MIDEAST MIRROR 11.06.15, SECTION A (ISRAEL)
Israel Hayom and The Jerusalem Post lead their Thursday editions with the Wall Street Journal's report that the three luxury Swiss hotels that hosted the nuclear talks between Tehran and six world powers had been targeted by a version of the sophisticated Duqu spyware, a virus considered a hallmark of Israeli intelligence operations. According to the report, the software allows its handlers to monitor activities, steal computer files and eavesdrop on rooms in which the affected computers are operating.
In the report, the Moscow-based cyber-security firm Kaspersky did not identify Israel by name as being responsible for the breach, but said it did conclude the threat came from the same source as the original Duqu virus, and that the breach was likely carried out by a government. The Wall Street Journal previously reported that Israel allegedly spied on the Iran nuclear talks in 2014.
Jerusalem was quick to dismiss the report as 'baseless.' Although government officials originally declined to comment, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely on Thursday denied that Israel was involved. 'The international reports of Israeli involvement in the matter are baseless,' she told Army Radio. 'What is much more important is that we prevent a bad agreement where at the end of the day we find ourselves with an Iranian nuclear umbrella,' she said.
Any speculation that Israel spied on Iran or Western powers using a virus is just that, according to Yitzhak Ben-Israel, the head of Israel's National Cyber Authority. 'These viruses are found on millions of computers around the world. It's similar to a mass virus that is spread between people – trying to track down the origin of a virus is speculative. There is often no way to pinpoint the culprit.' Nevertheless, said Ben-Israel, hacking to discover secrets 'is part of the game, especially for issues like the Iranian nuclear program.' While it might be logical to assume that Israel perpetrated the hack, 'there is no proof of this,' he added.
The U.S. State Department refused to comment on the reports. State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said at the daily press briefing that 'these are claims by a private company about another government, so we're not going to weigh in on that report,' he said. Rathke noted that Washington 'takes steps' to ensure 'that confidential, classified negotiating details stay behind closed doors in these negotiations. We are always mindful of the need…to take steps to keep our discussions confidential,' he added.
Haaretz leads with a report that a delegation from the prosecutor's office of the International Criminal Court at The Hague is due to arrive in Israel at the end of the month as part of the prosecution's preliminary examination into whether war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Palestinian sources said Palestinian political leaders had been informed of the delegation's planned arrival by the court recently. The purpose of the preliminary examination is to determine if there is a reasonable basis to the claim that crimes have been committed that are within the court's authority to investigate. If the prosecution does decide to launch an investigation, it is possible they will not just investigate allegations of Israeli war crimes, but also actions committed by the Palestinians.
A senior Israeli official who is dealing with the matter told Haaretz that such a visit is a routine part of conducting such preliminary examinations. 'Nothing about it testifies to the progress of the examination or its pace,' the official said. Israel has yet to respond to the prosecution request and will hold discussions about it over the next few days.
In other news on the Palestinian front, Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid presented his diplomatic initiative for a regional peace conference under American auspices in a meeting at the White House with senior Obama advisor for the Middle East, Robert Malley. According to Lapid, the bilateral track has failed, and it is time to give a chance to a regional process. Lapid also expressed concern over the emerging agreement between Iran and world powers over Tehran's nuclear program.
ZIGZAG: Writing in Makor Rishon, Ariel Kahana says that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has harmed himself and the State of Israel by taking back his previous rejection of the two-state solution – especially since U.S. President Barack Obama himself has said that a Palestinian state at the current time is impossible.
"It was rather embarrassing to listen to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu once again repeat the two-state slogan in his speech at the Herzliya Conference this week. Netanyahu's U-turn – in an interview just before the election, he told NRG that 'no Palestinian state would be established' if he was reelected, yet he backtracked a couple of days after leading his party to victory. This was part of his effort to reassure the international community. But today, months after being reelected, such comments are extremely unsettling.
Netanyahu tried to explain the apparent contradiction by saying that, while he supports the two-state solution in principle, it is not practical at this time. This would have been a reasonable explanation if it were not for the fact that, in recent weeks, Netanyahu appears to have dropped that, too. Since forming his fourth government, Netanyahu has met with several foreign ministers and, during the course of these meetings; he hasn't dared to repeat his assertion that the two-state solution is dead.
