Monday, November 24, 2008

Light The Fire

According to a report published in today’s Yideot Achracnot newspaper over half of all residents of Sderot have been hit by rockets since Hamas began firing into Israel nearly two-years ago. 74.2 per cent of the children live in fear, according to the survey. One expert said the problem wasn’t limited to security. Most of the residents felt abandoned by the government and the rest of the country.

These statistics come on the heels of an announcement by Minister of Defense Ehud Barak, who said that Hamas now has three times as many rockets than before the War in Lebanon in 2006. Some of the rockets, Barak said, could hit as far as Dimona, where Israel’s nuclear reactor is located.

Skeptics say that Barak is trotting out these figures in order to instill fear in the voting population, in hopes that his military background will be a positive chip in his pile when the time for new elections roll around. In a previous election Barak sent out the inflammatory “Tzav Shmona” (noice eight) envelopes, to raise the level of tension among the voting public. “Tzav Shmona” is the notice soldiers get when they are activated in times of war.

Some analysts say that the right-wing parties may garner as many as 65 seats in the next Knesset elections, to be held in February 2009, with Netanyhu at the helm. An editorial in today’s Haaretz newspaper concerned the rise of Bibi Netanyahu as the new leader and blamed Israel’s current Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for allowing Netanyahu to rise to power.

According to the editorial Olmert was to have resigned his position once the investigations began, leaving his second-in-command Tzipi Livni to take control of the Kadima party and fill out the remaining two-years the party had left in its elected term. However Olmert, out of selfishness according to the editorial writer, refused to step aside. The editorial also pointed out that State’s Attorney Manny Mazuz was reluctant to set a precedent and indict a sitting Prime Minister, hoping that Olmert would resign on his own. However Olmert thwarted Mazuz’s plans. The indictment, long overdue according to some circles, will wait until after the next elections. No one, it seems, wants to indict an Israeli Prime Minister.

However, this refusal by Olmert led to Tzipi Livni trying to form a new coalition in order to keep Kadma in power and avoid new elections. Had Olmert stepped down Livni would have assumed the premiership and served for out the two years remaining in the Kadma’s term. Rather, according to the article, Livni failed to form a coalition, forcing new elections. Bibi Netanyahu stepped this vacuum, exploiting the weakness of Livni, and the unpopularity of Labor Party leader Barak.. Had Olmert stepped aside, Netanyahu would still be on the sidelines, waiting for his comeback.

Olmert, according to the article, is now on an empty mission to Washington to meet with lame-duck President George W. Bush. According to press reports Olmert claims he will be discussing details of the sale of advanced US fighter aircraft to Israel, however neither Olmert nor Bush has the requisite authority to sign-off on any deal at this time. The writer hints that this is more an exercise in Olmert soothing his ego in a visit to the White House than any substantive result.

Netanyahu, by all reports, will be against any negotiations with the Palestinians or the Syrians. However, an article in today’s Jerusalem Post by Aaron Miller, once an advisor to both Clinton and Bush on the Middle East, there is no hope today of a pact with the Palestinians. Abbas is too weak, Hamas is too strong. The only partner at the table is Syria. Miller suggests pursuing the Syrian track, and not wasting time on the Palestinian issue. Miller excuses this line of thought with an apology; he writes he is a long-time “Palestine Firster” but in today’s climate, Palestine has to come second.

The economic meltdown in the USA has spread to Israel. The Israeli stock market dropped ten per cent, the bank shares leading the downturn. Israel Television’s Channel One reported last night that panic and fear had reached the Israeli markets.

Perhaps as a result of the meltdown, or simply a coincidence, but the Israeli giant Bank Hapoalim has been unable to operate for two days due to what bank officials claim is a “computer problem.” Workers in the local branches turn away customers with the claim that the “communications” systems aren’t working, and the problem lies with the Bezeq telephone company, that provides Internet service to the banks.

