Even as I prepare for Pesach, I want to continue reporting on some of the major issues that are confronting us. “Some,” as the list of issues is overwhelming. There is good news regarding Israeli defense capacity, and (at least in some quarters) determination to stand strong.
Every year, the Moskowitz Prize for Zionism – established by Dr. Irving and Cherna Moskowitz as an “expression of support for people who put Zionism into action” – is awarded to Israeli citizens who have addressed challenges facing modern Zionism in spheres such as education, research, settlement, culture and security.The annual prize totals $100,000.
The ceremony for the awards will be held on June 6, in a ceremony at Emek Tzurim National Park in Jerusalem. But the three recipients for 2016-5776 have already been announced, and these “Lions of Zion” most certainly merit mention:
Rabbi Benny Elon
Educator, former minister, a man of vision and deed who continues to strengthen Jewish settlement in and around united Jerusalem, and a trailblazer in garnering international diplomatic support for Israel
Credit: Ariel Jerozolimski
Former Knesset member, the driving force behind settlement on the Golan Heights, who defended and preserved the integrity of the Golan as part of the State of Israel
Journalist, senior editor and columnist, founder of the satirical website Latma and active in public advocacy for Israel
It is not only fitting that these three deserving individuals should be honored: The hope is that they will serve as inspiration for many others!
Inbal Kreiss, Deputy General Manager of the Israel Aircraft Industry’s Systems Missiles & Space Division, spoke on Saturday in Beersheva about Israeli defense capabilities.
“We are developing some of the the most advanced systems designed to give the fullest and most hermetic protection possible,” she said. (Emphasis added)
As to Netanyahu’s concerns about a nuclear Iran, she said he can count to one before going to sleep each night. It is the Iranians who “should be worried,” she suggested.
Kreiss, an engineer, heads the development of the Arrow Three, which is designed to “shoot down intercontinental ballistic missiles outside the atmosphere, intercepting the weapons and their nuclear, biological or chemical warheads close to their launch sites.
“In December, Israel conducted its first successful test firing of the Arrow 3, in what the Defense Ministry called a ‘major milestone’ in Israeli missile defense technology.”
A conference of Israeli Jordan Valley farmers was held last Wednesday, attended by a number of representatives of European parties. It was to them that head of the Jordan Valley Regional Council David Elhayani (pictured) spoke:
“They [the European Commission] are demanding that we [Israeli farmers of the region] label agricultural produce. I want to say to everyone who seeks to harm us: Your hope will not be realized….We have no intention of doing what you ask. We will not label our agricultural produce. We are determined to fight this phenomenon and to struggle against this unethical and discriminatory [demand] that has remnants of a dark time.” (Emphasis added)
Credit: Times of Israel
A diplomatic event that took place recently has created quite a stir here:
Just over a week ago, the Saudi king, Salmon, went to Cairo to confer with Egyptian President Sisi. This meeting was the culmination of 11 years of meetings with regard to demarcation of the maritime boundary between the two states.
Subsequently it was announced that the demarcation in the Straits of Tiran would put the islands of Tiran and Sanifir – at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba – in Saudi waters.
Credit: BESA Center
Originally, the two islands had belonged to the Saudis, but were transferred to Egypt in 1950. When Egypt’s President Gamel Abdel Nasser, controlling the area via the islands, moved in 1967 to block the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, it became the casus belli of the Six Day War. Movement of ships to and from Eilat, at the southern tip of Israel, was and is essential for Israeli commerce. With victory in 1967, Israel took control of the islands – turning them back to Egypt with the 1979 peace treaty. Now the islands will again be in Saudi hands.
Israel is formally at peace with Egypt, but this is not the case with Saudi Arabia – and more than a bit of anxiety was generated by the prospect of the Saudis blocking Israel once again in the Straits of Tiran. (See photo below.) Needless to say, this situation has generated a flurry of news reports and analyses.
