Friday, January 12, 2007

Israel at the Abyss?

Israel's Army Radio reported Friday morning that the two soldiers captured in
Lebanon, Ehud Goldvasser and Eldad Regev are alive and well. According to
reports from Lebanese officials the two will be released within a couple of
months. .Miki Goldvasser, the mother of Ehud, was informed that her son was
alive and well by the Army Radio moderator during a live broadcast. She was
happy to hear the news, and hoped that the Israeli public pressure would
continue for the soldiers' release.

In retrospect it is strange the Army didn't contact her before she heard the news on live radio. Perhaps she did. She certainly didn't seem overwhelmed by the news, sort of took it in stride. But it made me happy. Best news in a long time. Most Israelis assumed they were dead.

The newspapers also carried the latest polls, detailing the slide of the ruling Kadima party from 29 seats garnered in the last election to an estimated 12 if elections were held today. Labor would pick up 19. According to the poll the Likud would take Kadima’s place with 29 seats, up from 12 in the last election. According to the poll only 20% of those who voted for Kadima in the last election would do so today.

One of the reasons, according to analysts, is the public’s lack of faith in Kadima leader Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and his ability to lead. His public approval rating has shrunk to 14%. Another reason is that four members of Kadima are currently under investigation for various illegal activities. The recent tax scandal implicated Finance Minister Hirschson. The papers report that the Attorney General is considering an indictment against Prime Minister Olmert for his involvement in influence peddling over the sale of Bank Leumi. Kadima former Justice Minister Chaim Ramon is in the last stages of a sex harassment trial.

Likud’s former Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu would lead the Likud ticket with a 50% rating, over his rival Silvan Shalom who comes in at about 18%. Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, favored by 40% of Laborites, is now the favorite to take over the Labor party, with former Admiral of the Navy Ami Ayalon a distant second. Current Labor party leader Defense Minister Amir Peretz is far down the list of favorites to lead the party.

Ami Ayalon is a fresh face in the Labor party, and he is running on a peace platform. He has formed an association with a well-known Palestinian intellectual Professor Sari Nusseibah, President of Bir Zeit University in Ramallah. The two of them have a petition signed by 170,000 Palestinians who want peace.

According to a recent interview in the Jerusalem Post, Ayalon says that peace with the Palestinians is possible. That the vote for Hamas was a protest vote against Palestinian Authority corruption. That most Palestinians, 70% by his polls, want a two-state solution with Israel. He firmly believes a dialogue and solution are both possible. He says his polls show that most Israelis would accept a two-state solution with the Palestinians.

Ayalon also says that Israel can militarily withstand Arab military assaults for 400 years, but that some peaceful solution to the Palestinian conflict is a necessity for Israel’s quality of life. He is also, of course, highly critical of Israel’s leadership, and their behavior during the last war. According to Ayalon, before the first war in Lebanon the army spent 18-months preparing and discussing. This war was launched with 2-hours of discussion, and the results show it. As a fresh face with military leadership experience, Ayalon will give Barak a run for who will lead the Labor party.

One Kadima party official, Yaacov Edri, defended Kadima, saying that the polls reflect today’s opinions, but the elections are not for another four years. He suggested that the public wait until the various indictments and trials are over before drawing conclusions. The implication was if those accused are found innocent the public’s support for Kadima might return.

Then there is the on-going public debate if there is or isn’t going to be a war this summer with Hezbollah in Lebanon. Thursday night Gen. (ret.) Amos Yaron, director-general of the Defense Ministry, appeared on Israel Television detailing how the Hezbollah was taking its time rebuilding its arsenal. He said that many advisors to various heads of different military intelligence branches give their own opinions about what is going on, but no one has a definitive answer if there will be a war or not.

He also said that there may be talk of peace with Syria but so far it is only talk about talk about peace. He said that Syrian leader Bashar Assad has said he may be willing to talk about the terms for a discussion, but that is a long way from agreeing that he would talk about peace, or about a peace treaty.

According to Israel’s Army Radio Hezbollah fighters have doffed their uniforms and are meandering in Southern Lebanon in street clothes, so as not to attract the attention of the UNIFIL troops. The radio said that intelligence reports state that new weaponry supplied by Syria and Iran are being placed into new bunkers all around Lebanon.

At this juncture, with a far off but still real threat of nuclear attack by Iran, and a closer threat of a conventional war with Hezbollah and perhaps Syria, Israelis are living once again closer to the edge of the abyss. Israel is a strong vibrant country, compared to its Arab neighbors Israel is a model of efficiency, honesty, and economic success.

These attributes must be measured against the danger Israel faces. Wars are like jurys; no final verdict is a slam-dunk. Anything can happen in a jury room just as anything can happen during a war. Expectations can be dashed, as they were in the War in Lebanon II.

Israel’s enemies have not gone away, nor will they, until their lust for vengeance and justice, at slights real or imagined, is appeased. Each war has seen them grow in military sophistication. Hard as Israel tries to stay ahead of the technological curve, something vital when facing vastly superior numbers, there is no assurance that technology can replace leadership, determination and good planning.

The last war was a draw. Israel succeeded in neutralizing Hezbollah’s long-range missiles within the first 30-minutes of fighting. But underestimated the effect of the 4,000 short-range that wrecked terror and destruction on the million people in the north.

Had these long-range missiles fallen on Tel Aviv as well as Haifa, the entire face of the war would have been different. The military is now reporting that Hamas in the South of Israel is developing missiles that can go past Ashkelon, and are working with Iran on missiles that can hit Tel Aviv. In the next war Israel may be bombarded from both sides.

A technological breakthrough in missile defense could well neutralize these threats, defeating Israel’s enemies in their ambitions to wipe Israel off the map, something espoused by Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas. They’d go back to the drawing board if they could see missiles wouldn’t help them. Israel should be putting all its resources into finding an anti-missile defense. This would also work to neutralize the Iranian threat.

Perhaps, with a real modern defense, and practical leadership, Israel would be given another decade of relative quiet, until Israel’s enemies discovered some new weapon, or strategy. With a change from governments of self-interest, power mongering, and the old-boy payoff network to one of self-sacrifice, idealism, and even patriotism, Israel can withstand the latest existential threats.

Meanwhile, Israel is sort of like Harrison Ford in one of the Indiana Jones films; over there a few miles in, still on the flat part of the land, faced with a horde of killers out for blood coming at them, with a five hundred foot gorge behind him.

Israel is not yet at the edge of that gorge. Israel is still in the flatland. If a way can be found to keep the enemy back, Israel might continue to grow, and prosper.

If not, nothing is certain.