Monday 25 April 2011

The "Arab Spring" Sweeps Through Syria

The "Arab Spring", the name given to the uprisings which are taking place in many countries around the Arab world, has reached Syria in earnest. Despite the fact that Syria's President Bashar al-Assad indicated that he thought that the uprisings would not reach his country, I wrote more than two months ago that Syria was a clear candidate for the political unrest that started in Tunisia and Egypt, and which has swept through Arab countries in North Africa and the Middle East like a fire out of control.

Reports being smuggled out of Syria suggest that more than 100 Syrians have been killed by Assad's security forces over the weekend, the largest number in Syria since the start of the uprising. It seems that the situation in Syria has finally escaped from Assad's control, and he is being forced in the same direction as other countries before him. The uprisings have already claimed the leaders of Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen. Gaddafi's situation in Libya is looking extremely precarious and one wonders what prospects Assad may have of overcoming this rebellion and retaining power. His chances of success are not looking good if the results in other countries are anything to go by.

Even though Syria has its own idiosyncrasies which makes it slightly different from the other countries whose leaders have been forced out of power, there is one common thread running through the region. Like the other countries that have been part of the "Arab Spring" so far, Syria has a dictatorial leader who has been in power for many years without having been elected in a free and fair election. It is this point, combined with the dreams and aspirations of his citizens fuelled by the Internet and international media, which is causing citizens of Syria and other countries to rise up against their leaders. Ironically, it is also access to the Internet that is bringing their plight to the attention of the rest of the world. The flow of information and pictures over the Internet is what is really providing the fuel to the fires which have been lit on the streets of the Arab capitals.

When Bashar al-Assad took the reins of power in Damascus following the death of his father, there was real optimism that things in Syria were on the verge of a major change. Bashar is an ophthalmologist who undertook some of his training in London. He is married to Asma who was born and bred in the UK. He was regarded as more worldly, and with a better understanding of western ideals than those who went before him. When assuming the presidency of Syria in 2000, he promised reform and new opportunities for his people. He expressed the wish to upgrade the telecommunications infrastructure to give Syrians greater access to the Internet and, with it, greater participation in the activities of the international world. Unfortunately, his promises remain unfulfilled and Syria remains largely the same country that he inherited in 2000.

The current uprising in Syria brings back memories of the uprising against Hafez al-Assad in 1982. On that occasion, it was the Muslim Brotherhood which mobilised tens of thousands of people to protest against Assad in the city of Hama. By use of murderous force, Assad was able to quell the uprising and retain power in Syria for both himself and his son. In Hama, however, there were no cellular phones and no YouTube video clips documenting the behaviour of the security forces for the world to see. In that sense, Bashar is forced to confront an entirely different reality. He has tried to block information leaking out to the world by closing the country's borders and limiting access for journalists. He has also tried to block Internet access by citizens of Syria to prevent them from leaking out details of the crackdown by the feared Assad security apparatus. The global village has, however, become too small and Assad has been unable to block information leaking out of Syria's uprising. One small hole in the dike has been enough to allow a flood of information to reach the outside world about what is really happening in Syria.

Despite Assad's substantial attempts to block the flow of information and images out of Syria, he has also recognised the futility of this exercise. He has requested of the security forces not to kill more than 20 people a day in their attempts to put down the uprising. This cynical order has been ignored, particularly in recent days. An equally ironic step has been Assad's announcement that he is lifting the state of emergency that has remained in force in Syria for approximately 50 years. The announcement has, however, been accompanied by behaviour on the part of the security forces which completely ignores the fact that, formally, the state of emergency is no longer in place. This state of emergency is one of the main symbols of oppression against which the people are protesting. The irony of this state of emergency is that Assad has been forced to lift it just when he really requires its provisions to control the protest movement.

In a perverse way, Syria's lack of oil reserves may ultimately save the Assad regime. Although the world is looking on with horror at the way in which Assad's security forces are trying to put down the protests, it seems highly unlikely that the world will intervene in any way. Not only are the military forces of the free world stretched to their limits with ongoing operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Libya, there seems little incentive for the world to become involved in Syria. This fact may give Assad a free hand to emulate the actions of his father in Hama almost 30 years ago to also squash this dramatic challenge to his power. In spite of the images reaching our TV and computer screens from Damascus and other Syrian cities, it seems as though Bashar will be allowed to do almost whatever he likes. The only remaining question is to what lengths Bashar will be prepared to go to defend his realm.

