Arlene from Israel: “Full Agenda”

So much, so much to write about.  I suggested as much toward the end of my last posting on Friday.  But we will not by-pass the good news first:

Credit: PhyTech

An Israeli hi-tech agricultural start up has developed an Internet of Things technology for crops.  (Internet of Things: IoT, a network of physical objects embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and network connectivity, which enables these objects to collect data.)

PhyTech, located in Kibbutz Yad Mordechai near the Gaza border, developed its plant sensor system PlantBeat in 2011.  This system records how much water crops get, how moist the soil is, what the soil temperature is, and other data. The information provided by the sensors is analyzed and downloaded to a mobile app that indicates how healthy a plant is and what to do to improve its performance.

“The low-cost sensors can be attached to sample plants to take readings within an immediate area of several square meters, with multiple sensors set up as an array to get a full picture of conditions in a growing area.”

This system is already in use on some of the biggest farms in the US, Brazil, Australia, and elsewhere.  In Israel, some 60% of tomato farmers and 40% of cotton growers utilize it.

And now Sygenta, one of the world’s biggest agriculture technology businesses, is partnering with the corporate group Mitsui, of Japan, to invest an undisclosed sum in PhyTech.


Credit: dailymail (UK)

Another Israeli start up, NUA Robotics, has developed a prototype for luggage that uses Bluetooth technology that syncs with a smart phone app that allows it to identify its owner and follow along.

This smart suitcase “features an anti-theft alarm, a USB port for charging electronic devices on the go, and can send real-time data, including its weight and location, to the app.”

It is hoped that this will be on the market within a year.


This is also good news, serious good news, of far greater import:

”Spain’s Supreme Court, the Council of State, has issued a landmark ruling against the country’s Housing Ministry for illegally excluding Israel’s Ariel University from a scientific competition in 2009.

”The legal victory, which was announced last week but made public by Ariel University on Tuesday, is a significant setback for Spanish BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) activists targeting the Jewish state…

”According to a university statement, Ariel received an invitation to participate in the international competition from Spain’s Housing Ministry, the organizer. The competition was open to universities from around the world.

Credit: Ariel University

“’In 2008, Ariel University was selected as one of 21 finalist universities,’ the statement said. ‘Ariel University was the only Israeli and Middle Eastern finalist in the competition.’

”…According to the university, in 2009, the Spanish government notified it that it had been ousted from the competition because ‘your institution is located in the occupied territories and since we are bound to respect the position of the European Union in relation to this matter, we are compelled to announce that it will not be possible for your center to continue in this competition.’

“’The important legal victory shows that Europe’s treatment of Israeli entities and people in Judea and Samaria is legally baseless, and amounts to arbitrary discrimination,’ Eugene Kontorovich, a professor at Northwestern University School of Law in the US and a leading expert on BDS, told The Jerusalem Post. (emphasis added)

“…The legal case against the government of Spain was led by Spanish firm Cremades & Calvo-Sotelo on behalf of Ariel University, in coordination with the University’s Anti-BDS Committee, headed by executive committee member and lawyer Marc Zell of Jerusalem.”

In all, Ariel University was granted €100,000 in compensation.


We might also categorize the growing tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran as good news, however qualified.  Good, because if this diminishes Iran’s influence in the region, Israel stands to gain.  Most analysts see what is going on in terms of Sunni (Saudi) vs. Shiite (Iran) but you will see a more nuanced assessment by Jonathan Spyer below.

Prof. Joshua Teitelbaum of the BESA Center had this to say

“By executing a prominent Shiite leader, the Saudi King and his son the Deputy Crown Prince sent a strong signal to Iran, to the kingdom’s beleaguered Shiite minority, and to the world. To its Iranian Shiite rival, Sunni Riyadh was saying that it would absolutely not tolerate intervention in its internal affairs. It was telling its own Shiites that it would not allow ‘Arab Spring’-like dissent. And to the world, Salman and Muhammad were signaling that the Saudis were growing into their new role as a defender and leader of the Sunni Muslim countries; especially since the Obama administration appears to be siding with Iran. (Emphasis added)

“On January 2, 2016, Saudi Arabia announced the execution of the Shiite religious leader Shaykh Nimr al-Nimr (and 46 other prisoners). [This was followed by a breaking off of diplomatic relations.]  In the region, this was the climax of escalating tension between Saudi Arabia, which perceives itself as defending the world’s Sunni Muslims, and Iran, which claims the mantle of Shiite leadership.

”…for King Salman bin Abd al-Aziz (pictured), only a year in office, and his young son and Minister of Defense, Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, this was a further demonstration of a developing muscular and assertive foreign policy.”


Never a fan of the Saudis, who maintain an exceedingly repressive regime and export radical Wahhabi Islam, I find myself pleased indeed with their challenge to Iran.  They are attempting to fill the lacunae created by an absent Obama.

Gulf Sunni states, with the exception of Oman, are expected to come forward publicly on the side of the Saudis.

According to Eliezer Tsafrir of the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, the situation has a been fraught with tension

“since the Saudis, having had enough of Iranian subversion near its border, launched a war in Yemen [which borders Saudi Arabia to the south] last year to defend its interests against Iranian- backed Houthis taking over the country.

”…the decision by [Sunni majority] Sudan, until recently in Iran’s orbit of influence, to cut off diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic, may be a sign of things to come. He said Khartoum’s maneuver demonstrated how far the conflict between the Sunni and Shi’ite factions has escalated…

”Meir Javedanfar, a lecturer on Iranian politics at the IDC said that both sides ‘are going to significantly increase support for proxy groups in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and even Lebanon.’”

