Is Israel’s success against terror a model for the US Army against ISIS?
The month of July 2016 saw six recorded terror attacks, according to the IDF – a drastic decline in the number of monthly attacks from October, when there were 70 recorded attacks.
In fact, July saw one of the lowest rates of attacks in the ten months since the beginning of the terror wave, which has resulted in the deaths of 41 Israelis and foreigners and about 250 Palestinians.
A senior IDF officer said that this number indicates that the state’s recent security tactics are working. The tactics consist of a combination of precise intelligence from the Shin Bet Israeli Security Service and daily, as well as nightly, IDF operations that work to distinguish the difference between terrorists and the majority of the Palestinian West Bank population. The operations allow the rest of the population to continue with their normal day-to-day routines, including the 100,000 holders of Israeli work permits.
The success in pinpointing and stopping the terror, most of which has come from “lone terrorists,” will be a major issue brought up in Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot’s upcoming visit to the United States. Eisenkot will be a guest of US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford. This is set to be the third meeting between the two since Eisenkot entered his position just a year and a half ago. Dunford has been a guest in Israel twice.
The American hosts are also interested in discussing with Eisenkot the war against ISIS. The US army is interested in the strategy used by the IDF known as “military campaigns between wars.” The Israeli army has been involved consistently and systematically, for nearly a decade, in clandestine operations against terrorists and their efforts to smuggle weapons far from Israeli borders. These operations are based on intelligence directed against weapons smuggling from Iran, Sudan and Libya to Hezbollah in Lebanon and terror groups in Gaza. The US army is interested in exploring the possibility of adopting similar strategies against ISIS in Iraq, Syria and Libya.
“To some extent we have become a laboratory that not only the United States Army wants to learn from, but also other Western armies,” the officer stated. Chiefs of Staff of Germany, Canada and France and their senior officers also recently visited Israel.
Dunford and his aide are also said to be seeking talks with Eisenkot pertaining to the IDF implementation of its multi-year plan that set a fixed budget and succeeded in reducing man power as well closing unnecessary units. It also established new units that seek to adjust to the changes in the Middle East and the dangers and threats that come from them. (Jerusalem Post)
Hezbollah fools Israeli leaders into appearing in Lebanon war TV feature
Hezbollah fooled three senior Israeli officials and a wounded soldier into giving interviews for its documentary on the 2006 Second Lebanon War. The Lebanese-based terror group fought Israel for 34 days following the abduction of two IDF soldiers along the Israel-Lebanon border.
According to a report by the Yedioth Ahronoth daily on Tuesday, an Italian reporter interviewed former defense minister Amir Peretz, former foreign minister Tzipi Livni and Maj. Gen. (res.) MK Eyal Ben-Reuven, telling them the footage would be broadcast on the BBC and Italian television.
But reporter Michela Moni insisted he was also misled, maintaining the Palestinian producer who gave him the job told him the footage was for the BBC and Al-Jazeera.
On Saturday, al-Mayadeen, a television channel affiliated with the Shiite organization, broadcast previously unreleased footage of Hezbollah fighters training for the attack that launched the Second Lebanon War.
Three IDF soldiers were killed and two — First Sergeant Ehud Goldwasser and Sergeant Eldad Regev — were captured in the raid. Five more IDF soldiers were killed shortly thereafter in a failed Israeli rescue attempt.
The broadcast is part of a three-episode documentary series commemorating the war’s 10th anniversary. It is seen in Israel as part of Hezbollah efforts to rehabilitate its image in Lebanon as the cause for the country’s suffering, both resulting from the 2006 war and due to its active participation in the Syria civil war in support of Iranian and Syrian regime forces.
Tomer Weinberg, an IDF veteran who was wounded in 2006, told Yedioth that Moni approached him in February.
“In February, Michela Moni presented himself as a journalist for the Italian ANSA news agency in Rome. He asked to interview me about the kidnapping. I declined the offer a few times and explained reconstructing the incident could worsen my mental and physical state,” he said.
But Moni was persistent, Weinberg added.
“The Italian journalist didn’t give up and I eventually agreed to be interviewed. When he came to my home he told me he was staying in Jerusalem and came to visit me specially ‘because the Italian people are extremely interested to hear your story, and it is important they hear the circumstances of the kidnapping,’” Weinberg said.
During the hour-long interview, Moni urged him repeatedly to be filmed next to a photo from the 2006 ambush in which his comrades were abducted and killed, and he was injured. He refused. And the Hezbollah documentary distorted his account, making it seem like he abandoned his fellow soldiers, Weinberg maintained.
“My friends shamed me because after all that I told the Italian journalist, they showed only a tiny part of it, which implies that I escaped from the vehicle and abandoned my friends. All at once the memories from the incident came flooding back and I started to feel anxiety,” Weinberg said.
“Since the film was shown I have not been to work,” he added.
Spokespeople for Livni and Peretz said they were never informed they were being interviewed for al-Mayadeen. Former head of Military Intelligence Amos Yadlin also appears in the documentary, but told Yedioth he believed the filmmakers simply used old footage from his previous Israeli TV appearances.
Meanwhile, Moni told the daily he was tricked by a Palestinian producer into accepting the task.
“I also didn’t know that the interviews I was sent to do in Israel were intended for Hezbollah,” the Italian journalist said. “[Palestinian TV producer] Ahmed Barghouthi, who hired me in Jerusalem, told me that he was preparing interviews for a show to be aired on the BBC and on Al-Jazeera. I work a lot with this producer and I took on the task.”
“I am a professional journalist and I have no connection with al-Mayadeen or Hezbollah and I have no interest in being in contact with them. Tomer Weinberg is an extremely nice individual and he says that he has no idea how the interview wound up on al-Mayadeen,” added Moni.
“When I realized that the Hezbollah channel broadcast the interviews and not Al Jazeera or the BBC, I understood that I had been used and I came out looking like a liar to my interviewees. I am scared of losing my job,” he said.
The Hezbollah broadcast also included reconnaissance footage taken by the terror group of the site along the border — Point 105 in IDF parlance — near the Lebanese village of Aita el-Sha’ab, where the attack took place. Audio of IDF radio communications, including Ehud Goldwasser’s voice shortly before the attack, were included in the footage. (the Times of Israel)
Netanyahu: I’m shaken to the core of my being
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu took time to address the video that shows a Palestinian father asking Israeli Border Police to shoot his son.
“I’ve just watched a video that shook me to the core of my being. In just a few seconds, it shows why our conflict persists,” opened the Prime Minster.
“A Palestinian father holds up his 4-year-old son. He pleads with Israeli border police to kill his own child. He shouts, “Shoot this little boy!” His boy. He pushes his young son forward toward the soldiers and screams, “Kill him! Shoot him!” The boy pauses. He is scared. Any child would be.
