My Word: News flashes and hot and cold spells

Something sounding dangerously like calls for appeasement are being heard, but bullies never stop as long as they can find a victim.

 A MAN at a shopping center in Beijing on August 3 watches a CCTV news broadcast showing a fighter jet during military operations near Taiwan by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. (photo credit: THOMAS PETER/REUTERS)
A MAN at a shopping center in Beijing on August 3 watches a CCTV news broadcast showing a fighter jet during military operations near Taiwan by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army.
(photo credit: THOMAS PETER/REUTERS)

I think global climate change might be saving my social life. At least it’s good for something. Being able to legitimately discuss the weather – with its dramatic swings from dangerous heat waves to floods – means I can avoid political conversations with friends which would be both heated and stormy. The extreme weather patterns seem to mirror polarized global politics.

I’m a pick-your-battles type of person. I try to avoid arguments and confrontations. But sometimes it’s hard to remain quiet – particularly as an old-new bon ton has reemerged. Placation at all costs. Something sounding dangerously like calls for appeasement are being heard, but bullies never stop as long as they can find a victim.

Russia and Ukraine

Even some of those who condemned Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in February are now suggesting that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky call it a day. French President Emmanuel Macron, for example, recently declared: “We must not humiliate Russia so that the day the fighting stops, we can build a way out through diplomatic channels.” 

“We must not humiliate Russia so that the day the fighting stops, we can build a way out through diplomatic channels.”

French President Emmanuel Macron

Macron, facing a fuel crisis and global food shortages, has had enough. But what diplomatic channels does he see ensuring the future of an independent, sovereign Ukraine if the Western countries put pressure on it after Ukraine was attacked for seeking to strengthen its own European connections to begin with? What message does this give to the Russian ruler and those with whom he is aligned, chiefly Iran and China?

 Head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization Mohammad Eslami looks on during a news conference with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi as they meet in Tehran, Iran, March 5, 2022. (credit: WANA VIA REUTERS) Head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization Mohammad Eslami looks on during a news conference with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi as they meet in Tehran, Iran, March 5, 2022. (credit: WANA VIA REUTERS)

Iran and nuclear weapons

Iran is definitely picking up the signals. The West is distressed. And stressed. This week, Mohammad Eslami, head of Tehran’s atomic energy organization, said Iran has the technical capability to produce a nuclear bomb but has no intention of doing so, according to a Fars news agency story picked up by Reuters. Hold the champagne. That’s not a cause for celebration. It’s another admission that the Islamic Republic has been lying all along and has indeed been seeking nuclear weapons from the start

Given the toxic lies of this level, how much credence is it safe to give any promises to stick by a negotiated deal? A return to the JCPOA of 2015 would give Iran the benefit of the doubt – and those are major benefits. The lifting of sanctions and an influx of money could be spent on backing its terrorist proxies; Iran would be able to cross the nuclear threshold in the time it takes Western powers to convene an emergency meeting to wag a finger while surreptitiously testing which way the wind is blowing. 

Iran presents a huge market full of opportunities for the West, especially with the Russia-Ukraine war raging, but the economic benefits of a nuclear deal don’t trickle down to the proverbial man and woman on the street in Tehran, Mashhad, and other places where protests are brutally quelled.

Zelensky no doubt feels that someone is spitting in his eye. Those aren’t raindrops. After all, under the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, the US and UK, among others, promised to guarantee Ukraine’s security in return for it giving up its Soviet-era nuclear weapons. So Kyiv, which once held the world’s third-largest nuclear arsenal, relinquished it in return for a promise on a piece of paper and now finds itself under attack. You can almost feel the ayatollahs looking and learning. 

China, Taiwan and Nancy Pelosi

China, too, is closely observing what’s happening elsewhere and what the consequences are. This week, all eyes were on Taiwan where US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi was warmly welcomed – that is, warmly in Taipei and heatedly in Beijing. China declared in response that it would be holding “necessary and just” military drills in the sea around Taiwan, which it considers a Chinese province, subject to its “One China policy.” 

