The international scene is unstable: changes – many vastly unsettling –- are taking place with lightning speed. And a good number of those world events have significant import for Israel.
The debate as to whether Israel can afford (from a security perspective) to provide additional assistance to Ukraine, via defensive military equipment or a more direct condemnation of Russia, continues. Now we are seeing a glimmering of trouble that may lie ahead for us in this regard:
This past Thursday, Russian Ambassador to Syria Alexander Efimov warned that Israeli strikes in Syria are “provoking” Russia to react. He protested that Israeli strikes aim to “escalate tensions and allow the West to carry out military activities in Syria.”
Said Foreign Minister Lapid at a conference at Reichmann University, Herzliya, concerning the need to balance its security interests in Syria, which are coordinated with Russia, with its moral obligation to Ukraine:
“We condemned the invasion [Lapid did directly and Israel joined a UN resolution], sent a field hospital to Ukraine, but we must prevent the possibility that one Israeli pilot will be shot down in Syria and taken prisoner. Think what this [would] do to Israeli society. What [would] this do to our national security?”
With regard to providing Iron Dome batteries to Ukraine, as President Zelensky had requested, I want to share one more reason why we must not, which I have just become aware of – thanks to the JPost’s Liat Collins: We cannot afford to have one of these batteries fall into Russian hands. This, too, would be disastrous for Israel security.
Russia maintains high-level surface-to-air missile batteries in Syria, some that have been provided to the Syrians, and others — the S-400 – operated by Russians inside of Syria. Assad was on the verge of losing the civil war in Syria until Russia intervened and saved him.
And so, not a minute too soon: Israeli Air Force has just acquired the Tal Shamayim (Sky Dew), an Elevated Sensor system designed to detect incoming threats from the north, operating at high altitudes.
The new unit is “a leap forward in the intensification of the air control system, and will enable the creation of a more accurate picture of the sky, make the Air Force more prepared and help further the Air Force’s mission – maintaining the security of the State of Israel,” IAF Commander General Amikam Norkin stated.
This system, which utilizes advanced radar, possesses the ability to elevate in a matter of seconds and stay in the air for an unlimited period of time since the electric power supply remains on the ground. It is one of the largest systems of this kind in the world.
Additionally, we are now in receipt of three more F35 ‘Adir’ stealth fighter jets — one of the world’s most advanced fighter jets — bringing to 33 the number of that Israel has. In total, Israel has purchased 50 of the F35 jets, with the remainder scheduled for delivery by December 2024.
While there are security limits to what we can/should do to support Ukraine, it is important to note the impressive work that various agencies are doing on behalf of Jews as they flee Ukraine. At the moment, WZO chairman Yaakov Hagoel (pictured) is temporarily serving as Jewish Agency chair – as Yitzhak Herzog left that position when he became president of Israel and a new chair is still being sought.
Hagoel reports that at the Agency has 100 people in the countries neighboring Ukraine. There are some 17 border crossings, some only for vehicles. At the moment approximately 7,000 candidates for aliyah are staying in hotels in Moldova, Hungary, Romania and Poland (which had been planned for in advance); every effort is being made to shorten the time for bringing those who wish to do so to come into Israel. Should the number of people who want to come to Israel begin to exceed the number of available hotel rooms in those bordering countries, there are back-up plans in place for utilizing large facilities and setting up a tent city.
The situation is greatly complicated by the fact that men between the ages of 16 and 60 are not being permitted to leave Ukraine, and so there are women coming alone with their children; this is a situation that has never happened before. Some of the women may opt to remain in a country bordering Ukraine to be closer to their husbands, should they get out; or, if the situation changes, the women may decide to return to Ukraine to be with their husbands who are still there.
For those women who do come into Israel without their husbands, the process of absorbing is more difficult.
With it all, Israel continues to play – or have the potential to play – a role in bringing the fighting in Ukraine to an end. Prime Minister Bennett spoke with both Zelensky and Putin last week. On Thursday, Zelensky indicated that he had spoken with leaders of the four countries that have been most active in attempting to mediate an end to the war: Israel (Bennett), Turkey (President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan), Great Britain (PM Boris Johnson) and France President Emannuel Macron).
Zelensky’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, pictured, said in a video call to Israeli journalists that Israel could be “one of the guarantors of a major international treaty that would provide clear security guarantees…Such an agreement provides for a large list of countries to be potential guarantors… we are holding separate consultations with each of these countries in order to meet together afterwards.”
This statement helps set Bennett’s efforts into a broader context.
Continued Yermak: “[Ukraine] has very warm, friendly, and special relations with Israel…We are amazed at how deeply Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, are aware of the issue…”
Inside of Israel we see much that is distressing. We must not close our eyes to what is happening because of the international scene or excuse it away; the situation must be rectified. Here I share a painful incident that shines a direct light on the problem.
Walid Taha of the Ra’am party is chair of the Knesset Interior Committee. He was attempting to hold a session of his committee last Wednesday when MK Itamar Ben Gvir (chair of the Otzma Yehudit faction of the Religious Zionist Party) objected, shouting:
“You hugged the people of Hamas…all year long you incite in the Negev and seek blood. On this day, when we’re counting our corpses that were murdered because of your incitement [the four murdered in Be’ersheva the day before], it is a shame for the Knesset of Israel that you are here. Why are you not condemning? I’m going from here to the funerals of people who were murdered, and you’re having a committee discussion. You incited to murder Jews, you have no conscience.”
