Thursday, November 17, 2016

Egypt Turmoil Worries Israel

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Mishpacha Magazine
November

Israel Aids Struggling Neighbor Towards Greater Stability
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A bag of sugar is a prized possession at a time of deprivation in Egypt (Photos: AFP/Imagebank)

M
ost people take for granted putting a spoonful of sugar into their morning coffee or tea, but in Egypt it has become an unaffordable luxury. The public has taken notice and is none too pleased.

The sugar shortage is just one of many economic woes facing Egypt’s government. In a country where the average person lives on $2 per day, illiteracy is at 35%, and at least 15% of the population is unemployed, the government of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has turned to the International Monetary Fund for a $12-billion bailout. To get the loan, however, Cairo must impose unpopular austerity measures.

Israelis closely monitoring Egypt’s instability. Jerusalem has formed a close alliance with al-Sisi, who has worked with Jerusalem to destroy Hamas smuggling tunnels into Gaza and stand up to Islamic State in Sinai. Egypt is facing a terror war in Sinai that could also threaten Israel one day.

Zvi Mazel, Israel’s sixth ambassador to Egypt and now a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs told Mishpacha that al-Sisi is “struggling” to implement badly-needed economic reforms in a traditionally Muslim country of 90 million people.

Mazel says the IMF conditions are painful but necessary. They include a 13% value-added tax, floating the Egyptian pound (which resulted in devaluation) and sharply cutting subsidies for energy products.
Egypt’s tottering economy has cost al-Sisi support at home. His popularity numbers dropped 14 points in October, the lowest since he came to power, but still hover at a respectable 68%.


The IMF Executive Board will meet in Egypt this month to discuss the country’s request for assistance. IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde is expected to recommend approving Egypt’s loan request along with supportive measures that will help Egypt improve exports, boost tourism, and attract foreign investment.

Mazel said that Israel and Egypt are now trying to identify fields of cooperation where an Israeli contribution “could be significant.” The main hurdle, he said, is the hostility of the Islamic establishment and nationalist circles, remnants of former president Gamal Abdel Nasser’s rule, which requires Israel to keep its distance so it is not perceived by the anti-Israel masses as being too close to Cairo.

Still, behind the scenes, joint projects are taking shape. The two nations are working together on solar energy, electricity production, agriculture, and gas cooperation.

So, while experts agree the IMF reforms are necessary, Mazel and other observers worry that the stringent reforms could feed further strife and even lead to another uprising, toppling al-Sisi.

Ground Game is Game Changer

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Mishpacha Magazine
November

Israel on the defensive with Lebanon
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Police and the IDF patrol northern border after Hezbollah shooting incident

Recent attacks on Israeli ground positions along the northern border with Lebanon and the southern border with Egypt provide an unambiguous reminder that Israel cannot afford to reduce its ground forces if it expects to deal efficiently with future military threats from non-state or state actors. So says Dr. Eado Hecht, a research associate at Bar-Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies and a lecturer on military affairs at the IDF Command and General Staff College. “Those who say way we can make do with fewer soldiers and light infantry are not correct.”

In the incidents last week, one IDF soldier was wounded by gunfire from a vehicle traveling on the other side of the border in Lebanon, and an Israeli civilian was shot and killed near the border fence with Egypt.
In an extensive report published in September in the journal Survival, Dr. Hecht and co-author Dr. Eitan Shamir contend the growing threats and capabilities of non-state actors mean that Israel must continue to build effective ground forces and that the IDF must not favor its air force and precision-fire assets over ground units.

While conventional wisdom holds that Hezbollah will not start a war while its forces are embroiled in Syria’s civil war, Dr. Hecht warns that unforeseeable events could lead to a military escalation similar to what sparked the Second Lebanon War in 2006.

In such a case, Israeli ground forces would need to quickly penetrate inside Lebanese territory to a distance between 5 and 20 miles and hold that land as a bargaining chip for a cease-fire.

Likewise, only ground forces can effectively locate and neutralize the Hamas tunnel threat from Gaza. “Air power only results in insignificant damage to the tunnels, and they are quickly repaired,” Dr. Hecht says, adding that even though ground-penetrating radar and other new technologies can easily detect tunnels, “it is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Only ground forces scouting the terrain can flush out terrorists, who use camouflage and booby-trap entrances to the tunnels. And once they locate the tunnel, soldiers must map them, enter, and carry in explosives to depths of up to 100 feet to destroy them.”

While the border with Egypt is generally quiet, Hecht says violent revolutions like those of the last few years could easily recur in today’s Cairo. If that were to happen, Egypt could quickly turn into an adversary, making the use of conventional forces even more important.

