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Israel Snapshot - Jewish New Year 5772

New Jewish Year Enters Amid Regional Uncertainty Of 'Arab Spring' Coupled With Internal Demand For Redistribution Of National Wealth

In the new year, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan Is Expected To Continue His Israel Bashing While Egypt's New Regime May Also Pose New Difficulties For Jewish State

On The Domestic Front, 'Social Justice' Protest Movement Pledges To Step Up Pressure For More Egalitarian Society

Israelis celebrated the New Jewish Year 5722 with the 'Arab Spring' yet to run its course and certainly with results that will have far reaching ramifications for their country. Against this backdrop, the young generation of Israelis have ignited the vision of a more egalitarian society and they are about to launch a new campaign to achieve it.

Israel enters the New Jewish Year with the Arab Spring in full bloom, but that historic upheaval is also buffeting the borders of the Jewish state. Egypt, the first Arab country to make peace with Israel, has now ousted former dictator President Hosni Mubarak, who faithfully honored that peace, whatever his domestic failings. So Israelis are pondering which direction Cairo will set out upon. Will the Muslim Brothers, the best organized political group, eventually gain power and steer Egypt back to war against Israel? Although the generals fully supported Mubarak they promptly dumped their commander-in-chief when they realized the Egyptian masses could not be denied. The military junta in Cairo still rules the roost but the upcoming national election could propel the leading Arab state into a new era. As a result of the deadly Palestinian terror attack from Egyptian controlled Sinai in August, Israel has expedited the building of a security fence along the the Egyptian frontier; a fence was not deemed necessary during Mubarak's rule. In this part of the world, 'Good fences make good neighbors' is not necessarily the case. The violent takeover of Israel's embassy in Cairo has also stressed the volatility of the current situation.

Israel-Egypt border

Conclusion: Israel's strategic planners must now hope for the best but also plan for the worst - Egypt will now be designated as a potential strategic threat.

Unfortunately, this is also the case with Turkey, another former ally of Israel. In the past, secular governments in Ankara decided to form the 'quiet alliance' with Israel to bolster Turkey's position in the predominantly Arab Middle East. However her current Islamist Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a Muslim Machiavelli who endeavors to assume leadership of the Arab world.This after being rejected for European Union membership. His calling card for gaining Arab acceptance has been an unbridled smear campaign of Israel. If that is his strategy, his tactics have degenerated to include the big lie. In a recent interview on CNN, Erdogan accused Israel of killing 'hundreds of thousands of Palestinians', apparently a reference to the IDF's 'Cast Lead Operation' in 2008. In actual fact, some 1400 Palestinians were killed and Hamas itself disclosed that some 700 of them were fighters. (The surprising Hamas revelation was issued in order to refute allegations from Palestinians in Gaza that Hamas militants had taken cover behind civilians, rather than fight.)

Erdogan also warned that he might send Turkish naval vessels to escort future aid flotillas to Gaza. Question - how come Turkey does not send the aid ships to the Egyptian port of El Arish that is a very short distance down the coast from Gaza? The answer is that Erdogan is seeking every possible provocation with Israel, as well as knowing the Egyptian authorities are not interested in El Arish becoming an open port for smuggling more missiles into Gaza. Today, Erdogan has one foot in the NATO alliance and the other in the eastern Mediterranean, where he has been rattling his sabre not only at Israel, but also at Cyprus for her oil drilling program. These are two contradictory policies that have reportedly induced NATO officials to quietly call on Erdogan to cool it. However the mercurial Turkish leader, who is notorious for his bluster, is unlikely to do so. On the other hand, Erdogan who professes to be a democratic leader seeking peace and justice in the region, now finds his alliance with neighboring Syria and Iran in tatters. Erdogan, who has vacationed with Syria's President Assad has now threatened to attack Syria over the brutal crackdown on the democratic protestors. (However Erdogan is still in cahoots with President Ahmadenijad and opposes sanctions on Tehran arguing that Iran's nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only.)

Syrian President Bashar Assad

Syria: President Bashar Assad's days are numbered- that's the assessment of Defense Minister Ehud Barak. But Assad, like Lybia's Colonel Gadaffi, is expected to go down with all guns blazing. Not only his political fate lies in the balance, but also that of his his ruling Alawite minority. Assad, taking a page from the book of his father Hafez Assad, has ordered his security forces to launch a barbaric war against his own Syrian people. (The latest Amnesty report on the torturing of young men and women inside Syrian prisons is not recommended reading before going to bed.) In 1982, Hafez Assad massacred an estimated 20,000 Syrian males in the city of Hamma in order to suppress a rebellion by the Muslim Brotherhood. However, this time a critical mass of the Syrian people refuses to capitulate and appears determined to topple Assad, whatever the cost. Although the Syrian tyrant has lost the support of his Erdogan, Iranian President Mahmoud Achmadenijad is standing fast.

