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Transitional Times That Undermine Israel's Deterrence Capability

How Politics Weakens Israel and Emboldens Her Enemies

By C. Hart | October 31, 2008

The current lack of strong leadership at the helm of Israel’s government is being perceived as a symbol of weakness, especially by radical Islamists, who could exploit this period of uncertainty and use it to their advantage to further advance their goals of Middle East domination. The current vacuum in Israel’s political system affords rogue states and terrorist entities a window of opportunity to consolidate and formulate new strategies of aggression.

Global change and turbulence, in political and economic spheres, have dominated international media headlines, taking the focus off of Israel's deteriorating political situation which has remained critical since the summer of 2008. At that time Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's political career was shaken by accusations of corruption, forcing him to step down as head of the Kadima party, making way for a new Prime Minister to emerge in Israel.

Foreign Minister Tzippi Livni was then elected to lead the Kadima party, form a new government, and become the second female Prime Minister in Israel's history. But, she proved unsuccessful in pulling together a wide coalition of partners from Israel's various political parties.

Now, Israelis are looking towards new general elections in February 2009. Olmert is still the care-taker Prime Minister until a new government is formed, but the alleged crimes against him greatly limit his ability to govern because of a lack of trust and faith in him by a majority of Israelis. Any attempts by Olmert to engage in tough initiatives or strategic decision-making in political, diplomatic, or military arenas would be strongly frowned upon by both the Israeli public and members of his caretaker government. This serves to paralyze Israel on the international front, including a stalemate in the Middle East peace process until a more stable government is formed. What Olmert has done, recently, is exert his Prime Ministerial authority in regard to security issues, specifically alerting Israel’s enemies that the nation is watching and prepared to deal with any attempts by radical groups to commit terror acts against the Jewish state.

But, the political vacuum in Israel has already encouraged Fatah and Hamas to look for greater common ground. A reconciliation conference is expected to take place in Egypt in November 2008. Forging towards a new era of mutual cooperation, with the help of Egyptian mediators, these two groups could possibly form a national unity government by early 2009. This would undermine Israel's efforts to keep Hamas isolated within the global community. This current effort to unite the two groups would also benefit Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas who is looking for a way to curry favor with all Palestinians and stay in power after his presidency expires in January 2009.

POLITICAL UNCERTAINTY AND NEW TERROR

During this current period, when the U.S. leadership is also in political transition and there is less American mediation efforts on the Middle East track, Hamas has little incentive to negotiate a successful prisoner swap with Israel. Such a swap would result in the release of Israel's P.O.W. Gilad Shalit who has been held in captivity for more than two years. Shalit’s parents, along with their friends and relatives, have increased efforts towards his release by staging public protests. Frustrated by the lack of progress by Israeli negotiators, they are trying to garner public sympathy for an exchange that could result in 450-1,000 Palestinian prisoners being released from Israeli jails, many with “blood on their hands.” These prisoners might then be absorbed into a new, united Palestinian army made up of Fatah, Hamas, and former terrorists. Previous mass prisoner exchanges resulted in successfully formed terrorist cells located in the West Bank and Gaza.

Meanwhile, Hamas and Israel share a temporary cease fire, but it is only in effect until December 2008. Reports indicate that both sides want to renew the cease-fire agreement, but Hamas has new demands. Hamas is insisting on the opening of all border crossings in and out of Gaza, calling for an alleviation of the Israeli blockade posed on the Gaza Strip. For the most part, the border crossings have been closed as leverage by Egyptian and Israeli mediators to get Hamas to release Corporal Shalit.

Whether the cease-fire agreement will be renewed or not depends on whether Hamas is willing to reign in terror groups. There have already been several violations of the agreement, including infiltration attempts by terrorists through the porous Egyptian-Israeli border.

In recent days, there have also been increased stabbings of Israelis by Palestinian terrorists at border crossings in East and West Jerusalem. Israel's present political instability may embolden terror groups to take more daring actions as the cease-fire draws to an end. Already, Hamas has been accused of trying to kidnap IDF soldiers and smuggle them into the Gaza Strip in clear violation of the six month agreement with Israel. As December approaches, Hamas may decide to renew rocket fire from Gaza into Israeli towns in the Negev to test out newly improved and longer-range missiles they’ve acquired during the cease-fire period.

