Clash in Syria

An Israeli F15 jet fighter was downed by Syrian anti-aircraft fire yesterday.  Luckily it crashed within Israeli territory on the Golan Heights.  The two pilots bailed out, and were rescued, but one was seriously injured.   The situation arose because an Iranian drone over-flew Israeli territory and was brought down by Israeli fire.  Although the Iranians deny this, Israel has published photos of the drone with Farsi writing on it.  In retaliation the IAF attacked the Iranian military facility from where the drone originated and then the plane was downed.  Why is this a significant event?

Israel feels it must have freedom of action to over-fly parts of Syria, because Iran and its proxy Hezbollah are building up their forces in Syria close to the Israeli border, and Iran has made no secret of its intention to destroy Israel in the near future.  Statements from Iranian leaders have been quite explicit, talking about the coming end of Israel and of Jewish control over Jerusalem.  In order to prevent Israeli jets over-flying the areas where Iran is building up its forces and its military supplies and production facilities, Syria has installed both Iranian and Russian anti-aircraft batteries.  Israel cannot tolerate not being able to both control the skies and also being able to see what advances Iran is making in its plans to attack Israel.

Israel has now counter-attacked the Syrian anti-aircraft systems that brought down the Israeli plane and other sites totaling twelve attacks.  These systems are of course not actually Syrian, they are either Iranian or Russian.  By attacking them Israel risks the danger of an immediate conflict with either Iran and/or Russia.  Of course, Israel does not want in any way to come into conflict with Russia.  Towards this end PM Netanyahu visited Pres. Putin in Moscow only a week ago, and has visited him before.  Netanyahu has expressed to Putin that Israel cannot tolerate Iran building up their forces in Syria, but on the other hand Israel in no way means to challenge Russia’s right to support its ally Pres. Assad of Syria.  It is clear that Pres. Putin knows this.

However, the complex situation in Syria has US-backed Syrian Arab and Kurdish forces fighting Russian-backed Syrian regime forces in eastern Syria, in the vacuum left by the defeat of the Islamic State.  Also, Russian air force planes are bombing anti-regime forces in Idlib and Ghouta, where many civilians have been killed.  Under conditions of war, sometimes, as we well know, mistakes happen.  Should an Israeli plane and a Russian plane happen to get into combat, this could erase any discretion that Putin feels about Israel’s role in Syria.  We are entering dangerous territory.

Also, any direct Israeli  attack on Iranian facilities might cross the line that results in an Iranian counter-attack.  This could escalate into a war between Iran and Israel, that has  been simmering for some time.  This might engage US forces too that are not far away.  But, either way, the outcome could be potentially damaging for Israel and the Iranian regime.  Whether this incident will be seen as a single event or the first step in a future Middle East war remains to be seen.

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Israel in Egypt

A report in The New York Times has focused attention on the role of Israeli air strikes in the Egyptian Sinai against ISIS terrorist targets.  The significance of these strikes, supposedly 100 in the past two years, is that they have been carried out with Egypt’s approval and at their request.  Certainly they could not have been carried out without the approval and agreement of the Government of Pres. Al-Sisi.

Such an agreement will not be popular with the so-called “street” in Egypt, since the ordinary people in Egypt are very anti-Israel, as they have been brainwashed to be for so many years.  But, the fact is that the Egyptian military have been unable to stop the constant attacks by the ISIS extremists that have killed hundreds of Egyptian police and military as well as civilians despite constant counter-attacks.  The fact is that the Egyptian military lack the intelligence and aerial capability to deal a significant blow to the Islamist enemy.  As well as helping Egypt, it is in Israel’s own interests to defeat the ISIS extremists on its own borders.

This kind of close cooperation between Israel and a leading Arab State could represent a turning point in the relations between the two sides.  The cold peace that has existed between Egypt and Israel for many years is not likely to vanish over-night.  But, it is likely that Al-Sisi will be re-elected President of Egypt in the upcoming elections, and that in time a portion at least of the Egyptian people, and especially the Christian Copts (10% of the population) that have been under attack for years by the Islamists, will be happy with this outcome.

It is an irony that Israel that captured the Sinai in the 1967 Six-Day War and then gave it back to Egypt in exchange for the peace treaty in 1969, is now helping Egypt maintain control of that territory.   Saudi Arabia and other Arab States will be watching this development closely.  They see that Israel is actually no threat to them, to the continuation of their regimes.  It is both the Sunni and Shia extremists of ISIS and Iran respectively that are the real threats to their existence.  Reality has a strange way of making former enemies into political bedfellows.