The Iranians are reportedly advising Assad on how to suppress the democratic rebellion on the basis of their experience in a similar wave of popular unrest after the rigged Iranian election of 2009. If Bashar Assad goes the the way Lybia's Colonel Muamar Gadaffi the Syrian threat to Israel will be diminished, at least in the short run. Occupied with suppressing the rebellion, the Syrian army has lost much of its military capability after not training in the field for over half a year. Earlier on, Syrian officials warned that the frontier with Israel would not remain quiet if the rebellion continued, but that proved to be no more than a veiled threat. The conflagration in Syria has disrupted the supply of weapons and missiles from Iran to Hizbollah in southern Lebanon, but on the other hand there is a danger that some of Syria's known chemical weapons could be spirited away to Hizbollah in the turbulence that is Syria today. And as is the case with Egypt, the same vexing question has arisen - what will replace the Assad regime? Bear in mind that since the Yom Kippur War in 1973, the Assad family scrupulously maintained the cease-fire with Israel on the Golan Heights, possibly for fear of being toppled in a new war.

King Abdullah

Jordan: In the middle of the Arab world that is boiling over against dictators, King Abdullah II is a worried ruler these days. He actually rules over a Palestinian majority that his loyal Bedouin forces have kept at bay. But like Syria, Abdullah's father, King Hussein also put down a serious rebellion in September, 1970. Palestinian terror group's exploited Jordan as a base for launching deadly operations abroad that aroused international condemnation. Hussein launched 'Black September' with his army killing hundreds of Palestinians: many of them actually fled across the Jordan River to Israel, where they saved their lives by surrendering to IDF forces. Abdullah is now sitting on a powder keg. Paradoxically, he actually has an interest in Israel maintaining a presence in the Jordan Valley Basin that would prevent a link between a Palestinian state on the West Bank with the Palestinian majority in Jordan. If there were no such Israeli barrier, how long would it take before the Palestinians threatened to topple Abdullah's regime. 'Jordan is Palestine' would become a fact rather than a slogan. Would this be in Israel's interest? Such a geostrategic shift could place an Eastern Front on Israel's border. When all is said and done, a strong Israel is a guarantee for King Abdullah II, despite what the monarch may say in public.

Lebanon: Hizbollah, a proxy of Iran, has reportedly dispatched fighters to Syria for quelling the rebellion. At the conclusion of the Second Lebanon War in 2006, the UN Security Council established a beefed-up UNIFIL force tasked with blocking the smuggling of Iranian missiles via Syria. Missile attacks and cross border raids on Israel from Lebanon have been the cause of repeated flare-ups that escalated into two full fledged wars. Before the Second Lebanon War, Hizbollah had ten thousand rockets. How many today after the UN Security Council stepped in? An estimated forty thousand! UNIFIL has proved to be a colossal flop in fulfilling its mission. So much for Israel's ever accepting another UN peace keeping force as some have suggested as a security guarantee for a peace accord with the Palestinians.

Hassan Nasrallah

In March, the Washington Post printed maps, apparently compiled by the IDF, designating hundreds of Hizbollah positions near or inside South Lebanese villages. They included weapons arsenals, underground bunkers and observation posts. In some cases, Hizbollah built their positions near schools, mosques and the homes of local villagers. Why would the IDF have released such important intelligence data? Possibly it was a message telling Hizbollah: 'We know exactly where you are if you're planning on starting anything again!' So why would Hizbollah not relocate to other locations now? It can be assumed that these were Hizbollah prime locations also if Hizbollah carried out a massive relocation, the IDF has the means to again pinpoint it. Defense Minister Ehud Barak has also made clear to the Lebanese government in Beirut, of which Hizbollah is now an official member, that it would bear full responsibility for any future Hizbollah aggression.

Iran: In the array of threats now facing Israel, Iran's nuclear weapons program again tops the New Year's list. While the UN is embroiled over whether to officially grant Palestine full recognition by the Security Council, , the Iranian centrifuges continue spinning out enriched uranium. What's being done about? The world leader, U.S. President Barack Obama has entered a presidential election campaign preoccupied by economic woes at home while the EU tries to fend off an economic meltdown. Arabia is in tumult, except for the crucial Gulf states that produce crude oil which is craved by much of the world, are trying to ride out the storm. (For Saudi Arabia, the Arab Spring has yet to appear on the horizon. An Arab woman has been sentenced to ten lashes for breaking the law by driving a car.)

