Sunday, July 21, 2024

Israeli Military Response in Yemen, Olympics and Other Updates July 2024

It is not often that I write blogs so closely together but sometimes there are so many things going on that I feel the urge to put together a few in a row in rapid succession.  This often happens just before or during Israeli elections or when there are some very unusual, challenging or different events taking place.  So whether or not you managed to read my blog from Friday July 19, 2024, I have put this one together to cover 6 or 7 items that I wanted to write about.  In a way, this might be viewed as an extension of the last blog but, quite simply, there are so many things going on here that I felt I just had to put this one together.  Of course it helps that today is Sunday - and I do not really have to work too hard on my normal business today (which is looking quite hectic for the coming week, thankfully).  So here goes - I have divided it into a bunch of headings and I hope you will find it interesting.

1. The Israeli Counter-Attack on Yemen

As you probably read, Israel launched a counter attack against the Houthis in Yemen yesterday.  Israel attacked the port town of Hodeidah, Yemen, which is apparently used as one of the main supply areas for the delivery of weapons from Iran to the Houthi forces.  Interestingly, Hodeidah had a large Jewish population at one time, with members of the Jewish community very active in trade, commerce, crafts and other artisanal efforts.  As with most of the rest of the Yemenite Jewish community, the Jews of Hodeidah left Yemen as part of Operation Magic Carpet in 1948-49 and immigrated to Israel.  

The targets hit by Israeli forces included oil fields and power stations.  Israel used fighter jets that flew on a 1700 km mission (each way) to carry out the counter attacks.  The attacks came after Yemen claimed responsibility for its drone attack against Tel-Aviv on Thursday night that killed one Israeli and injured 8 others.  Since October 7, 2024, the Houthis of Yemen have also been launching numerous missile attacks against Eilat and other parts of Israel, attacking Israeli ships and other ships bound for Israel - and taking other hostile actions against Israel.  The Houthis are armed, trained and supported by Iran and have been used as one of the proxies of Iran since October 7, 2023 to attack Israel without the attacks coming directly from Iran other than on one occasion.  The Houthis have reported that 3 people were killed and many others injured in these Israeli counterattacks.

The Houthis, the Iranians and various other groups are now vowing further attacks against Israel in response to this counterattack - so it seems reasonably likely that things will continue to escalate between Israel and Yemen and sooner or later between Israel and Iran - which is the main source and force behind just about all of the fronts that Israel is currently facing in the current war.

I just saw an interview with a Tel Aviv resident who was asleep on his balcony one building over from the drone attack in Tel-Aviv.  Debris from the drone crashed  through his makeshift roof and destroyed one of the two sofas he had on the balcony.  He was sleeping on a sofa that was connected to the other sofa that was destroyed.  He was in remarkably good spirits for someone who had been just a few feet away from likely death.  When asked about this, he said "I am especially thankful that the debris didn't destroy my barbecue.  That would have been a real disaster."  

I don't mean to make light of the situation.  One person was killed by this drone attack and 8 others were injured.  But sometimes, a sense of humour is the way people deal with very stressful situations.

2. The Olympics

As you know the Olympic games open this week - on Friday.  Some events start before the official opening. The Israeli men's soccer team will be playing its opening game against Mali on Wednesday.  That is very exciting since it is only the second time  in Israel's history that its soccer team has qualified and will be participating in the Olympic games.  In the first round, Israel will also play Paraguay and Japan.  They will need to come up with some major upsets to get out of this group and advance to the next round.

But the big story in Israel - is the security concerns.  Israeli athletes in a wide range of sports have been receiving death threats, mock funeral notices and subjected to all kinds of other intimidation tactics.  

The athletes all seem resolved to press ahead, represent Israel and put their trust in the security arrangements that are being made to protect them.  But these threats are very frightening and I can imagine that it must be quite difficult to have that additional layer of worry - while preparing for the biggest sports challenge of one's life.

3. Adidas

In a related note, as you might have read, Adidas chose this occasion to roll out a new advertising campaign for a retro shoe - its 1972 version of one of its sneakers.  Hmm.... Adidas chose to use Bella Hadid for its advertising campaign.  Hadid has been a fierce defender of Palestinians and Hamas since the October 7, 2023 attacks.  And as you might recall, 1972 is the year in which Palestinian terrorists attacked Israeli athletes and murdered 11 athletes and coaches.  So when you string all of this together, this was quite obviously a pro-terrorism, anti-Israel campaign by Adidas to commemorate, in a positive way, the massacre of Israeli athletes.  Completely disgusting.  After receiving all kinds of complaints (Not only from Israelis and Jews), Adidas has apparently "suspended" this offensive campaign.  Adidas has claimed that it "didn't make the connection..."  I will leave it to intelligent readers to draw their own conclusions.

