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A Crystal Ball on 2015: David M. Weinberg, Israel Hayom, Jan. 2, 2015— One year ago, I forecast — accurately — that in 2014 U.S. President Barack Obama would continue to fudge the nuclear issue with Iran.
Battlelines Emerge in Israel’s Election Campaign: Jonathan Spyer, Gloria Center, Dec. 27— With the date of the elections set for March 17th, the campaigning season has begun in Israel.
Gadi Eisenkot’s Challenges and Opportunities: Dr. Eitan Shamir, Besa, Dec. 8, 2014 — Major General Gadi Eisenkot, 54, will become the Chief-of-Staff (COS) of the IDF in the spring.
Israel’s Gas Offers Lifeline for Peace: Stanley Reed & Clifford Krauss, New York Times, Dec. 14, 2014— Alarms rang out across the Tamar natural gas platform off the coast of Israel.
Mounting Election Turmoil: Isi leibler, Candidly Speaking, Dec. 30, 2014
Could Obama Swing the Israeli Election?: Steven J. Rosen, Gatestone Institute, Jan. 3, 2015
2015 IDF Military Intelligence ‘Crystal Ball’ Report: Hana Levi Julian, Jewish Press, Dec. 28, 2014
Natural Gas Strengthens Israel, But It Won’t End Conflict: Jonathan S. Tobin, Commentary, Dec. 14, 2015
Israel's Gas Dream – The End Is Nigh: Gal Luft, Middle East Forum, Dec. 23, 2014
David M. Weinberg
Israel Hayom, Jan. 2, 2015
One year ago, I forecast — accurately — that in 2014 U.S. President Barack Obama would continue to fudge the nuclear issue with Iran. I also foresaw that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would agree to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's formula for a Palestinian state based on the 1967 lines, but that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas would cut and run from the negotiations at the last moment. Easy predictions. But I was wrong in expecting to see the hero of the social protest movement Professor Manuel Trajtenberg join Moshe Kahlon's new political party. Instead, he recently joined the ranks of Labor. I was also wrong in hoping and praying to see Natan Sharansky named the president of Israel, instead of Reuven Rivlin.
Looking into my crystal ball for the year ahead, this is what I see: The March Knesset elections: The vote will yield five main blocs of more or less equal size — Likud, Labor, Habayit Hayehudi, the ultra-Orthodox parties, and some kind of Kahlon-Yair Lapid-Avigdor Lieberman league — making for convoluted and unstable coalition politics. The only way to overcome this and craft a workable government will be to establish a Likud-Labor national unity government. As usual, Netanyahu will tack to the Right for the duration of the election season and then revert back toward the center after the vote.
American decline: In the final two years of his presidency, Obama will be freer than ever to pursue his true ideological convictions in the areas of foreign and security policy, and free to cement a complete reorientation of U.S. policy in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf. After all, over the past year, he has granted Russian President Vladimir Putin gargantuan international victories, given Syrian President Bashar Assad a new lease on life, re-legitimized Iran and re-energized the morally bankrupt United Nations, all while playing Hamlet about his own authority to strike Syria or defend Israel. He has made only a ridiculously miniscule effort to confront Islamic State. Obama very clearly believes that the humbling of America will bring healing to the world; that he will be leaving the world a better place by cutting America down to size, and allowing other "legitimate" actors, such as Iran, to assert their rights.
Iran: One result of this weltanschauung is that Obama will soon cut whatever deals are necessary to postpone Tehran's bomb production for a few years — two to be exact, just long enough for Obama to depart the White House without having to confront the Iranians. This suits Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani just fine. They continue getting sanctions relief while running out the clock on the West, all the while advancing their nuclear weapons research and missile production and maintaining full nuclear fuel cycle capabilities. Obama administration officials are already downplaying Iran's destabilizing role in the Middle East (including its support of Hamas and Hezbollah) and saying that U.S.-Iranian relations have moved into "an effective state of detente." Without clear evidence of an Iranian "breakout" blitz, Israel is left with few options. Striking at Iran is not an option under these circumstances. You might say that Obama has bested Netanyahu on this issue.
