Saturday, February 23, 2013

The nutcracker dilemma

Part 1 - by Beate Zilversmidt

The elections were after all an earthquake. The blocs were broken up.

The Israeli multi-party system had more and more developed into a de-facto bi-partisan situation, with fixed right of center and left of center blocs. The ultra-orthodox (Haredi) religious parties were before 2000 still sometimes changing course, thereby acquiring much power as king-makers. But they seemed to have found their destination on the right. New parties trying to become recognized as "center parties" got crushed, or ended up being labeled "left wing". Kadima, the party created by Sharon just before he got the stroke from which he didn't recover was meant to be a center party. The remnant of it was considered in the 2013 elections as belonging to the left bloc.

But the blocs are no more. The anti-Haredi bond between the extreme right "Bayit Yehudi" and the center-left "Yesh Atid" is overriding other loyalties. What the nationalist-religious and the secularists - both led by new political stars - have in common is their dislike of the Haredi privileges. For the secular Yair Lapid it would be enough when Haredim will  be conscripted to the army. For Naftali Bennett there is one more target: to riggle the chief rabbinate out of Haredi hands. (If Bennett and Lapid would both enter the government and  succeed to break the Haredi privileges, they would soon stop being allies as they hold totally different ideas about  the elephant in the room, Israeli-Palestinian relations.)

Without the fixed blocs and though his party lost big, Netanyahu seemed still the only one who could be asked to form a government coalition. Now he is doing everything to avoid being crushed in the nutcracker - under coordinated pressure from the two novices, from left and right simultaneously. Therefore he needs everybody else's support.

From the point of arithmetic it should not be so difficult with Lapid and Bennett together holding not more than 31 seats of the Knesset's 120. But Netanyahu and his Likud are encountering some other hurdles. Though originally a "peoples party" the Likud became under Netanyahu  identified with hard-line economic liberalism. And exactly now the Labor Party (15 seats), under Shelly Yechimovitz, is taking its name seriously and demands a totally opposite economic policy.

Still, Netanyahu could probably gather together 57 out of the 120, with Tzippy Livni already in, and for whose 6 seats he was willing to emphasize the importance of the two-state solution;  Kadima (only 2 seats but still toughly negotiating); and the Haredim (two parties, together 18 seats) so to say "in Netanyahu's pocket". Added to that the 31 of the  Likud-Beyteynu alliance Netanyahu would still not have a majority in the Knesset, but it doesn't seem likely that anybody else could garner more without new elections being held.

If Israel would be a different place altogether there would be left a way for Netanyahu to make the 57 into 61, without any problem of having to compromise on such touchy matters as religious privileges and economic course. In an Israel different from the really existing one it would at least be considerable to include also Israel's Muslims. The Ra'am-Ta'al party (4 seats) would not create any problems on the issues Netanyahu singled out as crucial.

But, including an Arab party, appointing an Arab minister, and thus out of the ruins creating some new hope for Israel, of course Netanyahu would never do such a thing, not even out of despair.

The nutcracker dilemma

Part 2 - by Adam Keller

Uri Elitzur, who had been secretary general of settlers’ Judea and Samaria Council and Netanyahu’s chef de bureau and later became an influential columnist of the Israeli right-wing, is very enthusiastic about the political alliance forged between Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett. He writes: "There is something exciting that two people completely new to politics, both in their forties, are at the head of two big parties. Aside from their age and the enthusiasm of something new starting, there are other significant things that are common to both of the parties behind Lapid and Bennett. For example, an awareness that the old debate between Left and Right on the future of the Territories is not necessarily the most important of issues. A new generation has arisen, which is tired of this division and which sees a lot of important and urgent matters on which Left and Right can work together."

Apparently, this new generation considers the issue of forcing upon Haredi youths recruitment to military service as far more important and urgent than    the question of what duties and tasks the State of Israel imposes on its army.  And it is a fact that the opinion polls which made ​​headlines in the weekend papers predict great success for Lapid and Bennet and their respective parties, were repeat elections held in the near future.

