My Mideast Punchlines: death of a salesman….

Saeb Erekat, a Palestinian diplomat who spent decades leading negotiations with Israel, has died at the age of 65 due to complications from coronavirus, the Israeli hospital where he has been hospitalized said Tuesday.

Erekat was taken to Jerusalem’s Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital last month after several days of being treated by his daughter at his West Bank home.

Erekat led successive Palestinian negotiations with Israel for 30-odd years, including talks that led to the signing of the 1995 Oslo Accords, the first major peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. A dominant figure in Palestinian politics for decades, he became secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization in 2015, though his influence in shaping Ramallah’s relations with Israel and the world went far beyond the bureaucratic post.

But Erekat was also a controversial figure: For some Israelis, his uncompromising rhetoric was emblematic of Palestinian rejectionism, and he was notorious for falsely asserting that Israel had massacred hundreds of Palestinians in Jenin refugee camp in 2002. For frustrated Palestinians, he was part of an aging, unchanging leadership that had failed to deliver on its central promise — a state — even as it continued to coordinate with Israel.

They say that buyers are liars and sellers are storytellers. In my eyes, Erekat was a storyteller and snake oil salesman par excellence who never disappointed the useful idiots ready to buy his narrative. He never let the truth get in the way of trying to make the Israelis look bad in the eyes of the world. However, he was responsible for the most profound of statements ever uttered by a Palestinian Arab. In a televised conversation with an Israeli minister during the Second Intifada, his excuse for the carnage inflicted upon Israeli civilians was: “….we are prisoners of our culture….” When I watched him say those words (I was in Israel at the time) my jaw dropped. You’re in a pretty bad way if you think your culture is holding you prisoner, but then victimhood appears to come easily to the Palestinians, and in effect it is that victimhood that is preventing them from joining the comity of nations. Erekat never really learnt the lesson that, as they say in Arabic and Hebrew, “lying has no legs.” Meaning the truth always comes out. Israel’s attitude was as simple as another Arab proverb: “Avoid the company of liars, but if you can’t, don’t believe them.”

My Mideast Punchlines: “I don’t believe it!”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2017 showed US President Donald Trump a potentially doctored video in which Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas seemed to call for the murder of children, in order to sway the American leader to the Israeli side, according journalist Bob Woodward’s explosive new book on the administration, “Rage.”

Reporting on excerpts from the book, set to be released next week, Jewish Insider and The Independent said that early on in his presidency, Trump began to waver in his support for Netanyahu.

Then, when Trump came to Israel in May 2017, Netanyahu presented him with a video of Abbas in which “it sounded like Abbas was ordering the murder of children.”

Netanyahu wondered: “And that’s the guy you want to help?”

Trump was disturbed by the video and called in then-secretary of state Rex Tillerson to watch the clip.

“Watch this! This is unbelievable! You’ve got to see this,” he said.

Tillerson watched the clip, but was highly sceptical. He later said he believed it had been crudely cut together using various bits of speech by Abbas.

After Netanyahu left the room, Tillerson told Trump: “Mr. President, you realize that the whole thing was fabricated?”

But Trump was unconvinced. “Well it’s not fabricated,” he said. “They got the guy on tape saying it.”

In these turbulent times of fake news, it’s clear that none of us can believe anything anymore. So I’ll let the incomparable Victor Meldrew have the last word: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mLNrLI3OBwg

My Mideast Punchlines: too many beaks in the feeder…

Shirt sleeves rolled up and with cheers ringing in his ears, President Macron of France, Lebanon’s former colonial power, waded into the crowds in Beirut yesterday to say he stood with them against a ruling class they denounce as corrupt.

Reeling from the massive explosion in their capital, the denizens of Beirut should not be pinning their hopes too much on the French leader. Lebanon in particular, and the Arab Middle East in general, are basket-cases. Wherever you look, there is death or insecurity, or both.

But Lebanon is special. Notionally a democracy, the sectarian power-sharing system that ended the civil war three decades ago has left the country with a collection of mini-dictatorships. Each faction’s leaders, from the Shiite Hezbollah to the Christian Maronites, exploit their hold on religiously affiliated constituencies to carve out limitless political power and monetary perks. I always tend to quote that old Lebanese proverb: when you leave the hen in charge of the granary, only one chicken gets fat. In this case, there are a fair number of fat hens dipping their beaks into the state coffers. How apposite then that the huge explosion also took out a massive grain silo. Expect the queues for bread to get even longer.

My Mideast Punchlines: The Men from UNCLE…

The official report of the Lebanese authorities on the massive August 4 explosion at the Port of Beirut is that a warehouse near the water containing 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded. They claim that this material had been in the warehouse for over six years, with the approval of the court, and confirmed this claim with documentation.

biff

“Uncle” Hassan Nasrallah was far too quick on the draw — and, this time, he wasn’t blaming Israel. Less than an hour after the explosions, Hezbollah announced that the exploded material was ammonium nitrate. Hezbollah was the first to report it. The reason: Hezbollah was looking for a way to cover up its own negligence and establish an official version that deflected attention away from itself, because no one in the government would dare contradict them.