For Israel, the unrest in Syria creates mixed emotions. On the one hand, while Assad is fighting to stay in power, he has little time to devote to support the activities of Hamas and Hezbollah. This represents something of a relief for Israel. In addition, it is clear that the threat from Syria on Israel's northern border is lower than at other times, which comes as a welcome relief to the Israeli military establishment. While Assad's government is under threat and the possibility exists that Assad may be deposed, Israeli intelligence is trying to create scenarios as to what may happen if Assad is forced out of office. This is always a difficult situation to predict. While the period of Assad's rule has presented a real threat to Israel, directly from Syria and via Syria's proxy armies in the form of Hezbollah and Hamas, there is the possibility that Assad's replacement may even be worse. It is also unclear whether a change of government will bring the possibility of peace talks nearer, or further away. Sometimes, it is better the devil you know than you don't know.

It seems quite likely that the "Arab Spring" will extend into an "Arab Summer". Countries like Jordan, the Gulf States, Iran and even Saudi Arabia are not immune from the current wave of uprisings, and may find themselves next on the list. As the protests reach nearer to the heart of the major oil-producing countries causing further increases in international oil prices, countries in the west will be forced to take more of an active interest. If the current crisis in the Arab world cannot be brought under control in the near future and have a further negative effect on the economies of western countries, we may see the impact of the "Arab Spring" depose western leaders such as Obama, Cameron, Sarkozy, Merkel and others via a ballot box revolution.

Monday 18 April 2011

The Eichmann Trial - 50 Years Later

Last week we marked the ominous date of 11 April. Fifty years ago on this day, one of the most remarkable and important events in the history of the State of Israel began. This was the trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann. The trial was dramatic in every respect, and ultimately saw Eichmann convicted on all charges. He remains the only criminal ever to have been sentenced to death by the Israeli legal system. There can be no greater irony than the fact that this Jew-hater has on his death certificate as his place of death - Ramla, Israel. In my view, this says everything about Eichmann's failure to complete his work on "The Final Solution", despite having the blood of 5 million innocent men, women and children on his hands.

In the fifty years that have passed since Eichmann's trial we have had the chance to digest the events of the trial, and to absorb its significance. There can be no doubt that this trial played an important role in the rehabilitation of the Jewish people in those tumultuous years that followed the end of the Shoa - the holocaust. A number of new facts have also come to light which have served to reinforce the extent to which the verdict reached in the trial was correct and just. Some of these facts have also left us pondering on what may have been. As it turns out, the daring raid in suburban Buenos Aires to capture Ricardo Klement (the alias that Eichmann assumed when he fled Germany) came very close to capturing another Nazi war criminal, Auschwitz doctor Josef Mengele. It is understood that Mengele managed to evade capture by relocating only two weeks before the raid was launched to capture him and Eichmann. This followed many months of surveillance by the Mossad to make sure that they had the right men.

In his trial in Jerusalem, Eichmann used the so-called "Nuremberg defence". This was the same defence used by those who were tried in the post-war Nuremberg trials. In all cases, those on trial declared that they were simply following orders and were not murdering millions of people of their own volition. In Eichmann's case, this fact was proved untrue at the time of the trial, and has been proved to be untrue numerous times since then. When Himmler ordered the extermination of Jews to stop and all evidence of the Final Solution to be destroyed, Eichmann was furious with this turnabout and decided to continue exterminating Hungarian Jews against official orders. Ultimately 800,000 Hungarian Jews were killed, many of whom were murdered after the order to stop.

Eichmann's guilt is further reinforced in my mind by the fact that he never once expressed remorse or regret for his actions. On the contrary, he seemed proud of them and admitted all the actions that the Nazis took to exterminate the Jews and others. In an astonishing letter that has recently been uncovered, Eichmann wrote in 1956 to German Chancellor Adenauer requesting that he be allowed to return to Germany. He was tired of living in anonymity in Argentina, and wished to return to Germany to recapture the fame and glory that he had enjoyed during the time of the holocaust. Reports say that Adenauer, who was already hiding the presence of a number of former Nazis in his government, never responded to Eichmann's request. Eichmann's audacity and lack of any regret are, however, plain to see.

For survivors of the Shoa who had made a new life for themselves in the new Jewish state, the trial represented a painful experience, but also one which cleansed them of an enormous burden. To be forced to relive through the trial the horrors which they were forced to endure at the hands of Eichmann, and other butchers like him, was enormously difficult. It did, however, offer an opportunity to show that there was resistance against the Nazi genocide machine. Standing up to the Nazi war machine without weapons or an army was an impossible mission. Despite this fact, there were countless acts of opposition and resistance which had gone undocumented until that point. Finally, they were able to cast aside the widely-used accusation that the Jews of Europe went to the gas chambers like lambs to the slaughter.