Still, over there - behind the fences and walls, very close geographically but worlds away from the hearts and minds of the majority of Israelis – are  living millions of people who are far from tired of the debate whether Israeli occupation continues or ends. They care little if it is devout Haredim or irreverant  Atheists who don the IDF uniform and go out to harass drivers at checkpoints on Palestinian highways, guard the ever expanding settlements built on Palestinian land and shoot tear gas at protesters and demonstrators.

This week, an increasing wave of demonstrations and protests throughout the Palestinian territories, culminating on Friday at the East  Jerusalem’s Temple Mount  mosques, at long last forced the Israeli printed and electronic media to pay some attention to what is going on among Palestinian prisoners held in Israel’s prisons. Already soon after last year’s prisoner exchange, the security services found various pretexts to start re-arresting an increasing number of the Palestinians released in exchange for Israeli soldier  Gilad Shalit. Lacking other recourse, four of these re-arrested prisoners turned to a prolonged hunger strike endangering their lives – which makes them into heroes in the eyes of Palestinians regardless of political affiliation. 

On Thursday, Samer Al-Issawy, who had gone  without solid food for more than 200 days, appeared in court in a wheelchair. He was charged with having “violated the terms of his parole by leaving the boundaries of Jerusalem” -  having gone to a garage at a Jerusalem suburb which has not been annexed to Israel and is legally part of the West Bank. For this he was condemned to eight months imprisonment, the term deemed to have started with his arrest on July 7, 2012.

This would set him free in a few weeks from now - but that may not be the end of the matter. Through hastily enacted regulations, any breach of the law by a Palestinian released in the Shalit Exchange could lead to re-imposition of the original, years-long term. In the case of Issawi, who is determined to continue his hunger strike until he is free, this would be tantamount to a death sentence.

In several previous cases, Israeli authorities showed themselves wise and flexible enough to set hunger striking prisoners before any of them could die in prison. Hopefully, they would act as wisely this time, too. Which in itself is far from enough to avert outbreak of the often predicted and talked about Third Intifada.

Palestinians feel that the world has forgotten them and abandoned them to open-ended Israeli occupation and the steady encroachment of Israeli settlements, and are far from being impressed by Netanyahu reiterating his verbal commitment to the two-state solution and getting the famous Tzipi Livni to represent him in negotiations, if and when they are resumed. Lacking a real reason for hope, any chance spark could light the dry tinder. Exactly twenty five years ago, a pure accident – an Israeli driver hitting Palestinian pedestrians – was enough to set alight the fires of the First Intifada. Would President  Obama, in his visit scheduled for next month, provide a measure of real hope – or will still another disappointment be added to the combustible mixture?

Meanwhile, there is at least one young Israeli who is not “tired of the old debate between Left and Right on the future of the Territories”.  Nathan Blanc, a 19-year old Israeli from Haifa, is already for many months going in and out of prison due to a particularly firm position taken in this old debate.

Blanc’s cycle has so far repeated itself six times. He comes to the Induction Center, is ordered to join the army,  says "I will not serve in an army of occupation" and gets sent to another month at Military Prison 6. Gets out of the prison - and straight again to the Induction Center, refuses again and goes  back through the revolving door to prison. So it has gone on, and without an end in sight. The army has patience, the military authorities strongly insist that this young man must surrender and serve. But Nathan Blanc also has patience and perseverance, and he certainly does not intend to capitulate. Another month in prison and yet another, and the saga continues.

This morning, hundreds of activists of the Yesh Gvul Movement climbed on the mountain opposite Military Prison 6, to celebrate the Purim holiday together with with Nathan Blanc and his fellow prisoners. Artists came voluntarily to perform, and strong loudspeakers carried the sound of singing into the  prison courtyard. And meanwhile, the name of Nathan Blanc is becoming increasingly known internationally. In Switzerland a poster was published with his photo, the student newspaper at Emory University in the United States published an article praising him as a hero, When I was a month ago in at Hiroshima in Japan, I found that there, too, peace activists have already heard of Nathan Blanc.

