Monday, April 27, 2009

The Problems With Universal Healthcare

In recent years, there has been a strong push for a universal healthcare plan in the United States. Many would like this reformed healthcare system to emulate the European national health plans. People across the country see that our healthcare system is in crisis, with millions of people who are uninsured and prices that are skyrocketing.

The American healthcare crisis is actually one of affordability rather than access to healthcare. There are very few people who cannot find healthcare; the problem is that many people cannot afford the healthcare that is available. This is true even though laws require hospitals to treat patients regardless of their ability to pay.

A common myth is that universal government healthcare would be free or cost less than private healthcare. This belief violates several economic principles. First, the money to pay for health professionals, medicines, and facilities has to come from somewhere. If consumers don’t pay for these services directly, they will pay indirectly through higher taxes. Second, as the perceived price decreases, demand will increase. In other words, when people believe that they won’t have to pay for their healthcare, they will use more health services.

As demand increases to exceed the available supply of health services, the government will have to take action. The government will have to limit the amount of services to keep the cost of the healthcare system from exploding. There are several ways to do this. First, they might impose rationing and limit the availability of services. A second option would be increase the amount that patients pay for their healthcare. This could be similar to the health insurance premiums and co-payments that many health insurance policies contain now. A third option would be for the government to do nothing and simply allow shortages to build in the system.

A third problem is that government healthcare will likely create a shortage of healthcare professionals. The government will undoubtedly attempt to rein in costs by imposing price controls. It has already followed this strategy in government healthcare programs that have already been enacted such as Medicare. Medical training, especially for doctors, is a long and expensive process. The motivating factor for many doctors is the financial reward at the end of the process. When the government removes the financial incentive for becoming a doctor, fewer people will choose to become doctors and shortages will result. This is especially likely due the increasing need for doctors in the United States and the Baby Boom generation ages.

These problems can be seen in national healthcare plans around the world. Even highly touted plans such as those in Britain and Canada commonly have long wait times for care that is easily available in the United States. Last year it was revealed that government bureaucrats in England had attempted to solve the problem of long emergency room waits by keeping thousands of patients, some critically ill, in ambulances for as long as five hours before moving them to the emergency room waiting list. This, in turn, meant that the ambulances were not available to help other sick or injured people. It should not be surprising that many Europeans and Canadians who can afford it travel to the United States for health care rather than waiting in line for “free” care at home.

The problems are not just in other countries. In 2006, Massachusetts passed a state healthcare plan. Former Governor Mitt Romney touted the legislation in his bid for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination. More recently, the state has begun to experience many of the same problems plaguing nations with socialized healthcare.

Recent statistics show that visits to emergency rooms in Massachusetts have increased since the health reform went into effect. The percentage of uninsured patients in ERs has not changed (in spite of laws making health insurance mandatory), while the percentage of more affluent patients, who in the past got care at a doctor’s office, has increased.

Similarly, the dramatic increase in the numbers of people seeking care has made it difficult for many patients to see a primary care doctor. This is compounded by the fact that doctors are allotted a certain amount of time that they are paid for with each patient. If they exceed this time, they are not compensated for the extra work.

The Massachusetts government had hoped that the legislation would encourage more employers to provide health insurance for their employees. Instead, the newly insured people of Massachusetts are primarily involved in state paid or subsidized programs. 16% have their health insurance paid by the state through Mass Health, while 41% are enrolled in the subsidized Commonwealth Care. In all, about three-fifths of Massachusetts residents receive free or subsidized health insurance. Approximately 5% of the people of Massachusetts remain uninsured.

The high number of people receiving government assistance for their health insurance has led to rapidly increasing costs for the state. The cost of Massachusetts’ plan has increased by a staggering 42% since 2006. In order to control costs, current Governor Deval Patrick is considering price controls, limits coverage, more exclusions, and an overall spending cap.

The federal government already faces similar problems with Medicare. Medicare is an unfunded liability that poses huge problems for our budget over the next few years. Medicare will soon begin paying out more money than it takes in and will be bankrupt by 2019 unless changes are made to increase Medicare taxes, cut benefits, or some combination of both.

Some countries in Europe may go a step further by limiting the treatment available for the elderly, terminally ill, and infants. The amount of return in the form of tax revenue from these patients is limited, so the government health bureaucracy doesn’t want to spend resources on expensive cures and treatments. In Holland, euthanasia is already common, both for the elderly and for infants with health problems, sometimes without parental consent.

The best way to solve the healthcare crisis in the US is to reintroduce competition. Most Americans are locked into employer health plans with specified co-payments. Because there is no choice of coverage and no price difference between doctors, there is no incentive to shop around for a better deal. Most people don’t even know how much their doctor visits cost beyond the co-payment or deductible.

Employer paid health insurance should be eliminated in favor of health savings accounts (HSAs). Consumers should contribute money to their account and use it to pay for care. If money is not spent, it should stay in the account, earning interest, until needed or until the consumer meets the requirements to withdraw it for other purposes. This would encourage people to shop for a good and inexpensive doctor, and also discourage frivolous claims.

Similarly, state governments should resist the temptation to make health insurance all things for all people. When laws mandate coverage for things that not all people want, it drives the costs up for everyone. For example, not all people want or need coverage pregnancy, sex changes, chiropractors, or “recreational” drugs such as Viagra. People should be allowed to buy simple and cheap major medical policies for no-frills coverage. If such a policy is not available in all states, people should be allowed to cross state lines to purchase it.

Some of the best advances in affordable coverage in recent years have come from the private sector. For example, Wal-mart introduced $4 generic prescriptions and was followed by several other chains. Now consumers can get prescription antibiotics totally free at Publix. Similarly, some stores now offer on-site clinics staffed by nurses for minor healthcare.

Universal government healthcare has been tried around the world and has typically not worked well. If it is enacted in the United States, we can expect to move from our private health system to one that has the efficiency of the DMV, the cost of the Department of Defense, and the bedside manner of the IRS. Is this the change that most Americans are looking for?


Ft. Worth TX

Friday, April 24, 2009

Obama's Hundred Days

As President Obama’s first hundred days in office draws to a close, it provides a window into the priorities and goals of a new administration. While one hundred days is slightly less than seven percent of a four-year presidential term, it is symbolically important because the first actions of the new administration set the tone for the years to come.

President Obama’s first hundred days was characterized by change. Much of the change was reversals of Obama’s own campaign positions. It was also characterized by reversals of many Bush Administration policies. For better or for worse, it is clear that the federal government as led by Barack Obama will be radically different from that of George W. Bush.

One of the earliest indications of trouble for Obama was his difficulty in establishing a cabinet. After several Bush appointees and Republican officeholders were accused of wrongdoing, ethics reform became a key component of Obama’s campaign. However, early in Obama’s tenure many of his appointees ran into ethical problems.

Obama’s nominee for Secretary of the Treasury, Tim Geithner, was revealed to have failed to pay his Social Security and Medicaid taxes for four years while he worked at the International Monetary Fund. Geithner was confirmed after paying over $30,000 in back taxes, interest, and penalties.

President Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis, also faced tax troubles. The White House learned from questions from a USA Today reporter that Solis’ husband had over $6,400 in unresolved tax liens. The four liens, two from California and two from Los Angeles County, dated back to 1993. Solis and her husband, Sam Sayyad, paid the liens and she was eventually confirmed.

Not so lucky were Tom Daschle and Nancy Killifer. Daschle, a former senate majority leader, withdrew from consideration for Secretary of Health and Human Services and the White House Office of Health Care Reform, after paying $140,000 in back taxes and interest. While in the Senate, Daschle said, “Make no mistake, tax cheaters cheat us all, and the IRS should enforce our laws to the letter.”

Nancy Killefer, nominee for Chief Performance Officer, also withdrew from consideration. Killefer had failed to pay employment taxes on domestic employees who worked in her home for a year and a half. The District of Columbia placed a lien on her home in 2005 for the back taxes. Five months later, Killefer paid $946 to remove the lien.

An additional nominee with ethics problems was New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, Obama’s pick for the Secretary of Commerce. Richardson withdrew in 2008 amid a grand jury investigation into whether Richardson may have used his political position to award a New Mexico government contract to a California company. To date, no charges have been filed in the ongoing investigation.

Eric Holder, Obama’s Attorney General, also had ethics problems. Holder served as President Clinton’s Deputy Attorney General. In this post, he helped to pardon Marc Rich, one of the FBI’s ten most wanted fugitives. Rich was charged with contributing to the FALN, a Puerto Rican terrorist group, and income tax evasion. He received a presidential pardon in the closing hours of the Clinton Administration. A House committee report called Holder’s actions “unconscionable.”

