March 2, 2010==================
Below is my latest Israel news update, covering the most important stories over the past month in Israel and the region. The drama surrounding the killing of a Hamas leader in an Arab Gulf state is the lead story. I also take a look at a series of warlike words that flew during the month between Israeli officials and the leaders of Syria, Iran, Hamas and Hizbullah.
I enjoyed seeing many friends, and making some new ones, during my nearly month long speaking tour in Australia. It is a lovely land and the people are very nice, and the food is pretty good as well! The summer rains were mostly refreshing, and it was good to see so much green around. Blessings to all Down Under!
I will be speaking in the Portland and Seattle areas later this month, and later this Spring in Florida, Texas and Atlanta Georgia before returning to Israel with my tour group in early June. I will be posting my schedule on my web site, www.ddolan.com I am looking forward to being with all who have signed up for the tour.
DUBAI KILLING SPARKS REGIONAL COMMOTION
By David Dolan
The January 19 slaying in Dubai of a senior Palestinian Hamas figure dominated headlines throughout the Middle East during February, with charges growing that a network of Israeli Mossad agents carried out the killing. Reverberations increased after it was revealed that passports belonging to several European and Australian nationals, some living in Israel, had been used in the operation. While not yet formally blaming Jerusalem for the assassination, officials in Dubai said they were almost certain it was carried out by Israeli security agents.
On the diplomatic front, indirect peace negotiations are expected to begin soon between Israeli government officials and the Palestinian Authority after a break of over one year. The talks will be mediated by the United States, which has been pressing for a resumption of the stalled negotiations ever since Barack Obama assumed office in January 2009.
A new opinion survey was released indicating that current PA leaders belonging to the PLO Fatah party will trounce their Hamas rivals if Palestinian legislative and presidential elections are held as scheduled in July. Meanwhile skirmishes between Palestinians and Israeli police and army forces escalated in several places. Clashes began in Hebron when Palestinian youths attacked army forces after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu declared the venerated Tomb of the Patriarchs to be a national heritage site. Violence later spread to Jerusalem, centered on the Temple Mount and other parts of the walled Old City.
Earlier in the month, Netanyahu visited Moscow, mainly to hold talks on the menacing Iranian nuclear threat and plans by Russia to supply advanced weapons to Iran’s extremist Shiite regime. Iranian leaders issued new calls for Israel’s destruction while significantly stepping up their nuclear uranium enrichment program. Coming as a welcome surprise to Israeli officials, the new Japanese head of the United Nations Atomic Energy Agency stated what his Egyptian predecessor had refused to admit: Growing evidence strongly suggests Iran is secretly working to produce death dealing nuclear weapons.
Iran’s notorious president claimed during the month that Israel is preparing to launch a major military offensive in the region this coming spring or summer. This followed new war threats from senior Syrian officials, echoed later in the month by Hizbullah and Hamas leaders. Israel’s Foreign Minister indicated massive retaliation would follow any Syrian missile blitz upon Israeli civilian centers, which sparked off more warlike words from Damascus and a political firestorm in Jerusalem.
THE MYSTERY DEEPENS
The January 19 assassination of Hamas arms dealer and terrorist plotter Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh in Dubai continued to feature prominently in both Israeli and Arab media reports throughout the region during February, and also in many countries abroad. Televised reports included hotel surveillance video showing a number of the 26 suspects fingered by Dubai authorities for carrying out the apparently elaborately planned killing. The video, released in late February by the government of Dubai, included several females. The alleged perpetrators were said to have entered the country using twelve forged British passports, six more from Ireland, four from France, three Australian passports, and one from Germany. Hit squad members were said to have used credit cards issued in the United States.
Dubai’s police chief, Dahi Khalfam Tamim, announced on February 18 that he was “ninety nine per cent certain” that the Israeli Mossad intelligence agency was responsible for the dramatic killing. He said once this allegation was proven without any remaining doubt, he would ask Interpol to issue an international warrant for the arrest of Mossad chief Meir Dagan, along with a possible warrant for PM Netanyahu and for those suspects who can be identified.