Turkey Invades Syria

Turkey has invaded northern Syria with massive military force in order to destroy the chances of an autonomous Syrian Kurdish region named Afrin.  The situation is complex because Turkey is both an ally of the US against Pres. Assad and an enemy of the forces supported by the US, namely the Kurdish YPG and their allies the Syrian Democratic Forces.

The Turks are against the continuation of Pres. Assad in Syria and against his allies the Russians and the Iranians.  But, the Turks see the formation of an autonomous Kurdish region in Syria, or anywhere, as a direct threat to their own sovereignty.  They label any Kurdish forces as terrorist because they say they are aligned with the PKK, the Kurdish People’s Party, that indeed are considered terrorists in Turkey where they foment insurrection.

Although the situation seems murky it can all be explained as part of Pres. Erdogan’s aims to “make Turkey great again.”   Turkey once controlled the whole Middle East and Iran was its main enemy.  When Kemal Ataturk established the Turkish Republic after WWI as the modern embodiment of the Turkish Empire, he moved Turkey towards a sectarian Republic.  But, Erdogan and his Muslim allies are in the process of trying to reverse that process and seek to reassert Turkish influence and even control over the Arab world.  This will never happen, but he can at least use the threat of the Kurds as an excuse to intervene outside Turkey’s borders.

Another world leader, Pres. Putin of Russia, seeks to make “Russia great again.”  His intervention in Syria has proved successful and he has propped up his puppet, Pres. Assad, and ensured his survival.  But Putin and Trump, on opposite sides regarding Assad, both resent Erdogan’s military incursion into what they consider their sphere of influence.  Where all this will go, with the US, Russia, Turkey and Iran all engaged in the Syrian morass, is difficult if not impossible to fathom.

VP Mike Pence Visits Israel

US VP Mike Pence is visiting Israel and was welcomed effusively by PM Netanyahu.  They have been friends for years since they met in the US Congress.   Although Pence visited Egypt and Jordan on this trip, he did not visit Ramallah and meet PA Pres. Abbas because of his rejection of meetings with US representatives since Pres. Trumps’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.  This topic played a big role in Pence’s visit to Israel and indeed in his speech to the Knesset.  His major new announcement was that the US Embassy will indeed be moved to Jerusalem soon and will be completed before the end of 2019.

Pence emphasized that the US is still committed to forging a peace agreement between Israel and the Arabs, and especially with the Palestinians.  It seems impossible at this point, but who knows what will happen.  Meanwhile Pres. Abbas met in Europe with the Foreign Affairs Minister of the EU,  Federica Mogherini.  You could call this the booby prize, because the EU has pretensions to be an arbiter of peace between the two sides.  But, Israel would never trust the EU because of its pro-Palestinian stance.  Even on this trip the emphasis was on what the EU could give the PA in order to help it build a state and they proposed East Jerusalem as its capital.  There is no consideration by the EU of the continued use of terrorism by the Palestinians, both in Gaza and the PA, nor on Israel’s interests in the matter.

During this trip the emphasis was also on the common interests vis-a-vis Iran between the US, Israel and the moderate Sunni Arab States (Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the  Gulf States).  Indeed the Palestinian issue is taking a back-seat to both overall Arab-Israel reconciliation and US moves to strengthen Israel.  With a potential crisis looming with Iran, the Trump Administration is playing the first chess moves, and the Palestinians are the pawn that is being sacrificed to a greater cause.  With the whole Arab world in turmoil many of us believe that is their true level of significance.

The Lamed-Heh (35)

January 16 marks the commemoration of the massacre of 35 (“lamed-heh” in Hebrew letters) young Hebrew University students who volunteered to try to relieve the siege on the Etzion bloc of settlements south of Jerusalem during the Israel War of Independence in 1948.

The Etzion land had been bought and was owned by Jews during the Turkish period and the kibbutzim established there existed for several generations.  They had very friendly relations with the nearby Arab villages.  When the State was declared several Arab armies attacked Israel, and a joint Arab force was sent to attack Jerusalem from the south, but first they had to conquer the Etzion area.  When the Etzion bloc was attacked  all the children were evacuated.  But, the adults who could fight remained to protect the kibbutzim.

At some point the area was on the verge of being overrun by the Arab forces and the defenders were running out of ammunition.  It was decided that a small force had to be sent with supplies to relieve the Etzion bloc siege.  But, there were no reserves available.  A group of students at Hebrew University volunteered to go at short notice led by a young man named Danny Mass.  They could not leave directly from Jerusalem so they went by truck at night to a rendezvous point to pick up the supplies. They left from there at 11 pm, but this was not enough time for them to travel the distance at night over unknown terrain through hostile country.  At one point they came across a pair of Arab women, who they did not kill and who fled  from them and raised the alarm.

