|Irone Dome System|
As you know, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, both recognized terrorist groups, have been firing rockets, aimed at civilians, towards Israel since last Sunday. Fortunately for Israel, there are Iron Dome stations set up around the country which have been able to shoot down a high percentage of these rockets. But Hamas has fired thousands of them - and quite a number have scored direct hits which have injured and killed civilians. Two were killed today as a result of a rocket attack. They were foreign workers from Thailand working in a factory. These attacks are all aimed at killing civilians That is the primary purpose of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad rocket fire.
The IDF has responded with a massive aerial bombardment. It has targeted the Hamas underground tunnels that encircle Gaza and provide sanctuary for Hamas and Islamic Jihad fighters. It has also targeted the homes of Hamas and Islamic Jihad military leaders and a range of other targets. Israel's army has made extensive efforts to avoid civilian casualties, including warning residents of attacks in certain places. But despite those efforts a number of civilians have been killed along with a much higher number of militants. I should add that many of those who have been killed in Gaza have been killed by errant Hamas rockets. Apparently, a sizeable number of the fired rockets don't make it out of the strip and explode or land in Gaza with often catastrophic results.
According to various news reports, Egypt is leading the efforts with Qatar, to negotiate with Hamas and Israel and try to bring about a cease fire. According to some recent reports, the Egyptians told Hamas that if they were to stop firing rockets, Egypt would take the responsibility of ensuring that Israel agreed. Moreover, Netanyahu announced earlier today that we have "attained significant accomplishments," which some have interpreted as indicating that Israel is ready for a cease-fire. But Hamas apparently refused the request and has continued to fire hundreds of rockets. They are trying to get a major "achievement" - whether a significant hit on a civilian target, a military target, an economic target or some other type of "gain." As long as Hamas continues to fire rockets, Israel will continue going after a wide range of Hamas and Islamic Jihad targets in Gaza.
Unlike in the case of some of the past Gaza wars and operations, Hamas and Islamic Jihad have managed to stir widespread sympathy and participation in the form of rioting within Israel itself. Last week, there were protests and riots in Lod, Akko, Nazareth, Haifa, all Israelis cities with sizeable Arab populations. I wrote about this in an earlier blog. In response, some extremist Jewish groups - including the Kahanist Religious Zionist party and its members reciprocated with comparable and equally deplorable attacks on Arab Israelis, under the auspices of "protecting" Israelis in the absence of the police. There have been many arrests but it is unclear how extensive this problem will become.
In the desert - south of Beer Sheva, Bedouins knocked down highway lights and began throwing rocks and shooting at some passing cars. Some roads were closed and Israel has had to step up security operations in the South. These are all considered "internal" problems but they have stretched and taxed the Israeli police greatly.
North and East
A few rockets have been fired from Israel's northern border - from inside of Lebanon. Last week, some of these landed in the water. This week, some landed within Lebanon itself. As of now, there are no significant signs that this war will expand to include Lebanon. But the Middle East is somewhat of a tinder box and things could change at any time.
To our east, the Palestinian Authority called for a "Day of Protest" today. Now, fortunately, this is apparently different from a "Day of Rage." But nevertheless, there were at least two incidents where Palestinians in the disputed territories fired live ammunition at Israeli troops. The IDF fired back, of course. The Palestinian leader Mahmood Abbas is very weak politically right now. He has delayed elections in an effort to avoid suffering an embarrassing loss to Hamas and it is unclear that he can keep a lid on these protests.
Palestinians in these territories are heavily armed now as a result of various accords with Israel. If the rioting and unrest spreads to include armed Palestinians in these territories, this could become a full scale "Intifada" - this time with both sides using extensive live ammunition. Great efforts are being made by both sides to keep this from happening, but they will require a fairly early end to this war.
Israel tends to be fairly isolated internationally in these situations and has historically relied heavily on the United States, particularly at the UN and the UN security council. There are only about 15 million Jews in the world and more than 1.8 billion Muslims. So it is not surprising that Israel does not receive widespread support - irrespective of the specifics of any particular war or operation.