The United Nations: Obama will continue to feign dismay at Israel's increasing isolation in international forums like the U.N. Security Council, while in practice paving the way toward a global distancing from Israel. Alas, Obama will find himself "unable to manage" the many assaults on Israel or to mount a sufficient defense of Israel, as he has warned. The Palestinian Authority lost a vote this week, but the day is coming when Washington will sandbag Israel with a Security Council resolution demanding a timetable for Israeli withdrawals to specific borders and endorsing punitive measures unless Israel complies. I don't think this is far-fetched at all. Obama is once again misplaying his hand with the Israeli public. Israelis will overwhelmingly back Netanyahu's opposition to rapid establishment of a Palestinian state in the current jihadist regional climate, and they will push back against Obama's attempts to halt the development of Jerusalem and divide the city.
Abbas: The threats of this aging and ill Palestinian leader to dissolve the Palestinian Authority and end security coordination with Israel should be dismissed. He won't do it. The Palestinian Authority has no alternative other than being eaten alive by Hamas. To failed negotiators John Kerry and Tzipi Livni I say: The status quo in the West Bank is indeed "sustainable" for a while longer. It is certainly preferable to almost all the other near-term alternatives, for both Israelis and Palestinians. In any case, Abbas is washed up as a peace partner, certainly since his establishment of a "unity" government with Hamas, the launching of his campaign of lies and incitement regarding the Temple Mount, and his lauding of terrorists who attacked Israelis in Jerusalem. Everybody in Israel remembers Abbas' monstrous speech at the U.N. in September accusing Israel of "genocide" in Gaza, and swearing "never" to recognize Israel as the national state of the Jewish people and "never" to renounce the so-called "right of return" for Palestinian refugees. If Abbas persists in his helter-skelter, burn-all-bridges appeals to world forums against Israel, he will soon find himself on trial for war crimes at the International Criminal Court.
And now for some dreams: In 2015, America will move its embassy to Jerusalem. One hundred thousand American Jews will immigrate to Israel. The Saudis will recognize Israel. The Palestinian Authority will renounce the "right of return" (but be criticized by J Street for doing so). Massive building across Israel (including Judea and Samaria) will bring housing prices down by 50 percent. The ultra-Orthodox will enlist en masse in the Israel Defense Forces. Livni will admit failure and retire from public life, instead of jumping to her fifth political party. Zehava Gal-On will start observing Shabbat and eating kosher. Amen.
Gloria Center, Dec. 27, 2014
With the date of the elections set for March 17th, the campaigning season has begun in Israel. There was little public enthusiasm for the new polls. It is only 20 months since the last time Israelis turned out to vote. The 2015 contest will be the fifth general election in Israel since 2003. This means the average life expectancy of an Israeli government is less than two and a half years. It isn’t a recipe for political stability, or for the pursuing by governments of clear and consistent policy objectives. The too-frequent polls are the product of the Israeli electoral system, which produces the need for complex and inevitably fragile governing coalitions. Still, the present campaign is shaping up to be an interesting one. For the first time since the collapse of the “peace process” into war in 2000, Israel’s center and left parties scent the chance of victory.
The optimism of the left derives from a shrewd move by Labor leader Yitzhak Herzog. Previously regarded as the latest in a long line of no-hopers at the Labor helm, Herzog has united his Labor Party list with that of Tzipi Livni’s “Hatnua” party. Livni drove a hard bargain. If the united list forms the next government, the prime ministership will be shared — two years for Herzog, two for Livni. Current opinion polls have this list neck and neck with Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling center-right Likud. A poll taken by the respected Geocartographia Institute on Sunday had the Likud on 27 seats, with Labor-Hatnua on 25. The right-of-Likud Jewish Home list was third with 11 seats. Previous polls had put Likud and Labor-Hatnua each on 21 seats, with Jewish Home close behind.
The lines of debate are also emerging as the campaign gets into gear. All the signs are that this election will be fought largely over national and diplomatic issues, rather than bread-and-butter social questions. Despite the urgency and importance of many social questions in Israel, this is natural and appropriate. Because the ground around Israel is burning. A sectarian war between Sunni and Shia Arabs is raging in the large land area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Iraq-Iran border. To Israel’s south, an Islamic State-affiliated movement (Ansar Beit al-Maqdis) is engaged in an insurgency against the government of Egypt. The Islamist Hamas movement remains firmly in control of Gaza, from where rockets continue to be launched against Israel. The Islamic State has begun to make its ominous appearance in Gaza too. Meanwhile, the government of Israel’s main ally appears to be oblivious to the danger posed by the onward nuclear march of Iran.
