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2011

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February 4, 2011

February 21, 2011


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February 4, 2011

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Shalom from Idaho!


I am still in the United States following my father’s passing last month. I will be speaking this coming Wednesday evening at the Coeur d’Alene Bible Church at 7:00 PM, a meeting that was postponed due to his death last month. I will be focusing on the current crisis rocking Egypt and its implications for Israel and the wider Middle East. Meeting details are contained on my web site, www.ddolan.com I will also be speaking in May on the east coast before returning to Israel.


Several have written to ask if I would share my observations on the upheaval in Egypt and the region. I have done that below. Once again, the turbulent Middle East is at the center of world media attention, as happens periodically and will undoubtedly do so until the end of this era. The ripple effects from the current crisis will surely be enormous, so don’t expect this story to go away anytime soon. Please feel free to post this on other web sites and to publish it in other ways, with attribution.
Several interviews that I conducted in Israel for the Zola Levitt Presents television program are currently airing, including ones with speaker and author Lance Lambert, former Jerusalem Post columnist Saul Singer, and several leading Israeli archeologists. These will be followed later this month by an eight part series titled “The Land That Was Promised." In my segments, I give an overview of the history of Israel from the time of the Romans until today, and then discuss this and current events with program host Dr. Jeff Seif. The programs can be viewed on several television networks including ABC Family, and also at the Zola Levitt ministry’s web site.


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RADICAL ISLAM IS THE ULTIMATE ISSUE

By David Dolan


Despite the fact that I have lived and worked as a journalist in Israel for over 30 years, I’ve thankfully never had a gun pointed at me in the Lord’s special land. I have dodged bullets a few times, had stones hurled onto my car, and had rockets and mortar shells land nearby, especially when I lived along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon. I have also been in the vicinity of several major terror attacks, including one deadly atrocity just a couple blocks from my home.


I did have a rifle pointed at me on one occasion, but not on Israeli territory. The incident occurred just inside the Egyptian border with Israel. It was 1989, and I already knew from friends and media colleagues that the crossing point into the Egyptian-controlled Sinai Peninsula was rife with corrupt border guards who often demanded money from visitors entering Egypt, especially if they were Americans. One of them took my passport and hid it in a drawer, pretending 30 seconds later that I had not given it to him. I quickly realized he was expecting me to shelve out a bribe to get it back. Living for years in the troubled region, I refused to do. When I said I would return to the Israeli guard post to protest his theft, another nearby Egyptian security guard raised his rifle and threatened to shoot me. Fortunately the commotion caught the attention of the Israelis some 60 feet away, who came to my rescue.


So the fact that Hosni Mubarak’s police and security forces are rife with corruption has been evident to me for many years. Does this mean I have been advocating the ouster of his autocratic regime? Not at all. This is because I’ve also long understood that the Arab people in general, especially the vast majority who are practicing Muslims, tend to be very proud folks, with the Muslims believing that they are the Almighty’s uniquely chosen sons and daughters, not Christians or Jews. This deeply-held belief contributes to the fact that the Arab masses have often proved to be very unruly, as some of my Arab friends freely admit.


In my opinion, the tendency toward unruliness is the main factor underlining the reality that Arab governments have always been autocratic to some extent, with most wielding iron fists over their citizens. The majority of people are also undereducated in most Arab countries, and often steeped in poverty. This is partly the fault of their dictatorial governments, but also of their Islamic religious systems and overly large family sizes. Therefore “democracy” as we know it in the West is not necessarily the best form of government for Arab societies, with our systems of one-person, one-vote likely to lead to far more oppressive Islamic fundamentalist regimes coming to power in most cases than the governments currently in office.


It took a long time for Israeli government officials to realize that Islamic fundamentalism was and is the main factor in the Arab world’s rejection of a Jewish-run state in the heart of the mostly Muslim Middle East. They largely ignored the fact that the leader of the pan-Arab war against Israel in the 1950s and 60s, Egyptian strongman Gamal Nasser, frequently quoted from the Koran when spouting his anti-Israel diatribes despite the fact that he was backed by the atheist Soviet Union and not religiously observant himself. Nasser was simply bowing to the reality that most his Arab listeners were mosque-going Muslims who had a visceral hatred for Israel based mainly on their faith. It was no coincidence that the previous leader of the Arab world’s attempt to prevent a Jewish state from being formed, Haj Amin Husseini, was also the Muslim clerical chief in the Holy Land.


