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By Ira Sharansky
Letter from Israel 



December 28, 2018

The idea of Palestine may be somewhere in the dust, but Israel still has problems. There are several cases of recent attacks that were prominent, and the IDF is digging out tunnels coming from Lebanon into northern Israel. Security forces count in the hundreds the instances of attack that have frustrated this year.

One incident was about a month ago, when an employee of a West Bank industry killed two of his colleagues and then ran. Most recently there was a drive-by shooting at an area in the West Bank where people were waiting for rides. Prominent among the injured were a young wife, seven months pregnant. She was injured seriously, and a Cesarean removal of the fetus produced a baby boy who physicians struggled to keep alive, but who died within days. And another shooting at a hitchhiking and bus stop killed two soldiers and wounded two others.

And in the north there are four tunnels so far located that enter Israel. Their sections in country are being dealt with, and evidence shown to UN and Lebanese forces as to segments under Lebanon.

And there have been other instances, mostly in the West Bank or the Old City of Jerusalem.

We may be seeing an escalation, perhaps encouraged by Hamas.

There’s a feeling of threat, expressed by the media.

Although both Hamas and Fatah leaderships have praised the actions, some may be the work of individuals, unconnected with anything beyond their own commitments. They indicate Israel’s problems, despite firm signs of even greater problems among Palestinians.

Palestinians have been pushed below numerous other problems by Arab governments that have accommodated themselves to Israel. And competition between Palestinian movements have undermined whatever possibilities might exist foe meaningful negotiations.

Hezbollah seems to have enough missiles to make Israel miserable, but its leadership is aware of what Israel can do in response.

Iran has been pushing both Hezbollah and Palestinian movements, and financing installations and actions in Lebanon, Syria, Gaza, and the West Bank.

There are also domestic problems in Iran, that may play their role in limiting what can initiate elsewhere.

So Israel is somewhere in the middle. Its political problems are manageable, and looking up. But security remains a serious threat.

Right wing politicians demand forceful action, but security personnel are reluctant to engage in ways that will cause Israeli casualties, and produce no clear changes. Prime Minister Netanyahu has sided with the restraint, even while speaking more forcefully at political meetings.

And he’s also dealing with difficult personal problems, as well as those of wife and elder son. The latter was photographed while giving the third finger, again and again, to a group of protesters who opposed his claim against one of his critics 

Charges against Bibi seem likely to result in indictments for bribery and other crimes. When they come is another question. Either before or after whenever there’ll be an election is one of our mysteries. 

So far he seems to be doing a reasonable job of compartmentalizing his various problems, and keeping Israel out of serious political problems. He’s hinted against some practices of his elder son, but nothing that would lead us to expect testimony against the young and unemployed man.

He’s also remained on a better footing with the Russians than has Donald Trump. The downing of a Russian plane, with the loss of its crew and passengers, was done by Syria, but the blame was passed on to the IDF. That’s caused some hiccups in relations, and an apparent slowing of Israeli attacks against Iran and Hezbollah in Syria.

There’s also an increase in political attacks against Bibi by coalition partners, seemingly getting ready for an election. Jewish Home’s Naftaly Bennett has found reasons to criticize defense policies. And two factions of Torah Judaism are at odds with one another and with the Prime Minister about the bill to regularize draft exemptions. One faction is threatening to leave the government if the bill is brought to a vote, and the other is threatening to leave the government if the same bill is not brought to a vote. 

Tensions here and there, and personal tragedies resulting from terror attacks.

It’s not a simple picture.

Comments welcome, irashark@gmail.com

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus), Department of Political Science, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.


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