Israel: It is surely a sign of Israeli fatalism or failure to perceive the surrounding landscape, that a group of top economic experts, appointed by the Prime Minister himself, have recommended a cut in the defense budget! This contradictory step is the result of the most stupendous development of the year - the 'Social Justice' protest movement of young Israelis. Over the past ten or fifteen years, the Israeli economy has been a big success story; the Jewish state has turned into a power-house of high-tech. But at the same time, the Trajtenberg Commission documented what everyone already knew - the rich were getting richer and the poor were getting poorer'. For example, many college graduates, who do not have parents who can contribute tens of thousands of dollars to buy a small apartment, were literally left out in the cold. A young mother called Daffy Life ignited the protest by pitching her tent in Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv. Tens of thousands and then hundreds of thousands heeded her battle cry: 'The people demand social justice!'

Benyamin Netanyahu

Not only Prime Minister Netanyahu's government was rocked by the force of the protest; the whole political established rushed to climb on the bandwagon. This was for real, the old system of 'piggish capitalism' was on its way out; something new was needed to build a more egalitarian society. But from the outset, the PM strapped the Trajtenberg recommendations into a straight- jacket by stipulating the state budget could not be increased. Daffy Life retorted: 'We demanded a root canal treatment but were told a teeth cleaning would do. We're going back to the streets after the Jewish holidays!' Politically, the big winner has been Shelli Yachimovitch, a Labor firebrand, who has proved to be a champion of social legislation in the Knesset. After being swept in as Labor party leader, polls show the party has surged forward, displacing Kadima as the second largest party after Likud. But now Yachimovitch will also have to present her foreign policy and security credentials. By virtue of her being a Laborite, she is, by definition, a Left-winger, although she has tempered her image by saying she did not view the settlements as the root of all evil. In this context, she noted that even super dove President Shimon Peres had promoted the settlement movement as a Labor politician.

What can also be said is that the relatively quiet security situation over the past year has enabled the 'Social Justice' to overshadow the security issue in the public dialogue of 'guns or butter'. This also enabled Yachimovitch to win the Labor party election. But if and when defense events come to the fore, as they undoubtedly will, Israeli voters are likely to rely on a prime minister with experience. Note that Netanyahu's General Assembly address has boosted him in the polls. Nonetheless, the protestors have made a statement - many young Israelis who have done their compulsory IDF service, achieved a profession or worked their way through college, continue to serve in the reserves while working hard in civilian life, are still unable to fulfill the Israeli dream of getting married, having kids and building a roof over their heads. It is, moreover, the case that all the politicians have suddenly wakened up and agree this sorry state of affairs they've presided over must be rectified. If not they will pay for it when the next election rolls around. However, it is also a fact that to restructure the economic foundations of a capitalistic society is a prodigious challenge, particularly when the PM is a die-hard capitalist. In addition, the tycoons and other vested interests who have done well by the current system, even possibly the Histadrut Labor Federation which represents the wealthiest unions, will fight tooth and nail to protect their turf. And here lies the crux of the problem. In order to give the young Israelis who do all the right things but can't make ends meet, it is not only the wealthy, who will have to sacrifice so that others will have a decent standard of living. But reading between the lines this will not be enough.

The middle class in Israel is divided into two strata - the middle-aged and elderly who benefit from good incomes, public housing and low interest mortgages that have disappeared in the state's shift from a socialist type economy to a capitalist system. They should also be prepared to sacrifice for the young generation. This is not Utopian fantasizing. The young generation of Israelis who have taken to the streets in an admirable democratic protest are the backbone of society and a vital component in Israel's strategic ability to face the emerging threats that are greater than any other member of the UN. As Disraeli once stated: 'The rich and the poor are, in fact, two different nations'. Let's hope that Netanyahu will not only talk about rectifying the situation but also act to make Israel's two nations into one in the coming year.

Mahmoud Abbas, Barack Obama (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Last but not least, the Palestinians: After running into President Obama's opposition to full UN Security Council recognition, West Bank Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas returned to Ramallah to consider the Quartet's latest proposal for direct negotiations with Israel. But the stark fact remains; neither Netanyahu nor Abbas can make a maximum offer that meets the other leader's minimum demands. So the deadlock on a permanent peace deal is here to stay. The sole option that might have a chance is an interim agreement, but that does not appear to be in the cards. For his part, Abbas is likely to continue his campaign to rally international support for his position against Israel. Netanyahu's critics contend that the announcement about new building in the Jerusalem suburb of Gilo across the 1967 line does not help Israel's case.

But the truth of the matter is that Abbas decided that he would simply not negotiate with Netanyahu, knowing full well the Likud leader would give far less than former PM Ehud Olmert of Kadima. President Obama gave Abbas the way out by declaring that Israel's building, even in the existing settlements, had to stop. Abbas adopted this as a iron-clad precondition for any future peace talks, although this had not been a condition for his prior negotiations with Olmert. In this manner, Abbas, with Obama's blessing, was able to dictate a plan of diplomatic war that left Israel being blamed for the stalemate, although it was actually Abbas who refused to go to the conference table.

David Essing

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