In a similar fashion, it took a long time for American and European government officials to acknowledge that Muslim fundamentalist groups were serious when they contended that Islam must and would prevail over the West in the struggle for world domination. The same was true for most academics and media pundits. I was not surprised when several of my American journalist colleagues working in Israel, particularly Tom Friedman of the New York Times and Bob Simon of CBS, criticized me for focusing on the new Palestinian Hamas movement in my first book, Holy War for the Promised Land, published by Thomas Nelson in early 1991. They especially questioned my prediction that the new Palestinian offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood movement (Al-Ikhwan Al-Muslimin in Arabic) would eventually surpass the PLO as the main local opponent of Israel. As I have noted before, my forecast that Hamas would become a major player in the ongoing conflict was not due to some supernatural ability to foresee the future, but because I understood that a literal reading of the Koran and of the Islamic ‘oral tradition’, the Hadith—which I pointed out was a central tenet of the Hamas movement—was the bedrock basis of the pan-Arab rejection of a Jewish state in their midst.


I also came under strong criticism for publicly questioning the wisdom of sending US and other Western forces to Iraq in 2003. It seemed to me, as it did to many of my Israeli government and security contacts, that overthrowing Saddam Hussein—as justified as that action obviously was—would only produce a political vacuum that Shiite fundamentalist Iran would eventually fill. I argued that as evil as the Iraqi dictator was, he was nevertheless an angel compared to the nuclear-bomb seeking devils running Iran.


I also pointed to the questionable contention that ‘democracy’ would be better for the Iraqi people than autocracy, noting that fairly free elections in Algeria in 1991 had been hijacked by Islamic parties who openly vowed to ditch such elections after using them to rise to power. Mirroring this in 2006, Hamas cynically used Palestinian elections, which were part of the Oslo peace process that they fiercely opposed, to come to power. It is simply a fact that a majority of voters in most Arab countries are observant Muslims. This reality will always lead to the triumph of anti-Western forces in uncontrolled Arab elections, period. It is also behind the escalating exodus of Arab Christians from Iraq, Lebanon, the Palestinian-controlled territories and elsewhere in the turbulent region.


Today, we see a growing chorus of American and other western leaders calling for Hosni Mubarak to leave office right away. The likelihood that his quick removal will only lead to the ultimate ascension to power of the fiercely anti-American and anti-Israel Muslim Brotherhood movement is largely ignored, or at least downplayed. Many acknowledge that the radical Islamic group is currently the only organized opposition political movement in Egypt. That being the case, the rush to dump Mubarak before other more secular parties can be functionally established is simply absurd, in my estimation. We are almost inviting the Caliphate-seeking Muslim Brothers to take over Egypt—a recipe that spells disaster for both Israel and the West.


Should the United States and other allies of Mubarak have pushed harder for real governmental reforms and more personal freedoms in Egypt? Without a doubt. However in their defense, most officials presumably understood that to do so in quick fashion was potentially opening a can of worms that would not in the end bring positive changes to the Egyptian people, but actually had the great potential to produce an even more oppressive, anti-Western regime, as may well be the ultimate outcome now.


We are told by the media that the marchers in Egypt have been acting spontaneously and are not organized by any one political party or force. Again, is it a just a coincidence that the initial flood of anti-government demonstrators burst onto the streets on January 28 following Friday Muslim services held in mosques all over Cairo, Alexandria and elsewhere? Yes, many of the protesters have been young, Facebook-using moderate Muslims, along with Western-leaning Coptic Christians and secular Egyptians, especially in the early days of the revolt. However the vast majority today are clearly observant Muslims who despise Israel and resent the powerful USA based mainly on their faith. The same is true with most of the anti-government protestors in Jordan, Yemen and elsewhere.


