These days, when we have barely processed information, new events demand our attention. I have been focused on the tragedy in Pittsburgh, and so turn now to other issues.
Read to the end for good news items.
What is most definitely not good news is the situation at the Gaza border, with Prime Minister Netanyahu demonstrating a maddening reluctance to get tough with Hamas.
Making sense of his reasoning (which he is definitely not sharing with me) is not an easy task. There are several possibilities:
- The situation in the north is ominous, and it is possible that he does not wish to see our armed forces entangled in a Gaza battle when we might need to devote full energies elsewhere.
- Embedded within the broader situation there is the matter of Mahmoud Abbas and the PLO. Abbas – who has been withholding support he is obligated to provide to Gaza, in order to weaken Hamas – would be delighted if Israel were to take down Hamas, paving the way for the return of the PA to Gaza.
- There is considerable talk here in Israel about the possibility of the prime minister calling elections before they are legally required in November 2019. It’s all talk at this point and the rumors vary from day to day, but there might be elections as early as March. Netanyahu might prefer not to be embroiled in war on the eve of such elections. I’m not comfortable with this, although it is not out of the norm in terms of how politicians think.
- Trump’s “peace plan” will be unveiled soon, we have been told (more below). There is the possibility that the American administration has signaled that a war with Gaza right now would be problematic for them. I am really uncomfortable with this possibility: we must make our decisions based on what is best for Israel.
When I say “get tough with Hamas,” I am not implying there would be a full scale war with ground troops. Netanyahu keeps saying he wants to exhaust every possibility before going to war, and still believes that a “truce” can be achieved; seems highly dubious to me.
He also says Israel is trying to provide sufficient humanitarian relief to prevent a total collapse of Gaza, which would generate major violence. Could be that this is being recommended by security people within Israel, but when I hear this I suspect outside pressure.
It is exceedingly unlikely that Israel will wage a major war to take down Hamas at this juncture, even if (or when) efforts at a “truce” fail. That is both because of concern about heavy casualties, and because we are neither looking to bring Abbas back to Gaza, nor to administer Gaza ourselves.
Late last week, word came out from Al-Hayat, citing Egyptian sources, that Egypt had achieved a “quiet” agreement (not a formal ceasefire) between Israel, and Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Israel was to expand the fishing zone off the Gazan coast, allow fuel to enter Gaza, and provide additional electricity.
In exchange, there was to be a cessation of violence at the border, including riots – with throwing of grenades, etc., attempts to breach the fence, and launching of incendiary balloons. Gazans would still be permitted their demonstrations at the fence, as long as they were peaceful.
Abbas Kamal, head of Egyptian intelligence, was supposed to announce this.
Last Friday, it was definitely not quiet at the fence; 16,000 people came out and there was violence, with attempts to break through. At least five persons were killed in the course of the rioting.
Then, on Friday night into Saturday, 34 rockets were launched into Israel. Thirteen were taken down by Iron Dome, while the rest fell in open areas or inside of Gaza. Islamic Jihad took credit for this attack, said to be in retaliation for people who had been killed and injured by Israel at the fence.
“Fire for fire and blood for blood,” their announcement said. “If the Zionist enemy wants to expand the circle of fire, we are ready to do so and ready to protect our people.“
Great “quiet” agreement, no?
In response, Israel utilized aircraft and helicopters to hit 95 Hamas and Islamic Jihad targets in Gaza.
And after this, Islamic Jihad announced it was ready for calm. We will have to see it to believe it. I know incendiary balloons are still being launched.
In making the announcement about the strikes, IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus made an unusual observation, saying that the rocket strikes were ordered by operatives from the overseas branch of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps stationed in Syria. He warned that Israel may not limit its response to Gaza:
“From our perspective, part of the address by which we will deal with this fire is also in Damascus and the Quds Force,” he said. “Our response is not limited geographically.”
What we are actually seeing is that the government is trying to play it both ways at the same time:
While the action in Gaza was taken in response to the rocket attack, it turns out that 800 trucks of supplies are going into Gaza daily via the Kerem Shalom crossing and that this relief effort continued in spite of that rocket attack. Originally we said relief would be predicated upon calm. That we have walked back from this is highly regrettable.
On Monday, a group of residents from the communities adjacent to Gaza staged a protest, blocking the caravan of trucks for a couple of hours. Members of the Zionist NGO Im Tirtzu joined them to lend support.
Said Liana Peretz, who lives in Kibbutz Kerem Shalom, very close to the crossing:
“It is inconceivable that my kids need to wake up in the middle of the night and run to bomb shelters, or need to be afraid of balloons and kites. The time has come for the government to wake up and do something.”
