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July Opinion Piece

By Dr. Ron Weiser AM

On the annual indexes across the globe conducted by survey agencies, Israeli’s consistently rate amongst the highest of nations whose citizens have the most number of complaints about life.

Simultaneously they also poll just as highly on the happiness index.

To some wags this simply means that Israelis are most happy when they are complaining.

It goes once again to the question of whether one looks at the glass half empty or half full.

But in reality that too is incorrect. Times have changed.

Despite our very valid concerns and potential troubles looming on the horizon, today our glass is really three quarters full – at least.

In the scope of the historical look back, whatever one thinks of the current period, we have never had it this good and we should reflect on our luck at living as Jews in these times.

Although Prime Minister Netanyahu is a polarising factor on some of Israel’s internal issues and by extension perhaps even more magnified as those rift lines flare out into the Diaspora, he consistently remains way ahead in the polls and faces no political challenger inside or outside of his party.

This is of course because as always in Israel, the external dangers, that is security and then the economy, rank as higher concerns.

On the situation in Syria, which effectively means the looming shadow and footprint of Iran, Netanyahu has proved to be masterful.

He has managed to do something we now take for granted but merely a couple of years ago would have seemed like fantasy. Netanyahu has been able to convince both Russia and the USA that Israel’s interests in Syria are real, should be taken seriously and matter to both of them.

Moreover he has done so about a country where effectively Russia and the USA are on opposite sides of a war.

It seemed as if the only thing that both Putin and Trump agreed upon in their Helsinki summit was that they liked and respected Netanyahu and understood Israel’s interest in Syria.

What was remarkable was, that this conclusion was not.

It just seemed normal.

How extra ordinary that truly is?!

Israel is united behind Netanyahu on Syria and indeed if there is any criticism at all of him by the Israeli press it is to say that perhaps he is being too ambitious in not accepting Putin’s offer to keep Iranian forces 100kms from the Israeli lines, rather pushing the position that there should be no Iranian forces in Syria at all.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu has gained Russia’s nod in attacking Iranian and Hezbollah’s sites in Syria, whilst getting a greater understanding even from many quarters in Europe for the justification of Israel’s action.

Israel’s quite remarkable humanitarian action in Syria and for Syrians who require medical and other assistance insideIsrael, is also being better appreciated than previously.

However, it grates that with the joy of Israel’s decisive actions in saving members of the so called “white helmets” and their families from a certain fate at the hands of their fellow Syrians, this has been tempered in that after ensuring that they escaped to freedom, the “white helmets” themselves thankedeveryone involved, bar the Israelis.

One just has to wonder.

In contradistinction to policy vis a vis Syria and Iran, Netanyahu is far more cautious down south with Gaza. Again, where Iran’s shadow looms and this time with fingerprints rather than footprints.

Where Netanyahu does not perceive an existential threat, he is always more so – despite how his critics like to portray him.

If there is any criticism of the government actions re Gaza in the Israeli press and from opposition politicians, it is that Netanyahu is showing too much restraint, especially in response to the arson attacks and increased rocket fire coming from there. However, Netanyahu continues to prefer the route of economic pressure to military pressure. And giving Egypt a chance to impress upon Hamas that a truce is in its best interest.

With increased violence from Gaza over the weekend and pressure on the Israeli leadership from the public to respond more forcefully, the situation can go either way.

Israel and Egypt aligned on an issue and working closely and publicly in tandem.

Again, what a change.

And that too, is now a new normal.

Netanyahu’s caution is also seen when it comes to settlement building, something that some believe he has never been too enthusiastic about anyway.

How is it, many in the Israel press and elsewhere ask, that with Netanyahu sitting in the Prime Minister’s office and President Trump in the White House, the pace of settlement building has dropped to the lowest rate in 8 years?????

I was reminded by an Evelyn Gordon piece, of an interview in 2013 with Yossi Klein Halevy who said that “most Israelis’ willingness to please the ‘international community’ has always been directly proportional to how supportive they feel that community is of Israel”.

Klein Halevy wrote about Sadat’s visit to Israel and how this was a game changer when he said that “Sadat’s genius was to understand that the only pressure Israelis can’t resist is the pressure of an embrace”.

And so it has always been, the friendlier the friend or friend to be, the greater the concessions by Israel.

A la Clinton.

And so it also is with pressure from Trump on settlements.

To a point.

Each Israeli leader will still have to consider any domestic price he or she will have to pay and whether that will or will not outweigh the international benefit.

Without a doubt, President Trump has changed the conversation in quite a number of ways.

And there is no argument about his championing of Israel’s cause and of his support for Netanyahu.

The whole tone at the United Nations is also very different with his ambassador Nikki Haley strongly defending and promoting Israel at every turn.

Paradoxically, whilst in terms of the larger direct question of Iran the USA is front and centre, when it comes to thedeveloping immediacy on Israel’s northern and southern flanks by Iranians and other tentacles, the USA is far less so.It is less influential and less involved – the two of course are tied together.

No-one is sure whether Trump’s team will or will not finally present their grand peace plan, but until it is either shown or dropped, Israel will be kept wondering whether Trump will demand his price from Israel, or whether there is ultimately no real price to pay at all.

And that is Trump’s modus operandi, to keep especially his allies, guessing.

By embracing us so closely and winning our trust, any concessions he wishes us to make now and later, will be that much harder to resist.

Even so, the dramatically improved situation we find ourselves in, should be enjoyed.

For not with standing how many dangers lurk, we are still better placed than ever to face them.

Yes indeed, the times have changed.

Dr Ron Weiser AM

Dr. Ron Weiser AM is the Zionist Federation of Australia Public Affairs Chairman and the Hon Life President of the Zionist Council of NSW.