A Tough Place To Live

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As everyone’s eyes have been focused on the election this fall, scant attention has been paid as the Middle East continues to unravel. Israel, as always, seems to be sitting in the eye of the storm. Many forces have tried to bait Israel into a wider conflict. This reminds us, once again, of what a tough neighborhood Israel finds itself situated in.

On Tuesday, on the southern front, Captain Ziv Shalon, of the Givati Brigade was seriously injured, losing his palm when a bomb detonated along the border fence with Gaza. Doctors at Seroka Medical Center say he is “struggling for his life.”

This is simply one of hundreds of terrorist attacks that have emanated out of Hamas-controlled Gaza this year. Last week, 21 rockets were lobbed into Israel, forcing thousands of people to run into their shelters, and schools in Beer Sheba to close.  There have been 800 Kassam rocket attacks fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip this year alone. Yet no one on either side of the aisle bothered to mention these attacks during the election season.

There is usually 15 seconds from the time when the “Seva Adom” (“Code Red”) siren blares in which people have to run for their lives and find shelter. Think for a moment of the psychological trauma that children are forced to endure when they hear the siren.  Would the world’s media be silent if this were occurring from Canada to Buffalo?

Not surprisingly, Hamas, the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza, has done little to abate these attacks. While President Obama has been more concerned about the response of the Israeli government to the threat of its annihilation by a nuclear controlled Iran, he ignores the pipeline from the Islamic Republic into Hamas controlled Gaza or into Hezbollah on the North, which is a puppet of both Iran and the fragile but deadly regime of Bashar al Assad.

On the Northern front, Assad’s regime has brutally massacred over 30,000 of his own citizens. (The Syrian Opposition website estimates it as nearing 40,000). Some of the missiles have spilled over onto Israel, but Israel has refused to allow itself to be ensnarled in the internecine conflict. Interestingly, many Palestinians living along the border with Syria are trying to hire lawyers to gain Israeli citizenship.

Meanwhile, aside from Secretary of State Clinton uttering a few hollow words, the United States has done too little, too late, to empower the Syrian opposition. This is particularly tragic. There had been a window of opportunity where America might have gained the support of a free and democratic Syria, but after nineteen months of endless bloodshed, that window of opportunity has closed shut. By now, the situation has become more radicalized, with Sunni elements such as the Muslim Brotherhood fighting Shiite forces such as Hezbollah, with a huge mosaic of other radical elements thrown in the mélange.

Since Mohammed Morsi’s election in August, he has used a terrorist incident within a military base in the Sinai as a smokescreen to replace Army Field Marshal Mohmmed Tantawi with Abdul Fattah al Sissi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.  He has also used the occasion to bring into the Sinai Abrams tanks and ground to air missiles without first consulting with Prime Minister Netanyahu, contrary to what is written in the Camp David Accords.

During his first public speech, Morsi vowed to free Omar Abdel-Rahman, “the blind sheik”, who was responsible for the first World Trade Center attack in 1993. Morsi has placed two Egyptian journalists, Tawfiq Ukasha and Islam Afifi, under trial for insults to himself and to Islam. In August he told the Egyptian newspaper The Independent that he wishes to “amend the Camp David Accords to ensure Egypt’s full sovereignty over every inch of Sinai”.

The abject poverty of Egypt has served, so far, to keep the fragile peace between Egypt and Israel in place. Although we, in the US,  have made a grave error by neglecting to use our monetary aid as real leverage for democracy building, and for human rights and freedom for women and minorities such as Coptic Christians.

Turkey, under the leadership of Prime Minister Erdogan is flexing its muscles, once again, and today has placed four Israel military chiefs on trial in absentia, holding them responsible for the Gaza flotilla.

Ahmadinejad of Iran has become even more bellicose in his rhetoric, increasingly using medical metaphors for Israel, such as a “cancer” or a “blight on humankind”. We Jews know, from our long and sorry history that when leaders resort to biological analogies they are sowing the societal landscape to do something horrible.  Iran now has enough lowly enriched uranium for 3 to 4 nuclear bombs. Scientists from the Institute of Science and International Security estimate it should take about 2 to 4 months before its nuclear project is complete.

Israel is indeed living in a very dangerous neighborhood, caught between tectonic shifts, where some highly nefarious forces from Iran, Egypt and Turkey are vying to become the rightful leader of the fractious and divisive Arab and Muslim world. Israel is like the kid in the school yard that no one wants to have on his team, surrounded by the nastiest playground bullies.

Many in Israel feel stunned and very much alone after the re-election of President Obama, although the leadership might have to pretend otherwise. President Obama made it very clear in a meeting of Jewish leaders early in his first term that he felt that the close relationships that his predecessors always had with Israel was not effective. “Let’s try a different tact”, he was reported to have said, ”There was no light between the United States and Israel, and nothing got accomplished.”

That message is quite perilous when you live in a tough neighborhood. It took the strong support of President Bush for the rights of minorities around the world in order for the Christian community to come out during the Cedars Revolution in Lebanon. They were able, then, to venture proudly out into the streets because they knew that the man leading the most powerful force in the world was behind them, in the Oval Office.

Today Israelis are confronted with the hard reality that most of them had known all along.  That they are very much alone in the world, and that they will have to do what they must to survive.

But we vow to be there to help them, in any way that we possibly can.

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The Endowment for Middle East Truth
Founded in 2005, The Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET) is a Washington, D.C. based think tank and policy center with an unabashedly pro-America and pro-Israel stance. EMET (which means truth in Hebrew) prides itself on challenging the falsehoods and misrepresentations that abound in U.S. Middle East policy.

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