Blanc has already rejected the option of getting psychiatric discharge.
If more months of imprisonment accumulate, what is waiting him is a court martial where he could be condemned to years in the harsh military prison conditions.  Then, also he may enter the headlines and the news broadcasts of the mainstream media around the world – another victim of the occupation.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

From prisoner X to Lord Montagu

No court issued a gag order on the detention of Samer Al Issawi. The information was freely available, and anyone who wanted to could have published all the facts: Samer al-Issawi, a resident of Isawiya in East Jerusalem, was placed last July in Administrative Detention without trial and imprisoned at the Ramla Prison (yes, the same Ramla Prison which this week got to the headlines for other reasons). He began a hunger strike which already passed the 200 days’ mark, lost thirty five kilograms and  suffered severe damage to his kidneys. A few days ago he stopped drinking the vitamins and few nutritional supplements which kept him alive until now.  All this information was completely open to publication - everything except the charges against Issawi, which were contained only in “secret evidence” presented to the judge who extended his detention and of which Issawi himself was not told.

There was no problem in publishing it - but reporters and editors in Israel’s newspapers and electronic media just did not think it was of interest to their readers and listeners. Only when this weekend the deteriorating condition of Samer al Issawi precipitated a series of demonstrations across the West Bank and clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli soldiers, a few references cropped up in the media - and even then, in a very minimal way.

Had Ben Zygier been a Palestinian, still now nobody would have heard of him.


So what did really happen, in this affair of which only a select few knew four days ago and which now captured the headlines in Israel and Australia and around the world?

How it started is well known: a young Jew raised in a distinguished Melbourne family, taking his Zionism seriously makes Aliya and goes to live in Israel and getting married here; entering the country’s spy service, Mossad, and taking on a series of mysterious tasks, and certainly not giving up his Australian citizenship. Much of his value to the Mossad consisted of his ability to carry (or lend to others) a genuine Australian passport, which would pass the closest scrutiny, and enter freely countries barred to carriers of an Israeli passport. And indeed, he did not cut his ties with Australia, where his family lived, and where he has gone to visit and study at university.

The middle of the story is still mostly hidden. In early 2010 unknown agents assassinated a senior Palestinian at the Emirate of Dubai. The assassins failed to disappear without a trace. Indeed, they left behind a spectacular trail – abundant photos taken by security cameras,  names in forged Australian passports, and a series of clues pointing to the State of Israel and the Mossad. But what exactly was the connection to Ben Zygier, the Australian Jew who went to Israel and made his Australian passport available for Israel’s daring espionage operations?

And the end - most of it is by now clear. A secret trial and a secret detention at a well-guarded isolation cell in the Ramla Prison and gag orders to hide every scrap of information from the public. Serious charges that could have kept him in that secret cell for very many years, and a plea bargain offered which was a bit more lenient but which also involved quite a few years in prison, a difficult choice between two harsh options. And then suicide in custody, in a cell with four surveillance cameras. If it was a suicide.

But what exactly did happen in the middle? What did he do or plan to do? Shalom Yerushalmi in Ma'ariv published what seems to be a message sent directly from within the Mossad: "Zygier, it is said, was holding a smoking gun. Had he not been stopped, he would have caused great damage. No one  in the Mossad wanted him to kill himself in prison, but after he hanged himself none of them went into mourning" . And on TV the veteran Ron Ben-Yishai pointed an accusing finger at the Australian security service: "They are the ones who got  Zygier into trouble". How, exactly?

A hypothesis, not based on any first hand information: At some time in late January or early February 2010, the security services of Australia turned to Zygier, an Australian citizen who traveled a lot with an Australian passport, and demanded that he tell them what he knew about the use which the State of Israel made of Australian passports, in ways which were liable to damage the national interests of Australia.  Australian tourists and business people arriving in various countries were increasingly suspected of being Israeli spies.

If this is what happened, Ben Zygier could not have gotten out of it well, do what he would do. Had he provided the information, he could have come to be considered under the laws of the State of Israel a traitor failing in his loyalty to Israel. Had he refused to provide it, he might have been considered under the laws of Australia a traitor failing in his loyalty to Australia. In short - the nightmare of Jews in Australia, as in the U.S. and many other countries – the charge of "double loyalty."

