Thursday, February 08, 2007

The Rudderless Ship

The exchange of fire between Israeli and Lebanese troops lasted all Wednesday night and well into Thursday morning, a resident of Moshav Avivim, on the Lebanese border, told on Israel’s Army radio.

But according to him, this is nothing new. The resident said that as far as he’s concerned the Second War in Lebanon never ended. “There is firing every night. And we still have tanks here. The lights knocked down during the war are still out, six months later. And the fence around the kibbutz knocked down by tanks in six or seven places during the war is still down.”

The resident, Avivim’s head of security, told the Army Radio that he hadn’t slept all night, but neither had his five children. “I’m not sending them to school today,” he said.

During the flare-up on Wednesday night the resident said that he wasn’t told by the Army to go into the shelters, or to stay out. “We weren’t told anything. At first we thought that the war had started again. All night we heard the firing. We didn’t know what was going on.”

A news cameraman for AP said he was in Avivim a week ago and the place still looked like an armed camp. “The roads are torn up. The fences are down. And there’s firing all the time.” He agreed that for Avivim the war has still not ended. This fact has not filtered down to the rest of Israel, nor out to the world, except in brief bursts of obvious activity like the one Wednesday night.

According to media reports an Israeli Army bulldozer crossed the border fence into disputed Lebanese territory to clear mines. The Army was careful to stay within the “Blue Line”, which marks the official Israeli border decided upon by the UN, but which Hezbollah claims is a mistake. According to the UN Israel was still within Israeli territory clearing the mines.

Lebanese forces opened fire on the Israeli troops. Israel returned fire. Tanks began shelling. Many Avivim residents took to the bomb shelters The fighting finally died down toward dawn.

Earlier in the week Israeli troops discovered a Hezbollah arms cache in the same zone. An exchange of fire was also reported during that incident, but not as long or involved.

Israel has reportedly decided upon a new tactic, which is to counter any Hezbollah or Lebanese infraction of the cease-fire with a rapid response. This comes as Iran has admitted it supplied Hezbollah with rockets sent through Syria. And with Syria saying they support both Hezbollah and Hamas.

However, Defense Minister Amir Peretz has said that Israel is not trying to escalate tensions on the border but will respond when Israeli soldiers are fired upon.

In the south of Israel more Kassam rockets fell on the negev, striking homes and fields near Sderot. Israel has responded with aerial attacks. The cycle of violence continues with no end in site.

The current talks in Saudi Arabia between Hamas leader Mashal and Palestinian Authority leader Abbas has resulted in an agreement on the formation of a new government. Israel’s Prime Minister Olmert has said that if the PA leader Abbas bends too far in Hamas’ direction Israel will stop supporting Abbas.

Israel has a new Minister of Justice. Prof. Daniel Friedman, 71, long a critic of the Israeli court system, was appointed to replace Haim Ramon, recently convicted of sexual misconduct. Prof. Friedman came out against the Ramon conviction.

Friedman reportedly believes that the Israeli court system has seized too much power, going beyond judicial matters and making government policy. Friedman is against this type of behavior by the courts. He reportedly also believes that both the courts and the press have been too aggressive in prosecuting politicians.

Friedman is reportedly a close friend of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, but the media believes that his academic credentials put him above any suspicion that he would look the other way in prosecuting Olmert. The Prime Minister is currently under investigation for cronyism, misuse of public office, and other matters.

A recent poll states that 75 per cent of the Israeli population has no faith in the current government. The elected politicians commitment to the betterment of the state is also in question.According to political analysts no one wants to take the unpopular Ministry of Social Welfare cabinet post, and the Ministry of Tourism is also one to be avoided. Neither of these portfolios have a budget, prestige, nor enough jobs to pass out to gain loyalty.

The fact that the poor are still poor, and still in need of help, goes ignored. Poor people don’t have political clout. The political question most people ask is will Defense Minister Amir Peretz step down from his job, which pundits feel he is unsuited for, in favor of another position. Peretz is fighting for his political life, trying to keep the prestigious cabinet post as leverage to keeping his job as head of the labor party.

Most pundits believe Peretz’ shelf life is short for both of these roles.
Many analysts also question PM Olmert’s long-term efficacy as head of the country. His ratings in the polls slip lower each day. His Kadima party would barely make up nine seats in the Knesset if elections were held today. Change is needed, but the inertia seems to be ruling these days.

Jimmy Carter slid into the Presidency back in the 70’s as an outsider who wasn’t tainted by corrupt Washington politics, and Nixon's dirty tricks. The risk in Israel is that a Jimmy Carter type may appeal to the population as an alternative to the immorality seemingly rampant in the corridors of power in Israel.

The problem is can a replacement for Olmert do any better, or will he simply be a well-meaning, upstanding, morally incorrupt individual without a clue how to run a country. Carter may have brokered a cold peace between Egypt and Israel, but he allowed Ayatollah Khoumani to rise to power, the Iranians to take over the US Embassy, and botched up nearly everything else he touched.

If anyone can step up and take over the helm of Israel’s rudderless ship and bring it safely to port, he, or she, hasn’t appeared yet on the horizon.