Another campaign promise was to stop the “revolving door” in which former government officials become lobbyists and lobbyists enter government service. On the campaign trail, President Obama said, “If you are a lobbyist entering my administration, you will not be able to work on matters you lobbied on, or in the agencies you lobbied during the previous two years.”

This promise was also quickly broken. William Lynn, a recent lobbyist for defense contractor Raytheon, was appointed by Obama as Deputy Secretary of Defense. Other former lobbyists in the administration include Thomas Donilon and Ron Klain, both of whom lobbied for FNMA prior to the financial giant’s collapse and subsequent bailout.

Obama had also promised to allow a “sunshine before signing” period on legislation. According to the campaign promise, new non-emergency bills would be posted on the White House website for five days before Obama signed them. The first bill that Obama signed into law, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, was signed by Obama two days after being passed by Congress without being posted on the internet. Obama’s second bill, an expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) was signed hours after it was passed by Congress. Neither bill would classify as an emergency.

On the domestic side, Obama promised to cut taxes for “95% of Americans” and to “enact a net spending cut.” Obama also promised to “go line by line” over the federal budget to eliminate earmarks and wasteful spending. He also endorsed the idea of “pay as you go” to help eliminate deficit spending. These promises were all caught up the watershed moment of his first months in office: the fight for the stimulus package.

On February 17, 2009, President Obama signed the $787 billion stimulus package into law. The bill was passed and signed so quickly that even most members of Congress did not know exactly what was contained in its 1,073 pages. In spite of Obama’s claims that the bill contained no earmarks, it did contain billions of dollars of non-stimulating pork barrel spending. The stimulus package did become law, but at the price of another Obama promise. Although Obama had promised to be a bipartisan president, not a single Republican vote in the House of Representatives and only three Republican votes in the Senate. A few weeks later, Congress passed another spending bill. This $410 billion bill contained 9,000 earmarks. Again, the vote was largely along party lines with eight Republicans voting for the bill.

The massive spending increases under President Obama have increased the federal deficit to $1.85 trillion for 2009. This is an almost five-fold increase over President Bush’s largest deficit of $490 billion after the bailouts of 2008. This gives President Obama the dubious distinction of being the first president to preside over trillion dollar federal budgets and deficits.

Obama’s budget plans abandon the pay-go concept and continue to run record deficits over the next decade. Even without considering unfunded liabilities, such as Social Security and Medicare, the United States will be running trillion dollar deficits for the foreseeable future. As a percentage of the gross domestic product (GDP), Obama’s budgets reach levels unseen since WWII. Many economists believe that these levels of debt are not sustainable. While Obama has promised to halve the deficit by the end of his term as well as cut $100 million from the budget, even if these promises are kept, it will still leave the federal deficit at its highest levels in history. Many Americans believe that Obama’s spending will require massive tax increases on most Americans.

The stimulus package did contain tax relief, but at levels far below what Obama promised in the campaign. These tax cuts are unlikely to remain permanent given the skyrocketing levels of federal debt. Obama has already promised to let the Bush tax cuts expire, which would increase the tax burden on the majority of Americans. Additionally, Obama already has signed a sixty-two cent increase on the cigarette tax, which breaks his promise to not raise taxes on people who make less than $250,000 per year by “a single dime.” The lower and middle-class will also be hard hit by his upcoming cap-and-trade carbon tax on energy.

On foreign policy, Obama’s hundred days record is also disturbing. He has made changes and kept some campaign promises, but made some important compromises. For example, one of Obama’s first acts was to sign an executive order to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay within a year. However, Obama is not releasing the hardened terrorists held there and is even siding with Bush Administration’s policy of detaining terrorists at Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan.

Obama did fulfill a promise to order a withdrawal from Iraq, but the withdrawal is now a gradual one which will hopefully leave the Iraqi Army strong enough to maintain control of the country. Obama had originally promised to begin withdrawing US forces from Iraq within six months.

More troublesome is Obama’s seeming inability to admit that the US is at war. His administration has ordered an end to the use of the term “global war on terror” in favor of “overseas contingency operations.” Similarly, terrorist attacks are now “man-caused disasters.” Likewise, Obama’s decision to release selected memos detailing US interrogation techniques while we are still at war is very troublesome. The White House has even gone so far as to question whether some Guantanamo detainees could not be released into the US.

In accordance with Vice President Biden’s prediction, Obama has faced several foreign policy tests in his short time in office. As Obama took office, Israel was concluding a war against Hamas in Gaza. While Obama supported Israel in its efforts to stop Hamas from firing missiles at Israeli cities, since the war ended, he has announced his intention to provide Gaza with $900 million. Since Hamas is still the ruling party in Gaza, and since Hamas is still firing missiles at Israel, this decision has earned Obama some well deserved criticism. At minimum, the aid could be conditional on Hamas renouncing terrorism and violence.

On April 5, after weeks of announcements, North Korea tested a new nuclear-capable Taepodong-2 missile. Even though Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had warned North Korea that the test was a “provocation” and that “there will be consequences,” there has been little reaction from the Obama Administration except to discuss possible additional sanctions in the UN Security Council.

A few days later, on April 8, a group of four Somali pirates raided a US ship, the Maersk Alabama. The American sailors fought off the pirates, but the captain, Richard Phillips, was taken prisoner in a lifeboat. After attempting to escape by jumping overboard on April 10. Two days later, on Easter Sunday, April 12, Navy SEALs shot and killed three of the pirates and freed Capt. Phillips.

Obama has been credited with allowing the Navy to use force to free Capt. Phillips, but, looking deeper, a big question is why the SEALs had to wait four days to rescue Capt. Phillips. Over the long run, the more important question is whether Obama addresses the root cause of the piracy problem by striking at the Somali pirate bases. Unless action is taken, Somali pirates will continue to attack ships in the Indian Ocean and hold sailors for ransom. Somalia, as well as Taliban-era Afghanistan, also provides a warning of what can happen when the international community allows a state to descend into chaos and anarchy.

Additionally, both North Korea and Iran have taken a total of three American journalists captive, holding them on espionage charges. Iran has sentenced Roxana Saberi to eight years in prison in a secret trial. More recently, North Korea announced a decision indite Laura Ling and Euna Lee for “illegal entry and hostile acts.” How President Obama handles these incidents will be watched closely by both nations.

Obama’s relationship with Iran is one of the most disturbing facets of his foreign policy. As Iran draws ever nearer to developing a nuclear weapon, Obama is making overtures to open negotiations without requiring Iran to suspend its nuclear weapons program. This is most likely to simply allow the Iranians to play for time to finish developing their weapons technology. If Iran does manage to obtain a nuclear weapon, they are extremely likely to use it against either the US or Israel.

Any discussion of Obama’s priorities would not be complete without addressing his pro-abortion policies. On the campaign, Obama made no secret of his pro-choice leanings. For instance, he has repeatedly promised to sign the Freedom of Choice Act, a bill that would remove almost all restrictions from abortions.

The FOCA has not passed through congress yet, but one of Obama’s first acts as president was to sign an executive order overturning the “Mexico City policy.” This rule, which was first imposed by Ronald Reagan, prohibited federal funding for groups that provide abortions. The policy was also overturned by President Clinton in 1993 and reinstated by President Bush in 2001. Obama’s decision to fund abortion groups means that American taxpayers will be paying for abortions around the world.

At the end of his first one hundred days, Obama’s record probably does not reflect the change that most people were looking for. His domestic agenda has unquestionably increased the federal deficit by record-breaking amounts. This spending has been of questionable value in many areas, even to those who believe in the economic value of deficit spending. A majority of Americans polled now believe that more government spending is not the answer to the recession and that the country is headed in the wrong direction. His economic policies inspired almost half a million Americans to rally against government spending and waste at 800 tea parties on April 15.

Unfortunately, Obama does appear to be placing too much emphasis on opening dialogues with hostile regimes. Overtures have been made to Iran, North Korea, and Cuba and all have been rebuffed. Further entreaties will do little except to make Obama and the United States appear weak, a perception that led to the rise of Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda in the first place. President Obama should realize that these dictatorships likely view negotiations only as a way to stall for time. Most disturbing is Obama’s apparent failure to take the War on Terror seriously. Many steps taken by his administration send the wrong signal to our enemies and inhibit our ability to protect ourselves.

More and more, Obama’s administration is beginning to resemble that of Jimmy Carter. Carter’s administration presided over a large expansion of the Soviet sphere of influence, the Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic Iranian revolution, as well as a period of stagnant growth, high inflation, and a general economic “malaise.”