The zigzag in Netanyahu's position forces us to ask: Which Netanyahu should we believe? Western countries have also not forgiven or forgotten the prime minister's pre-election comments and, as a result, he does not have their trust. The United States and its European allies were always suspicious that Netanyahu's Bar Ilan speech – in which, for the first time, he expressed his support for the two-state solution – was a bluff; they also believe that his comments on the eve of the election are, as U.S. President Barack Obama stated quite clearly, a truer reflection of the prime minister's views. If this is the case, one cannot help but wonder why he is pretending, and, in so doing, is risking the last drop of faith that Washington and Brussels have in him. The leaders of the United States and the European Union are not total idiots.
Apart from that, I am not convinced that Netanyahu needs to say anything at all about the negotiations with the Palestinians. As things currently stand, there seems to be a general agreement that it is not realistic to work toward the establishment of a Palestinian state – especially given the new and justified security demands that Netanyahu has made in light of the situation in the Middle East and given the fact that Palestinian President Mahmoud 'Abbas seems hell bent on ruining any initiative for the resumption of talks.
It is so unlikely that an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal is possible at the moment that even President Obama has said as much. If Obama, whose eagerness to end the conflict comes close to defining his presidency, says that it's impossible, why is the Israeli prime minister claiming that it is possible? Instead of making fools of international leaders, Netanyahu should have simply quoted Obama, who told Ilana Dayan in an interview last week that, 'realistically, reaching an agreement does not seem possible in the next 12 months. It's a very tough challenge.' A true statesman does not mince his words; he comes out and tells people the truth as he sees it.
In addition, Netanyahu is wrong to say that the alternative to the two-state solution is a binational state. The international community recognizes a whole range of options between those two extremes, such as autonomy, a confederation, a protectorate or the kind of creative solutions that were implemented in such places as Gibraltar, Porto Rico and Guam.
Netanyahu is not the only leader to act in this way, of course. In Israel and abroad, most of those who deal with the Israeli-Palestinian peace process relate to the two-state solution in an oversimplified and dogmatic matter. This is especially dangerous when one considers that the establishment of a Palestinian state would pose an existential threat to the State of Israel. A Palestinian state – and it doesn't matter what kind of security arrangements are in place – would seek to undermine the security of Israel, just as Yasser Arafat did after singing the Oslo Accords and just as Abu Mazin is now doing across the globe.
More and more people in the world are realizing that the Fateh leadership's raison d'être is not to worry about the future of the Arab residents of Gaza, Judea and Samaria, but to destroy Israel. If this is the situation before a Palestinian state is even established, it's not hard to guess what will happen once there is a Palestinian state. This is why Netanyahu should not have backtracked on his rejection of the two-state solution. He should have continued his slow but steady process of rescinding his Bar Ilan commitment.
Netanyahu sees himself as the protector of Israel from attacks by the gentiles and he has the full support of the Israeli public to do just that. But that is exactly the reason why his zigzagging is an embarrassment to himself and to us. People prefer to hear the truth, even when it's hard to swallow. They just don't want to be hoodwinked."
GOODBYE, JAMES BOND: Writing in Israel Hayom, Boaz Bismuth comments on the Wall Street Journal's claim that Israel planted a virus to spy on the Iranian nuclear talks.
"I do not know whether Israel was responsible for planting the Duqu virus in three hotels where, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal yesterday, the Iranian delegation to nuclear talks was staying. But if Israel was responsible for the virus, then U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was wrong when he said that Israeli officials' comments on the talks were pointless, since they did not know all the details. If Israel was, indeed, spying on the talks, then it knew at least as much as the people who were doing the actual negotiating. But enough with speculation.
There's no question that the timing of the WSJ report will increase tensions and suspicion between the countries involved in the nuclear talks. Israel, along with the Gulf States, is keeping a close eye on every scrap of information emerging from the talks. The question is: How are they getting this information? There are plenty of ways of obtaining information and it would be naïve in the extreme to think that all sides involved in the talks – which began in 2003 and resumed in 2009 – did not make every effort to get their hands on whatever information was available.
Even among the world powers that are supposed to cooperate between them, there is a strong desire to know what the Chinese, the Russians, the French and (especially) the Americans will do next. Of course, everybody wants to know what the Iranians are up to – and Israel has already taught the international community several lessons in intelligence gathering.
In parallel with the nuclear talks, a real psychological war is being waged among the countries involved in Iran's nuclear program. Some three months ago, the Wall Street Journal published a report claiming that Israel was spying on the United States. Warning lights flashed and Israel was quick to deny the report. There was also a report that Washington was planning to keep Israel out of the loop, since it was concerned that any classified information which reached Israel would soon be leaked to the outside world. This report, too, disappeared without a trace. Of course, if Israel really did plant the Duqu virus, then it wouldn't have been reliant on the Americans for information anyway.