However, what became apparent, after the announcement about the maritime demarcation had been made, is that Israel had been notified in writing weeks before this announcement was public and had consented to this arrangement in writing.
What is more, the Saudis committed to honoring the terms of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty:
“Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said in an interview that his country would honor the Israel-Egypt peace treaty’s terms as regards the islands. Saudi Arabia won’t negotiate with Israel about the islands, he said, since ‘the commitments that Egypt approved [in the peace treaty] we are also committed to, including the stationing of an international force on the islands. We looked into the matter and we know our legal position. We are committed to what Egypt committed to before the international community.’
“But according to Israeli Defense Minister Ya’alon, the coordination with Israel went further. Saudi Arabia agreed to ensure free shipping for all parties through the straits.” (Emphasis added)
Credit: Stringer/AFP/Getty Images, via JTA
The Saudis are not yet in full and open diplomatic relations with Israel, and take pains to make this point. But they have moved light years from where they were, and are on the way. It goes without saying that quiet communication is on-going and that at a significant level there has been an Egyptian-Israeli-Saudi understanding that simply could not have happened a few years ago.
As Col. (res.) Dr. Eran Lerman and Prof. Joshua Teitelbaum – in a BESA paper entitled, “Sailing Through the Straits” – observe, what is happening here is “a welcome ray of light, demonstrating the benefits of cooperation and coordination in a region beset by so much violence.”
Lerman and Teitelbaum further comment that:
“…the restoration of sovereignty [over the islands] serves to bolster the Saudi commitment to Egyptian stability – which goes a long way towards explaining the rage expressed by the Muslim Brotherhood at this breach of Egypt’s ‘national rights.’ With the need to confront Iran high above all other considerations in the Saudi and Egyptian national security playbook – and in Israel’s – any major step that helps bring together the ‘camp of stability’ in the region under joint Egyptian-Saudi leadership will also serve Israel’s interests.”
Elsewhere it was noted that an infusion of Saudi funds into Egypt accompanied this deal, and this is one factor in stabilizing Egypt.
The transfer of sovereignty is not immediate, but some years down the road. Ultimately, it was agreed between Cairo and Riyadh, a long bridge would be built connecting Sharm el-Sheikh in the Sinai with the Arabian peninsula.
Last week it emerged that plans being cobbled together by the US, Russia and other major parties for a peace agreement in Syria was likely to specify that all of the Golan Heights is Syrian land. This enraged the Israeli government. Israel took two-thirds of the Golan in 1967, and in 1981 extended Israeli law to the area, which is tantamount to annexation (although that term is not used). The prospect of elements in Syria, or the government of Assad, gaining control of the heights that overlook the Kinneret and the Galil is absolutely a recipe for disaster.
Netanyahu has already registered distress about this with Kerry and will be raising the issue with Putin shortly.
Yesterday Netanyahu convened a first-ever symbolic meeting of the Cabinet on the Heights – in the community of Ma’aleh Gamla, ”next to an archaeological site where Jewish rebels stood off against Roman soldiers nearly 2,000 years ago.”
The prime minister said he had told Kerry “that Israel does not oppose current efforts to reach a political agreement to end the Syrian civil war, but that Israel’s boundary line with the country will not change.”
“’I convened this celebratory meeting in the Golan Heights (see photo below) to send a clear message: The Golan will always remain in Israel’s hands. Israel will never withdraw from the Golan Heights.’
“The prime minister told the top US diplomat that Jerusalem would not oppose a peace agreement for Syria, ‘on the condition that it doesn’t come at the cost of Israel’s security…i.e. that at the end of the day, the forces of Iran, Hezbollah and Daesh will be removed from Syrian soil.’
“’In the stormy region around us, Israel is the stabilizing factor; Israel is the solution, not the problem.’” (All emphasis added)
Credit; Effi Sharir/POOL
The prime minister also made reference to the fact that this was a Jewish area in ancient times, which the archeological remains of many synagogues attests to.
