The Rehabilitation of Ehud Olmert

ShadowStrikeReading Yaakov Katz’s book Shadow Strike, one literally feels in the midst of security briefings or witnessing military preparations. The political and military climates detailed are just surreal, as the main character walks a treacherous tightrope. I once was told that a good author can describe a situation or person in a convincing manner, but an excellent one will sweep you up in the action, making you feel as if you were there. In the case of Shadow Strike, I was so engrossed by the story that it was almost impossible for me to put the book down, so anxious was I to know how it would unfold.

Sandwiched between two larger-than-life figures – Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu – the career of Israel’s 12th Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, would seem to many observers as a footnote in Israel’s political history. Yet, Olmert took a fateful decision in September 2007. A decision shrouded in secrecy, to preserve the security and survival of his country. The genesis and evolution of this decision is masterly explained by the author, who is also the editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem Post, in this gripping book.

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Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Source: https://www.calcalistech.com/ctech/articles/0,7340,L-3759710,00.html

After learning from the Mossad of the existence of a nuclear reactor in Bashar al Assad’s backyard, the Prime Minister took the decision to take it out before it could prove harmful to his fellow citizens. To this day, too few people realize and understand that Israel cannot gamble with its security.

Along the way, he could not afford the diplomatic option favored by the Bush administration.  He also had to cope with the opposition and difficult temper of his own Defense Minister, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak. Every step of the way, secrecy was of the utmost importance in order to ensure the mission’s successful completion but also not to provoke the retaliation of the Assad régime. From the get-go, Olmert was ready to soldier on, showing that his political spine was made of steel.

The fact that Ehud Olmert carried the day against all odds is a powerful testament to the fact that his mandate has not only been successful, even though it will definitely have been marked by humility. He might not have the persona of those tenacious fighters who, like Ariel Sharon, protected Israel in the unit 101 and 202 in the early years of the State, nor the unique eloquence and intellect of Benjamin Netanyahu, but Ehud Omert did what he had to do during these fateful days of 2007. He safeguarded Israel and its future at a very crucial moment.

If only for that, I’m thankful for Yaakov Katz not only because he is one of the most gifted writers I have had the pleasure to read, but also for convincing me that this man has been an underestimated statesman. It’s about time we express some sort of heartfelt gratitude – no matter the fallout of his premiership.

Personally, I hope I will someday have the opportunity and pleasure of telling him in person.

P.S. I’d like to express special thanks to Mr. Joseph Rinaldi, from St. Martin’s Press, for his precious assistance, which proved very helpful in the preparation of this review.

_____________________

Yaakov Katz, Shadow Strike: Inside Israel’s Secret Mission to Eliminate Syrian Nuclear Power, New York, St. Martin’s Press, 2019, 320 pages.

Highland Warriors

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One of the many beautiful paintings on display at the “Highland Warriors” exhibit at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.

Few years ago, when I visited Scotland for the first time, the legendary National War Museum of Scotland was one of the first places I wanted to visit in Edinburgh.

Walking through this jewel of military history, I came across a description of a 1915 German medal, “representing the figure of Death as a Scottish piper”. Many things come to my mind when I think of a piper, but certainly not death. But I could understand how the Kaiser troops must have felt when facing the gallant sons of Caledonia on the battlefield:

German soldiers developed their own view of highland soldiers and were believed to have nicknamed their kilted enemy ‘the ladies from hell’. This back-handed compliment was rather appreciated in Scotland.”

You may say I’m partial because of my Scottish ancestors and you are right. I am partial, I admit it and I cherish it. Nevertheless, you have to admit that Highland Warriors are among the best in history.

But, please, don’t take my word for it.

Take into account what acclaimed military historian Saul David wrote about them:

HighlandWarriors3“This charge of Fraser’s 78th [during the battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759] and the heroic performance of the 42nd at Ticonderoga, would transform the image of the Highlanders in the popular consciousness from that of dangerous savages who posed a threat to the security of the state to loyal and hardy shock troops of the empire. From this point on, the Highlanders joined the Guardsmen as the elite of the British Army, and both would win laurels in virtually every major conflict they fought, often – as was the case in Waterloo, the Alma, Tel-el-Kebir, Loos and Alamein – fighting almost side by side.” (All the King’s Men, p. 180).

If I got your attention this far on my post, then you will want to visit Canada’s War Museum’ awesome special exhibition on “Highland Warriors” which is on display until January 12th, 2020 in Ottawa.