The modern world and the advances in technology have provided those involved in espionage and intelligence gathering with new tools. Gone are the days of undercover agents and spies with miniature cameras. James Bond has been put out to pasture and he's been replaced by a computer virus capable of listening to any type of communication – until the cyber security experts at Kaspersky Lab discover it, of course.
I don’t know what is true and what's invented in this latest WSJ revelation, but everything sounds like it makes sense."
KASPERSKY'S LITTLE JOKE: Writing in Yedioth Ahronoth, Ronen Bergman says that the discovery of a virus in the computers of hotels that hosted the Iranian nuclear talks raises more questions than it answers.
"In the early days of the State of Israel, The Information Division B was one of the most mysterious and secretive braches of the country's embryonic defense establishment. It was disbanded in 1952, but not before giving birth to several hugely important organizations, such as the equally mysterious Institute for Biological Research in Nes Tziona.
It is possible that one of the cyber security experts at the Kaspersky Lab, which discovered a virus in three of the hotels that hosted the Iranian nuclear talks in Switzerland, was having a sly joke at our expense when he called the virus – which everyone seems to believe was planted by Israel – Duqu B. I have interviewed Eugene Kaspersky many times over the past few years; he refuses steadfastly to say which country he believes is behind the virus. He refused to do so this time, too. But even the name of the virus indicates that the finger of blame is pointing directly in Israel's direction.
In May 2012, the International Telecommunications Union – which is run by the United Nations – contacted Kaspersky on an urgent matter. Iranian oil and gas companies had asked the UN for emergency help after files on their computers started to mysteriously and spontaneously delete themselves.
Kaspersky's team was up to the challenge. After a few days of intensive efforts, they managed to identify the virus. They announced that it was perhaps the most sophisticated virus in existence. It could, for example, activate a computer's microphone and camera, delete files at will and so on. Kaspersky decided to name the virus after one of the lines of a code it contained: Flame. 'It was a particularly virulent piece of malware,' Kaspersky told me at the time. 'Only professionals could have written it and it would have taken a lot of resources.'
Shortly after that, there was a report in the United States that the Flame virus was part of an American-Israeli project – codenamed 'The Olympic Games' – the goal of which was to delay the Iranian nuclear program. As far back as 2010, a computer lab in Belarus identified a different virus in the same software – Stuxnet. A few weeks after Flame was identified, another virus – Duqu – was found. Yesterday Kaspersky announced that this latest virus was, it seems, an advanced version of Duqu.
If these reports are accurate and Israel's intelligence bodies are behind the virus, it seems to prove that Israel has once against managed to develop the most advanced spyware on the market.
There are still plenty of open questions: Were viruses only discovered at those three hotels? If not and the virus has spread to dozens or perhaps thousands of connected computers, is it not possible that underground elements are using it for their own nefarious purposes? And here's another important question: What information stored on the hotels' computers could possibly help whoever installed the virus? Do these hotels have surveillance equipment in their evaluators or meeting rooms? And if not, isn't the information that the virus gathered worthless? It's possible, therefore, that more old-fashioned spy tactics might have yielded more useful information than a computer virus."
JERUSALEM SYNDROME: Writing in Maariv, Ben Caspit says that the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on Jerusalem this week had little to do with Jerusalem – and everything to do with who determines American foreign policy.
"Martin Van Buren was a fascinating character. The eighth president of the United States, whose political cunning earned him the nickname 'The Little Magician,' was in office for four years, until his defeat by William Henry Harrison in 1841.
Van Buren was just one of the many presidents who were mentioned in the long ruling that the U.S. Supreme Court handed down on Jerusalem this week. His handling of the status of the dispute between Great Britain and Argentina over ownership of the Falkland Islands, which erupted when Van Buren served as Secretary of State, was just one of the crises mentioned in the court's ruling. These crises were referred to because they touched on the same issue that is at the heart of the Jerusalem question. It's not, however, a question about Jerusalem, Israel or even U.S. President Barack Obama. It has nothing to do with the peace process or relations between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the White House. In short, it was totally unrelated to any of the burning issues that we tend to obsess over.
You can read for yourself, if you can wade through the 100 or so pages of the ruling. There is only one question on the table: Who has the right to determine American foreign policy? More specifically: Does the president have the right to recognize a foreign country and does Congress have the right to instruct the president to do the opposite of what he planned?
The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the president. Not President Obama; every president; those who came before Obama and those who will follow him. The ruling certainly came down on the side of Obama's immediate predecessor, George W. Bush. After all, the bill that would have recognized Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel was passed when Bush was president and it was Bush who challenged Congress' authority to pass such laws.