Israeli official are also looking with increasing trepidation to the north of their country where sworn enemies Iran and Syria have just succeeding in toppling the pro-Western Hariri government via their Hizbullah ally. This startling development has received very little media attention due to the crisis in Egypt. Is it not likely that this lack of attention is just as the evil regime ruling Iran wants it? The Iranians did not start the anti-Mubarak revolution, but they quickly jumped on board, and surely not with the goal of helping to promote Western-style democratic values in the Arab world’s largest country.


Will Egypt eventually break its peace treaty with Israel? I suspect that in the end, the American-funded and trained army will not allow this to take place. I noted in my latest book, Israel in Crisis, that Egypt is not listed in Psalm 83 as being among a host of regional Arab powers that will attempt to destroy Israel in the prophesied end days, while Jordan, Lebanon and Syria are mentioned, along with the Palestinians. While some are now saying that Egypt will participate in the Gog and Magog war prophesied in Ezekiel 38 and 39, I disagree. If the prophet had intended to pinpoint Egypt it would have been named as such, being a very distinct and powerful nation in ancient times. The listing of “Ethiopia” instead implies a power to the south of Egypt, which is probably today’s Islamic fundamentalist stronghold of Sudan, located in part of the territory where ancient Ethiopia stood.


Whatever the case, we can expect Islamic fundamentalist groups around the world to carry on with their intensifying jihad to topple pro-Western governments, with the ultimate goal being the destruction of Israel and the takeover of European countries and the United States. With that in mind, Western government officials need to tread very carefully as they help bring change to Egypt and the wider Middle East. And of course, everyone needs our prayers, especially the Arab and Iranian Christian minorities who are caught in the middle of the dramas swirling around them.
DAVID DOLAN is a Jerusalem-based author and journalist who has lived and worked in Israel since 1980.


February 21, 2011

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Shalom,

Below is my monthly news and analysis report covering the most important recent news from Israel and the very troubled Middle East. As you will expect, this month's report focuses on the political upheaval now gripping many Arab countries and Iran. The situation is quite volatile, with the possibility that Bahrain might fall to anti-Western Shiite forces linked to Iran, which would be a major game changer in the region. Saudi Arabia might be next—with all that implies for world oil markets and the struggling economy.

My planned tour to Israel in May has now been cancelled. Although quite a few expressed interest in it, not enough people signed up by the deadline to make it viable. When I saw television reports last month featuring American tourists and others stranded and quite desperate in Cairo, I assumed the tour would probably not come together. Although it is still very safe in Israel itself, it is true that upheaval is breaking out all around the country, in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and elsewhere. This could easily directly involve Israel at some stage, especially if Iran keeps pushing the envelope. I may possibly attempt to host a tour in 2012, and if so I will give due notice of that. In the meantime, keep Israel's leaders is special prayer—hey have momentous decisions to make in the near future.

********************************************

TURMOIL SPREADS IN TENSE MIDDLE EAST

By David Dolan

As with people everywhere on earth, Israelis watched the dramatic ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on February 11 with rapt attention. This came as anti-government street protests intensified in several other Muslim countries including Jordan, Bahrain, Libya, Algeria, Yemen and Iran. Despite the regional upheaval, Israeli officials were heartened that the interim military government which is now ruling Egypt has pledged to uphold the country's controversial peace treaty with Israel, at least until promised national elections bring a new government to power later this year.

Trying to forestall unrest on his own streets, the Palestinian Authority Prime Minister dissolved his cabinet during the month and pledged to hold fresh parliamentary and presidential elections. The opposition Hamas movement that violently seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007 denounced the move, saying it would boycott the upcoming vote. This came after Hamas hailed the “popular revolution” in Egypt, apparently hoping it will ultimately lead to the radical Muslim Brotherhood movement taking over the troubled neighboring country. Meanwhile Israeli leaders expressed concern that Hamas might now gain an even greater ability to smuggle in weapons from the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula due to the instability in Cairo and elsewhere.

