Thursday, July 19, 2007

Bit of Bother

Israel’s State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, a retired judge, issued his scathing report on the Israeli Home Front’s response to the Hezbollah rocket attack during the War in Lebanon II. Then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Lindenstrauss exchanged insults yesterday after the controller found fault in the government's care for the home front during the war against Hezbollah last summer. Lindenstrauss blamed PM Olmert, former Defense Minister Peretz, Chief of Staff Halutz, and Home Front Commander Yitzhak Gershon for flawed decision-making. He wrote that these "captains of the ship of state" failed to prepare the home front for an emergency, he said, and once the war began, they neglected the home front, which was "vulnerable to large-scale attack from the first days of the war."

According to the report Israel had three years to prepare for the attacks, but did nothing.
When the attacks started, the government did nothing to evacuate the Israelis under fire.
After the war broke out, various professional bodies presented the government with estimates of the damage the war would cause. These assessments included a description of the home front's preparedness for rocket and missile attacks. But the government did not discuss these assessments until the 19th day of the war.
After the report Knesset members from all across the political spectrum called on PM Olmert to resign. The Prime Minister's Office responded to the report and said Lindenstrauss is using his massive report on the preparedness of the home front in a campaign against Olmert.

"As usual, Lindenstrauss is seeking to hurt people instead of concentrating on the job the Knesset has given him," the office said in a statement, adding that Lindenstrauss was "misusing the task he has been set."
But Lindenstrauss rejected this accusation. He responded that "The report isn't a matter of feelings. The criticism is professional, and I hope that everyone who reads it …] will behave in a statesmanlike manner," Lindenstrauss said.

Meanwhile, the government has announced a postponement in the results of the Winograd commission investigating the war. This also pushes off early elections, since Labor leader Barak has said he would call for elections after the results of the commission were published.
According to the Israeli Yideot Achranot daily newspaper, parts of the testimony of Social Welfare Minister Yitzchak Herzog were made public on Thursday. According to copies of Herzog's testimony Herzog believed that had the war not happened for two or three years Hezbollah might well have had weapons of mass destruction. "I say we may be very lucky, despite the pain, that this war is taking place now and not in three or four years from now," Herzog said.
Also, a senior Israel Defense Forces officer said Thursday that Hamas may well have Katusha rockets capable of hitting a large swatch of Israel. The officer said that Hamas has been able to smuggle in a large quantity of weapons primarily because the border with Egypt has been completely porous following the militant group's takeover of the Gaza Strip. The officer said that over a recent thirty-day period Hamas smuggled 20 tons of explosives into the Gaza. The IDF believes Hamas now possesses anti-aircraft missiles and anti-tank rockets, but in small quantities.
While the officier didn’t believe Hamas wanted a confrontation with Israel at this time, he did believe that Israel and Hamas are on a "collision course" in the Gaza Strip. He said that Israel does not have unlimited time to deal a serious blow to Hamas' strengthening in the Strip. Meanwhile, Kassam rockets continue to fall on the Souther Negev almost on a daily basis. A rocket fell on a home in Sderot today, no injuries were reported.

But another type of problem has arisen on the Egyptian border, but farther down the road. The porous border between Egypt and Israel has been used for months by Sudanese refugees seeking asylum in Israel. The border has no fence for over 200 kilometers and refugees simply walk across. One army officer interviewed by Jerusalem-Magazine said he was ordered to load the refugees onto a bus and drive them to downtown Beer Sheva where he was told to open the door and release them.
These refugees can’t be returned to Egypt, because under the law they can only be returned to the country where they are citizens. Israel has no diplomatic relations with Sudan, so the refugees can’t be returned their,either. These refugees have become a political hot potato. Israel has had to build special camps to house them. At the same time the government has reportedly ordered a fence built to stop the Sudanese from simply walking across the border.
In a related development the Egyptians have closed off the Egypt/Gaza border crossing at Rafah. According to press reports thousands of Palestinians are trapped in an airport on the Egyptian side of the border. The Rafah border terminal, the only gateway for Palestinian travelers to the world not controlled by Israel, has been closed since June 9, since Hamas took control of Gaza. Analysts say this is an Egyptian tactic to put pressure on Hamas to negotiate a peace deal with the Palestinian Authority.
But some believe the problems are not only from outside. Today, 23 percent of first-grade pupils are ultra-Orthodox and 22 percent are Arab. In another 12 years, when they reach voting age, they will together comprise the majority, and the face of the nation will change, according to economist Nechamia Strassler, writing in the Haaretz Newspaper, in an article entitled The end of Zionism.

Strassler wrote that “The decline in motivation to serve in combat units and the steady rise in draft-dodging raise the question of whether the Israel Defense Forces is really still "the people's army." He wrote, “25 percent of those eligible for the draft never serve at all, and that 11 percent receive exemptions for yeshiva studies, 7 percent for health reasons, 4 percent reside abroad and 3 percent have a criminal record. Of those drafted, 17.5 percent do not complete a full three years of service. The sharpest rise in the number of draft-dodgers is among the ultra-Orthodox. In 1974, they comprised only 2.4 percent of those eligible for the draft. Today, the figure is 11 percent.”

About two months ago, the Knesset, by a large majority, approved the so-called Nahari Law, which compels the municipalities to grant equal funding to ultra-Orthodox schools that are not part of the official education system. According to Strassler, “These are extremist institutions, which do not even recognize the education systems run by Shas and United Torah Judaism and are unwilling even to hear about the Education Ministry's "core curriculum." They do not teach mathematics, English, nature, science, civics, geography or history. In other words, they deliberately fail to train their graduates for a life of work and productivity. So these graduates have no choice but to cling to the coattails of ultra-Orthodox activists.

On top of this, yesterday the Knesset decided to extend the Tal Commision’s recommendation, which allowed Yeshiva students to avoid army service. Strassler said, “The fact is that 80 percent of ultra-Orthodox men do not work; instead, they live on government grants and stipends and the earnings of their wives. After all, why should they risk their lives? Why should they leave their comfortable incubators as long as the secular donkey is there to bear the burden for them?”

According to Strassler this sector should be forced to work and serve in the army. He wrote that Israel is now in a situation in which “only 56 percent of the country's potential workers actually work - the lowest rate of any Western country. And if this rate declines any further, Israel will sooner or later reach a situation in which the taxes of the few who still work will not suffice to support the many who do not.”

What Strassler doesn’t say is that Israeli university students, who are protesting a proposed fifty-percent rise in their tuition, should be livid. These are men and women who mostly serve in the Israeli Army, join the Israeli work force, and then pay taxes. Why should they be discriminated against in favor of the ultra-orthodox Yeshiva students for any reason other than politics? The present government, like those before it, needs the religious parties votes in order to get a majority of votes to pass legislation. The students, who deserve the subsidy, have to dig into their pockets, or that of their parents, to pay tuition, and usually work a part-time job to help defray the costs of their education.

On another front, Iranian Premier Achmanejad met with Syrian President Assad in Damascus today. With Assad talking about a peace deal, it’s possible Achmanejad came to give him an anti-peace pep talk. Professor Behor, of the IDC college in Herzlyia wrote in Yediot Achranot today that every time Israel comes close to a peace deal with Syria, the Syrians back away. One guesses Achmanejad won’t have a hard time persuading Assad to stop any peace talks. Many analysts believe Assad is merely stalling for time while he and Iran rearm Hezbollah.

With existential threats from implacable enemies, like Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran, Israel needs cohesion and leadership, not divisive political backbiting and maneuvering. The only trouble is, which political leader on the horizon, or buried in the corner of his kibbutz, can step up and bring the country together, ready not only for peace but for war.