Monday, December 18, 2006

View From the Front

Three years ago, I was fortunate to visit Israel and be taken around by an amazing tour guide. He is incredibly knowledgeable about Israel through all the ages, including the one to which he now contributes.

His name is Mark Deckelbaum, and is Canadian born and bred. He is often responsible for guiding senior politicians, diplomats and other eminent guests. And then occasionally people like me. Contact me (neozionoid at gmail dot com) and I will put you in touch with him if you are considering a trip to Israel.

Mark periodically updates me and others on what life is like in Israel, and what real Israelis are thinking. With his permission, I am posting his thoughts from a week or two ago. A very engrossing read.

A sampling of this week's news – Hizbulla trying to get more power in Lebanon. Will there be another civil war in Lebanon. Will there be another Hizbulla war in the summer. Are the Syrians and Iranians going to take over our northern neighbor? More Americans killed in Iraq. How much more blood will be shed in Iraq. Is there a way to avoid civil war? Will there be a new American realpolitik (as opposed to moral politics) led by James Baker. Oh, and how about that atomic bomb in Iran? Ceasefire in Gaza is allowing Hamas to get stronger. Should we react to missiles landing in Sderot or give the Palestinians yet another chance. Will Gilad Shalit be released by the Hamas for 1000 prisoners? Is our Prime Minister going to be talking to the Saudis? What will be with the two kidnapped soldiers that began the Hezbollah war? What will be the conclusions of the various committees investigating the last war? Will more officers be removed, will there be more ministerial resignations. What will be with the trial of our Justice Minister forcing a kiss from a soldier? How about the president and his sexual misbehaviour, will he be forced to resign.

Oy, how about some good news for a change? Lebanese factions decide that all must be done to avoid civil war. Lebanon government disarms Hezbollah…Syrian's President Assad says he is willing to recognize Israel and is willing to compromise on issue of Golan Heights. Iran and Iraq decide to use their oil wealth for massive improvement of life of their people including education and development. Hamas recognizes State of Israel and says Arafat was bad for the Palestinians. Israel's minister of defense resigns, admitting he is not up to the job. President of Israel resigns. Does Israel really need a President?

How naive I am. I guess that is why I am a guide. Lately it has been difficult reading the news. It is worrisome. Maybe I am also guilty of putting my head in the ground. We have to remember that things are fine. Our economy has had a great year. We have had more investment in Israel this year than ever before. Unemployment is down to close to 8% compared to close to 11% a few years ago. Terrorist activity is negligible compared to what it was 2-3 years ago. Israelis are filling up the hotels on weekends, enjoying a sunny warm November. Tourism is improving. The Christmas season is going to be full with Jewish groups (a bit ironic).

Ok, enough of that. Let's at least comment a bit about the news.

Lebanon – worrisome. Hezbollah has rearmed, is trying to take over power, and wants a stronger Shiite representation in government. It could mean having an Iranian ally to our north. Scary. Can Europe and America stop it? What is worse – Syria controlling Lebanon or a civil war? Sounds a bit like Iraq when Saddam Hussein was dictator.

Iraq – So America leaves, a civil war starts, America supports Sunnis against Shiites (fear of Iranian connection); a Sunni dictator wins and slaughters many of his citizens (mostly Shiites). Who says history does not repeat itself? Other solutions. Have no idea. Please note that there are not many Israelis giving advice these days. We strongly supported the war in Iraq, but now we are very afraid of what seems to be happening there.

Israel – A desire for things to be quiet for awhile till the next round. But who can we trust. It looks like there will be pressure for Washington to work with the Hamas.

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