To this point, most Israelis have been pleased to see that President Biden has held his ground in the face of significant international pressure - as well as significant pressure from many members of his own Democratic party. These "progressive Democrats" and some others have urged Biden to put all of the pressure on Israel to stop the operation but without corresponding calls for Hamas to end its rocket fire - or even a recognition that the Hamas rocket fire was the source of this war in the first place.
For Israel, some of the statements from a handful of vocal Democrats, led by Bernie Sanders, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar and others, have been outright frightening - and would lead to a significant U.S.-Israel rift if such sentiments were to become policy. On the other hand, Nancy Pelosi and others have bolstered President Biden and refrained from taking the bait and turning support for Israel into a partisan issue.
Ultimately, I certainly believe that the U.S. should make meaningful efforts to bring this operation to a close and prevent it from spreading more broadly. But that does not mean creating an equivalency between the actions of Hamas and the actions of Israel - or placing all of the onus squarely on Israel to end this war. To this point, it seems to me that President Biden has been dealing with this appropriately. I would imagine that his actions now will also play into his future credibility with Israel and others in negotiating more long term solutions, which are desparately needed.
At the same time, it seems clear that President Biden will only be able to hold out so long and that within a few days, the U.S. will begin to exert greater pressure on both sides to end the fighting if the Egyptian efforts are not successful. Prime Minister Netanyahu also seems to have begun to recognize that it is time to push harder for a cease fire even if, politically, he might prefer to stretch things out a bit longer.
A Bit of Israeli Politics
Yair Lapid, leader of the Yesh Atid party, has 15 days left to try and form a government. But his putative partner, Naftali Bennett has officially abandoned him - and his potential Arab coalition partners have become politically averse to joining this type of coalition with corresponding aversion among some of Lapid's intended partners. As a result, it seems highly unlikely that there will be a "Change Coalition" forming a new government in Israel over the next two weeks.
Prime Minister Netanyahu has circulated rumours that he is now negotiating with Gideon Saar, had of the New Hope Party (who was firmly in Lapid's camp before the war started) and even with Benny Gantz, head of the Blue and White party. It is, of course, unclear whether there is any truth to these rumours or whether they are Bibi's way of trying to "divide and conquer" the opposition. Ultimately, a fifth consecutive election in Israel is becoming an increasingly likely event. There may also be some chance that Prime Minister Netanyahu will succeed after all in forming an "all right wing government" at the last minute to avoid another election.
Alene's entry in 2020, was the highly acclaimed "Feker Libi" which included a wide range of musical influences. Many Israelis thought she had a very good chance of winning the contest. But alas, Covid arrived and Eurovision 2020 was one of its casualties.
Since the 2020 event was cancelled, Alene was given another chance. But the Israeli production team put together a new song called "Set Me Free." The song is somewhat less compelling. Now Ms Alene not only has an inferior song to work with - she is also facing the political fallout of the Gaza war. Eurovision is a notoriously political event. Given the events that are currently taking place - it is very unlikely that Alene will have a chance of winning - even though she is incredibly talented. As cheesy as the contest is, we will probably try to watch some of it to support her but she is facing quite an uphill battle. Even if she loses, I would predict that she will still become a superstar in Israel and perhaps, internationally as well.
I think I will end this for now by noting that I am quite excited, as a distraction to see the Toronto Maple Leafs playing against the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of this year's Stanley Cup playoffs (that's Ice Hockey in case you weren't sure). While in Israel, that means watching games that start at 2:30 a.m. Perhaps I will be in Toronto for some of the games though it doesn't look like there will be any fans in the stands in Canada any time soon (unlike the U.S. where hockey arenas are being filled up thousands of fans as if the virus had ended). Usually, the Toronto Maple Leafs find a way to disappoint their fans. After all, they have not won a championship since 1967. I'm not optimistic that this year will be any different but I always enjoy watching hockey playoffs.
Hopefully things will calm down here in Israel very soon - and will stay calm in the rest of the world as well (I have seen some very disturbing reports of demonstrations and violence aimed at the Jewish community in London and other cities around the world - including Toronto and Montreal).
Wishing everyone the best of health and hoping to see some of you soon in Toronto - or, of course, here in Israel.