He turns back, looking at his father for guidance.
“With his shirt tightly tucked into his bright red shorts, the boy ambles forward towards the soldiers. One of them extends his hand in friendship. The boy gives him a high-five.
“It’s hard to make a four-year-old hate.”
Netanyahu then turned to address the parents of the world, urging them to think of their own children in this child’s place.
“Imagine your own child at that age. Think of his smile. Imagine her laugh. Picture the unrestrained joy and innocence that only a child possesses. Encouraging someone to murder a child – let alone your own child – is probably the most inhumane thing a person can do.
“What did this child do to deserve this? The answer is: nothing. He is innocent. He should be in a playground. He should be in the sun, laughing with other children.
“Sadly, this father’s crime is not an isolated example. In Gaza, Hamas runs summer camps that teach children to value death over life – suicide kindergarten camps.
“The Palestinian Ministry of Education in Ramallah recently organized an event for students to honor terrorists who murdered three civilians. Two weeks ago, the Palestinian Authority’s official newspaper praised teenage terrorists and wrote that ‘death as a martyr is the path to excellence and greatness.’ That’s a direct quote.
“Palestinian and Israeli children deserve better. They deserve to live. They deserve to live in peace. Children are not cannon fodder. They are the most precious things in the world. They’re the most precious things we have. I’m sure Palestinian parents, many of them, are as outraged as I am at this video. And today I appeal to every father and mother around the world. I ask you to join me in calling for an end to this abuse of children.
“The Palestinian leadership must stop encouraging children to kill. They must stop encouraging Palestinian parents to call for the death of their own children. It’s horrendous!
“Peace begins with respect. If parents don’t respect their own children’s lives, how will they respect the lives of their neighbors?
“We must love all children. They should never be pushed to violence or hate.
“Join me in educating all children for peace.” (Arutz Sheva) (The video was posted online on Tuesday’s Israel Update RW)
‘Never before, since 1948, has the world been so open to Israel’
Michael Oren’s responsibilities as deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office still weren’t clear on Tuesday, the day after his appointment was announced, but he still had lofty goals for what he would do in his new position.
The Prime Minister’s Office said Oren would be a “special envoy to the PM,” and Oren’s office said he would be dealing with foreign policy and diplomacy.
The reason for the vagueness is because there are so many other officials with positions related to foreign affairs with whom Oren cannot overlap: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has the foreign minister portfolio, Minister without Portfolio Tzachi Hanegbi is supposed to deal with the topic, and Gilad Erdan is minister of strategic affairs, which includes elements of public diplomacy and the fight against boycotts.
Still, the former ambassador to the US described ambitious ideas for a “whole new strategic direction,” in an interview with The Jerusalem Post in the Knesset cafeteria.
“We’ve been fighting feelings with facts,” Oren said. “Using a fact against a feeling is like firing a ping pong ball against a tank.”
According to Oren, the boycott Israel movement is an idea, whereas Israel is treating it like an organization. “You can’t bomb an idea,” he stated. “The only effective weapon against an idea is a better idea.”
Oren plans to rethink the way Israel can fight the ideas that harm it.
One thought he raised was to find “a new Exodus,” a reference to the 1960 Paul Newman film which he called “the best act of public diplomacy ever,” which “changed the dialogue about Israel for a generation.”
At the same time, the soon-to-be deputy minister had a rosy view on Israel’s stature in the world.
“As much as we’re facing challenges, this is a period of unprecedented opportunity, and I’m speaking as a historian,” he said. “Never before, since 1948, has the world been so open to us.”
Asked whether his appointment to a diplomatic position could cause tensions with the US, in light of past issues when he was ambassador and statements he wrote that were interpreted as opposing the current administration, Oren gave an emphatic no. He said that after the 2012 election, when Netanyahu was accused of supporting Republican nominee Mitt Romney, he is especially careful to not say anything that looks like he is intervening in this year’s vote.
Oren recently turned down a meeting with Republican nominee Donald Trump in order to avoid appearing to be involved.
At the same time, Oren pointed to a campaign ad for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, in which he is quoted as calling her “formidable and indefatigable,” saying her campaign is touting him as a supporter.
As for Oren being in a party that deals mainly with economic issues, he said that the compartmentalization is artificial, and that foreign policy and business are interconnected.
For example, Oren said, Netanyahu’s expanding Israel’s connections in Africa can be an economic boon for Israel, which is why the prime minister brought 100 businessmen on his recent trip to the continent. He encouraged the prime minister to do the same in South America, saying both continents did not get sufficient attention from the Foreign Ministry.
It is still unclear when Oren’s appointment will be made official, because the Knesset, which must approve it, is going on recess on Thursday. (Jerusalem Post)
72% of Israelis say soldiers should obey military not rabbinic orders
A new poll shows that 72 percent of Jewish Israelis say soldiers should obey military orders over rabbinic orders, while 69% of Jewish Israelis believe that the IDF should have a pluralist values system.
The Israel Democracy Institute poll results come against the background of controversial comments made by two prominent national-religious rabbis in recent weeks – remarks that aroused intense opposition from secular, liberal and pluralist public figures and organizations, as well as from elements within the liberal wing of the national religious community.
Following the announcement that Rabbi Col. Eyal Karim would become the chief military rabbi at the beginning of July, several troubling comments Karim made on an online question and answer forum were unearthed, including remarks on the question of disobeying orders, and on homosexuals.
Shortly afterwards, Rabbi Yigal Levenstein, head of the pre-military academy in Eli, gave an address at a rabbinical conference where he denounced pluralist values within the IDF, referred to gays as perverts, and described Reform Judaism as a branch of Christianity.
In the IDI’s poll, conducted by telephone from July 25 to July 27, respondents were asked several questions pertaining to issues of religiosity and pluralism in the IDF.
On the issue of refusing orders, respondents were asked what a religious soldier should do if there is a contradiction between a military army order and a rabbinic ruling.
Some 72% said the soldier should obey the military order, 12.4% said the rabbinic ruling, with the remainder either unsure, declined to answer, or said each soldier should decide according to his conscience.
Respondents were also asked their opinion on whether the IDF should accept pluralist values.
Just under 69% of Jewish Israelis said it was good, while 23% said it was not good, and 8.1% declined to answer.
When responses to this question were examined by the level of religiosity of the respondent, it was found that a majority of all of those surveyed, apart from haredim, said that the army should be a pluralistic and open majority.
The level of support declined however for more religious population groups: 81% of secular respondents, 76% of non-religious-traditional, 57% of religious respondents, and 52% of religious traditional say that the army should have pluralist values. Only 29% of haredim said they believed the army should have a pluralistic approach.
