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entries tagged with: Operation Cast Lead

 

Ill-conceived ‘crusade’

 

Israeli Deputy Consul Krasna reflects on time in Teaneck

Benjamin Krasna, Israel’s deputy consul general in New York, has fond memories of the past five years living in Teaneck. But when he returns home next month at the end of his appointment, there is one thing he definitely will not miss.

“The hardest part of the challenge for me was the daily commute,” he said, noting that sometimes he would spend hours trying to cross the George Washington Bridge. Still, the pluses outweighed the minuses for him, his wife Sharon, and their three children, who found the modern-Orthodox lifestyle of Teaneck and day schools of Bergen County a good fit.

“Teaneck worked,” he said. “It was a very, very good match for us — in spite of the George Washington Bridge.”

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After five years as Israel’s deputy consul general in New York, Benjamin Krasna is returning to Israel next month.

But with such an active and Israel-focused Jewish community, Krasna’s became a 24/7 job. At Cong. Keter Torah, where the Krasnas were members, congregants would often express their opinions on Israel’s policies and offer Krasna advice.

“You’re in a situation where every Shabbat is another hasbara challenge,” he said.

Balancing a job like that with family life can be a challenge, but Krasna said he made his choices strike that balance.

“You work very hard to protect Shabbat and Sunday … so you can do normal Sunday things — coaching soccer, going to Little League games, things like that,” he said. “If I decide on this day I need to be at my kid’s party at school, then fine, I’ll go and do that. I’ll make the time. You have to find those moments to free the time up for them as well.”

As the Jewish state’s No. 2 man in New York, Krasna has been responsible for keeping a bead on national Jewish groups and how they interact with Israel. Rather than simply responding to requests for information or appearances, Krasna took a proactive approach. He has spent more time than any of his predecessors, he said, visiting smaller communities outside the metropolitan area.

Literally the day Krasna first arrived in New Jersey, his government was uprooting thousands of Jewish settlers from Gaza under the disengagement plan. Then came the capture of three Israeli soldiers, the Second Lebanon War, Operation Cast Lead, the election of America’s first black president, two elections in Israel. Also, the Giants won the Super Bowl and the Yankees won the World Series (again). But, he complained, “the Knicks didn’t get any better.”

One question in particular has become routine at every event, no matter who the sponsor is, and it’s a question Krasna will not miss answering.

“And that was about Israel’s PR,” he said. “I think Israel does a very good job. We make strong efforts to make people know about the multifaceted nature of Israel, Israel beyond the conflict.”

As PR successes, he pointed to the worldwide consensus on Iran, widespread support in Congress, and a recent Gallup poll that indicated more than 60 percent of Americans support Israel — a level not seen since the 1991 Gulf War.

“We have to understand also that sometimes being the stronger in the conflict means that public sentiment may lean a little towards the weaker,” Krasna said. “The fact of the matter is I still don’t want to be the weaker, I want to be the stronger. If I look at the level of understanding there was during the war in Lebanon — publicly in America — or during the war in Gaza, we basically had public opinion on our side to take the action we needed to take.”

Many point to Israel’s delay in releasing footage from the Mavi Marmara — that showed activists attacking Israeli soldiers — as a publicity misstep. Krasna quickly disagreed.

“It was a conscious decision taken to delay the release of some of the photographs and footage,” he said. “We paid a PR price for that. You have to remember when an operation is ongoing — literally, ships are still at sea, soldiers are still there — we have other considerations that come first regarding the safety of our soldiers. You need to successfully bring this operation to a conclusion.”

One area where Krasna would like to see more emphasis is Israel education of high school students. Much has been made in recent years about the college campus as the latest battleground for Israeli public relations. Krasna, however, believes that battle needs to begin long before students get to campus.

“If our kids don’t feel comfortable enough in their own skins as pro-Israel advocates, their choice is going to be to avoid confrontation,” he said. “They don’t have the arguments and they don’t want to be faced with a case where somebody’s going to confront them.

“That’s why we need to invest in education before they get there.”

Today’s youth — and Krasna’s generation, as well, he noted — can take Israel’s existence for granted because they never knew a world without the Jewish state.

“We all run the risk of taking for granted the fact that we live in a world with the State of Israel, which is a better world because of the State of Israel. We’re all a generation born into it,” he said. “Israel is not just Ben Yehuda [Street], or the Inbal Hotel [in Jerusalem], or nightlife in Tel Aviv. Israel is battles that were fought, people who sacrificed, and things we can be proud of.”

Krasna grew up in a Zionist home in Forest Hills, Queens, and made aliyah with his family when he was 11. Although his family returned to the United States a few years later, Krasna formed a lifelong connection with the Jewish state and, after completing a bachelor’s degree in Middle East studies at Rutgers in 1986, he returned to Israel for his mandatory military service.

