Monday 27 December 2010

Hamas Trying to Confuse

Hamas military wing spokesman Abu Obeida gave an interview on Friday to the press pack who were all hungry to listen to his "words of wisdom". Rather than clarifying the direction in which Hamas is planning to move in the future, Obeida seems to have caused confusion about the organisation's intentions and created the impression that there is some confusion amongst its ranks. But is Hamas really as disorganised about its future tactics as his statements suggest?

Two years have now passed since the Gaza War, "Operation Cast Lead", which saw Hamas and Israel pit their forces against one another. Although Hamas was not completely routed by the IDF, it would be fair to say that the movement suffered a substantial setback to their military infrastructure and capabilities. Two years is, however, a long time in Middle Eastern politics and things appear to have changed dramatically since then.

Hamas has followed a strategy of not confronting Israel in a direct way over the past two years. The missiles that have been launched from the Gaza Strip during the intervening period, have come from so-called renegade organisations that are not associated with Hamas. Hamas has ensured that the Israeli authorities are aware of this fact in order to prevent any retaliation strikes being aimed at them. The two year "ceasefire" has allowed Hamas to substantively rebuild its political and military position. Its ceasefire has served to allow it to recreate its infrastructure that was destroyed during the war. There are those who say that Hamas has more sophisticated weaponry, and in greater quantities than before the Gaza War.

Hamas' adherence to its ceasefire has, however, changed over the past few weeks with the organisation's militants having launched a number of missile attacks towards Israel. One attack late last week saw a Qassam missile explode a few hundred metres from a kindergarten, injuring a number of civilians. Israel has already struck back at Hamas by hitting some of its supply tunnels and a training base used by its militants.

In his press conference on Friday, Obeida stated that Hamas is hoping to maintain the unofficial ceasefire with Israel. He also went on to accept responsibility for terror attacks carried out by Hamas on Israeli targets over the past couple of years. These attacks saw 15 Israelis killed and many others injured. The commander of the military wing, Ahmed al-Ja'abari was more belligerent in his tone when he said that Hamas will not rest until Israel is removed from Palestinian lands. He said that Israel faces one of two choices - death or departing the lands. This does not sound like the same organisation that hopes to maintain a ceasefire with Israel. How can we make sense of the mixed messages that are being sent?

The reason for the mixed statements is the fact that Hamas is seeking to address its comments to different constituencies with differing agendas. The organisation's wish to rebuild its military capabilities gives rise to its desire to continue to keep in force its unofficial ceasefire with Israel. At the same time, however, Hamas has been coming under a great deal of internal pressure from residents of Gaza who don't see visible signs of Hamas resisting the Israeli blockade. This has forced Hamas to launch a few missile attacks, and hold the press conference to publicise the actions that it has taken, even though they were some time ago. Along with this, the belligerent tone taken by al-Ja'abari is clearly directed at the internal Gaza audience.

Despite the fact that Israeli intelligence will surely be tuned in to the nuances of "Hamas speak", and the fact that many of their threats are an attempt to placate their internal population, they will not be ignoring these threats. Hamas clearly does not wish to enter into a further direct conflict with Israel at this time, and is sending clear ceasefire messages to try to avoid such a situation. Behind the scenes, arms are flowing into the Gaza Strip in large quantities despite attempts by Israel and Egypt to restrict this. The next military confrontation is inevitable. Hamas' statement of not resting until all "Palestinian lands" are reclaimed from Israel is not an empty threat and is probably the truest of al the statements made. Hamas will be attacking Israel and Israeli targets again in the near future, and Israel knows and understands this only too well.