Did Israel have the moral right to place an Australian Jew is such an impossible situation? Did Israel, thirty years ago, have the moral right to appeal to an American Jew named Jonathan Pollard and convince him that as a Jew he owed to Israel a loyalty surpassing that he owed to the United States?

How many Jews in how many countries have paid a direct or indirect price for the acts and policies of Israel?

In July 1994 an explosive charge exploded in the Jewish community building at Buenos Aires, capital of Argentina, and eighty-five people got killed. Although not definitely solved, this is considered to have been an act of revenge for Israel's assassination of Hezbollah leader Abbas Musawi. The Argentinian Jews, certainly not sharing in Israel’s wars in South Lebanon, were selected as the available targets for revenge against the "Jewish State".

This affair continues to resound in Argentine's politics and comes up again and again. A few weeks ago the Argentine government chose to initiate an international investigation of the bombing involving also the Iranian government – against which the Israeli government lodged a strong protest with the Argentinians. The Argentinian Foreign Minister Hector Timerman – who, perhaps not coincidentally, is himself Jewish – summoned the Ambassador of Israel to lodge a protest at the Israeli protest and the Israeli government’s interference in the way that the government of Argentine chose to deal with the murder of Argentinian citizens at the heart of the capital of Argentine.

As reported at the time, "The Argentinian Foreign Minister was so upset that he almost hardly gave the Israeli Ambassador a chance to utter a word, cut her off  again and again: ‘Israel has no right to ask for explanations, we are a sovereign state’ said Timerman to Ambassador Shavit. 'Israel doesn’t represent or speak for all Jews. Those Jews who wanted Israel to represent them went to Israel and became Israeli citizens. Jews who live in Argentine are Argentinian  citizens. The bombing was against Argentine and Israel's desire to be involved in the matter only gives ammunition to anti-Semites who accuse Jews of double loyalty’”.


In 1917 the British government issued the Balfour Declaration, promising  to view with favour “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”. In the prolonged deliberations held by the British cabinet before this declaration was issued, Edwin Montagu  - the only Jewish minister in the British government at the time – expressed his reservations and strong opposition to the planned declaration. "...I assume that it means that Mahommedans and Christians are to make way for the Jews and that the Jews should be put in all positions of preference and should be peculiarly associated with Palestine in the same way that England is with the English or France with the French, that Turks and other Mahommedans in Palestine will be regarded as foreigners, just in the same way as Jews will hereafter be treated as foreigners in every country but Palestine”. He expressed his concerned that a "dual loyalty" would be created among the Jews of the world - loyalty to the governments in their countries of residence vs. loyalty to their national home in Israel - and it would finally give anti-Semites a pretext to undermine the position  of the Jews in Britain and other countries and expel them, also against their will,  to their "National Home".

To appease Lord Montagu and other opponents, there were added to the text of the Balfour Declaration as finally issued a clear reservation. Establishment of the "National Home" was on condition of "it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country”

Ninety-six years later, the National Home has become a fact, and established the most powerful army in the Middle East as well as an intelligence service spreading a worldwide net. In light of this experience, it would be very difficult to argue that what was "clearly understood" in 1917 had been indeed complied with, or that there was no bases to the apprehensions of Lord Edwin Montagu.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Night life in the only democracy in the Middle East

It happens every night, summer and winter, on weekdays and Saturdays and also during the Jewish holidays. A quiet street in a town or village or refugee camp somewhere on the West Bank. Suddenly, the calm of the late night hour is disturbed by the arrival of a large force of Israeli soldiers. They surround a house which was marked out in advance.  Agents of the Shabak Security Service go in and after a few minutes they come out with  the tenant handcuffed and blindfolded. They enter an armored car and drive away quickly.

Sometimes the detainee's neighbors manage to wake up in time and go out into the street and try to block the soldiers' way. The soldiers sent on such missions are briefed and trained in advance for such contingencies, and they immediately open up with tear gas - sometimes with live ammunition as well – make their way through the crowd, and rush to get the fresh detainee directly to interrogation under "moderate physical pressure" at a basement somewhere.