It is essential, of course, that our government make very clear what our position is with regard to retaining the Golan. But, having reported now on a possible “peace agreement” in Syria, I confess quite candidly that I not only see this as unlikely, I am not sure I even know what they are talking about. There is a confusing array of factions to be dealt with.
Just three days ago, Jonathan Spyer, whom I consider to be a very astute observer of the situation in Syria, wrote, in “Ready for the Storm” (emphasis added):
“The fragile cease-fire declared in Syria on February 27 between regime and rebel forces is in the process of crumbling. Assad’s forces have launched an offensive across southern Aleppo province. Fighting is also taking place in Homs and northwest Hama provinces and east of Damascus. There are reports of regime forces massing for an assault on rebel-controlled eastern Aleppo city.
“The cease-fire, in any case, applied to only one of the many conflicts taking place in Syria. It did not extend to the war between Islamic State and the Western-supported, Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces. It did not include the fight between Islamic State and other rebel and Sunni Islamist groups. Nor did it apply to the intermittent fighting between the Kurdish YPG and the rebels, or the Kurds and the regime.”
“…At present, the map of clashing forces in this area is complex.
“In terms of who controls what, the non-Islamic State rebels control the greater part of the area immediately adjoining the Israeli-controlled Golan. But both the regime and Islamic State are also present in the area. Regime forces control a small enclave at the northern edge of the borderline around the town of Beit Jinn. Further south, regime-supporting forces control the Druse village of Khader, just east of Quneitra.“An Islamic State franchise, the Shuhada al-Yarmouk (Yarmouk Martyrs’) Brigade, meanwhile, holds an area at the southern edge of the borderline, from the town of Tasil down to the Jordanian border.
“Further east, the regime late last year succeeded in cutting and holding a line between rebel forces in Deraa province, and this division of forces remains….”
From this, a peace agreement can be forged?
Spyer looks at Israel’s diligent attempts both to stay out of the war and to ensure that the war does not creep down across the border. Among the three main groups of fighting forces – the Assad regime and Iranian elements; Islamic State associated forces; and rebel forces both Islamist and not – “Israel has no friends.” But Israel prefers that the rebels remain dominant in the areas adjacent to the Golan. It is important that the Iranians not develop a platform in the area from which to attack northern Israeli communities.
“…an additional consideration exists. The Iranians want to foment renewed insurgency in the West Bank against Israel. Achieving a capacity to transfer weapons to that area via Jordan forms an essential element of that strategy. In turn, controlling the area adjoining the Syrian-Jordanian border in Deraa province is crucial for the realization of this plan.”
It is a joint Jordanian-Israeli goal that a carefully selected and supported rebel presence remain at the Jordanian border as a buffer.
“Since the collapse of the cease-fire indicates that these storms appear nowhere close to exhaustion, the efforts [by Israel] to ensure their containment through both acknowledged and unacknowledged means are likely to continue.”
Spyer speaks of storms to our north and east but there are the winds of war blowing from Gaza as well.
Just today, there was a report of a Hamas tunnel that was discovered some 35 meters underground and “tens of meters” inside of Israel. “The newly found tunnel was a particularly large and complex one; its route stretched along the eastern sector of Gaza all the way to southern Gaza, and crossed onto the Israeli side.” Information on the precise route of the tunnel – which according to one source opened up near a farming community – and the means used to neutralize it are both under gag order.
This is big news, not only because it is the first tunnel uncovered in Israel since the war in 2014, but because Netanyahu has announced that the discovery was possible because of “a global breakthrough in the ability to locate tunnels.”
Credit: IDF Spokesperson
The working assumption is that there are others yet to be uncovered, in particular one very large one that the IDF had reported it had intelligence about many weeks ago. One news broadcast today hinted that the equipment had other (non-specified) uses as well.
There have been multiple incidents reported over the past weeks and months of tunnel construction going on inside of Gaza, with work accidents and at least 11 major collapses that have killed workers – some 20 in all.