And asked whether they agreed with Levenstein’s claim that the IDF’s values in recent years have grown more pluralistic and away from the values of religious-Zionist soldiers and officers, 33% of Jewish Israelis agreed that this difference in values now exists, while 52% disagreed.
Respondents were also asked if they felt that the values of the IDF’s senior command are close to or distant from the framework of values of the general Israeli public.
Just under 49% answered very close or moderately close, 37% said these respective values frameworks were moderately or very distant, while 14% were unsure.
A similar pattern of responses was found regarding the closeness between the IDF senior command’s value system and that of the political leadership.
Profs. Ephraim Yaar and Tamar Hermann, who worked on the poll, said this indicates that at least one-third of the Jewish public does not currently see the values of the army as harmonious with those of the general public or of the political leadership.
Moreover, segmentation by political camps showed that of those who identify with the political center, a majority (59%) viewed the IDF senior command’s value system and the general public’s as close to each other.
On the left and the moderate left, about half held that perception, and on the moderate right, 54%.
However, among those who defined themselves as on the right, only 38% regarded the two value systems as close to each other; and of those on the “hard right,” about half (49%) do not see a closeness between the IDF senior command’s values and those of the general public. (Jerusalem Post)
Muslim Writers: Islam To Blame For Global Terror
In a radical turn of events, Muslim writers from across the Arab world are admitting that Islam itself is a problem, and the only way to curb the terror carried out in its name is to conduct a fundamental overhaul of Islamic texts and their interpretations.
Intellectuals from Saudi Arabia and Jordan to Egypt and Morocco are slamming Muslim leaders and clerics for ignoring the problems of Muslim society and dismissing terror attacks with faulty platitudes such as the oft-repeated, “Not in Islam’s name.”
The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), which monitors Arab-language media, published translations of explosive articles arguing that the ideologies behind terror groups such as the Islamic State stem from Islamic jurisprudence that is no longer relevant today.
Writing in the London daily Al-Hayat after the July 14 truck-ramming attack in Nice, France that claimed the lives of 84 people, a Palestinian writer and academic living in Britain, Khaled Al-Hroub, called on Muslims to acknowledge that terrorism perpetrated by Muslims is in fact inherently tied to Islam.
“Our repeated claims that the perpetrators of terrorism are nothing but ‘a gang’ that does not represent us are no longer effective,” Al-Hroub writes.
He adds that rather than achieving its goals, terrorism has always left its perpetrators worse off.
The strategy of suicide operations that Hamas used for years gave Israel the justification to construct the separation fence, increased global sympathy for [Israel], and caused countless disasters to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
Is terrorism attributed to religion related to the religion itself? The answer is yes. … Religious interpretations that can easily be understood to mean that martyrdom means a cheap suicide [inside] a café or club frequented by “infidels” are very common in our religious, educational, and mosque culture, and must be dealt with. … What view [can] we develop regarding non-Muslims if every week we hear thousands of preachers call on Allah to “not leave a trace of them”? Every day, our sons read texts and books in schools that establish nothing but a patronizing and disrespectful view regarding non-Muslims.
“We must first of all admit that education in [our] schools and mosques lays the foundations for ‘implicit ISISism,’ ” Al-Hroub concludes.
Sa’id Nasheed, a Moroccan writer and intellectual, also responded to the Nice attack with an article in the London-based daily Al-Arab calling for a complete reform of religious discourse.
The basic problem of the Islamic world is the lack of sufficient courage to pose the most important and relevant question: From where do we draw this ability to be resentful and filled with hate, to disregard human life and to permit the shedding of blood? We lack sufficient courage [to answer this question]; in fact, we seem to lack even minimal self-integrity when we insist on ridiculously blaming others.
We must understand that the ideas of takfiri [jihad], which have sparked civil wars and schism in most Arab and Islamic countries … currently threaten many Western capitals and place all of us [Muslims] in the defendant’s seat.
Terrorism is not embodied by a truck and nothing else – it is first and foremost an idea and a concept. Therefore, we cannot eliminate extremist thought without reforming the religious discourse – a reform Muslims themselves must enact … without beating around the bush. This means that the ball is in our court and that the world will not wait on us forever, especially not now, when the threat has spread everywhere.
Palestinian writer and human rights activist Ihlam Akram also called on Muslim societies to change themselves from within, saying, “We must rewrite and reinterpret Islamic history and amend the religion in accordance with universal values. … This change is not the responsibility of Western countries, but rather our own. [Arab and Muslim society must] enact reforms in the legal and educational systems … so [Islam] conforms with the 21st century and plays an active role in the world.”
Meanwhile, Egyptian daily Al-Tahrir published an article by Amr Hosny charging Arab Muslim society with putting too much emphasis on the honor of Islam, even at the cost of violence. Hosny notes how Omar Mateen, the terrorist responsible for the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Florida, was “offended because he saw two men kissing,” yet the murder of 49 innocent people did not offend him in the least.
Every time an extremist Muslims commits a horrifying crime against humanity, some people come out and shriek that he has nothing to do with Islam, while ignoring the fact that views and ideologies do not exist as abstract entities, but rather take shape in the minds and behavior of those who believe in them in accordance with the surrounding culture that defines the nature of their relations with the other. The culture of our Islamic societies in this generation, particularly Arab societies, produces a violent Islam whose believers simply murder anyone who disagrees with them under the pretext of being offended. This, while they [the Muslims] never consider anyone else’s feelings but their own.
Writing in the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Jordanian researcher Muhammad Barhouma said that Arab and Muslim policy currently hinges on an axis of tyranny and corruption. Barhouma called for “the reexamination of religious texts” and “revoking the religious legitimacy of interpretations of religious texts permitting ‘killing in the name of God.’ ” Those texts and their interpretations, Barhouma contends, require urgent “criticism, dismantling, additions, omissions, and development so that they match the spirit of the times and human progress; that is, the values of liberty, human rights, and respect for the principle of equality among all people and of strengthening trust among them.”
Qinan Al-Ghamdi, a senior Saudi journalist and former editor of the government daily Al-Watan, called on the Saudi government to reexamine its laws concerning racism, sectarianism, and incitement and to do everything in its power to counter takfiri jihadi ideology.
Another Saudi journalist, Muhammad Aal Al-Sheikh, argues in the daily Al-Jazirah that groups like IS are a faithful representation of Islamic texts that are no longer relevant today and for that reason Muslim law urgently needs updating.
“We cannot dismiss their actions by saying that they ‘do not represent Islam’ when most of their actions originate in books from our past heritage, [books] that dealt with matters of the day in accordance with the conditions and norms of that period, which are different from the conditions and norms of our own period,” he writes.
Al-Sheikh lambasted Muslim clerics for not doing enough to combat IS’s jihadist ideology.
“Why don’t our clerics come out against [IS], disprove the religious justifications they use to establish [their claims], and respond to them using evidence and explanations, thus saving the masses from them and their damage?”