That is repeated every night, sometimes at five homes in five different locations, sometimes in ten, sometimes more. The Oslo Accords established a division of the West Bank into three zones: "C" is under full Israeli control, "B" under partial control of the Palestinian Authority, and "A" under its full control. At least, in the agreements signed once upon a time by the Government of Israel and never officially repealed it is written "Full control by the Palestinian Authority." So, it is written. The Shabak agents and the soldiers accompanying and guarding them take little notice. They carry out detentions at any location they choose – sometimes also in the heart of Ramallah, the city which is supposed to be the capital of the Palestinian Authority, sometimes just around the corner from the government compound of Mahmoud Abbas and his ministers.

Usually, such arrests do not get published in the Israel media. To keep track of them, one needs to follow the Palestinian news websites, where there appears every morning an  accurate tally of the places where the soldiers arrived on the previous night and the number of Palestinians kidnapped there (Palestinians sites do not use in this context the verb "arrest"...)

This week there was an exception. For once, the nightly detentions of Palestinians got published in the Israeli media (though they did not make the headlines). On Tuesday morning the army reported "a widespread arrest operation against wanted Palestinians", carried out as part of what the Shabak and IDF call "The Lawn Mowing Policy". As published, "25 wanted Palestinians were arrested, mostly Hamas activists." Why exactly were they arrested? Why were they wanted? What are they accused of? As usual, army and security do not provide information. These people are ‘wanted’, and that is that. It was only stated that the decision to make the arrests at this time stems from "concern at Hamas's efforts to rebuild infrastructure in the West Bank, in the aftermath of Operation Cloud Pillar in the Gaza Strip".

What infrastructure? To judge by the identity of the detainees – who were involved in open political activity and in charity organizations - it does not seem to be an attempt to organize armed activity. Rather, they appear to have embarked on resuming the activities of Hamas as a political party, towards a possible reconciliation between the Palestinian factions and perhaps also new elections for the Palestinian Legislature. In recent months we have heard, for the first time in quite a long while, of open activity by Fatah in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and a mass rally held by its supporters in downtown Gaza.  Reciprocally, at the same time there are manifestations of political activity by the Hamas movement in the cities and villages of the West Bank, rallies and demonstrations and a growing presence in the streets. It seems that someone here in Israel does not care for this celebration of Palestinian democracy.

Among others, those arrested on the "Lawn Mowing Night" include three Members of the Palestinian Legislative Council,. As in the Israeli Knesset and most other parliaments around the world, Palestinian parliamentarians have parliamentary immunity - but the IDF and Shabak care little about that. Many members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, entrusted with representing their constituents at the elections held in 2006, have spent most of their term behind bars in Israeli prisons. This week, three more detained parliamentarians were added: Hatem Qafisha in Hebron, Mohammed al-Tal in Dhahiriyya, and Ahmed Attoun in al-Bireh. In all,  fifteen of the Legislative Council's  eighty-eight members are currently in detention.,7340,L-4340655,00.html

I met Ahmed Attoun a few years ago, at the East Jerusalem home of Muhammad Abu-Tir, who along with Attoun got elected in the Palestinian elections of 2006. At that meeting, the two Parliamentarians told us that "Yasser Arafat had signed all the papers with Israel, but did not get anything in return",  and added "we will only talk with Israel when it becomes clear that the Israeli government means to hold serious negotiations, negotiations  which will bear results within a short time." They then declared that Hamas is ready to stop all violent acts, in a truce to last twenty to thirty years - provided that for its own part, Israel also stops all acts of violence.

With the consent of the two of them, we sent immediately after the meeting an urgent  letter to then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, stating that in our humble opinion what they said may serve as a basis for starting  negotiations. A short time later Attoun and Abu-Tir were arrested, as were many other members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, and since then they are constantly going in and out of the prisons and detention facilities of the State of Israel.

