No need to plug these leaks

November 29, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: A New Reality, Blogging, General, Israeliness, News, Politics, Technology 

Israeli officials were quivering in their chairs on Sunday in anticipation of WikiLeak’s release of the trove of diplomatic cables it had obtained. The weekend papers warned that there would be much embarrassment on both the Israeli side over revealed US government assessments of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and former PMs Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert.

Netanyahu went so far to remind reporters on Sunday, before the documents were published on news websites around the world, that Israel was not expected to be the focus of the documents.

“Israel is not the center of international attention,” Netanyahu said during a visit to the southern border with Egypt. “Normally, there’s a gap between what is said publicly and what is said privately, but in this case, the gap is not large.”

It turned out that he was right. While the documents released Sunday night included some titillating tidbits about other public figures – Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was referred to as “Hitler,” French President Nicolas Sarkozy as a “naked emperor,” the German chancellor was called Angela “Teflon” Merkel and Afghan President Hamid Karzai as “driven by paranoia,” Vladimir Putin was referred to as “Alpha Male,” while Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is “afraid, hesitant,” Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s full-time nurse is a “hot blond,” and Berlusconi loves “wild parties,” – the material pertaining to Israel is serious and to the point.

• Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin, who stepped down as head of the IDF’s Military Intelligence last week, said in a meeting in 2009 with US Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Florida) that Israel was not in a position to underestimate Iran and be surprised like the United States was on 9/11.

• Mossad director Meir Dagan told Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns in 2007 that Israel and the United States need to do more to create regime change in Iran.

• Dagan also told Frances Fragos Townsend, assistant to the US president for homeland security and counterterrorism, in the summer of 2007 that IDF operations against Hamas in the West Bank were preventing the terrorist group from taking over the Fatah-controlled territory, according to a cable from the US Embassy in Tel Aviv to the State Department.

• According to another cable sent from the embassy in Tel Aviv, Barak revealed to a congressional delegation in 2009 that Israel tried to coordinate Operation Cast Lead with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

According to an analysis by The Jerusalem Post’s Yaakov Katz, “while there were some comments made by Mossad director Meir Dagan regarding leaders in the Middle East – the emir of Qatar is “annoying,” and the king of Morocco is not interested in governing – that are slightly embarrassing, Israeli politicians were spared the more embarrassing analyses of their personalities that French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi received.”

Not even a mention of Bibi’s comb over. And Katz also surmised that from an Israeli perspective, it would not be an exaggeration to say that the WikiLeaks documents may have helped Israel.

By presenting the Arab leaders as more extreme in their remarks than Israeli leaders, the cables show the dissonance in the region and the danger involved in allowing Iran to continue with its nuclear program.

So, our initial pre-embarassment over the release of the classified documents has turned into satisfaction. At least until the more damning ones come out.

Full body racial profiling

November 24, 2010 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: A New Reality, General, Israeliness, News, Technology, Travel 

No matter who you talk to in the United States, there’s a strong opinion about the security measures at airports recently instituted by Transportation Security Administration agents.

Whether you choose a full body search or a pat down in intimate areas, there’s something for everyone to complain about. And between Saturday Night Live’s spoof and the “Don’t touch my junk” viral video, it’s clear that Americans aren’t going to spread their legs willingly – at least not for security’s sake.

That’s probably why more Americans are looking to the Israeli model of airport security as the way to go. A Washington Post and ABC network poll revealed this week that 70% of Americans support adopting the Israeli profiling system and its implementation in US airports.

As any traveler from Ben-Gurion airport knows, the Israeli security personnel probe without using their hands – by asking lots of questions, and focusing on passengers who pose greater security risks. Yes, we’re talking about Muslims, and any passenger who may appear to be nervous, shifty, or excited.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs explained on Monday that the reason US authorities refused to adopt Israeli methods was because “Israel has one international airport and we have 450 of them that makes all the difference”.

It’s not clear exactly how that makes a difference, but as the clamor will likely continue to grow in the US against body scans and pat downs, the kinder, gentler behavioral profiling that Israel employs is going to start looking more attractive.

Nostalgia Sunday – Farewell my loof-ly

Tinned meat lovers around the globe: I am sorry to report that the IDF has finally pulled the plug on loof. A kosher, poultry-based variety of Spam or Bully Beef, no product has ever been hated with more affection than loof. The word, by the way, like many other terminological remnants of the British Mandate, is a bastardization of an English military term, in this case of the word “loaf”, as in “meat loaf” or, more accurately put, “mystery meat loaf”.

Over the years, loof, like Spam, developed a cult following. Take for example, this entry from Websters Online: “Since the foundation of the State of Israel, the IDF has developed loof, which is a slightly adapted form of corned beef that is packaged almost identically to Spam, and is more nutritious, durable and easily prepared to taste either through cooking or frying with other foods. The name loof is a short and simplified form of meat loaf. Loof is a standard issue in the IDF, and is made by Richard Levy Company of Israel. All loof is kosher, and most are Hallal for Beduin and Druze service personnel. The product has become an Israeli folk delicacy.”

“Folk delicacy!” What a nice way of putting it! That’s not how it’s usually described.

This isn’t the first time that loof’s demise has been announced (Wikipedia still has the date as 2009). But after a flurry of media reports in recent weeks, an official announcement was made by the IDF Spokesmans’ Office a few days ago, stating that whatever loof was left in its storehouses will be replaced by MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) with fresher and healthier ingredients. Shouldn’t be difficult.

