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Current Israeli politics

Posted by aviel on May 31, 2012

I haven’t written yet about the current Israeli politics as I’ve been trying to update myself on it after a few years of neglect. One of the problems, and really what makes Israeli politics so interesting in my opinion, is that the issues here are so bloody complicated. I figure that a blog is a good outlet for thinking about these issues, as well as learning to write about them. If you’re not at all interested in Middle Eastern politics then there is not much point in reading further.

Coffee, the newspaper and a shaded place while enjoying 25 degrees Celsius, is a great way to start the day.

First and foremost there is the Iranian issue. There is hardly a day when the various officials, politicians, generals and former spy chiefs, don’t speak out on the issue. It’s hard to make up my mind on this, and those who proclaim to ‘know’ or who profess certainty on the matter, seem rather foolish to me. A lot of analysts seem to believe that PM Netanyahu and DM Barak have made up their minds and are the main drivers behind the process leading up to an eventual attack on Iran. Against them stand, among others, former Mossad Chief Meir Dagan who spoke out yesterday, reiterating his position that an attack would at best be limited and actually speed up the Iranian acquisition of nuclear bombs. It would, according to him, unite the Iranians behind the regime and legitimize their nuclear aspirations. Also former IDF Chief of General Staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, spoke out saying that Israel won’t have to live under the umbrella of a nuclear Iran, that there is still time to let diplomacy to run its course. In any case, it seems less and less likely that either Israel or the US would attack in 2012, given the upcoming US elections. Worth noting is that there seems to be a general consensus, in Israel as well as in the US, about the Iranian nuclear aspirations. The question is how the hell will the Iranians be stopped?

A potential sign of Israel gearing up for attack could be seen in the surprise-move to expand the government with the inclusion of the main opposition party, Kadima. The government now enjoys the support (as far as that goes in Israeli politics) of roughly three quarters of the Parliament, thereby postponing the expected elections until the end of the next year. That is true today though, might not be tomorrow. The problem with grand coalitions is that they foster discontent among both voters, who look for an alternative, and among the elected officials who see their relative influence diminished by far. The task of getting all these officials to agree on policy has got to be daunting. I’m not sure we can expect this coalition to last very long, but if the coalition deal is secretly a way of creating a national-unity government, in order to carry out an attack on Iran, we would be talking about something else entirely. I doubt it though.

At times the West really gives in to wishful thinking, as seen in the latest rounds of negotiations with Iran. The naive optimism shared by many decision makers, and various officials, ran up against the reality of the Iranian intransigence. In essence, the Iranians bought a month of accelerating the enrichment of Uranium, exactly what the Israelis kept saying would happen, and the IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano was made a fool of. This same wishful thinking led to the intervention in Libya, with no plan for the day after and with serious political ramifications. Besides spreading chaos into neighboring countries, such as Mali, the intervention also sent the message to all the remaining despots of the world that the only way to secure their regimes from Western attacks is to develop WMD. One should recall that Qaddaffi gave up his weapon’s programme in return for guarantees, in one of the sole successful outcomes of the NATO invasion of Iraq.

It’s not hard to understand why people call for some kind of intervention in Syria as well. The violence of the regime is appalling, no doubt, but what is known is that the regime is in possession of chemical weapons that would have to be secured in the event of an intervention to topple the regime. Chances are that those weapons would end up in the hands of various terrorist organizations, chief among them Hizbollah in Lebanon, on Israel’s northern front. The head of the IDF Northern Command, General Yair Golan expressed his concerns about this scenario yesterday. He further warned of the need for an Israeli operation in the north to prevent this from happening, should it seem likely. There’s just no way Israel could live with chemical weapons in the hands of Hizbollah, which is rapidly arming itself with more advanced missiles that can reach the Tel Aviv area. But in any case, I doubt that the US or the EU have much appetite for yet another intervention in a Middle Eastern country. Elections in the US and the potential break-up of the Euro zone will surely prevent that.

On a completely different note, after a wave of rapes and crime in Tel Aviv the debate about the rapid influx of Sudanese and Eritrean refugees have really heated up. At the moment the government’s performance is patchy at best. By the UN definition the illegal immigrants from these countries are to be considered refugees and should not be forced to return to their home countries. Israel abides by this, in the meantime. On the other hand, while these immigrants are let in on a collective basis as they show up on Egyptian border, after having crossed the Sinai dessert, they are refused the legal right to work and other social services, except for in case of medical emergencies if I understand correctly. Well, it’s hardly surprising that some, certainly not the majority, would turn to crime if they have no legal way of making a living. How does the Israeli government respond? By seeking harsher punishment on those who illegally employ these immigrants. And by building a fence on the border. With the last policy I happen to agree, seeing no other way to stop the rapid immigration that by some projections can reach half a million, up from the current 60,000 according to official statistics. But in Southern Tel Aviv people, who witness the ‘invasion’ of their neigborhoods, are growing increasingly agitated and afraid. Last week saw a violent demonstration where lots of people were hurt. To no one’s surprise populist politicians are seeking a way to make themselves a name in leading these demonstrations with the demand of a general expulsion of all immigrants, something which is not really possible at the moment. And not the moral thing to do either for that matter. Only, I have no better solution myself. I understand the government’s hesitation in allowing the immigrants to work, as it would signal to economic refugees everywhere that all they have to do is come here in order to substantially improve their lives. Israel is after all a tiny country without the capacity of handling more immigration than it already does.

Ok, this is it for the political update. I find this stuff to be highly interesting and one day I hope to play a part in the decision-making process here. Who knows? 🙂


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