This came as the London Times newspaper reported that Dagan—appointed by Ariel Sharon in 2002 to run the secretive Mossad agency—has been quietly overseeing a series of foreign hit operations against Hamas and Hizbullah agents, designed to neutralize some of Israel’s fiercest enemies. The paper said this was part of Israel’s growing regional struggle with shadowy Iranian security agents who have stepped up their own anti-Israel operations. The Mossad has been widely mentioned as the most likely candidate behind a 2008 car bombing in Damascus that killed Hizbullah’s militia commander, Imad Mugniyeh. The Lebanese Shiite group recently repeated its vow to avenge his death.
The Israeli Premier and other senior cabinet ministers had little comment on their government’s alleged involvement in the Dubai operation. However in remarks made at a conference of European Union officials in Brussels on February 23, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman did not deny outright that Israeli agents were behind the action. He instead told EU leaders that nothing concrete had yet come to light linking Israel with Al-Mabhouh’s killing.
Lieberman pointed to evidence which he said strongly suggests Arab parties were behind the slaying, especially the early February arrest in Amman Jordan of two Fatah party officials who were quickly extradited to Dubai on suspicion of being involved in the plot to kill the Hamas weapons dealer. One of the two men was said to be an active officer in the PA police force.
The Abu Dhabi newspaper Al-Ittihad quoted Dubai’s police chief saying he suspected a Palestinian “mole” had someone managed to penetrate the ruling Hamas circle in the Gaza Strip. He averred that such a man was “the real killer” since he purportedly betrayed the dead victim to Israeli Mossad agents and probably passed on his exact travel plans to them.
Analysts said that if an inside Palestinian double agent was indeed cooperating with the Mossad (as has certainly occurred many times in the past), it would be another sign of the growing ties between Israeli security forces and their Palestinian Authority counterparts. Such cooperation was vividly illustrated during late February when the IDF announced that PA policemen had shared crucial information with Israeli military intelligence officers about a Palestinian Kassam rocket which had been secretly manufactured at an undisclosed location in an area under PA control. The rocket was said to have been discovered just minutes before being launched at a target somewhere in central Israel, which includes Ben Gurion airport and nearby Tel Aviv. The IDF statement said the Palestinian police interception was the result of increasingly close cooperation between PA and Israeli security forces.
The fact that the forged passports belonged to citizens of countries enjoying good diplomatic ties with Israel led to widespread concern in Jerusalem that relations with the allied nations might become strained over the alleged Israeli operation. Israeli diplomats were called in for urgent consultations in Canberra and in the four European countries whose passports were allegedly carried by the hit squad. But British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said his government mainly “wanted to give Israel every opportunity to share with us what it knows about this incident.” Press reports in London said most of the British passports belonged to UK citizens who visited Israel last year—with the passports said to have been copied surreptitiously by Mossad agents working at border control outposts at Ben Gurion airport.
The London Daily Mail maintained that Mossad leaders actually warned their British M16 counterparts they would be using forged UK passports in a pending “overseas operation.” The paper added that the reported action, which was naturally neither confirmed or denied by British and Israeli security officials, was merely a “courtesy call” designed to inform M16 leaders that forged UK passports would be involved.
The article noted that Israeli and British security agents normally cooperate quite closely in efforts to monitor and disrupt Islamic terror groups which have attacked both countries in recent years. This was later confirmed in a London speech delivered by retired British Colonel Richard Kemp, who commanded UK forces in Afghanistan during 2003. He also noted that British military officers maintain a warm and mutually beneficial relationship with IDF commanders.
One Israeli leader did openly hail the Dubai Hamas killing—former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, who heads the opposition Kadima party. She said that whether or not Israeli Mossad agents actually carried out the elaborate operation, the mere contention that they probably did so acts to help deter Israel’s many Muslim enemies from carrying out further terrorist operations. It later emerged that it is also helping the spy agency gain new recruits, with applications from young Israelis rising substantially during February.
INDIRECT PEACE TALKS SET TO RESUME
American President Barack Obama’s year long push to get stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations going again seemed to finally bear fruit during the month. PA leader Mahmoud Abbas, who has been the main resistor to resuming the talks which have run hot and cold for nearly 20 years, finally gave in to the White House pressure. However he insisted his negotiators could not sit in the same room with Israelis representing the Netanyahu government, even though direct talks had taken place under all previous prime ministers going back to Yitzhak Rabin in the mid 1990s.