On Tuesday morning this week – the same morning when Attoun, Qafisha and  al-Tal had their first breakfast in jail – newly elected members of the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset, gathered for festive inauguration following the recent Israeli elections. A celebration of democracy, at the only democratic state in the Middle East. Israel's President Shimon Peres arrived and was greeted with trumpets. One by one, dozens of new Members affirmed their oath of office in front of their admiring family members. They talked about the complicated negotiations to form a new government coalition and gossiped a bit the scandalous new dress of the Prime Minister's wife, and finally went blithely to their homes.

None of the Members of our Knesset had the slightest apprehension that in the wee hours of the night their homes might be surrounded by the Palestinian Security Forces, whose agents would rush in and lead them handcuffed and blindfolded to detention and interrogation. What a crazy idea!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Winds of war

Suddenly, the agenda changed. The general elections and the distribution of seats and the mandates and the struggles and intrigues inherent to forming a  government coalition were relegated to the back pages. The headlines were caught by an air strike in Syria and an alert on the Lebanese border and threats from Tehran and an attack on an embassy in Turkey. Once again the winds of war began to blow. Israelis moved en masse from waiting their turn at the polling stations to the long waiting lines at the gas mask distribution stations.

Just what happened here? What for? And why now? For two long years the State of Israel watched the Syrian bloodbath from the sidelines and took care not to intervene. For two years IDF forces on the Golan border observed with great attention the course of the civil war taking place on the other side of the border and carefully noted on their maps which villages had been captured by the rebels and which are still held by Bashar Assad's loyalists – all the while, the Israeli forces holding their fire and not intervening. And suddenly, this week, an air raid in Syria, a high profile event even though no official responsibility was taken.

More ridiculous than ever was the insistence of the Israeli media to add "according to foreign sources” whenever Israeli responsibility for that raid was referred to. "Mr. General (ret.), what have you got to say about the raid which according to foreign sources our air force carried out in Syria? " "Well, I have nothing to add to what the foreign sources told, except to say that the mysterious unknown attackers did a good job. Well done, well done!"

Veteran commentator Amos Harel provided a thorough explanation on the pages of "Ha'aretz": "Israel had set out red lines for Syria and Hezbollah. Already during the term of the Olmert Government, long before the outbreak of civil war in Syria, Israel gave a warning that it would not tolerate the transfer of balance-breaking Advanced Defense Systems to Hezbollah, and would if necessary resort to force to prevent such a move. On several occasions the Israeli position was set out in greater detail: no transfer of advanced anti-aircraft missile systems, of precision ground to ground missiles or of long-range land to sea missiles. (...) The Air Force is especially concerned about the transfer of Russian-made anti-aircraft  missile systems, because they  might significantly limit the planes' freedom of action, undermined the present situation where Israeli planes enjoy complete air superiority over Lebanon and face no real risk. These flights over Lebanon are critical for gathering intelligence. The introduction of SA-17 surface-to-air missiles to Lebanon, a step against which Israel cautioned Russia even as these systems were sold to Syria, is a very problematic development." Apparently, it proved problematic enough for the Israeli Air Force to be sent to destroy these missiles while still en route, before they could arrive and be stationed on Lebanese soil.

All this is a bit interesting for those who know some basic principles of International Law. For example, it is universally accepted that a sovereign state (for example, the state called Lebanon) owns its airspace and has the right to protect that airspace, including the deployment of anti-aircraft artillery or  missiles and the use of these to deter foreign planes from entering this airspace without permission. On the other hand, International Law does not authorize any country (for example, the one called Israel) to regularly send its planes into the airspace of another country so as to gather intelligence. Certainly there is no reference in International Law to the right of a state to set its neighbor "red lines" and forbid it to obtain effective air defenses. But as with regard to building settlements in the West Bank, on this issue, too, successive governments of Israel have created their own peculiar international law which is quite different from that practiced in the rest of the world.