The Supreme Court Justices' ruling was not about the status Jerusalem. Rather, it was about who is supposed to decide about the status of Jerusalem – and it ruled that the president, not Congress, has the authority. If some future president decides to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel, then this week's ruling will not have been a blow to Israel. But, most significantly, it's none of Israel's business. Just like the Americans do not have the power to tell Israel how to divide up responsibility between the Foreign Ministry and the Strategic Affairs Ministry, so Israel cannot decide how the United States divides up foreign policy powers between the president and Congress.
Despite the fact that the ruling was not about Jerusalem; let's talk about Jerusalem – which is, without question, a problem. It is a problem for Israel, but, at this stage, it is also a problem for the United States. It is a problem because the administration – any administration – has its hands tied by its predecessors. Its hands are tied since the precedent is that recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital would ruin the United States' relations with the Arab world. Only something very dramatic will free the administration from these shackles; only something very dramatic will allow it to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
The proof is obvious. Presidential candidates like Bush himself, always promise to move the United States' embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. None of them have done so. Not because they didn't want to, but because they recognized that the price would be too high and the benefit, from an American perspective, too small. There's no special reason to upset the status quo and there are several good reasons to protect it. This is not a question of what is right; it's a question of interests. Israel, of course, must continue to insist that Jerusalem is its capital city and it must continue to hope that there will be a window of opportunity that will allow some future president to decide that the benefits outweigh the costs.
Israel must try to understand what happened this week: the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling did not undermine Jerusalem. Rather, it weakened Congress and strengthened the president's control of foreign policy. The ruling is relevant to issues such as Iran, the battle in the United Nations and other struggles wherein Israel hopes that a friendly Congress will save it from a confrontational president. If this week's ruling sent any kind of message to Israel, it is that only the United States has the right to decide which of its branches of government will rescue Israel. Israel, of course, has the right to save itself from itself."
THE OVAL OFFICE PHARAOH: Writing in Haaretz, Ari Shavit says that Israelis and their leaders must bury the hatchet with U.S. President Barack Obama – or risk a head-on collision that will have catastrophic results.
"The man working in the Oval Office devotes a great deal of thought and feeling to Israel. The first reason for this is his identification with the enlightened, lost Israel of the Labor movement. The second is his frustration that at present Israel seems to him like a country that has lost its way. The third is the sense of affinity he feels to liberal American Jewry, among whom he rose politically and continues to live today. The fourth is the deep pain Barack Obama feels because many Jews in Israel and the United States think of him as the Jews’ enemy. The fifth is the Iran deal being hammered out in Lausanne, which he aspires to turn into his historic foreign policy legacy. The sixth is the political and moral need he feels to do something about the Palestinian issue. The seventh is Binyamin Netanyahu.
But President Obama is not dogmatic. Pleasant, attentive and businesslike, he is extremely pragmatic. The main thing he has learned over the past six years is the limits of power. The main thing he is still learning is the complexity of reality. Ideological victories are not what he’s after. He seeks practical solutions. Someone to run with, someone to work with. Someone with whom change can be brought about.
For seven different reasons, Obama wants to reconcile with the Israelis and make peace with the Jews. This is why he gave fascinating interviews to Jeffrey Goldberg and Ilana Dayan. This is why he donned a kippa and spoke like a Reform rabbi at the Adas Israel synagogue in Washington. This is why he is ready to go to extraordinary lengths to find an Israel that he can love, work with, and with whom he can put things right. Can things be put right? They must be.
The relationship between the U.S. president and Israel has been studded with mistakes, misunderstandings and missed opportunities. While Netanyahu’s Jerusalem felt that Obama’s Washington doesn’t understand the Middle East, Obama’s Washington felt that Netanyahu’s Jerusalem doesn’t understand the 21st century zeitgeist. While the frontier democracy felt that the democratic superpower was being overly conciliatory, the democratic superpower felt that the frontier nation was becoming more extremist and nationalist.
But all that’s happened in the last few years is nothing compared to what could happen if the Iranian nuclear deal is finalized and signed in the coming summer. If that happens, we will soon witness a head-on collision. On one side will stand a Democratic president determined to leave a mark on the world, and on the other will stand an Israeli/Republican alliance determined to prevent what it perceives as the end of the world. On one side will stand a liberal White House that enjoys overwhelming support of the new, multicultural and open-minded America, and on the other side will stand a conservative Congress that represents the old, white America and is perceived as Israel’s close ally.