If they indeed get underway, the so-called “proximity talks” will be mediated by an American diplomatic team headed by Middle East envoy George Mitchell, of Lebanese extraction. The former US senator will convey messages between the two sides, positioned in different buildings. Israeli officials said they hope the circuitous negotiations can quickly be transformed into face to face talks once again, noting that much more can be accomplished when the opposing teams are actually working in the same room looking each other in the eye.
Just before the PA leader agreed to resume indirect peace negotiations with Israel, his office announced that Palestinian presidential and parliamentary elections will be held this coming July in all PA areas of control north and south of Jerusalem, and also in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. The statement said the elections would further the PA government’s plan to “complete the building of the institutions of state.” True to form, Hamas leaders denounced the move, claiming the “illegal decision” was mainly designed to weaken the Hamas chokehold on the small Palestinian coastal zone.
The latest Palestinian opinion poll, conducted during mid-February in the West Bank and Gaza Strip by the Ramallah-based Near East group, found that 44% of Palestinian voters plan to cast ballots for PLO Fatah party candidates despite continuing media reports of widespread corruption in the ruling party. Only 11% said they would choose Hamas candidates who oppose the peace process and want to establish an Islamic fundamentalist Palestinian state. However the poll also showed that 31% of voters remain undecided, meaning it is still too early to accurately project the final vote outcome.
The opinion survey of some 880 Palestinian voters revealed the deep internal split that still remains inside the Palestinian camp nearly three years after Hamas violently ousted the PA government from the Gaza Strip. A slight majority, 54%, say the Fatah-led PA administration headquartered in Ramallah is the “legitimate” Palestinian government. But nearly one in five Palestinians insists that distinction belongs to the Hamas administration which governs from Gaza City. Demonstrating how deep the internal divisions still are, along with skepticism that the rift can be healed, over a quarter of those surveyed said neither government is legitimate in their opinion.
Some analysts said support for Abbas may drop due to an embarrassing sex scandal that came to light in late February. Media reports said Rafik Husseini, who served as chief of staff in the PA leader’s office, had used his powerful position to pressure a number of women into having sexual intercourse with him. The reports claimed Abbas knew of the matter for over one year, but had taken no action against his office chief until the immoral actions became public knowledge. The PA leader then suspended Husseini, who was caught naked on videotape with a Palestinian woman that he agreed to help in exchange for sex.
NO INDEPENDENT INQUIRY
The Israeli cabinet decided in mid February not to establish an independent inquiry commission to investigate the UN Goldstone report’s charges that Israeli soldiers committed war crimes during the Cast Lead military operation against Hamas fighters in the Gaza Strip. The ministers instead determined that a recent official government letter sent to UN Secretary Ban Ki Moon sufficiently answered the main charges made by the UN Human Rights Commission headed by South African Supreme Court Judge Richard Goldstone. However the UN chief said he was “not sure” the letter contained enough “credible evidence” that a serious investigation had actually been conducted.
Officials had hoped the 46 page missive would be enough to convince the UN head that Israel took the UN allegations quite seriously. They noted the letter revealed that the IDF had conducted probes into over 150 reported human rights violations, of which 36 were actual criminal investigations. As part of that process, over 100 Palestinians were questioned, along with field IDF officers and many others. Some soldiers have already been prosecuted or otherwise disciplined for verified conduct violations, they noted.
In stark contrast to this, Hamas leaders went back on a public indication last year that that they were “sorry” Israeli civilians had been hit by Hamas rocket fire during the conflict. Israeli officials had earlier scoffed at the half hearted apology, delivered by a Hamas spokesman, noting that thousands of Palestinian Kassam rockets have been deliberately aimed at civilian communities for many years, especially at the besieged Israeli town of Sderot.
Israeli leaders were not over thrilled when the Kremlin extended an official invitation in February to overall Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal to visit Moscow. Few details were released about his discussions mid month with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Unlike Russia, Israeli and American leaders believe Hamas is a major obstacle to ongoing peace moves in the region, not a potential peace partner.
Mashaal later told the London-based Al Hayat newspaper that if conflict breaks out again between his extremist group and Israel, it “will not be limited this time to the Gaza Strip, but will engulf the entire region.” A similar statement was made during February by Lebanese Hizbullah militia leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, who said any action between his group and Israel will spark off a greater Middle East war.
It sounded a bit like war in the center of Jerusalem in late February after Palestinian Muslims threw stones at Jewish worshipers at the Western Wall just below the Temple Mount. Israeli police then stormed the sacred site, sparking off fierce clashes in many parts of the Old City.
