Before I look at various events concerning Israel, I note the date: the Fourth of July. From here in Jerusalem, I remember.
But, as the title of this posting suggests, I am at a loss as to what will ultimately be for America.
I know only that the country in which I was born, and grew up, and raised my children is no more. I have watched with horror as free speech has been restricted, and race relations have been set back more than half a century; as violence has increased shockingly and antisemitism has grown exponentially; as those who imagine themselves “woke” make everything about race; as pride in an exceptional America has morphed in progressive circles to some notion of a nation born in sin and American history is trashed.
Is there a chance? Not so long ago, I would have said no, that America was self-destructing irrevocably. But what I am seeing of late is that there are many good Americans who still have their heads screwed on properly; they are fed up and furious, and are now pushing back. Can they restore America to a place of sanity and decency, a place where citizens are proud? Can they defeat the progressive-socialist agenda to bring America down? Perhaps. The roots of America – the noble concepts on which it was founded 245 years ago – still stand.
And so, on this Fourth of July I pray for America: May the Almighty grant those who are fighting to restore her, the strength and wisdom to do so.
Before I leave the topic of July 4, I mention another event that happened on that date in 1976: The rescue at Entebbe. Doubly amazing because it was on America’s 200th birthday.
An Air France plane flying from Tel Aviv to Paris was hijacked by terrorists with 248 passengers on board and diverted to Entebbe, Uganda. They released the non-Jews and held the Jews for a number of demands – a large sum of money and the release of numerous terrorists, most of whom were in Israeli prisons. Ultimately, the Israeli government decided not to negotiate with the hijackers and instead set up a covert rescue operation.
Yoni (Yonatan) Netanyahu, Binyamin Netanyahu’s brother, was leader of the operation. “Follow me!!” was his famous cry to his team. He lost his life early during the execution of the operation.
The bold and innovative operation, however, was a resounding success.
For a closer look at what went on:
It is difficult for me to avoid lamenting the difference between the mindset of Israeli leaders 45 years ago and what is happening today.
It was during the war with Hamas in 2014 that two of our soldiers – Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin – were killed in Gaza and their bodies taken. In the months following, two Israeli civilians – Ethiopian Israeli Avner Mengistu and Israeli Arab Hisham al-Sayed, both said to be mentally unstable – wandered into Gaza of their own volition and were taken hostage by Hamas. Israel has not secured the release of either the bodies or the live hostages, about whom very little seems to be known with regard to location or condition. (Obviously, I am not privy to intelligence Israel may possess about them.)
Clearly, the goal of Hamas in holding these hostages is to secure the release of a large number of terrorists who have been convicted and are serving time in Israeli prisons. In my opinion, and the opinion of many others, that sort of exchange, which has happened on several occasions, should never take place again.
With the recent mini-war with Hamas there was some hope that Hamas might be squeezed in a manner that would convince them to release the hostages. But nothing of the sort happened.
When ceasefire negotiations began after fighting ended, again there was hope that Israel might stand strong. Israel began by saying crossings into Gaza would not be opened for many products and the area in which Gaza fisherman would be allowed to fish would be restricted until the hostages were released. It didn’t take long before more was permitted through the crossing and the area in which fisherman would be permitted to operate was extended.
I find this very troublesome, for when threats are made and then withdrawn, it simply makes Israel look weaker.
Then it was said that Israel would not allow reconstruction to proceed until the hostages were released. Other countries that will be involved in reconstruction are undoubtedly putting pressure on Israel with regard to this stipulation: There are reports that the Biden administration is opposed to conditioning reconstruction on return of the hostages, which does not come as a surprise. Hamas continues to insist that ceasefire negotiations and arrangements for the release of the hostages are two separate issues and should be negotiated separately.
So far we are holding strong, more or less. On July 1, Defense Minister Gantz declared:
“The Hamas terror group in Gaza needs to understand: We are determined. If Hamas wants reconstruction and economic development, the time has come that it takes concrete steps to maintain the calm, to halt the rearmament and to return the boys home.” And reports are that Prime Minster Bennett is determined to link reconstruction with release of the hostages.
This I salute. However…at the very same time an Israeli delegation went to Cairo last week to participate in indirect negotiations on a “prisoner exchange.” The delegation returned without having made any agreement because Hamas was demanding release of prisoners who had been convicted murdering Israelis.
According to Kan news, the demands made by Hamas in Cairo “were dramatic and unrealistic,” but the Israeli delegation continued to hope that Egypt would be able to exert enough pressure on Hamas to make an agreement possible.
