Sunday, June 10, 2007

A Year Later

Four men from the Islamic Jihad terror organization unsuccessfully attempted to kidnap an Israeli soldier nearly a year after a similar move resulted in the capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, still in terrorist hands somewhere in Gaza.

At about 1:00 PM on Saturday, four men driving a white jeep with TV and PRESS written on it approached the Kissufim border crossing between Israel and Gaza. The men exited the jeep and opened fire on an Israeli outpost. Luckily the outpost was unoccupied at the time.

Soldiers from the Givati’s Rotem unit quickly responded to the attack. The four terrorists took flight, one hiding in an empty water main. He was discovered by a Belgian Shepard, part of the Oketz dog unit of the IDF. When the dog entered the pipe the terrorist opened fire, killing the animal, but exposing his position. The terrorist, Mohamed Jabri, 21, of Gazi, a member of Islamic Jihad, was killed in the gunfight.

The other three terrorists escaped back into Gaza. Criticism was leveled at the commanders of the operation for not pursuing the terrorists into Gaza and apprehending or eliminating them.

Israel has responded to the latest attacks on the army and the rocket attacks on Sderot with precision strikes against Gaza targets, including brief incursions by the Israeli army. This tactic has been the one Israel’s Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi thinks is the most effective in dealing with the terrorist threat. Ashkenazi, however, has reportedly suggested expanding the attacks against the terrorist targets in Gaza, including sending in a significantly larger force.

Many military analysts think this tactic is a mistake, since it would only give Hamas and other Gaza based terrorists a reason to join forces against Israel. Currently the power-struggle between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority has resulted in scores of dead and injured among the Palestinian fighters.

Another consideration is the threat of attack by Hezbollah from the North. A British Newspaper, the Sunday Times, reported that Hezbollah has rebuilt its network of bunkers in Southern Lebanon working under the noses of the UN peace-keeping forces station in Lebanon to prevent just such an action. According to the report Hezbollah has as many as 20,000 rockets, including those with enough range to strike at Tel Aviv.

Other disturbing reports in the press warn that Syria is preparing an all out war with Israel in the near future, perhaps as early as this summer. However, two military affairs reporters, one for the daily Haaretz newspaper, and the other for Israel Brodcasting Authoritiy’s Channel 1, told Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet morning news show anchor Aryeh Golan that they checked all their sources in the Israeli military and could come up with no proof that such an attack was in fact imminent.

The Haaretz reporter speculated that the rumors of war were started by people connected to Labor Party leadership hopeful Ehud Barak. The Labor Party run-off election is scheduled for this coming Tuesday. Apparently the Barak camp believes that a security crises with Syria, or rumors of one, would result in Labor Party loyalists voting for Barak, who was a former Minister of Defense and former Israeli Chief of Staff. The reporters found no other basis to the media reports that Syria was planning any attacks.

Ami Ayalon, Barak’s rival for the Labor Party race, is the former head of the Israeli Navy, and former head of the Shin Bet, Israel’s FBI. Ayalon has teamed up with Israel’s much criticized Minister of Defense Amir Peretz, the current head of the Labor Party. In the first round of the Labor Party elections Peretz came in third behind Ayalon, and Barak, each of whom came in with nearly 40 percent, to Peretz’s 22 per cent. However recent polls show that Ayalon has lost points since Peretz announced his support. Peretz, pundits believe, is now an albatross around Ayalon’s neck.

Likud party leader Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu is the only serious contender to run against the Labor Party winner, should General elections for Prime Minister be held soon.

Meanwhile, controversy circles around the rumored Peace talks with Syria. According to press reports Syria has made overtures to the Olmert government to begin talks. Olmert has apparently expressed his willingness to give up the Golan Heights in exchange for peace.

The Golan Heights was also the subject of long arduous negotiations with the current Syrian President’s father. Those talks ended abruptly when Israel refused to give up a demand of access to a strip on the Western shore of the Sea of Galilee. Syria demanded all or nothing. Hafez Assad, the then President died shortly after. His son Bashir is reportedly interested in beginning the negotiations once again.