The trial also allowed the Israeli legal system to be shown in its best possible light. That such an evil person, who had summarily executed so many innocent people without the benefit of a hearing, could be given his day in court and given access to all aspects of a democratic system of justice was a real triumph. He was given the opportunity to appeal his conviction in the High Court, sitting as a Court of Criminal Appeal, and then to the president of the State of Israel. Ultimately, the evidence was overwhelming and the death sentence was passed for the first and last time in the State of Israel. Eichmann's wife, Vera, wrote to Israeli President Yitzchak Ben-Zvi requesting clemency for her husband. In rejecting her appeal, Ben-Zvi wrote a quote from the first book of Samuel in his own hand on the telegram received from Vera, "As your sword bereaved women, so will your mother be bereaved among women." With that, Eichmann's fate was finally sealed.

After his execution, Eichmann's body was cremated and his ashes sprinkled in the Mediterranean Sea beyond Israel's territorial waters. This ensured that no place of mourning or place of worship would be available to family, friends and supporters of one of the world's most prolific murderers.

One of the lessons learned from the Shoa has been embraced by the State of Israel more than any other. This is the lesson that it is necessary to have an organised fighting force to protect Jews wherever they may be. This we now have in the form of the Israel Defence Force, one of the world's strongest and most respected armies. As we approach Passover, the festival of our freedom from slavery, we also celebrate the freedom from the evil that the Nazis brought upon our people. We now know that we have the freedom of our own country and army, that prevents such a thing from ever happening again.

Chag Pesach sameach - happy Passover to all.

Sunday 10 April 2011

Who Would Fire a Missile at a School Bus?

Just when I thought that I could no longer be surprised by the evilness of Hamas and its random missile attacks on Israeli civilians, the organisation has succeeded in surprising me even further. The event that has caused my shock, horror and outrage was an attack by a Hamas anti-tank missile on a school bus outside Kibbutz Saad near to the Gaza Strip on Thursday. This was one of 45 rockets and mortars fired at Israeli territory within a 3 hour period on that day.

The barrage of rockets and mortars coming from the Gaza Strip over the past few weeks has been unrelenting. The fact that most of the missiles have been fortunate enough to land in open territory not causing damage to property nor injuries is more good fortune than anything else. Hamas has shown its willingness to target Israeli civilians in an indiscriminate fashion, by firing missiles in the direction of residential neighbourhoods of any city, town, kibbutz or moshav within firing range. The missiles that it has been using have been increasing in their range and accuracy. This means that Hamas can no longer hide behind the notion that its fighters are unable to pinpoint the target towards they fire. It is clear that they increasingly have the ability to fire their missiles with a high degree of accuracy. How else can one explain the direct hit on the school bus on Thursday?

Surely, firing at a school bus is the lowest form of terror warfare available? In my eyes, it is the equivalent of bombing a kindergarten or a hospital. It is the most cowardly act available, and is used only by those wishing to attack the weakest and most vulnerable members of society. In the case of the Israeli school bus that was destroyed, it is only by the most miraculous of circumstances that most of the schoolchildren had got off the bus only moments before it was attacked. Nonetheless, 16 year-old Daniel Aryeh Wildfich remains in a critical condition in hospital after taking the brunt of the explosion at the back of the bus. The bus driver, who was the only other person on the bus at the time that it was attacked, was also badly injured.

During the entire period of conflict that Israel has been forced to endure with the Palestinians, IDF soldiers are constantly reminded of the fact that there are innocent civilians caught up in this war on our side and on theirs. Our soldiers are continuously trained to avoid civilian casualties wherever possible. Not only does this save death and injury to innocent bystanders to the conflict, I believe that it preserves our humanity and sanity in a very testing situation. Even where civilians are caught up in the conflict, it is important for our soldiers to be able to come home and to feel deep inside themselves that they have done all that they can to prevent innocent people from being hurt during the course of defending the safety of their homeland. I wonder to myself how it is possible to look at yourself in the mirror and know that you have been responsible for serious injuries caused to a 16 year-old child on a school bus, who had not quite reached his grandparents' home on his way from school. I also wonder how the world can stand on the sidelines and protect the rights of terror groups which follow policies to kill and injure innocent civilians. There is something inherently wrong in allowing this to happen at the same time that military aircraft are protecting the safety of innocent civilians in Libya.