A ceasefire for Hamas is equally a ceasefire for Israel. The "quieter" period has allowed Israel to take steps to reinforce civilian buildings, schools, kindergartens and private homes in the areas close to Gaza that were previously subject to unrelenting rocket attacks. They are now far more secure against rocket fire than before. It has allowed Israel to devote efforts to build the "Iron Dome" anti-rocket defence system that is designed to counter short-range rocket fire from Gaza. The tanks that have been deployed on the Gaza border have undergone training and changes to cope with the different circumstances created with the new anti-tank missiles that have come into Hamas' possession. This is a period of rebuilding for Israel as much as it is for Hamas. All the time, Israel continues its intelligence observation of the actions taken by Hamas in its efforts to become stronger. It is Israel's view that she has a better ability to counter this - we certainly hope so.

The mixed messages sent by Hamas are an attempt to "have your cake and eat it". On the one hand, they wish not to enter into direct conflict with Israel to facilitate their process of internal rebuilding. On the other hand, the organisation wishes its supporters to feel that it is continuing to oppose Israel at every opportunity. Ultimately, the rebuilding exercise will mean only one thing - a further direct conflict with the IDF, perhaps more bloody and intense than before.

The most meaningful statements coming out of the press conference are undoubtedly those stating that Hamas will not rest until Israel is does not exist any more. This is always going to be Hamas' ultimate intention, and they are not ashamed to say so openly. The mixed signals are not really mixed at all. They are all clear and consistent Hamas' stated objectives - to do all that it can to destroy Israel. With an organisation like this, a temporary ceasefire is possible. Any hopes of a lasting peace, however, are completely out of the question.

Saturday 25 December 2010

The Strange Thing About Christmas in the Holy Land

Christmas is undoubtedly the biggest annual event in the world. Whether you are somebody who believes in the religious aspects of the festival, somebody who follows its traditions or somebody who does not believe at all, it is difficult to go through the December period completely unaware of Christmas.

Despite this fact, Christmas in the Holy Land is something of a non-event. This may be unsurprising as almost all of the citizens of Israel, Jews and Arabs, follow religions that do not believe in Jesus as the messiah, and do not celebrate Christmas. For those Christians who do celebrate the festival around the world, it is surprising that Christmas is hardly celebrated in the place where the story of Christmas actually began. Most Israelis have no idea of when Christmas occurs, or what it really means. In the years when the day falls on a weekday, it is a regular working day in Israel.

In recent years, Christmas has seen an influx of tourists to Israel. There are many pilgrims who wish to celebrate this special day by being in the places where Jesus actually spent his time, and where the best-known events of his life took place. Favourite spots include Nazareth, Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Bethlehem is under the control of the Palestinian Authority, and they ensure that the scene is properly set for the celebration of a midnight mass in Manger Square and in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem for the many thousands of pilgrims who attend. Large numbers celebrate Christmas at the holy sites in the city of Jerusalem including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, or by visiting the stations of the cross along the Via Dolorosa. Even though it is more traditional to visit the Jerusalem holy sites around the Easter holiday, many pilgrims can nonetheless be found in Jerusalem over Christmas as well.

Israel's holy sites play host to pilgrims from the three monotheistic religions. Under the Israeli government's policy, worshippers of all three religions have free access to their sites to celebrate festivals and at other times during the year. Whether it be Christmas, Ramadan or Yom Kippur, the sites are available to those wishing to visit in celebration of their own religious festivals. The policy of freedom to worship and celebrate festivals in Israel is so closely adhered to, that Christian pilgrims from Gaza were given permission to make the short trip to the West Bank to be allowed to celebrate Christmas in Bethlehem. With the recent security threats which have continued to originate from the Gaza Strip, this step is not insignificant. Naturally, it is also not something that the Palestinians would be keen to publicise for fear that Israel may have the opportunity to score some PR points.

For pilgrims visiting Israel over the Christmas period, being at the holy sites at this special time of year is certainly an unforgettable experience. They may, however, be disappointed when visiting shops and other parts of the country due to the complete lack of anything to do with Christmas. There are no decorations, tinsel or mistletoe to be found anywhere. For the majority of Israelis after all, it is a regular day like any other. Christmas decorations are more likely to be found in Israel during the festival of Succot when tabernacles are built and decorated. It seems to have become popular to recycle unsold Christmas decorations from last season to decorate the temporary booths that are constructed for this festival.