The peace and quiet that Gazans have experienced since the cease-fire was implemented in June has given a boost to Hamas’ popularity as a successful governing power. The group's efforts to supply the Gazan population with needed resources of food, shelter, and health services have solidified their political and military control over Gaza, giving them an impetus to try to obtain similar control in West Bank towns. This is one reason why the IDF has recently stepped up efforts to crack down on Hamas operatives in the Palestinian territories.

CLOSER COOPERATION BETWEEN TERRORISTS AND ROGUE STATES

What is even more disconcerting to Israeli intelligence officials is the Hizballah-Syrian axis that has solidified in recent months. This symbiotic relationship has afforded Hizballah operatives the freedom to access Syria’s strategic arms capabilities. Hizballah, in return, has done Syria’s bidding in Lebanon, a country that is semi-controlled by Hizballah’s para-military army. Hizballah also has a growing political presence in the Lebanese government where they can successfully use their veto power over major government decisions.

Behind the scenes, Iran and Syria play a major role in Lebanese politics, while continuing to supply, train and equip Lebanese terrorist groups in preparation for a future war with Israel. Of continuing concern is Hizballah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah’s determination to try and kidnap Israelis to avenge the death of arch-terrorist Imad Mugineyeh assassinated last year in Syria by unknown agents. Nasrallah blames Israel for Mugineyeh’s death.

IRAN

Distracted by the U.S. elections and the current global financial crisis, little is being done by international leaders to effectively thwart Iran’s alleged nuclear program. At the same time, Iranian leaders are taking advantage of this temporary diplomatic disengagement, engaging in their own saber rattling with Israel, the U.S. and the U.K. The Iranian government recently threatened to attack London if western nations dare to launch a pre-emptive strike on their nuclear facilities.

In the meantime, the international community cannot come to a consensus about increasing the UN’s monitoring capability in regard to the implementation of UN sanctions on Iran. UN monitors, in agreement with Israel, say that not every country is abiding by UN rules, but there’s no current way of forcing compliance on that issue.

HEBRON

The recent deployment of hundreds of Palestinian policemen into Hebron was approved by Labor party head and current Defense Minister Ehud Barak. This appears to be Barak's way of boosting Mahmoud Abbas' popularity in the West Bank. Some in Israel think that by helping Abbas stay in power, they are keeping at bay more extreme Palestinian elements who would like to seize the presidency. Barak has also demanded that the Palestinians crack down on Hamas elements in Hebron which police forces have attempted to do in recent days.

But, a small Hebron enclave of settlers, outnumbered and constantly threatened by a much larger Palestinian population, claim that the recent deployment is a recipe for disaster. While the extra numbers of Palestinian police may, in the short run, weaken Hamas and eliminate criminal elements in the city; in the long run, settlers claim they, themselves, will be in greater danger.

HOT SPOT

Look to Hebron becoming a hot spot in 2009, ignited by less of an IDF presence in the area (therefore, less protection for the Jewish settlers living there), and greater efforts by Palestinian police to take control over this ancient historical and biblical city. The changes in Hebron would upset the already delicate balance between Jews and Palestinians living there.

IMPROVING ISRAEL’S DETERRENCE CAPABILITY

It’s a known fact that Israeli skies are vulnerable to short-range missiles, with little defense in place to stop rocket attacks on the civilian population. Israeli officials admit that the Jewish state is ill-prepared for a future missile bombardment. Missiles launched by terrorists from Hamas controlled Gaza; from Hizballah controlled territory in Lebanon; and from Syria could result in a missile war over much of Israel’s land mass. This is a continuing challenge for Israel’s Home Front Command, as officials continue to work at upgrading bomb shelters and overcoming delays in the distribution of gas masks to the public.

The hope is that Israel will have its new anti-missile defense system in place by 2010 before Israel’s enemies try to exploit the situation further. At that time, Israel should also have a new stable government in place ruling the country, politically, and reaching out to the international community, diplomatically. This will come as a welcome sign on all fronts, after months of uncertainty amid increasing threats from Israel’s most hostile neighbors.