There was a series of at least three explosions, each of which had a different result. The first created a grey column of smoke that remained for several minutes. The second, a column of red smoke, also remained for several minutes, while the third created a white mushroom cloud that dissipated within seconds. This suggests that at least three different materials were stored in that warehouse (see video).

Anyone familiar with how a port operates knows that the front row of warehouses, which are closest to the water, are used for short-term storage. Cargo that is meant to be stored long-term is moved to warehouses further away from the water.

Anyone who ships sensitive cargo and does not want it to be seen, photographed, or targeted by others from air, space, or ground tries to hide it as close as possible to the water. The warehouse that exploded was on the water’s edge.

Uncle Hassan got fed up with Israel attacking arms shipments from Iran at Damascus airport, and so he decided that it would be better to store them where Israel would not attack because of the close proximity to residential areas. He didn’t reckon on the volatile mix taking on a life of its own. The Men from UNCLE had followed their leader’s orders, so don’t be surprised to see Hassan Nasrallah either step aside from the leadership, or be retired with extreme prejudice.

My Mideast Punchlines: honeytrap…

Iran has a giant fake aircraft carrier that it has used over the years to practice with during naval drills to show off that it can attack US carriers. Now the lumbering model boat is on the move, satellite photos show.

The US usually has at least one aircraft carrier somewhere near the Persian Gulf. Iran often harassed US naval ships in the Persian Gulf using fast boats of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. In April, President Donald Trump said the US would sink Iranian boats that harass American warships.

THE SHIP has at least 16 fake airplanes on its carrier deck. It was being towed by a boat, and another Iranian fast boat was seen nearby. The carrier, one of the Iranian navy’s largest ships, was blown up by Iranian missiles in 2015 and then repaired. Iran’s navy is otherwise relatively small and no match for the US Navy. One US naval officer quipped last year that the US could destroy the Iranian navy in an afternoon if it wanted to.

biffHow nice it would be to see this lumbering piece of flotsam reduced to kindling. You’d have to dry it all out first, of course. but, boy, what a lovely bonfire it would make. While those fake planes may never be able to take off, bravado by Iran to test their bizarre attack strategy on the U.S. 5th Fleet will undoubtedly have dire consequences. The ayatollahs need reminding of an old Iranian proverb: flies will easily fly into the honey; their problem is how to get out.

My Mideast Punchlines: Groundhog Day part 2….

Yet another explosion has been heard in Tehran, shaking buildings in Iran’s capital on Saturday night, according to international media.

Jalal Maleki, a spokesman for the Tehran Fire Department, stated that the explosion took place in northern Tehran in the basement of an old two-story house containing about 30 gas cylinders, according to the Iranian ISNA news. Several of the cylinders weighed five kilograms.

biffNow get this: along with the denial of the explosion, Iranian media reported that the mayor of Garmdareh had stated that the explosion was caused by gas tanks, but it was later discovered that the quoted mayor had died over a year ago and that the quoted news was from years ago, according to the Independent Persian. Now that, folks, is what I call a real Groundhog Day. These explosions are spreading so fast and so furiously that one might be forgiven for thinking they’re in competition with Coronavirus.

 

My Mideast Punchlines: Groundhog Day

Nearly three quarters of Iran’s main centrifuge assembly hall was destroyed by the recent explosion there, Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) president David Albright has told The Jerusalem Post.

Albright said that this latest revelation is based on two new satellite overviews showing a much fuller picture than footage that was released last weekend, indicating that the vast majority of the centrifuge assembly hall was wiped out.

According to the latest report by the think tank, “High-resolution commercial satellite imagery… shows that the Iran Centrifuge Assembly Center (ICAC) at the Natanz Enrichment Site has suffered significant, extensive, and likely irreparable damage to its main assembly hall section.”

Further, the report says, “This new facility, inaugurated in 2018, was critical to the mass production of advanced centrifuges, in particular the assembly of rotor assemblies, the rapidly spinning part of the centrifuge and its most crucial component. ”

biffFollowing the attack, the heads of Iran’s leaders must be spinning faster than their erstwhile centrifuges. Their initial response was predictable. Firstly, the damage was slight. A (bike?) shed, don’t yer know. Then the shed became a factory, and finally they couldn’t hide from the satellite photos, which showed the whole caboodle had been sent to Valhalla. With any luck, it will have set back the lying ayatollahs by a couple of years at least. And then, of course, the Israelis (?) will repeat the process. Iran has now suffered a series of six fires, explosions and chemical mishaps since June 26, waged by an unknown perpetrator.