Under Obama, the United States faces the possibility of a prolonged recession or depression caused by high inflation and tax increases resulting from high levels of government spending. We also face the possible loss of nations such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq to Muslim radicals, along with resurgent dictatorships in Russia, North Korea, Venezuela, and Cuba. Hopefully, President Obama will listen to the growing numbers of Americans who say that this is not the change we need and take steps to reverse these trends.

Tax Cheats
Foreign Policy,2933,509597,00.html
North Korea,dwp_uuid=319b98a6-0c1a-11db-86c7-0000779e2340.html
Somali Pirates
Mesa, AZ

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Arabs and Israelis VII: The Hamas War

The seeds for the Hamas War were sewn in 2005 when the terror group Hamas won municipal elections in Gaza and the West Bank, shortly after Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza and the West Bank. Many Arabs saw Hamas as a practical alternative to the corrupt Fatah government. In 2006, Hamas won a plurality of seats in the Palestinian parliament, though the presidency remained in the hands of Fatah member Mahmoud Abbas.

The United States and the European Union cut off aid to the Hamas government under the condition that they recognize Israel’s right to exist and renounce violence. The Israeli government withheld taxes and customs revenues collected on behalf of the Palestine National Authority under the terms of the Oslo Accords.

By June 2007, there was civil war in Gaza between Fatah and Hamas. After intense fighting, Hamas ousted Fatah from Gaza and took the reins of the government there. Shortly after, a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel broke down and Hamas began firing rockets across the Gaza border into Israel. Israel responded by cutting off the flow of electricity and food into Gaza.

In June 2008, Egypt brokered a new ceasefire between Hamas and Israel. Rocket attacks decreased from 500 in May to 20 in July as Hamas increased security and even arrested some militants who fired the rockets. However, Hamas accused Israel of not allowing food deliveries to increase to pre-2006 levels.

When the ceasefire expired on December 19, Hamas decided not to renew it. It was speculated that Hamas wanted to provoke an Israeli attack in order to distract from rising unemployment and the group’s declining popularity. Violence had already been increasing since November when Israeli planes bombed a tunnel near the Israeli border, killing six militants. Israel believed that the tunnel under the border was designed to allow Hamas to kidnap Israeli soldiers. Rocket attacks began to increase around the same time. The Israeli town of Sderot was particularly targeted.

On December 27, 2008 Israel launched a heavy bombardment against a variety of targets in Gaza. Government buildings, such as police facilities, and Hamas bases were attacked, as well as civilian targets such as schools, medical buildings, and mosques, which were used by Hamas for training and weapons storage. Hamas increased rocket and artillery attacks in response. Israeli cities such as Beersheba and Ashdod were struck for the first time.

On January 3, 2009, Israel launched a ground invasion of Gaza. The goal of the incursion was to destroy as much of Hamas’ infrastructure as possible while minimizing civilian casualties. Israel hoped to avoid many of the mistakes made in the war against Hezbollah in which Hezbollah was viewed by many to have fought the IDF to a draw. The ultimate goal was to stop Hamas’ rocket attacks on Israeli cities. Israeli President Shimon Peres said, “When they stop shooting, we will leave.”

The fighting continued until January 18, when both sides separately declared ceasefires. Hamas’ ceasefire announcement came about twelve hours after that of Israel. The UN Security Council also passed Resolution 1860. The resolution called for both sides to stop fighting and for the Israeli troops to withdraw from Gaza. The resolution also condemned terrorism and called for member states to prevent arms smuggling into Gaza.

Statistics for the war are still disputed as of this writing, but Arab casualties are vastly larger than those of the Israelis. As many as 1,400 Gazans are believed to have died in the war. Many of them were undoubtedly civilians, but exact figures will probably never be known since Hamas militants do not wear uniforms. Hamas fighters often set up defensive positions near civilians, which led to increased civilian casualties. Approximately 4,000 residential buildings were destroyed at a cost of $1.6 billion.

Thirteen Israelis died in the conflict. Ten were soldiers and three were civilians.

As Hamas leader, Ismail Haniyeh, made a speech on al-Aqsa television to claim victory, Israeli agents hijacked the broadcast. After the television showed pictures of Israeli attacks on Arab rocket crews and fighters, the final message flashed across the screen: “Hamas was defeated.” Yet several months after the war, occasional rocket attacks continue, drawing retaliatory Israeli air strikes.


Sixty years of fighting between the Arabs and Israelis has accomplished next to nothing for the Arabs. In spite of repeated attacks, in which the Arab forces vastly outnumbered the Israelis, the Arab armies have failed in their primary goal of overrunning the Jewish state. Since the Six Day War, a secondary goal has been to recapture the occupied territories of Gaza, the Golan Heights, the West Bank, and Jerusalem. Attempts to realize this goal have also failed, although Israel did unilaterally withdraw from both the West Bank and Gaza.

On the other hand, Israel’s primary goals have been to ensure the survival and safety of its citizens. While it has preserved its territorial integrity and gained defensible borders, Israel remains in a de facto state of war with many of its neighbors. Jordan and Egypt have peace treaties with Israel, but many other countries such as Syria and Iran, as well as groups like Hezbollah and Hamas that reside on its borders, remain hostile. It is therefore extremely unlikely that the Middle East has seen its last Arab-Israeli war.

The next flash point is likely to be Iran. Although the Iranians are Persian rather than Arab, their radical Islamic government is attempting to arm itself with nuclear weapons. Weapons of mass destruction and the will to use them make Iran a particularly dangerous foe for Israel and a likely candidate for opponent of Israel in the next middle east war.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Arabs and Israelis VI: The Second Lebanon War (The Hezbollah War)

After Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000, low intensity conflict continued. Hezbollah established a fortified complex in southern Lebanon from which it launched missile strikes and cross-border guerilla raids into Israel.

On July 12, 2006, Hezbollah launched an attack into Israel, which killed three Israeli soldiers. The terrorists also kidnapped two Israeli soldiers who survived the raid, ostensibly to trade for jailed terrorists held by Israel. As the raiders fled back across the border, a force of Israeli tanks attempted to intercept them, but one was hit by an IED (improvised explosive device), which killed all four crewmembers.

Israel responded by launching a large offensive into Hezbollah territory in southern Lebanon. The offensive began with heavy air and artillery attacks that struck, not only Hezbollah targets, but Lebanese government targets as well. The Israelis apparently hoped that the Lebanese people would turn against Hezbollah when they saw the damage that the militants had brought to their country. The attacks actually had the opposite effect, as most Lebanese, including Lebanese Christians, were critical of Israel for attacking civilian targets.

Hezbollah responded to the Israeli attacks by launching repeated waves of rocket attacks against northern Israel. Some of these rockets reached as far as the Israeli port of Haifa, forty miles from the Lebanese border. These rockets were supplied by Syria and Iran and stockpiled over the previous years.

Unlike many previous wars, the Hezbollah War was primarily a standoff war using air and artillery attacks. For most of the war, Israel imposed an air and sea blockade of Lebanon and attacked the Beirut-Damascus highway to prevent a resupply of Hezbollah.

Ground operations by the Israelis were largely limited to operations near the Lebanese border and were aimed at specific targets, such as rocket launching facilities. An exception to this occurred late in the war when, on August 12, the Israelis launched an offensive that reached as far as the Litani River in southern Lebanon.

The war ended on August 14, 2006. Lebanon and Hezbollah accepted a UN ceasefire on August 12, and Israel accepted it the following day. Prior to that, Hezbollah had called for an unconditional ceasefire, while Israel had sought conditions, including the return of the two kidnapped soldiers and the disarming of Hezbollah.

UN Resolution 1701 was the basis for the ceasefire. It called for an Israeli withdrawal in favor of Lebanese army and UN peacekeepers in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah was to be disarmed and to remove itself from the area south of the Litani River. The two Israeli soldiers were also to be returned unconditionally. Since the ceasefire was adopted, Hezbollah has not disarmed, and in fact, has replenished its supplies of missiles used in the war. It also has not released the two Israeli soldiers. UNIFIL, a UN peacekeeping force was deployed to southern Lebanon to create a buffer between Hezbollah and Israel.

Hezbollah did prove to be a formidable foe. It proved impossible for Israel to totally dislodge Hezbollah from southern Lebanon or to turn popular opinion in Lebanon against them. Hezbollah claims that 250 of their fighters were killed during the war. Other estimates range as high as 1,000. Precise figures are difficult to determine since Hezbollah guerillas do not wear uniforms.