This state of affairs did not just begin recently. I well remember one evening in 1981, over thirty years ago, when the very same issue already came to focus of the public agenda.  All of a sudden, the government burst out with an outcry  about Syrian anti-aircraft missiles being stationed on Lebanese soil, and the smell of war was in the air. Then Prime Minister Menachem Begin spoke about it to the gathered masses at a city square (at that time Likud was still able to bring out great crowds into the streets). And so did the PM cry out: "These missiles are a serious threat to our security. They endanger our planes which fly over Lebanon, and prevent us from keeping track of what is happening there, from knowing which schemes are being plotted against us. We strongly demand that these missiles be removed from Lebanon forthwith." Later in the same speech Prime Minister Begin referred to another issue which was at that time on top of the agenda: "We are greatly opposed to United States selling  to Saudi Arabia the intelligence aircraft type AWACS. That aircraft is a serious threat to our security. Its intelligence gathering systems are so sophisticated that when flying over ​​Saudi Arabia it could keep track of what is happening in Israel, we will be transparent to it and lose the ability to keep our vital secrets. We strongly demand that this plane not be given into Arab hands. " Menachem Begin did not feel any contradiction between the two parts of his speech, nor did his audience.

At the time, the summer of 1981, the tensions faded out after about a week -  but this was but a temporary respite. A year later, in the summer of 1982, the great war broke out which was initially known as "Operation Peace for Galilee" and Israeli soldiers broke northwards as far as Beirut. At the very outbreak of this war, the Air Force launched a massive attack on these infamous missiles, and the Israeli media hailed the technical and operational capacity of the Air Force which destroyed the missiles in a masterful operation carefully crafted for years. (At that time the illusion still prevailed that it was going to be a short war ending with a quick and decisive victory, and it had not yet become "The War of Deception", destined to be the longest and most traumatic of Israel's wars to date).

After this achievement the Israeli Air Force totally dominated the skies of   Lebanon, and bombed Beirut day after day, and for years afterward the news broadcasts almost every day included the news items of "Air Force planes had bombed terrorist targets at … in Southern Lebanon". On the ground the "Security Zone" was established in Lebanon where the soldiers fought an endless guerrilla war impossible to win, and suffered increasing losses. It took   almost twenty years before the public protest over the endless attrition in Lebanon led to the withdrawal of the soldiers from there. But even after that, Israeli war planes continued daily cruising the skies of Lebanon, feeling quite at home.

And is the wheel now turning a full circle again? Already for several weeks, the well-informed Nahum Barnea is publishing gloomy forecasts in his weekly column at the weekend issue of Yediot Aharonot: "The IDF brass is convinced that in a matter of months Syria will become the most pressing security problem for Israel. Israel can’t stop all arms convoys. Hizbullah is problematic, but the Jihadist elements which might take over the Golan area are no less dangerous. They would have the same missiles, the same ammunition, and less responsible behavior. By pessimistic forecasts, it seems we are on the verge of a military confrontation on at least one of the two fronts in the north [Syria and Lebanon]. An IDF ground operation would be required immediately after the other side starts launching rockets, and possibly earlier. In Lebanon, a large-scale action is envisioned, a veritable full-scale war. In the Golan a takeover of the buffer zone is envisioned, creation of a security zone in the format that was used in southern Lebanon. Syria will not remain forever a TV news item, in the end it would directly affect every home in Israel "(Yediot Aharonot, February 1, 2013).

The General Staff is apparently making these plans for months already, but is the timing when they come into the news focus entirely coincidental? Exactly a week after the elections in which Binyamin Netanyahu was left  battered and bruised, even if he does form the next government. A week after the elections in which Yair Lapid became a superstar, a virtually indispensable  partner in forming the next cabinet, and he made a series of uncompromising demands on a whole series of fundamental issues, including the resumption of negotiations with the Palestinians.  And also the week when John Kerry is to take over as US Secretary of State, with the proclaimed intention of coming here and seriously pushing for resumption of the same negotiations. And also the British and French, with their designs of a new Middle East diplomatic initiative in which they want to involve the whole of Europe, as soon as a new government is established in Israel. Would anyone think about such issues and such initiatives when Israel embarks on the 2013 Syria War on the pattern of the 1982 Lebanon War, or perhaps on the First Syria War simultaneously with the Third Lebanon War?

And the entanglement which will follow afterwards? We will think about them  afterwards.

In short: Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.