This week''s headlines have featured two separate quarrels of the kind that fascinate policy mavens, even while they cause us simpletons to scratch our heads and wonder who, if anyone, is right.
One of them--or actually two separate but closely related quarrels--is of the kind that stirs interest and concern among those who worry about an escalation of Middle East tensions.
Another was more purely Israeli, although for a short time it caused problems for some thousands wanting to come or leave.
The highest profile quarrels pit Israeli and American analysts and politicians against one another around hot button weapons of mass destruction being or not being used by Syria, and close to being developed or not so close in Iran.
Two of Israel''s highest ranking military intelligence analysts--one in active service and one retired--announced in public forums that Syrian forces had used poison gas against rebels and civilians
, and that Iran has crossed Israel''s "red line" with respect to its development of nuclear weapons
Americans are not so sure about either of those problems. The President himself had said that the United States could not tolerate Syrian use of poison gas or Iran''s creation of nuclear weapons. More recent official announcements from on high are that the United States cannot rely on any foreign government''s assessment of what is happening in Syria as a reason to act, and that its own analysis have yet to establish conclusively that Syria has used its forbidden weapons. Commentators are describing a "diplomatic incident" between Washington and Jerusalem, and the Prime Minister''s embarrassment that his chief intelligence official went public about Syrian gas during the visit of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
Prominent during that visit was an airing of US and Israeli conceptions of what it would take to deal more forcefully with Iran. Israel is holding to a standard of Iran preparing the ingredients for a nuclear weapon, relevant to what the former head of military intelligence announced this week, while the US seems to be concerned only about the actual assembling of the ingredients into a deliverable weapon.
Among the events of Hagel''s visit was the announcement of a new arms agreement between Israel and the United States, including the eventual delivery of more tools of increased sophistication that will--in American terms--"assure Israel''s capacity to defend itself." Local cynics view the same deal as the price the United States is paying for Israel''s cooperation, i.e. not acting against Iran without an American agreement that is not likely to come.
Some of those same cynics are saying that if the US is avoiding the obvious signs of Syrian use of poison gas, it is never likely to find "conclusive evidence" of Iran''s intentions and capacity with respect to nuclear weapons.
Other Israelis are wondering why anyone in their government is making an issue of Syria. Let the Syrians continue to kill themselves--who cares how--but keep the focus on the more serious problem of Iran.
Somewhere in the American calculations may be a memory of Israeli intelligence on Iraq. It was one of the sources that convinced George W. Bush that Iraq was close to having/using/developing weapons of mass destruction, including gas and nuclear. That was one of the reasons for the US invasion of 2003
, which toppled Saddam but did not find what Israelis and others had described.
Of lesser interest to policy mavens fascinated by things military was an Israeli flap over open skies. The government approved an agreement with the European Union to a mutual deregulation of air traffic despite a strike of Israeli air carriers and a threatened strike of airport workers against all takeoffs and landings. Airline personnel claimed that they would lose out in competition with the richer and better connected European airlines, while government officials promoting the deal said that it would greatly increase tourism and provide many more jobs overall than might be lost by Israeli airlines becoming more efficient or succumbing to the competition..
Involved in the dispute were conflicting assessments about current realities and prospects. Government officials claimed that El Al was greatly overstaffed, and had to slim down. Labor officials asserted that El Al had more personnel per plane than European competitors because El Al did its own servicing of aircraft.
Several thousand Israelis and tourists wanting to leave the country or come to the country found themselves stranded, until the government agreed to the deal that commentators had said was obvious, i.e., to increase its payment of the costs of security (i.e., screening passengers above the standards applied elsewhere) that it demands of Israeli airlines.
Involved in open skies here and elsewhere are quarrels about the importance or threat of tourism.
For property developers and the people involved in hotels, tour buses, guiding, restaurants, airlines, and shopping, tourism is the holy grail of economic expansion.
It is something else for environmentalists and ordinary Israelis worried about the crowds in their small country, with its old cities, narrow streets, and limited parking.
Elsewhere as well there are debates about excessive tourism spoiling sites for locals and tourists alike. The doubters employ the concept of "overbooking" to emphasize the garbage off-loaded by cruse liners and their inundation of scenic ports by day tourists, the competitive barking of guides to their groups, each in their own language at iconic sites, and the distortion of economic priorities in Third World countries blessed or cursed by tourist attractions
. Neither Greece nor Italy are Third World, but there are limited pleasures visiting the Acropolis or Florence. Bangkok''s temples and canals are fascinating, but require a huge outlay in one''s tolerance of the traffic jams in getting to them. Africa''s animals make for great pictures, providing you succeed in cropping out the competing Land Rovers.
Israel''s government has mechanisms to balance demands for development and preservation, with limited satisfaction about the results. It is difficult to enjoy the Old City of Jerusalem while shuffling along with the crowds, but Acre is less crowded for those wanting to visit and shop in an old walled city, there is room on the Mediterranean beaches, the water is usually clean, there is likely to be a table at one of the Tel Aviv coffee houses, Eilat''s hotels provide air conditioned refuge from the heat, and the Galilee has decent roads and great sites, when not crowded during Israeli weeks of vacation (Passover and Succoth).
Perhaps the greatest problem associated with a treaty of peace with Palestinians and other Muslim countries is not defining borders and moving people here and there, but the flooding of the country and especially Jerusalem with millions of Muslims who will be competing with millions of Christians and Jews at the same or very near by holy places.
Look out for yourself is the guiding principal.
Us pensioners should avoid traveling in high season. We have the government provided gas kits likely to be effective against whatever Syria sends against us. The bomb shelter downstairs should be sufficient when Iran retaliates, if Israel gives up on the US and does what it is threatening to do in response to the crossing of Bibi''s red line.