As a Jew who does not participate in all that is associated with celebrating Christmas, I feel good in the fact that other religions have freedom to visit and worship in our country. As long as they have respect for us and our land while here, I have no problem in allowing them free access to visit and worship as they wish. Besides bringing valuable tourist dollars to our economy, it epitomises the statement in our Declaration of Independence allowing for freedom of religion. It feels particularly good in light of our ability to rise above the poor manner in which these religions have treated Jews over the ages.

Sunday 19 December 2010

Playing Politics With the IDF Conversion Bill

With so many important matters confronting our government, I often feel really frustrated at the amount of time that seems to be wasted by politicians in playing needless political games. This is exactly the feeling that I have now watching the amount of time, effort and money that is being wasted in bringing the so-called IDF Conversion Bill through the Knesset.

The background to the story begins with what seems to be one of the great anomalies of the modern State of Israel. The Law of Return was enacted soon after the independence of Israel. This law is designed to give Jews an automatic right to take up citizenship in Israel without any need for a period of naturalisation. This was a particularly urgent need in the years following the Holocaust when so many Jews were displaced without being a citizen of any country, or who were citizens of countries that they were eager to escape from. The Law of Return grants the right to immediate citizenship of Israel to those who have one Jewish grandparent. The definition of those who have entitlement under the law, comes from the one that Hitler applied to those who he decided should be put to death under the "Final Solution". The definition is, however, at odds with the definition of a Jew under Jewish law. Under Jewish law (halacha), any person who has a Jewish mother is Jewish. This results in thousands of Israeli citizens, who have obtained citizenship under the Law of Return, who are not Jewish according to halacha.

This phenomenon particularly affects many of the immigrants who came from the countries of the former Soviet Union, and who increasingly found themselves hitting their heads against a bureaucratic brick wall as a result of their status as non-Jewish Israeli citizens. To them, it seems absurd that they are granted citizenship of a country, only to find that they are not treated as "full Jews" under the law. The great melting pot of Israeli society is the Israel Defence Force (IDF) and, as the IDF has seen more and more of these people coming through their ranks, they have decided to implement a program to allow those who wish to convert to Judaism during the course of their military training. Over the past eight to ten years, almost 5,000 soldiers have been converted to Judaism under the auspices of the IDF and its Chief Rabbi.

Recently, these conversions were brought into question by Israel's Chief Rabbinate, in its capacity as the national authority over all conversions to Judaism in Israel. This means that all those who were converted to Judaism during their military service, may find themselves being declared not "properly" Jewish if this is what the Chief Rabbinate decides. The status of 5,000 people is suddenly brought into question, and their lives thrown into turmoil. It seems that the reason for the Chief Rabbinate questioning the conversions has nothing to do with the process followed or the way in which the conversions were undertaken. We are told that they have found this all to be entirely kosher ! The reason for reopening these cases is seemingly all about power. The Chief Rabbinate needs to exercise the power which it has been granted on these issues, to ensure that the IDF Rabbinate does not exceed its own powers. The lives of the individuals concerned is nothing when compared to the necessity for these organisations to assert their power and authority.

The issue was brought to the Knesset when the Yisrael Beiteinu party,which has many of the IDF converts in its constituency of supporters, introduced a bill that will legally confirm these conversions and not allow them to be reopened by the Chief Rabbinate. Although I can fully associate with the party and its desire to represent the interests of its voters, the truth is that this issue should never need to be raised by the Knesset. This is an issue which can easily be sorted out between the Chief Rabbinate and the IDF, without Israel's legislature being forced to intervene. What makes things worse is the fact that the Shas party actually opposed the bill. The Shas opposition arises from the desire to strengthen Israel's Sephardi Chief Rabbi, who is also head of the conversion court. It seems as though the introduction of this bill is seen to be weakening his authority on this matter.