Israeli-Arabs Fed Up with MKs

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Mishpacha Magazine
October

Do Arab MKs represent the interests of their constituents?
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Arab-Israelis maintain their MKs, like Jamal Zahalka (center) are more interested in grandstanding than standing up for them (Photo: Flash90)

Less than two years after Arab parties won a record number of seats and unified their parliamentary forces, more than half — 55% — of Arab-Israelis say they are deeply frustrated by their MKs, calling them ineffective and radicalized, according to a new Statnet research institute poll.
Only 13% of poll respondents said they were very happy with the Arab parties while another 32% said they were moderately pleased. If elections were held today, the poll found that the Joint Arab List would drop from its current 13 seats to around 11.

The Statnet poll, commissioned by Israel’s Channel 10, and shared with Mishpacha by Statnet CEO Yousef Makladeh, was yet another sign that Arab Israelis are more interested in bread-and-butter economic and social issues than Palestinian nationalism. “People are disappointed with the Joint List,” he said.

The survey results come one year after a new electoral threshold of 3.25 % brought together several previously independent Arab parties into one bloc called the Joint List. The four parties on the List —the Islamist United Arab List, Ta’al, the mostly Arab Hadash, and the nationalist Balad — differ in ideological outlook. There is fierce competition for influence among the various party leaders.

Makladeh said the poll results indicate that Arab Israelis are more “mainstream and pragmatic” than in the past. For instance, the poll found that the most popular Arab politician, Ta’al chairman Ahmad Tibi, is perceived by Arabs as less focused on the larger Palestinian-Israeli conflict. “The economic situation in the Arab sector is poor, and unemployment is high,” said Makladeh. “The average Arab-Israeli cares more about real-life issues than he does about the big conflict.”

Yousef Makladeh: “The economic situation in the Arab sector is poor, and unemployment is high. Average Arab-Israelis care more about real-life issues than about the big conflict”
Still, from the Jewish public’s view, Tibi’s views are anything but mainstream. He supports a bi-national state, the full return of Palestinian refugees from 1948, and a boycott of Israeli companies. Recently, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s majority coalition said it would boycott the Joint List over its members’ failure to attend the funeral of former president Shimon Peres.

According to the statistics gathered by Makladeh’s company, around 64% of Arabs participated in the 2015 election, but if elections were held today, just 58% would vote. Surprisingly, another 6% would vote for Zionist or Jewish parties such as the left-wing Meretz or the Zionist Union.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Israel Should Avoid Turkey, Include Cyprus in Gas Export Projects

BESA Center

gas

BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 370
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Israel should rule out building a natural gas pipeline to Islamist Turkey because of the political risk involved. It should instead consider using LNG technology for export through Cyprus. Although this would be expensive, it would be a less risky and more durable option over the long term. This should be in addition to exporting to Jordan and possibly to Egypt.
As Israel begins closing deals for its natural gas, it should avoid linking itself to any expensive long-term pipeline deal with Turkey at the expense of allies Cyprus, Greece, or even Egypt.
Notwithstanding the recent easing of tensions between the two countries, Israel cannot trust Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Islamist regime as a linchpin in its natural gas export strategy.
A crisis could erupt at any moment that might cause Erdoğan, an erratic anti-Semite, to stop the gas from flowing, essentially holding Israel hostage. The trigger could be a new war with Hamas-ruled Gaza, which is allied with Turkey, or a general escalation in violence with the Palestinians, or any of a host of other unexpected incidents. The deterioration of the already cool relationship is only a matter of time.
The recent improvement in ties between Israel and Turkey must be viewed within the context of the poor relations Ankara had with Russia and other states at the time, and should not be viewed as reflecting any real change in Erdoğan’s attitude toward Israel.
Turkey experienced a crisis in its relations with Russia after Turkey’s air force downed a Russian fighter jet near its border with Syria last November. The crisis had Turkey scrambling, as it depends on Russia for over half its gas needs and over 12% of its oil. Turkey also has tense relations with the US and the EU, as well as with various Arab states that oppose its support for Islamists in their countries.
The subsequent rapprochement between Turkey and Russia changes the picture, and will give Erdoğan a freer hand to dispose of the Israel relationship as he sees fit. In addition, there are various other countries from which Turkey can receive gas, including Russia and Iran. Turkey would therefore have leverage in any gas deal with Israel.

Israel Increases Aid to Syrian Civilians

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Mishpacha Magazine
October

Philanthropists hope is that Syrians treated in Israeli hospitals will feel favorably toward Israel and promote good relations
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NO VACUUM Kahana says that without the aid, which includes educational funding, radical Islamic groups would fill the vacuum and provide assistance
An American-Israeli businessman and philanthropist behind an effort to provide food and medicine to Syrian civilians told Mishpacha that Israel recently allowed more aid to enter the war-torn country through the Golan Heights.