But it is not clear if the supposed negotiations are only for media consumption or are real. Syrian President Bashir Assad has said that he is prepared to go to war with Israel if negotiations do not resume. Many Israeli analysts think this is an insincere gesture on Assad’s part, meant to portray Israel as intransigent.

Israel’s army has been training hard since the last War in Lebanon. Military analysts still doubt if Israel is prepared on an organizational level to fight another war. It is the same reticence that applies to any Israeli action in Gaza. Until Israel exhibits a military competence which can act not only as a psychological deterrence to her enemies but a real one, analysts believe Israel is best staying out of the fray in Gaza, and Lebanon.

The West Bank is considered another theater of operations in which Israel has been operating with significant accomplishments. Leaders of the various terrorists organizations have been captured or eliminated in the last few months as Israel’s defense forces act with efficiency and near impunity.

But the West Bank, which is controlled by Israel, is not Gaza, but a muddy swamp with booby-traps strategically laid out waiting for the Israeli tanks and troops to roll in. Israel hopes to find some sort of formula, applying economic and political sanctions on Hamas, in an effort to decrease the rockets falling on Sderot, and neutralize Hamas as a governing entity. So far nothing substantive has come of these efforts.

Another dark vision of Israel was offered by former Labor Party MK Avrum Burg, who served as Speaker of the Knesset and head of the Jewish Agency for Israel. Burg has written a book in which he says that unless Israel gives up the idea of a Jewish State it is doomed.

Burg, son of Yosef Burg, a religious politician who served as a cabinet minister in many Israeli governments, encouraged Israelis to hold dual citizenship. Burg himself is married to a French woman, has French citizenship and said he voted in the last French election.. In an interview that appeared in the weekend Haaretz magazine, Burg said that Israelis had lost a Jewish identity. That they had to understand that without a Jewish identity they were doomed. Burg, who is now reportedly a ‘successful businessman’ said that he believes the separation fence was a huge mistake. He thought Israel had lost the ability to find humanity in people. Burg more or less compared the present Israeli policies to those of a fascist state.

Burg, who had teamed up with left-wing Labor, now Metetz politician, Yosi Beilin before he left politics, was mixed up in a few financial scandals since leaving office, but none resulted in indictment. Burg claims he was innocent of all charges. Once considered a leading contender for the leadership of the Labor Party, one of Shimon Peres’ bright young men, before resigning from active politics, Burg had sunk so low in popularity among the Labor party, mainly for his extreme left-wing views, that he had lost the chance of a “safe seat” in the general elections.

Cynics believe that Burg’s statements, which he made in conjunction with the Israel Book Week, where the publication of his book was announced, was a publicity stunt to sell copies of his work.

However, his statements were covered by every TV station and just about every newspaper, and were the subject of many discussions over Shabat tables. It was the first time a man of Burg’s stature has said that a Jewish state was not viable, and issued a warning to Israelis to get or keep dual citizenship.

Given the disinformation, if that’s what it is, about a war with Syria, the IDF’s inability to neutralize the threat of rockets from Gaza and missiles from Lebanon, that the political leadership seems mired in corruption, deceit and self-interest, perhaps Avrum Burg has struck a chord that will find favor among many Israelis.

Most of those interviewed disagreed with him. Israel was a nice place in a lousy neighborhood. Peace was not on the horizon. Hanging tough was the only solution. For those who wanted to, exile was the option, as Burg suggests. Only in that way could a Jew remain a Jew, with the moral Jewish fabric intact, otherwise the coarse, cruel, crude Israeli behavior had by necessity to take over in order to withstand the pressures of Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas, Iran, and others. Of course, few Israelis are willing to leave Israel, or become observant Jews, as Burg is. But a bunch will undoubtedly buy his book. Perhaps that was his goal anyway. Burg apparently doesn’t want the publication of his book to be like that tree that falls in the forest with no one around to hear it.