Writing that global Islam is mired in a “culture of ignorance, backwardness, and violence,” and that the “Arab world is rife with tyranny, poverty, death,” Al-Sheikh called for a “historic reconciliation between Islamic heritage and modern democracy.”
Muhammad Yaghi, a columnist for the Palestinian Authority daily Al-Ayyam, joined Al-Sheikh in condemning the silence of Muslim clerics.
“Some attribute the phenomenon of extremism or the spread of madness to poverty, unemployment, the blocking of the horizons of millions of Muslim youths, tyrannical regimes, and the Israeli occupation,” Yaghi writes.
However, the Islamic State “can only be defeated … by destroying the ideological foundations on which it is based and this is the mission of those who claim to be versed in Islam.”
Continuing in the same vein, Saudi journalist and senior editor of the London-based daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Mashari Al-Dhaidi, calls on Muslims to stop deluding themselves that the problem has nothing to do with Islam. He also scoffed at conspiracy theories popular in the Arab world that IS and its ilk were created by intelligence services like the CIA and Mossad in order to discredit Islam.
“But the fact is that refraining from declaring an ideological-psychological war – and not just a security-military war – on the culture that birthed Al-Qaeda, ISIS, and their ilk, will harm all Muslims in the world, including those with Western citizenships,” Al-Dhaidi writes. (Breibart)
Knesset marks 11 years since unilateral Gaza disengagement
“The lesson learned from Israel’s disengagement from Gaza is that such moves should not be made unilaterally,” opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) said Tuesday at a Knesset event to mark 11 years since dismantling all 17 Israeli settlements in Gaza and four in the northern West Bank.
“It was important for me to come today to show that beyond our political differences we are all brothers. The challenge we faced then was a political challenge we had never faced before,” he said. Herzog’s Labor Party supported the 2005 disengagement led by then-prime minister Ariel Sharon and his Kadima Party, which he formed in the face of opposition to the plan by the Likud party which he had headed until then.
Several Likud and Bayit Yehudi MKs lamented the realization of the plan at Tuesday’s event, saying that 11 years on, Israel is still dealing with the repercussions.
“Eleven years have passed since thousands were displaced from their homes and surroundings without any purpose or justification; those years will not heal the deep rift created by the displacement,” said Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, who had opposed the withdrawal and was himself one of the evacuees. Edelstein lived in Moshav Gadid, in the heart of Gush Katif and described the inhabitants of the Gaza settlements as “idealists” and “salt of the earth.” He said no more land must be given up, but rather the settlements must be strengthened.
“Reconciliation or quiet have not yet been born in the place where people were uprooted.”
The disengagement was pronounced a “100 percent failure” by Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel (Bayit Yehudi).
“I salute the parents and the youth who, despite fears of fracture among the settler population, continue to join the army and contribute to society as significantly as in the past,” he said.
“Our ideology is summed up with the words, ‘We shall remember and we shall return.’” (Jerusalem Post)
With multiple medal contenders, Israeli Olympians primed for podium return
After four years of preparations, the biggest party in the world of sports will get under way when the 2016 Rio Olympics begin with an extravagant opening ceremony at the Maracana Stadium on Friday, marking the start to a festival unlike no other.
Among those marching with the Israel delegation will be the heads of the Olympic Committee of Israel, President Igal Carmi and Secretary General Gili Lustig, the man responsible for the day-to-day running of the organization.
With the disappointment from London 2012, when Israel didn’t win a medal for the first time since Seoul 1988, still fresh in their minds, the OCI has set a clear goal of returning home from Rio with at least one medal.
The two other main goals laid out by the OCI are to reach at least 10 finals and to have Israelis participate in events they had previously never contested. The last goal has already been achieved thanks to golfer Laetitia Beck, triathlete Ron Darmon and mountain biker Shlomi Haimy, who will all be competing in Rio over the next two weeks.
Israel will be sending 47 athletes in total to the 2016 Games, four more than the previous record set in Beijing eight years ago. Israel will also be represented in 17 different events, another record.
“I feel that we have lived up to our expectations and our preparations were as good as they could have possibly been,” Carmi told The Jerusalem Post.
“In competitive sport you ultimately face a test and the result is what counts. We want to come back from Rio knowing that every athlete reached his personal best and we will then be pleased.
Essentially all our preparations are focused on making sure the athletes come up with their best results at the right time. That is basically what we have been working on over the past four years.”
Carmi, who was named as president three years ago, explained that the OCI has been working with a methodical plan and that the athletes received more support than ever before. “This time we also took care of the mental aspect, which we hadn’t focused on beforehand,” he said.
“We implemented a significant program and that makes us feel good knowing that we have taken care of another issue. I’m certainly very pleased with our preparations and now we’ll see what comes of them.”
Lustig, who left his job as the director of Israel’s Elite Sport Department to become secretary general two years ago, is also pleased with the work that has been done since the London Games.
“The previous delegation was also excellent and we felt very good about it,” said Lustig. “But I think the difference this time is in several significant projects we initiated, including the mental project and the coaching project.
“Another important issue was the fact that the sailing, judo, gymnastics, athletics and swimming associations were all given an additional NIS 2.4 million by the Toto (Israel Sports Betting Board). That was a dramatic change and we can see that 75 percent of the delegation hails from those sports.”
Lustig praised the progress being made in Israeli sports, but understands better than anyone else that he will ultimately be judged on medals.
“It is so Israeli that everything is either black or white,” he noted.
“It frustrates us every time. You can see the progress being made in Israeli sport, starting with the fact that this is the country’s biggest-ever delegation to the Olympics. The OCI hasn’t made it any easier to reach the Olympics and yet the delegation has grown. We can also see the advancements being made in women’s sport. The most important thing is the process you undergo, but we are only judged on results and that is a frustrating fact.”
“That’s why we keep stressing the importance of reaching finals,” he added. “We went from six in Beijing to eight in London and now we are targeting 10. It is true that we returned without a medal from London, but people forget about the finals. To be among the top eight in the world is not something which can be taken for granted. But if you come back without a medal no one remembers that.”
While Zika has been making most of the headlines over recent months, Lustig’s concerns lay elsewhere. “I think Zika is not so scary at the moment as it is winter in Brazil and in winter there aren’t any mosquitoes,” he explained. “I think the biggest problem in Rio is not Zika but safety. Everyone visiting Rio is talking about that and that is the subject that most concerns me. Our athletes have been given special guidelines, especially being Israelis.”
Lustig specified who he believes can win a medal for Israel.
“Our medal candidates should first and foremost come in judo,” he said.
“We have a very strong judo team.
Up until now we have only ever sent one female judoka to any single Olympics and this time we have four, with all four of a high level. The men’s team is also excellent.
