By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
Pesach is one of those occasions in the Jewish calendar when Hallel (Psalms 113-118) is recited. One of the verses that often are, alas, very topical in Israel reads “All the nations surround me…” While life in Israel seems almost idyllic during this holy/holiday season, life across Israel’s borders is anything but. It has been an absolutely magnificent Passover here, despite the usual spate of road accidents, many of them tragic. Even the weather has cooperated. But things are very different among Israel’s neighbors.
*The Syrian rebellion is touching the Golan Heights. As a result, the United Nations forces are likely to be taken out from there, because – in the late Abba Eban’s memorable words – “the UN tends to take down the umbrella as soon as it starts raining.” The potential absence of international peace keepers poses a danger to Israel. Whereas Assad, for all his ruthlessness, adhered to the armistice agreement with Israel, it’s by no means sure that the rebels, many of whom are staunch Islamists, will do the same.
*Because of the Syrian upheaval, Lebanon is becoming even less stable than it has been hitherto. Though the downfall of Assad may be bad news for Iran, Hezbollah, which is Iran’s stooge in Lebanon, will want a piece of the cake after the revolution to establish itself as the sole ruler there. This would bring Iran to Israel’s northern border.
*On Israel’s southern border things aren’t better. Even after the reported thaw in its relation with Israel, Turkey seems to harbor plans to use Gaza and Hamas as a springboard for its bid for dominance of the region. Sderot and its environs – perhaps as far north as Tel Aviv – remain vulnerable to rocket attacks. That’s why, despite Israel’s apology, it’s not clear whether Turkey is a potential ally or a dangerous adversary. Its ideology may get the better of its military and economic interests.
*Much of what’s happening on the Gaza border depends, of course, on what’s happening in Egypt. Judging by the relentless demonstrations, President Mursi and his government don’t seem to be in full control, even though the Muslim Brotherhood has the upper hand. We’ve already witnessed the effect of this in Egyptian controlled Sinai and the lawlessness that seems to prevail there. Only the other day were an Israeli Arab and his visiting Norwegian girl friend kidnapped while holidaying in the desert.
*Jordan still appears to be reasonably stable, but for how long? Both the United States and Israel are doing their best to keep King Abdullah in power, yet it’s not clear if they’ll succeed. The influx of refugees from Syria may add to the many challenges that Jordan is facing.
Of course, the Government of Israel isn’t only aware of the situation but taking steps to protect the country: the Iron Dome, building fences, stationing troops and using diplomacy. Forging alliances whenever possible, not only with friendly America and ambivalent Europe but also with unpredictable Turkey is part of the strategy.
The above cited verse from Hallel continues: “…in the name of the Lord I will cut them off!” But that’s not what Israelis dream about. A war is always bloody and, whatever the cost, must lead to Israeli victory if the Jewish state is to survive. The dream is, therefore, of peaceful ways of protecting itself against the ominous effects of the Arab Awakening. The optimists among us believe that President Obama’s visit has made the latter a realistic option. Such hope has enhanced our joyful Pesach celebrations.