Ask Hong Kong residents how that works. Taiwan, the Republic of China, which I have visited and admired from close up, is a vibrant economic and democratic country. The threats that “those who play with fire will not come to a good end, and those who offend China will be punished,” to quote Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Wednesday, were not made for Mandarin speakers only. But had Pelosi backed out of her visit, part of a regional tour, because of the Chinese fury, the world would not be safer today. It might seem to be easier to give up without a fight, but it’s when your eyes are closed that you’re most vulnerable. Bullies laugh at the concept of fair play. And it’s worth noting that China has been massively and openly violating Taiwan’s air space and the surrounding territorial waters long before Pelosi stepped on her plane.

 London-based Energean's drill ship begins drilling at the Karish natural gas field offshore Israel in the east Mediterranean May 9, 2022. Picture taken May 9, 2022.  (credit: REUTERS/Ari Rabinovitch) London-based Energean's drill ship begins drilling at the Karish natural gas field offshore Israel in the east Mediterranean May 9, 2022. Picture taken May 9, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/Ari Rabinovitch)

Lebanon, Hezbollah, maritime borders and Karish gas rig

THIS WEEK I felt like a serial party pooper, raining on multiple parades, North, South, East and West. Even when there was good news, I urged caution. Take the Lebanese situation. US energy envoy Amos Hochstein was in Beirut this week for another attempt to calm the waters in the longstanding maritime dispute between Israel and Lebanon. The dispute is preventing Lebanon from drilling in the Qana gas field off the Israel-Lebanon coast. While Hochstein and senior Lebanese officials expressed “optimism,” Iranian-backed Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has continued to threaten Israel’s Karish gas rig “and beyond.”

“If the extraction of oil and gas from Karish begins in September before Lebanon obtains its right, we would be heading to a problem and we’ll do anything to achieve our objective,” Nasrallah declared last week. Israel has recently thwarted at least three Hezbollah drone infiltrations, two of them heading for Karish.

There are calls for Israel to accept a compromise which would likely include giving up part of the area rich in natural assets – even though the terrorist organization that dominates Lebanese life shows no sign of dropping its desire to destroy Israel or its support for global jihad. There is a reason why Hezbollah is considered a terror organization by the US, UK, the Arab League and others, and giving in to its threats only emboldens it. There needs to be an international effort to ensure that Hezbollah doesn’t have the final word and last laugh when it comes to determining events in Lebanon

 Prime Minister Yair Lapid meets with King Abdullah II of Jordan, July 27, 2022 (credit: CHAIM TZACH/GPO) Prime Minister Yair Lapid meets with King Abdullah II of Jordan, July 27, 2022 (credit: CHAIM TZACH/GPO)

Jordan Gateway

Looking East, the sun seemed to be rising with a smile as news of the revived Jordan Gateway project was published. The idea of a joint industrial zone between Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom was first proposed during talks on the 1994 peace agreement and I remember visiting the proposed site not long afterwards. Prime Minister Yair Lapid and King Abdullah approved the revived/revised proposal being promoted by Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej during their meeting last week. Good neighborly relations – and local jobs – are desirable. But care must be taken – and not just from the political-security viewpoint. In an environmentally sensitive area rich in religious, cultural and historical significance, the industrial zone bridging the Jordan River cannot be allowed to be a bridge too far.

Tensions with Palestinian Islamic Jihad

It wasn’t the weather that made me feel hot and bothered midweek. It was the events following the arrest of senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist Bassam al-Saadi and his son-in-law in Jenin. What happened next was a victory for the terrorists – those whose raison d’etre is to spread fear. Concerned that the PIJ would retaliate from its strongholds in Gaza, Prime Minister Yair Lapid, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and top security officials decided to close roads and the rail service in the Western Negev, near the border with the Gaza Strip. In effect, thousands of residents of the South were held hostage due the threat of attacks. But paralyzing the country in fear negates the positive aspect of fighting terror.

Global bullies aren’t just permitting themselves the occasional cold, cynical smile. They’re laughing at the rest of us. Both action and inaction come with a price that needs to be carefully considered, but the bottom line is: If you let terrorists and dictators get away with murder, they have no reason to stop. The free world can’t afford to give up on not giving in.

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