistics of evacuating thousands of unhappy citizens in the shadow of an unpredictable terrorist threat and in the full glare of the world’s media spotlight.

Bad enough that the army is going to be shepherding settler-related convoys along the entirely inadequate Gaza roads. But it’s going to have to shepherd thousands of needy journalists down the same roads too, to the hottest points of confrontation – giving generous access, in real time, or paying the price in hostile coverage.

By the look on some of the generals’ faces as they ill-advisedly ask a room full of hacks to outline perceived critical reporting requirements, it’s a fairly safe bet that they’d rather be pretty much anywhere else – including Gush Katif, grappling with the most recalcitrant evacuees.

As debate continues, I corner an IDF officer to ask him why the army hasn’t closed down the Gaza Strip already, at least to new residents. After all, hundreds more people have been moving to Gush Katif in recent weeks, bent on playing a central role in attempting to thwart the pullout.

That’s a political question, he tells me, correctly. ‘The IDF can close down the Strip in 24 hours, the moment the government gives the word.’

Okay, but why does he think the government is allowing the flow of determinedly obstructive bodies into the Strip? Why is it allowing activists to set up camp in the Palm Beach hotel?

Where would it rather have them? he asks rhetorically. Leading protests outside the Prime Minister’s Office and at the key access points in and out of Gaza, or safely sealed off in a Gush Katif hotel?

* * *

LEAFING THROUGH a recent issue of the London Sunday Times, I come across the most astounding insider’s guide to the Iranian nuclear program. The May 1 feature is headlined ‘Revealed: Iran’s nuclear factory’ – an echo of the same newspaper’s expose of Israel’s nuclear arsenal, as detailed to its reporters by Mordechai Vanunu in 1986.

But unlike the Vanunu affair, a global preoccupation, this expose has sent few shock waves. Indeed, it barely raised a ripple, in Israel or anywhere else.

Yet Elahe Mohtasham’s report – detailing what the paper called ‘unique access to a plant [at Esfaham] that brought her face to face with Teheran’s nuclear ambitions’ – leaves little doubt that the Islamic Republic is now almost all of the way down the road to nuclear weaponry.

Mohtasham reports that Iran has the capacity to produce, ‘on an industrial scale,’ UF6 – the gas needed to enrich uranium in gas centrifuges, for either nuclear power or atomic weapons.

‘Would it be able to make enough [UF6] to feed 50,000 centrifuges planned for the Natanz enrichment plant?’ she asks. ‘Yes,’ comes the reply.

How significant is that 50,000 figure? Mohtasham notes that ‘between 1,500 and 2,000 centrifuges could produce enough highly enriched uranium for one atomic device a year. According to IAEA reports, Iran had 1,140 centrifuge rotors by the spring of last year. By October the number had risen to 1,274.’ And in February, she adds, the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, Hassan Rohani, declared that ‘during the period of one year and several months we built and assembled all the centrifuges we needed.’

All Iran need do now to go nuclear, the Sunday Times reporter continues, is spend ‘at least a year’ testing and assembling different sections of the centrifuges, and ‘an extra few months’ producing the necessary UF6 at Esfaham and transferring it to Natanz ‘as the feed material for the enrichment process.’

Did this startling firsthand view, from the self-described ‘first independent Western academic analyst to gain access to the building where the UF6 is produced,’ generate so little outside interest because of the reassuring sentences about production lines lying idle ‘at the moment,’ as diplomatic efforts continue? Or was it, more likely, because, barring dramatic intervention, a nuclear Iran is gradually becoming a foregone conclusion?

* * *

AT THE farewell festivities of a wildly successful year-in-Israel program for 300 participants from Young Judaea, FZY and Hadassah, graduates who have decided to stay on permanently in Israel are cheered ecstatically.

Some of the more musical youth take turns performing from the stage; others read carefully drafted speeches, peppered with gleefully received in-jokes, on what their year in Israel has meant for them – the voyages of self-discovery, the shattered illusions, the unexpected pleasures.

The 300 figure was a record-breaker, the more remarkable because when participants signed up there was no way of knowing that their time here would be as relatively bomb-free as it proved. The year ahead promises to be better still, with more than 400 youngsters set to arrive within the same framework.

Only one teeny hiccup, the coordinator of one of the groups confides: They’ve had to trash the T-shirts they’d printed up for that new intake.


* * *

THE GROWING consensus, ever more openly expressed by Israelis, and Americans, who participated in the former prime minister’s unsuccessful peacemaking initiative with the late Hafez Assad, was that Ehud Barak blew it with the Syrians. The deal was there to be done, one of those participants told me recently, but Barak feared the Israeli public was not ready to swallow it.

The outstanding feature of the negotiations, this Israeli official added, was that on the security issues – demilitarized zones, early warning stations et. al. – the Syrians were strikingly ready to accommodate Israel’s demands.

Where they dug in their heels was on normalization: open borders, trade, free-flowing tourism. For Assad, desperately trying to maintain his closed regime, the threat of an Israeli tank, this official said, paled in comparison to the prospect of an Israeli tour bus bringing vibrant, colorful, free-speaking visitors into his constrained land.

* * *

ABOUT TWO dozen journalists attended a briefing last week by Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz organized by the Citizens’ Accord Forum between Jews and Arabs in Israel. Mofaz spoke at length about a vision for non-army national service for Israeli Arabs, and at length about disengagement. Along with much that he and others had said before, Mofaz also offered his argument against demolishing the homes of settlers – an argument keenly felt by an ex-chief of the General Staff.

Hamas will doubtless claim victory whatever the circumstances of Israel’s departure from Gaza, he said; it will fly its flag from settler homes, or from the rubble of those homes. But demolishing them, and then removing the rubble – as would be required of Israel by international law, Mofaz said – would necessitate troops staying on in Gaza for months after the pullout. As defense minister, he said, he would not be able to look a bereaved mother in the eye and tell her that her son, killed in a Palestinian attack in Gaza, paid with his life because Israel had stayed on in the Strip tearing down homes.

With the cabinet about to make a decision on the fate of the settlers’ homes, I asked Mofaz whether his position would prevail. He hoped so, he said. And it wasn’t only his position, but that of the defense establishment.

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