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Middle East Turmoil Sparks Unease in Israel

Mideast Turmoil Sparks Unease in Israeli
December 24, 2013 4:37 PM
The year 2013 saw more upheaval in the Middle East as the effects continued from popular uprisings in a half-dozen countries. For Israel this brought a mixed reaction of reassurance and uncertainty. VOA's Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Scott Bobb
The year 2013 saw more upheaval in the Middle East as the effects continued from popular uprisings in a half-dozen countries. For Israel this brought a mixed reaction of reassurance and uncertainty.

The effort to end Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program caused Israeli leaders their greatest worry. Few believe Iran is serious about abandoning its program, whose existence it denies.  Ephraim Kam is at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.

"They [the Iranians] have not invested so many efforts and money just to stop it now even if they are in economic trouble. So what they are trying to do is to maneuver, to give something, to get much more than they give and when the time is appropriate to continue with their nuclear program," said Kam.

Israeli leaders are also watching the war in Syria. They like that the fighting is distracting the attention and absorbing the resources of Syria's government and its allies, Iran and Hezbollah. But the situation must be watched, said Ely Karmon of The International Institute for Counter-Terrorism.  "Who will control the vast territory which now is under the control of dozens, dozens of small organizations," he questioned. "Jihadists, Salafists, some of them local warlords?"

The Syrian conflict has aggravated tensions between the Sunni and Shi'ite branches of Islam across the region. Ephraim Kam said this, too, is benefiting Israel, though the arrival of so many fighters is worrisome.

"Our concern is that at a certain point, when the struggle will decline, we are going to find these guys trying to challenge us. This is a problem. Not now. Not immediately. What we have immediately, it's relatively small incidents but sometime in future it can change," Kam said.

Egypt's military coup was a relief to Israeli officials. The new government in Cairo has cracked down on terrorist activity in the Sinai near Israel and wants to weaken the anti-Israel Hamas movement that rules Gaza.

The revival of peace talks with the Palestinians after a three-year freeze brought some hope but most observers are not optimistic.

Ely Karmon said each side is constrained by its hardliners. "So I think that we need an interim agreement which will give symbolic territorial gains to the Palestinians over the very short term, much more freedom of movement and economic incentives and a very general framework which will speak about a final agreement," he said.

The Palestinians are pessimistic. They don't believe Israel is ready to make concessions, like freezing West Bank settlement, said Hadi Abdul Mahdi of East Jerusalem's PASSIA research institute. "We are contained and will continue to be contained in an autonomy-minus situation, governed militarily by Israelis, controlled by the powers of the West and keeping mediocre people in offices like municipality arrangements," he added.

Israeli leaders said they are ready to make concessions but need security guarantees. But given the rising number of incidents in the past year, this appears less and less likely.

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Comment Sorting
by: Abel Ogah from: Oju Benue state Nigeria
December 31, 2013 9:34 AM
What are the Historical Facts about Jerusalem in Islam and the Quran?

by: Godwin from: Nigeria
December 25, 2013 12:25 PM
The truth is Israel will not give up Jerusalem. The term "peace with Palestinians" is a misplaced identity - there is no peace between Israel and Palestine, nor will there be - not now, not in the foreseeable future. But of the negotiations for Israel to allow Palestine in its own state living side by side with Israel, having both Gaza and West Bank stride Israel is a dangerous one. There seems no solution with that present arrangement or formula; Palestine should be one - either in Gaza or West Bank so Israel can control their outbursts as they are wont to erupting.

Another very intricate, near intractable issue again is the position of a shared Jerusalem. Right now the Palestinians see it as a non-negotiable factor, even celebrating Jerusalem Day in diaspora, including those who use it in their quest for regional power quest, like Iran and Turkey. But the land is even more intimately and affectionately regarded in Israel. Consider the bible recording on Jerusalem in Isaiah 62.
"For Zion's sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth.

And the Gentiles shall see thy righteousness, and all kings thy glory: and thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the Lord shall name.

Thou shalt also be a crown of glory in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of thy God.

Thou shalt no more be termed Forsaken; neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate... I have set watchmen upon thy walls, O Jerusalem, which shall never hold their peace day nor night: ye that make mention of the Lord, keep not silence,

And give him no rest, till he establish, and till he make Jerusalem a praise in the earth. The Lord hath sworn by his right hand, and by the arm of his strength, Surely I will no more give thy corn to be meat for thine enemies; and the sons of the stranger shall not drink thy wine, for the which thou hast labored".

So it is not just a matter between Israel and Palestine, it concerns a wider enclosure of the Christian world, being their only Holy Land of pilgrimage. It also concerns the muslims who claim some attachment to its ancient sites, tombs and temples. Can they have both Mecca-Medina and Jerusalem at the same time? But if a site will be reserved for them in Jerusalem, a Christian control will be more considerate and accommodating than a fundamentalist islamist regime which a possible Arab Spring can effect in a volatile, predictable muslim Arab people

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