Israel’s Converging Crises
by Brad Macdonald
War is brewing between Israel and Hamas again. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert admitted as much on Tuesday, telling reporters, “I have no doubt that the situation between ourselves and Hamas is in a stage of inevitable pre-confrontation.” War is unavoidable, he said, “it is merely a question of when and not a question of if.”
It gets worse. Fact is, war with the lethal Iranian proxy is just one of a handful of major crises and potential crises converging in Israel.
East and north of Israel, the Arab world is energized and in a state of flux as it counts down the days to January 20 and the beginning of what it believes will be a more lenient, more exploitable era of American foreign policy.
South of Israel, the moderate “Israel friendly” government of Egypt teeters on the brink of political turmoil as Hosni Mubarak’s star wanes.
The picture is similarly grim inside Israel, where the Palestinian population, frustrated and furious (at each other as well as Israel), is primed to explode, and the Israeli government is paralyzed by political gridlock awaiting the outcome of the upcoming election of a new prime minister.
As these crises develop, the United States—Israel’s staunchest ally and the nation it would normally lean on for assistance in solving these issues—has embraced as president a man who will almost assuredly further diminish America’s support of the Jewish state.
Remember, that’s all in addition to Israel’s inevitable, perhaps imminent, war with Hamas!
Crisis One: Palestinian Unrest
The Trumpet reported recently on the mounting tension between rival Palestinian political parties Hamas and Fatah. Hamas, the terrorist organization that won control of the Palestinian Legislative Council in elections in 2006 and that now controls the Gaza Strip, is insisting that Palestinians elect a new president in January. But Fatah, led by current Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, is worried that it might lose even more political influence, particularly in the West Bank, and says elections should not occur till 2010. Relations between the two became so heated earlier this week that reconciliation talks scheduled for next Monday in Egypt had to be canceled.
Don’t think for a minute that this is strictly a Palestinian problem and has nothing to do with Israel. As the terrorist attacks this summer in Jerusalem proved, Israeli citizens are a target at which enraged Arabs sometimes vent their anger. Israel is also the ring in which these rival groups are sparring, and whatever the outcome of this intense feud, Israel will be the primary loser.
Watch this trend closely. It’s possible Hamas could soon call upon its many followers in the West Bank and mount a violent coup. Such an event would place tremendous pressure on Israel to confront Hamas to resist its incursion into East Jerusalem. This could quickly evolve into a major issue for nations competing for influence in the Middle East and become a major confrontation inviting foreign intervention.
The outcome of a Fatah-Hamas compromise wouldn’t be much different. Hamas has indicated that the only way it will work with Fatah is if it receives major concessions and influence in the Palestinian government. Should a coup be avoided and some kind of power-sharing deal be struck, Hamas will still have expanded its political reach and likely even established its political influence in East Jerusalem. Depending on the level of political cooperation, the radical terrorist group may even find itself with easy access to the substantial weapons caches Israel and the West have given to the Palestinian Authority.
Crisis Two: Egypt
In addition to dealing with the likely unrest and instability caused by climaxing Palestinian tensions, the Jewish state faces potential instability and chaos in Egypt, whose comparatively “moderate” stance and “friendly” relations with Israel have long proven key to a stable southern border and Israel’s national security. After nearly 30 years of rulership, the West-friendly government of Hosni Mubarak is on the brink of collapse. The Egyptian economy is in deep recession, with an inflation rate hovering around 22 percent and unemployment around 10 percent. Food prices are soaring. With much of its population hungry, jobless and angry, Egypt is vulnerable to social chaos and anarchy. In fact, unrest is already occurring in some places, and were it not for Mubarak’s tough responses, large-scale chaos would likely have already broken out.
Such conditions would challenge any leader. But Mubarak is an 80-year-old man in poor health. With his grip on Egypt slipping, it will take very little—a sudden sickness, a terrorist attack, riots—for the country to spiral out of his control, allowing pro-Iranian Islamist radicals to take over Cairo: an immediate nightmare scenario for Israel.
Egypt is a linchpin in Israel’s national security. The loss of the world’s oldest nation as a moderate ally, not to mention its transformation into a radical enemy, would jeopardize Israel’s existence.
Crisis Three: Political Gridlock
Concurrent with the Palestinian political pandemonium, Israelis themselves are preparing to head to the polls February 10 to elect a new prime minister. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was forced to call the snap elections recently after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced his resignation and she was unable to build a coalition government.
