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Jerusalem Journal: Contradictions on Israel's 59th Anniversary

Posted: April 23, 2007

Coming over the hills from the south, Jerusalem's skyline looms under a blazing April sun. It's hard not to notice the scores of construction cranes lining the horizon. The same is true in Tel Aviv and Ramat Gan. The economy is booming as Israel enters its 60th year.  Inflation is history.  The shekel is at a seven-year high and foreign investment is flowing in by the billions. To be sure, not everyone is enjoying the boom, but still Israel's gross domestic product is the strongest in the Middle East and the economic growth last quarter reached almost 8 percent.

If it's so good, then why does it feel so bad?

Well, Israelis are reminded every day of the looming threats: from Palestinian terrorists, from Hezbollah guerrillas, from Syrian forces, Islamic militants and --most of all -- the threat from Iranian nuclear bombs.

Israelis do not seem to be confused or overtly worried by the near daily headlines warning of "another round" of fighting or predictions of the coming "summer war." With a flick of their hands, they dismiss the debate raging between the Mossad and Military Intelligence, who are at odds over whether Syrian President Bashar Assad is truly serious about his signals to enter peace talks, or if it's just a ploy to get the Americans off his back (the army thinks he's serious; the Mossad thinks it's a ploy).

They aren't even confused when Syrian leaders belligerently threaten to violently take the Golan Heights if Israel rejects peace talks. True, Damascus is heavily investing in arms, but many point out that these are mainly defensive weapons such as anti-aircraft missiles, and anti-tank rockets. That, and their Scud-D rockets capable of hitting Tel Aviv with chemical warheads, is the insecure Syrian's weapons of deterrence. 

While headlines warn of another Lebanon war, Hezbollah is still licking its wounds from last summer's war, where a third of its fighting force was killed.

Meanwhile, the IDF under a new commander has been rushing to fix all the deficiencies uncovered by the Second Lebanon War. Reserve units have been steadily called up to relieve standing forces on the Golan Heights.  They are conducting huge military exercises on brigade and division levels unlike any  seen for nearly 20 years.

Yes, everyone is preparing for another war. Yet, no side truly wants it and that makes the probability of war in the north low.  Neither Hezbollah – who entered Israeli territory in July 2006, capturing two Israeli soldiers (Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, who are still being held, with no information as to their condition) and killing seven—nor their political and economic backers, Syria and Iran, were interested in a full-out war then and certainly not now.  Moreover, few think the current Israeli government is prepared at this point to embark on either a political or military initiative on the northern front.

This does not apply to Gaza, where Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit continues to be held since the outbreak of last summer's conflict. The Palestinians continue to fire Kassam rockets onto southern Israel and Israel has restrained itself …so far. A particularly lethal rocket strike could easily set off a large scale assault on Gaza.

Meanwhile, the government is bracing for the release next week of the Winograd Committee's interim report on the Second Lebanon War. The report is expected to outline the alleged mishandling of the war by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz. The question remains whether it will be damaging enough to force them to resign. Olmert has been maneuvering to survive the expected storm. Peretz will likely hang on until his Labor Party votes for a new leader at the end of May. 

We have a sort of paradoxical situation in Israeli government. The popular saying now is, "We have a government which is in office but not in power."

The coalition is stable and strong, but, conversely, has almost no public support. There won't be any move to dissolve the Knesset and run to elections because too many parties have too much to loose. It is stable because it is weak. That is the total madness of Israel's political system.

So on Israel's 59th anniversary of independence, Israelis are feeling renewed security and political burdens.

* By Arieh O'Sullivan, Director of Communications at ADL's Israel Office in Jerusalem.

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