Friday 15 January 2016

Reflections of 2015

As we take the first few tentatives steps into 2016, it is a natural instinct to take a look back on the year that has just passed, and to assess its events.  It was an action-packed year, not always in the positive sense of the word, and some of these occurrences are likely to accompany us for some years into the future.  As I see things, 2015 will be remembered for two key happenings.  The first of which is the signing of the deal with Iran by the P5+1 countries, led strongly by the US.  The second happening is the campaign of terror that has swept across Israel over the past few months.

The signing of the nuclear deal with Iran in July 2015 is of significance for a number of reasons, none of them favourable to Israel.  After many years of operating a nuclear enrichment program in secret, Iran's nuclear program was given an official stamp of authority and approval by the international community upon the signing of the agreement.  The fact that the program was run under cover for so long, brings into question the real intentions of this program.  While Iran claims that the purpose of the nuclear enrichment program has always been for the purpose of producing electricity for domestic consumption (and indeed some of the enriched Uranium has been used for this purpose), this can surely not explain why it was operated in secret away from the prying eyes of the international community for all those years.   Israeli intelligence tells us that Iran has been enriching Uranium to produce nuclear weapons, and the intelligence has found secret sites housed in underground bunkers where this has been happening for some time.  The international community acknowledges this in its agreement with Iran.  If there was no intention on the part of the Iranians to produce nuclear weapons, I guess that the convoluted agreement with Iran limiting its rights to enrich Uranium would not have been necessary.  The fact that the negotiations took so long and involved brinkmanship right until the last moment, is clear indication that the objectives of the international community were not aligned with those of Iran.  Now, it is claimed that Iran's nuclear program will be under constant supervision to ensure that it cannot produce nuclear weapons.  This statement seems to ignore the fact that Iran successfully ran a secret program of producing nuclear weapons for so long, and is highly likely to continue to do so now in the same was as before, after the agreement has been concluded and implemented.

The most astonishing revelation for me, is the fact that the international community is willing to negotiate and reach agreement with a country that constantly threatens the annihilation of another member of the international community.  This simply legitimises bad behaviour that is contrary to the spirit and rules of the United Nations.  Instead of castigating and isolating the country involved until such time as it amends its bad behaviour, this country is rewarded with an agreement that accepts its nuclear program (that was clearly intended for non-peaceful purposes) and lifts the sanctions that were designed to punish it.  I see the signing of this agreement as one of the great historical mistakes of the international community, and one that will have a substantial negative impact on peace and safety of the Middle East for many years ahead.  By signing this agreement, and by legitimising Iran's nuclear program that is at best highly questionable, the international community effectively becomes a party to the threats and the terrorist activities that Iran perpetrates and funds against Israel.

The second notable event of 2015 in my eyes, is the cycle of violence that has taken hold of Israel.  What ostensibly started out as a few "lone wolves" venting their frustration against Israel and Jews, has taken hold as a cycle supported by the usual terror organisations, as well as the Palestinian Authority. (PA)  At first, it seemed as though the isolated stabbing of an innocent civilian, or the odd "accident" in which pedestrians were being run over by vehicles would pass quickly.  But it has expanded further into what some are calling the third intifada or the "stabbing intifada".  The term "intifada" is one that indicates that the uprising is being supported by the PA, something that the Israeli government goes out of is way to deny.  When the only action that the PA is seen to take in the wake of these attacks is to justify them on the grounds of the fact that Palestinians are feeling frustrated by the so-called "occupation", there can be no doubt of their complicity.  Complicity does not necessarily come in the form of supplying arms and specifically sending terrorists into action.  Their complicity comes in the form of tacit consent.

But there is more to it than this.  The PA's contribution to the uprising that we see now runs longer and deeper.  It begins with the messages that are being sent to children in schools about the Jewish enemy, and about how the Palestinians will not rest until they ultimately conquer all the land that currently forms part of the Jewish state.  It continues with the premeditated act of maintaining squalid living conditions for their citizens, and deflecting the blame for this onto the "occupation".  This builds further animosity and hatred, and is not at all accurate.  There seems to be no accounting for the billions of dollars of international aid money given to the PA over the years, earmarked for assisting economic development for its citizens.  Instead, much of it has been syphoned into the personal bank accounts of the PA leadership, who all enjoy luxurious standards of living.  Some of the money is being paid to the families of "shahids", those who have been killed while carrying out terror attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians. Some of these shahids are from the current "stabbing intifada" wave of violence, giving further credence to their support of the current uprising.  The PA is not at all as sweet and innocent as they would wish the international community to believe.

While it may be possible to quell the cycle of violence with a firm hand from Israeli security and military personnel, it will leave its footprint in the same way as other violence has done.  People are being killed unnecessarily on both sides of the divide.  These deaths simply generate further animosity and calls for revenge.  They radicalise people who see these deaths as just another attempt to destroy one people or another, or deny an entire nation or people the right to exist in peace and security.  Surely the time has come for the PA to be held to account for its actions, and for its role in the violence that we have seen, not only now, but over many years?

In spite of these and other challenges that the State of Israel has had to deal with during 2015, it is remarkable to note the progress that it has made in parallel.  The Israeli economy continued to grow at more than 2% pa during 2015, had the lowest levels of unemployment ever, had the lowest interest rates in history and also had negative inflation.  The Shekel ended 2015 as the currency with strongest growth against the US Dollar for the year.  Israel absorbed more than 30,000 Jews from other countries, many of whom were running from the threats of ever-increasing anti-Semitism.  Many of these achievements could not be matched by countries that do not have to deal with big threats and issues that Israel deals with daily.  It shows the resilience and the resourcefulness of Israel and her people.

So, while we tentatively step into 2016 expecting more of the same from 2015, there remains an air of optimism about what can be achieved this year.  Imagine what could be done if there was not so much time, energy and money being devoted to fighting negative forces.