All three guys took medals in target events and are all ranked in the top eight in the world, ensuring them relatively easier draws. This is the best and biggest judo team we have ever sent to the Olympics and you can see its great potential.”
Lustig also mentioned windsurfers Maayan Davidovich and Shahar Zubari, explaining that they “may not have registered significant results over the past year” but remain “surfers of the highest level.”
“We of course also have the rhythmic gymnastics national team,” he added. “You need to take into account that it is much harder to win a medal at the Olympics compared to European and World Championships as medals are only handed out in the all-around. But Israel’s team has been among the world’s best over recent years and is one of five-six sides that will be battling for the medals.”
Triple jumper Hanna Knyazyeva- Minenko was the last to be mentioned in name by Lustig, saying that if she is fit “the sky is the limit.”
“We are hoping to win at least one medal from all these candidates,” he explained. “Research has shown that you need five or six candidates to win one medal. We are also hoping for 10 finalists in Rio compared to eight in London, which would be a nice improvement. We have done everything we can and now all that is left to do is to see the results.” (Jerusalem Post)
Rocker Sting serenades Israeli aid workers, Mideast refugees in Berlin
English rocker Sting serenaded a group of Israeli aid workers alongside refugees from Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria at a private show in Berlin on Monday night.
The world-renowned musician, 64, performed ahead of a sold-out concert in the German capital, according to the Israeli nonprofit group IsraAID.
“This was an incredible experience for everyone. By 4 p.m. there were thousands of people already lined up to fill the 23,000-seat stadium,” said IsraAID. Even so, “Sting and his band were so welcoming and took the time to get to know everyone,” the group said.
The Israeli organization lauded the artist and his band for the motivational gesture.
Musician Sting (center) alongside IsraAid workers and Middle Eastern refugees in Berlin
“Sting and his band heard about IsraAID’s work in helping the refugees across Europe as well as some of the moving stories of the harrowing journey refugees endured on their way to Germany,” the group added.
IsraAID staff and volunteers in Berlin work to provide refugees from the Middle East with humanitarian assistance and also help with the process of integration into German society (Jerusalem Post)
Israel Passes Law Aimed at Lowering Hotel Rates
A law aimed at lowering hotel rates in Israel by encouraging the construction of additional hotel rooms was passed by the Knesset late Monday, by a vote of 50 to 42.
The law designates new hotels as national infrastructure projects. That means that approval for the construction of new hotels is to be streamlined and handled by the National Infrastructure Committee of the Interior Ministry. By boosting supply, the hope is that hotel rates will go down.
Prior to the final vote by the full Knesset, the legislation, with amended language, was brought before the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee, paving the way for the final vote. The new language provides for the expansion of existing hotels and allows 20% of the expansion to be given over to apartments. It will also allow residential use of up to 20% of new hotels. The provision will not apply, however, to hotels built near the coastline purportedly so that the shore is protected as a resource available to the public as a whole.
The Tourism Ministry predicts that the law will greatly boost the number of hotels in Israel, and in the process, it is hoped make hotel stays in Israel less expensive. Tourism Minister Yariv Levin called it “the most significant step taken in Israel to lower the cost of vacations.” The legislation, he said, will usher in immediate construction of thousands of hotel rooms in the country and will maintain environmental safeguards.
The new law provides for the establishment of tourism subcommittees on the district planning committees around the country, which along with independent local planning committees will have authority to approve expansions for residential use, in connection with the construction, conversion or expansion of hotels.
For his part, however, despite the limitations in the law regarding coastal construction, Joint List Knesset member Dov Khenin, who heads the Knesset’s environmental caucus, said the legislation “rolls out a red carpet for contractors and real-estate sharks who want to build luxury hotels on the coast. The truth is, there is no shortage of hotel rooms in Israel. There simply isn’t,” he said. “From now on, it will be possible to build hotels without proper procedure, including along the coasts or in sensitive nature sites.” And he added: “Today they’re telling us that hotels are national infrastructure. Tomorrow it will be something else that harms the environment and people.” (Haáretz)
Sorry, New York Times but the Israeli Press is doing just fine
Another day, another ridiculous opinion piece in the paper of record
By Liel Leibovitz Tablet Magazine
Did you hear the one about the Middle Eastern country that really cracked down on its freedom of the press? Not Turkey, where 42 journalists were arrested last week in the latest assault on the tenets of democracy; I’m talking, of course, about Israel, the subject of yet another grim opinion piece this weekend in The New York Times.
In case you’re the sort who doesn’t read much past the headline, the Times made sure you would not walk away confused: The lengthy dirge, written by New York-based Israeli reporter Ruth Margalit, was titled “How Benjamin Netanyahu is Crushing Israel’s Free Press.”
How indeed? You would hardly believe the depraved things Jerusalem’s demonic despot would do to solidify his grasp on power. Bibi, Margalit solemnly informs us, appoints people who agree with him politically to key positions in government. Shocked yet? Get this: He also has his office call newspapers and websites and try to spin the news in his favor.
If such benighted moves fail to shake you to the core, if you still don’t feel the chill of fascism’s shadow, Margalit has one last bit of damning evidence for you. Take a deep breath: To crush the precious freedom flower that is Israel’s press, Bibi, that monster, is opening up the media market to more competition.
“All three of Israel’s main television news channelsChannel 2, Channel 10, and the Israel Broadcasting Authorityare now in danger of being fragmented, shut down, or overhauled, respectively,” Margalit wrote. “The government’s official reason behind these moves is to open up the communications industry to more competition. But there seems to be a double standard: On other issues, like natural gas, the prime minister has been loath to take a stand against monopolies. As Ilana Dayan, a leading investigative journalist for Channel 2, told me: ‘Sometimes competition is the refuge of the antidemocrat.’”
Because I know Margalit a little bit and respect her more than that, I’ll say little about the glaring inanity of comparing a scarce and finite natural resource like gas to the media market, which, in the age of the internet, is a superabundant field. I’ll similarly resist the urge to inquire just what sort of worldview one ought to have to see the proliferation of diverse voices as somehow antithetical to democracy. Nor will I ask why, if indeed the tyrant is unleashing his own version ofGame of Thrones, coming at his competitors with swords and bloodlust, do so many senior Israeli journalists feel so giddy to share their jeremiads with Margalit; you infrequently see Erdogan’s foes so loose-tongued, which, to all but the reporters and editors of the Times, should have served as yet another indication that headlines warning of the free press being crushed are perhaps a tad immature.
Instead of raising these obvious objections, I’ll do something Margalit and her editors didn’t bother doing and offer both facts and analysis. Rather than dignify the assertion that Israel’s press is under assaultan uproarious proposition to anyone who actually consumes the Israeli press and knows it to be largely dedicated to fierce criticism of the prime minister, his cabinet, his worldview, and anything associated therewithI’ll try and consider why so many of Israel’s reporters, enjoying robust liberties as they do, still nonetheless imagine themselves under attack.