Israeli officials were also keeping a close watch on developments in Iran, where anti-government protestors took to the streets after being brutally repressed by the regime's security forces two years ago. They also expressed alarm over reports that two Iranian warships were sailing through the Suez Canal on their way to Syria. Some analysts said the ship transits were another indication that the radical Shiite government based in Tehran is stepping up efforts to use the regional turmoil to strengthen Iran's allies and agents operating in the Arab world. Officials expressed particular concern that violent clashes in Bahrain—home base of America's strategic Fifth Flee—are being egged on by Iran, with evidence suggesting that its surrogate Lebanese Hizbullah force is also involved.

Amid the regional turmoil, Israel's new military chief of staff was sworn in during February as speculation grew that the outgoing chief will enter the political realm. In Europe, politicians in both Greece and Holland expressed solidarity with the Jewish state, as did legislators in the United States, Britain and elsewhere. Meanwhile Israeli officials were gearing up for widespread labor strikes being organized by the Histadrut national workers federation. The potential labor union disruptions are mainly designed to protest the continuing rise in food and fuel costs—ne of the core issues that brought demonstrators to the streets of Egypt and elsewhere.

BYE BYE MUBARAK

Israeli officials were not exactly thrilled that beleaguered Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was forced out of office in February by huge numbers of street protestors demanding he leave Cairo. Although his relations with the Jewish state were strained at times, Mubarak's overall record of keeping his large nation fairly stable over the past three decades while adhering to the Camp David peace accords was deeply appreciated in Jerusalem. After all, the previous two Egyptian leaders, Gamal Nasser and Anwar Sadat, had gone to war against Israel, although Sadat subsequently signed the American–mediated peace agreement and was assassinated for that major move (Sadat's Egyptian assassin has a street named after him in Tehran). Likewise Palestinian Authority officials viewed Mubarak's steady administration as beneficial to both the PA and to most of the Egyptian people. Hamas on the other hand had always espoused the anti-Mubarak stand that was the bedrock of its parent Islamic Sunni Arab organization, the Muslim Brotherhood Movement.

Israeli government and security officials enjoyed close working relations with Mubarak and other Egyptian government leaders. While obviously aware that the regime was basically autocratic and hardly resembled the vibrant democratic system thriving in Israel, they pointed out that Mubarak's rule was nevertheless relatively benign, at least in regional Arab-Muslim terms. Certainly his government showed nowhere near the levels of oppression displayed by the Syrian Assad dictatorship, which has slaughtered thousands of its own citizens over the decades, or the demented Iranian clerical regime that likewise uses disproportionate force to quell anti-government demonstrations. Nor was Mubarak considered anywhere nearly as corrupt as the late PA leader Yasser Arafat, Libya's exotic strongman Muammar Gaddafi or Tunisia's exiled President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

On top of this, Israeli politicians and pundits pointed out that the people Mubarak was suppressing in his teeming country were mostly Muslim extremists of the Hamas variety. It was army personnel linked to the Muslim Brotherhood that shot dead his predecessor Anwar Sadat in October 1981, meaning these opposition forces had previously demonstrated that they were both capable of, and willing to use murderous violence to promote their extremist goals. Knowing the movement would break all military ties with the United States if it came to power—which would in turn undoubtedly lead to a cutoff of vital military and economic assistance from Washington—Mubarak was actually acting in the best interests of most of his citizens by suppressing the Muslim Brothers, said many commentators. They noted that Palestinians living in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip have seen unemployment increase and personal religious and political freedoms reduced under radical Islamic rule, with all women once again consigned to the veil. The same would have probably been the case in Egypt if Hosni Mubarak had not run his impoverished country with a bit of an iron fist.

UNHAPPY WITH OBAMA

Some Israeli officials and many regional analysts were quite open in their criticism of how the Obama Administration handled the crisis in Egypt. Similar concerns were more quietly expressed by American-backed Arab governments in several Gulf countries, and in Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Israeli analysts opined that while the mass anti–Mubarak street protest were mainly initiated by young people seeking jobs and expanded personal freedoms, including many Coptic Christians who make up nearly 10% of Egypt's mushrooming population, it was quickly dominated by observant Muslims who poured out in droves from thousands of mosques on Friday, January 28 to massively bolster the previous street protests. Most of the Muslims were hardly advocating better access to the internet and the liberalization of society, as portrayed in many sympathetic international media reports. While they did demand more jobs and less police brutality, most have also long wanted to see Western influence over Egypt either reduced or eliminated altogether, not to mention the abrogation of the Camp David accords with Israel, even if this further harmed their struggling economy.