This means that for the next three months, Israel’s leadership will be distracted by what is proving to be a fierce and tight election race. The nation will exist in an even greater state of political chaos and gridlock than usual. Although Olmert continues as caretaker prime minister, he is a lame duck, and his decisions and promises will mean little. With Olmert’s leadership defunct and the identity of the next leader unclear, Israel is effectively rendered leaderless for the next three months.
The timing could hardly be worse. Now is a time when Israel needs a swift-footed, alert government. Now’s a time for political unity and a focused, discerning foreign policy. Now’s a time for leadership capable of articulately, ardently and arduously defending Israel’s interests.
Instead, Israel has a lame-duck prime minister, a divisive, distracting political campaign, political chaos and national political paralysis!
Crisis Four: A New American Administration
The election of Barack Obama to the U.S. presidency has thrust the Middle East into a state of flux. Across the region, Muslim states and organizations—from minor terrorist groups to activist organizations to regional behemoths like Iran and Saudi Arabia—are preparing for America’s new foreign policy. If we are to believe campaign promises, that policy will include more negotiation, diplomacy and compromise.
Last week, analysts at Stratfor noted, “Striking a balance between the need to reach a settlement with Iran (on Iraq, at least) and the need to maintain existing relationships with Israel and the Arab states could very well prove to be the most challenging foreign-policy issue that the Obama administration will find itself struggling with very early on in its term” (November 7, emphasis mine throughout).
Iran and some Arab states see in Barack Obama an opportunity to advance their interests. As Ralph Peters noted yesterday, they consider the president-elect “more favorable to their cause and less friendly to Israel.” Mahmoud Ahmadinejad even sent him a letter of congratulations.
Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick wrote, “With Senator Barack Obama’s victory in the U.S. presidential race, the stakes have been raised for Israel’s February 10 general elections,” adding that dealing with Obama and America’s retooled foreign policy will be one of the toughest challenges for Israel’s next leader. “Whatever the Obama administration’s position on Israel may be, it will not be more supportive of the country than the Bush administration has been. And over the past year, the supportive Bush administration has decided not to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and not to support an Israeli effort to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.”
President Bush has been one of Israel’s staunchest supporters ever. But, as Glick observes, even the Bush administration has failed to curb the Iranian nuclear weapons program—which is being pursued with Israel in mind—and has consistently refused to condone Israeli efforts to prevent Tehran from achieving its nuclear goals.
If Israel’s next prime minister intends to prevent Tehran from acquiring the means to implement its stated aim of destroying Israel, he or she must be prepared to stand up to America. Indeed, the greatest diplomatic challenge he or she will likely face will be standing up to a popular new President Obama, supported by large Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress and the overwhelming majority of American Jewish voters.
Should right-wing Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu become Israel’s prime minister in February, the fracturing bond between the U.S. and Israel might turn into a yawning chasm. Despite Bibi’s pleasant response to Obama’s election last week, the former Israeli prime minister and the president-elect have some fundamental issues dividing them, including the best way to handle Iran, the peace process, and the deeply sensitive issue of dividing Jerusalem. Should the more conservative Netanyahu be elected—and his chances look good—we expect Israel’s relationship with America to cool quickly.
That’s not to say U.S.-Israeli relations will not also suffer if the more liberal Tzipi Livni wins office. Speaking on Israeli Radio last Thursday, Ms. Livni attacked Obama for indicating a willingness to talk with Iran about its nuclear program. “Livni’s interview about Iran,” wrote Matthew Fisher last week, “underscored how seriously Israel regards Tehran’s nuclear ambitions and how worried many here are that Obama may not be as staunch an ally to the Jewish state as President George W. Bush.”
The German Solution
For years now the Trumpet has explained the prophecy in Hosea 5:13 pointing to a time when the Jewish state, besieged by crises, will feel compelled to turn to Germany for protection. (You can learn about the details of this prophecy by reading Jerusalem in Prophecy.) The reason Israel will be forced to rely on Germany, as Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry has explained, is that America by this time will have stopped supporting Israel!
“Who will Israel turn to when America removes its support?,” asked Mr. Flurry in January 2007. “This prophecy [Hosea 5:13] tells us that both Ephraim (Britain today) and Judah (the nation of Israel) will run to the Assyrian (Germany) for assistance. This prophecy speaks of a time when the U.S. will lack the power and the will to assist its allies.”
Bible prophecy indicates that events now unfolding that involve the tiny Jewish state of Israel are heading toward that very event.
Watch for embattled Israel to cast around for international help to fill the security vacuum created by its impending loss of American support. And watch for Germany to ratchet up its involvement in the Middle East peace process in order to fill that void. •