Monday, September 12, 2011

This is Going to be a Tough Month for Israel

You would think that a month in which the S&P upgrades Israel to A+, especially when the same agency just recently downgraded the US, would actually be a pretty good month for the small, feisty, innovative democracy.  You would also be very wrong.   Just to recap some of the recent developments.  First, Turkey, once a close ally has very quickly gone to the "enemy" column.  Last week, Prime Minister Erdogan said the Turkish Navy would assist any Gaza blockade runners in the future, opening the door for an armed conflict with Israel.  To prove his point he has decided to send 3 warships to the Eastern Mediterranean to protect Turkish shipping and to "confront" Israeli ships operating more than 12 nautical miles from the Israeli coast.  He also said he would be interfering with Israels development of offshore natural gas fields, fields that would make Israel far less dependent on foreign energy supplies, including supplies coming from an increasingly hostile Egypt.  Now, it is highly possible that this is all just saber rattling to get Israel to submit to Turkey's demand for an apology over the MV Mavi Marmara incident, as such an apology would instantly make Erdogan a hero in the Arab world and help take influence away from Iran.  But given the strength of Turkey's armed forces and their potential ability to beseige and defeat Israel, these threats cannot be cavalierly discounted.

By itself, the crisis with Turkey would be a serious yet manageable problem.  But on top of Turkey, Egypt, which had been a peaceful neighbor until Obama betrayed him and supported the opposition, is looking less and less like a friend, teetering very close to enemy status.  We already know that the vast majority of Egyptians do not like the treaty with Israel and are virulently anti-semitic.  Then this weekend you saw a savage, barbaric mob of Egyptians attack the Israeli embassy in Cairo, with the police doing nothing but watch.  It was only after pleas to the highest levels in the Egyptian ruling military junta, was something done to rescue the embassy personnel still there (mostly security guards).  Had they not been rescued, it's pretty clear these employees would have been mutilated and murdered.  It's very troubling that it took such cajoling for Egypt to stand by the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, a cornerstone of modern international relations.  What other treaties are the Egyptians willing to ignore?  And it's not just Cairo which is becoming unsafe for Israelis, but the areas in Israel that border Egypt as well.  It was just a few weeks ago that several terrorist teams infiltrated from Egypt in broad daylight and attacked tourists on the way to a vacation in Eilat.  And just this weekend, shots were fired at a jeep near the border with Egypt.  One of the reasons that Israel has been doing so well economically is because of the treaty with Egypt.  Knowing its southern border was safe has allowed Israel to lower its military expenditure as a % of GDP over the years, allowing greater investment in the civilian side of the economy which has promoted economic growth.  The fact that border now has to be more actively defended, is going to hurt.  The fact that the Egyptian army will likely give the IDF a run for its money in any conflict (it does have over a thousand M1 tanks after all), makes recent developments even more disconcerting.

And let's not let recent developments in Turkey and Egypt deflect from the ongoing threat from Iran, which continues to develop nuclear weapons.  Let's not forget that the leader of Iran is a batsh*t crazy believe in a messianic cult who might just want to start armageddon himself.  While Iran's program has definitely been delayed through Stuxnet and other clandestine attacks, it does continue to make progress.

And if those threats from external forces weren't enough, Israel is likely to be threatened by forces from within as well.  On September 20th, the Palestinians are expected to move forward with their attempt to gain recognition for a state at the UN.  As their desire for full statehood, with all the rights and privileges that goes with that, is not likely to happen, Palestinians may start a third, violent intifada.  This will not only hurt Israel economically but also attract attacks from the outside.  It wouldn't be too surprising for the Lebanese, Gazan and Egyptian borders to become even more active.  It would, after all, be in their interests to mount a co-ordinated offensive on the Jewish state.

The worst part about all of this is there is no obvious solution for Israel.  Giving in, either on Turkey's demands or the Palestinian demands will only make Israel's enemies stronger (it's hard to see how giving terrorists a view of downtown Tel Aviv from safe havens in the West Bank will be good for Israel).  At best, Israel will achieve only a temporary respite.  Conversely, it's unclear how much Israel can fight any of these enemies at the present time with the most anti-Israel President in history in the White House.  When Israel is in need of the help of the United States most, it can least depend upon it.  No wonder Netanyahu's responses so far have been so muted, he probably feels completely boxed in by events.  Probably the best hope for Israel is that internal sniping amongst its enemies makes them take their eyes off the prize. After all, there would have been no State of Israel at all without the disunity of their enemies.  Let's keep our fingers crossed on that one.

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