The violence began earlier in the week in Hebron after PA leader Abbas claimed the Israeli government’s designation of the Tomb of the Patriarchs in the city as a “national heritage site” was an attempt to take it over and push Muslim worshipers out the door. PA leaders also protested a similar designation for Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem. PM Netanyahu said the designation would herald no actual changes on the ground. But analysts said it was a clear indication he has no intention of abandoning the widely revered ancient Jewish holy sites as part of any final peace deal with the Palestinians.
FRONT AND CENTER
The Israeli Premier visited the Kremlin mid month, meeting with senior Russian officials including Vladimir Putin. Coming in the wake of Iran’s announcement that it had begun enriching its uranium stockpile up to 20%--bringing it much closer to weapons grade material—it was no surprise that the main topic of discussion was the growing nuclear threat Iran poses to Israel, and the role Russia is playing in that unnerving reality.
During a post-meeting news conference with Putin, the Israel leader stated rather cryptically that “Russia understands the Iranian problem.” He added that tougher economic sanctions must be enacted against the rogue Shiite Iranian regime, specifically targeting Iran’s vital energy sector. This came after Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Al Faisal indicated that the United States might need to take imminent military action to halt Iran’s outlawed nuclear program. He told a news conference in the presence of visiting American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that "sanctions are a long-term solution, but we see the issue in the shorter term because we are closer to the threat,” adding that “We need immediate resolution rather than gradual resolution."
Soon after Netanyahu returned from Moscow, Russian officials announced that delivery of the advanced S-300 anti missile system, purchased several years ago by Iran, would be further delayed due to unspecified “technical problems.” Israeli officials have long argued that the sophisticated system should never be handed over to the Shiite clerical regime. Meanwhile a German newspaper quoted an internal Atomic Energy Agency memo stating that an unnamed Russian nuclear scientist is secretly helping Iranian engineers develop nuclear warheads.
WAR OF WORDS
PM Netanyahu also used his Moscow visit to denounce recent Iranian claims that Israel is preparing for an imminent military offensive in the region. He said no such assault is on the table. His comment came just days after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claimed to possess information that “Israel is seeking to start a war next spring or summer,” boasting that “the resistance and regional states will finish them off if this fake regime does anything again.”
The notorious Iranian leader—miraculously re-elected as president last June when he somehow captured more votes than there are registered voters in his country—did not specify who Israel would purportedly attack during such an offensive. The Reuters news agency reported that he told Syrian dictator Bashar Assad by telephone that Israel would be “finished off once and for all” if it launches any military assault. Assad himself earlier joined Hizbullah leader Nasrallah and Turkish Premier Recep Erdogan in contending that Israel is planning to attack Shiite forces in Lebanon this coming May. The Syrian leader said his substantial armed forces would actively defend Iranian-commanded Hizbullah militiamen in any such operation. The Lebanese government echoed this ominous statement. The hostile words were repeated during a summit meeting that Assad hosted in Damascus late in the month with Ahmadinejad and Nasrallah.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak sparked off an earlier exchange or verbal blasts when he stated that “all out war” could break out unless negotiations with Syria were seriously pursued by Israel. Apparently misinterpreting this as a military threat, President Assad charged that Israel was “leading the region to war.” Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al Moallem then ominously stated that “the next war will be waged inside your cities.” Foreign Minister Lieberman reacted by strongly hinting at massive Israeli retaliation following any Syrian missile blitz on Israeli civilian areas, telling Assad that “not only will you lose the war, you and your family will no longer be in power." Opposition politicians claimed Lieberman spoke too strongly, with some demanding he be sacked.
As Israel’s enemies rant and rave, and with a looming nuclear threat hanging over their heads, the Israeli people need to call upon their Sovereign Lord like never before—the One who promises that during the biblically prophesied end of days, “Man will have regard for his Maker, and his eyes will look to the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 17:7).
DAVID DOLAN is a Jerusalem-based author and journalist who has lived and worked in Israel since 1980.
March 29, 2010
Shalom, and happy Passover and/ or Resurrection Day to all who celebrate one
or the other, or both as some do in Israel!