On the diplomatic front, the Ramallah Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas abandoned negotiations in April, and is now embarked on a path of seeking to build a campaign of international pressure on Israel, in order to force it into a retreat on the West Bank and in Jerusalem, in return for nothing. The resolution presented by Jordan to the UN Security Council on behalf of the PA exemplifies this stance. The PA’s campaign has been encouraged from the growing hostility to Israel in some western European countries, particularly emerging from the growing political strength of Muslim communities in those countries and in turn from the sympathy for political Islam among those communities. It is possible that societal exhaustion and strong native traditions of anti-Semitism are also playing a role in this emergent stance. In the face of all this, the center left in Israel needs to explain why it is the government of Israel which is the cause of the country’s difficulties. It needs to outline why its own more accommodating approach is more in tune with the underlying realities.
The form that this will take is already becoming clear. The center left will argue that Israel’s problems are to a great extent of its own making, and that if there is a danger of extremism it is to be found largely among Israeli Jews, rather than among their neighbors. Thus, in her most memorable statement so far, Livni recently told reporters that “(Israeli) extremists…are turning our country into an isolated, boxed-in country, and an alienating one — even for its own citizens.” She later claimed that she was responsible for the U.S. decision to delay the vote on the Palestinian state resolution at the UNSC. According to a diplomatic source quoted by Foreign Policy magazine, Kerry himself has confirmed this. Beyond all the inevitable posturing at election time, there is a kernel of dead seriousness here. The belief underlying the Israeli center-left’s campaign is evidently that if Israel is “boxed in” it is because of its own “extremists” and that the solution to this is greater accommodation to the U.S. administration. The U.S. administration, however, has opposed or prevaricated over the key measures that Israel has found necessary to take against the threats gathering around it.
Thus, Israel has been infuriated by the administration’s decisions to leak information on Israeli targeting of regime and Hizballah positions in Syria — moves Israel found necessary to prevent the arrival of game-changing weaponry to the Shia Islamist group. Similarly, during Operation Protective Edge, Secretary Kerry sought to involve the Muslim Brotherhood bloc of Qatar and Turkey in efforts to mediate a ceasefire, and was critical of Israel’s tactics during the war. An Israeli government which believes that Israeli “isolation” is mainly Israel’s fault and which thinks that the solution to this is greater accommodation to the Obama administration is an Israeli government which will be less likely to act in Israel’s vital interests, at the right time and with sufficient determination. This, in turn, is likely to increase the threat to Israelis — see the 2000-2 period, when a reluctance to abandon the internationally sanctified illusions of the “peace process” led to a failure to act against the Palestinian terror campaign in a determined fashion. But if this is indeed to be the thrust of the center-left’s campaign in the elections, success is likely to continue to elude it.
Israelis are deeply aware both of the threats that surround them, and of the cold attitude of the current U.S. administration toward their country. A campaign which seeks to blur or obscure these or to claim that they are largely of Israel’s own making is likely to win its proponents a further term in the opposition.
Dr. Eitan Shamir
Besa, Dec. 8, 2014
Major General Gadi Eisenkot, 54, will become the Chief-of-Staff (COS) of the IDF in the spring. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved his nomination upon the recommendation of Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon as well as former IDF generals. Born in Israel, Eisenkat was drafted into the IDF in 1978. He joined the Golani Brigade where he served in a variety of roles. During the 1982 Lebanon War he served as an officer and shortly afterwards, he became the commander of Golani’s Battalion 13. After commanding an infantry reserve brigade and regional brigade in the mid 1990s, he returned to Golani as its commander in 1997.
In 1999 Eisenkot was appointed Military Secretary to then-Prime Minister and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Since then he has commanded the 366th Division and the West Bank Division. He was promoted to head of the Operations Directorate in June 2005. Following criticism over the conduct of Major General Udi Adam in the 2006 Lebanon War, Eisenkot was asked to replace him as General Commanding Officer (GOC) of the Northern Command. On January 2013, following a short leave, he returned as Deputy Chief of General Staff, second only to outgoing COS Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz. When he was appointed by then-COS Moshe Ya’alon as chief of the Judea and Samaria Division, an important position at the time of the Second Intifada, Eizenkot was one of the leaders of the “mowing the grass” approach to defeat Palestinian terrorism in the West Bank. This led to a halt in suicide attacks and to near-total calm at the end of the uprising in 2005 andfollowing the Second Lebanon War, he was sent to rehabilitate the Northern Command – a task he carried out successfully.