“The IDF doesn’t want extremists on its border and realizes that more humanitarian supplies will help prevent terrorism,” said Moti Kahana, founder of the American Jewish NGO Amaliah.
Kahana says that without the aid, which includes educational funding, radical Islamic groups would fill the vacuum and provide assistance.

Israel has been careful to limit its operations in Syria to air attacks against arms shipments to Hezbollah and retaliation for missile strikes. By allowing Amaliah to be the face of the aid operation, Kahana says, Israel acquires a degree of deniability.

At the moment, Amaliah is the only organization carrying out such assistance through the Golan Heights, with the first delivery in July. Amaliah also facilitates the bussing of women and children into Israel for medical treatment. He said the NGO covers the civilians’ medical expenses and pays the hospital bills.

Why aid Syrians? The hope is that those treated in Israeli hospitals will feel favorably toward Israel and promote good relations with the other side. “We are being good neighbors,” Kahana said. “We could increase the number of buses going into Israel by five times if we had more financing,” he said. “Our goal is to treat 5,000 civilians who haven’t received medical treatment in five years.” Earlier this month, the organization distributed over one ton of beef into Syria for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, reaching 800 families in 14 villages in the vicinity of Quneitra.

In the early summer, the IDF created a new unit to facilitate the aid transfers, but Kahana counsels against Israel entering Syria directly. He says it’s better if an American NGO leads the operation. Still, on a military level, Israel coordinates with Russian military forces so that aid shipments are not targeted.

Long term, Kahana has argued for the establishment of a buffer zone along the border area around Quneitra. So far, he said, that request is a “work in progress.”

The rebel forces in the Quineitra area include groups allied with the Western-backed Free Syrian Army, as well as some fighters from the jihadist Jabhat Fateh al-Sham [Front for the Conquest of the Syria], which changed its name from the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front. Islamic State is not a player near Israel’s border area. Syrian government forces are stationed in the Druze town of Hader, a regime stronghold. Despite the multiplicity of forces near Quneitra, the actual threat to Israel is now minimal, limited to occasional rocket spillover and less frequent Hezbollah operations.

Moti Kahana: “Our goal is to treat 5,000 civilians who haven’t received medical treatment in five years
Syrian opposition leader Kamal al-Labwani told Mishpacha that for now, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham is not interfering with the aid deliveries. Labwani, who has visited Israel, was smuggled out of Syria in 2012. 

The Iranian Fars News Agency reported in early September that the Syrian army and Hezbollah were readying to launch a large operation in southern Syria near Israel’s Golan Heights. 

However, Iranian reports cannot be trusted. 

When asked about the risks involved in delivering aid to Syria, Kahana would not comment, but it can be assumed that Israel would not allow such deliveries if they were considered unduly dangerous. 

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Will the PA Really Pay Up?

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Mishpacha Magazine
September

Why does Israel forgive and forego debts — millions of dollars in debts — owed by the Palestinian Authority?
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BILL ME LATER “It is very discomfiting to learn that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu caved in to [Europe’s] pressure and relieved the Palestinians of their debt to the electric company, a decision that will come out of the pocket of Israeli taxpayers,” says David Ha’ivri, a longtime political activist in the Jewish community in the Shomron (Photos: Flash90, AFP/ImageBank)
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arlier this month, the Israeli government forgave a debt of NIS 2 billion, or $530 million, to the Palestinian Authority. The question is: why?

The enormous debt was the result of years of non-payment on electricity provided by Israel Electric Corporation. The Palestinian Authority had racked up the debt over ten years, during which the IEC had periodically shut off the electricity in Palestinian cities to press for payment. As part of the deal,Israel also agreed to transfer control of the electricity grid in Palestinian cities to the PA. But critics of the settlement are asking why the government would agree to such a financial windfall for a governing body that regularly incites against Israel, works to delegitimize the Jewish state in international bodies, and pays the wages of terrorists.

Eugene Kontorovich, a professor at Northwestern University School of Law, and an expert on international law, told Mishpacha there’s no doubt the PA is obligated to pay its debt under the Oslo accords.

“There is no such thing as free electricity — either the Israeli taxpayers pay, or the Palestinian customers,” he said, adding that it does not matter whether Judea and Samaria are considered occupied.

From a legal perspective, continued Kontorovich, this episode is “a microcosm of other agreements with the Palestinians when they don’t do what they agreed to do.”

“We also learn from this issue how a bigger potential agreement with the Palestinians, one that the international community is trying to force on Israel, would hold up.”

But it is precisely international pressure that might have forced Israel’s hand. The Israeli government may fear that the Palestinians and the international community would use the electricity shortage as a rallying point to claim a violation of human rights at the United Nations. Israel may also have wanted to improve the general economic climate in the territories to discourage further terror attacks.

Kontorovich sees the deal as a temporary stopgap that will set a precedent for the future. To put it succinctly: “The Israelis are being suckers, and the Palestinians are not.”

