Israel: Facing a “Regional Tsunami”

As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prepared to address the UN General Assembly today, the emerging threats to Israel from the changes in the Middle East illustrate the “tsunami” of change that has led to Israel’s isolation.

The neighborhood of the Middle East has changed since last year’s global gathering and now Israel faces multiple challenges as a consequence of the unfinished democratic revolution that has become known as the “Arab Spring”.  For instance, once of Israel’s closest partners in the Arab world, former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, is near death and on trial.  To make matters worse, the military council that replaced Mubarak has distanced itself from Israel which has allowed for popular opposition against the peace treaty between the two countries.  The military council is also preparing for popular elections, which has allowed for the strengthening of the Muslim Brotherhood, a strong anti-Israel group, which is illustrated by general antipathy toward Israel.  According to a poll this year carried out by the Pew Trust, 54% to 6% want the peace treaty between the two countries to be annulled.

Though never close allies with Syria, the problems facing Bashar al-Assad has resulted in fears about what might follow should the unrest eventually unseat him.  Instability in Syria would inevitable spill into neighboring Lebanon, where Hezbollah (Shia Muslim militant group) has a rather significant number of missiles aimed at Israel.

“Knowing the Prime Minister’s personality and knowing the importance of this issues for Turkey, I do not see how Turkey can accept anything short of an apology.”– Asli Aydintasbas, Turkish Political Columnist

Moreover, the once close political and military relationship with Turkey is in tatters.  The “culprit” behind the death of the relationship was Israel.  On the 31st of May 2010, a military operation of Israel was carried out by military commandos against six ships of the “Gaza Freedom Flotilla”.  Among the six ships was the MV Mavi Marmara, a Turkish relief ship, which was boarded and in a UN report, many of the crew were members of a “separate hardcore group” who were armed with iron bars and knives.  The Israeli commandos were “forced” to use military action, resulting in the death of 9 activists.  Tensions have steadily increased over Israel’s refusal to meet Turkey’s demands for an apology and compensation to the families of the dead.  Clearly, the events of the “Arab Spring” have left Israel surrounded by instability and its few allies are not heeding its call for aid.

Furthermore, the news circulating around Israel only grows worse for its international relations, as the controversial issue of Palestinian statehood has come to a head in a recent push for UN recognition of a Palestinian state on pre-1967 borders. According to Ehud Barak, the Israeli Defense Minister, the Palestinian plan for recognition is an attempt to push Israel into the same corner that apartheid South Africa once occupied.  With the majority of the international community lending its support for the bid, the planned pressure on Israel seems to be working.  Israel will be faced with a “tsunami” of pressure and criticism from both the international and domestic front.  For instance, Israel’s relations with Jordan, where nearly half the population is Palestinian, have also deteriorated.  This past Wednesday, King Abdullah of Jordan told the UN General Assembly that public frustration was at its peak, illustrating the growing animosity towards Israel.  The frustration among Jordinian is focused on Israel’s unwillingness to confront the problem and effectively “sticking their heads in the sand”.  The political-military peace between Jordan and Israel is seen as a necessity for many Israelis, most notable being Amos Gilad, the director of policy and political-military affairs at Israel’s Defense Ministry.  The peace gives Israel strategic depth and helps ease the tension from Israeli shoulders in the region.  Evidently, the détente of Israel with the entire Middle East is tense at best, essentially nonexistent in many places, exemplifying past years of military conflict and political hatred between Israel and all its neighbors.

“Right now, the only strategy is no strategy…The Israeli answer will be no: no to the Security Council, no to the General Assembly, and no to any resolution that will include any kind of statement that will include Palestinian statehood.” – Barak Ravid, diplomatic correspondent of the left-leaning Haaratz

Facing these negative and inconceivable developments internationally, the domestic pressure has also increased in Israel as critics of Netanyahu have attacked the Prime Minister’s lack of urgency and dynamism.  Despite the pressures, socially, Israel is experiencing some of its best living standards ever before but with such circumstances surrounding the state, the pressure will soon breach into the lives of all Israelis.

“Those who govern the country take step every day towards building new barriers to peace.  We don’t have a problem with the people of Israel.  The source of the current tension is solely the Israeli government.” – Tayyip Erdogan, Prime Minister of Turkey

With the bid for Palestinian statehood being pushed upon the UN General Assembly and the Security Council, despite fervent opposition from Israel and the US, its main ally; the future for Israeli-Palestinian relations will determine much of the future between Israel and the international community.  It is unclear when then the Security Council will take up the Palestinian request, which the White House has pledged to veto already.  British Prime Minister David Cameron has backed the US position, despite his support for a two-state solution, Cameron has stated the UN resolution cannot substitute the political will, from negotiation between Israel-Palestine, necessary to bring peace.  While a veto by the US in the Security Council would block any effort to gain full UN membership, a “yes” vote in the General Assembly would raise Palestine to the status of permanent observer “state”, the same status the Vatican currently holds.

“This has been a smart political move.  What they are doing is they are effectively bringing an end to an US monopoly on peacemaking.  They are internationalizing it.” – Salman Shaikh, director of the Brooking Doha Center and fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy.

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