Eizenkot served as the head of the IDF’s Operations Directorate during the Second Lebanon War. He was among the very few who demanded that reserve forces be called up at the beginning of the war – to no avail. Despite that, he remained loyal to his commander and kept his criticism to discussions within the General Staff’s top brass. He also supported the destruction of Beirut’s Dahiya suburb and called for attacking Lebanese infrastructure as an act of deterrence. In fact he was one of the leading architects of the “Dahiya doctrine,” a military strategy advocating massive aerial strikes on all of the enemy’s assets in Lebanon in an attempt to halt the rocket and missile fire at Israel’s home front. Nevertheless, Eizenkot has emphasized the importance of ‘limited military objectives’ and has urged the IDF command not to launch risky operations that would endanger the troops. Eizenkot forced ‘limited objectives’ during Operation Protective Edge, and rejected the idea of expanding the operation into a full-scale invasion in order to overthrow Hamas. Eizenkot had a minor involvement in the embarrassing Harpaz document affair, but he was cleared of criminal involvement. While this matter could still delay his final appointment, the chances of that happening are low.
In all likelihood, the relative quiet that the IDF has benefited from in recent years will not last for long. Thus Eizenkot must capitalize on the support and legitimacy he enjoys to swiftly make necessary reforms in the IDF force structure. These reforms should transform and prepare the IDF to better confront its current challenges; fighting various non-state entities while at the same time continuing to develop its high-end capabilities for the less likely scenario of state-to-state conflict. There are those who raise doubts in Eisenkot’s ability to deeply reform the IDF in such a way. They point out his role in planning the Second Lebanon War and Operation Protective Edge and some of the reoccurring faults in these operations. The critics point to an IDF preference to reach decision through stand-off fire rather than aggressive ground maneuvering. In both operations, the ground phase was delayed and when it was finally executed, it was done so in unimaginative ways which unnecessarily extended the fighting.
Eisenkot is expected to create an offensive and creative military. This change will allow for short and decisive operations that will achieve long-term deterrence in the future conflicts with Hezbollah and Hamas and with additional likely enemies such as the Islamic State and Jahbat al-Nusra. To achieve this, Eisenkot will have to enhance the performance of IDF ground forces in executing quick and decisive maneuvers in dense urban centers saturated with booby traps, snipers and advanced anti-tank missiles. He will have to do this while also preparing the IDF for a possible popular uprising on the Palestinian front, as well as continuing to invest in the IDF’s long range strategic arm in order to deter and perhaps strike Iran. In addition, Eisenkot faces continued battles over budget cuts that might force him to do more with less – he will therefore have to examine how to achieve a better ‘tail for teeth’ ratio. However, Eisenkot is fortunate to have an excellent team beside him in a young and creative General Staff. Hopefully, Eisenkot’s style of leadership will engender trust and cooperation among the generals, and will encourage open debate and disagreement alongside mutual commitment.
Stanley Reed & Clifford Krauss
New York Times, Dec. 14, 2014
Alarms rang out across the Tamar natural gas platform off the coast of Israel. The Israeli navy had detected smoky signs that a rocket might have been fired by Hamas from the shores of Gaza. As a voice over the loudspeaker warned to take cover, the crew raced up the metal stairs to a small gym that doubles as an air raid shelter. It turned out to be a false alarm. Natural gas is both a geopolitical tool and a target in Israel, where a newfound bonanza of resources has the potential to improve ties with energy-hungry Egypt, Jordan and even the Palestinian Authority. But the linchpin of this diplomatic push is not an Israeli official, a Middle Eastern king or an American ambassador. It is an oil company in Texas.
Noble Energy, the Houston-based company that runs the Tamar platform and is developing another field nearby, has struck a series of deals in recent months to sell gas from Israel to its neighbors, an export strategy encouraged by the Obama administration to help ease tensions in the region. Both Jordan and the Palestinian Authority have signed preliminary agreements in recent months, while Noble is in talks to supply larger amounts of gas to Egypt. The corporate connection is crucial. As the main negotiator and broker, Noble is giving cover to leaders who could otherwise face political blowback for buying gas supplies in deals directly with the Israeli government. “What these deals demonstrate is that gas can be a tool for partnerships that are commercial with strong, positive geopolitical benefits,” said Carlos Pascual, a former international energy coordinator at the State Department.