Kontorovich notes that the Palestinians receive billions of dollars in aid, especially from Europe. At the same time, the PA is notoriously corrupt and uses at least part of its budget to pay stipends to terrorists and their families.

David Ha’ivri, a longtime political activist in the Jewish community in the Shomron, told Mishpacha that this issue is “disgraceful and again acknowledges that the PA is not to be expected to live up to the most basic standard of accountability.”

“It is very discomfiting to learn that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu caved in to [Europe’s] pressure and relieved the Palestinians of their debt to the electric company, a decision that will come out of the pocket of Israeli taxpayers,” he said.As for transferring control of the power grid to the PA, Ha'ivri said Israel should not be giving the PA any more authority. Rather, it should be abolished altogether.

“The Palestinian Authority should be replaced with local municipalities that are accountable and answer directly to the government ofIsraelinJerusalem.”

Ha'ivri predicts it’s only a matter of time before the debt again reaches astronomical heights and the cycle repeats itself. The question is: Will Israel act any differently next time?


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Hummus, Not Hamas

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Mishpacha Magazine
September


It isn’t that Israeli Arabs have become Zionists, but most have become realistic, realizing that Israel is now too powerful to be destroyed.
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Israeli-Arab youths have more on their minds than politics

These days, Israeli Arabs are more interested in what to eat and where to shop than the latest developments out of The Hague.

Like Israeli Jews, they’ve soured on the “peace process” and are focused on making a living and getting ahead.
That even applies to their support for armed conflict, according to Marwa Atamna, an Arab journalist based in Nazareth who writes for the local Hadith Al-Nas newspaper.

“The Arab public in Israel does not accept nor support any form of violent struggle, such as that occurred during recent violence,” Atamna said.

That sentiment is borne out in polling: a 2014 survey found that 68% of Israeli Arabs oppose terror attacks and 77% reported they prefer to live under Israeli rule than Palestinian.

To be sure, Israeli Arabs are still invested in their national aspirations, but they now view the Israel-Palestinian conflict in terms of a political and diplomatic struggle, not as a violent jihad to be joined. It isn’t that Israeli Arabs have become Zionists, but most have become realistic, realizing that Israelis now too powerful to be destroyed.

Lutfi Isa, a longtime Israeli Arab journalist who runs a local website in the city of Kfar Kassem, east of Tel Aviv, said that the Israeli Arab public does not view the conflict as it did 20 years ago when emotions ran high. “Today, Arabs have become complacent,” he says, “and are more concerned about local issues and making a living.”

A look at the most popular websites in the Israeli Arab world speaks volumes, says Hillel Frisch, an expert on Palestinian and Israeli Arab politics at Bar-Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.
The number one and two sites are Panorama (Panet) and al-Sinara (sonara.net), both general interest sites that feature news along with stories about pop culture and the best gadgets to buy.

To read the entire article click here.


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Europe Funding Terrorists’ Defense

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Mishpacha

“When a terrorist kills a Jew, he knows that in Israeli jail his rights are very broad and conditions are better than for regular criminals”
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Nearly 9 in 10 Jerusalem residents are pleased with their lives, despite challenges in finances and housing. But while Jerusalem is booming, chareidim are still playing catch up
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mboldened by new legislation, Israel activists are increasingly pushing back against European government funding of NGOs that seek to undermine Israel’s policies and legitimacy.
The latest controversy occurred earlier this month when the EU-backed HaMoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual, rallied to the defense of the terrorist accused of gunning down Rabbi Michael (Miki) Mark last month near Otniel. In response, the Zionist group Im Tirtzu held a protest at Israel’s Supreme Court during the terrorist’s hearing. HaMoked, which describes itself as a human rights organization, also works to prevent Israel from demolishing terrorists’ homes.
Im Tirtzu CEO Matan Peleg told Mishpacha that the group held the protest to focus attention on EU funding of HaMoked and other pro-Palestinian organizations.
“We see that there are organizations launching lawfare against Israel by getting terrorists the best lawyers and flooding the Supreme Court with appeals on their behalf,” he said.
“There is a situation in Israel today where it is more advantageous to kill a Jew than to steal his car. When a terrorist kills a Jew, he knows that in Israeli jail his rights are very broad and conditions are better than for regular criminals.”
Last month, the Knesset passed a law mandating that NGOs receiving most of their funding from foreign governments identify themselves as such at the Knesset. However, despite the media storm that surrounded the passage of the bill, it seems the new legislation will have little actual effect.
Gerald Steinberg, president of NGO Monitor, a group that tracks European funding of pro-Palestinian groups in Israel, said the law is primarily “symbolic in the Israeli domestic context.” It will not bring major changes or prevent NGOs, which are already obligated to report on foreign government donations, from receiving money.