The Knesset battle is all about power. On the one hand, the converts and Yisrael Beiteinu are seeking to undermine the powers vested in the Chief Rabbinate, while Shas and its supporters are desperately working to strengthen them. Caught in the middle of this all is Prime Minister Netanyahu who has been forced to intervene, as the two parties opposing each other on the matter are both members of his governing coalition. A serious split on this seemingly insignificant issue could bring down the narrow coalition, and the government with it.

Irrespective of how the Knesset ultimately votes on this matter, it is shameful that precious government and parliament time needs to be devoted to this power struggle. While it may be true that the Chief Rabbinate formally has a power of veto on matters relating to conversions, there seems to be no logical reason why they could not come to an arrangement with the IDF to ease the path and future lives of the converts in question. Reopening conversions going back ten years seems to be a price that is too high to pay for the benefit of reinforcing the power of the Chief Rabbinate. The decision to do this has clearly been the wrong one. This is a classic case of power incorrectly exercised for personal gain.

For the record, the prime minister agreed not to enforce the coalition agreement (which binds members of government to vote in the way that the prime minister prescribes) for the purpose of voting on the IDF Conversion Bill, and allowed all members of the coalition to vote according to their conscience. The preliminary Knesset reading of the bill was passed by a large majority of 74 votes to 18. The significant issue of wasting valuable Knesset time has, however, not yet debated.

The largest issue at stake is the lives of 5,000 converts and their families. These are individuals who have come to Israel as new immigrants, and who have served the country with distinction by serving in the armed forces. This is the army that defends not only Israelis, but Jews around the world. It is right that those who have converted to Judaism according to the rules laid down, should be allowed to be secure in the knowledge that they are fully accepted within the Jewish fold. With so many Jews being lost to assimilation around the world, we can ill afford to disrespect and disregard those who choose to join the ranks, and who are prepared to put their lives on the line in the defence of the Jewish state. Jewish law requires us to respect converts to Judaism even more than those who were born Jewish. These converts deserve the greatest respect that we can give them.

Sunday 12 December 2010

Action or Reaction? The Rabbis' Ruling in Context.

A ruling initiated by the Chief Rabbi of Safed, Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, has again served to split Israeli society along the religious-secular divide. The ruling prohibits Jews from renting their properties to Arab tenants. The ruling was initially signed by 18 rabbis, after which it was signed by a further 50 rabbis from across Israel, many of them municipal rabbis.

Rabbi Eliyahu and his followers have warned that renting Jewish properties to Arabs will deflate the value of their homes and the value of others in the neighbourhood. Further, the rabbis warn that the way of life of the Arabs is different to that of the Jews, and that there are those Arabs who are bitter and hateful to Jews and who will meddle in their lives to the point that they become a danger.

The ruling is undoubtedly racist, and can be seen as an act of incitement. How can such a ruling be justified in a democratic country? It certainly doesn't make for good news sound bites nor good public relations. It has prompted many citizens of Israel to speak out, and to call upon the Attorney General to take action against the rabbis in question. The fact that many of the rabbis are civil servants means that they can be held to account by the government that pays their salaries. In a region which is already volatile, statements like these rub salt in the wounds of the conflicts which rage on every front.

The current state of Middle Eastern politics is such that it is difficult to determine whether an individual action is merely intended as a provocation to make a point, or whether it is genuinely a response to provocations or attacks. Under these circumstances, it is possible to justify almost any action as being a valid reaction to unreasonable behaviour by the other side. Inevitably, any controversial act leads to a chain of responses which, if not controlled, can spiral out of control. The rabbis in this case are citing prior actions by Arabs as justification for their ruling. But how far can we go in using previous negative behaviour to justify current action?

Was the first action that began the conflict, the act by Abraham to expel Ishmael and Hagar from his family at Sarah's insistence? Ishmael went on to father the Islamic people while Abraham's son Isaac was in the chain of the Jewish people. This may, indeed, have been the start of the Middle East conflict as we know it. But how relevant is this in looking at the ruling of the rabbis in the year 2010?

