Dec 22, 2008

December 2008 Israel News Review

By David Dolan

The ceasefire between Israel and the radical Palestinian Hamas group came to an official end on December 19 as more Kassam rockets were launched at Jewish civilian targets near the Gaza Strip. By the time the clock ran out, it had already become abundantly clear that Hamas leaders had been lying when they stated in late November that they wanted the truce to continue into next year. As the low level conflict further intensified, Israeli officials seemed to confirm media speculation that a large-scale Israeli military operation may be pending, designed to finally crush oppressive Hamas rule in the crowded coastal zone.

Meanwhile Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas indicated that he had changed his mind and is now ready to hold fresh PA presidential elections in early 2009. The vote could potentially bring a Hamas candidate to power—which would probably deal a final blow to faltering peace talks with Israel. Hamas insists that the PA leader’s term in office expires in early January, but Abbas had resisted their demands that he hold new elections early in the new year. At the same time, outgoing American President George Bush claimed that significant progress is being made in the US-backed negotiations between Israel and the PA.

Israel continued to gear up during December for its own leadership contest, scheduled for February 10. Opinion surveys in all Israeli media outlets showed Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud party widening its lead over the currently ruling Kadima party, and also over Ehud Barak’s Labor party. With it now widely accepted that Netanyahu will most likely return to power next year, questions were increasingly raised as to what policy changes he might make in office, and especially whether or not he will pursue current peace negotiations with the Palestinians and Syria.

Diplomats from leading Western nations met with several of their Arab counterparts mid month to discuss growing Arab world fears that Iran will soon possess nuclear weapons. This came as the Israeli government sent a special envoy to Moscow to try and talk Russia out of selling Iran a new anti-aircraft missile system that could be used to destroy Israeli jets on a possible future mission to wipe out Tehran’s threatening nuclear program. Air Force commanders also said they are considering purchasing a joint American-Australian system that could turn ordinary air launched bombs into “smart bombs,” modified to strike enemy targets from a much safer distance.