In 2014-2015, my family and I lived in Scotland for six months. We visited many military museums – unfortunately not all of them. Nonetheless, I can attest that the historians and museologists of the Canadian War Museum have been able to recreate the same subdued ambiance and reverence as the one I experienced in Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Stirling and Fort George.

The set of lights, the chosen artefacts and the short but eloquent captions and descriptions contribute significantly to a unique experience for whoever truly wants to understand the nature and importance of Scotland’s contribution to military history and heritage for centuries.

Right when we exited the exhibition to make our way to the LeBreton Gallery (a favorite of my sons who can see tanks), my 9 years old daughter came to me and told me sotto voce: “Dad, our ancestors were real badass.”  I could feel the pride and admiration in her voice. And I shamelessly agree with her.

So, many sincere thanks to the Canadian War Museum staff for planning and organizing this fantastic exhibition – probably the best exhibition I ever visited. For a little more than an hour, you made me feel like I was back in Scotland.

So, you can call it a vibrant success. Because it is.

Nemo me impune lacessit

Les Red Arrows impressionnent Gatineau

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La haute-commissaire britannique Susan le Jeune d’Allegeershecque.

J’avais l’immense privilège d’être invité hier à l’arrivée des légendaires Red Arrows (l’escadrille acrobatique de la Royal Air Force) à l’aéroport de Gatineau. Ceux-ci prendront part aujourd’hui au spectacle aérien organisé par Aéro Gatineau-Ottawa.

En attendant l’atterrissage des 10 pilotes en formation, les représentants des médias ont pu assister au décollage de deux Spitfire et du majestueux et imposant C-400 servant au transport du matériel et du personnel de soutien de l’équipe.

Présente sur place, la haute-commissaire du Royaume-Uni au Canada, Susan le Jeune d’Allegeershecque, était ravie de la venue des Red Arrows en sol canadien. « Je pense qu’il s’agit là d’une belle manifestation des relations très étroites qui existent entre nos deux pays, une relation que nous ne devons jamais prendre pour acquise », d’avancer la diplomate qui se réjouissait par ailleurs du fait que les pilotes britanniques s’exécutent d’abord dans le ciel canadien avant de s’envoler pour les États-Unis pour poursuivre leur tournée nord-américaine. Il s’agit de la première présence des Red Arrows au Canada depuis 11 ans.

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En compagnie du Squadron Leader Martin Pert, un Écossais fort sympathique.

Rencontré à la toute fin de l’événement, le Squadron Leader Martin Pert (Red 1) – qui est originaire de Glasgow en Écosse – exprimait lui aussi son bonheur de séjourner chez nous. Questionné à savoir quels sont les ingrédients du succès pour lui et ses coéquipiers, il n’a pas hésité à mentionner la préparation et la patience. Le sympathique et généreux pilote expliqua également à des représentants des médias qu’une telle prestation nécessite beaucoup de travail. On parle d’environ un an de préparation. Lui et son équipe ne prennent donc rien à la légère pour en mettre plein la vue à leurs spectateurs.

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Un appareil de l’escadrille des Red Arrows.

À l’heure où la Grande-Bretagne traverse une période politique très intense avec le Brexit et l’arrivée de Boris Johnson aux commandes du pays, la tournée des Red Arrows constitue une expression vrombissante et saisissante de l’immense et efficace soft power (puissance douce)de cette nation attachante qui n’en est pas aux premières heures difficiles de son histoire. La présence dans le ciel gatinois des deux Spitfire était d’ailleurs un beau clin d’œil à la bataille d’Angleterre, en 1940, durant laquelle les pilotes britanniques ont vaincu leurs adversaires de la Luftwaffe, évitant ainsi au pays de devoir composer avec un débarquement allemand.

L’histoire se répète souvent, bien que sous des déguisements différents, et elle sert de muse à ceux et celles qui veulent en retenir les leçons. Quoi qu’il arrive dans les prochaines semaines et les prochains mois, les Britanniques entendent bien demeurer une nation forte et inspirante à l’échelle internationale.

Pour l’heure, merci infiniment aux gens de Aéro Gatineau-Ottawa pour cette magnifique activité et pour la généreuse invitation à y prendre part.

Per Ardua ad Astra.

Moshe Dayan – the Israeli Iron Man

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Moshe Dayan figurine by King & Country (IDF001) photographed on Professor Mark Raider’s article about the legendary Israeli warlord.