When looking at the endless cycle of action and reaction, I am inclined to look back a short 63 years to the day when the United Nations approved the Palestine Partition Plan. It was on this day that the world's nations agreed to bring into existence the State of Israel as a Jewish democratic country. This was the original action - taken by a majority of the world's countries. This also gave rise to the original reaction, this time taken by the Arab nations. They immediately attacked the newly independent State of Israel with a view to destroying the Jewish state. Every act since then could be characterised as a link in the chain of reactions to the "original reaction". This includes the recent ruling by the rabbis which attempts to hang onto each and every part of the State of Israel for Jews. It is my contention that such a ruling would not be necessary, and may have not have been issued, were it not for the fact that the Arabs have been intent on destroying Israel and her Jewish citizens from the outset.

In this context, the rabbis' ruling is not entirely without basis or justification. It is probably true that renting apartments to Arabs will reduce the value of the flats in the neighbourhood. Many Jewish Israelis are reluctant to live next door to Arabs in view of terror attacks, and the assistance given by Israeli Arabs to Palestinian terrorists in their attempts to find civilian targets for their outrageous acts. These attacks have frequently led to Jews being killed and maimed. Nobody would wish to have people like that as their neighbours. Arabs have also been found to exploit such a situation by creating an infiltration of a Jewish neighbourhood which has frightened the Jewish residents away. This effectively leaves the neighbourhood free to be taken over the Arabs. In a land where possession is everything, such a tactic can have enormous consequences for the demographic make-up of the area. In short, the ruling of the rabbis can be viewed as a reaction to events that have been building over the last six decades.

Although there are many Israelis who have spoken out in objection to this ruling and the related statements by the rabbis, most of those who will read and judge the ruling are those living outside of Israel. They will interpret the ruling on the basis of the environment in which they live, and predicated on the experiences that they have in their own local neighbourhood. Statements like this would be wholly unacceptable in Europe or the Unites States. But life in these parts of the world is a million miles away from life in the Middle East, and it would be entirely inappropriate to judge events in Israel by the same standards.

The main problem with the ruling and similar acts is that it allows no optimism for the future. To feel optimistic, one needs to feel that the chain of action and reaction can be broken at some point, to allow the groundwork to be laid for a more normal coexistence. While restraint has previously been interpreted as weakness and exploited in the worst possible way, it will ultimately be the only way to coax peace out of the situation of war that we currently find ourselves in. The trick is to find the right moment to act tough in defence of your rights and your people, and the right moment to be flexible in the search for peace. This is, however, like a search for the Holy Grail.

Sunday 5 December 2010

Israel's Greatest Tragedy

Israel is fighting probably her greatest single disaster in her 62 year history. A fire continues to rage in the Carmel Forest on the outskirts of Haifa. The fire has destroyed thousands of acres of forestlands, has burnt down numerous homes including the devastation of an entire kibbutz, and has tragically claimed the lives of 41 people. Not only is this Israel's worst fire ever, it is also the largest loss of life in a single incident in Israel's history including natural disasters and terror attacks.

Is comes as something of a surprise that a country like Israel, which has been forced to fight numerous wars and stave off waves of terror attacks designed to threaten her very existence, ultimately finds that a fire results in greater loss of life. This has perhaps been caused by the fact that the winter rains, due already some time ago, have simply not materialised. The country has seen two short rain showers in the last nine months. It would be a gross understatement to say that the countryside is like a tinderbox. A small spark would be all that is needed to set the whole country alight.

The irony is that most of the lives were lost in an act of trying to save those who have been working to destroy Israel. The incident took place when the flames began to approach near to the Damon prison in the Carmel Forest which housed some 500 Palestinian security prisoners. The prison service mobilised all its forces to evacuate the prison in order to save those housed in the prison from the fire. Amongst those called to help was a group of cadets in training to be prison officers. They were put on a bus and immediately transported to the prison in the fire zone. The bus was held up along the road as a result of access restrictions caused by the fire. The driver was instructed to turn the bus around on a narrow road, at which point the fire caught up with the bus and engulfed it and its passengers. This single tragedy cost 36 lives of those endangering themselves to save the lives of those who wish to see us destroyed.