Speculation is that Israel may be somehow sabotaging this work. I cannot speak to this except to say that these accidents seem to be a new phenomenon.
At this point, Israel is blocking all construction materials that can be diverted to tunnel construction from entering Gaza.
Our preparations for war with Hamas – which is fairly inevitable, although we cannot predict when it will occur – continue with great diligence. At least one analyst has speculated that it might come sooner than Hamas had planned, because if we have a way now to uncover their tunnels, they should use them when they still can.
What I am reading with some consistency are reports of our greatly enhanced intelligence in terms of what’s going on in Gaza, and our more focused preparations, based on the experiences of the 2014 war.
But there are also drills, such as the large one that took place last week.
There have been, as well, a series of incursions by Israel some meters into the Gaza strip, with bulldozers, in order to level the land. This makes surprise attacks less likely and I imagine would also facilitate speedy entry into Gaza with large numbers of military vehicles.
“A senior IDF officer told reporters [last] Thursday that Hamas is amassing fighters and materiel at a ‘surprisingly’ quick pace in Gaza but that the terror group does not appear to be prepared for renewed direct conflict with Israel in the near future.
“He stressed that the terrorist organization would not again drag Israel into a war, and that any future conflict would be one undertaken at the initiative of the Jewish state.”
Let us hope so!
As I progress in my Pesach preparations, I truly did not want to have to take time for banging my head against the wall. It’s so exhausting. But, alas, you may yet hear the thumping of my head. You may even feel inclined to bang your own heads against the wall. Consider (emphasis added):
“An agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) to cease security cooperation in Judea and Samaria’s Area A may be imminent, a senior security official revealed to Army Radio Sunday.
“The deal, which would be sealed ahead of the PA’s visit to the UN to push anti-Israel draft resolutions, would see the IDF pull out of the region after decades of cooperation – and be seen as a major Palestinian victory.
“Under the terms of the agreement, if the PA security forces fail to suppress terrorist elements within its jurisdiction, the IDF would not be able to help them battle the threat.
“Complaints have been voiced against Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) Chief Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai for downplaying the significance of the agreement.
“‘Where the Palestinians operate more, we will operate less,’ Mordechai stated, during a tour of the region last week.
“The PA, however, views the deal as a cessation of any and all security cooperation with Israel.” They have been threatening to cease all cooperation for years, although some say this cooperation is crucial to preventing further escalation of terrorist violence.
“Mordecai faces criticism, as well, for downplaying the IDF’s role in quashing the most recent terror wave, while glorifying the relatively minor role of PA security forces in the issue.
“The deal remains to be sealed, and it is unclear whether it will require a formal vote from Israel’s security cabinet..
Other security officials defended Mordechai. ‘The goal is to calm the area,’ the official said, on condition of anonymity. ‘We do not have a problem with it being seen as an achievement for [Abbas].
“…The official further implied that those speaking against Mordechai ‘would prefer that Israel drown in rivers of blood instead of seeing the terrorism subside.’”
Actually, this report has contradictions inherent within it. If this horrendous agreement were to be sealed it is not altogether clear whether the IDF would be able to go into Area A in active pursuit of a terrorist, or if there were critical intelligence about an attack being planned.
When rumors about this surfaced a number of weeks ago, Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot stated clearly that we might let the PA do more, but we would never relinquish our right to enter Area A for security purposes. And now in this report, Gen. Mordechai is quoted as saying pretty much the same thing. But this report also indicates that Israel would NOT be able to go in, to help suppress terror elements – which would be a truly bad situation.
Would there not be – should there not be – clarity on this issue?
Allow me to share a few salient points:
The IDF is in Area A every day (actually usually at night) for security operations. We go in, and come out again – we are not stationed there. This practice began during the second intifada, when the PA was not combatting terrorism in this area, ostensibly under its civil and military control, and has been sustained of necessity.
There is no way in the world that the PA security forces can do what we have been doing, if we are out of the picture.
