Israel Defending on Three Fronts
Several events dictate the atmosphere in Israel and the region heading into next week. Particularly Lebanon, Gaza and Jerusalem news are at the forefront of our attention.
To the north, Israel returned the bodies of the four Hezbollah terrorists at the request of the Lebanese government. Upon receipt of the bodies, several thousand Hezbollah supporters rallied in Beirut, chanting “Death to Israel” and “Death to America”. The four were killed in a Hezbollah raid this past Monday that apparently was designed to take Israeli prisoners, possibly to draw the IDF across the Blue Line and into Lebanon to escalate the situation on the ground. Aware of the planned operation beforehand, IDF leaders were in contact with UN peacekeepers (UNIFIL) beforehand.
To the south, the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt was officially reopened, and the Israelis will have no direct control of the flow. On the first day of its re-opening, 1,500 passed from Gaza into Egypt during the four-hour open operations. It is expected to be a 24-hour border crossing eventually. Israel keeps tabs on the flow to and from Egypt through video surveillance from a nearby base. The Rafah Crossing is overseen by EU observers in a deal brokered by the United States. With travelers no longer subject to Israeli questioning and scrutiny, how secure the PA and the EU observers can maintain the crossing (from Hamas and Islamic Jihad weapons trafficking) remains to be seen.
In other EU-Israeli-Palestinian developments to the east, the EU issued a stinging rebuke of Israel’s handling of the East Jerusalem area.
The confidential report, prepared by top diplomats representing the 25 EU governments in the city, warns that the chances of a two-state solution are being eroded by Israel’s “deliberate policy” - in breach of international of law - of “completing the annexation of East Jerusalem”. European Foreign Ministers this week vetoed planned publication of the report - which also warns that rapid expansion of Jewish settlements in and around East Jerusalem, along with use of the separation barrier to isolate East Jerusalem from the West Bank, “risk radicalising the hitherto relatively quiescent Palestinian population of East Jerusalem”.
With the ‘confidential’ report reported on Friday, this is a political development that will begin to play out in the news in the coming week. How the politically charged report from the EU will be greeted in Israeli political circles remains to be seen. Reportedly, one third of Israel’s Likud Party still supports Ariel Sharon, even after his defection from the party and creation of the new centrist Kadima Party. It will certainly not be a slow news week from Israel.