Hebrew University Political Science professor Ira Sharkansky evaluates the latest happenings in Israel.
Fri,Dec 13,2013 10 Tevet 5774
One of the great miracles of politics is the silence of Israeli ministers and Members of Knesset with respect what is occurring, and might occur, as a result of our northern neighbor being attacked, or not attacked by the United States.
Generally, Israeli politicians are like those elsewhere. Maybe moreso. Certainly not less so. Each is in business for himself, or herself, along with being a member of a political party. First priority is to be prominent, and to be seen and heard doing what it necessary to continue to be seen and heard. Only slightly less important in priority, is to obtain and maintain a reputation of being at least as good as others, and usually better. That means emphasizing what is special and important about one's own views of whatever is important at the moment.
It isn't often that the Israeli Prime Minister aspires to quiet his colleagues and competitors, and even less often that the Prime Minister is capable of doing so.
The quiet of ministers and other politicians may not have been absolute, but is impressive nonetheless.
This occasion may reflect the opposite of what he has often said in his monopolistic role as the spokesman Israel--that the country has nothing to worry about.
It is impossible for a commoner to judge how sensitive the country's security situation at the present time.
Partly that reflects the frequency of the country's plight in being at the focus of someone else's anger.
It is not a chronic condition, but neither is it rare.
So it is difficult to know how special has been the last couple of weeks.
Currently the media is celebrating an anniversary of what may have been the most traumatic of occasions, the Yom Kippur War of 1973. The IDF was not totally surprised. Some analysts saw warfare in the activities of the Syrians and Egyptians. However, the consensus was that it would not come. Still alive was the euphoria from the victory of 1967 and the sense of the fortresses along the Suez being well protected by being on the east side of the Canal as well as having their own capacity to resist whatever the Egyptians could throw at them. Also, when the signs became more sure, there was political pressure--both from Americans and internally--not to preempt.
Since 1973 the Palestinians, Lebanese, Iraqis, Iranians, and now the Syrians have been more problematic than the Egyptians.
Among the prominent dates
Within and between those landmarks were separate events-- sufficiently numerous to justify the label "countless"--individual attacks of special brutality, or intelligence reports that attacks were being planned, and IDF small unit responses meant to capture or otherwise neutralize the sources of the trouble.
There are several indications that American preparations for an attack on Syria, and threats from Syria, Hezbollah, and Iran against Israel--if not yet an occasion of significant violence--have become prominent enough to warrant inclusion in the list of significant events, The IDF positioned anti-missile batteries to protect various locations, including Jerusalem. Israel issued a limited call up of reserves, which it reversed when the prospect of an American attack and possible reprisals entered what seemed to be an extended hold. At several distribution points for gas masks and atropine, individuals fought in order to obtain a place in line or in response to the news that the distribution point had exhausted its supply of gas masks.
One explanation of the Prime Minister's campaign to quiet Israelis with assurance of our security, and Israel's capacity to respond with enormous power against all who would attack, is that there are not enough gas masks to supply the entire population. It may actually be the case that the masks are superfluous. Sealing rooms with plastic sheeting and towels under the door, like we did in 1991, should be enough for anything but a rare direct hit. Renewed instructions and distribution of atropine might be enough. But the population wanted gas masks.
Prominent in the preparations is what is described as an approach by Barack Obama to Benyamin Netanyahu, asking that Netanyahu activate AIPAC in behalf of Obama's request of Congress for authorization to attack Syria.
Israelis--more prominently media and academic commentators than government ministers under the umbrella of the Prime Minister's enforced quiet--have been debating the pros and cons of Israel's support, or AIPAC's support of Obama. Opponents say that it will assure an attack against Israel if the US attacks. And that it will sour the mood among American politicians, commentators, and citizens toward Israel for being a foreign entity that intervenes too prominently in American politics, and in this case an especially sensitive issue that a majority of Americans oppose. Against this are Israeli who see our support of Obama's hard line against Syria's use of chemical weapons as essential for firming up Obama's posture toward Iran's nuclear program.
Now comes an 11th hour proclamation by Russians and Syrians offering to transfer Syria's chemical weapons to international control.
A few hours later Barack Obama accepted this as a way to extract himself from an aggressive stance without the likelihood of Congressional or public support.
The President and his colleagues are describing the opportunity as doubtful, but worth enough to invest in inquiry and negotiation, and to postpone the votes in Congress.
The President may be justified in claiming that only the threat of attack led to this concession by Russia and Syria.
Thus he avoids embarrassment at home, even if he risks an endless process of negotiation, like that with Iran over its nuclear program, or an unsatisfactory reliance on cooperation with Russia that will lead to complaints by those who do not trust that bear.
We can expect the President to cite this as an example for waiting even more for the pressure of sanctions to bring Iran to meaningful concessions.
In any case, score one for Vladimir Putin, and another one for Barack Obama.
Enter them both--perhaps tentatively--in the Hall of Fame occupied by the heroes of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
We may not know if Israel's crisis is over until government ministers begin speaking out about how it should have been handled.
No surprise that Avigdor Lieberman is one of the first to break the silence. He is not a minister, but something like a suspended minister while waiting the results of a criminal trial. Lieberman's party is a partner in the government, and he is Chair of the Knesset Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defense, which is more important than most Knesset committees. A few hours before the talk began about turning Syria's chemical weapons over to international control, Lieberman threatened great destruction on whoever dares attack Israel.