Given the fact that he was one of America's staunchest allies in the Arab world, where anti–Western sentiments are usually a core feature of most Islamic mosques, commentators said the Obama administration's relatively quick abandonment of Mubarak was sure to give sleepless nights to other allies. Many Israeli Middle East analysts noted that the conditions for significant democratic reforms taking hold in most regional countries simply do not exist. Extremists will always cynically use such reforms to further their radical agendas, just as Hamas rode the Palestinian electoral process created by the Oslo peace accords to come to power in 2006. They recalled that US President Jimmy Carter initially encouraged the popular overthrow of another pro–American Muslim ally, the Shah of Iran, only to be met with the fiercely anti–American regime that still rules the Shiite country thirty years later. If the same thing were to happen in heavily-armed Egypt and Saudi Arabia, Osama Bin Laden and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would be much closer to fulfilling their publicly–stated goals of removing Western influence from the region after destroying Israel.

Suspicions in Jerusalem that the despotic Iranian regime and Al Qaida were playing separate, but influential roles in promoting the so-called “democratic reform revolution” in the region intensified when widespread unrest broke out in both Yemen and Bahrain in the wake of Mubarak's dramatic ouster. Neither country's autocratic leaders are considered terribly repressive of their citizen-opponents, unlike in Egypt, Iran and Syria. Yemen is a known Al Qaida stronghold, with its pro-American Sunni Arab government doing its best to help the United States and its allies suppress the violent Sunni terrorist movement that has declared a war of annihilation against America and Israel. Located further north on the Arabian Peninsula, the small island country of Bahrain is Sunni–ruled, yet a majority of its citizens are Shiite Muslims. They are bolstered by thousands of Iranian, Iraqi and Lebanese Shiite foreign workers. Many would probably not mind if Iran's militant brand of Islam ended up dominating the region.

Bahrain is also the home of America's Fifth Fleet and other US and British military forces, meaning its strategic value to the West is arguably greater than Egypt's. Israeli officials are therefore hoping that American military leaders will put much stronger pressure on President Obama and his deputies to support the government there while continuing to call for needed reforms. Israeli leaders assess that the loss of US port rights in Bahrain would greatly embolden Iran and increase the chances of a full–scale war erupting with the rogue Muslim country and its anti–Israel allies in Syria, Lebanon, and the Gaza Strip.

SOME RELIEF

Despite their justifiably deep anxieties, Israeli leaders said they were fairly certain the US-funded and trained Egyptian military would retain substantial power and influence in a post Mubarak Egypt, which would hopefully help keep the Camp David peace accords intact. Officials in Jerusalem were relieved when Egypt's ambassador to Washington, Sameh Shoukry, told the American ABC television network that the peace treaty with Israel would be honored by the interim military government which has taken temporary control of the country.

Addressing the annual meeting of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in Jerusalem on February 16, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said it was too early to tell where the street revolt in Egypt would lead to. However he warned that “popular uprisings” against sitting dictators often end up paving the way for even more oppressive regimes to rise to power, such as happened in Russia in 1917, Iran in 1979 and Lebanon in 2006, where the ouster of Syrian occupation forces eventually acted to strengthen the militant Hizbullah movement. The Premier said Israel “shares the world's hopes that Egypt will succeed in its quest for genuine reform, but unlike other democracies, we cannot just hope for the best, but must prepare for the worst.”

The Likud party leader indirectly admitted that he has been warning President Obama and other allied leaders of the possible dangerous outcome ahead in Egypt and the region, saying he has “a responsibility to do whatever I can to increase the chances that the negative possibilities don't materialize.” He added that “Israel cannot profess neutrality about the outcome, because above all, we want the future Egyptian government to remain committed to peace with Israel.”