In May 2017, King & Country (the world’s most notorious toy soldier collectibles company) released a new series about the Six-Days War, featuring Moshe Dayan as its first figure (IDF001). From what I heard, this collection has met with lots of interest and success. And I will admit that I started collecting the IDF figurines and the legendary eye-patched General is my favorite, for the good reason that he never left me indifferent and I developed a profound admiration for him.

Back when I visited Israel in 2008, I purchased a poster of the famous picture of Uzi Narkis, Moshe Dayan and Yitzhak Rabin entering Jerusalem in June 1967. And I hanged it proudly on the wall, in front of my bookshelves.

So what is it with a Canadian guy like me admiring this Israeli icon?

I have to admit that, since I’ve always been a staunch defender and supporter of Israel, I never really questioned myself about the phenomenon.

Up until I saw that Professor Mark A. Raider from the University of Cincinnati had written an article about it, pertinently titled “Moshe Dayan: “Israel’s No. 1 Hero” (in America)”.

And what a great treat it was. Trust me, I’ve read my faire share of boredom-summoning papers since my University days. But Mark Raider’s article is not among that lot.

In a nutshell, the author explains that the reason why Dayan became so popular in the United States is directly related to the fact that “he meshed seamlessly with the American faith in military heroes who became statesmen.” You can think of Eisenhower, Kennedy, Andrew Jackson or – one of my very favorites – Theodore Roosevelt here.

“In short, by the 1970s the cultural myth surrounding Dayan – cultivated by his promoters, embraced by his admirers, and encouraged by Dayan himself – not only conformed to the American hero pattern but became an indelible feature of American popular culture.”

So, that’s how and why Moshe Dayan became a heroic figure like Tony Stark or James Bond – “[…] safeguarding Western values and ideals […]” in my psyche.

I guess you can predict that, in such great company, Moshe Dayan’s fame and resonance as a member of the “[…] pantheon of the West’s outstanding war heroes […]” has a very bright future ahead.

And I truly hope that Professor Raider will decide to write a book on this fascinating subject. Under such an eloquent analytic pen, it would be a bestseller – no doubt about it.

Comment j’ai découvert le Scotch

Plusieurs me demandent souvent d’où provient mon intérêt – et je dois l’avouer – ma passion pour le Scotch. Bien entendu mes racines écossaises n’y sont pas étrangères, mais il y a plus.

GlenfiddichDans ma jeunesse, j’ai été choyé de connaître un grand homme – Mgr Jean-Marie Fortier – qui fut archevêque de Sherbrooke entre 1968 et 1996.

À un moment crucial de ma vie, Mgr Fortier m’a permis d’avoir le plus bel emploi étudiant (universitaire) qui soit – réceptionniste à l’archevêché. Je pouvais lire, faire mes devoirs, écouter des grands classiques (comme Lawrence d’Arabie) à la télévision, tout en accomplissant mes tâches.

Un beau soir d’automne, Mgr Fortier est venu me voir à la réception, me demandant de passer le voir à son bureau après mon quart de travail.

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Mgr Jean-Marie Fortier (1920-2002)

Rassurez-vous – je me dois de le préciser dans le contexte actuel de suspicion entourant l’Église et le clergé – il n’y avait rien de déplacer dans cette invitation. L’archevêque était un bon ami de mon père et nous avions développé une grande amitié également, discutant fréquemment de politique, d’histoire et de livres ensemble. Un personnage exceptionnel, je vous assure.

J’ai alors pensé qu’il avait un service à me demander ou, au pire, que j’avais fait quelque chose de répréhensible…

À la fin de la soirée, je me suis donc dirigé vers son bureau et, à mon grand étonnement, il m’invitait à déguster ce qui deviendrait mon premier verre de Scotch. C’était un bon Glenfiddich – sa marque favorite.

En apercevant mon expression faciale à ma première gorgée, il s’est bien rendu compte que je n’avais jamais eu le privilège de déguster le divin nectar et il s’est esclaffé de son rire légendaire (je l’entends encore dans ma tête…).

Cette soirée mémorable est gravée dans ma mémoire et mon cœur et ce fut le point de départ d’une belle aventure avec le fruit des distilleries de Caledonia.

Depuis et chaque fois que je me verse quelques onces de Scotch, j’ai une pensée pour ce grand homme qui a tant fait pour moi. J’aime croire que chaque moment de dégustation me rapproche un peu de lui dans les cieux.

