A Year in Which Israel Cannot Rest on Its Laurels

Written by Gil Hoffman, Chief Political Correspondent for The Jerusalem Post Special to Kol HaBirah on . Posted in Op-Ed

The Mishna in Ethics of Our Fathers teaches that a 70-year-old has reached a “ripe old age” (“seiva” in Hebrew), a term used in the Book of Chronicles to describe King David, who died at age 70.

In the year 5778, the State of Israel will become 70, with hopes for a long future ahead.

This will be a year in which Israel cannot afford to rest on its laurels, because of the many challenges and obstacles that lie before the Jewish state.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will articulate those challenges in his annual address to the United Nations General Assembly on September 19, just before heading home to Israel for Rosh Hashana. As usual in such addresses, Netanyahu’s main focus will be Iran, and his fears are genuine.

In the year ahead, the winner and the loser in the long Syrian civil war will be declared — and it is possible that neither will have been official combatants in the conflict.

The winner could be Iran, which could obtain a Shiite fundamentalist crescent of hegemony from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea via Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. The loser could end up being Israel, left to deal with such a challenge on its border.

Having ISIS on the border was not pleasant, but despite its threats — once even issued in Hebrew — ISIS never posed a serious threat to Israel. It fired at Israel from Syria only once, apparently by mistake, and Israel responded forcefully and purposefully to maintain its deterrence and preempt further attacks.

Iran on Israel’s border is much more serious, because the Islamic Republic threatens Israel’s existence constantly and is developing the nuclear and conventional weapons to make its threat a reality. There are already some 130,000 missiles and rockets aimed at Israel from Lebanon, despite U.N. resolutions prohibiting them. If the situation in Syria becomes similar, it would make the Middle East infinitely more dangerous.

In an effort to forestall this grim development, Netanyahu went to Sochi last month to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and he will soon meet with U.S. President Donald Trump ahead of the General Assembly.

Israeli officials have accused Putin and Trump of reaching a deal on Syria behind Israel’s back that grants the Iranians much more than a foothold in Syria. Netanyahu begged Putin to reconsider and reportedly came back empty-handed. He hopes for more success with Trump, with whom he enjoys relations among the best ever between an Israeli prime minister and American president.

Trump views Netanyahu as a mentor when it comes to the Middle East, and Netanyahu loves having a student who leads the Western world. The weekend after Trump won the election, the lead headline in The Jerusalem Post’s analysis section was “Has Netanyahu won the lottery?”

When one wins the lottery, there are pluses and minuses. The pluses are obvious. The main minus is that one must decide what to do with the money.

After not getting along with his previous U.S. counterparts, Netanyahu now has an enormous amount of credit in Washington. How will he take advantage of that? More than 10 months after that Jerusalem Post headline, the answer remains unknown.

Trump’s adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner has been working on a plan. What is known about it is that there will be a regional and socioeconomic approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What remains completely unknown is what Israel would be asked to give up.

Netanyahu is known for saying that in the Middle East, it takes three to tango. That dance is looking awkward with an American president facing political problems, a Palestinian leader in poor health, and an Israeli leader who could be brought down at any point by criminal investigations.

The expensive gift affair, newspaper collusion probe, and submarine scandal could result in Israeli elections in 5778 or shortly thereafter. Such elections could cause the resurfacing of internal fights in Israel over socioeconomic gaps, the high cost of housing, and matters of religion and state.

Issues that Diaspora Jews care about, like the Western Wall, conversion, and religious pluralism in Israel, will likely return to the forefront.

But besides the rifts in Israeli society, there will also be what will bring Israelis together in 5778.

The new high-speed Jerusalem-Tel Aviv train is set to be completed in time for Passover. Israeli forward Omri Casspi will play for the NBA champion Golden State Warriors.

And celebrations marking Israel’s 70th birthday are expected to be especially fun — even for a state of ripe old age.

By Gil Hoffman, Chief Political Correspondent for The Jerusalem Post

Special to Kol HaBirah

 The Jerusalem Post chief political correspondent and analyst, Gil Hoffman is set to achieve his dream of lecturing about Israel in his 50th state, Hawaii, in 5778.