He left Israel again to complete a master’s degree in international relations at Johns Hopkins University. And when he returned to Israel, he got his first diplomatic break — in the form of a newspaper ad calling for diplomats. He applied and was accepted.

Starting in 1997, he served as Israel’s deputy consul general in Istanbul, as the spokesman of the Israeli embassy in The Hague, and specializing in the Multilateral European Institutions Western European Division of the Ministry in Jerusalem.

And what’s next for the career diplomat?

“Home,” he said. “Home is to enjoy a house that I bought before I came here and haven’t had a chance to live in yet. Home is seeing my kids reacquaint themselves with Israel — in the case of my youngest … seeing him acquaint himself with Israel.”

As he prepares to head home, Krasna has but one lingering regret.

“I’d be more careful about what I ate at these [gala] dinners. A smorgasbord is a very dangerous thing,” he said. “As a general rule I chose the carving station over the sushi every time.”

 
 

Gaza-Israel border heats up as Hamas acquires new weapons

Leslie SusserWorld
Published: 31 December 2010

JERUSALEM – After two years of relative quiet since the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, Israel’s southern border with Gaza is again becoming volatile.

Last week, Gazans fired a rocket into Israel that landed close to a kindergarten in a kibbutz near Ashkelon just as parents were dropping off their children. Although no one was hurt, nothing like that had happened since the war.

News Analysis

Militants fired more than 200 Grad missiles, Kassam rockets, and mortar shells into Israeli territory in 2010, according to the Israel Defense Forces, compared to 160 in 2009. Both years pale in comparison to prewar levels in 2008, when militants in Gaza launched some 4,000 projectiles into Israel.

Nevertheless, despite the relative quiet for most of this year, the IDF is concerned that the recent escalation, if unchecked, could lead to a new round of serious fighting.

After last week’s attack in Ashkelon, the Israel Air Force bombed a staffed Hamas militia base, the first time it had taken such action in two years. Until then, the IDF had restricted its retaliatory and preemptive raids to targeting weapons caches, so-called workshops, smuggling tunnels and Hamas militants in the act of launching attacks. The IDF attacked the Hamas base to signal that Israel will hold the Hamas government responsible for what goes on in Gaza and that in allowing a bombing so close to a kindergarten, Hamas had crossed a dangerous red line.

But that didn’t quiet things down.

Last week, Gaza militants fired 24 mortar shells and three Kassam rockets at Israel, and Israel responded with air strikes that killed at least five militants.

Over the past few weeks, the militants also have stepped up ground attacks on Israeli border patrols. The most serious incident for Israel came in early December, when Gaza militants fired a state-of-the-art Kornet missile at an IDF Merkava tank. The Kornet, a lethally accurate and potentially game-changing anti-tank weapon that Hamas added to its arsenal only very recently, penetrated the Israeli tank’s armor but did not explode.

Hamas’ acquisition of Kornet weapons means that Israel will have to rethink its tactics if it launches another major ground incursion into Gaza. For now, tanks patrolling the border have been reinforced with the Israeli-developed “trophy” active protection system, which has the capacity to destroy incoming missiles.

The Hamas position on the escalation is ambivalent. The organization’s political wing says it has no interest in a major clash with Israel right now, but the military wing says it’s poised to resume large-scale rocket attacks.

At a rally in the Gaza city of Khan Yunis to mark the 23rd anniversary of the founding of Hamas — an event that coincided with the second anniversary of the Israel-Hamas war, called Operation Cast Lead — Mahmoud a-Zahar, one of the leaders of Hamas’ political wing, insisted that Hamas was committed to the ceasefire reached in the wake of Cast Lead.

But a day later, at a news conference called by Hamas, masked men from the Izz a-Din al-Qassam Brigades claimed to have new weapons that would surprise the IDF. They warned that they would respond harshly “to any acts of aggression by the occupying Zionist forces against its fighters or against the civilian population of Gaza.”

They also claimed responsibility for some past acts of terror, including the June 2008 attack on the Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav seminary in Jerusalem, in which eight yeshiva students were shot dead by a rampaging gunman. In a separate statement, Ahmed Ja’abari, deputy commander of Hamas’ military wing, declared that Israelis had two choices: death or expulsion.

Israeli analysts attribute the bellicose tone to competition between Hamas and other militias claiming to be doing more in the struggle against Israel. The tough talk is a way of saying that they, too, are fighting “the occupation.” On the other hand, the analysts say, Hamas’ political wing does not want to provoke another war, with all the hardship it would cause the population of Gaza and the threat it would pose to Hamas’ rearmament plans.

The upshot is that the Hamas government has been allowing its military and other smaller militias a slightly freer rein to test how much they can snipe at Israel without provoking a major military response.

Two years on, it seems that the record of the three-week war that began in Gaza on Dec. 27, 2008 achieved mixed results. The main aims of the operation were to restore deterrence, destroy as much of the Hamas terrorist infrastructure as possible, and prevent a renewal of weapons shipments into Gaza.