The Brave of the First Wave

TheFirstWave“The bigger the challenge, the better we play.” – Lord Lovat

Late in the summer of 2014, life blessed me with the opportunity to visit Juno Beach, the hallowed ground where Canadian troops landed on June 6th, 1944.

While I visited the German bunker, carrying my son in a sling, I kept meditating about the kind of men that landed on that fateful day.

Men who could cope with gigantic – and potentially lethal – problems such as a landing craft drifting away from the planned landing side, German guns that were supposed to have been silenced through bombings, lack of ammunition or food, the psychological tool of being sleep-deprived and surrounded by enemies who only waited for the right moment to assault and kill you.

These were not the type of men we encounter every day, I told myself. But maybe they were, in the sense that they were all different and they were all human, made of flesh and blood. Just like you and me.

A few weeks ago, I received a copy of the magnificent book The First Wave by military historian Alex Kershaw by the fantastic people at Penguin Random House Canada.

What a treat it was for the military history enthusiast in me.

The key to responding to the question I kept asking myself on the beach lies on page 312, when the author writes that a Veteran US Ranger “[…] stressed that during the most critical combat of modern times it was the “heart and mind” that had mattered most.”

Witness to that, “[…] an advance party had cut through a barbed-wire perimeter [protecting a gun battery] and crawled across the hundred-yard-wide minefield, disarming mines with their bare fingers in the dark.” (page 87). Talk about heart and mind!

But the men who fought their way on and through the beaches were also led by exceptionally inspiring figures.

Let me just quote two, among all those evoked by Alex Kershaw. Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt (son of the 26th President of the United States) and Lord Lovat (Simon J. Fraser), 24th chieftain of Clan Fraser.

General Roosevelt insisted on landing with his troops walking with his cane (he was suffering from arthritis) “[…] wearing a knit watch cap, not the regulation helmet […]”, insisting to board his landing craft unaided.

As for Lord Lovat, the inspiring Scottish commando leader certainly must have looked like an eccentric for his German enemies, for he “[…] was armed with a hunting rifle, dressed for a good day’s walk on the moors: a white turtleneck sweater, suede vest, khaki corduroy pants, and a duffle coat, which he would leave behind when he went ashore.”

The ordinary men from Canada, Great Britain and the United States who successfully assaulted the Nazi fortress on that historic day became extraordinary through their endurance, sacrifice and determination. And they were inspired by men who rejected the blandness of conformity by showing themselves for what they were, whether it was being afflicted by illness or expressing pride in their ancestry.

Alex Kershaw is probably the best book I have read so far about D-Day and the importance of supreme courage when the going gets tough (I’m referring here to Lieutenant Colonel James Rudder’s men who were besieged in a cramped command post without food, water, ammunition and sleep (page 243)).

Beautifully written (I love Kershaw’s style) and engaging, The First Wave should be the first companion you think of bringing on the roads of summer vacations or on a beach where you will be able to enjoy what these guys fought for – freedom.

Truefitt & Hill to the Rescue

IMG_4812Ouch!!!!

Those of you who know me are well aware that I’m very attached to the amazing Truefitt & Hill products. And that’s not because I’m a precious like some people might like to believe. As mentioned in an earlier post, these products changed my life. At least, my skin’s life. And I had yet another manifestation of that a couple of days ago.

Before stepping in the shower, I forgot to put on my pre-shave oil. I realized it the moment the blades of my razor touched my skin. It was as if my skin started screaming: “Why are you doing this to me?”

As long as I can remember, my skin has always been hyper-sensitive. Shaving used to be comparable to torture for me. Cuts, bleeding, ingrown hair and rashes were my daily lot.

Not anymore.

Make no mistake, there is no product I did not try. Every time I went to the pharmacy, I asked one of the nice ladies working in cosmetics to help me out, to save my skin. Nothing worked. I became hopeless.

Until, one day, transiting through Heathrow Airport, I realized I had forgotten my shaving cream home. I had to find some and Trueffit no. 10 came to my attention…

My skin has been extremely grateful to me ever since.

And, by far, the best product for me has been and still is the pre-shave oil, guaranteeing that my skin is not peeled off by the razor.

Trust me, for someone with hyper-sensitive skin, that means the world. A world of difference.

Try it, gentlemen. You won’t regret it. Because, yes, your skin is precious.