Taha demanded that Ben Gvir be removed from the Knesset, but he sat down and refused to go, telling the Knesset ushers, “I love you, but on a day like this he has no legitimacy, he incites.” Taha halted the meeting.
So why is Taha in a position of responsibility within the Knesset? Because the Ra’am party is retained as part of the coalition in order to secure sufficient mandates to continue. People can stand on their heads from now until the end of time explaining how this situation is to the good, but they cannot erase the ugly reality that Ben Gvir focused on.
Among Taha’s anti-Israel activities is his visit in 2012 to a Hamas terrorist following his release from prison and his refusal to condemn Hamas. Then there is Taha’s posting, put out in 2019, stating: “Since the Zionist movement launched its brutal racist project more than a century ago, murder, deportation, demolition, discrimination, racism and the barbaric abuse of land rights were the most prominent behaviors of this hate project.”
Nor is that all. You can see more here:
You can also see a video that shows Ben Gvir sitting on the floor. His pain about the situation is palpable. I admire him enormously for his strength, and his clear-eyed and passionate devotion to Israel.
With regard to domestic issues, our government is tilting left to a considerable degree. Members of the Yesha Council are livid, with good reason. The heads of the councils of Judea, Samaria, and the Jordan Valley on Sunday cancelled a planned meeting with Defense Minister Benny Gantz, and put out a statement:
“For the past few years, a Higher Planning Committee meeting has been held regularly every three months so that it was possible to work in an orderly manner. At the core of the coalition agreements signed on the eve of the formation of the current government, it was agreed to continue the status quo on political issues and government policy in relation to the continuation of construction in the [communities of Judea & Samaria] as it was in the previous government.”
Today, the Yesha Council declared intention of working to bring the current government down.
Declared Yesha Council director-general Yigal Dilmoni: “Israel’s Prime Minister is a man who was once the chairman of the Yesha Council. He sat with us and told us himself that freezing construction in Judea and Samaria is dangerous. I address you now, personally, and tell you that the government you head has no right to exist until it makes the decision to stop the freeze. (Emphasis added)
There is no question but that Gantz acts with a leftward tilt. Along with freezing construction, he is in a hurry to take down building in undocumented communities, as evidenced by recent actions:
In Maoz Esther, along with other structures that were demolished – five families there were left without homes – was a synagogue built in memory of Ahuvya Sandak, who was killed in the course of a police chase almost a year ago. In A’ira Shahar, where additional people lost their homes, one resident declared, “Gantz, supported by Bennett and Shaked, is determined to return the settlement enterprise to the days of the Disengagement.”
With everything going on now, this is important? From Gantz’s perspective, I would say yes, because he wants to demonstrate his intentions to the Americans. When Bennett and Lapid issued a joint statement regarding alarm about the possibility that the US would remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guards from its terror list, Gantz refused to join them. He wanted to retain a good working relationship with his American counterpart, he said.
This is most worrisome and precisely the way a leader of a sovereign nation should not be acting.
It’s not all dim – there are some potential bright spots. Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked is promoting legislation that would strip indicted terrorists who receive support from the PA of their Israeli citizenship. This is likely to cause tensions within the government (which tells us a great deal about the government), but Shaked is reportedly determined.
Well, Secretary of State Blinken is here in Israel, which fact brings no joy to my heart. This man, whatever his proclamations now, is no friend to Israel. There is his promotion of that “two-state solution,” his willingness to consider removing the Revolutionary Guards from the State Department terror list, and his eagerness to move forward on a deal with Iran that is horrendous and presents a danger to Israel.
And let us not forget this program, coming out of the State Department, which will be utilized to delegitimize Israel:
The State Department Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL) is offering $987,654 to NGOs to “strengthen accountability and human rights in Israel and the West Bank and Gaza.”
“The groups who receive the funding will be tasked with investigating alleged abuses inside Israel, Judea and Samaria and Gaza, and to document these allegations.”
Today Blinken has met with Bennett and Lapid. At a press conference held with Lapid, he said: “When it comes to the most important element [re Iran], we see eye to eye. We are both committed, both determined, that Iran will never acquire a nuclear weapon.” But this is unmitigated nonsense.
Lapid clarified Israel’s position: “Israel will do anything we believe is needed to stop the Iranian nuclear program. Anything. From our point of view, the Iranian threat is not theoretical. The Iranians want to destroy Israel. They will not succeed. We will not let them.”
After meeting with Bennett, Blinken said the US is pressing Israel to curtail construction in Judea and Samaria, and urged Israeli authorities to refrain from carrying out demolition orders on illegal Arab buildings in Jerusalem, or from evicting Arab squatters from homes illegally occupied in the capital.
And there you have it. Leaders with spines of steel are required here, and our current government is lacking in this respect.
Right-wing leaders are already angry with Bennett for referring to the “West Bank” instead of Judea & Samaria, in his meeting with Blinken.
But Blinken is here primarily for the Negev Summit, which will convene tomorrow in Sde Boker, where Ben Gurion’s home was located. The foreign ministers of Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Morocco, and Bahrain will be meeting with Lapid and Blinken. Iran will be the major topic of discussion.
Understandably, Bennett is thrilled about this, noting that Israel has become a major player on the global stage.
As the Jewish Press noted: “The Bennett government is reaping the benefits of 20 years of smart Israeli foreign policy.” This is not something that simply evolved in the last six months!
I will be writing about this in my next posting. There are very major issues to be considered here.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by independent journalist Arlene Kushner. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.