4. Ultra-Religious Enlistment    

As you might recall, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that Israeli Haredim (ultra-religious) are no longer entitled to an exemption from the army and must now be recruited like everyone else.  Apparently, today is the first day that thousands of ultra-religious 18 year-olds began receiving conscription orders.  It remains to  be seen whether they will actually report for duty and if so, how many, but there is a sense that the landscape on this issue is starting to change. We may soon seen large numbers of Haredim in the Israeli army.

5. Prime Minister Netanyahu

Prime Minister Netanyahu is planning to fly to the U.S. this week and address a joint session of Congress. He is also supposed to meet with President Biden and apparently he will also meet with former President Trump.  The meeting with Biden is contingent of course on whether Biden is healthy enough to meet Netanyahu and whether Netanyahu can be assured that Biden is no longer contagious. Netanyahu is not particularly interested in picking up a case of Covid - even though thousands of Israeli soldiers are risking their lives as we speak in much more dangerous ways.

Netanyahu is, of course, looking to bolster U.S. assistance in the war with Gaza as well as all of the other fronts that Israel is currently facing - including Hezbollah, the Houthis, the Syrians, the Iranians, the Iraqis and other potential threats.  Netanyahu is certainly looking for assurances that the U.S. will continue to supply much needed weaponry as well as diplomatic support.

For the U.S., the current administration is quite interested in bringing the war to an end and is likely to push Netanyahu to agree to a deal.  Apparently, the parties are fairly close to a deal though there are a number of issues that have not yet been resolved.  One issue relates to the Gaza-Egypt border - and what assurances will be in place to keep Hamas from being resupplied with weapons through this border.  Israel would like to retain some level of control over that border which it now controls.

A second concern is that Hamas has been insisting on the right to send armed forces to reestablish control over northern Gaza.  Israel has not been prepared to agree to this condition, which would lead to further hostilities very shortly.

There is some concern that Netanyahu will be using the trip to try to pressure Biden and campaign implicitly (if not explicitly) for Trump, just as he did while Obama was President. It is a calculated gamble by Netanyahu since there is always the possibility that things could turn around for the Democrats and he will have alienated an administration that he would have to work with.  Moreover, it is not even clear that Trump will be as supportive as expected, if Trump does win.  J.D. Vance has espoused some very isolationist views and is certainly unclear that Trump will be as great for Israel as many assume.

Finally, it hasn't escaped anyone in Israel's attention that Prime Minister Netanyahu's son, Yair, will be celebrating his 33rd birthday on Friday July 26, 2024.  Netanyahu will of course stick around after speaking at Congress to help his son celebrate.  It is unclear what form the celebrations will take or whether they will be paid for by the State of Israel. No one seems to know what Yair is even doing in the U.S. but he has requested a diplomatic passport and full 24 hour security detail.  I'm not about to speculate on what Yair has been up to - (other than sending out obnoxious twitter feeds) but I know that his father really enjoys fine wines, Cuban cigars and high end meals.  So it will probably be a pretty nice celebration, wherever it takes place.

6. Flying to Israel

As you may have seen, Air Canada announced that it would now cancel all flights through November 2024 at least between Canada and Tel-Aviv.  El Al stopped flying directly a while ago.  So if you are planning a trip between Toronto and Tel-Aviv, you can either fly through the US and connect with one of the El Al routes - or you can travel through Europe.  El Al flights are generally heavily booked and very expensive.

For my next flight, I am planning to fly Aegean via Greece and the pick up an Air Canada flight.  We will see how that goes.  I haven't tried that route yet.

That's all for now.  As usual, hoping for a deal that leads to the safe return of all of our hostages, the safety of our soldiers, some type of lasting peace deal for the whole region - and best of health for everyone otherwise.


Friday, July 19, 2024

Iranian UAV Strike on Tel-Aviv July 2024 and Other Updates

I have put together another blog with a few updates and a variety of issues - since there are so many different things going on here. This is really just a limited snapshot of a few things I wanted to highlight - so I hope you find it interesting and informative.

UAV Attack on Israel

Tel-Aviv was hit today by an Iranian UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle), which was launched by the Houthis (a proxy of Iran, operating out of Yemen).  Apparently, at least 5 of these UAVs were launched from Yemen and four of them were shot down by the Americans, from somewhere off the coast of Yemen.  The Israeli military claims that it was tracking the UAV but decided not to shoot it down.  It is hard to understand why this gross miscalculation occurred but the the bottom line is that the military failed to shoot down the threat.

