The Calm Before The Storm
The Calm Before The Storm
by Sarah Ann Haves
The United States is focused on health care reform; the economy; and homeland security after an attempted terrorist attack on an American airline. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is busy killing off the opposition to his presidency, cracking down heavily on massive protests on the streets of Tehran. The Pope is recovering from a fall he took after a woman jumped on him at a recent Vatican rally. And, Europe is recovering from one of the coldest snow-filled winters on record. There are few people paying much attention to what’s happening in the Middle East, especially with no tangible evidence of any advancement on the Israeli-Palestinian track towards a peace agreement.
NETANYAHU’S POLITICAL ENDEAVORS
The end of 2009 has provided a golden opportunity for Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to shore up his political support. Currently, he is striving, like he did in his first days in office nine months ago, to achieve a broadly unified government. Calling on opposition members in the center-left wing Kadima party to join his government, Netanyahu is looking to add to his already sizable coalition, and to weaken the power of his political foes, especially Kadima leader Tzippi Livni. But, while many may think this is a cynical political move on Netanyahu’s part to assure his government remains strong, it could also be his way of showing the world a unified front in the face of growing international opposition to Israel and his policies. Is this the “calm before the storm?”
THREATS TO ISRAEL ON SEVERAL FRONTS IN THE COMING YEAR
In 2010, Israel faces a military, diplomatic, and media war that will challenge Netanyahu’s leadership skills, and the resilience of the Israeli people. An unprecedented arms build-up in the Middle East has already cut into the Jewish State’s qualitative edge, and Israel’s enemies are tipping the balance of power in the region.
In January, Israel’s home front will begin emergency drills sending the country’s citizens to bomb shelters in preparation for what may eventually be the largest missile war Israel has ever faced. Already, the Home Front Command has begun testing alarm systems in several parts of the country; is setting up a citizen volunteer network in case of a major disaster; and, is conducting security drills at Ben Gurion Airport. The IDF has also instructed certain Israeli companies to purchase active protection full-body suits in case of a chemical or biological attack against the Jewish State. With these clothes, Israel’s electric and water companies can continue to provide services to the public in a future crisis.
Without the means, yet, of achieving a strong defense against short and middle-range missiles hitting the home front from enemy territory, Israeli skies remain vulnerable. By mid-year 2010, Israel hopes to have its anti-missile defense systems in place so that it can deter its enemies. But, will the Jewish State’s northern and southern borders remain quiet until that time?
BUILD-UP OF ARMS IN GAZA
Recently, Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak alluded to preparations for an imminent war with Hamas in Gaza. The Hamas terrorist government has been reportedly smuggling in Iranian long-range missile parts, as well as advanced anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles. Hamas is also building large missile silos that will have the capability of launching over 20 rockets at a time. Learning from Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas is extending its network of underground tunnels which now connect open fields to urban centers. This allows its operatives to freely move from one battlefield to another. The terrorist government is also preparing its own secure phone network, similar to the one that Hezbollah has built in Lebanon.
Though Israel defeated Hamas in the 2008-09 Gaza war, it did not completely destroy its capabilities, and Hamas has re-built its weapons arsenal to include thousands of rockets that have a range of 40-80 kilometers. Some of these rockets can hit Tel Aviv.
HEZBOLLAH IN LEBANON
While Hezbollah has stated it does not want war with Israel at this time, the Jewish State is worried about the arms build-up that is occurring on its northern border. Israel sees Hezbollah as a terrorist army now integrated into the national Lebanese army. Hezbollah has tens of thousands of missiles and terrorist fighters deployed in southern Lebanon, with rockets that can hit not only northern Israeli cities, but are long range enough to hit southern parts of Israel, as well.
IRAN’S ON-GOING NUCLEAR GOALS
In the case of Iran, the failure to comply with increased UN sanctions, and the inability of the diplomatic community to find an effective solution to Iran’s nuclear program, will put greater pressure on Israeli defense forces to prepare for a military confrontation with the Islamic state. Israel is still aware of the problems it faces if it has to act alone against Iran, and therefore, continues to look to the U.S. for help in military preparations.
Meanwhile, the current revolution in Iran gives Israel hope that the present regime might be replaced by a more moderate regime that will be friendlier towards Israel. Israeli government leaders have said that whatever regime is in place, Iran’s future nuclear capability remains the greatest threat to Israel in 2010 and beyond.