First, the figures: In a seminal study released in 2010, Israeli communications scholar Avi Gur researched the publicly expressed opinions of 38,887 people over 124,879 minutes of broadcast and in 8,324 opinion pieces in the print media during the years 1996 to 1999then, as now, Netanyahu was prime ministerin order to ascertain whether or not the Israeli press was indeed ideologically left-leaning. His conclusion is stark: Yediot Aharonot, for example, the nation’s most widely read and influential media organ, favored left-wing positions an overwhelming 83.5 percent of the time, and others weren’t too far behind. Not that any senior of the media was contesting Gur’s findings: Raviv Drucker, for example, one of Israel’s leading investigative reporters and a man who has made a fine career dogging Netanyahu with the tenacity of a blue tick coonhound smelling a critter stirring in the distance, wrote a piece some years ago and admitted that 80 percent or more of his colleagues across the board were committed lefties.
This, in part, helps explain why blatant ideological impositions on the free press are just dandy when they come from the left, like when Amos Schocken, the publisher of the radically liberal Haaretz admitted to strongly and enthusiastically supporting the Obama administration’s position on the Iran deal against the stated policy of the Israeli government. When the smart and sensible folks take a stand, it’s time to applaud their courage; when the primates on the right attempt to express their views, it’s time to alert the Times that democracy is dying.
This myopic and morally corrupt approach would be maddening if it weren’t so comical, and if it didn’t cost the Israeli left more or less everything, electorally speaking. Out of ideas, out of time, and out of touch with reality, the small cabal that huddles in Tel Aviv’s newsrooms can hardly believe that the unwashed masses could be so impudent as to demand media that faithfully reflect reality, or that at least offer more the singular and approved and rigid point of view. With no one left to listen in Israel, they turn to the Times, which, to paraphrase Margalit’s piece, is quickly becoming the refuge of the blame-Israel-only crowd. It’s sad to see a reporter who should’ve known better abandon any attempt at insight or nuance and turn instead to the Times for the most banal sort of affirmation, and it’s sad to see the Times continue to publish such drivel without attempting any real depth or understanding. Nevermind, and godspeed: Keep your opinion pages, which, like your opinions, are but sound and fury, signifying absolutely nothing.
A Muslim Officer fights for his right to defend the Jewish State
by Elhanan Miller Tablet Magazine
Major Alaa Waheeb is a tough career officer in the Israel Defense Forces who bears a striking resemblance to Theodor Herzl. In addition to his looks, he shares a dream in common with Zionism’s founder. “For as long as I can remember,” he told me, “I’ve always had this dream: to be like everyone else.”
Waheeb’s path to the IDF began at the age of 12, when a riot started in his hometown of Reineh in the Galilee. Angry youth threw Molotov cocktails on the road as wailing Border Police jeeps arrived on the scene. “I remember myself going out with the guys, clutching a stone,” he recalled. “I can see myself looking at it and asking: What are you doing? What are you going to destroy? Burn another bank? Another Dumpster? What good will that do? So I discarded the stone and went home, becoming the so-called chicken of my group.”
Waheebwho until recently oversaw the Ground Operations’ vast training zone in the Negev Desertwill readily admit he is still considered an odd bird both within the Israeli army and in his Muslim-Arab community. But that preteen moment would shape his decision to forgo his given group identity and become an Israeli through service in the IDF. His unique family history sheds some light on Waheeb’s decision to join a military force that is still officially at war with his brethren across the border. His father, a Syrian from Aleppo, migrated with his family to Mandate Palestine in 1937 as a 4-year-old, settling in the religious Jewish community of Yavne’el on the southern shores of the Sea of Galilee.
Waheeb’s close relations with his Jewish neighbors would later prompt him to join the Border Police, an unusual move for an Israeli-Arab in the 1970s and 1980s. “He was considered a strange alien in his society,” his son said. Years passed, and Mr. Waheeb relocated with his father and two brothers to the Arab village of Reineh, where he took Alaa’s mothera devout Muslimas his second wife. Despite growing up among his mother’s conservative clan, Alaa was sent to a Christian school in nearby Nazareth, which he says shaped his liberal worldview. But as he neared the end of his studies and had to decide on the next move, the ideological differences between his parents came to the fore.
“My maternal uncle was completely opposed to my joining the army, because it contradicted all of his values. He had a great impact on my mother, whereas my father always supported me joining the draft,” Waheeb said. “The society I grew up in saw no importance in integrating in the state, especially through the army. We can work and travel freely in the country, but the military system was out of bounds, or so the thinking went.”
But Waheeb would not relinquish his dream of integration. Instead, he insisted on volunteering for the IDF (Arab-Israelis are exempt from the mandatory draft that applies to Jewish citizens). The shocked reception clerk at the recruitment office had him fill out forms and asked him to wait. The waiting period would last for no less than two years of uncertainty, during which the star student would work for Israeli arms manufacturer Rabintex and eventually enroll in Haifa’s Technion to study mechanical engineering.
“On March 20, 2000, I received a phone call notifying me I’m to be drafted in two days,” he remembered. “I had no idea how to prepare, with no older brothers who went through the process. I threw all kinds of things into a backpack, with no idea what to take or how long I’ll be gone for.”
On base, Waheeb immediately faced his first challenge: speaking Hebrew. He had learned the language as a subject in school but rarely had the opportunity to converse with native speakers. Then came the issue of his placement. The natural unit for Waheeb, his commanders believed, was the Bedouin Reconnaissance Battalion. “Where else would they place a Muslim-Arab?” he asks ironically. When he refused, he was offered a posting with the Border Police, a unit containing a high percentage of Arabic-speaking Druze.
Waheeb would have opted for the Golani infantry brigade, the best-known IDF unit among his Arab peers. But a family friend warned him of widespread racism in the popular combat unit. Eventually he was placed in Nahal, an infantry brigade famous for its Ashkenazi kibbutz volunteers and religious yeshiva students. Adamant on proving himself as an outstanding soldier, Waheeb volunteered to try out the brigade’s special-forces unit. He excelled in the arduous physical testing but was removed from the unit two weeks later.
“I cried endlessly,” he recalled. “No one wanted to tell me why I was transferred. Everyone knew that I was best at everything. I pressured my commander to give me an explanation for an entire month, and finally he broke and told me it was because I lacked the required security clearance.”
The timing of Waheeb’s recruitment would also prove unfortunate. Six months after joining the IDF, the Second Intifada erupted, quickly engulfing Arab cities and villages within Israel. Over the course of October 2000, 13 Israeli-Arab stone-throwers would be shot dead by Israeli police. When Waheeb would return home in uniform on weekends from basic training, he would wait at a bus stop outside his town until nightfall, then walk home. “Everything was boiling,” he said. “It was very difficult for people to see me as a soldier, so I shied away from friction, but I never hid my identity.”
