It’s been over a week since I have written a new Israel update. During this period of my family’s vacation the world has not stood still. Indeed, dramatic events have taken place, thankfully, not in Israel. The two major events that have taken place have obviously been the failed terror attack on a US aircraft arriving in Detroit and the violent demonstrations in Iran. I will reflect on both of these events, after which I will catch up on the political turmoil of the last week in Israel, updating the Gilad Shalit story. Finally, as a New Year dawns, one that marks the beginning of a new decade, it would be inappropriate not to take a quick look back at Israel’s last decade.
Now to the two main stories this week... First Iran, which is the biggest story of all. The demonstrations in Iran have clearly turned a corner. Demonstrators are no longer calling for a new President; instead they are demanding regime change. Their chances for success are not good, since if the regime is willing to kill its own people, as they demonstrated this past week, it will be very hard to dislodge them. Dictators fall when the army switches sides or the police are unwilling to follow orders. It's not clear that this is likely to happen in Iran at the moment; though it is possible. More likely, for regime change to happen it is going to require a lot of prodding. This brings forth the second point, as of now, the time frame President Obama has given the Iranian regime to respond to the UN proposals has passed. The President has promised a stiff response. Now the story is spreading that because of concerns that stiff sanctions will rally the Iranian people around the regime, much weaker sanctions are being proposed. That is a terrible misreading of the situation. First, the only way for the regime to maintain control at this time is brute force, they have, I believe, passed the point of no return in terms of popular support. Therefore, if there is to be any chance of a successful regime change in Iran, every action that weakens the state needs to be taken. Anything less will be a betrayal of those who have given their lives in the past week for Iranian freedom. Second, if the President does not come out with the stiffest sanctions possible – he will cement a building reputation, as a leader who speaks loudly, but carries a very small stick indeed.
The attempted bombing of the US aircraft, over US skies, by an Al Qaeda operative underscores the failure of all aspects of the US war on terror; while clarifying that it is indeed a war of terror. This attempted attack also made clear that one of the new centers of that war on terror is taking place in Yemen. Yemen is a place whose confusing alliances make it a very difficult place for the US to develop a policy. There is a civil war going on in Yemen between the Shiites and the Sunni government. The Sunni government is getting help from Saudi Arabia, while the Shiites are receiving arms and money form Iran. Al Qaeda is Sunni-- and we are giving the Yemini government money to fight terrorism. To learn from the failures of Christmas day, there are, of course, a number of other significant issues that require closer examination: How is it possible that the US government cannot maintain an accurate list of those who should be screened before boarding an aircraft? Not to mention, how could someone paying cash, having no luggage and buying a one way ticket possibly be given an "ok" to fly. Finally, legitimate questions exist as to when a foreign national attacks the US, whether he or she is protected under the constitutional right of counsel, and protected from making statement that are self incriminating. I am not sure that shipping them off to the equivalent of Guantanamo is justified, but there needs to be something between CIA torture and giving a terrorist every act of Constitutional protection afforded to a common criminal.
The story, which dominated much of the news from Israel this week, was the political machinations surrounding the attempts of Netanyahu to get members of the Kadima party to switch over and join the current government. The first round attempt was such an example of political corruption that it dazzled even long time Israeli political correspondents. Netanyahu offered a group of no-name Kadima MK’s all sorts of deputy minister positions, or even the position as the head of Israel Bonds, one of the cushier useless positions out there. Seven of them were ready to take the bait. Even with the new law Netanyahu managed to have passed a few months ago (the law that undid political reforms put into place a decade ago to fight this type of corruption) required eight members of a party to depart in order to form a new faction. After this machinations came to light Netanyahu made a blunt appeal to Livni to join his government under less then attractive conditions. So far, Livni has refused. If reports that are circulating are true, Netanyahu has agreed to resume negotiations with a starting point of return to 67 borders, with a land swamp, then he will indeed need Livini's support, since he is liable to lose a good chunk of his coalition. Of course these events underscore how truly terrible the Israeli system is. If the Kadima MKs had been elected in direct elections, then there would be nothing very wrong with them changing parties for ideological or political reasons (not for jobs) as happened sometimes in the US Congress. But in Israel, none of the MK’s are elected directly, instead the party is the one who receives votes. For MKs, therefore, to act as if they were independent actors and change parties is a direct slap in the face to the voters who elected their party and not them.
After an intense period of activity relating to Gilad Shalit, things have once again returned to Middle East time, instead of media time. It would seem Israel’s last proposal was not all Hamas asked for... both Israel’s demand that a large number of released prisoners be forced into exile and Israel's seeming unwillingness to include 7 specific prisoners in the deal, including Mahwah Bargouti. Hamas is expected to respond in the next few days. Finally, as it is the end of one decade and the beginning of a new one I would be remiss, not to at least commenting on it. I could (and have actually thought of) writing a book entitled something like "Israel’s lost decade". It's easy to list all the reason for doing so: two wars, years of suicide bombings, a growing existential threat from Iran, not to mention the fact that the possibilities of real peace seem ever more distant at the end of this decade than they did at the beginning. But permit me to be slightly "Pollyanna"ish at this moment... Despite all of the above challenges; it was also a decade of incredible ecnomic growth in Israel. This decade was a period that Israel high tech industries came into their own, as world leaders in many fields. By the end of the decade, despite the war and Intifada- Israel was no longer classified as a developing country, instead it is now considered one of the world's advanced developed countries, at least economically. While Israel faces many economic challenges, not the least of which is the incredible economic disparities that developed with the economic growth, the story of Israel as that “poor “ country, is no longer.