I don’t know whether there’s any truth to the rumours that the regime is planning to introduce a further self-flagellating festival alongside that of Ashura. Now, what’s the Farsi for Groundhog Day?

 

My Mideast Punchlines: hokey cokey…

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday that he is prepared to hold talks with the US, if Washington first apologises for leaving a landmark 2015 nuclear pact and recommits to the terms of the deal.

During a televised cabinet meeting Rouhani said Washington’s recent calls on Iran to open negotiations are just “words and lies,” Reuters reported.

Iran accuses the US of trying to prevent that by pressuring the countries still in the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Meanwhile, Iran has been violating its restrictions, including the amount of uranium it can enrich and the purity of enrichment, to try to pressure the five countries.

“We have no problem with talks with the US, but only if Washington fulfills its obligations under the nuclear deal, apologizes and compensates Tehran for its withdrawal from the 2015 deal,” Rouhani said.

biffWhat amount of compensation would you like, Mr Rouhani? A further $150 billion that you got as a sweetener from Obama to join that rancid deal in the first place? I’m reminded of the passing of  Larry LaPrise last week. Larry who? You know, the guy who composed that old Music Hall and children’s favourite, The Hokey Cokey. My revised words would go something like this: You put the billions in, you take the billions out (sanctions), in out, in out, you shake it all about….that’s what it’s all about. Ohhh,……..

No, Mr Rouhani, Soak ’em Hokum, your version of The Hokey Cokey, will not work twice. On the other hand, if boring Biden beats Trump in November, you might just stand a chance. For the Democrats, forking out another 150 billion smackers is cheap if it means putting upstart Israel in its place.

 

My Mideast Punchlines: the circus comes to town

Speaking to the cameras today moments before entering the Jerusalem District Court room in which he is now on trial for corruption, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unleashed a furious assault on his accusers — insisting that the charges against him are absurd and fabricated, that he is the victim of an attempted political coup by the police, the state prosecutors, the left and the media, and that the entire skewed process is designed to remove him, and the right-wing camp he leads, from power for years to come.

Almost all of what he said on Sunday afternoon he has said before, in similar speeches broadcast live into the nation’s living rooms by that allegedly biased and hostile media over the past two years: That the coup attempt is a consequence of the left’s failure to remove him from power at the ballot box for a decade; that his police investigators are corrupt; that the state prosecutors have invented a crime especially for him that is on no democracy’s lawbooks — that of attaining favorable media coverage; that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is weak or is being extorted because he has something to hide; that the public knows all this, knows the truth. And, finally, that he will emerge vindicated and continue to lead Israel.

biffRoll up, roll up, folks, the circus has finally come to town. And it looks like being in town for many more months to come. There are all sorts of left-leaning prey animals to gape at: media tigers, legal alligators, hyperventilating hot-air hippos, the so-called expert pundits who can tell a guilty man when they see one. And, make no mistake, Bibi Netanyahu is as guilty as hell. He’s guilty of being a consummate politician, a maneuverer, a manipulator who has steered Israel for longer than any previous premier. He’s also guilty of turning Israel into an economic powerhouse, while at the same time increasing the gap between rich and poor. Yes, Bibi is guilty of a lot of things. But what he is not guilty of is jeopardising his career and his legacy for a Havana cigar, a favour to a friendly businessman, or a few kind words in the antagonistic media. Bibi is probably wrong when he says all three of the judges trying him are a bunch of lefties. Nevertheless, if they find him guilty of the charges against him (Google the details), they will have joined the circus themselves — as clowns.

My Mideast Punchlines: wolf whistle…

Palestinian Authority and PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has announced that the PA is renouncing the peace deals it signed with Israel along with its agreements with the United States. According to several left-leaning Israeli television commentators and retired generals, his speech was an earthquake. It was a calamity of epic proportions. Most importantly, it was a reason to bury the government’s plan to apply Israeli law to the Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria and to the Jordan Valley.

biffBut as Caroline Glick says, the truth is not at all what they claim. This isn’t an earthquake. It isn’t even a hiccup. It isn’t a calamity. It’s just a tired, recycled, empty threat. I’ve lost count the number of times Abbas has cried wolf. If he ceases cooperation between PA security forces and Israel, who will be in the greatest danger? The ageing and ailing Abbas is being kept alive by Israel informing him whenever the trigger fingers of his Hamas rivals seem to be getting a bit itchy. The most important cooperation is not between Israel and the PA, but between Israel and the various local militias (discounting Hamas, of course). Abbas should heed the ancient Arab proverb, “be wary around your enemy once, and your friend a thousand times. A double-crossing friend knows more about what harms you.”

So Abbas will continue to whistle in the wind, safe in the knowledge of where his best interests lie.