The issue of volunteering in state institutions, such as the army or the Authority for National-Civic Service, continues to divide Israeli-Arab society. Balad Member of Knesset Hanin Zoabi has responded to the growing numbers of Arab civil service volunteers by dubbing them traitors. Her colleague, MK Jamal Zahalka, confronted a government initiative to encourage Arab volunteerism with a warning that integrating youth will be shunned and unable to find marriage partners. Service in the IDF is more controversial still. Some 1,000 Muslim Arabs (mostly from the Bedouin community of the Negev) now serve in the IDF as volunteers, while Gabriel Naddaf, a Greek-Orthodox priest, strives to expand army volunteer numbers within the Arab-Christian community.
Yet Waheeb believes that attempts to draw distinctions between Christian and Muslim Arabs based on their loyalty to the State of Israel are doomed to fail. “Arabs don’t want to be divided by religion,” he opined. “Christians are still largely nationalist Arabs.” Waheeb, who is not Bedouin, has managed to persuade two of his cousins to join the army, swaying even his antagonistic and nationalistic uncle. “Today, when he sees me with the rank of major, he couldn’t be more proud.”
Despite having received numerous military awards, Waheeb’s professional career has advanced more slowly than others. He still holds, though, that every Arab citizen of Israel should serve in the IDF. That is the message he brought to London, where he recently spoke to local students as a guest of the Israeli embassy during “Israeli Apartheid week.”
“I believe that those who refuse to recognize Israel’s existence and call this land ‘Palestine’ are hypocritical,” he said. “I can understand the Druze of the Golan who reject Israeli citizenship and insist they are Syrian, but these people carry Israeli IDs and enjoy state benefits. They effectively recognize the Israeli regime. I can’t wrap my head around it.”
Sitting in the vacant office of the Israeli ambassador to London last February, Waheeb reminisced about the cool reception he received from the yeshiva students who served in the infantry unit in which he was placed. “There were guys who didn’t want to speak to me,” he recalls. “They said, ‘We understand he’s Arab, and we don’t have any problem with him, but what is he doing here? This isn’t his place.’”
Hearing those words, Waheeb would always swallow his pride and smile. “The challenge is not to break down but rather impose your love on such people,” he said. “It’s easy to love someone who loves me; but greatness is to love someone who doesn’t. That’s true love.”
Facing peace push, Israel’s settlers present a new face to the world
By Andrew Tobin JTA
The Yesha Council has represented Israel’s settlement of the West Bank for nearly five decades. They’ve helped create what appears to be an irreversible reality to both critics and champions: Some 400,000 settlers live in settlements, where they enjoy their own wineries, Israeli chain stores, a university and a security infrastructure staffed by the Israel Defense Forces.
In the meantime, much of the world remains opposed to the settlements, which the United Nations considers illegal under international law, and which the United States variously considers “unhelpful” and “illegitimate.” Critics say the Jewish presence in land the Palestinians demand as part of a future state is a major impediment to any Israeli-Palestinian peace plans, including the recently launched French initiative.
For the Yesha Council, the umbrella group for Israeli settlements — its name is a Hebrew acronym for Judea and Samaria, the biblical names commonly used in Israel to designate the West Bank — impeding efforts to give back the biblical land of Israel is part of the point.
With the French initiative, and possibly a regional peace push, looming, the council last month appointed a new chief foreign envoy to make the settlers’ case to the world. Lt. Col. (res.) Oded Revivi will be the second person to hold the position, filling the shoes left empty over a year ago by Dani Dayan, the effective former council head who just became Israel’s general consul to New York (after Brazil rejected his appointment as ambassador there because of his settler past).
Revivi, 47, sat down with JTA Monday at the Gush Etzion Winery to discuss his plans for the job.
A powerfully built man who wears a small knitted kippah and speaks British English with a Hebrew accent, Revivi is a relatively rare Israeli who can claim to understand Diaspora Jewry. As a child, he lived for several years in the United States and England. After finishing his Israeli army service as an officer in the Armored Corps, he earned a law degree in London, where he met an Englishwoman who is now his wife.
Since 2008, Revivi has been the mayor of Efrat, a large settlement in Gush Etzion with a majority immigrant population and a reputation for ideological moderation.
The interview has been edited for clarity and structure.
What will you tell the world about the settlers?
For the last 50 years, Yesha was mainly busy trying to build up the community and increase the numbers, and not so much telling and spreading the story. And all of a sudden we wake up almost 50 years later finding ourselves with all sorts of initiatives not understanding our message, not really understanding the reality in which we are living here, and that needs to be conveyed.
The message is, at the end of the day: There are hundreds of thousands of Jews living here, there are a lot of Palestinians living here. There is an ecosystem that is working. It can be improved. There are things that need to be amended.
But it’s definitely not a conflict zone. Most of the terrorist attacks occur outside of Judea and Samaria. Yet the myth is that once there won’t be any Jews in Judea and Samaria, there will be peace and quiet in this region. And I’m trying to convey a message that let’s see how the people actually live here day to day, one next to the other, how can we maybe create and spread a different story that there is coexistence going on, that there is cooperation going on, and it definitely can be improved, but we need to start somewhere.
And your message is obviously that the settlers are here to stay.
What will you take from Dani Dayan, and what will you change?
Dani basically set the foundations for the understanding that we can’t just focus locally. He definitely invested a lot of time with the official diplomats, with the international media. I think it’s not enough. I think we need to do more. I think we need to find efficient ways to spread messages and relatively cheaply, which is what this whole new media is about, something that during Dani’s time wasn’t developed.
Having said that, we also need partners, and one of the potential partners that is out there but needs to be pampered, developed and hugged, is the international Jewish community, which, because of some religious disagreements sometimes, feel out of the picture. Maybe by creating alliances with them, we’ll be able to multiply the message through the Jewish organizations throughout the world.
That might be hard in the U.S. A growing number of American Jews are giving up on Israel, in part over frustration with the occupation. Does that worry you?
I think some of the Israeli politicians don’t realize the importance of the alliance with the different sectors of Judaism around the world. When you are saying, ‘I have nothing to do with Conservative Jews anymore,’ you’re basically saying that within a few years, you’re going to close down the strongest lobby that Israel has around the world, which is called AIPAC [the American Israel Public Affairs Committee]. That is something that Israel cannot allow itself.
Again, let’s see what’s the common denominator, let’s see what’s the common ground, let’s see where the bridges are we can build with Conservative and Reform even if we don’t fully accept the way that they practice their Judaism. There’s a joint interest. And that’s a major theme in what I’m trying to convey. And it doesn’t matter again with which groups we’re having the dialogue.