The UAV crashed into an apartment building in Tel-Aviv, just two blocks from two of our immediate family members.  This was around 3:30 a.m.  One person was killed and 8 others were injured, all civilians.  Within a short period of time, as slew of ambulances arrived to care for the injured.  Thankfully, none of our family members were injured though we are obviously deeply concerned about the loss of life of the one victim and hopeful for the speedy recovery of the other eight. 

A military spokesman for the Houthis announced that this attack was "in sympathy with the Palestinians of Gaza" and promised that further attacks would be carried out.  Although Israel is technically in a state of war with Yemen and has no peace treaty with that country - Israel has never previously been engaged in any kind of direct hostilities with Yemen (or with Iran for that matter) prior to October 7, 2023.

This is a crazy situation and it is unclear how Israel will respond. It is obviously completely untenable for the security of Israel to sit back and absorb lethal attacks like this from Yemen without responding.  

The War

As you  probably know, the war in Gaza and the war with Hezbollah in the north both continue to rage on.  There is some sense that the Israeli army is operating in Gaza at a greatly reduced capacity - though there is still a great deal of fighting still taking place in several areas.  Last week, Israel carried a targeted assassination attempt on the life of Mohamed Deif, who is or was one of Hamas' top military commanders - and one of the masterminds behind the October 7, 2023 massacre.  Deif was surrounded by several Hamas military personnel and other top Hamas commanders.  There has been no official confirmation by Hamas or by the Israeli army that Deif was killed but the top commander with whom he was meeting was identified by Hamas has having been among those killed.

Israeli reports have indicated that  somewhere in the range of 15,000 to 18,000 Hamas military personnel have been killed in the fighting since October 7, 2023 - with estimates of the Hamas forces in Gaza running up to 40,000 or so.  Many others have been injured or taken into custody.  

Although the Hamas military has suffered a significant blow, the Hamas leader, Yehiah Sinwar, still seems to view this whole war as a victory for Hamas.  Hamas has managed to tilt the public and political opinion in several countries towards the Palestinians - some of whom have even decided to declare recognition of a "Palestinian State" (without any defined borders).  Sinwar has stated that he would be willing to sacrifice the lives of several hundred thousand Palestinians to achieve his long term goals (presumably as long as he and his family members are not among those being "sacrificed.").

While there are apparently ongoing talks to try and reach some sort of agreement to free the 120 Israeli hostages that Hamas is holding in Gaza and reach some sort of cease fire, there is no reason to believe at this point that a deal is imminent.

Prime Minister Netanyahu's government relies on the support of the far right parties, led by Itamir Ben-Gvir, Betzalel Smotrich and others, all of whom have stated that they will not accept this type of deal.  They are looking for a complete surrender by Hamas - and they compare this to the deal the Allies were seeking when fighting the Nazis in World War II.  Essentially, they are less interested in trying to save the lives of whichever hostages are still alive (possibly 30-60, according to some reports) and more interested in trying to achieve a "complete victory."

There are many in Israel challenging this perspective, including past and current heads of the Mossad, various high ranking military personnel, and a wide range of politicians - even some on the "right."  They are concerned that this "complete victory" may not be achievable, that all of the lives of the hostages will be lost and that there is no plan for what comes next, even if this type of victory can be achieved.

The long and the short of it is that Netanyahu does not seem to be in any hurry to end this war - and certainly not on the terms that have thus far been proposed.  Or at least, he does not seem willing to abandon his coalition partners to agree to a proposal of the type that is currently on the table.

In my view, this is not something that is easy to navigate.  It is clearly in Israel's best interests to do everything possible to save as many of the lives of the hostages as possible.  This has always been an expectation of every Israeli government - and is like a contract with the citizens of Israel.  If there is a deal that can be made that will save a large number of lives - that must be an urgent priority for Israel.

The flip side is that if the deal that is envisioned would allow Hamas to resume importing weapons, underground, from Egypt, Israel will simply face the same types of attacks weeks or months later.  There needs to be a second track that is dedicated to figuring out how Gaza can be run or administered in a way that will not present an ongoing threat to Israel - and which entity will be responsible for that administration.  I am not even sure that there is an appetite for this on the Gaza side of the border - but the status quo is obviously untenable.