And, pray tell, what sort of agreement would be “possible”?
I know I am a hardliner here, but this is how I see it:
Israel is a sovereign nation that has initiated no hostilities, but fights in defensive actions.
Hamas is a terrorist organization that stockpiles weaponry for the sake of attack and every so often initiates offensive actions – launching of rockets and more. Its control of Gaza is not legitimate, as it wrested it from the Palestinian Authority by force.
Holding of hostages is not permitted according to International Customary Law.
“The UN Commission on Human Rights has stated that hostage-taking, wherever and by whoever committed, is an illegal act aimed at the destruction of human rights and is never justifiable.”
“The International Convention against the Taking of Hostages defines the offence as the seizure or detention of a person (the hostage), combined with threatening to kill, to injure or to continue to detain the hostage, in order to compel a third party to do or to abstain from doing any act as an explicit or implicit condition for the release of the hostage.”
And Israel is expected to give Hamas something in order to secure release of our hostages? Whatever we gave would allow Hamas to declare a win and further reduce what minuscule deterrence we now maintain. It would also motive further hostage taking in the future.
The truly tragic part of this story is the fact that the international community is willing to close its eyes to what is happening here. Not a word from the UN.
And so the dictum for Israel must be: “If I am not for myself…” We must stand up.
Before moving to other issues, I note that incendiary balloons are still being launched from Gaza. Twice now, we have attacked in response, but clearly the attack is insufficient.
And yet Prime Minister Bennett is talking tough, which is a step in the right direction. He must act in accordance with his words, spoken at today’s Cabinet meeting (emphasis added):
“I would like to clarify again: Things have changed.
“Israel is interested in quiet and we have no desire to harm the people in Gaza. However, violence—balloons, marches, harassment of any kind—will be met with a severe response.
“We are also working on a solution that would provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza, but it will not include suitcases full of dollars [previously brought into Gaza by Qatar for distribution]. These suitcases of cash are something we inherited and must end once and for all.”
The tone was anything but tough when Ruby Rivlin, soon to retire from his seven-year term as president, visited President Biden, with whom he has had a relationship for decades, on his last official trip abroad.
Rivlin carried multiple messages to the US, the most pertinent being an expression of reservations about resumption of the Iran agreement and a request for additional precision weapons to utilize as necessary in Gaza – the precision being necessary because Hamas embeds itself within the civilian population.
I was decidedly underwhelmed by Rivlin’s boasting with pride about the Islamist Arab party that is part of our new coalition. Is this the same Ruby Rivlin I followed over the years? Whatever Rivlin truly thinks about the Ra’am party, I imagine he knew full well how positively it would play in progressive America. This does not impress me.
Nor is Biden’s emphasizing “the importance of Israel taking steps to ensure calm, stability, and to support greater economic opportunities for the Palestinian people” impressive.
What made the most press was Rivlin’s expressed assurance that Biden was on Israel’s side. Biden’s words, intended to comfort, were:
“What I can say to you is that Iran will never get a nuclear weapon on my watch.”
Rivlin declared himself “very much satisfied” with this promise, but a number of analysts quickly picked up on the fact that it was a totally meaningless statement. There are serious doubts as to whether the US can even manoeuvrer Iran into going back to the 2015 JCPOA agreement (which would not really be the same agreement, as Iran has progressed in technology and in stockpiling of uranium since then). But the twilight clause that would allow Iran to develop nuclear weaponry would not kick in until after Biden’s term of office had expired. He didn’t promise that Iran would never have nuclear weapons, only that it wouldn’t have them in the next three-and-a-half years.
This is called kicking the can down the road: Delaying the problem until someone else is in charge.
There is an additional plan that the Americans are promoting: after the JCPOA is signed, and billions in sanctions have been lifted, there would be a “follow-up agreement” that would address problems such as Iran’s support of terrorism. The notion that Iran could be sweet-talked into agreeing to additional restrictions after the US had already surrendered the leverage of sanctions, is left-wing “pie-in-the-sky” nonsense. See, the US will be nice, and Iran will reciprocate by cooperating.
Perhaps Rivlin had a need to hear good things on this, his last official visit, but I assure you that Israeli military and security personnel put absolutely no stock in this, nor should any of us. Israel reserves the right to act independently in self-defense, and Biden knows this.
See David Weinberg, Vice President of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, on this:
I will discuss results regarding an agreement on Evyatar shortly – matters are not entirely clear but more promising than I had expected.