This week continued to be a week that Israelis looked northward, as the ongoing war in Syria continued to become ever more complicated. On one hand, the war seems to be turning into a stalemate– for the moment. Assad has stopped his slow loss of land– by the sreaming of Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon to his side. On the other hand, that support has clearly transformed the war in Syria from a civil war to a war between Sunni and Shiites, spreading throughout the Middle East. In the past week 1,000 people have died in fighting between Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq. Fighting has been going on sporadically in Lebanon between the two groups, with rockets fired at a Hezbollah neighborhood of Beirut. Israelis continue to worry about the war spreading over to us– in one way or another. The continued stream of announcements heralding the possible delivery of Russian S-300 anti-aircraft missiles has added to the tension. This week, Assad stated he has already received some of these missiles (a statement that seems patently false.) Israel’s Defense Minister, Bogi Ya’alon warned that we would know what to do if the missiles were in fact delivered; while the head of the Air Force warned we could suddenly find ourselves in a war. The one clearly unambiguous decision was to find a way to distribute gas masks to the rest of the Israeli population. That move, a distinct result of seeing the Syrian regime using chemical weapons on its own population, and watching the Obama administration’s attempts to wiggle out of their explicit declaration that the use of chemical weapons was “a red line”. Now that Assad has gotten away with using chemical weapons on his own people, nothing other than the threat of a massive Israeli response will keep him from using it on us.
Domestically, this week the major story was the Peri Commission and the deliberation on its proposed law– hoped to bring additional Charedim into the army. As one Israeli commentator wrote this morning, calling the suggested Commission report “a method to equalize the burden” is a misnomer. At this moment, thanks to the Supreme Court decision to cancel the Tal law, there is equal burden and every Charedi 18 year old needs to report to be inducted. Of course, the army does not need to draft anyone it does not want to draft. The new law will exempt Charedi 18 year olds for 4 years, and only then will they be required to reach certain levels of draft. Although Charedi kids will not be compelled to go into the army until the age of 21– and not age 18 like those of the rest of us. In addition, 1,800 Charedi students will be exempted every year. The big argument on this issue focused on was whether there would be criminal sanctions against those who do not obey the obligatory draft. In the end, it was decided that five years from now criminal sanctions would be applied to any draft dodgers. Does this mean that any more Charedim will be drafted in the interim? The answer to that question remains open. The “Equality of the Burden of Service law” still has to pass a vote in the full government, and then, receive a majority vote in the Knesset. Then, the law needs to be implemented. The Charedim have warned that they will never comply. We will see.
However, on some other fronts, the Charedim have clearly lost out. First, a change in the housing regulations will no longer favor those who have been married longest, and instead will favor those families in which both parents work, as well as those families whose members have served in the IDF. This is a clear change from the policies in effect when the Charedim controlled the Housing Ministry. It was also decided last week to extend Daylight Savings Time to the end of October– as is done in Europe. Without the Charedim in government, there will clearly be additional changes on the horizon.
Last night, the V.A.T. (Value Added Tax) went up one percent– Thus, increasing the most regressive tax. There have been demonstrations throughout Israel. The other major issue has been whether and how much gas Israel should export. Many say that the export of gas will only enrich the exporters and hurt the economy in the long run. Those against exporting gas believe that as much of the newly discovered gas should be used domestically, and that the domestic economy should learn to use more natural gas. Those in favor of great export (including of course the owners of the gas wells) say that only if we export the gas will be able to attract additional investors. Of course, we need a sense of how much gas really exists off our coasts, before we can really assess the best answer to the question of how much gas we should export.