Israeli forces lost 121 dead and 628 wounded. Additionally, 43 Israeli civilians were killed and 4,262 were wounded. The Israeli civilian casualties were mainly the result of the hundreds of Hezbollah missiles that struck northern Israel.

Lebanese civilians suffered badly during the war. Most estimates place Lebanese civilian casualties at just under 1,200. Some of these deaths were due to Israeli attacks on Lebanese infrastructure, but many were due to the fact that Hezbollah fighters often concealed themselves among civilians.

The Hezbollah War is also called the July War and the Second Lebanon War.

Sources: ews_1919.aspx /issues/0609/0609_2.htm el-lebanon_war_2006.html Military_operations_of_the_200 6_Lebanon_War 2006_Lebanon_War

Monday, April 20, 2009

Arabs and Israelis V: The Intifadas

In 1987, twenty years after the Israeli conquests of the Six-Day War, violence again broke out in Gaza and the West Bank. After violence increased slowly in previous months, on December 7, 1987, an Israeli truck crashed into a station wagon in Gaza, killing four Arabs and injuring several others. The Arabs believed the accident was in retaliation for the murder of a Jew in Gaza several days before. On December 9, mass protests began, signaling the beginning the first Intifada. The Intifada, which means, "shaking off," began with a Molotov cocktail attack on an Israeli patrol. Israeli troops fired back, killing a seventeen-year-old Arab boy.

The violence soon spread to the West Bank and Jerusalem. The PLO soon took control of what had originally been a grass roots uprising. In refugee camps, Arab youths threw rocks at Israeli soldiers and affluent Arabs joined in strikes and boycotts with the goal of winning self-rule.

In 1988, Jordan, which had ruled the West Bank prior to 1967, renounced its claim to the occupied territory. The PLO seized the opportunity to step in and claim the creation of a Palestinian state.

In the first year of the Intifada, approximately 300 Arabs were killed, 11,000 injured, and countless thousands arrested. Not all of the casualties were at the hands of the Israelis. The PLO also killed numerous Arabs who were thought to be collaborating with Israel as well as women who were accused of acting immorally.

In November 1988, Yasir Arafat, head of the PLO, accepted Israel's right to exist and UN resolution 242. He also championed the idea of a land-for-peace deal with Israel. With the Intifada raging, it was several years before Arafat's proposals would be explored.

The First Intifada continued until 1992 when the election of Yitzhak Rabin as prime minister led Israel to freeze new Israeli settlements in the occupied territories. As the peace process began, the PLO called off the Intifada.

Peace talks began in Oslo following the first Persian Gulf War and the breakup of the Soviet Union. In order to participate in the talks, Arafat and the PLO renounced terrorism, although attacks never completely stopped.

The Oslo Declaration of Principles and the Oslo Interim Agreement (called the Oslo Accords) were signed on September 13, 1993. The agreements provided for limited Arab self-rule in Gaza and Jericho under the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) with Israeli forces providing security for an interim period. Arafat, Rabin, and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for the agreement. In 1994, Israel also signed a peace treaty with Jordan.

Extremists on both sides opposed the plan. On February 25, 1994, an Israeli settler killed 30 Arabs in a mosque in Hebron before being killed himself. In retaliation, Hamas launched several suicide attacks. On November 5, 1995, Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by another Israeli extremist at a peace rally. Shimon Peres succeeded him as prime minister, but lost the next election to Benjamin Netanyahu in 1996, in part due to another string of Hamas attacks.

The peace process continued for the next few years with sporadic terror attacks and riots, such as those in 1996 prompted by rumors that Israeli tunnels threatened the foundation of the al-Aqsa mosque. Israeli troops were withdrawn from much of the occupied territories. Negotiations continued at Camp David and the Israelis offered approximately 97% of the West Bank to the PNA, as well as withdrawal from Gaza.

On September 28, 2000, violence erupted again, however. The visit of Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem spurred rumors that Sharon had entered the al-Aqsa mosque, which is located on the same site. The ensuing violence became known as the Second Intifada.

Arafat and the PLO ultimately rejected the peace agreement. In spite of attempts by President Bill Clinton and Saudi Arabia to bring the two sides together, the peace process was permanently derailed.

Terror attacks increased in frequency in spite of calls by both Arafat and the UN for an end to the violence. In March 2002, 27 Israelis were killed as the celebrated Passover at a hotel in Nethanya. This attack led to Operation Defensive Shield, an incursion into the West Bank to root out terrorist infrastructure in the refugee camps there.

Israeli forces reported killing about 50 people in the camp at Jenin, but the Arabs claimed the massacre of 500 people by Israeli troops. The charge was repeated by the media around the world. Human rights groups later confirmed that the death toll was near to the Israeli claims. The Israelis also staged assassinations and arrests of Arab terror leaders.

By 2003, the situation had deteriorated to the point where Israel began construction of a security fence along its borders with the occupied territories to staunch the flow of terrorists and weapons.

By the end of 2003, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced a unilateral plan for an Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories. Meanwhile, Arafat's Fatah-PLO was fighting among itself, as well as struggling for power with Hamas. On November 11, 2004, Yasir Arafat died and was succeeded a few months later by Mahmoud Abbas as president of the Palestinian National Authority. Abbas took steps to attempt to reduce violence in the territories.

Ariel Sharon and Abbas met at Sharm el Sheikh in a series of meetings with Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and King Abdullah of Jordan in February 2005. The meetings led both leaders to announce and end to the violence and the Second Intifada.

Meanwhile, Sharon's unilateral disengagement continued. Throughout 2005, the Israelis forcibly removed Jewish settlers from Gaza and four West Bank settlements. On September 11, 2005, the last Israeli soldier left Gaza.


Sunday, April 19, 2009

Arabs and Israelis IV: The First Lebanon War

Throughout the latter half of the 1970s, Lebanon had been embroiled in a civil war. Beginning in 1974, Lebanon's Muslim population, supported by the PLO, had been fighting Lebanon's Christians for control of the country. In June 1976, Lebanon's president requested Syrian intervention. Syrian troops occupied much of the country. When the Syrian presence failed to stop the fighting, the Syrians began arming the Christian militias. In October 1976, the Syrians accepted an Arab League mandate to keep 40,000 peacekeeping troops in the country.

While the fighting among sects continued, the PLO launched terror attacks into Israel, prompting Israeli retaliatory attacks on several occasions. At one point, Israel occupied Lebanon south of the Litani River. When Israel withdrew to a southern Lebanon security zone twelve miles wide, the UN deployed a force (UNIFIL) to keep peace in the area.

In August 1981, Prime Minister Begin and Defense Minister Ariel Sharon began to discuss a plan for an invasion of Lebanon. The objectives would be to attack PLO targets as well as to assist Bashir Gemayel in becoming president of Lebanon. At the time, there was a ceasefire in place, and the PLO in Lebanon, while growing stronger militarily, offered few provocations from Lebanese territory. The PLO did, however, launch attacks from Jordan as well as attacking Jewish and Israeli targets in Europe. Israel responded with air strikes into southern Lebanon.

On June 3, 1982, terrorists attempted to assassinate the Israeli ambassador in London. Although Iraq was suspected in the attack, Israel retaliated with attacks on PLO targets in West Beirut and southern Lebanon. The PLO responded with rocket and artillery fire into Israel. On June 5, the UN passed a resolution calling for a cessation of hostilities.

On June 6, 1982, Israel launched Operation Peace for Galilee. The Israeli Defense Force quickly moved 40 miles into Lebanon, reaching the outskirts of Beirut. The Israelis swiftly cut the road between Damascus and Beirut, essentially cutting off the PLO forces from aid by Syria. Syrian aircraft did attempt to halt the invasion, but suffered heavy losses at the hands of the Israeli Air Force.

The Israelis found massive tunnels near the border. These tunnels were stocked with an impressive arsenal of weapons, from rifles to tanks, mostly of Soviet manufacture. Captured documents revealed that the Soviet Union both equipped and trained PLO terrorists.

The UN passed a second resolution calling for an Israeli withdrawal on June 6. On June 8, the US vetoed an additional resolution demanding an Israeli withdrawal. The US also called for a PLO withdrawal from Lebanon. On June 26, the US vetoed another resolution that would have preserved the PLO as a political force.

Israeli aircraft and artillery attacked PLO forces inside Beirut for the next several weeks. On August 12, the sides agreed to a truce, negotiated by the US, which called for the withdrawal of both the PLO and Israel. A multi-national force made up US, Italian, and French soldiers would keep the peace and protect Lebanese civilians.