In the case of a disaster like this, it sometimes helps to draw strength from any positive aspects that may arise from the situation. We are fortunate in that there are a number of positives that serve to lighten the heavy burden borne by this tragedy. The first positive aspect is the response by outside countries to the call sent out for help. Prime Minister Netanyahu succeeded in overcoming a classic Israeli character weakness when he acknowledged that Israel cannot go this one on her own, and put out a call for international help. The response has been astonishing with many nations sending manpower or equipment to help in the efforts. These countries include Russia, Cyprus, Greece, the UK, the USA, Azerbaijan, Italy, Bulgaria, Croatia, France and Spain. More surprisingly in view of regional politics is the help that has been provided by Jordan, Egypt, Turkey and even the Palestinian Authority. It is true that Israel has always been first to offer assistance to other countries in the wake of national disasters, even those who refuse to recognise Israel's place amongst the nations of the world. This has shown itself to be reciprocal in Israel's hour of need. We have much to be grateful to these countries for. It is clear that things would have been a great deal worse without their help.

The second positive aspect coming out of this natural disaster is the leadership shown by the prime minister and members of his government. In addition to reaching out to outside countries for help, Netanyahu has shown himself publicly to be in charge. He has held numerous TV news conferences to brief the country on the latest developments. He has shown himself to be fully up to date with all aspects of the fire, and has visited the fire scene daily to acquaint himself with facts on the ground. Today, the government's weekly cabinet meeting will be held in the Carmel Forest area in a show of unity with those who are threatened and have lost their homes. Netanyahu seems to have learned the lessons of the lack of leadership shown by President George W. Bush during the Hurricane Katrina disaster. He has certainly not repeated that mistake.

The third positive point is the extent to which the Israeli public has pulled together to help and support those in the fire zone. Homes and community centres have been opened up and down the country to provide assistance to the 17,000 people who have been evacuated from their homes. Some of these people have lost all of their possessions as the fire swept through everything that they owned. Collections are taking place to provide the basic necessities to get these people through the next few days until they can get back onto their feet. It is true that the process of rebuilding will take more than simply a few days. It is, however, pleasing to see the willingness of others to help during their darkest days.

The long lines of traffic heading up to the fire zone are not only curious onlookers wishing to see first-hand the results of the fire's devastation. Many of these people are volunteers wishing to provide help and relief to the weary fire-fighters. Such is the indomitable spirit of people in this country that teenagers and young adults are lining up to go into personal battle against the fire. The fact that they are putting themselves into harm's way seems not to be a consideration. For them, it is more important that they offer their help rather than be concerned about their personal security. This was the spirit of Elad Riven z"l, a 16 year-old boy killed in the line of duty. Elad had been volunteering with his local fire department in Haifa as part of his high school personal obligation. All Israeli high school students are expected to undertake some voluntary work as part of their personal obligation to Israeli society. Elad could not see his colleagues from his local fire station deployed on the front lines without going to truly fulfil his personal commitment. It was here that his young life was taken alongside his senior fire-fighting colleagues.

Today, Israel will bury tens of its finest and bravest. This time not killed in the line of defending the country against the threat of war or terror attack, but killed in a fight against a natural disaster. The circumstances are different, but the spirit is the same. This is the spirit that says that nothing will be allowed to overcome the will to survive in our homeland.

Our condolences and heartfelt sympathy goes out to the families of those who have perished in this disaster. Yehi zichram baruch - may their memories be blessed.

Wednesday 1 December 2010

WikiLeaks Heaven For Israel

We have only seen the tip of the WikiLeaks iceberg so far. The direction of the floe seems clear and there are already more than one or two embarrassed faces around. We have discovered from a 2009 cable released on WikiLeaks, that Libyan president Colonel Gadafi cannot manage to be away from his Ukrainian nurse, Galyna, described as a "voluptuous blonde". The US embassy staff in Tripoli speculated that she keeps him healthy in more than one way. We all know that diplomats like to gossip - is this not what they are paid to do? Perhaps some of us did not realise the extent to which they gossip, and what they are prepared to say in cables that were once assured of secrecy.