Naturally, Israel has been unable and unwilling to allow such an evil attack to go without response. In this morning's newspaper, I read of 19 Hamas activists who were killed by Israeli missile strikes over the weekend. I also read of more than a hundred Hamas missiles which have been fired towards Israel over the past two days. Fortunately, none of these resulted in damage or injury. This simply continues the cycle of attack and counter-attack, despite Hamas announcing for at least the third time this week that it will implement a total ceasefire.

On the TV news last night, a reporter was sent to interview children at a school in the area which has been subject to missile fire over the past few weeks, months and years. The children were explaining to the reporter that they will be spending their Passover school holiday, which begins today, in secure areas which will protect them from missile fire. This means that they will not be allowed outdoors, but will forced to remain within reinforced buildings which have been built to withstand any rockets that may hit them. Entire communities around the Gaza Strip are currently living their lives and sleeping at night in such protected zones. Despite the fact that Pesach is the festival which celebrates our freedom from slavery in Egypt, unfortunately the same freedom will not be felt by all Israeli citizens this Passover.

I would like to think that somewhere in the Gaza Strip, somebody is feeling the same lack of freedom, and is asking himself how he could be responsible for firing a missile at a school bus. Unfortunately on this front, I fear my expectations are too high.

Monday 4 April 2011

Goldstone Gaffes Again

Judge Richard Goldstone finds himself back on the front pages of the newspapers this week, and again it seems to be for all the wrong reasons. His recent return to the headlines follows the publication of an op-ed piece in the Washington Post on Friday in which he claims that the Goldstone Report on the Gaza War would have been a different document if he knew then what he knows now.

This seems to be an astonishing admission to make after the immense damage that he has caused to the State of Israel by the publication of the Goldstone Report, and the subsequent criticisms that resulted from the report. While it is a welcome development that Goldstone has finally moved publicly to substantiate many of the claims made by Israel at the time of the publication of the report, this dramatic u-turn begs many questions as to why Goldstone is only now coming clean on some of the most important misrepresentations which underpinned the conclusions reached in his report.

In his Washington Post confession, Goldstone made mention of a few important points that support Israel regarding the way in which the war was conducted. Firstly, Goldstone has confirmed that Israel did take every action possible to prevent civilian casualties, in contrast to Hamas which made every effort to aim missiles at civilian targets. Secondly, Goldstone has acknowledged the efforts made by Israel after the war to investigate all cases of soldiers behaving contrary to this policy, or missile strikes which inadvertantly claimed civilian casualties. In the case of Hamas, there has been no attempt to investigate any events that took place during the war. None of this supports the extremely serious accusations of war crimes which were referred to in the Goldstone Report. It now seems as though he is withdrawing this claim as well. Perhaps, most importantly, Goldstone has conceded that the UNHRC, the sponsors of the report and the organisation for which he worked in publishing the report, "has a history of bias against Israel which cannot be doubted".

My criticism of Goldstone at the time of the publication of his report was, first and foremost, directed at his decision to accept the mandate at all. With the virulently anti-Israel history of the UNHRC, it seemed to me to be inconceivable that Goldstone could agree to be associated with such an organisation in any way. His defenceof this decision in the Washington Post last week is centred around the fact that he was able to change the mandate given to him by the UNHRCto make it less skewed against Israel, and the fact that it represented the first time that Hamas would be investigated by a public organisation. Somehow, he had the fantasy that he may be able to reduce the bias against Israel shown by the UNHRC. The decision by the Israeli government not to cooperate with the Goldstone Commission was not directed at Goldstone himself, but rather at the involvement of the UNHRC. In retrospect, this decision seems to have been justified. Instead of Goldstone helping to even the imbalance at the UNHRC, it seems as though it is the UNHRC that has completely corrupted Goldstone.

When examining Goldstones claims of "new" facts that have come to light which have served to convince him to completely reverse his previous views, I find very little that is truly new. The reality is that, even without the cooperation of the Israeli government, all the claims about Israel's conduct during the war were available for Goldstone to read at the time of his commission. He is now largely relying on this information to make an about-turn of 180 degrees. This is all information that was freely available, and should have been considered in the original work that he did. The investigation by the Israeli government into particular incidents during the war which took place after Goldstone's commission concluded its work, is not enough in my view to completely change the conclusions of the report, and certainly not sufficiently different from information that was available at the time that the report was published.