The Israelis believed that many PLO fighters were hiding in refugee camps near Beirut. This led to the tragic case of Sabra and Shatila. On September 16, 1982, Israeli troops entered West Beirut, violating the ceasefire, and transported 200 Phalange militiamen to two of the camps. The militia members remained in the camps until the morning of September 19 and killed somewhere between 700 and 3,000 Palestinians.

Israel set up the Kahan Commission to investigate the killings and, by Israel's own admission, none of the dead were members of any PLO unit. The commission held Ariel Sharon and Chief-of-Staff Rafael Eitan indirectly responsible and recommended that Sharon resign. Sharon did resign, although he remained influential in the Israeli government.

On May 17, 1983, Israel, Lebanon, and the United States signed an agreement ending the war. The agreement called for the removal of Israeli and Syrian troops. The Arab world viewed the agreement as a surrender. Syria refused to withdraw, but Israel withdrew its forces back to the security zone in August 1983, where they remained until 2000. Syrian troops remained in Lebanon until 2005.

On April 18, 1983, a suicide bomber attacked the US embassy in Beirut. The US responded with a naval bombardment of Druze militia positions. On October 23, 1983, a second suicide bomber attacked the US and French headquarters killing 241 US Marines and 58 French soldiers. This sparked a series of terror attacks and kidnappings of Americans that plagued Lebanon for the remainder of the decade. US troops left the country in 1984.

Also during this period, the situation in Lebanon deteriorated into civil war again. Violence flared between the various Christian and Muslim sects and the Syrians. The conflict continued until 1990, when Syria launched a major offensive that secured the country.

During the late 1980s, disaffected Shiites from a number of groups banded together to form Hezbollah. This new terror group gained the support of Iran and quickly became powerful. It would soon become a dangerous foe of Israel.

Sources: lebanese-civil-war samuel/lebanonwar.html ns/aim_report/1982/09b.html

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Arabs and Israelis III: The Yom Kippor War

After the death of Nasser in September 1970, Anwar Sadat succeeded him as president of Egypt. As early as 1971, Sadat raised the possibility of a treaty with Israel if Israel returned the occupied territories. While he worked with the Nixon Administration to pursue diplomatic means, Sadat also prepared Egypt for war. One of Sadat’s goals was to reopen the Suez Canal to provide Egypt with a source of revenue.

Talks stumbled over whether Israel would withdraw to the borders of June 4, 1967 or whether the new border would be negotiated. The two sides also had differences on the width of the frontier between the two armies. Another stumbling block was Israel’s desire for recognition from the Arab nations.

Sadat also seemed determined to restore Egypt’s honor and pride after the humiliating loss in the Six-Day War. On becoming president, he said, “the key to everything…was to wipe out the disgrace and humiliation that followed from the 1967 defeat. I reckoned it would be 1,000 times more honorable for us—40,000 of my sons in the armed forces and myself—to be buried crossing the Canal than to accept such disgrace and humiliation. Posterity would say we had died honorably on the battlefield…and posterity would carry on the struggle.”

Sadat had learned several lessons from the 1967 war. First, Egypt prepared a deadly umbrella of surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft guns to shield Arab ground forces from Israeli aircraft. Egypt also worked to coordinate the action of their military units in order to maximize their effectiveness. The Egyptian military improved their logistics plan to move supplies and reinforcements across the Suez. Sadat also decided to plan a surprise attack rather than a public military buildup such as the one that alerted Israel in 1967.

For Israel, terror attacks continued. On May 30, 1972, Japanese Red Army terrorists sympathetic to the Palestinian cause opened fire in Tel Aviv’s airport killing twenty-six people and wounding 78. In September 1972, PLO terrorists murdered eleven Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics.

In the spring of 1973, Egypt mobilized their armed forces. Israel mobilized as well. Eventually both sides stood down, but the mobilization had been very expensive for Israel. Over the summer, Egypt conducted deceptions to lull the Israelis into a false sense of security. When Egypt began mobilizing again in the fall, Israeli leaders were reluctant to call up their reserves again. The Israel Defense Force was only partially activated in the hours before the war started.

At 2:00 pm, on Saturday, October 6, 1973, as Israel celebrated Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, 70,000 Egyptian infantry streamed across the Suez and overran the Bar Lev Line of Israeli defensive positions manned by 500 soldiers. The Israeli Air Force was initially ineffective due to Egypt’s air defenses. Israeli reinforcements arrived in the afternoon and were unable to push back the Egyptians, but did manage to stop the Egyptian advance.

Syria launched a simultaneous attack on the Golan Heights with 1,100 tanks opposing 157 Israeli tanks. The Syrians captured Mount Hermon, an Israeli intelligence post, and began to shell northern Israeli settlements. Soon the Syrians controlled the majority of the Heights.

Other Arab nations also joined in the fray. Iraq contributed aircraft to both the Egyptian and Syrian fronts. Jordan contributed two armored brigades and artillery to the Syrian front. Saudi Arabia sent 3,000 soldiers and Libya supplied Egypt with aircraft. Additionally, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Libya helped to finance the Arab armies. Tunisia, Sudan, and Morocco also offered assistance.

This time, the Israelis gave the Syrian front priority since the Egyptian front was relatively stable. On October 8, Israeli armor led a counterattack and, over the next week, pushed the Syrians back and even crossed the border into Syria. Israeli aircraft were unable to destroy the Syrian SAM sites, but Israeli fighter-bombers successfully attacked the Syrian General Command and Air Force Command buildings in Damascus. Israeli troops retook Mount Hermon and advanced to within forty miles of Damascus.

As the war settled into a stalemate, the Soviets resupplied the Arab armies, while the UN attempted to arrange a ceasefire, which Egypt refused to accept. As Israeli losses mounted and the Israeli forces depleted their stocks of ammunition and supplies, the United States began a month long airlift of supplies. This resupply effort may have saved Israel. The TOW and Maverick missiles brought by the Americans accounted for many destroyed Arab tanks. The effort also cost the US much of its influence in the Arab world. This also led to an Arab oil embargo of the US and Europe.

On October 15, the Israelis, led by Ariel Sharon, attacked between the Egyptian Second and Third armies, crossing the canal, and encircling the Egyptian Third Army. In the next four days, the Israelis destroyed much of the Egyptian air defenses, allowing Israeli planes to attack the Egyptians more effectively. Finally, the Israelis were able to reach the Suez-Cairo road and come within 65 miles of Cairo itself.

When it became clear that Cairo was vulnerable to Israeli attack, Egypt finally accepted a UN ceasefire. On October 22, 1973, the war ended and the UN passed resolution 338 which called on the combatants to negotiate toward UN resolution 242, which was passed after the 1967 war. Casualties were estimated at 2,700 Israelis, 3,500 Syrians, and 15,000 Egyptians. The Israelis had destroyed 1,100 Syrian tanks and threatened to totally destroy the Egyptian Third Army. Due to Israel’s small size, its population could not easily absorb the loss as easily as the Arab nations.

The strong showing of Egypt’s armies in the opening days of the war enabled Sadat to reclaim Egypt’s pride and honor. He built upon this limited success and was able to finally talk peace with the Israelis. Agreements were signed between Israel and Egypt in 1974 and 1975, in which Israel agreed to withdraw behind UN security zones in the Sinai. Israel also signed a disengagement agreement with Syria in 1974.

In November 1977, Sadat traveled to Jerusalem to address the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. This, in turn, led to the Camp David Accords, a lasting peace agreement signed in 1979 between Israel and Egypt that has lasted to this day. Sadat shared the 1978 Nobel Peace Prize with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin for their roles in crafting the agreement. For what many Arabs viewed as a betrayal, Sadat was assassinated by Islamic radicals in 1981.


Sunday, April 12, 2009

Economic Leaders Call for Single World Currency

Over the past month, world economic leaders have begun calling for a new world currency to replace the dollar. The world financial crisis has led to worries about the stability of the dollar, which, in turn, has led other countries to feel the need for a new world reserve currency.

For decades, the dollar has been the standard international currency. Many governments maintain a large reserve of dollars as part of their treasuries, such as the $1 trillion in US government debt and securities held by China. International commodities such as crude oil are bought and sold in dollars and international business is typically conducted in dollars.

President Obama’s attempts to stimulate the economy are leading to massive increases in government spending and federal deficits. Creditor nations such as China worry that the ballooning federal debt will lead to inflation and a devalued dollar, which would have almost the same effect on foreign creditors as if the US defaulted on its debt.