Noble Energy, which has a taste for risky exploration in unlikely places like the Falkland Islands and Nicaragua, started exploring here in the late 1990s. The platform was built in Corpus Christi, Tex., and transported by boat to its present site. A slice of Gulf of Mexico oil culture came, too. The canteen serves fried shrimp and Dr Pepper. A handful of American industry veterans monitor the gas flows and train Israeli technicians. Noble, which completed the development of Tamar last year for $3.5 billion, says that it has found more than 800 billion cubic meters of gas off Israel. The finds would be enough to satisfy current Israeli demand for about a century, greatly easing the country’s need for imported fuels. Noble is acutely aware of its surroundings. Half of Israel’s electric power now comes from the natural gas that flows through Tamar, making the platform and an onshore processing plant a tempting focus for rockets from Hamas or more distant enemies. Security makes up about half the personnel on the Tamar platform. The platform “is a sitting duck,” said Amit Mor, an Israel energy consultant. While Israel’s gas consumption is growing fast, the domestic market is not large enough to fully tap Tamar’s potential, much less develop a much larger field called Leviathan. So Noble and its Israeli partners have focused on Egypt and Jordan as the nearest, cheapest-to-reach places to export. “As we learned more about the regional market and the need for gas of Israel’s neighbors, that became the more attractive approach,” said Binyamin A. Zomer, an Oklahoman who heads Noble’s operation here.
…While Jordan’s relations with Israel have been tense lately, the country has been a receptive customer because it badly needs gas for its growing energy needs. Since 2011, Jordan, like Israel, has had its gas supply disrupted, as militants in Sinai repeatedly attack a major gas pipeline from Egypt. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton talked to King Abdullah of Jordan about Israeli gas in 2011. Amos J. Hochstein, a top energy diplomat at the State Department, approached Noble Energy in early 2012 about making a deal with the Jordanians, according to American officials with knowledge of the meeting. Formal negotiations, involving company executives as well as Israeli, Jordanian and American officials, began that year at the Royal Court in Amman. But the talks dragged on for two years with negotiators shuttling between hotels on Jordan’s Dead Sea coast and the Hilton Hotel at London’s Paddington Station. In a volatile region, King Abdullah risked drawing the fire of domestic critics if he bought fuel from Israel. United States officials tried to smooth the process. They provided funding to train Jordanians in gas regulation. The American ambassador to Jordan, Stuart E. Jones, invited negotiators to continue talks in the relaxed atmosphere of his Amman residence when talks got tense elsewhere. Noble helped break the impasse by striking a separate deal with two Jordanian mineral companies, Arab Potash and Jordan Bromine. The companies will buy about $500 million of gas over 15 years from Tamar…
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CIJR Wishes All Our Friends & Supporters: Happy New Year!
Mounting Election Turmoil: Isi leibler, Candidly Speaking, Dec. 30, 2014 —It is still several months until the elections and the current opinion polls, in all probability, will be far from an accurate reflection of how voters actually cast their ballots.
Could Obama Swing the Israeli Election?: Steven J. Rosen, Gatestone Institute, Jan. 3, 2015—This is the first time since 2009 that the Obama Administration may think it has a credible opportunity to replace Benjamin Netanyahu with an Israeli government prepared to make more concessions to the Palestinians.
2015 IDF Military Intelligence ‘Crystal Ball’ Report: Hana Levi Julian, Jewish Press, Dec. 28, 2014—The upcoming calendar year will be filled with changes in the Arab world and new challenges for Israel to face, according to the IDF annual ‘crystal ball’ report from military intelligence. None of that is news to anyone living in this region.
Natural Gas Strengthens Israel, But It Won’t End Conflict: Jonathan S. Tobin, Commentary, Dec. 14, 2015 —Give the New York Times credit. Though much of the rest of the journalistic world has long ago given in-depth coverage to the story of how Israel’s development of natural gas fields is in the process of making it an energy superpower, the so-called newspaper of record eventually got around to it.
Israel's Gas Dream – The End Is Nigh: Gal Luft, Middle East Forum, Dec. 23, 2014—In the five years since the discovery of the Tamar and Leviathan natural gas fields off the coast of Israel, the Israeli energy discourse has focused on questions like what to do with the gas, how much of it to export and to whom, and what the fairest distribution of profits would be among the gas partners, headed by Noble Energy and Delek Energy, and the Israeli public.
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