The war in the north has also been raging on with daily hostilities between Hezbollah and Israel.  Hezbollah has continued to launch all sorts of attacks against cities and towns in the Israeli north and many have been lethal.  Homes and institutions have been destroyed throughout the north and more than 100,000 Israelis are currently displaced from their homes and living in make-do arrangements in different parts of Israel.  Aside from the human cost - in terms of civilians and military personnel who have been killed and injured in the north, the economic damage has also been massive.  For example, many of the wineries in the north have suffered massive damage.  This week a sizeable percentage of the Pelter vineyards were set aflame and destroyed.  Many other wineries have suffered massive damage.  That is just one example of an industry that has paid an enormous price for this war.

Yet the Israeli military response to all of this in the north has been relatively restrained. Israel has stated repeatedly that it is trying to finish the Gaza war first but this has led to a horrible situation for Israel's northern residents who are feeling abandoned.  In this regard, even many of Netanyahu's critics on the left have called for a much greater response from Israel towards Hezbollah, even at the risk of escalation with Iran.  Some have speculated that the U.S. has dictated this policy - to avoid a direct and massive confrontation with Iran - but that is unclear.  For its part, Hezbollah has stated that if an agreement is reached between Hamas and Israel - it will cease its attacks against Israel.  From Israel's perspective, that will only be good  enough if Hezbollah withdraws its forces from the border and agrees to abide by previous cease fire agreements which have required Hezbollah to adhere to a demilitarized zone within a defined area of Lebanon.

The ICJ

Amidst all of this, Israeli TV broadcast some of the proceedings of the ICJ - the International Court of Justice - attacking Israel. Led by a Lebanese judge - the level of bias, irony and pure ridiculousness is, frankly outrageous.  It is in many ways even worse than watching a group of Trump-appointed judges on the U.S. Supreme Court rule that he is immune from most criminal prosecution.  But I digress. 

I won't dignify the ICJ further by spending more time on it - but the whole situation in Israel since October 7, 2023  has demonstrated the incredible double standard and bias to which Israel is subjected on the world stage.  Much of that is attributable to the fact that there are some two billion Muslims in the world and only about 13 million Jews.  But you can be sure that if any other country were subjected to the type of massacre that Hamas carried out in Israel, the type of response would be virtually unlimited.

Imagine, for example, what the U.S. would have done, if 9/11 had killed ten times as many people proportionately - and had resulted in the taking of hostages and  ongoing missile attacks against U.S. territory.  You can be sure that the U.S. would have taken every possible step to eliminate the threat completely. Of course if this type of attack were carried out against other UN luminaries, like  Russia, Iran, China or others, you can imagine what they would do.

Managing in Israel

Medical Issues and Getting an MRI

I have from time to time written about different issues relating to life in Israel.  Some people reading these sections might not be interested at all and some might be curious about how some of these things work in Israel.

As you may know, the Israeli medical system is a universal health care system, similar to the system in Canada but with some twists.  Unlike the Canadian system, Israelis can choose to pay more and see a doctor privately.  As well, instead of a monopoly system, like OHIP in Ontario, there are four or five competing HMOs and Israelis can choose which one they would like to have as their provider.  

The Israeli universal system includes dental coverage, a subsidized pharmaceutical program and  a range of other components.

I recently suffered a bit of leg injury and required urgent care.  The HMO that I use (Maccabi) runs a fractures and urgent care clinic and urges you to attend that clinic for non-life threatening injuries.  If you go to the emergency section of a hospital and you are not actually hospitalized, you can face a "co-pay" of approximately $500 Cdn.

The urgent care clinic conducts x-rays on site but not ultrasounds or MRIs.  So I was able to have an x-ray taken relatively quickly with the good news that nothing was broken.  However, the treating physician recommended an ultra-sound.

Booking this is somewhat centralized - so we were able to phone a few times and find a cancelled appointment opening in Jerusalem the next day (about an hour's drive).  After that, we were assured that the radiologist would provide a report within a  week or so, which was exactly the time it took.

We were lucky enough to have a connection to an orthopedic doctor - which can normally take several weeks to see, if not longer, like in Ontario (unless you want to pay privately).  We were willing to visit late at night and wait two hours in a reception room to see the doctor.

In the meantime, we received the report and the report included a recommendation to book an MRI.  This can take several months to book, unless you can find a cancellation.  But there is a process that is available - which we followed.  You get the approval form from the HMO and then send an email to each hospital's MRI department individually and request an appointment.  We sent out 14 such requests by email  - and - ta-da - managed to get an MRI scheduled for the next day at 1 a.m.  We were told that it could take up to 3 weeks to get a radiologist's report and we are still waiting - but it does seem that if you are willing to travel and flexible on timing - you can get an MRI scheduled reasonably quickly in Israel.  (If you want to pay privately, you can apparently pay about $1,200 USD - which is another option).