In late March, a United Nations panel released a report which recommended that the world create a new reserve currency based on a hard traded, basket of currencies similar to the old European currency unit (Ecu) or an accounting unit called the Special Drawing Right (SDR). The Ecu and the SDR are weighted combinations of currencies that can be traded in financial markets. The Euro had a similar start as a combination of European currencies.

Prior to the April G20 economic summit, both Russia and China indicated their support for world reserve currency. Arkady Dvorkovich, a Kremlin economic advisor, said that Russia would call for discussions of a “supra-national reserve currency.”

Zhou Xiaochuan, governor of China’s central bank, wrote that a new currency would help “to achieve the objective of safeguarding global economic and financial stability.” He worries that there are “inherent vulnerabilities and systemic risks in the existing international monetary system” based on the dollar. He would like the new currency to be used for international trade, commodities pricing, and accounting, unlike current SDRs, which are only used for government finance.

At one point, US Treasury Secretary appeared to agree with the Chinese proposal, saying, “We’re actually quite open to that.”

Within ten minutes of Geithner’s comment, the value of the dollar started to drop sharply. The Secretary quickly recanted his statement and noted that he had not actually read the Chinese proposal.

President Obama, Secretary Geithner, and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke all downplayed the proposals for a new currency. “I don’t believe there is a need for a global currency,” President Obama said. He added “the reason the dollar is strong right now is because investors consider the United States the strongest economy in the world with the most stable political system in the world.”

Nevertheless, just a few days later, the G20 did decide to create $250 billion in special drawing rights for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in what the international financial press described as a “surprising” move. The SDR is an accounting tool used by governments and is not a currency itself, but is made up of a basket of values of four currencies: the dollar, the euro, the British pound sterling, and the Japanese yen. The SDRs would be allocated to governments based on their contributions to the IMF for lending to poorer countries. In essence, SDRs are a form of foreign aid in which wealthy nations borrow to loan money to poor nations.

While the creation of the SDRs is not the creation of a worldwide currency, it seems to be a step toward a global economic system, especially in light of the recent Russian and Chinese proposals. It is also similar to the creation of the euro. The European Community had its roots in the 1951 Treaty of Paris between Belgium, France, West Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands that created the European Coal and Steel Community. In 1957, the Treaty of Rome between the same nations expanded that cooperation to create the European Economic Community.

It wasn’t until 1979 that the European nations took the next step toward creating a common currency. That year the European Monetary System was created, and, with it, the Ecu, a common currency unit similar to the new SDR.

In 1986, the Single European Act extended the jurisdiction of the European Community to monetary policy. In 1992, the Treaty of Maastricht created the European Union and set a deadline of January 1999 to establish a common currency, as well as a single monetary and economic policy.

In January 1999, the European Union, by then eleven nations, pegged their exchange rates to the euro. At the same time, the euro began to be used for non-cash transactions and accounting. The euro was also used in stock markets and was used on bank statements and corporate bond offerings.

Three years later, in January 2002, the euro went into circulation. A few months later, the old national currencies were phased out.

The creation of the euro was a gradual process that took fifty years. The new Russian and Chinese proposals go beyond the creation of Special Drawing Rights, and may very well eventually lead to the creation of a worldwide version of the euro. There is a possibility that the world financial crisis will accelerate the timetable for the creation of this world currency, especially if the dollar becomes unstable under staggering mountains of US federal debt.

Until recently, the idea of a world currency has been the province of conspiracy theorists and Bible prophecy scholars. It is somewhat shocking to find the idea meeting with widespread acceptance from world leaders.
For many years, theologians have believed that the Biblical Book of Revelation has held an implicit prophecy of a single world currency. Revelation 13:16-17 says “He also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name.”
The implication here is that the latter day world ruler, the beast or Antichrist, has total control over the world economy and financial system. Scholars believe that, at that point, the entire world economy will be tied together with a single cashless currency system. Using the system requires a mark of loyalty that, when applied to the right hand or forehead, is easily visible.

One possibility, explored in Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind series, is that when the mark is applied, a RFID (radio frequency identification) chip is implanted under the skin. This chip would be tied to the user’s bank and financial accounts, so that when a purchase is made, the transaction would be completed by simply scanning the buyer’s hand or face. Essentially, it would be like having a debit card in your body.

Interestingly, this technology is already available. In 2003, Applied Digital Solutions (now called Digital Angel) announced the development of a system called VeriPay, which used microchips half the size of a grain of sand to identify consumers to ATM machines in lieu of an ATM or debit card. The technology did not catch on, but the company changed its focus to market biochips to pet owners. A chip with an identification number is implanted between the pet’s shoulders. If the animal is found, the chip is scanned and the owner’s information is retrieved from a database. The chips have already been implanted into some humans as well.

A cashless economy based on electronic funds transfers would enable a world leader to exercise unprecedented control over world finances. Without cash, it would be impossible for an underground “black” market to thrive. Similarly, dissidents could find themselves with no access to their financial accounts.

The greater danger for those who participate in the beast’s economy is the loss of their souls. Revelation further indicates (20:4, 11-15) that those who take the beast’s mark, showing allegiance to the Antichrist, will be judged and cast into the lake of fire. The only way to escape this fate is accept Jesus Christ as Lord and believe that He rose from the dead (Romans 10:9).

The creation of a single world currency is most likely still a long way off. Recent events show that many world leaders would like to move in that direction, however. These steps are yet another positive indication that the Bible accurately foretells the future and that it is a reliable source of information from God. We can be assured that its prophecies of the return of Jesus are not only accurate; they are drawing nearer.


NOTE: This may seem like a strange topic for an Easter blog, but if Jesus was able to rise from the dead, then it follows that He will be able to return as He said He would. The signs that He gave to signify His return bear a striking resemblance to today's headlines.

Jesus is risen indeed.

Happy Easter!

Dulles VA

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Arabs and Israelis II: The Six Day War

For the next few years, the Middle East was relatively quiet. The presence of the UNEF along Israel’s Sinai border prevented hostilities from re-igniting there. A new group called the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was founded in 1964. The group launched guerilla attacks across the Israeli-Syrian border after its inception, but overall there was little military activity.

This situation gradually changed as relations between the US and Egypt grew distant. The Soviet Union stepped in to supply Egypt with weapons and encouraged the Arab nations to unify against a common enemy, Israel. Since the fall of communism, historians have learned that the Russians were intimately involved in the Arab planning for a war against Israel.

Relations between Israel and Jordan were relatively cordial with one notable exception. On November 11, 1966, an Israeli border patrol jeep hit a mine, killing and wounding several soldiers. In response, the Israelis sent a large force to the village of Es Samu in the West Bank, from which they believed the militants who had set the mine had come. The Israelis ran into a Jordanian force and several soldiers on both sides were killed in the ensuing battle.

In the spring of 1967, Fatah, the military arm of the PLO stepped up attacks from Syria. At the same time, the Syrians went so far as to divert the flow of the Jordan River in order to deprive northern Israel of water. The Syrians also attacked Israeli water stations and tractors near the border. On April 7, one such attack resulted in an aerial battle in which several Syrian planes were shot down by the Israeli Air Force.

Israel retaliated with patrols into the Syrian demilitarized zone and a diplomatic offensive. The United Nations censured the Arab attacks. The Soviets derailed a similar resolution in the Security Council.

In May, the Israelis planned to celebrate their Independence Day with a military parade through their capitol, Jerusalem. Jerusalem was a divided city, as well as a holy city to the Arabs, and the idea of large numbers of Israeli soldiers in the holy city outraged Muslims. The Israelis acceded to the Muslim wishes and did not bring heavy weapons into Jerusalem. The Soviets used the absence of military hardware in Jerusalem to convince Anwar Sadat, speaker of the Egyptian National Assembly, that Israel was planning to invade Syria. The Syrians supported the claim and informed Nasser, still president of Egypt, that Israeli troops were massing on the border. Nasser mobilized the Egyptian army and declared a state of emergency.

Leaders throughout the Arab world began to prepare for war. Nasser and his allies made clear that their goal was to totally destroy Israel. Nasser said that the national aim was “the eradication of Israel.” Ahmed Shukairy, chairman of the PLO, said that all Jewish immigrants would have to leave: "This is a fight for the homeland – it is either us or the Israelis. There is no middle road. The Jews of Palestine will have to leave. We will facilitate their departure to their former homes. Any of the old Palestine Jewish population who survive may stay, but it is my impression that none of them will survive." It was clear that the Arabs wanted to exterminate the Jews.