PM Netanyahu's speech came as youthful leaders of the so-called “April 6th movement that played a seminal role in the massive street revolt demanded that the next Egyptian government halt all natural gas sales to Israel. Political analysts said this was a worrisome indication that the “reform” group is basically hostile to the Jewish state. Ironically, the productive gas fields in the Sinai Peninsula were first discovered and developed by Israel when it controlled the territory between 1967 and 1981. A pipeline transporting natural gas to Israel and Jordan was ambushed during the massive street demonstrations, temporarily cutting off supplies to both countries.

During his Jerusalem address, PM Netanyahu also commented on a recent speech delivered in Beirut by Hizbullah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah. It was the radical cleric's first televised address since his movement managed to topple the pro-Western Hariri government in January and bring in a Hizbullah-backed cabinet headed by prime minister-designate Nagib Mikati. The Hizbullah leader maintained that Lebanese forces would “conquer” Israel's northern Galilee region in any future war. Alluding to the fact that Nasrallah has stayed away from public events since the end of the 2006 conflict, Netanyahu said that “whoever hides in a bunker should stay in the bunker.” In a message that was undoubtedly meant for a wider audience as well, the Premier added that “No one should doubt Israel's strength, or its ability to defend itself. Nasrallah said he would capture the Galilee. I have news for you—ou won't. We seek peace with all of our neighbors, but the IDF is prepared to defend Israel from any of its enemies.”

WHAT WILL THE BROTHERS DO NEXT?

As they keep a wary eye on spreading instability in the wider Middle East and North Africa, Israeli leaders are closely following street protests in nearby Jordan, which shares a border with Israel that is nearly twice as long as the one with Egypt. Although the Jordanian government is considered to be in much better control of its streets than the Mubarak regime was—mainly due to the relative strength and popularity of the Hashemite monarchy led by King Abdullah—t nevertheless has a majority Palestinian population comprised mostly of young descendants of Arabs who fled their homes during the 1948 and 1967 Arab–Israeli wars. The Moslem Brotherhood movement is quite active in the country, mainly via its Hamas branch. It has been stepping up demands for the severing of the peace treaty with Israel, signed by the late King Hussein and Yitzhak Rabin in 1994.

In an attempt to forestall trouble in Palestinian Authority zones of control, PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad dissolved his cabinet on February 13 and announced that municipal elections would be held in July, followed by parliamentary and presidential elections in September—the month when the PA says it will declare unilateral statehood in all areas captured by IDF forces from Jordan in 1967, including the eastern half of Jerusalem. Hamas immediately denounced the move, saying it would not allow the twin ballots to take place in the Gaza Strip. This promoted PA President Mahmoud Abbas to declare he will not go forward with the planned elections if Hamas boycotts the vote. Earlier, the 75 year old leader announced that he will not seek reelection to the presidential post.

Widespread criticism of the PA increased last month after the controversial Al Jazeera Arab satellite news network published PA documents that were stolen from PA peace negotiator Saeb Erekat's office in Ramallah. The so-called “Palestine Papers” detailed several significant concessions being considered by PA officials, including allowing contested Israeli settlement blocks to remain in place after a final peace accord is signed. Erekat resigned his position in February, taking full responsibility for the embarrassing theft. At the same time, he again blasted the Arab satellite channel, charging that its agents had engaged in “forgery and distortion.” Many other regional Arab officials have echoed the PA criticism, saying Al Jazeera has become an advocate for the radical Islamic agenda fomented by the Muslim Brothers and Al Qaida. Both Sunni fundamentalist groups want an Islamic caliphate to be established that would enforce strict sharia law in all Arab countries, and eventually throughout the world.

The United Nations Security Council voted on a draft resolution on February 19 that termed all Israeli settlement communities illegal, implying they must all be abandoned as part of a final peace accord. Calling for an immediate halt to all Jewish construction in the disputed territories, the initiative was sponsored by 120 countries. The United States vetoed the resolution despite its frequent demand that Israel freeze home building in all portions of Jordan's former West Bank, including in eastern Jerusalem. Meanwhile PA President Abbas said the Palestinians will not renounce their demand for control over the Old City's Armenian Christian Quarter as part of any final peace deal. Meeting with local Arab Christian leaders in Ramallah, he said "The Palestinian leadership sticks to its position that regards the Armenian Quarter as an integral part of east Jerusalem, the capital of the independent Palestinian state." The small Jerusalem Armenian Christian community is known to be unhappy with the prospect of returning to Arab-Muslim control after over four decades of moderate Israeli rule.

