Israel at 64
Israel celebrates 64 years as an independent sovereign homeland for the Jewish people. Retaining that sovereignty and living in peace remain the primary goals of the struggling state. While Israel finds new ways to defend itself, both diplomatically and militarily, nations and other groups continue to oppose its rule, challenging its life support. This year, Israel faces new obstacles in regard to land, peace, and global relations.
Battles for the land continue as Palestinians and Arabs living in East Jerusalem, the West Bank (Judea and Samaria), Jordan, Gaza, Syria, and Lebanon organize flotillas, flytillas, and marches towards Jerusalem. With the help of their supporters throughout the world, the primary objective is to breach Israel's borders. Another infiltration is planned in May.
Israel has built a new fence along its border with Syria aimed at preventing protestors from breaking into Israeli territory during Nakba Day rallies. Last year, at least 100 demonstrators were able to cross the Syrian border into Israel. The IDF is training its forces, especially snipers, to target protestors in a non-fatal way if they try to breach the border again.
The latest threat from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas comes in a recent letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Using the same rhetoric that he has used many times before, Abbas repeated his demands that Israel stop all settlement-building and recognize the Palestinian right to land based on the 1967 borders. The Palestinians have said that if Israel does not respond positively to the letter, the Palestinians will, once again, seek U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state. In the future, Abbas will try to isolate Israel in the international diplomatic arena and point out discriminatory Israeli policy towards the Palestinians, especially in regard to land, water, and religious sites.
Challenging the peace treaty
Israel has enjoyed a peace treaty with Egypt going back to 1979, but a majority of Egyptians are interested in challenging that treaty, as hostility toward the Jewish State grows. After the IDF threatened to punish terrorists launching attacks from the Sinai into Israel, Egypt introduced new forces in the peninsula to bring back law and order. But it was a half-hearted effort that has not been that effective.
Despite Israel's willingness to allow Egypt to beef up the Sinai with 7 military battalions, 150 Special Forces, and at least 3,000 troops, Israel sees a security nightmare developing in the area. The Sinai has become a main transit point for the smuggling of large amounts of Iranian and Libyan weapons and missiles making their way into the Gaza Strip.
The Israeli government has warned its citizens to return from vacationing in the Sinai, as Israeli intelligence disrupts the plans of terrorists who want to launch attacks in the area. Israel is also quickly trying to complete a long fence along its porous border with Egypt.
If Egypt elects an anti-Israel president, presiding over an anti-Israel parliament, it's possible that Egyptian forces could eventually conflict with Israeli forces along the border. The Egyptian ruling military power has already threatened the Israeli government with reprisals if Israel advances its troops along the border. Egypt recently cut off all natural gas exports to Israel, in defiance of agreements spelled out in the peace treaty.
Despite veiled threats coming from the current Egyptian government, the IDF is preparing Israel's Southern Command for what could be a prolonged future battle with terrorists operating out of the Sinai and the Gaza Strip. Meanwhile, prospects for future peaceful relations with Egypt look increasingly dim.
The existential threat to Israel's existence
Netanyahu has succeeded in putting Iran at the top of the world's foreign policy agenda, and Israel continues to prepare for a possible military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. While the U.S. and Western nations believe that Iran must be stopped, they are still hoping that sanctions will work. Israel is being held back from dealing directly with Iran, despite the fact that Iranian leaders continue to call for the destruction of the Jewish State. If Israel were to attack Iran now, the attack would not be considered legitimate by leaders in the international community. So, as Israel's sovereignty is being threatened by Iran, Jerusalem leaders sit and wait out the effects of sanctions and dialogue. It is only with the backing of the U.S. and Western nations that Israel can get the diplomatic legitimacy and military support it needs to strike Iran's nuclear facilities. Therefore, despite Israel's threats of war, the Iranian government continues to pursue its military campaign towards nuclear capability.
Israel's defensive measures -- militarily and diplomatically
Not only is Israel constructing a fence on its southern border, but it is also constructing a two-kilometer concrete wall along its border with Lebanon. This is to prevent clashes between forces on both sides.
When Israeli engineers do work along the border road, tensions tend to increase between the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and the IDF. This happened two years ago, when Israeli forces trimmed and cut trees in the enclaves between Israel and Lebanon. An IDF officer, Lt.-Col. Dov Harari, was killed by an LAF sniper at that time. Israel is keen on preventing that from happening again and has met with UNIFIL to preserve stability along the northern border.
Because of deteriorating diplomatic relations with Turkey, Israel has begun to develop a regional strategic alliance with Cyprus, Greece, Bulgaria, and Romania. Part of the agreement with Cyprus is for economic reasons, and for the protection of oil and gas exploration in the Mediterranean Sea. On July 1, Cyprus will take over the rotating EU presidency, which should prove to be in Israel's favor.
Israel hopes to advance these new partnerships, paving the way for larger-scale air and naval maneuvers in the eastern Mediterranean.
The silver lining
Israelis have adapted to these diplomatic and military challenges in order to live in their sovereign homeland with security and stability. While they have tried to give peace a chance, they have also come to realize that peace is illusive. At one time, Zionism was waning in the Jewish State, but today, the Israeli general public has returned to its proud roots and is celebrating its unity and its diversity...a little older, maybe, but a lot wiser at 64.
C. Hart is a news analyst reporting on political, diplomatic, and military issues as they relate to Israel, the Middle East, and the international community.