To a large extent, the operation achieved the first two goals, but the flow of weapons and war materiel into Gaza has continued unabated, perhaps even at an accelerated pace. The failure to stop the arms flow has threatened to undermine the operation’s other achievements. With new weapons and war materiel at its disposal, Hamas has been able to rebuild its military infrastructure and, now, the deterrent effects of Cast Lead appear to be beginning to wear off.

Hamas’ rearmament since the war has been impressive. The IDF believes that aside from the Kornet anti-tank missiles the terrorist group now has, Hamas also has anti-aircraft missiles. In addition, Hamas has more accurate and longer-range rockets — for example, the Iranian Fajr-5, which puts Tel Aviv in range.

Hamas fighters and other militiamen have received training in Iran, Syria, and Lebanon, and from Iranian and Syrian instructors in Gaza. They have also been building Hezbollah-style underground bunkers in Gaza.

The IDF sees two aspects to these developments: On the one hand, Hamas will not want to put all this at risk by provoking Israeli prematurely. The IDF assessment is that Hamas is still very much in the throes of the rearming and rebuilding process. But a future showdown, when Hamas feels it is strong enough, cannot be ruled out.

“Two years after Operation Cast Lead, the situation in the Gaza Strip is different and calmer,” IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi said at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on Sunday. But the situation is still potentially explosive, he said. He warned that Israel would not tolerate the continuation of the kind of rocket and mortar fire its civilians have witnessed over the last few weeks. But he gave no indication that the IDF would go beyond the limited, carefully controlled responses it has made so far.

Clearly, both sides are wary of sparking a major conflagration right now. But things could escalate very rapidly if a Gaza rocket inflicts Israeli casualties, or if an Israeli counterattack were to take a heavy Palestinian toll.

“The IDF,” Ashkenazi said, “is preparing for any scenario.” JTA Wire Service

 
 

New violence suggests end of calm between Israel and militant Palestinians

JERUSALEM – Violence between Israel and militant Palestinians rose sharply this week with a bombing in central Jerusalem and a dramatic increase in rocket attacks on southern Israel.

In a terrorist attack on Wednesday afternoon, a bomb planted near a telephone pole exploded near Jerusalem’s International Convention Center, Binyanei Ha’uma, killing a 59-year-old woman and injuring more than two dozen people.

Earlier, rocket attacks from Gaza on Tuesday and Wednesday struck the Israeli cities of Beersheba and Ashdod, injuring one man.

Meanwhile, Israeli forces struck targets in the Gaza Strip, including what the Israeli air force described as the rocket launcher from which a Grad rocket was fired at Ashdod on Tuesday night. In one of the Israeli air raids, four members of Islamic Jihad traveling in a car were killed. In another, four Palestinian civilians were killed in an area from which mortar shells had just been fired.

The killing of civilians prompted a statement of regret from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also said, “It is regrettable that Hamas continues to intentionally rain down dozens of rockets on Israeli civilians even as it uses civilians as human shields.”

The sudden escalation in attacks, coming with Israel still reeling from the March 11 attack in the Jewish west bank settlement of Itamar in which five family members were stabbed to death, raises fresh questions about the sustainability of the calm that has prevailed between Israel and militant Palestinians since the end of the Gaza war in January 2009.

Since the cease-fire that ended that war, known in Israel as Operation Cast Lead, rocket fire on southern Israel has been sporadic and mostly carried out by groups other than Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip. But the mortar and rocket attacks in recent weeks, which have included the use of more sophisticated, longer-range missiles known as Grads, have been the work of Hamas — a sign that the shaky cease-fire between the Palestinian terrorist group and Israel may be falling apart.

“I see the escalation is already here in a number of fronts — in the South and also in Jerusalem,” Interior Minister Eli Yishai said at the scene of Wednesday’s explosion in Jerusalem, according to The Jerusalem Post.

In the South, Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom threatened a new operation in the Gaza Strip.

“The period of restraint is over; we must do everything we can to strike out against those who wish to hurt the innocent,” Shalom said on a visit to the site in Beersheba struck Wednesday by two long-range Grad rockets. “I hope it won’t come to another Operation Cast Lead, but if there is no other choice we will launch another operation.”

As of late Wednesday afternoon, no one had taken responsibility for the bombing in Jerusalem, the first major bombing in Israel’s capital city since 2004. More recent deadly terrorist attacks involved gunmen, as in the case of the Mercaz Harav attack in March 2008 that left eight yeshiva students dead, or Palestinians commandeering bulldozers or cars and using them as weapons.

Following Wednesday’s attack, Netanyahu said he would delay a planned trip to Moscow.

Police said the bomb was left in a bag in a telephone booth next to a busy bus stop along a main artery in central Jerusalem about a block from the city’s central bus terminal. The blast blew out the windows of two buses picking up passengers.

JTA Wire Service

 
 
 
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