Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Vic Rosenthal's weekly column

There is reason to believe that the present government of Israel is not only bloated and venal, but that it is staggeringly incompetent.

The Prime Minister acts almost exclusively to protect himself, and not on behalf of the country. The evidence for this is the absurdly fat and expensive “unity” (one has to laugh) government with its 35 ministers and 8 deputy ministers. This structure exists so that Binyamin Netanyahu can continue to be Prime Minister. There is no other reason.

There are countless difficult issues facing the government, but here are three major ones. In each case, the government has – through laziness or indecision, and by its members seeking political advantage for themselves, failed to deal with them. They are:

The Corona crisis. The numbers of newly diagnosed cases, the percentage of positive test results, and the number of seriously ill are all rising precipitously. The recommendations of the Health Ministry are passed through a political filter so that various constituencies are protected from inconvenience. The 35-minister government has created a 20-member “Corona Cabinet,” supposedly to make quick decisions. But there is also a Knesset Corona Committee which needs to approve them.

The Ministry is trying to find someone who will accept the job as “project manager” [the Hebrew word is “projector”] for the fight against the disease. But so far, nobody has agreed to take the job, because they don’t believe that they will be given the necessary authority. Even the Health Minister, Yuli Edelstein, has complained that the recommendations of his ministry are “gnawed away” by the politicians.

The objective that everyone pays lip service to is to stop the spread of the disease without killing the economy. So far, the effect of the government’s actions has been to not stop the disease, although they have done an effective job of crushing the economy.

The extension of sovereignty. The offer of American support for the extension of civil law to the Jordan Valley and to Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria was an unprecedented opportunity for Israel. The window, however, is closing every day. PM Netanyahu first promised that he would act almost immediately after the election; then he said it would be at some point after 1 July. Now it seems that it has receded to an undetermined future date. The main reason seems to be the lack of agreement in the “unity” government. If this does not occur before the pre-election period in the US, it will probably be on ice until the next Republican administration (if we are lucky).

The Iranian threat. This is probably the most serious of all, even more than the epidemic. As everyone knows, Iran has been developing a murderous ring of proxy militias armed with what Maj. Gen. [res.] Yitzhak Brik estimates as 200,000 rockets and missiles in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Gaza. Several hundred of them may also have already been converted to precision-guided missiles that can strike within a few meters of a selected target. Hezbollah also has been training ground forces to invade Israel and capture civilian towns near the border.

The scenario of accurate missiles hitting our runways, refineries and chemical plants, power stations, desalination plants, military headquarters, nuclear reactors, cities – I could go on – is frightening, especially since such an attack could cripple our ability to retaliate. For this reason, the IDF has been carrying out the so-called “War Between the Wars,” a campaign of attacks on Iranian bases and supply lines in Syria and Iraq, to prevent the transfer of equipment to add precision guidance to the inaccurate rockets and missiles that make up their arsenal. Possibly some of the recent mysterious explosions in Iran are also part of the campaign to pull Iran’s teeth (including nuclear ones) before the outbreak of hostilities.

But no matter how hard we try, we can’t totally prevent the upgrading of Hezbollah’s weapons; we can only slow it down. We can bomb truck convoys in Syria, but (at least as far as I know) we have not dared to shoot down Iranian civil aircraft flying to Lebanon. Brik calls Israel’s campaign “a drop in the ocean.”

We have various missile defense systems in place, but they are limited. We do not have the ability to defend against a sustained mass attack, even with inaccurate rockets, from Hezbollah, which could launch thousands of rockets a day. Precision-guided missiles tip the balance even more in the direction of our enemies.

Brik argues persuasively that the fact that we are able to pursue the “War Between the Wars” with very little retaliation from Iran is not an indication of strength, but rather a danger sign. Iran, he says, is displaying restraint so as not to provoke a larger conflict until they are ready. Meanwhile, every day, more of their weapons are fitted with precision guidance systems.
Such a conventional attack would not justify a nuclear response; and in any event, most of the missiles would be coming from Lebanon, and even vaporizing Tehran wouldn’t stop them. The IDF, Brik believes, has not sufficiently upgraded either its offensive or defensive capabilities to counter such an attack. And if Iran succeeds in obtaining its own nukes (which it might even buy from another rogue regime), then Israel would be deterred from using its nuclear option.
Brik has been criticizing the IDF’s level of preparedness for some time, and the response has always been “don’t worry, we have it covered.” I am not so sure.

The citizens of Israel have an implicit contract with its government: we pay heavy taxes and allow the government to control many aspects of our lives. In return, it protects us against attacks from outside and responds to natural disasters like epidemics. We accept a certain amount of waste and even graft, because the alternative of anarchy would be far worse.
But the feeding frenzy of the politicians that accompanied the formation of the “unity” government, the gobbling up of salaries, offices, staffs, cars, and more by the unnecessary ministers, as well as the personal greed shown by the Prime Minister, has brought us to a historic moral nadir. Combined with the fumbling of the major issues facing the state, it’s clear that fundamental change is needed.

But what change, and how, and – importantly – who?

I don’t have the answers. But neither do the morons who rioted in front of the PM’s residence in Jerusalem last night and threw eggs (and worse) at the police. I am sure that any cure they would propose would be worse than the disease.


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