Identity Cards And Driver's License Renewals

My driver's licence was due to expire next month.  For renewal of a licence in Israel, the process was ridiculously easy.  You simply go online, pay the fee - and they use their existing file photo of you to renew the licence for a ten year period.  Perhaps on the downside, it was not necessary to do a vision test, a health test or any other kind of check. I'm not complaining - since my new licence is on the way - but it was even easier than renewing a licence in Ontario which is really not that bad. And it was about $200 Cdn for a 10 year renewal.

Renewing a vehicle permit is much more rigorous.  You have take your car to a testing centre, each year, and have it pass a test in order to renew the permit.  This is a full test of all aspects of the vehicle - brakes, lighting, steering, exhaust, you name it.  The line-up at these testing centres can be quite long.  Our car apparently had a lighting problem - where the front headlights were  insufficiently intense.  We were told that there was a "recall" on our vehicle for this problem and the dealership should fix the problem for free - even though we had just recently gone for full service at the dealership.  So we went back to the dealership - and after some back and forth - they finally agreed to change the lighting  as part of the recall.  Then we had to go back to the testing centre - and wait in a  line again (a slightly shorter line for follow-up visits) and get retested.  But it all worked out.  Overall, much more time-consuming than renewing a licence - but this probably explains why all of the cars on the road in Israel are in such great shape....(If you are not laughing, you are overdue for a visit here).

Israelis also have to have and carry around a "National Identity Card" which serves as a combination of an SSN/SIN and/or a photo ID that can be used instead of a drivers' licence.  You would not normally think that this was not something that would expire - but I was advised that Israel is moving to a fully biometric system and that my current ID would expire in January 2025.  If I didn't renew mine - I would be left without an identity....

So I went online to find a date to book an appointment and found a date in mid-September.  But of course there are new cancellation dates released every day as long as you are flexible.  So we found an appointment the next day and drove up to Hadera (about 45 minutes north) for an early morning meeting.  I had my old ID card - which is a photo ID - but that is apparently not enough for the clerks.  I also needed to answer a whole pile of questions -  my parents' first names, my wife's parents' names, my kids names, the date of  my anniversary, the year we arrived in Israel - and a few others.  I managed to pass (turns out that I really was who I said I was....) - and then posed for a new photo and was assured that my new identity card would be in the mail within three weeks or so.  Obviously not nearly as efficient as renewing a licence but perhaps the ID card is even more important in Israeli society.  Of course I am comforted in knowing that I will not lose my identity.

I probably have several other anecdotes that you might find amusing - but I have to save some material for future blogs.

For now, as with my past blogs, I am continuing to hope for  the safe return of all of our hostages, the safety of all of our military and other security personnel, an end to this war with some type of viable solution in place for long term peace  and my general best wishes for health and safety for all of us.  Shabbat Shalom.






Sunday, July 7, 2024

July 2024 Israel Update

We are into the summer months - where it is, of course, very hot here in Israel.  It has been 9 months since Hamas launched its massive terrorist operation and massacre in Israel - and the war is still continuing on several fronts.  So, in my normal blog style, I am writing a few comments about how  things are seen here, where things might be headed - and some other remarks that come to mind.  I'll add in a bit of sports and other comments for fun.

The War

I think in wartime, it is very hard to get any really accurate news.  So my comments are really limited to what I gather from a variety of sources including Israeli news (Ynet Hebrew, the Jerusalem Post, the Times of Israel, Haaretz, Channels 11, 12 and 13 (we don't watch Israeli channel 14 - which is like Fox news but but with less truth and even more extremism).  I also try to read articles in the New York Times, CNN, the Canadian newspapers - and sometimes, for a totally different perspective (though not that often) Al Jazeera.

The war with Hamas in Gaza is continuing on.  Some reports seem to be indicating that the Israeli army is close to determining that it has defeated most of the Hamas armed brigades and that it can only continue with small scale operations.  At the same time, there are still somewhere in the range  of 120 hostages in Gaza, though we do not not how many are still alive - and the main leaders of Hamas including Yihyeh Sinwar and Ismail Haniyeh are still alive. I believe that the army planned to conclude this operation in a much shorter time period.  

Things have been slow partially because Israeli has gone out of its way to minimize civilian casualties and partially because the army has also made efforts to minimize Israeli military casualties.  On the Israeli side, 679 soldiers have been killed since October 7, 2023, of whom 323 have been killed in fighting since October 27, 2023.  The official Israeli government site lists a further 4,000 soldiers as having been wounded.

