Haven't started with an upbeat message in a posting for a while, and I think it's time. Especially is this the case as yesterday was Tu BeSh'vat. In Jewish law this marks the cycle of trees (call it the birthday of the trees), but in popular culture it is a time for celebrating trees and their fruit -- with dried fruits and nuts popular.
And it is a time of hope. Now is when the first blossoms -- those of the almond tree -- appear, marking the promise of a new season. The almond tree grows wild in Israel, and at its peak, is ubiquitous along roadsides and hillsides.
Now that the election is over, Our government is focusing once again on security issues, which is as it should be:
On Friday, PM Netanyahu met with a bipartisan five-person delegation from the House Appropriations Committee, headed by Congressman Jack Kingston (R-GA).
Addressing expectations in the US (or certainly on the part of the Obama administration) that with the upcoming entry into the government of Yair Lapid, who is for a two-state solution, Israel would be rushing to resume negotiations, the prime minister told them that there are no "quick fix solutions."
He would like to resume negotiations, he said, but since withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, which resulted in a disastrous situation, it has become obvious that movement forward must take place in a "measured and cautious" manner.
Don't expect too much, he was warning them. I do not believe there will be problems with Lapid on this score, as he has said Israeli security issues have to be factored into negotiations.
As to Iran, Netanyahu said that "sanctions alone will not be enough" to stop Tehran's nuclear program. Those sanctions need to be backed up by a credible military threat. ("Credible" is the key word here. It has to be a threat that the Iranians take seriously.) He referred again to the "red line" that Iran must not be permitted to pass.
Also on Friday, Defense Minister Barak gave an interview while at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. There should be a readiness and ability, he declared, to launch a surgical operation against Iran.
During the first administration of President Obama, he said, the Pentagon prepared "quite sophisticated, fine, extremely fine, scalpels" for such a surgical operation. "So it is not an issue of a major war or failure to block Iran."
This is an extremely important statement. Barak is challenging the Americans, it seems to me: Providing a retort to the commonly heard claim that an effective US operation in Iran would require ground troops, and that this is not something that can be undertaken after all of the theaters of war in which US soldiers have participated of late.
Of course, the Pentagon is not in control of policy -- Obama is. Which is how it should be in a democracy. The fact that the Pentagon has devised a potentially effective way to attack Iran without ground troops is irrelevant if the president chooses not to take advantage of it. By nominating Hagel as secretary of defense, Obama has made it pretty clear that he doesn't choose to. But here Barak is publicly challenging him on his options.
Now, today, at the beginning of the weekly Cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said:
"We must look around us. What is happening in Iran, and the lethal weapons in Syria. The Middle East in not waiting for the election results, and it does not stop while we form our coalition. There is a cluster of threats, and their reality continues to evolve."
Earlier in the day today, Vice Premier Silvan Shalom (Likud) specifically addressed the issue of Syrian weapons of mass destruction, confirming that last Wednesday Netanyahu had quietly convened a meeting with security chiefs to discuss the status of Syria's civil war and the potential risk to Israel of its weapons of mass destruction.
Shalom indicated that were Hezbollah or rebels battling Assad to move towards acquiring Assad's WMD, it would be "a crossing of all red lines that would require a different approach, including even preventive operations," indicating that Israel had plans ready for military intervention.
"The concept, in principle, is that this [chemical weapons transfer] must not happen, The moment we begin to understand that such a thing is liable to happen, we will have to make decisions." (Emphasis added)
The state of the world is anything but positive. But I am grateful for indications that our government will take the issues seriously instead of running away from them.
How many times over the last couple of years did Obama declare that he would not let Iran go nuclear? Now we are probably best advised to take these declarations as just so much bombast.
For some time, as well, the US had been talking about monitoring the situation of WMD in Syria, with the suggestion that there might be intervention if the problem grew severe. But more recently Panetta backed away from all indications that US troops might intervene.
The presence of biological and chemical weapons present in large quantities directly to the north of us is more than a bit unsettling. The prospect of an almost nuclear Iran even more so.
There is, in the end, no one to rely upon but ourselves.
Returning for one moment to the statement made by Netanyahu at the Cabinet meeting today... It included this:
"The whole area is stormy, and we need to be prepared, strong and determined. For this purpose I aim to form the widest, most stable government, in order first-of-all to address security threats, and I am convinced that we are capable of coping with these challenges."
I am consciously refraining from unnecessary speculation, based on rumors, regarding what the make-up of the coalition will be. But what we see here -- what we have already understood -- is that there will not be a narrow, right wing coalition. I'd be disingenuous if I said I was not a bit nervous about which parties will be included (Livni? Mofaz?).
But, to the degree to which I am convinced that our prime minister has security issues in mind first as he forms that broad-based coalition, I find it easier to accept some of these parameters. In times of difficulty, if not all-out war, it is prudent and appropriate to have a considerable percentage of the electorate represented in the decision-making process.
(Of course, there are also political considerations, such as ensuring that there is no one party that can bring the government down by withdrawing.)
The Good News Corner
US physicians who have passed American MD exams (USMLE) in the past ten years, and who want to settle and work in Israel, will receive exemption from the local licensing exam. This is the first time that Israeli health authorities have accepted foreign test results for an MD license.
Israel’s Service and Therapy Dog Center is distinguished as the world's first to train dogs as helpers for people suffering from mental limitations, including Alzheimer’s, autism and brain injuries.
The training protocol was developed over four years by geriatric social worker Daphna Golan-Shemesh and professional dog trainer Yariv Ben-Yosef.
Alzheimer’s patients frequently can’t leave home because they are easily disoriented, but they are able to go out with a guide dog leading the way. At home, the dog is trained to press an alarm button if her owner falls and doesn’t get up quickly, or if she hears choking sounds from her master.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.
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