NEWS: ISRAEL

Keeping tabs on the growing dangers in the Middle East

Analyzing world events is a daunting task. Particularly if your focus is the Middle East. Conflict and violence bred by centuries of hatred and fear continue to metastasize, afflicting more and more bodies, poisoning more young minds.

The region is descending further into sectarianism, pitting Sunnis against Shias, jihadists against moderates, reformists against the old guard. The regime in Tehran splashes fuel on the flames, assisting Syria’s Assad in his murderous rampage against his own people. Not content with destroying just one country, the tyrants of Tehran fund and train Hezbollah, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and jihadists from Algeria to Yemen.

This instability poses security challenges for the State of Israel and the West. In Egypt, Al Qaeda-inspired Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, or Champions of Jerusalem, admitted to firing rockets on Eilat last week. They also claimed credit for downing an Egyptian military helicopter in Sinai on Saturday, apparently using, for the first time, a surface-to-air missile. If terrorist groups have obtained shoulder-held missiles, they could threaten civilian planes flying into Eilat. Already, planes have changed their flight patterns, avoiding landing from the south.

Jihadi groups also are present in Gaza. During the past few weeks, Israel has suffered more than 40 missile attacks from Gaza, including an attack on Ashkelon and another during the funeral of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at his Negev ranch. Israeli defense analysts attribute the latest flare-up to rival groups, like Islamic Jihad and Al Qaeda affiliate Jaysh al-Islam, vying for power. Whatever the cause, Israel's Iron Dome has saved lives, likely preventing a major military response. That calculation probably will change if missile attacks continue.

In Syria, according to Israeli intelligence estimates, as many as 30,000 Al Qaeda-linked fighters may be waging war against the Assad regime and its proxies. For now, their efforts are directed at overthrowing Assad, but if they succeed, some will stay and decide to turn their guns on Israel. Others will return to Europe and the United States, bringing with them their military experience and radical ideologies. In addition, the hundreds of thousands of refugees flooding into Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey are placing enormous strain on limited resources and complicating an already delicate sectarian balance. 

This brings me to the debate between Israel and the Palestinian Authority over Israel maintaining a military presence in the Jordan Valley. As a reserve officer and a combat soldier in the 1980s and ‘90s, I spent many long hours patrolling Israel’s borders. Numerous times we raced to a point along the border in response to the possibility that an infiltration had occurred. The combination of physical barriers, effective intelligence, and an active IDF presence helped prevent the influx of terrorist cells and potential attacks on innocent civilians.

Today, the geo-political and security challenges are even greater. Israel cannot turn a blind eye to the instability surrounding it. The West Bank must not become another launching pad for missile attacks against Israel. Maintaining an Israeli military presence along the Jordan Valley corridor will help prevent the West Bank from being flooded with weapons that would threaten Israel’s major population centers. An effective military presence also will deter more radical groups from taking hold in the West Bank, threatening the survival of the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority. Finally, it is in the best interests of Jordan, with which Israel maintains strong cooperation.

With Iran inching closer to achieving nuclear weapons capability, the implosion of Syria, turmoil in Iraq, and uncertainty about what will happen in Lebanon and Jordan, Israel must ensure for itself concrete security parameters. If the Palestinian leadership continues to refuse Israel’s requirements for self-defense, they should be held responsible for the failure to reach a comprehensive understanding.

Posted: 1/31/2014 3:27:48 PM
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