Below is my latest news review covering the most important developments affecting
Israel and the Middle East during March. As many of you would have anticipated,
this month I focus on the escalating crisis in diplomatic relations between the American
Obama administration and the Netanyahu coalition government. Probably not be
coincidence, this was accompanied by the worst Palestinian violence in
Jerusalem in several years, and the heaviest clashes in the Gaza Strip since the
Cast Lead conflict in that area ended on January 18, 2009. Thankfully things
have calmed down again in both locations, although security will remain
tight during the Spring holidays.
It was good to see some of you when I spoke in the Portland Oregon area and
then in Western Washington state and Spokane earlier this month. I will be
sharing at Candlelight Church in Coeur d’Alene this Wednesday evening,
so you are welcome to come along if you are in this area. As noted before,
I will be speaking in the southeast and in Dallas in April and May before
returning to Israel, and will soon be posting my schedule on my web site,
www.ddolan.com , so hope to see some of you then.
CRISIS DEEPENS IN US-ISRAEL RELATIONS
By David Dolan
A new wave of Palestinian violence engulfed Jerusalem and surrounding areas during March, leaving several dead and many others wounded in its wake. Israeli officials and political analysts indicated that the American government was at least partly to blame for the renewed unrest, which broke out after US leaders issued harsh condemnations of Israeli home building in the small country’s capital city.
During a late March visit to the United States, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu made clear that he will never order a halt to Jewish home
construction in the holy city that has been the Jewish people’s most sacred site on earth for over 3,000 years. He stated this one day before meeting several times with US President Barack Obama at the White House. Israeli media reports said the meetings were extremely tense, with the US leader himself insisting that Netanyahu must immediately halt all home construction in areas of Jerusalem captured from Jordanian forces in 1967, including the Jewish Quarter of the Old City.
Netanyahu consulted with six “inner security cabinet” ministers, including Defense Minister Ehud Barak who was accompanying him on his US trip, before reportedly telling the President that Israel’s home building policy in Jerusalem will never be altered. The Israeli Premier noted that this has been the consistent policy of all Israeli governments over the past 43 years, and that fact didn’t stop Yasser Arafat from signing the American-mediated Oslo peace accords in the 1990s, nor prevent peace agreements from being reached with Egypt and Jordan. He also pointed out that he has ordered many actions over the past year that have significantly eased living conditions in Palestinian cities and towns, including the tearing down of dozens of Israeli security roadblocks that has facilitated Palestinian economic activity. News reports said Netanyahu was considering a request from the American leader for additional concessions in order to get the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.
While security forces were focused on restoring calm in Arab populated portions of Jerusalem, fresh violence broke out in the Gaza Strip, leaving two Israeli soldiers dead. The clashes began when an army patrol unit came upon Palestinian infiltrators planting bombs next to the border fence. Israeli tank and artillery was then fired at known Hamas militia positions in the area. One week earlier, a Thai agricultural worker was killed when a rocket landed on the farm he was working on inside Israeli territory. Security officials warned that Israel will need to respond in a major way if the unprovoked assaults continue, noting that over 325 rockets have landed inside Israel since the Gaza conflict ended on January 18, 2009, most of them deliberately launched at civilian areas.
Vigilance was maintained along the northern borders with Lebanon and Syria. This came as Israel’s armed forces chief told a Knesset committee that the Iranian-backed Hizbullah militia is deploying more men in southern Lebanon in apparent anticipation of a possible upcoming clash with IDF forces. Arab news reports revealed that hundreds of Sunni Palestinian men have arrived in Lebanon in recent months to fight alongside the radical Shiite Lebanese force. Iranian leaders issued more verbal blasts against Israel during the month, saying the Jewish state is in the process of being abandoned by its Western allies and will soon be destroyed.
AMERICAN SCORN TRIGGERS FRESH UNREST
Whenever political relations are strained between the United States and Israel, anti-American Arab Muslim groups like Hamas seem to see this as an opportunity to foment violent clashes with Israeli security forces. After fairly warm ties during the eight years that the Bush administration governed America, tensions between Washington and Jerusalem have been mushrooming over the past year, sparked off by Barrack Obama’s verbal pressure on the Netanyahu government to halt all construction in the disputed territories and eastern Jerusalem.
Relations deteriorated even further while Vice President Joe Biden was visiting Israel during the first week of March. The American official was in the country to inaugurate indirect US-mediated peace negotiations between the Netanyahu government and the Palestinian Authority.