According to Hamas sources, estimates of Palestinians killed are in the range of 35,000.  However, that does not differentiate between civilians and fighters.  Israel had estimated that Hamas had about 30,000 fighters divided into 5 divisions before October 7, 2023.  Israeli military reports indicate that quite a large number of these fighters have been killed or wounded in fighting.  Many others have been captured.  Some Israeli reports had put the percentages at 50-60% of the Palestinian  casualties.  We also know that Hamas tends to exaggerate its numbers.  So there is a strong likelihood that the number of military casualties on the Palestinian side is in the the range of 15,000-20,000, perhaps even more - and the total number of civilian casualties in closer to the range of 10,000.  We do not know the exact numbers but the Israeli troops are not out there fighting and killing civilians.  They are fighting armed military units and it is very likely that this would account for most of the casualties on the Palestinian side.

The point is that the allegations of "genocide" being thrown around against Israel are clearly ridiculous by any sane definition or measure.  It actually degrades the meaning of the word "genocide" to try and suggest that Israel's war against Gaza - falls into the category of situations around the world where civilians are massacred en masse, deliberately - or to even begin to compare this situation to Nazi Germany and the Holocaust or to the slaughter of Armenians by the Turks, the Rwandan genocide or other such atrocities.

There are many reports that suggest that a deal to end the Gaza war is being negotiated but I am not holding my breath at this point, for several reasons.

First of all, at this point, Hamas is looking for a deal where they will return about 22 live hostages (out of about 120) and still stay in power.  Although much of Gaza will have been devasted, Hamas will sell that as a big "win" and will try to rebuild its forces, restock its ammunition and get ready for another round.  This would be a major defeat for Israel - and would leave us with another ticking time bomb.  

It is unclear that Netanyahu is even interested in this type of deal, even though the U.S. is pushing for it, and it is unclear that he can muster political support for it.  Many Israelis, even those who do not support Netanyahu would like to see  a more decisive defeat of Hamas which seems attainable, according to Israeli military sources.  

At the same time, Hamas does not seem that eager for a deal either.  They figure that they have picked up major international support for this war - especially from the despicable leadership of countries like Ireland, Spain and Norway - and they do not really care about civilian casualties.  They would prefer to be able to consolidate power, rebuild and restock and argue that they could not be defeated by Israel - even if that means thousands of additional Palestinian casualties.

Concurrently, Israel is fighting an active war with Hezbollah up north, Iran's proxy forces.   Every day, Israel has been subjected to barrages of rocket attacks, missile attacks and rpgs.  Thousands of Israelis have evacuated their homes and the border towns are all ghost towns - other than military personnel.  Soldiers and civilians are being killed - and shockingly, Israel's Prime Minister, Netanyahu, previously self-described as "Mr. Security" has done very little to counter all of this.

Many in Israel are calling for a major war in Lebanon to fight Hezbollah and try to move the Hezbollah forces out of the border area in Lebanon.  It is hard to say what will happen but this seems very likely.  There is a possibility that some kind of deal with Hamas will also bring about a deal with Hezbollah.  But a Hezbollah deal seem even less likely than a Hamas deal since Israel would need guarantees that the Hezbollah forces would move back from the border and refrain from attacking Israel. There is such a deal in place from 2016 but Hezbollah has simply refused to honour it.  Any such deal would need enforcement provisions, "teeth" and perhaps real international guarantors.  I suppose anything can happen, but it seems that a major war with Lebanon is more likely than a deal of this type.

Of course the other major threat is an all out war with Iran.  Israeli historian Benny Morris (who at one time was a far left historian and then later moved to the right) has called for Israel to launch an all out war against Iran as the only way of defeating the threat from Hezbollah, Hamas and other enemies and to eliminate the Iranian nuclear threat against Israel.  While there is some logic to this given that this whole war has been a proxy war with Iran, I hardly think that Israel, with its 10 million people - is in a position to start launching all out wars on the whole middle east with hundreds of millions of enemies. 

Perhaps Netanyahu is hoping that Trump will win the U.S. election - and will actively support an all out war against Iran.  Or at least the threat of one.  I'm not sure what to say about this - other than it would really throw the whole region into something massive and unpredictable.  As if things are not already difficult enough here. Contrary to Netanyahu's expectations, even if Trump wins, I think it is far from predictable that Trump would support the kinds of activities that Netanyahu has in mind.  