If the deal goes through, the shameful shouting and heckling that was showered upon Jack Lew will double and triple among American Jewry. If the deal doesn’t go through, the Jews will be perceived as the ones who thwarted the first African-American president and who forced the United States into a dangerous confrontation with Iran and Islam. Whatever the political outcome of this confrontation, the consequences may be horrendous. Obama, Israel and the American Jewish community will emerge from it battered and bruised.
In the little time that still remains until the moment of truth, the air must be cleared. The incitement against Obama must stop. We must reach out to him. It is not Pharaoh that is working in the Oval Office. It is not Haman that is residing in the White House. It is a true friend. It is absolutely legitimate to argue with the thinking person serving as president of the United States, but that person must be respected and cherished. It’s not too late to restart the ailing relationship. It is a moral and political imperative to do so at once."
ERDOGAN’S LOSS: In its editorial on Thursday, The Jerusalem Post says that it is always a welcome development when an autocrat-wannabe like Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is brought down a peg.
"President Recep Tayyip Erdogan harbored unconcealed ambitions to resurrect a present-day version of the Ottoman sultanate of old, with himself cast in the starring role. For that he needed enough parliamentary clout to change the constitution and put unprecedented executive powers in the president’s hands, in contrast to his current status as titular head-of-state only. This is what Sunday’s election in Turkey was all about.
Erdogan failed to amass the mandate he sought and, for the first time since his Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) rose to power 13 years ago, he lost his parliamentary majority. In itself that certainly appears to justify joy in Israel, which Erdogan – a Muslim Brotherhood torchbearer – bashes relentlessly and vituperatively.
Erdogan had set in motion a counterrevolution against the secular post-World War I republic that modern Turkey’s ideological father, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, established. Ataturk abolished the sultanate and sought Turkey’s transformation via political, cultural, social, economic and legal reforms. Despite occasional resort to military coups to protect its threatened secular quasi-democracy, Turkey became a NATO stalwart and for decades held radical Islam at bay. Erdogan changed the direction in a fundamental way.
For Israel, this constituted a particular blow. An outcast in its neighborhood, Israel yearned for Muslim friends, for a comradeship of self-preservation with the region’s other non-Arabs – Turks and Iranians. This made singular sense in the heyday of nationalist pan-Arabism. It, however, eroded as religious fervor supplanted nationalist zeal and Arabs could theoretically welcome Iran and Turkey into their club rather than shun their co-religionists as rank outsiders. First Iran was lost to the ayatollahs, and then the 'strategic alliance' with Turkey collapsed, despite the fact that pre-Erdogan, Ankara’s eyes seemed set westward as it coveted EU membership.
None of the above trends, it needs be stressed, have changed with Erdogan’s letdown at the polls. His visceral hostility to Israel is unlikely to be mitigated by his failure to effectively undo the overhauls that Ataturk put in place almost a hundred years ago. Erdogan’s hold on foreign policy has not diminished. The setback he suffered may only make him all the more aggressive and vindictive. His capacity for blaming everything and anything on Jews is well-known. Spewing Judeophobic rhetoric just one day before Turks were to cast their ballots, Erdogan found no issue more conducive to garnering support than blaming The New York Times for a supposed century of anti-Turkish bias fueled by 'the Jewish capital that is behind it.'
Such knee-jerk pillory-the-Jew vitriol has become bon ton in much of Turkish public discourse and there is little likelihood that the damage wrought could be instantly reversed. This is all the more so in view of Turkey’s economic travails and the probability that it is in for prolonged instability. Erdogan is only 19 parliamentary seats short of a majority and he possesses various alternatives for achieving it. He can illicitly tempt opposition parliamentarians to his camp. He can try to form a coalition. He can opt for a minority government and then, whenever things don’t go his way, he can agitate and provoke until he is 'forced' to declare a game-changing state of emergency. Erdogan can, in essence, seize power. He has shown in the recent past that he is not shy of cynically employing any assortment of dirty tricks. He has jailed the military hierarchy, opposition politicians and noncompliant journalists. He violently repressed protests. He instituted a personality cult – exemplified by his omnipresent portraits – and built himself a sumptuous 1,150-room palace, all in the name of egalitarianism.
Erdogan is far from a defeated foe. Under no circumstances should he be written off. His capacity for malice must not be dismissed, even if his dreams of heading an ostensibly elected sultanate were knocked down – for now. We can only hope that the election results are a harbinger of changes to come in the country that once seemed like it could be Israel’s strongest ally in the region."
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