More significantly still – there is no motivation on the part of PA security forces to do what we have been doing. This is not only because the PA lacks – to put it mildly – an enduring desire to protect Israel from terrorism. The Palestinian Arab culture is hamula (clan)-based. If someone in the PA forces has a member of the same hamula who is a terrorist, Hamas or otherwise, he will not go after him. There is a show sometimes of PA actions against terrorists, including Hamas terrorists. But this is an on-again, off-again sort of behavior, depending on political circumstances.
It would not take Hamas long to do the PA in, just as Hamas defeated Fatah in Gaza with ease nine years ago. The PA has relied on the IDF to protect it against Hamas takeover in Judea and Samaria. Without an IDF presence, either Hamas would take over, or there would be some kind of temporary arrangement between the PA and Hamas. It seems fairly likely that there would be a change of some sort in the political configuration of the area.
If the PA were to be directly threatened by Hamas, it might call for the quick return of the IDF (and perhaps this is what we would see). Or, it might be taken down by Hamas, in which case the Oslo Accords would truly be at an end, and we would have to battle Hamas more directly and without pretense. This is speculative at present, but certainly well within the realm of the possible, should this deal go through.
Many of my readers will have already deduced the great likelihood of a link between Abbas’s plans to go to the Security Council and this prospective deal. We might call this a quid pro quo – giving Abbas something that makes the PA look good in return for his not pressing the issue of “settlements” at the UN, or presenting a somewhat less unpalatable proposal. Or we might, with greater honesty, refer to this as appeasement.
I found the comment by the unnamed “security official” who spoke about those who prefer to see Israel drowning in a river of blood particularly noxious. In case he hasn’t noticed: it was Abbas, whose PA is now theoretically supposed to act against terrorism, who incited the terrorism in the first place. Abbas has in recent days been talking “peace,” because for the moment it suits him to do so. But he could turn on a dime again.
And no, the goal is not simply “to calm the area,” at any cost, and for a short interval. The goal is to retain strength – to have the ability to take out terror and exhibit strong deterrence power.
At any rate, the Shin Bet – headed by Yoram Cohen, pictured – has come out against this proposal, saying that it would make controlling terrorism more difficult.
Credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90
A statement from the prime minister’s office also seemed to indicate that the IDF would continue to operate as necessary.
Perhaps this plan is the brainchild of just a handful of high-placed IDF officers and will never see the light of day.
Here we are, my friends, at the end of a posting that I already knew was very long – because there is so much to share.
I was about to close, when terror struck here in Jerusalem: As evening approached, a device planted on a bus in south Jerusalem exploded. The bus – which went up in flames -was empty, but a second bus – Egged #12 – was passing by as the explosion occurred and took the hit, also catching fire. At least 16 people have been injured – one report says 22, two in critical condition.
Credit: Yarden Laytner
Police originally called this a terror attack, and then backed off, saying the investigation was not complete. What reportedly gave them pause was the fact that the bomb exploded on an empty bus. But who knows – the timer of the explosive device might have been off; it might have been set with the expectation that there would be people on the bus when it detonated. Egged asks, “What else could this be?” Indeed.
What clinched it for me was the testimony of the director of the emergency care unit at Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital in Jerusalem, where some of the wounded were brought:
Some of the victims’ wounds, he explained, were “from nails and bolts that penetrated their bodies. It gives the impression of wounds from a terror attack.”
Ah yes. I know of this from previous attacks years gone by. Those who perpetrate such attacks are purely evil.
There are two immediate speculations with regard to the timing of this attack. One is that it is only days before Pesach, and often terror strikes then. The other is that it followed the announcement of the Hamas tunnel that was uncovered. It will become clear in due course.
I want to put this out, and hopefully will write once more before Pesach.
Perhaps this fits now:
Rabbi Lazer Brody playing a very calming flute:
Just close your eyes and listen.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.
If it is reproduced and emphasis is added, the fact that it has been added must be noted.