DIPLOMATIC CHALLENGES FOR THE NETANYAHU GOVERNMENT
On the diplomatic front, Netanyahu continues to battle American and European pressure to give the Palestinians their own state on land acquired by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War. The European Union (EU) and the UN would like to impose a diplomatic solution on the Israeli government that would force it to not only withdraw to the 1967 borders, but also oblige it to share Jerusalem as the capitol of two states – Israel and Palestine. So far, Netanyahu has remained steadfast not to succumb to that pressure, counting on a majority of Israeli citizens to back him up. Instead of an imposed solution, he continues to try and jumpstart peace negotiations with the Palestinians, but to no avail. However, he firmly believes that an imposed solution would be no solution at all. U.S. special Middle East envoy, George Mitchell is due to arrive in Israel in January, attempting now to find a bridging solution for starting peace talks again between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
After the unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, which did not lead to the furthering of the peace process, a majority of Israelis are opposed to more concessions on Israel’s part. Facts on the ground have revealed that concessions to the Palestinians; or, “confidence-building” measures that attempt to help the Palestinian Authority government; don’t seem to lead to solutions for solving the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. It also does not lead to greater favor for Israel within the international community.
Nevertheless, in a last ditch effort to try and get Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to the negotiating table, Netanyahu recently imposed a 10-month freeze on settlement construction within the 1967 borders. Critics of Netanyahu’s policy think it will be hard for him to diplomatically un-freeze this settlement policy after the 10-month period has concluded. Already, this has caused civil unrest between the settlers and the Netanyahu government. Any attempt to go beyond the settlement freeze, to a permanent shut-down of construction in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria), would only exacerbate these tensions, and could cause a violent uprising between the settlers and the Israeli government.
There are some leaders in Israel, like current President Shimon Peres, that think the only problem stopping Israel and the Palestinian Authority from signing a peace agreement is the fact that the Palestinians in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza are not unified. While Peres may like to see the Palestinians unified in 2010, many in the Israeli government would not. A unified Palestinian front would only increase international support for the Palestinian cause, and put greater pressure on the Jewish State to give up more land for peace. The Palestinians would unify their political and military forces, and demand contiguous territory between the West Bank and Gaza, threatening Israel’s security interests in the territories.
TOUGH DECISIONS AHEAD
For years, Netanyahu has been a leader who has spoken tough about not caving into the demands of terrorists. Today, half of Israeli society wants to see the Israeli government conduct a prisoner exchange with Hamas to free captive POW, Corporal Gilad Shalit, who was kidnapped by Hamas in 2006. The other half of the Israeli population does not want the Israeli government to free Palestinian prisoners with “blood on their hands.” They fear that those Palestinians, who have murdered Israeli citizens in the past, could continue to murder more in the future if released from prison. Netanyahu, along with six other members of his inner security cabinet, are trying to make a decision that could eventually split the Israeli consensus in half – whether to see Shalit freed or not. In releasing mass murderers from jail in exchange for Shalit’s freedom, the government’s final decision may cause a backlash in 2010 that threatens Netanyahu’s government coalition. This is another reason why he is shoring up his political support at this time.
OTHER KINDS OF WARS ISRAEL FACES
International human rights groups are expected to continue to accuse Israel of war crimes in the coming year, threatening to plague the Jewish State with cumbersome lawsuits. It will also make it more difficult for Israeli senior diplomatic and military leaders to travel abroad without having to face arrest warrants.
Whatever Israel needs to do to secure its northern border with Lebanon against the aggressions of Hezbollah, and its southern border with Gaza against the aggressions of Hamas, may result in Israel afflicting heavy casualties on its enemies. This will play into the hands of a biased global media. Israel faces an unprecedented media war in the future, fed by an advanced technological display of anti-Israel propaganda.
Without an international Geneva Convention revision of laws concerning rules of engagement in war, Israel will be confronted with greater threats of criminal trials for war crimes. Future media reports, depicting Israel as the Goliath, and Middle East terrorists as little David’s defending themselves from the “occupation”, will only fuel the fire of unrest in the nations, and anti-Semitism will increase, especially in countries with large Moslem populations.
Trying to form a stronger unified government coalition that crosses all sectors of Israeli society; made-up of many politicians with diverse opinions; is a miracle in and of itself, as Netanyahu prepares for the coming storms.
Then again, trying to keep the calm on Israel’s military, diplomatic and media battlefields, hoping that the Jewish State will outsmart its enemies, will be nothing short of a “nes gadol” for the Netanyahu government…. the greatest miracle of all!
Ms. Haves is a news analyst, reporting from Israel on political, diplomatic, military and spiritual issues affecting the nation.
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