One of the major concerns here is a serious loss of deterrence. This is not simply with regard to Hamas and Islamic Jihad, but also with regard to our enemies in the north who are watching. Commentator Isi Leibler, in his op-ed today, addressed the issue of deterrence (emphasis added):
“…the world has become accustomed to the border protests and destructive incendiary balloons. In fact, many – including some misguided Jews – are accusing us of being too tough and needlessly killing ‘peaceful demonstrators.’
“…Can one visualize any other country in the world tolerating this situation and merely responding to it with tit-for-tat bombing sorties that cause minimal disruption, destroying only buildings used by Hamas after warning the inhabitants to evacuate?
“…The horrible reality is that, despite being perceived as a tough hi-tech superpower, we are in fact negotiating with a terrorist entity…The government even stooped to the depths of providing safe passage through Israel to Gaza for Saleh al-Arouri, a Hamas deputy leader who is responsible for a series of bestial terrorist acts…
“…If Israel is to restore any vestige of deterrence, it should announce that unless the border provocations and incendiary balloons cease, its military will take drastic action…
“It is time for the IDF to impose a solution in which Hamas is punished to the point of deterrence…
“A ‘semi-truce’ is worst of all options. Acting with restraint does not inhibit the terrorists and is perceived by Hamas as cowardice.”
Right on Isi!
Last week the Trump administration announced that Jason Greenblatt would be coming here this week for extensive consultations prior to the release of the “peace plan” in a couple of months. His arrival was delayed because of the attack in Squirrel Hill, but he is due here soon.
I was surprised when I read this announcement, because Abbas is far, far removed from being cooperative. But I have surmised that the Trump administration may have been motivated by an announcement by French President Emmanuel Macron, that if the US did not release its plan, France would bring forth one.
Meanwhile, it was announced that the PLO Central Committee has decided to “revoke the validity of the Oslo Accords.” It will also “cancel” recognition of Israel until such time as Israel recognizes a Palestinian state along the pre-1967 line.
This is a lot of verbiage and grandstanding, and I consider that revisions and backtracking may be forthcoming at any time. It will be interesting to watch how Greenblatt handles this.
Of course the PLO Central Committee won’t see it this way, but in point of fact the Palestinian Authority was created by the Oslo Accords. And so, now…? It is also a fact that the PLO/PA relies on Israel in a variety of ways, including with regard to the collection of certain taxes. I have not seen any response from Israel yet.
The good news: with regard to Israel’s relationship with Arab states. I consider that this is where Prime Minister Netanyahu shines. He’s been hinting at progress for some time, but until now most of it was quiet. Now Arab states are coming forward publicly.
Last week Netanyahu traveled secretly to Oman, where he spent 12 hours, many of them in direct English conversation with Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said.
The two discussed a host of subjects including a possible railway network from Muscat [Oman’s capital] to Haifa. This is the beginning of normalization with Oman, and the prime minister promises other similar visits to Arab states will be forthcoming. He believes in taking it slowly.
A day after the visit, a statement was released by Oman’s foreign minister, Yousuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah:
“Israel is a state present in the region, and we all understand this…Maybe it is time for Israel to be treated the same [as others states] and also bear the same obligations.”
We’ve turned a major diplomatic corner. I believe several factors are at work here. One is the strong desire of the Arab Gulf states for cooperation with Israel in their stand against Iran, which terrifies them.
Another is growing weariness and impatience with Mahmoud Abbas: “The Palestinians” and their demand for a state are not priority. Not so long ago, these states maintained there could not be a relationship with Israel until there was a Palestinian state.
Now Rabbi Marc Schneier, who was in Bahrain and the UAE in the last two weeks, reports (emphasis added):
“One thing communicated to me was the sentiment that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict does not have to be resolved in order to establish relations as long as there is dialogue (i.e., negotiations).” Relationships can be normalized alongside a peace process.
“This is 100% shift from the past.”
For more on this developing situation, see:
And lastly, this delightful news:
Last year, Israel participated in the International Judo Federation’s Grand Slam competition in Abu Dhabi, UAE, but when an Israeli judoka won a medal, UAE would not allow the Israeli flag to be displayed or the Israeli anthem to be played.
Israel complained to the Federation and this year there was a reversal. When our judoka, Sagi Muki, won, he received the same recognition as any other competitor. Hatikva was played in his honor and it was not done begrudgingly – everyone was very gracious.
Sports Minister Miri Regev (Likud) accompanied the team and was present during the awarding of the gold. In the video below you can see tears streaming down her face as Hatikva was played.
Amazingly, a second Israeli judoka, Peter Paltchik, won subsequently in a different weight category, and Hatikva was played again.