IRAN TESTS THE WATERS

Israeli leaders were not surprised when Iran tested the new interim Egyptian government by sending two naval warships through the Suez Canal for the first time in over thirty years. The ships were reportedly on their way to the Syrian port of Latakia, which is also used by Russian navy vessels. Prime Minister Netanyahu expressed grave concern over the Suez transit, which was approved by the new interim Egyptian government. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman called the action "a provocation which demonstrates that the overconfidence of the Iranians is increasing from day to day." He added that international leaders need to "put the Iranians in their place."

Thousands of Iranians took to the streets mid-month to call for regime change in their oppressive country. As occurred two years ago after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was fraudulently returned to power in rigged elections, the rouge regime used its Revolutionary Guard forces to violently suppress the protests. Claiming the demonstrations were “heading nowhere,” the fanatic Shiite leader poked fun at the assaulted Iranian protestors on national television, saying they “threw some dust towards the sun, but the dust will return to their eyes.” Unlike in 2009, President Obama publicly applauded the protesters while denouncing the cruel government crackdown. “I find it ironic that you've got the Iranian regime pretending to celebrate what happened in Egypt, when in fact they have acted in direct contrast to what happened in Egypt by gunning down and beating people who were trying to express themselves peacefully.”

Israeli officials are expressing concerns over an upcoming UN Atomic Energy Agency report that is expected to say that Iran's nuclear uranium enrichment program has recovered quicker than expected from a computer virus bug that destroyed some of its centrifuges. Iranian officials charged that the virus, known as Stuxnet, was introduced by “foreign Zionist agents,” thought to be a reference to the United States, Israel, the UK and possibly several other European countries.

NEW CHIEF OF STAFF

As turbulent street protests spread like wildfire to many parts of the region, a new Israeli Armed Forces Chief was sworn in during February. Lieutenant General Benny Gantz becomes the IDF's twentieth military commander. In a ceremony in Tel Aviv, Gantz proclaimed that he was taking charge of a “strong, disciplined and persistent army. Having served as deputy chief of staff under retiring IDF Chief Gabi Ashkenazi, Gantz is expected to carry on with most of his predecessors programs and reforms. Prime Minister Netanyahu commended the new leader for his “unique manner that combines calm, persistence and pleasantness, ensuring stability and continuity.”

Under Israeli law, a retiring military commander must wait three years before entering the political world. Many of Israel's top leaders have come from IDF ranks, including current Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon and the late Yitzhak Rabin. Speculation about Ashkenazi's future abounded during February, with most predicting he will join a major political party when his time-out expires.

With defense spending cuts being recommended in the United States and many other countries due to the worldwide economic slowdown, Israeli leaders are confident that they can maintain or even increase their current budget because of the country's strong economic recovery. Statistics released by the government during the month showed that Israel's Gross Domestic Product rose by 5.4% during the second half of 2010, up from 5% during the first half of the year. The performance was among the best among industrialized countries, with only a few places like Chile and South Korea growing faster than Israel. Part of Israel's economic strength was attributed to a record year in overseas tourism, which brought nearly three and a half million visitors to the land during 2010. However officials admitted that the tourism sector will probably not perform as well this year, given that widespread unrest is currently rippling through the region, if not actually occurring inside of Israel.

Realizing the scriptures tell us that everything which can be shaken will be shaken in the biblical last days, it is comforting to know the prophets also foretold that the time of Jacob's troubles will come to an end when the Jewish Messiah transforms the world, bringing in peaceful tranquility under His beneficent rule. “The wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the young goat...They will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:6 and 9).


DAVID DOLAN is a Jerusalem-based author and journalist who has lived and worked in Israel since 1980.


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