It feels as if there is flux everywhere: whether with regard to politics, diplomacy or security issues. And so, let us turn away from the tumult and begin with the good news – for, indeed, we are also blessed with good news.
The Israeli Defense Ministry, working with the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, in the early hours of Monday morning, conducted a successful test flight of the Arrow 3 system, which intercepts ballistic missiles outside the atmosphere.
The Arrow system is a central component of the multi-layered defense system developed by the Ministry of Defense, based on four defense layers: the Iron Dome system, which intercepts short range rockets; the Magic Wand system, which defends against medium range rockets; the Arrow 2 system, which defends against short and medium range ballistic missiles; and the Arrow 3 system.
The success of Monday’s test constitutes an important milestone in Israel’s operational ability to defend itself against existing and future threats in the region.
The Ministerial Committee on the Integration of Israeli Citizens of Ethiopian Origin on Monday took an historic step regarding the status of religious services for Israeli citizens of Ethiopian origin. In a long-overdue move, kessim (translated as priests or religious leaders) are being provided with official status as spiritual shepherds for Ethiopian Jews.
In the early years after the arrival of Ethiopian Jews in substantial numbers, starting in the mid-80s, there was a widespread expectation that the kessim would slowly become irrelevant as they were supplanted by rabbis. This move is a respectful recognition of the ancient and unique heritage of Ethiopian Jews, and of the legitimate role that kessim can continue to play for the community.
There are Jews of Ethiopian origin who study as normative rabbis, as well, and the announcement by the Committee includes efforts towards their optimal integration into religious councils.
The partners in Israel’s Tamar and Leviathan natural gas fields – including a unit of US Noble Energy Inc and Delek Drilling LP – have signed $15 billion in deals to export natural gas to Egypt over 10 years. The accords are with Egypt’s Dolphinus Holdings Ltd.
One accord calls for the sale of 32 BCM [billion cubic meters or one cubic kilometer] of natural gas from Leviathan, with anticipated revenues of $7.5 billion. A second parallel accord was for Tamar.
Various options are being considered for the transport of the gas to Egypt. Supply from Tamar will start as soon as the transport infrastructure is in place, while that from Leviathan (pictured) will begin once production starts.
Prime Minister Netanyahu, referring to the deal as “historic,” said it would bring in billions for education, health and welfare.
The Ministerial Committee for Legislation has approved a bill that would require Israel to deduct from tax revenues collected for the PA the amount the PA pays to Palestinian Arab prisoners and their families. With coalition backing, it is almost certain to pass three readings in the Knesset.
According to this legislation, the Security Cabinet would make a decision each month about sums to be withheld. The money would go to compensate victims and prevent terrorism. This is a move that was too long in coming.
However, Lahav Harkov of the JPost points out that this is a “loophole laden” bill:
The Security Cabinet would also have the option of freezing the funds for future payment, or declining to deduct “for special reasons of national security and international relations.”
How strong will the government be once there are objections to this legislation?
In another move that was past due, the government has now declared there will be no family visits for imprisoned Hamas terrorists.
This is an effort to put pressure on Hamas to release the bodies of IDF soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, killed during battle with Hamas in 2014. The action has been taken in response to an appeal to the Supreme Court filed by the Goldin family.
On Saturday afternoon, four IDF soldiers were injured when a patrol from the Golani Brigade accompanied by members of combat engineering unit went to investigate a suspicious flag that was against the fence on the Gaza side, near south Gaza, east of Khan Younis. The flag was booby-trapped with a remote-controlled device that exploded when the soldiers’ jeep approached the fence.
Two soldiers, one a Combat Engineer officer, were injured seriously, and two moderately.
The IDF called this “a severe terrorist attack,” and during the course of Saturday night, the Air Force hit 18 Hamas sites in Gaza. Among the targets: a tunnel in Gaza City that was dug towards Israel; a Hamas military compound in the Netzarim area that included weapons manufacturing sites and training camps; and another military site in Khan Yunis.
Minister of Defense Lieberman said, “This is perhaps the most significant and widespread strike we carried out since Operation Protective Edge” (in 2014).
Subsequently, one rocket was fired from Gaza into the Sha’ar Hanegev region, damaging one home; Israeli planes then returned for an additional attack on Gaza, which took out an another tunnel.
Yoni Ben Menachem, writing for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, says (emphasis added):
“The weekend violence that began on February 17, 2018, on the border of the Gaza Strip is a very dangerous escalation, the most dangerous one since the end of the war in Gaza in the summer of 2014…
“Now things are calm mainly because the Egyptians put pressure on a Hamas delegation (headed by Ismail Haniyeh), that was visiting Cairo, to calm things down.
“Because Iran is behind this escalation, things might deteriorate in the future. What we know is that the Iranians, actually General Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, who is in charge of the terror activities of Iran in the Middle East, is in direct contact with the leaders of the military wing of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. He is trying to escalate the situation in order to send a message to Israel not to carry out any further attacks on Syria…
“The message Iran is sending is that if Israel continues to hit Syrian targets, it will find itself fighting on a new front, in Gaza. This way, Israel will find itself fighting on two fronts at the same time, in both Gaza and Syria.”
On Sunday, Hamas Politburo member Mahmoud al-Zahar said that efforts are being undertaken to prevent a new war with Israel.
“The resistance does not want to expend its energy on this escalation.”
Interestingly, a Qatari envoy to Gaza confirmed that Hamas is not seeking a major escalation.
Two weeks ago, IDF Chief of Staff Eisenkot warned that there was a strong likelihood of war with Hamas in 2018 because of the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza.