On May 14, Egyptian General Muhammad Fawzi visited the Syria-Israel border. He saw that there was no evidence of an Israeli troop buildup and communicated this Nasser. Egyptian military intelligence and the US embassy in Cairo confirmed this to Nasser. Additionally, Israel invited UN observers to verify the absence of an invasion force. By this point, though, Nasser’s mind was made up. It was time to destroy Israel.

The Egyptians tripled the number of their forces in the Sinai, while Syria deployed its army in the Golan Heights overlooking northern Israel. On May 17, Egyptian reconnaissance planes violated Israeli airspace, flying over the Israeli nuclear reactor at Dimona. At this point, Israel started calling up reserves and placed the IDF on heightened alert.

The Egyptians continued the provocations over the next few weeks. The Egyptians told the UNEF to leave the Sinai and the Egyptian army took up positions on Israel’s southern border. On May 22, Egypt again closed the Straits of Tiran, a cause of the 1956 war. Lebanon, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq all readied their armies.

Diplomatic efforts by the Israelis were unsuccessful. The US would not agree to an Israeli pre-emptive strike. The sole sign of hope was a proposal from President Johnson that the US might lead a multinational naval force to break the blockade of the Straits of Tiran. Unfortunately, this plan met with little international support and troop buildups continued on both sides.

On May 30, Nasser signed a defense pact with King Hussein of Jordan. The pact effectively gave Egypt control of the Jordanian army. Iraq and Syria soon joined the alliance as well. The combined force opposing Israel at this point was estimated to be 500,000 infantry, 5,000 tanks, and 1,000 aircraft. Also at this point, Moshe Dayan was appointed Israel’s defense minister. Finally, on June 4, the Israeli cabinet voted to launch a pre-emptive strike in spite of US opposition and a ban on weapons sales from France, Israel’s chief supplier.

Early in the morning of June 5, 1967, the Israelis launched a surprise air attack against Egypt. The Israeli Air Force, leaving just twelve aircraft to defend the country, attacked while the Egyptian generals were locked in Cairo traffic jams on their way to work. The Israeli attacks almost totally destroyed the Egyptian air force, including their air bases and surface-to-air missile sites. At the same time, Israeli ground forces attacked the Egyptians in Gaza and the Sinai.

Realizing that the UN and the superpowers might intervene to stop the war at any time, the Israelis planned to make large gains quickly in order to be able to trade land for an end to the Egyptian blockade. Israeli tanks quickly penetrated and overwhelmed the Egyptian defenders despite their fortified positions. As the Egyptian position deteriorated, Marshal Amer, the Egyptian military commander, began to panic. He issued contradictory orders to his commanders, further confusing the situation, before finally ordering a retreat. Some Egyptian commanders fled to Cairo, leaving their troops to fend for themselves. As the Egyptian tanks left cover to withdraw, they became easy targets for Israeli planes. As the Egyptians took massive casualties, the retreat became a rout.

After 96 hours of fighting, Israeli forces captured the Mitla and Gidi Passes and partly blocked the Khatmia Pass, effectively trapping most of the Egyptian army. The Israelis also captured Sharm el Sheikh, the coastal base from which the Egyptians enforced their blockade. By June 8, Israeli forces had reached the Suez Canal and controlled the entire Sinai, as well as the Gaza Strip.

Egyptian losses were put at 11,500 killed, 5,000 captured, and as many as 50,000 wounded. Israel lost 275 killed and 800 wounded, a high number for such a small country. Many of the Egyptian prisoners were fed and transported to the canal, where Egyptian boats took them home, although some officers were traded for captured Israeli pilots.

As the fighting started in the Sinai, the Jordanians watched the planes flying between Egypt and Israel on their radar. Convinced by the Egyptians that the planes were attacking Israel, Jordan began shelling border areas of Israel. In reality, the planes had been the Israeli Air Force returning from the destruction of the Egyptian Air Force.

Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol sent a message through UN General Odd Bull to King Hussein of Jordan that Israel had attacked Egypt, but would not attack Jordan unless Jordan attacked Israel first. By the time the message was received, Jordanian artillery was already in action and Jordanian airplanes had launched in a combined operation with Iraqi and Syrian jets. Jordanian troops also captured Government House, the UN headquarters located on the Hill of Evil Counsel in the demilitarized zone between the two countries.

The Israelis initially did not respond to Jordan’s attacks, but as the attacks grew stronger and Jordanian ground forces crossed the armistice lines, the Israelis first ordered the air force to respond to the Jordanian air attacks. Around noon on June 5, Israeli planes caught the Jordanian planes on the ground refueling and destroyed the entire Jordanian air force. The Syrian air force was also largely destroyed, as well as the base from which the Iraqi planes were operating.

Next Israeli ground attacks were launched with the goals of eliminating pockets of Jordanian territory that bulged out into Israel near Jenin and Latrun, threatening Israeli communications and giving the Arabs a place to launch mortar and artillery attacks deep into Israel. A third Israeli objective was to open a secure road to Mount Scopus, a Jewish enclave in Jerusalem surrounded by Jordanian territory, which had to be resupplied by UN convoys.

Around 2:30 in the afternoon, the first Israeli ground forces attacked Jordanian troops that occupied the Government House. The Israelis recaptured the Government House, and then attacked the village of Sur Baher to the south. When the village fell, the Israelis controlled the road from Jerusalem to Bethlehem and Hebron, cutting off Jordanian forces to the south.

As this was happening, Israeli armored forces moved from the Latrun area toward Ramallah Ridge, which controlled the northern and eastern approaches to Jerusalem. Since the time of Joshua, Ramallah Ridge has historically been an objective of armies seeking control of Jerusalem. In heavy fighting, the Israelis captured the ridge from Jordan’s crack Arab Legion, and then took the fortified village of Biddu. An Israeli brigade also defeated Jordanian and Egyptian forces in Latrun itself.

As the Jordanian army fell back, King Hussein agreed to send reinforcements. After dark, Jordanian tanks and infantry began moving toward Jerusalem on the road from Jericho. They were ultimately detected and the column was virtually wiped out by Israeli warplanes. Israeli aircraft and ground forces also prevented other Jordanian attempts at reinforcing their front-line troops from succeeding.

Just after 0200 on June 6, the Israelis began their assault on Jerusalem. Israeli paratroopers under Motta Gur and tanks from the Jerusalem Brigade attacked the Police School and Ammunition Hill. The hand-to-hand fighting was intense and went on for four hours. Finally, the Israelis controlled Jerusalem up to the north wall of the Old City.

At 0830 on June 7, the Israelis renewed their attack against Augusta Victoria Hill, high ground overlooking Jerusalem to the east. As the Israelis attacked the hill from two directions, a third force penetrated the walls of the Old City at St. Stephen’s Gate. The Israelis met little resistance in the Old City and soon controlled the Temple Mount, a holy site in both Judaism and Islam, for the first time since Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians in 586 BC.

Simultaneously, in Judea and Samaria, other areas of the West Bank, Jordanian armor and artillery was defeated by combined Israeli armor and air attacks. By the night of June 7, both sides had agreed to a UN ceasefire, leaving Israel in complete control of the West Bank. Israel lost 550 soldiers in the West Bank, while Jordan lost 700 killed and 2,500 wounded.

In northern Israel, the Israeli forces were heavily outgunned by the Syrians. The Syrians fielded 40,000 troops and 260 tanks and self-propelled guns which made up three armored brigades and five infantry brigades. The Israelis, with the majority of their army facing the more dangerous Egyptian army in the south, had only one armored brigade and one infantry brigade.

The war in the north started in the morning of June 5 with Syrian air strikes on targets in Israel including the city of Tiberias and oil refineries at Haifa. Israeli warplanes destroyed much of the Syrian air force later in the day, catching the Syrian planes on the ground.

The next day, the Syrians renewed their attack, first with an artillery barrages against civilian Israeli targets, and then with a ground incursion by two companies of infantry, which attacked Kibbutz Tel Dan. Israeli defenders with air support were able to force the Syrians back across the border. With the main force of Israeli army in action against the Egyptians and the Jordanians, Israel was unable to mount offensive operations.

On June 8, Syria and Israel agreed to a UN ceasefire. Five hours later, the Syrians resumed their shelling. As the fighting waned in the south, Israeli army units began to move north toward Syria.

The United States also hinted that an offensive against Syria should be started. The US National Security Advisor, McGeorge Bundy, told Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban that, with Syria “getting off without injury,” the nation that was instrumental in starting the war “would be free to start the whole deadly sequence again.” The US may have reasoned that a Syrian defeat would be an embarrassment to the Soviet Union and a blow to Soviet prestige in the nation.