Subsequently when it became light they were surrounded on a hill-top several kilometers from Etzion.  At no point did they consider retreating.  The Arab forces called on the nearby villagers to join  the attack and eventually after many hours the 35 were overcome and any still alive were murdered.  A new settlement was later established nearby in their name called Kibbutz Netiv Halamed-Heh where there is a monument to their courage and bravery.

This incident, although a severe defeat for Israel, was in other respects a pyrrhic victory.  Apparently after the massacre, the local Arab villagers, impressed by the fighting courage of the Lamed-Heh group, realized that if Jews fought like this then they could not be defeated.  For whatever reasons the siege of the Etzion bloc was not re-enforced for another 2 months, giving the Israeli side the opportunity to strengthen the southern approaches to Jerusalem.

Eventually with the help of the Jordanian Arab Legion the Etzion bloc was over-run, and 127 of the 131 defenders were massacred.  The kibbutz was razed to the ground by the Arabs, as if it never existed.  But, in a strange turn of events, one Jordanian officer saved a woman defender from being raped and killed by local villagers, and then he took her and a small group of other survivors with him as prisoners to Jordan where they spent the rest of the war as POW’s until repatriated back to Israel.

After the Six-Day War in 1967, the Etzion area was recaptured from the Jordanians and some of the children of the original settlers returned and today it is a thriving community.  Let those who oppose the existence of the State of Israel learn about our true and tortuous history, so they know that we are not colonialists or imperialists, but are in fact the indigenous people reclaiming our land at great cost from Arab usurpers.

Whatever we do

Israeli reactions are criticized whatever we do.  Two cases in point.  The Palestinian Arab girl, Ahed Tamimi, who slapped and kicked two IDF soldiers and was arrested and is awaiting trial.  In most countries she would have been either shot, taken away and never seen again or at least arrested on the spot.  But, not here in Israel, she was treated with civility, the soldiers showed amazing restraint, following orders they did not react since their lives were not in danger.  Then later the police went to her house and arrested her for breaking the law, attacking soldiers on duty.  Now the judge in view if the overwhelming and publicly known evidence against her, has ordered that she be held pending trial.  This is a normal procedure that happens with all sorts of criminals.  Yet of course, this is now a subject of criticism of Israel for the supposed ill-treatment of this “poor girl.”

In the case of the terrorist shooting of Rabbi Raziel Shevach last week, the IDF in pursuit of his killers, traced them to a house in Jenin in Samaria.  They surrounded the house and there was a shoot-out and the killer was himself killed.  They also captured his accomplice as well as injuring several other people during the usual attempt to impede the soldier’s actions.  A curfew was placed on the area.  Now, of course, Israel is criticized for the “killing and injuring of Palestinians.”  I doubt if there would be many survivors if this was an attack by the military in Egypt, Syria or any other Arab country, let alone the civilized West.

Let’s be real.  These are legitimate actions by Israeli authorities and forces in pursuit of specific individuals, according to the laws that pertain.  Those who break the law by attacking soldiers may be arrested, terrorists may be killed if they resist arrest.   These two represent the two forms of action against Israel, violent civil action to provoke IDF reaction with photographers standing by ready to record and outright terrorism.  We fight them both according to our laws.

Netanyahu visits India

Israel and India have common interests.  Both countries achieved independence in 1948 from Britain, both are democracies with right of center governments and both have major Muslim enemies, Israel has the Palestinians and their supporters and India has Pakistan and her supporters.  I realized the basic potential for this relationship many years ago when I had Indians working for me and when I visited India and met many colleagues. Across the board all Hindus that I met were supportive of Israel and understood the reality of dealing with a Muslim insurgency.

But, the Government of India under the Congress Party was determined to be the leaders of the so-called “Third World” of under-developed nations (as opposed to the First World, the developed Western nations, and the Second World, the Communist bloc) and so they followed the Muslim line and were overtly anti-Israel.  Partly this was to accommodate their large (20%) Muslim minority.  But, all the while their Hindu intelligentsia knew the reality and privately supported Israel.

But, once the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) took power, the country moved to the right (as did Israel) and the political tone changed.  Now with PM Narendra Modi in power the links between Israel and India have greatly improved, almost to the point of an alliance.  Modi visited Israel last July and now PM Netanyahu and his wife Sara are reciprocating and visiting India.  India has been a big customer for Israel’s advanced weapons systems and a m$500 contract for aviation equipment and missiles that seemed to be in the balance has now been confirmed.

The Netanyahus have been touring, visiting the Taj Mahal and are now in Gujarat.  The visit has been extremely successful, and although India voted against the US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel at the UN, one can predict that the time for these automatic anti-Israel votes is probably over.  India will be one of the many nations having good ties with Israel, both through common interests and because Israel has many things to offer them.  In comparison what can the Palestinians or the Arabs offer?