Ultimately the difficulty we have in Israel is that we have a leader, Netanyahu, whose decisions are necessarily coloured by his own political and legal predicament.  If the war ends, his coalition might fall.  His trial might continue.  A national inquiry might be launched.   He could face all kinds of personal and political challenges - that he views as worse than continuing the war.  He could even face new and additional criminal charges.  Yes, this is a cynical view but it is compelling.

Under Netanyahu, who was supposed to provide security, deterrence and a strong military, Israel has never been weaker, even though he has his dream "fully right wing" coalition in place.  The war with Hamas has taken much longer than expected, the hostages have not been released, the leaders of Hamas are still in place and a large number of soldiers have been killed or injured.  

In the north, thousands of Israelis are still displaced, Hezbollah has been attacking Israel at will, and Israel has done very little to respond.  The economy in Israel has faced all kinds of challenges - and relatively few airlines are flying here.  There is simply no way to assess this situation as favourable for Netanyahu unless one is completely blinded by support for him and his party.

Other Israeli Politics

Despite all of the above, Netanyahu's coalition can stay in power until October 2026 unless one of the parties leaves the coalition.  Two of the parties are ultra-orthodox and would have nowhere to go politically.  One of the parties is made up of far-right extremists and they would also have nowhere else to go politically.  So as long as things don't change  dramatically, his government is fairly "safe" for now, contrary to whatever his political opponents or other  commentators might say.

The one potential way that the government could collapse is if his own party collapses internally.  This possibility has been increasing but is still relatively low.

Just to review a few possible issues - Netanyahu's coalition partners have demanded a few things and some members of his own party - have been reluctant to support them.

One major demand of the ultra-orthodox is a blanket military exemption for all "ultra-orthodox" males up to the age of 25.  There were different proposed pieces of legislation in place - and the Israeli supreme Court had issued an ultimatum that this needed to be addressed by June 1, 2024.  When the date came and went and there was still no legislation, the Supreme Court ordered the conscription of the ultra-orthodox.

As a result, the ultra-orthodox have been demanding that the coalition pass a bill to protect them from this Supreme Court decision. (Referred to by opponents as the "Draft Evasion Bill").  Netanyahu is willing to do so. After all, he will do anything to stay in power, seemingly.  But there are more and more rumblings in his party - Likud members who have begun to come out and say that they will not support  this type of bill.  This could lead to a no-confidence motion or it could lead to Netanyahu withdrawing the bill -  and the ultra-orthodox might decide to pull the plug. All in all, I think the latter option is unlikely since any deal they might get would be worse after an election and they know that.

I have to point out that, at the same time, the IDF has indicated that it needs more recruits in the short and long term.  The ultra-orthodox answer is to extend the service time for  existing conscripts and reserve soldiers.  This type of bill has been floated.  But once again - there is quite a bit of resistance to this from other Likud MKs in the governing coalition.

The ultra-orthodox have also been trying to pass another bill - to provide for the centralized hiring of some 600 ultra-orthodox rabbis by the State and to give them the authority to take over religious control of towns and cities across Israel.  This bill has been referred to by opponents as the "Rabbi corruption law."  Once again, a number of Likud members have come forward and stated that they will not support this bill.  So this is another potential area where things could explode.

The far right coalition members have different ideas. They would like annex the west bank, build settlements in Gaza, continue the war - and generally avoid any kind of deal with the Palestinians.  They are threatening to bolt the government if Netanyahu actually reaches a deal with Hamas.  A deal could be saved by the support of other non-coalition Knesset members but this would cause the government to collapse.

Many Israelis listened attentively as the U.S. Supreme Court granted wide reaching immunity to President Trump for various alleged criminal conduct.  Before this whole war broke out with Hamas, Israel had been gripped in a national fight over proposed judicial reform by Netanyahu and his political partners.  The proposed reforms were intended, ultimately, to do exactly what Trump succeeded in doing in the U.S.  Stack the court with a bunch of right wing idealogues who would do whatever he wanted - and then grant  him wide ranging immunity from any criminal charges.  Netanyahu, like Trump, figured that this would be his "get of jail free" card.  So far, Netanyahu has not yet succeeded and the war has probably set him back quite a bit politically in his efforts to get this done.  Netanyahu is, however, looking enviously at Mr. Trump - who probably had quite the celebration  when the Supreme Court immunity decision  came out.