The terrain along the border rose steeply to a plateau about 2,000 feet above sea level, known as the Golan Heights. The area had been occupied and fortified by the Syrians for the past eighteen years. This high ground was often used to launch artillery attacks against communities in northern Israel. Now Israel saw a chance to remove the thorn in their side.

The attack started with a prolonged air attack on the morning of June 9. Around noon, the Israeli ground forces launched five separate attacks. The primary objective was Q’ala, a town that was the most lightly defended by the Syrians because of the nearly impassable terrain. Q’ala was very close to a strategic road that would allow the Israelis to both threaten the rear of the Syrian forces deployed on the Heights as well as attack toward the Syrian regional headquarters at Quneitra, a strategic crossroads that would also open the door to Damascus.

One armored brigade and one infantry brigade attacked Q’ala. Engineers led the way through the Syrian minefield and bulldozers cut a road up the mountain under Syrian fire. The Israeli tanks moved single file through the minefield taking heavy casualties. It took almost six hours for the tanks to travel three miles to the objective.

The infantry brigade attacked a mile to the north at Tel Fakhir to protect the flank of the armor. After seven hours of fighting, virtually every Israeli soldier was either killed or wounded; yet the Syrian units became fragmented, with many soldiers and officers disappearing from the battle. After Tel Fakhir, other Syrian strongholds began to fall to the Israelis as well.

The next morning, June 10, Israeli reinforcements were sent through the hole in the Syrian line. The Israelis secured the breach and then began to move toward Quneitra. While still ten miles away, Syrian radio erroneously announced that Quneitra had fallen. When Syrians soldiers heard this, they became afraid that they would be encircled by the Israelis and trapped. Most of the Syrian army fled at this point.

By the time the fighting stopped, the Israelis had lost 115 killed and 306 wounded. The Syrian losses were 2,500 killed, 5,000 wounded, and 591 captured.

One of the most controversial aspects of the Six-Day War was the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty. The USS Liberty was an American electronic intelligence gathering ship. Through a series of communication mistakes, the ship, which was supposed to be 100 miles away, was cruising ten miles off the Egyptian coast near El Arish. On June 8, the ship was attacked by two Israeli jets sent to investigate reports of shelling from the sea. The Israeli jets strafed the ship and attacked it with napalm. Shortly after, Israeli torpedo boats attacked as well. When the Israelis realized the ship was American, they broke off the attack, but 34 US sailors were killed and 171 wounded. Some of the sailors claimed that the Israelis intended to attack the ship, but several investigations by the US government have agreed that the attack was a case of mistaken identity.

Israel hoped that the war would provide the basis for peace with their Arab neighbors. The decisive victory might inspire the respect of their foes and Israeli territorial gains could be traded for national recognition. Several months after the war, however, Arab leaders met in Khartoum to reaffirm their pledge of “no peace with Israel, no negotiations with Israel, no recognition of Israel.”

The next three years became known as the War of Attrition. A few weeks after the Six-Day War ended, in July 1967, Egypt began shelling Israeli positions in the Sinai. On October 21, 1967, an Egyptian missile attack sank the Israeli destroyer Eilat off Port Said. The War of Attrition continued until 1970, when, after Nasser’s death, the US helped Israel and Egypt to negotiate a ceasefire. Thousands of Israeli soldiers and civilians were killed and wounded in this low intensity conflict.


Friday, April 10, 2009

Arabs and Israelis I: The Suez Crisis

Note: This is the first in a series of Part II of my synopsis of modern Israeli history. To read Part I detailing how the modern nation of Israel came to be, go to my blog:

At the conclusion of Israel’s War for Independence, the new state of Israel signed armistice agreements with Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Iraq was the only Arab nation that did not sign an armistice. Instead the Iraqis withdrew their forces and turned the territory that they controlled over to the Jordanians. The defeat at the hands of the Israelis is great humiliation for the governments of the Arab nations.

At the end of the hostilities on January 7, 1949, Israel had captured an additional 5,000 square kilometers over territory allotted to it by the United Nations partition. The city of Jerusalem remained divided with Trans Jordan controlling the eastern part of the city. Nevertheless, the Israelis made Jerusalem their new capitol and moved government offices to their part of the city. On May 11, 1949, Israel became a member of the United Nations.

At this point, Jewish immigrants from around the world began to converge on Israel. Between 1948 and 1951, the Jewish population of Israel doubled as over 600,000 new Israelis arrived, many from Arab countries. The influx helped to get the economy of the new nation onto its feet. In 1950, Israel passed the Law of Return, which guarantees the right of Jews around the world to immigrate to Israel and become citizens.

For the Arab population, the picture was not so bright. Many Arabs had fled the fighting, often at the urging of the Arab armies. The approximately 600,000 Arab refugees were not welcomed by the Arab countries in which they found themselves. Rather than assimilating the refugees as the Israelis had done, the Arabs segregated them into refugee camps. They were caught in a no-man’s land, not wanting to return to their homes to live under a Jewish government and not being permitted to enter society elsewhere. The problem of the Arab refugees continues to fester today.

The Suez Crisis

In spite of the armistice agreements, Israel was not at peace at this point. The Arab nations refused to negotiate permanent peace until Israel returned the land that the Arabs had lost in the 1948 War. Egypt had closed the Suez Canal to Israeli shipping in 1949. In spite of a UN resolution ordering Egypt to allow the Israelis to traverse the canal, the Egyptians did not comply. The Egyptians also blockaded the Straits of Tiran, preventing ships from using the Israeli port of Eilat. Additionally, this period also saw attacks by fedayeen guerillas from Arab countries across the border into Israel.

On July 26, 1956, Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser, emboldened by an arms deal with the Soviet Union, announced that Egypt would nationalize the Suez Canal. Nasser was a former army officer who had led a coup against Egypt’s king in 1952 following Egypt’s defeat by Israel. By nationalizing the canal, Nasser was directly challenging the British and French, even though Nasser promised to compensate shareholders and not disrupt navigation.

The British and French immediately began planning Operation Musketeer to regain control of the canal. The United States, under President Eisenhower, opposed the use of force. The Soviet Union and India led several other neutral countries in supporting the Egyptians. Diplomatic efforts were made to resolve the crisis and Britain and France, while preparing for war, brought the matter before the UN Security Council. Ultimately, a Soviet veto prevented the council from reaching a decision.

The French began supplying Israel with weapons as the crisis grew, and, as diplomatic efforts failed, the two nations began to discuss joint military action. Golda Meir, the minister of foreign affairs, Shimon Peres, director-general of the Ministry of Defense, and Moshe Dayan, chief-of-staff of the Israel Defense Force (IDF) were involved in the talks with the French.

Finally, it was decided that Israel would open the war with an attack on the Egyptians in the Sinai. France and Egypt would then demand that both Israel and Egypt withdraw from the area, so that French and British forces could take control of the canal to ensure navigational safety. The British Prime Minister, Anthony Eden, was convinced to join in the plan on the condition that Britain’s collusion remain secret.

On October 29, 1956, Israeli paratroops assaulted the Mitla Pass forty miles east of Port Said at the northern end of the canal, while Israeli ground forces rolled into the Sinai. Britain and France, as planned, demanded that the two nations clear the canal zone. Israeli forces stopped their advance, while Nasser refused the demand. The British and French used Nasser’s refusal as a pretext to attack Egypt, launching major air strikes on October 31.

President Eisenhower, who was not privy to the plan, immediately saw through the deception and became irate. The United States, the Soviet Union, and most of the rest of the world immediately began to put pressure on England, France and Israel. Since the British and French were both members of the Security Council with veto power, a special session of the UN General Assembly was held.

On November 5, British and French paratroops dropped near Port Said and Port Tawfiq. The next day, more soldiers came ashore in amphibious landings. After advancing about thirty miles, the force stopped as Anthony Eden bowed to international pressure and domestic public opinion and ordered a ceasefire. Israeli forces had also resumed their offensive and now controlled the entire Sinai Peninsula.

The United Nations formed a special Emergency Force to take responsibility for the canal zone. The British, French, and Israelis withdrew their forces on December 22. The Egyptians promptly evicted the UNEF and regained control of their territory. The Israelis attempted to hold Sharm-al-Sheikh in order to prevent a resumption of the Tiran blockade. UN sanctions and Eisenhower’s assurance that the US would maintain freedom of navigation in the straits eventually persuaded the Israelis to withdraw.

The war signaled the end of British and French prominence in the Middle East. The main winner was President Nasser. Even though his forces were militarily routed, with the help of the United States, he had come out on top. He became the father of Arab nationalism and the leader of the Arab world.

Suez Crisis