In the wake of the hostilities of the last few days, reference is being made again to his warning.
However, Prof. Hillel Frisch, a senior research associate at the BESA Center, in a February 7th op-ed, shared a different perspective (emphasis added):
“…The most important factor behind real humanitarian crises – the specter of mass hunger and contagious disease – is first and foremost the breakdown of law and order, and violence between warring militias and gangs. This was the story of Darfur, Somalia, the Central African Republic. In such a situation, the first to leave are the relief agencies, then, the local medical staffs, local government officials and anyone professional who can make it out of the bedlam, leaving the destitute to fend for themselves. Hospitals, dispensaries, schools and local government offices are soon abandoned or become scenes of grisly shootouts and reprisals.
“Nothing could be farther from such a reality than Gaza. Hamas, which is the major source for this fake news of humanitarian crisis, rules Gaza with an iron hand. Few developed democracies in the world can boast the low homicide rates prevailing in Gaza. Absent is any news item announcing the closure of one hospital, one municipality, one school, university, college or dispensary in Gaza…
“…Nowhere is there any evidence that the World Health Organization, which rigorously monitors the world to prevent the outbreak of contagious disease, is seriously looking at Gaza.
“…The WHO knows, just as hundreds of medical personnel in Israeli hospitals who liaise with their colleagues in Gaza know, that the hospital system in Gaza is of high caliber, certainly by the standards of the developing world, which comprises most of humanity.”
Prof. Fisch looks at the reasons for Hamas claims of humanitarian crises. He recommends that Israel make stringent demands of Hamas, but says that “Hamas should be left with policing capabilities, because the most important single cause preventing humanitarian crisis is law and order.”
Clipart libraryConclusion: The situation is volatile but worst case scenarios do not necessarily provide the most accurate predictions. For sure, my crystal ball does not seem to be working.
Concerned that Hezbollah would attempt to infiltrate northern Israel in the course of a war, Israel is currently building a security wall at the blue line border with Lebanon.
The situation with Poland, with regard to that legislation criminalizing statements of Polish participation in the Holocaust, continues to deteriorate.
Since the Polish president commented that the law might not be enforceable – which suggested to me an attempt to backtrack, matters have gone downhill:
There was a “clarification” that survivors of the Holocaust would not be exempt from penalty under the law. The Polish government put a hold on a bill for restitution of lost Jewish property. Then on Saturday, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that there were Polish perpetrators in the Holocaust, “as there were Jewish perpetrators.”
Attempts are being made on both sides to avoid a rupture of diplomatic relations between Israel and Poland, but the situation is tense.
Perhaps most disconcertingly, the official statements that have been made on this issue seem to have interpreted by anti-Semites as permission to come out of the closet. At this point, while Polish Jews do not fear physical attack, they sense an atmosphere that is hostile to them; some are thinking of leaving because of the situation. They are questioning, as Poland’s Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich explained, whether Poland can be their home any longer.
My observation: This increase in anti-Semitic statements – the fact that though they were in the closet the anti-Semites continued to harbor hate against Jews over the years – seems a clear confirmation of the charge that many Poles likely collaborated with the Nazis. While of course there were good Poles, and Poles who risked their own lives saving Jews, anti-Semitism is endemic in Poland.
Even the charge that has been leveled in some quarters that this whole fuss has been promoted by “the Zionists,” who are seeking increased reparations, is a reflection of deep-seated anti-Semitism.
The necessary focus in my last few postings on crises and security issues has not given me space to consider diplomatic and legal issues and the status of “peace negotiations.”
Hopefully I will return for a closer look in my next posting. Perhaps in a way it is good that I haven’t focused on these matters, for a great many words have been spoken that in the end lead nowhere.
Were I to track all of the statements and positions of Mahmoud Abbas, I would require a whole posting. He has gone from saying there would be no negotiations, to declaring he would negotiate but not with US mediation, to agreeing that sure the US could participate in mediating negotiations but in partnership with the UN.
Apparently he has decided to try his luck as a comedian.
Now Abbas is seeking recognition of a Palestinian state at the UN. Will definitely have more to say on this.
There has been a great deal of talk here in Israel about application of sovereignty either to all Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, or to the entire Area C (which is under full Israeli control and is where all of the Jewish communities are located). Bills are being brought forth to support these two positions.
This direction must be tracked, and dynamically encouraged. But I’ve learned not to hold my breath. Prime Minister Netanyahu pulled back on supporting advancement of a bill for sovereignty over the Jewish communities because he sought, and did not have, the “approval” of President Trump. Our relationship with the US is too good to jeopardize with this, he said. (Of course, when Obama was president and our relationship with the US was bad, the argument was that it was not a good time to advance sovereignty.)
To this, Minister of Jerusalem Affairs Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) replied, “If what is right for the State of Israel is against the American stance, then we must do what is right for Israel and against the American stance.”
Similarly, former Likud minister Gideon Sa’ar, who is headed back into politics, came out strongly for sovereignty over Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley: “This is our commitment to our citizens and is required by basic fairness towards them and their families.”
There was a flap of sorts between Israel and the US when Netanyahu said he had been discussing this issue with Trump and the White House countered that this was not so. Netanyahu responded that he meant that Israel reports to the US on the situation.
As to the Trump administration, while there is no overt hostility towards Israel, and a great deal of supportive friendship, there is also something less than clarity and consistency with regard to the “peace process” and American intentions. I will save this for next posting.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by independent journalist Arlene Kushner. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.