So why would a man like Goldstone, a Jew who has until now enjoyed close relations with the State of Israel, conduct himself in such a way to cause immense damage to the State of Israel? He is a senior jurist with immense experience in the area of international law and conflict situations. He has proven himself to be astute in coping with politicised situations in his previous work. He has shown himself to support the State of Israel and some of its most important institutions. Why is it that he has behaved in this amateurish way which borders on negligence?

The only answer that I can think of, is the one that was put forward by many at the time of the publication of his disastrous report. This is that he was simply trying to promote his own personal career. It seems that Judge Goldstone had fantasies of becoming the UN Secretary-General, and that he felt that a report which pandered to the UN and its anti-Israel lobby would assist him in his cause. In the process of playing his personal political games, he has caused untold and long-lasting damage to the State of Israel. At least we can be thankful that this has completely ruined any chance that he may have had of becoming UN Secretary-General.

The Israeli government have tried to capitalise on Goldstone's latest admissions. There was talk of getting the UN to rescind the original report. There was also discussion around the possibility of getting Goldstone's confession admitted as an official document to the UN. Neither of these two possibilities are likely, especially given the UN's anti-Israel stance. In addition, the only country that has bothered to make an official comment on Goldstone's retractions is France. As far as the rest of the world is concerned, this is of no importance (or does not serve their views on the matter). The bell on this most unsavoury episode cannot be unrung.

One positive thing that can be put forward about Goldstone, is that he did come out with the admission despite the fact that this can only serve to damage his personal reputation even further. Perhaps his conscience was weighing too heavily on him, or maybe the personal attacks and pressure that he has come under since publishing the report finally got to him. He did admit that the duress and distress that he has suffered over the past few months has been difficult to handle. All credit to the organisations and individuals who took it upon themselves to pressurise him. The South African Jewish community and Zionist Federation deserve special mention for making him feel like an outcast in his own home. This action was truly justified, and seems to have played a big part in causing him to admit the error of his ways. Goldstone should be really and truly ashamed of his management of this matter. His actions are unforgivable.

Unfortunately for Israel, the drama of the Goldstone confessions will come and go, and will soon be a forgotten story. The conclusions of the Goldstone Report, however, remain on the record at the UN. This is truly shameful.

Sunday 3 April 2011

Bibi Under Fire

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (known as Bibi) is a little more than half-way into his four-year term, after being elected in February 2009. Having established his government and put his policies into place, Bibi has now hit some hard times and is not currently enjoying his most successful period.

The main issues that are currently dogging Bibi took place even before he was re-elected as prime minister. Although these problems are not related to his peformance as prime minister, they are exacerbated by the few successes that Bibi has clocked up as prime minister. He is going through a particularly turbulent patch right now which threatens to undermine the remainder of his term as prime minister. There seems to be a fair chance that he will not be able to recover from the latest attacks on him. There are those who point to his current problems as "mid-term blues", the well-known down period in any leader's term which often hits when he or she reaches the half-way mark. Bibi's current troubles threaten, however, to dog his second two-year period to the extent that they may even hinder his ability to see his term through in its entirety.

The prime minister has never enjoyed a good relationship with Israel's press pack. This strained relationship dates back to his first term as prime minister, and subsequent terms in other ministerial roles such as finance minister. Netanyahu has always felt that the press is after him in some way or another, and the press has always felt that Netanyahu has not been fair to them by not giving them the stories that they need. Bibi does seem to use speeches at public events and other occasions to make significant announcements, thereby avoiding the need to call a press conference and answer journalists' questions. He recently granted an extensive live interview to YouTube as part of its World View Project. Although he was the third world leader to do this following the examples of US President Barak Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron, local press point to this as one of the examples of how Bibi denies them the news that they need to stay in business.

Under the circumstances, it came as no surprise when stories were aired recently which painted the prime minister in a less than positive light. Israel's Channel 10 aired a story accusing Netanyahu, his wife Sara and their children of accepting private sponsorship for luxury trips abroad, even after his decision to return to politics as a Member of the Knesset and minister of finance. In a separate story aired on Channel 10, Netanyahu was accused of contravening the campaign funding rules by not declaring all contributions to his primary election campaign in 2005 in accordance with the requirements of the law. Netanyahu responded to these reports by accusing Channel 10 and journalist Raviv Drucker of running a continuous effort over a number of years to besmirch his name and the names of members of his family. He has filed a libel suit against Drucker, the channel and its owners on the story of the campaign funding. The suit alleges that the parties published false information to purposefully damage the prime minister's good name.