Another newspaper report said the government is mulling guarantees on the pensions of Israeli citizens over 60. A tremor has shaken the retirees sector as news reports rolled in crying about the crash of pension funds. One plan is to guarantee the income of anyone who is not making twice the national average of 3,800 shekels per month.

Other reports state that restaurants are beginning to feel the pinch, as diners eschew external culinary delights for the more modest fare in their own kitchens.

Due to the economic crises, Israelis who have lived abroad for many years are now considering a return to Israel because of the financial difficulties facing America and Europe. Israeli consulates in the USA report a vast increase in requests and information about return to Israel by former Israelis hit hard by the worsening economic conditions.

An Iranian citizen was executed on Saturday after he was tried and convicted of spying for Israel. Today, Commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Mohammad Ali Jafari said that the Iranian security forces have uncovered a Mossad espionage network, but did not name how many people were arrested in the sweep. According to the Iranians, the group was involved in gathering information on the Iranian nuclear program.

Another report states that Iran is busy supplying Lebanon with the latest missiles in its arsenal. This is an effort to show Iranian displeasure with Israeli meddling in Iranian affairs.

Yesterday, former Chief of Staff Moshe “Boogy” Ya’alon, who recently joined the Likud party, said that he would consider assassinating Iranian leader Achminijad. This statement did little to appease the Iranians. Last week Iran began holding military maneuvers aimed at defending itself against any attack. Israeli sources have continued to point out that Israel has not yet withdrawn from the idea of a preemptive strike on Iranian nuclear facilities.

Jerusalem’s new mayor Nir Barkat has yet to take office, but he has already made many inflammatory statements which pundits suspect he will never be able to enforce. Barkat said he would dismantle the controversial bridge over the entrance to the city, and pave over the light rail tracks that are under construction from Mt. Zion to Pisgat Zeev.

Pedestrians and drivers unfortunate enough to have to maneuver through Jerusalem’s streets these days find themselves stuck in snarled traffic, walking in crowded dirty streets flanked by trucks, tractors and building equipment, beset on all sides by the ugly ten-foot deep ten-foot wide pits dug around the city that will one day contain the infrastructure and be the base of the light-rail project.

Barkat’s latest statement was that he would replace the light rail line with more buses, perhaps even those powered by electricity. However, this begs the delicate issue of the Egged Bus monopoly in Jerusalem. Anyone riding the buses realizes quickly Egged is not about passenger comfort. The buses lurch around corners, jerk to stops sending the elderly scurrying for handrails. The company is more intent on profit than safety or comfort. For mayor-elect Barkat to suggest that Egged would be a reasonable alternative to a light-rail is like suggesting that a horse-and-buggy would be a more comfortable and safer ride than a modern sedan.

Even though trolley-cars have been around for a century, the modern system provides smooth safe rides. As the city’s population ages, this is a consideration. This writer on a rare bus excursion, witnessed one elderly man using a cane fighting for balance as the young driver gunned the gas away from a stop and jammed on the brake when approaching the next. The seats were hard. The floors were slippery. Clearly Mayor Barkat has not been on a bus for some time, or he wouldn’t have recommended Egged as an alternative to anything.

Reports are now coming out that Mr. Barkat is a self-centered egoist who is neither pleasant nor pliable. His reputation is one of an autocrat who likes to give orders and dislikes listening to advice or opinions. Should he continue in this vein it seems he will be polishing his act for the big show, the office of Prime Minister where ego, not talent or ability, seem the main qualification.

One wonders if salesmanship, perception, not reality, are not what drives a government, a country, the world. If that is the case than a good con man is all that’s needed. But when the time comes will the leader who says they can steer the ship of state actually be able to keep the ship on course, moving forward, in a fierce storm?. As Israel witnessed in the War In Lebanon II, just became someone’s a Prime Minister, doesn’t mean he knows what he’s doing.

The perception of reality isn’t the same as reality. When the virtual worlds flicker and die because of lack of electricity, someone better be around who knows how to light a fire.