The day after Biden arrived at Ben Gurion Airport, an announcement was released by the Israeli Interior Ministry stating that permits would be issued to build 1,600 new housing units, mainly apartments, in the northeast Jerusalem suburb of Ramat Shlomo, which translates into English as “The Heights of Solomon.” Already home to hundreds of observant Jews, the suburb lies between the eastern slops of the Mount of Olives and Mount Scopus and one of the largest Jewish communities in the disputed territories, Ma’ale Adumim.
Biden quickly echoed Palestinian leaders in strongly condemning the announced building project. In his remarks, he implied that he was personally insulted that such a declaration was made while he was in Israel, indicating he viewed it as a deliberate slap in the face by the Prime Minister.
NO SNUB INTENDED
PM Netanyahu and his top aides tried to explain to the offended American deputy leader and his entourage that they did not know in advance the Interior Ministry would make what officials in the ministry viewed as a routine announcement. They said American officials should understand that unlike the United States with its two party political system, Israel is a parliamentary democracy that is always ruled by coalition governments comprised of several different political parties with varying positions and opinions. Each party views the ministries they control as their own little “government” inside the larger coalition quilt.
One of Netanyahu’s current partners, the Orthodox Shas party, runs the Interior Ministry, as they have done for most of the past 25 years under both Labor and Likud-led governments. The party always seeks control of the Interior Ministry primarily because it has direct authority over marriages (which by law must be carried out by an ordained rabbi if either the bride or groom are Jewish), along with funerals. The ministry also disperses tax revenues to cities and towns for local projects like synagogue building, and issues housing permits.
Netanyahu explained to Biden that a low level committee simply finished its routine review of the proposed Ramat Shlomo project, and simply by coincidence issued the building permits the day before the Vice President arrived in Israel. Netanyahu and other officials apologized to Biden for the bad timing of the announcement. Later the Premier ordered that all future Jerusalem building announcements be coordinated first with his office.
However Netanyahu also told the Vice President that he should be more mindful of the politically risky actions he has taken in response to the American demand that all settlement construction be halted. He noted that the Civil Administration which oversees Jewish affairs in Judea and Samaria has issued more than 400 stop-work orders and confiscated over 40 pieces of heavy machinery used by contractors since the Israeli building ban went into effect the end of November. This occurred despite strong protests from many of Netanyahu’s political backers. He also noted that 11 structures and building foundations have been demolished, despite furious protests from Jewish residents who see this as feeding Muslims hopes and expectations that over 350,000 Jews will be uprooted from their homes as part of any final peace settlement with Israel.
US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton added fuel to the fire by terming the Interior Ministry announcement “an insult” to America, adding that Israel needed to make the current building ban permanent and halt all construction in the eastern half of Jerusalem. This came as Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to America, sent out a memo saying diplomatic relations between the United States and Israel are more strained now than they have been since the mid 1970s, when the Israeli government resisted American pressure to evacuate IDF forces from the Sinai peninsula, captured during the 1973 Yom Kippur war that began when Egypt and Syria attacked Israel on its holiest day with full Soviet backing.
A LITTLE BACKTRACKING
As violent Palestinian protests spread to several portions of Jerusalem, Biden seemed to grasp that the American administration might be adding to the unrest by making a mountain out of a molehill. On his last full day in the country, he delivered a speech before students at Tel Aviv University that Israeli leaders characterized as quite friendly. He justified his anger over the home building announcement by stating "Quite frankly folks, only a friend can deliver the hardest truth.” But then he added that “American support for Israel is not just an act of friendship; it’s an act of fundamental national self-interest on the part of the United States, a key component to our broader efforts to secure this region and a wider world, as well as our own security.”
The Vice President said he fully appreciates Israel’s apprehension to take additional risks for peace after its military withdrawal from South Lebanon in May 2000 and Gaza Strip evacuation in August 2005 were met with “rockets as a reward.” Biden also spoke of “the special connection to Israel” felt by American Jews, and said the Obama government expects indirect American mediated peace talks to begin soon, despite the Israeli Interior Ministry’s ill-timed housing announcement.
President Obama himself seemed to realize that things were getting out of hand. He made a rare appearance on the Fox News network where he averred that “Israel is one of our closest allies on earth.” He also noted that “the Israeli people have a special bond with us and it’s not going to go away,” although he added that “friends are going to disagree sometimes” and that the Israeli building announcement “was not helpful” to American efforts to re-start the stalled peace process.
