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How Citrus Fruits Came to Israel

Since its development in the 19th century, the Jaffa orange has been one of the land of Israel’s best known agricultural exports. Another citrus fruit, the citron (or etrog) plays a crucial part in the rituals of the holiday of Sukkot. But these fruits are native not to the Near East but to Southeast Asia. The archaeobotanist Dafna Langgut explains her findings about how they arrived in the Levant:

Citrus was first cultivated by humans at least 4,000 years ago in Southeast Asia, and all cultivated species derive from a handful of wild ancestors. Several years ago I found the earliest archaeobotanical evidence of citrus in the Mediterranean in a royal Persian garden near Jerusalem dating to the 5th and 4th centuries BCE. . . .

The citron (citrus medica) was the first citrus fruit to reach the Mediterranean, via Persia. The citron has a thick rind and a small, dry pulp, but [because] it was the first to arrive in the West, the whole group of fruits (citrus) takes its name from this economically unimportant species. . . . The citron and the lemon (a hybrid of the citron and the bitter orange, which was introduced to the West at least four centuries later) were originally considered elite products. For more than a millennium, [they] were the only citrus fruits known in the Mediterranean Basin. . . .

Because it is used during the Sukkot holiday, [the citron] is frequently depicted on Jewish coins and mosaics. . . . . Remains of this species were also found in gardens owned by affluent members of the western Roman world—for example in the area of Vesuvius and around Rome—dated to the 3rd or 2nd centuries BCE. It appears that the citron was considered a valuable commodity due to its healing qualities, symbolic use, pleasant odor, and rarity. . . . Its spread therefore was helped more by its representation of high social status, its significance in religion, and unique features. . . .

In contrast, the sour orange, lime, and pomelo were introduced to the West much later, beginning in the 10th century CE, by the Muslims—probably via Sicily and the Iberian Peninsula.

Read more at ASOR

More about: Archaeology, Etrog, History & Ideas, Israel & Zionism, Israeli agriculture, Sukkot

How the U.S. Can Strike at Iran without Risking War

In his testimony before Congress on Tuesday, Michael Doran urged the U.S. to pursue a policy of rolling back Iranian influence in the Middle East, and explained how this can be accomplished. (Video of the testimony, along with the full text, are available at the link below.)

The United States . . . has indirect ways of striking at Iran—ways that do not risk drawing the United States into a quagmire. The easiest of these is to support allies who are already in the fight. . . . In contrast to the United States, Israel is already engaged in military operations whose stated goal is to drive Iran from Syria. We should therefore ask ourselves what actions we might take to strengthen Israel’s hand. Militarily, these might include, on the passive end of the spectrum, positioning our forces so as to deter Russian counterattacks against Israel. On the [more active] end, they might include arming and training Syrian forces to engage in operations against Iran and its proxies—much as we armed the mujahedin in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Diplomatically, the United States might associate itself much more directly with the red lines that Israel has announced regarding the Iranian presence in Syria. Israel has, for example, called for pushing Iran and its proxies away from its border on the Golan Heights. Who is prepared to say that Washington has done all in its power to demonstrate to Moscow that it fully supports this goal? In short, a policy of greater coordination with Jerusalem is both possible and desirable.

In Yemen, too, greater coordination with Saudi Arabia is worth pursuing. . . . In Lebanon and Iraq, conditions will not support a hard rollback policy. In these countries the goal should be to shift the policy away from a modus vivendi [with Iran] and in the direction of containment. In Iraq, the priority, of course, is the dismantling of the militia infrastructure that the Iranians have built. In Lebanon, [it should be] using sanctions to force the Lebanese banking sector to choose between doing business with Hizballah and Iran and doing business with the United States and its financial institutions. . . .

Iran will not take a coercive American policy sitting down. It will strike back—and it will do so cleverly. . . . It almost goes without saying that the United States should begin working with its allies now to develop contingency plans for countering the tactics [Tehran is likely to use]. I say “almost” because I know from experience in the White House that contingency planning is something we extol much more than we conduct. As obvious as these tactics [against us] are, they have often taken Western decision makers by surprise, and they have proved effective in wearing down Western resolve.

Read more at Hudson

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, U.S. Foreign policy, Yemen