One way we want to start reaching out to the Diaspora Jewish community is to let them buy products from Israel, including Judea and Samaria, on our website. We actually got the idea from AIPAC Canada. That’s an excellent way to overcome BDS [the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel]. Not confronting it, just overtaking it.
The current wave of Palestinian violence, which is centered in the West Bank, seems like a challenge to the message that Jews and Arabs can live together there under Israeli rule. Do you see it that way?
That’s an excellent example of how people don’t know the facts and jump to conclusions. Most of the stabbing attacks, the last time I looked at statistics, over 60 percent of them, happened in what we call “Little Israel” [within the 1967 borders]. Only 40 percent happened in Judea and Samaria.
That misconception is an example of how the conflict is going wrong, what the challenges are and how a wrong reputation is being built up. Then, all of a sudden, you need to challenge the myth instead of actually dealing with the problem itself. Again, what I’m trying to do is to build bridges and to show the common denominator.
The majority of the developed world today is dealing with that same challenge. If we understand that it’s a global challenge, if we understand that there’s a common denominator to what we’re suffering here and what people are suffering in Brussels and in France and in England and in the United States, maybe the leadership of the world will put the focus on those small, violent, strong minorities, instead of rejecting the majority by collective punishment.
When you refer to “collective punishment,” is that a criticism of how Israel responds to Palestinian violence?
Building fences is not the answer. You have all the time to build security, which as far as I’m concerned means to find a shared interest, or an interest that the result will be the same that both parties can benefit.
For example, in Efrat, where the security fence is not built, it’s not a motorway for suicide bombers because — and not a lot of Israelis are willing to admit this — the Palestinian Authority realized that the pictures of suicide bombers don’t serve their interests, and they’re doing quite a lot to stop those extremists from coming and blowing themselves up.
So you see both sides have interests, it doesn’t necessarily have to be the same interest, but the result is the same. Both sides enjoy the fact that there’s no fence and there are no suicide bombers crossing.
I know you are close with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and many other Israeli officials. Will you work closely with the government?
I think anybody who thinks at this stage that you can work independently, ignoring the different views, ignoring the different politicians, doesn’t understand how the system works.
I had here yesterday the minister of religion [David Azoulay], who is one of the people who is getting criticism from the Reform and the Conservative movements. I can have a discussion with him, and yet I can go and speak to the Conservative and Reform synagogues or temples asking them to support us in our initiative against BDS.
Once we establish that connection with the different groups, maybe it will be used even to support the agenda of the Conservative and Reform movements. I don’t know where it’s going to lead. What I do know is that we are not strong enough to stand by ourselves, and we need allies of all different sorts, and we’re going to try to reach out to anybody who can help.
IDF using relative calm to prepare for future threats
by Yaacov Lappin The Jerusalem Post
Despite the chaos and warfare raging across the Middle East, the security situation in and around Israel is largely stable, thanks to the effective policies pursued by Israel’s defense establishment.
In this unpredictable volatile region, a number of states collapsed and have been replaced with a myriad of sub-state radical actors. No one can know if and when war will break out, but as time goes by, it appears clear that a number of dangers will begin to appear on the horizon, with the most immediate threats being the least severe, and the later expected threats growing in severity as time goes by.
The IDF currently has some breathing space to focus on its number one goal set by Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot: training and being prepared for the outbreak of sudden war. The fact that the borders are quiet and that the situation in the West Bank and Gaza is under control provides a good opportunity for the defense establishment to focus on upgrading the military’s war readiness.
As time goes by, it seems that the West Bank’s relative quiet, achieved months after a wave of unorganized terrorism, is the most likely collapse.
When the time comes for the Palestinian Authority to name a successor to President Mahmoud Abbas, trouble could arrive, with various groups in the PA vying for power. The PA’s security forces may not immediately know who is in charge.
Militias – such as Fatah’s Tanzim – that have been restrained by Abbas may feel they have a freer hand to send gunmen into the streets if the transition does not go smoothly. Ongoing incitement to violence, combined with the lack of a diplomatic horizon, could trigger more unorganized violence, although Israel’s steps to facilitate work visas for many Palestinians acts as a stabilizing force countering these agents of violence and chaos.
The situation in the Gaza Strip is intrinsically linked to events in the West Bank. Hamas is continuously trying to orchestrate terrorist cells in the West Bank while arming itself in Gaza for the next round of hostilities.
Gaza’s poor economic state – a result of the decision to channel significant resources to the next stage of conflict with Israel – has created a pressure cooker type of situation on the crowded Islamist enclave. This could explode, despite the fact that Hamas is deeply deterred by Israel at this time.
To the north and south, in Syria and Sinai, radical Sunni Islamic State elements pose a threat, particularly in the failed ex-state of Syria. The Syrian front has remained surprisingly quiet over the past four years, but there is no good reason to expect this to continue; ISIS or the al-Nusra Front could attack Israel at any time.
Stretched between its positions in southern Lebanon and its costly, bloody intervention in Syria’s civil war, Hezbollah has no desire to launch a war against Israel any time soon, so conflict with this most potent of enemies seems unlikely in the near future. Further down the line, however, any possibility of Hezbollah down-scaling its involvement in Syria’s war or consolidating its presence in the Syrian Golan, would mean that it would turn its sights firmly on Israel again.
Hezbollah’s sponsor, Iran, poses a double challenge. In the short term, Tehran has frozen its nuclear program, but focuses on building up its conventional military and trafficking weapons to Hezbollah, while supporting Hamas where it can. Iran’s weapons industries are mass-producing accurate, GPS-guided rockets and missiles, and Tehran is trafficking these to Hezbollah, which could use them to threaten Israel’s strategic sites.
Iran has long-term plans to restart its nuclear program after the sunset clause in the nuclear agreement with the P5+1 expires, a development that could, about a decade from now, place the Iranians on a fresh collision course with Israel and Sunni powers.
The Sunni Arab states that have remained standing, meanwhile, led by pragmatic, rational governments, are engaged in an unprecedented arms race with Iran, purchasing billions of dollars of Western military equipment. If those governments should fall victim to the instability rocking the region, those weapons could fall into the wrong hands.
Despite all of the above, Israel remains the strongest regional power by far. The IDF will seek to take advantage of the current calm to train, stockpile munitions, and integrate new platforms, such as the F-35 fighter jets, Merkava 4 tanks, and a new generation of armored personnel carriers capable of defending themselves against shoulder-fired missiles.
The IDF is constructing a digital military combat network that will see the air force, ground forces, and navy integrate with one another and with military intelligence in ways not seen in any other fighting force in the world.
It is following orders from the chief of staff to use the current respite wisely, for no one can truly know how long the calm will last.