According to the IDF Spokesman, during the month of December, soldiers will test out MREs featuring beef patties, goulash and turkey shwarma (slow-rotisseried meat shaved off the spit – sounds gross but it’s delicious!). After that, the IDF logistics unit will roll out the final MRE menu.

Now, anyone who’s served in the IDF, the reserves or even (in my case) taken an hike in Israel, has likely been treated to a meal featuring loof. For so reviled an ingredient, people sure have a lot of ways to prepare it: scrambled with eggs, smothered in fried onions or sauteed in tomato sauce — you name it, someone has figured out a way to disguise it and they’re happy to share recipes.

So why end this half-century long relationship? The thing is that, loof — like all other canned foods — is low-tech. (I heartily recommend reading up on the 200-year long history of canning; it’s truly fascinating! Did you know that Napoleon himself offered a cash prize for the development of reliable food preservation?) Anyway, although you could eat it straight from the can (shudder), to be truly edible, loof needed to be cooked over a heat source. Not so the new high-tech MREs! These come foil-wrapped with FRH (Flameless Ration Heater), a exothermic chemical heater that warms the packet in minutes upon contact with water. Ah, modernity!

A word about the Holon-based Richard Levy Company, which produced one thing and one thing alone for 50 yeras before filing for bankruptcy in 2000, soon after the IDf made it known that loof would be phased out sometime in the 21st century. (Business students take note: Apparently it’s not prudent to rely a single product and customer!). The amazing “urban archivist” Sharon Raz, who documents Israel’s history through its abandoned buildings, has posted some photos of the old factory on his site, Natush.

So loof, like the its manufacturer, will soon be regaled to the back shelves of history like… well… so many cans of loof. (Almost every Israeli family has one rusting away in the pantry). And the next generation will no longer understand the visual gag from the 1976 Israeli cult film Giv’at Halfon Eina Ona (Hill Halfon Doesn’t Answer) about a wacky, zany army unit. It starts at about minute 1:30 into this clip and that one plop says all there is to say about why, despite the eulogies, no one is lobbying bring back loof.

Neutralizing cargo bombs – Israeli style

November 3, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: A New Reality, General, Technology, Travel, War 

A passengers has his luggage checked by security personnel, inside the Ben-Gurion airport terminal. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Sure, people make fun of the Ben-Gurion Airport security officers who grill passengers upon arrival at the airport on everything from who packed their bags to if they can recite the words to ‘Hatikva.’

But when international near-calamities take place – like last week’s cargo bombs that were intercepted at airports in Britain and Dubai on their way to the Chicago Jewish community, likely courtesy of Islamic al-qaeda terrorists based in Yemen – all eyes end up turning to our shores to learn what we do right.

Just so happens, coincidentally, that there’s a Homeland Security Conference taking place this week in Israel, with 50 visiting security experts from around the world exchanging information, learning procedures and talking in code.

As part of the event, they visited Ben-Gurion Airport for a rare glimpse into the security procedures that have made it the world’s safest airport. Nahum Liss of the Israeli Airports Authority, showed off everything from bomb-sniffing robots to verbal procedures to keep passengers safe – including that bogeyman word in the West, profiling.

According to the Canadian Press, the visitors watched as security officers staged a live simulation, stopping three armed “terrorists” who broke through a rear gate. Then they observed an unmanned vehicle patrolling the airport perimeter by remote control — a technology soon to be introduced at the Israeli airport.

They also learned what we all know – before even entering the airport, all cars are stopped for a security check by armed guards. Cameras scan license plates to match them with a database of suspicious vehicles. But the security officials added that there are many more security filters that we don’t know about, and nobody’s going to disclose it here.

However, it can be said that the main terminal is equipped with 700 closed-circuit cameras and is fortified against explosions. The large glass wall at the front and even the trash cans inside are also bombproof.

I always feel safe leaving Israel at Ben-Gurion Airport, and if other airports around the world adopt some of their procedures, maybe everyone else can breathe a little easier when flying the not-so-friendly skies.

Abe’s Market

If you read the New York Times business section on October 13, you may have read about Abe’s Market, an e-commerce site that sells natural, organic and eco-friendly products such as organic shampoo from more than 180 small businesses around the U.S.

What the article didn’t mention is that both Jon Polin and Richard Demb live in Israel, in Jerusalem, and are running the company from here, with more than a few trips back to the old country throughout the year. Both lived in Israel while in their 20s, and then moved back to the States for a while, where they each established themselves professionally and then moved back here. In the process, they each looked for what they were going to do next, and came up with the idea of Abe’s Market.

Named for Jon Polin’s grandfather Abe, a pharmacist who owned Polin Drugs, a Chicago drugstore, the idea of the website is much like how Abe ran his store. He knew all his customers by name, and kept the place open until midnight on many nights. Similarly, Abe’s Market is always open, thanks to the web, and is dedicated to telling the stories of its sellers who offer their wares at prices that are the same or cheaper than sold elsewhere. And they gain great exposure on Abe’s, which is the secret to the business. As Polin told the Times:

“Our manufacturers are great at manufacturing products,” Mr. Polin said. “We’re great at selling products. Let them do their thing; let us do our thing.”

Check out this online, all-natural general store, and keep your eye out for some Israeli products. They’re bound to show up sooner or later.

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