Friday, June 13, 2014

“Dark Clouds”

Credit: NOAA
In my last posting I wrote about “rays of light,” and indeed they do exist.  But I would be remiss indeed if I were to convey a simple-mindedly optimistic message.  The somber truth is that we are facing down some exceedingly tough situations.
For starters, there is Hezbollah.  I’ve been reporting for some time about the difficulties of this jihadist terror group. Hezbollah, based in Lebanon, lost considerable support amongst the Lebanese when it started sending its fighters into Syria to battle alongside Assad’s troops.  Suddenly, they were killing other Arabs instead of killing Jews as they are “supposed” to do.  This rendered them considerably less popular, especially, when Syrian rebels, angry at being targeted by Hezbollah fighters, began shelling at Hezbollah strongholds in Lebanon. 
Then there is the fact that some 350 Hezbollah fights have died in the Syrian civil war.  And there is the inability of the Assad regime, up to its neck in fighting, to attend to supplying Hezbollah with weaponry, transported over the border into Lebanon.
Add to Hezbollah’s current challenges the fact of Israeli deterrence. Hezbollah "knows what will happen if it gets into conflict with us, and that this will set Lebanon back decades," IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz said just days ago at the Herzliya Conference.
The impression one has, then, is of a Hezbollah that would be exceedingly reluctant to take on Israel.   “Hezbollah is deterred,” concluded Gantz.
However, there is a huge “but” here.  For Gantz also said, "there are maybe four of five countries (in the region) with more fire power than Hezbollah. They have a tremendous fire power which covers all of Israel."  According to Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, there are roughly 100,000 missiles and rockets in Hezbollah’s arsenal.
Worrisome, to be sure.  And according to some reports, there is concern in the Israeli military that for the first time, Hezbollah, which has been training for this, might take the battle into Israeli territory.
This does not mean anything will happen tomorrow.  Nor is there ultimately any concern about the Israeli military besting Hezbollah forces.  Hezbollah has placed a large portion of its arsenal in civilian areas, but Israel has let it be known that it will have to go after those arsenals nonetheless.  Were there to be war, action from the air would be swift and fierce, of necessity.
See Air Force Chief Major-General Amir Eshel on this:
"Our ability today to attack targets on a large scale and with high precision is about 15 times greater than what we did in the (2006) war," Eshel said.  He indicated intense fighting was necessary to keep the duration of the conflict short "because the more protracted the war, the more missiles we'll be hit with here".
As well, there would likely be a speedy ground action.
Reassuring.  However, with all of this said, complacency with regard to this situation is not advised.
I cannot revisit this subject, even now, without expressing my fury at then prime minister Ehud Olmert and then foreign minister Tzipi Livni.  It didn’t have to be this way.  Olmert – who vacillated terribly - was unwilling to see the 2006 war in Lebanon to a successful conclusion, which would have meant taking out Hezbollah.  And Livni bragged about her part in setting up UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which called for UNIFIL to stop Hezbollah from re-arming.  Trust the UN to protect us. Right... 
As to Syria, reports out of the Herzliya Conference indicate the civil war shows no signs of abating. 
Israel truly is between a rock and a hard place with regard to a Syrian policy.  For some time, it was felt in many quarters here that the greatest danger was Assad, because of the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah axis.  The problem is that a very large part of the rebels (80% by some estimates) are jihadists, who have their eye on Israel next.  For this reason, the presence of rebel forces at the border of the Golan is carefully monitored. These are not Syrian nationalists fighting for a better Syria. They have international aspirations with regard to a caliphate – a Middle East, at the very least, united under Islamic law. What is more, a good number of the rebel fighters have come from beyond Syria (many are Europeans, but some Arabs who are Israeli citizens have gone to fight).
See this report by Ari Soffer on the Syrian rebels:
“Although the Syrian opposition is primarily comprised of Sunni Muslims (Syria's majority population), rebel battalions are far from ideologically homogeneous. They range from Al Qaeda to the Muslim Brotherhood, and from privately-funded Salafist brigades to groups still ostensibly committed to a secular Syrian state...”
And lastly, there are Hamas and smaller Islamists groups in Gaza.  In addition to the 100,000 rockets and missiles said to be in the possession of Hezbollah, it is estimated that the Gaza groups, most particularly Hamas, have another 70,000.  This according to Itai Brun, director of research in the Israel Defense Forces Intelligence branch, among others.
Yesterday afternoon, a rocket was launched from Gaza into southern Israel.  Israel responded with an airstrike late last night that took out 33-year-old Mohammad Awwar, who had al-Qaeda connections.  He has participated in many terror attacks, said the Shin Bet, and was planning more.
And here I must ask a question: Would we have hit Awwar last night if there had not been a rocket launched?  If he was known to be planning additional attacks – and his whereabouts were known – how long would we have waited?
Be that as it may, the position of Israel right now is that Abbas, as head of the unity government, has responsibility for the rocket, must take over Gaza, and eliminate the rocket cache. 
While the US does not hold the PA responsible, unity government or not. Said State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said: “we acknowledge the reality that Hamas currently controls Gaza.” 
A grim posting – even without mention of the jihadi (ISIS) takeover in parts of Iraq and Syria, with threats to Jordan imminent.
Or what’s happening with Iran.
The obvious must be stated here: We are seeing the fruits of Obama policies.  Matters did not have to be so grim.
Let’s end with an item (multiple items, really) that are upbeat and informative: From israel21c, 18 Israeli inventions that could save your life:
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