Political analysts said the President was partly reacting to strong criticism of his approach to Israel over the past year which appeared mid month in both the normally left of center Washington Post and the more right wing Wall Street Journal. The Post editorial laid the blame for deteriorating US-Israeli relations squarely on the President’s shoulders, saying “It has been startling, and a little puzzling, to see Mr. Obama deliberately plunge into another public brawl with the Jewish state.” The paper added that this will hardly help persuade the Palestinian Authority to return to the negotiating table. The Journal editorial was even more pointed, maintaining that "If the Obama Administration opts to transform itself, as the Europeans have, into another set of lawyers for the Palestinians, it will find Israeli concessions increasingly hard to come by.”
Several members of Obama’s own Democratic Party also voiced criticism of his dealings with Israel. Representative Gary Peters from Michigan said, he hoped “the administration will end its unnecessary denunciations of Israel and will instead turn its focus to working with Congress to finally enact strong sanctions on Iran.” Former Democratic Party vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman, now a registered Independent, joined with Republican Senator John McCain to state on the Senate floor that "the American relationship with Israel is one of the strongest, most important, most steadfast bilateral alliances we have in the world.”
PM Netanyahu met earlier the same day with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader John Boehner, thanking them for their “constant support and unflagging friendship.” He added that although “the challenges we face are immense, our will and our partnership is also immense.”
However a substantially different tone was adopted by a senior American military leader. Testifying before a Senate committee just days after the acrimonious Biden visit to Israel, General David Petraeus, the army’s Central Command chief, alleged that “Israeli government intransigence” was “harming US interests” in the Middle East. Adopting words that some in Israel saw as clearly anti-Semitic, he added that this supposed “intransigence” could contribute to future American military casualties in the region. Some analysts said this was yet another worrying sign that the Obama administration may be backing away from fully supporting Israel in its ongoing conflict with Iran, with the consent of at least some senior military leaders.
PEACE TALKS ON HOLD
Joe Biden asserted that the ill timed Israeli apartment building announcement might prevent the Palestinians from returning to the peace table. This came after Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said that the PA “can’t go to the talks while Israel is building settlements.” However Arab and Israeli media reports claimed that PA leader Abbas will order his negotiators to attend the indirect negotiations after a “suitable delay” designed to demonstrate their anger that more religious Israeli Jews will be living not far from the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site on earth, which Palestinian Muslims claim as exclusively their own.
During a speech before the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee in New York, PM Netanyahu, countered that Jerusalem is Israel’s eternal capital city, not some “settlement” that might be torn down as a result of any final peace accord. In a passionate speech, he reviewed the deep, ancient and enduring Jewish connection to the holy city, gaining sustained applause from his mostly Jewish audience. The Premier later told his cabinet ministers that “establishing Jewish neighborhoods does not hurt Jerusalem's Arab residents, and is not at their expense." Israeli officials pointed out to their American colleagues that PA leader Mahmoud Abbas had sat down to discuss peace terms with the former Barak and Olmert governments while Jewish home building proceeded in the disputed territories and in all portions of Jerusalem, as was also the case when Yasser Arafat discussed the Oslo peace deal with the government led by Yitzhak Rabin.
It is precisely the Obama administration’s repeated demands last year that Netanyahu halt all construction that has caused the Palestinians to dig in their heels, they aver, despite the fact that last November, the Premier did order a ten month halt to all home construction in all contested communities north and south of Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries. They noted that Netanyahu’s decision caused a major commotion with some of his coalition partners and many members of his own Likud party, even if it at least partially pleased the White House.
Despite the escalating tensions in US-Israeli diplomatic relations, Benjamin Netanyahu requested a meeting with President Obama the day after his AIPAC speech. In the end, the Premier stayed an extra two days in Washington to meet several times with the American leader and to consult with his top aides on what actions he might take to ease tensions. The Israeli delegation remained tight lipped on how the meetings went, but the Israeli press portrayed them as extremely strained. They noted that Obama abruptly left one of the meetings mid way in order to eat supper with his wife and two daughters in his private White House quarters, suddenly leaving the Israeli leader alone with some of his aides. American officials also refused to allow the media to cover the meetings or take any pictures of the two leaders, despite the fact that photographers are normally allowed to snap shots of visiting foreign dignitaries meeting with the President.