Having examined some of the recently released information from an Israeli perspective, I am fast coming to the conclusion that WikiLeaks is one of the best PR tools the Israeli government has accidentally come across. Almost all of the stories surrounding Israel, and particularly those connected to Iran, have served to substantially enhance Israel's world standing. The documents show that many countries are saying in private the things that only Israel has been brave enough to stand up and say publicly. More than this, it seems as though many countries are relying on Israel to undertake actions that will help them, without giving any public backing to Israel for these.

I was sure that Israel could not be the only country that recognised the threat presented by the Iranian nuclear program. I was astonished that, until quite recently, the USA seemed to be ambivalent about it, even going as far as supporting the Iranian claims that the program was intended for civilian purposes only. Finally, the Americans had the good sense to recognise the real threat that this Iranian development presents, not only to Israel, but to the entire free world. Perhaps it was the Saudi Arabians who convinced the Americans of the threat when calling on them to "cut off the head of the snake", as described in another WikiLeaks document. Not only has the USA finally recognised the threat publicly, Israel's position is further vindicated by the release of the WikiLeaks documents where some of the back channel information has been made public. The attitude of the Saudis, however, seems to the same as other countries in the region. Everybody appears to be waiting for Israel to do the dirty work on behalf of the rest of the world. Why should others risk their citizens and their army if Israel will do the work? Not only this, it is quite conceivable that the Saudis would come out publicly criticising such an attack, while privately thanking their lucky stars that there is a country like Israel which is prepared to stand up for what it truly believes.

The Emir of Qatar is quoted in a further WikiLeaks document as telling US Senator John Kerry that he can't blame Israel for mistrusting the Arabs. His sympathy for Israel is further supported by his privately-held (now publicly known) view that Israel has been under threat from the Arabs for so long, and this justifies Israel's lack of trust in the Arabs. This statement was made not long after he broke off what little ties there were between Israel and Qatar. Although no diplomatic relations exist between the two countries, there was an Israeli commercial mission in Qatar which was sanctioned by the Emir. He decided, however, to expel the mission when the Gaza War broke out.

These are only a few of the numerous examples of duplicity being shown towards Israel and now exposed by WikiLeaks. In public, Israel is forced to endure a great deal of criticism and humiliation. In private, many of those criticising Israel support the actions that Israel is taking against some of the world's bully-boys. The WikiLeaks revelations will go some way towards exposing these countries and their two-faced actions.

While the initial release of WikiLeaks documents seems to play into Israel's hands, it will be interesting to plot where this leads the future of information secrecy in the world of international politics. I wonder whether WikiLeaks will have the same impact on the world of international diplomacy that the Internet had on general information availability. Before the Internet revolution and the advent of search engines like Google, information was usually obtained by going to libraries or paying professionals to provide it. Now, it takes a few seconds via an Internet search. Will the release of documents by WikiLeaks ensure that diplomatic secrecy will be impossible to safeguard in the future? Will countries like Israel also come under pressure to make available political secrets? Probably not, but it may cause the whole secret world of international politics to become more transparent in the future.

For Israel, such a future is not very attractive. Particularly in its formative years, Israel was fortunate to be able to achieve a great deal using back channels. These dealings were only made possible by the secrecy with which such interactions were shrouded. Some of these back channels are still in operation today and will probably remain relevant as long as Israel continues to be in a situation where certain countries seek her destruction. This fact, along with the constant situation of war along her borders, necessitates secret dealings not visible to the general public in order to survive.

In the short-term, WikiLeaks has proved to be a gift from heaven for Israel. This benefit will be greatest if the established rules of international diplomacy do not change substantially in the future. If the world expects international politics to be played out more in the public eye in the future, the short-term gain for Israel may be translated into longer-term pain.