According to Javedanar, “for now direct confrontation is unlikely as they ‘prefer fighting proxy wars against each other. And this is likely to continue.’”


Dr. Jonathan Spyer Director of the Rubin Center (formerly the GLORIA Center), IDC Herzliya, shares similar perceptions in his analysis as above, but addresses a broader context and enlarges on the complexities of the current situation – what he refers to as “trend lines” (emphasis added):

“As its [Iran’s] activities in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and among the Palestinians show, Iran is not able to build lasting and deep alliances with forces outside of the Shi’a and associated minorities. And the Shi’a are a minority in the region, too few in numbers to form a basis for regional hegemony

“The result of this is that Iranian interference in each case until now has led not to Iranian victory and the reconstitution of the area as an Iranian ally. Rather, Iranian interference leads to ongoing instability and conflict, with the Iranian client neither defeated nor fully victorious. Iran creates chaos...

So welcome to the Middle East circa 2016 – state collapse, political Islam as the dominant language, an ambitious Iran at the head of a Shi’a/minorities alliance, and Saudi Arabia seeking to mobilize Sunni resistance to Iranian plans, in competition with sundry other Sunni actors.  All taking place against a backdrop of American absence and Russian attempts to build a presence.”

In terms of that “American absence,” Spyer wrote:

“The abandonment by the US of long-standing ally Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in 2011 confirmed for the Saudis the sense that the current US administration is operating in the Middle East according to a set of perceptions quite alien to its own, and quite likely to end in disaster.”


On Friday I said in my posting that the Tel Aviv terrorist Nashat Milhem had not yet been found. About two hours after I sent it out, he was located and killed in a shoot-out.  Seems he went quickly to his village of Ara’ra in the north after the attack.  I have seen various reports about how he was located.  One involved tracking via DNA, and another referred to a phone call placed to authorities by relatives in the village, from whom he sought assistance while attempting to hide his identity.

I would like to believe that relatives did contact authorities. For we also have reports that paint quite a different picture:

According to Arutz Sheva, he made his way to his village by car less than two hours after his killing spree (which ultimately included murder of a taxi driver, Amin Shaaban).  This strongly suggests an accomplice who cooperated in his escape.

And we have a report from Times of Israel that:

“Many of the residents of Arara knew that fugitive gunman Nashat Milhem was hiding in the Arab town in northern Israel, but were reluctant to hand him over to the authorities, locals said….

“’He received full help, in particular from his close relatives,’ local residents told the Ynet news website. ‘He slept in a different location every day. They brought him food and took care of him.’”


Security Minister Erdan

That there was very probably family complicity is clear: Milhem’s father, Mohammad, and brother, Ali, were first held by police and are currently under house arrest.  More significantly, yesterday an unnamed relative was remanded into custody for seven days, under suspicion that he played a “central role” in the attack.

Milhem’s body was supposed to have been returned to the family, for a quiet funeral Sunday, but return was delayed by Security Minister Erdan out of concern that the funeral would become a celebration of terror.  The body will not be turned over to them until the family agrees to Israel’s terms.

But why should we turn it over at all?  More so is this a reasonable question as there seems complicity of some family members.


I want to return to the subject of the Duma arson very briefly here.  I hope there will be time to address this in greater depth – the broader situation begs for it.  But not in this posting.

While I continue to reiterate that I cannot say with certainty that Amiram Ben-Uliel did not set the fires in Duma, I do want my readers to know that the case against him is problematic, with several matters having come to the fore:

– Apparently he confessed to the Shabak, but then recanted his confession when turned over to police.

– The indictment says he acted alone, as the minor who was supposed to act as accomplice backed out.  However, police records from the time of the arson indicate that family members on the scene reported seeing two men.  Other news reports similarly refer to multiple perpetrators on the scene.

– If you look closely at the two instances of graffiti at the site, it becomes apparent that they are very different in appearance, strongly suggesting that they were written by different people.

And this is hardly the sum total of troubling issues with regard to this case.


A full enough agenda, then, for one posting.  More soon…

Recently, I was sent commentary about the song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from a Jewish perspective. And for this I express thanks.

I have always loved that song because it touched something deep inside of me; I remember singing it to myself as a young girl.  This commentary by Rabbi Bernhard Rosenberg, however, brought a whole new depth to it:

”But perhaps the most poignant song to emerge out of the mass exodus from Europe was ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow.’ The lyrics were written by Yip Harburg, the youngest of four children born to Russian-Jewish immigrants. His real name was Isidore Hochberg, and he grew up in a Yiddish-speaking, Orthodox Jewish home in New York.

“The song’s music was written by Harold Arlen, also a cantor’s son. His real name was Hyman Arluck, and his parents were from Lithuania.

“Together, Hochberg and Arluck wrote ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow,’ which was voted the 20th century’s No. 1 song by the Recording Industry Association of America and the National Endowment for the Arts.

“In writing it, the two men reached deep into their immigrant Jewish consciousness — framed by the pogroms of the past and the Holocaust about to happen — and wrote an unforgettable melody set to near prophetic words. Read the lyrics in their Jewish context and suddenly the words are no longer about wizards and Oz, [but] Jewish survival.”

Somehow, this seemed like the right song to share, as counterpoint to so much that I have written above.  Perhaps you have to be of a certain age to properly enjoy it. Although I would hope not.

I have located a video of Judy Garland singing it, in the movie “Wizard of Oz,” 1939.  You may remember – as do I – seeing that movie in colorized version many years after the original was released.


© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.


If it is reproduced and emphasis is added, the fact that it has been added must be noted.


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