One more comment on Israeli politics.  The Labour Party and the Meretz Party have banded together to form one left wing bloc - though they still have to formally approve the merger.  The party is being led by Yair Golan.  Golan is a  former Israeli general who saved many Israelis on October 7, 2024 when he rushed into action and became a "one-man army" driving around, fighting Hamas terrorists and rescuing Israelis.  He is forceful, opinionated and resolute.  On the one hand, he is of course, a supporter of a strong IDF and not afraid to use IDF forces where appropriate.  On the other hand, he is very much in favour of finding a long term resolution with the Palestinians that is workable - and of protecting democracy in Israel from the threats of those that have been in power currently.  I am not thrilled that they have decided to call the party "the Democrats."  I would have suggested something more Israeli, with less baggage and less Americanized.  At the same time - I think they are likely to do quite well in a national election - and that much of their expected gains will come at the expense of Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz.  But we may not know until 2026.

Sports

Israelis are huge soccer fans, as you know, so the big news here has been the FIFA Euro 2024 Soccer Tournament. Everyone is watching even though Israelis don't really have a horse in the race.  The games are on at a reasonable time and the soccer is at the highest level in the world (just about).  Once the Euro tournament is over, Israelis will look forward to watching the Israeli national team compete in the men's Olympic soccer tournament for only the second time in Israel's history. Israel will play Mali, Paraguay and Japan.  That should be very exciting. Maybe Israel can come up with a win  or two - and advance to the next round.

My preferred sport as you know is ice hockey.  I stayed up some very late nights to watch the Stanley Cup finals and cheer for the only remaining Canadian team. It was a tough loss for the Edmonton Oilers - but the fact that the Oilers were able to come back from a 3-0 deficit and get to a game 7 was really incredible.  

So with no more ice hockey, I have turned my attention to watching some of the "Coppa America" - the North/South America FIFA soccer tournament.   As you might know, the Canadian national team has advanced to the  semi-finals and will play Argentina on Tuesday night.  That is the furthest any Canadian team has ever advanced in a top level soccer tournament.  While it is expected that Canada will get pummeled by Argentina - anything can happen in one game.  Maybe Canada can pull out a big surprise and get to a final against the winner of Uruguay-Columbia.

I can't say that I have watched very much baseball as the Blue Jays have been atrocious and baseball does  not attract very much viewership at all here.  I'm still happy to go to a game or two when I am in Toronto - and to support the kosher food provider there - that expanded the menu this year.  But it is really more about spending time with friends, enjoying the weather etc., than watching the underperforming Jays play.

Other Comments - Worldwide Protests and Anti-Semitism

I couldn't let this blog conclude without a few other comments on this issue.  As you many know, pro-Hamas "encampments" have been put up all over the U.S. and Canada - and many other places around the world.  

In Toronto, a bunch of hoodlums - (let's not mince words - we can also use "terrorism supporters") invaded the University of Toronto and put up a tent encampment.   They set up their own "security forces" and  controlled entry to the area. They chanted antisemitic slogans, harassed students and others and occupied a chunk of U of T property.  And of course demanded that U of T "divest" from anything to do with Israel.  In what sane universe is this permissible?  U of T should have called in the police immediately, to remove and/or arrest all involved.  This should not  have been allowed to last even one day. I think the University of Alberta took the proper approach when it cleared out a similar encampment immediately. 

But instead, the encampment remained in place for approximately two months.  U of T went to court to get an injunction and the Ontario Superior Court issued a 61 page decision last week - ordering the protesters to dismantle the  encampment and leave  - which they did.  The decision was striking.  The Judge spent the majority of the decision making all kinds of unnecessary comments and  findings that had nothing to do with the real issues - and were simply bad precedents.  In the decision, Justice Koehnen of the Ontario Superior Court, bent over backwards to find that the actions of the protestors were not "antisemitic" or violent  and seems to even suggest that their demands were justified.  Thankfully, he also concluded that the University of Toronto had no legal obligation to negotiate with this band of thugs and that there is no legal right to simply build an encampment and take over a property that belongs to someone else.  From my perspective, this probably should have been a three page decision with those conclusions.

But Israel continues to face these kinds of challenges all around the world from Pro-Hamas/Pro-Palestinian demonstrators who are calling for the destruction of Israel.  Israeli PR efforts have fallen short (other than some major crusaders like Noa Tishby - who has been phenomenal).  This is partially attributable to the disarray of the current Israeli government and its inability to appoint or designate proper and  competent people to lead these efforts.

There are probably other things that I need to cover, but I will have to leave some topics for next time.  My plans to be back in Toronto  were delayed for a bit due to personal reasons but I am hoping to be back in mid-July.  Wishing everyone the best of health - and wishing for peaceful times for all of us, Israel and all of its neighbours (as well as other locations around the world), the release of all of our hostages and the safety of our soldiers.  We are thinking of all of the families of victims, casualties and losses since October 7, 2023 and hoping for better times.