Feb 14, 2008

Update From Israel

By Joel C. Rosenberg

(Washington, D.C., February 14, 2008) -- Events are moving rapidly in Israel and the Muslim world. Here is a quick summary of events and trends you might want to keep an eye on.

First, some background. My Joshua Fund colleagues and I have just returned from a week in Israel and several days in a European capital. We visited Sderot and the Gaza border and received a briefing on the latest developments in the missile zone. We also visited Barzillai Medical Center in Ashkelon, the only trauma and emergency care center caring for the 500,000 Jews in Israel's highly vulnerable southern tier. In Jerusalem, my colleagues and I met with Netanyahu, Sharansky, Deputy Speaker of the Knesset Gideon Saar and several other key Israeli leaders to discuss their participation in our upcoming Epicenter conference on April 10th and talk about further steps we can take to mobilize evangelical Christian pastors and churches all over the world to bless Israel and stand with her in light of the serious and growing threats to her upon her 60th modern birthday.

Since returning to D.C., we have spent the last several days interview Middle East experts for the "Revolution" book and film project I'm working on. Among them: Porter Goss, CIA Director from 2003 to 2006; Lt.-General Jerry Boykin, former commander of the U.S. Army's elite Delta Force who retired last summer as Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence; Iraqi General Georges Sada, former spokesman and senior advisor for Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi; and current Iraqi Ambassador to the U.S. Samir Shakir Mahmood Sumaida. I cannot release specific quotes and analysis from these interviews Iuntil "Revolution" releases in April 2009. But based on these trips, briefings, and interviews, I wanted to pass along several critical points and observations.

1.) The assassination of Hezbollah terror master Imad Mughniyah in Damascus on Tuesday is a huge success in the war against radical Islamic jihadists. Mughniyah, who was only 45, was widely considered one of the world's most dangerous -- and most wanted -- with a $5 million bounty on his head. He is believed to have been the architect of the 1983 suicide bombings that killed 241 U.S. Marines in their barracks in Beirut and struck the U.S. Embassy in Beirut as well. He is also suspected of having planned the 1985 hijacking of a TWA flight, the murder of a U.S. Navy diver, and later the 1992 and 1994 bombings of Israeli targets in Buenos Aires that killed more than 100 innocent people. Israel has not claimed responsibility, though many in the region and here in Washington believe the Mossad was likely behind the hit.

2.) The threat of a new Hezbollah and Syrian war against Israel has, however, just spiked. Latest headline: Hezbollah chief threatens Israel. "You have crossed the borders," Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said in response. "With this murder, its timing, location and method -- Zionists, if you want this kind of open war, let the whole world listen: Let this war be open....Like all human beings we have a sacred right to defend ourselves....We will do all that takes to defend our country and people." Nasrallah vowed that the blood of Mughniyah "will lead to the elimination of Israel." The Israeli military is on high alert along the Lebanon and Syrian borders, as are Israeli embassies, consulates and government officials around the world. The U.S. called Nasrallah's comments alarming: "As a general matter, those kinds of statements are quite concerning and they should be alarming to everyone," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters. "Quite clearly, Hizbullah has a long record of carrying out violent acts and acts of terrorism around the globe. You have a pathway of violence that stretches from Buenos Aires to Kuwait and a lot of places in between."

3.) Jihadists in Gaza continue to terrorize the residents of southern Israel while the Government of Israel and the nations of the world do nothing. Updated statistics: since the Israeli military withdrew from Gaza in the summer of 2005, terrorists have fired more than 4,200 rockets, missiles and mortars at the Jewish State. There seems to be no end in sight. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak keeps threatening to take decisive military action to stop the attacks. But almost nothing of substance has been done to date.

4.) Hamas leaders vow to stand with their Hezbollah brothers in attacking Israel and the U.S. Samir Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, told the AP, "We condemn this crime and we emphasize the Muslim nation must rise up to confront the Zionist devil which is backed by the Americans."

5.) The potential for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government to collapse continues to grow. Reports in recent days that Olmert's aides are privately negotating with the Palestinians to divide Jerusalem has led some leaders of the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party to intensify their warnings that should Olmert continue in this direction, they will bolt. Their departure would very likely trigger new elections, unless Olmert could find enough Members of Parliament to replace Shas' delegation of 12. "If there is diplomatic progress with the Palestinians while rocket fire against Israel continues, Shas will immediately quit the government," Trade and Industry Minister Eli Yishai -- number two in the Shas party -- told fellow parliament members on Monday. Yet other reports suggest that Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of Shas, is not yet ready to bring Olmert down.

6.) The recently released Winograd Commission Report was a devastating blow against Olmert personally and his advisors. It described the Second Lebanon War as a "serious missed opportunity." It said the IDF "did not provide an effective response" to the Hezbollah missiles. It blasted Olmert and his advisors for "serious failings and shortcomings in the decision-making processes and staff-work in the political and the military echelons and their interface." It found "serious failings and flaws in the quality of preparedness, decision-making and performance in the IDF high command, especially in the Army." It found "serious failings and flaws in the lack of strategic thinking and planning, in both the political and the military echelons." It also found "severe failings and flaws in the defence of the civilian population and in coping with its being attacked by rockets."

7.) Likud Party officials are increasingly confident Israelis are ready for change, and want to put them and their leader Benjamin Netanyahu back in government. "The Second Lebanon War was a failure and the ultimate responsibility for this failure lies with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert," Netanyahu said in a speech to the Knesset. The responsible parties, continued Netanyahu, "are the prime minister, the defense minister and the chief of staff." The Jerusalem Post noted that regarding Olmert's claim that he had to remain prime minister in order to fix the flaws reveled during the war, Netanyahu likened it to "giving the captain of the Titanic, if he would have survived, another ship to sail." Netanyahu said: "You are not showing responsibility because you are not prepared to pay any price. On the contrary -- you complain when someone even suggests that you need to pay any price. You are delivering a lawyer's speech, but unfortunately not the speech of a leader.....What did you do there? You didn't decide on a strategy, you didn't present a policy. So what were you doing there?" Still, it's anybody's guess when new elections will occur, and it's still possible that Olmert could hold onto power at least until early next year.