DAYS OF RAGE
An attempt by the radical Palestinian Hamas movement to stage a massive “day of rage” last October failed to bring many people into the streets of Jerusalem and other areas to clash with Israeli security forces. However just one day after the American Vice President’s official visit ended, many Jerusalem streets were filled with violence once again. As has been the case so many times over the past 80 years, the unrest began on the Temple Mount, which Muslim’s call the Islamic “Noble Sanctuary.”
Acting on security tips that violent actions were being planned on the Friday after Biden left the country, police forces were beefed up in and around Jerusalem. Palestinian Muslim males under the age of 50 were prevented from attending Friday prayers on the Temple Mount. This sparked off clashes at the holy site and in nearby neighborhoods, which spread over the weekend to other parts of the disputed territories. A closure was imposed on the areas, which was later extended over five days.
Meanwhile Hamas took advantage of the situation to call for a “Day of Rage” on Monday, March 15. This was timed to coincide with the official opening of the large Hurva synagogue in Jerusalem’s Jewish Quarter which was first constructed in 1701, and served as the center of Jewish religious and cultural life until Jordanian troops deliberately blew it up after occupying the walled Old City in 1948. Several Israeli policemen were injured as Palestinian rioters took to the streets, with one officer shot in the process, suffering medium injuries. Over 100 Palestinians were treated for mostly minor injuries as the clashes spread to many Arab neighborhoods.
Speaking at the dedication ceremony, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yonah Metzger said Muslim claims that the restored synagogue will somehow harm their interests on the Temple Mount, located over two blocks east of the site, are entirely baseless. "All we are doing is resurrecting the Hurva, which was destroyed more than 60 years ago. We have no intention of rebuilding the Temple.” He added that “rumors suggesting we will later march on the Temple Mount are just that, rumors; inspired by a media spin by anti-Semites who wish us harm."
Israeli officials expressed dismay that the PA leadership allowed a public square in Ramallah to be renamed in honor of Dalal Mughrabi, a Palestinian female terrorist who participated in a heinous PLO attack upon an Israeli civilian bus in 1978 that took the life of 13 Israeli children and 23 adults, along with a visiting American Jewish photographer. PA leaders had earlier said the planned ceremony would be indefinitely postponed at the request of US officials. They claimed that “local residents and Fatah supporters” had carried out the renaming ceremony without official PA government sanction, which Israeli analysts said was absurd given that PA security forces control the city and could have easily prevented the large public gathering from taking place.
The restored Hurva synagogue, with its white painted dome visible from my Jerusalem apartment window, is a reminder that the Jewish people continue to thrive in their capital city, despite how the nations, including Israel’s closest allies, react to that fact. Israel’s God warns that He will also react one day to world meddling in the status of Jerusalem: “It will come about in that day that will make Jerusalem a heavy stone for all the peoples: all who lift it will be severely injured. And all the nations of the earth will be gathered against it. (Zechariah 12:3)
DAVID DOLAN is a Jerusalem-based author and journalist who has lived and worked in Israel since 1980.
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How does one really see the deeper informational side to Scripture? We recommend “footsteps” as the source for seeing the the truly functional details in Scripture.
G. Fruchtenbaum, Th.M., Ph.D.1982. Footsteps of Messiah - A Study of the Sequence of Prophetic Events. (Second ed. 2003)
THE FOOTSTEPS OF THE MESSIAH
A Study of the Sequence of Prophetic Events
Dr. Fruchtenbaum gathers the many pieces of the prophetic puzzle and places them in sequential order with the result summed up by Dr. Charles Ryrie in his foreword: "Those who read this book cannot help but be instructed and stimulated by his work." Footsteps is detailed, thorough and scholarly, yet written in a style that the average reader can easily understand. With a wealth of wisdom drawn from his Jewish background and extensive research, the author even tackles the "problem passages" to provide a comprehensive overview of the entire range of prophetic truth.
Over thirty years of teaching Eschatology since the original writing of this book has given Dr. Fruchtenbaum further reflections on some passages. He has added five new appendices to the book.
Obtain this book via Amazon.com (click on book icon above), or order direct from
Hardcover (880 pp.) ... $35.00