Netanyahu has denied receiving privately-funded overseas trips, and has claimed that his trips abroad were funded by organisations which invited him to speak at events to present Israel's case abroad. Sara Netanyahu has also made public comments in an attempt to separately defend her own reputation. She has long been presented publicly as somebody who revels in being the wife of the prime minister for all the privileges and overseas trips that accompany the position. She has emphasized the fact that Bibi is the world's most sought-after speaker on Israeli affairs, and has tried to paint a picture that he is somebody who is really acting in the best interests of Israel and its public image by accepting the speaking engagements abroad. Whether or not Sara Netanyahu is something of a gold-digger as presented in some of the media, there is no doubt that she uses every possible opportunity to travel abroad with her husband and live a life which lacks for nothing. She has, however, used a statement in defending the Netanyahu reputation which rings a little hollow. This is the statement that they have behaved in the same way as others in their position, and she does not understand why they should be singled out for public criticism without including the others whose behaviour they have emulated. It seems to me that the decision to blindly follow the common practices adopted by others, without considering whether these practices are acceptable or not, cannot be reasonably used as justification. This is particularly true when considering the increased scrutiny which the Netanyahus claim to be under. The State Comptroller has already announced that he will be looking into the accusations. This serves to suggest that Netanyahu may well have a case to answer after all.

If these were Bibi's only worries, he may still be in a reasonable situation. The problem is that his concerns are much broader than this. In the 26 months since his election as prime minister, he has relatively little to show in terms of real progress on matters of real importance to Israel and Israelis. Economically, Israel seems to be bumping along following world trends by showing some growth in the economy. Whatever is happening in Israel seems more as a result of external factors, than as a result of government actions. Prices of basic foodstuffs are increasing, housing prices are still increasing and salary levels are not keeping up. This is driving poverty levels up, and satisfaction down. Despite the recent deployment of the Iron Dome defence system, missile attacks from Gaza have continued and even increased. Captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit remains in the possession of Hamas without any prospects of him being released soon, and Jonathan Pollard continues to languish in an American prisson. The production of nuclear missiles in Iran continues unabated and, perhaps most importantly, the peace process with the Palestinians currently lies in tatters on the floor of the prime minister's office. According to a Smith Research poll sponsored by the Jerusalem Post and published in the Friday edition of its newspaper, nearly half (45%) of Israeli voters hold Netanyahu individually or jointly responsible for the collapse of negotiations with the Palestinians. This is only marginally less than the 53% who hold Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas individually or jointly responsible. What is worse for Bibi is the fact that fully 30% of those who voted for Likud in the last election blame him for being part of the problem with the peace process. A quarter of all voters are undecided as to who is to blame for collapse of peace negotiations. This does not represent a vote of confidence in Netanyahu's efforts. The same poll shows that only 43% of Israeli Jews feel that Netanyahu is performing well (32%) or very well (11%). The remaining 57% believe that his performance to date is poor or very poor.

The winter session of the Knesset has now come to an end, and the Passover holiday is almost upon us. This will come as a welcome break for the embattled Netanyahu camp. The prime minister will need every bit of energy and resilience that he can muster up to navigate through the heat of the summer without losing further ground. The summer promises to be challenging full of controverisal issues. With the winter having produced only 70% of the average rainfall (where 100% is insufficient to provide adequate water for Israel's growing needs), water promises to be one of the critical issues for Bibi to confront. Unrest continues to sweep its way through many countries in the Middle East. While this serves to divert the eyes of the world away from Israel for a short period of time, the changing face of the region presents its own set of challenges for the prime minister and the Israeli government.

If Netanyahu hopes to be in office for a full term of 4 years, he will need to show substantial progress on one or two critical issues to satisfy the Israeli electorate. If he is unable to do so, we will likely be facing a general election in 2012 rather than 2013 as the law requires. The problem with an election in 2012 is that there is no obvious candidate who is positioned to harness the votes of those who would wish to vote against Netanyahu. Israel is sorely in need of an alternative candidate who will not only present Israel's case in the international community, but who can also be trusted by Israeli voters to act selflessly in the interests of the country. At this point in time, no obvious candidate is emerging to fill this position, and this may be Netanyahu's saving grace.

At a time when Israel's position in the international world is under considerable scrutiny and her very existence continues to be under threat, we can ill afford to have a prime minister whose intentions are under question, and whose attention is being diverted elsewhere. Netanyahu needs to refocus his efforts, not only for his own future, but also for the future of Israel.