Monday 25 June 2012

Summer Security Assessment

It may be my imagination, but it seems to me that the security situation in Israel somehow seems to heat up when the weather gets hotter.  Many of the wars that Israel has had to fight in recent times have taken place during the summer months.  Somehow, as soon as the summer is in full glow, the security threats appear to escalate.  I was doing a mental assessment of Israel's current security situation.  The truth of the matter is that the situation is not brilliant.  If I was the chief of general staff or head of the national security council, this is the type of assessment I would be making at this time.

The southern border with Egypt is probably facing its least secure time since the signing of the peace treaty with Egypt in 1979.  A number of attacks have been made on Israel from the Sinai Peninsula, and we know that the Egyptian police force has been unwilling to secure this area, in the way that they did during the Mubarak years.  This has resulted in the Sinai becoming like the Wild West.  Arms shipments are crossing the Sinai towards Gaza in massive convoys, and with alarming frequency.  Most of these arms come from the "terrorist godfather" Iran, while others are coming from the stock of munitions that was looted from Libya when Gaddafi was overthrown.  The freedom with which these convoys are reaching Gaza via Egyptian territory is concerning.

More than this, a number of recent attacks have been launched into Israel from Sinai.  For the first time ever, Israel's southern resort of Eilat has joined the list of Israeli cities that are susceptible to a terror attack.  The attacks are not necessarily being carried out by militants themselves, because they have succeeded in recruiting Bedouins in the Sinai to act as their proxy in the battle against Israel.  Suddenly, they are the ones launching rockets into Israeli territory on behalf of their Gaza benefactors.  The Israeli government has moved to reinforce security along the Sinai border, and is constructing a security barrier fence along the length of the border.  This only takes care of part of the problem of the lawlessness in the Sinai, and then only to a certain extent.  It will be impossible to completely eradicate the threat of missiles being launched from Sinai into Israel, or the threat of infiltrations along this border.  The security barrier and increased security activity will go a long way towards achieving this, but it will be impossible to do away with it completely.  The lack of law and order in the Sinai also means that the gas pipeline that travels through this area, and carries urgently needed natural gas from Egypt to Israel, will continue to be under constant attack.  It has already been exploded 13 times in the past year.  This gas is critical to Israel's economy, at least until gas begins to flow from Israel's own gas fields in the next year or two.

The ongoing political turmoil in Egypt does not add anything to the safety of the southern border.  There is a part of me that says that it would probably be better to have the Muslim Brotherhood candidate installed as president of Egypt, rather than the current situation where there is no president at all.  Social unrest is building along with the lack of trust in the interim military rulers to hand power over to the elected candidate.  Social unrest is a highly destabilising force which Israel would prefer to avoid at all costs.

The situation along the Syrian border is also very concerning.  Assad continues his crackdown on opposition forces, in spite of the fact that there is practically no way for him to emerge from this uprising in control of Syria.  His forces continue to murder and maim militants and civilians alike in the lead-up to his deposal.  There is no indication what sort of regime will eventually replace Assad when the time comes for him to leave office.  The lack of stability that this situation creates for Israel stretches far beyond the Syrian border.  Hezbollah has already been observed looting missiles from the Syrian arms stores.  Some of these missiles have the capability to reach Tel Aviv.  They have been relocated onto the Lebanese side of the border, something that does nothing to help Israel's security in this area.  If Hezbollah is taking missiles, it is not impossible that weapons and missiles are falling into the hands of other anti-Israel groups.  This adds to the lack of stability in the area, and in the wider region.

The instability along the Gazan border also continues.  More than 100 rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel last week.  Fortunately, most of them fell harmlessly into open areas causing no injury or damage.  There were a few, however, that did damage to buildings and caused injury to individuals.  It will not take long before one rocket hits its target causing risk to life and limb.  This concern is even greater now that schoolchildren have begun their summer vacation, and will no longer spend a significant part of their day in the more protected environs of the school buildings.  The IDF and its Iron Dome batteries are doing a great job to protect those in harm's way.  This will, however, not be enough under the current circumstances and the rocket fire must be stopped as soon as possible.

Judging by the above, the overall security assessment is pretty grim.  Threats abound from all sides, and this is not to mention the continuous challenges of policing the borders to the Palestinian Authority areas in the West Bank, and keeping Jerusalem secure.  We can also not forget the ongoing threats posed by Iran's nuclear weapons program, and the way in which Turkey has become hostile to Israel in recent times.  In addition, the growing social protest movement in Israel has been strengthened, and is set for another summer of demonstrations against rising costs and economic hardships being suffered by so many.

Many countries would be plunged into depression and despair by the security and economic challenges faced by Israeli people.  And yet, this is certainly not the feeling in Israel.  People are gearing up for the long hot summer as usual.  Families are preparing for their summer vacations, high school students are getting summer jobs and tourists are gracing us with their presence in ever-increasing numbers.  Roaming around the streets of Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, it is easy to think that you are in a country that has not a care in the world.  The overall mood is good, and people are going about their daily lives with a very positive outlook.  I am not sure if this is people trying to kid themselves into a false sense of security, or whether it is the sign of Israelis continuing to build their country against all the odds. just as they have done for the past 64 years.  One thing is clear to all Israel's enemies, near and far.  It will take a great deal more than this to break the spirit of the average Israeli, and of our peoplel and our nation.  We are built of stronger stuff, and this comes out loudly and clearly in days like these when there is so much to be concerned about, and seemingly not much to smile about.  The smiles continue to grace our faces, and our optimism never seems to wane.  This is the enormous strength of Israel and her people.

Wishing everybody a happy and safe summer.

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