Israel Has Ample Reason to Worry in Its 63rd Year

A long list of senior figures in the Arab world warn against a renewed regional conflagration.

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The warning sounded by King Abdullah of Jordan last week that a regional war could break out as soon as this summer, was overshadowed here by the torch and barbecue smoke of Independence Day. But while Israel celebrates, it must pay closer attention to the concerns raised by its friends.

The Jordanian monarch joins a long list of senior figures, notably in the Palestinian Authority and elsewhere in the Arab world, warning against a renewed regional conflagration. A flare-up is most likely to erupt in the West Bank, but also between Israel and its Hezbollah adversaries on the northern border.

As things look now, if a third intifada does break out, it may be not the result of a spontaneous public outburst, but as the result of external pressure.

Abdullah presumably is not interested in such an eventuality, but there are those who are. Just a month ago, high-level Fatah and Hamas figures failed in their efforts to stoke rage in Jerusalem over the rededication of Hurva synagogue in the Old City's Jewish Quarter. Likewise, Ismail Haniyeh - Hamas' prime minister in Gaza - called on Palestinians in the West Bank to step up their campaign against Israel.

Abdullah told the Chicago Tribune that without progress in Israeli-Palestinian talks, "for us as moderate countries, we're going to be challenged by everybody else" at the July meeting of countries signatory to the Arab Peace Initiative.

But what will happen when the peace proposal expires in July? Arab leaders will goad West Bank Palestinians to wage protests, vowing to support their just struggle until the last drop of blood - Palestinian blood, of course.

The king is, of course, not alone. Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad - he, too, a moderate - has announced that preparations for unilaterally establishing a Palestinian state would be complete by August 2011. And then what? A declaration of independence? Confrontation with Israel? Palestinians can only hope their leaders have a plan.

King Abdullah said that "There are sources in Lebanon that feel that war is inevitable. The threat of war exists. If we do not bring the Palestinians and Israelis to the negotiations table and if we cross the July deadline - there is a high chance of confrontation. I wouldn't want to meet with you in six or seven months and say 'I told you so.'"

On Monday a U.S. State Department spokesman confirmed that Syria had indeed recently supplied Scud missiles to Hezbollah, and the Syrian ambassador to Washington was subsequently summoned for a warning.

At the same time, a Pentagon report detailed the comprehensive military aid provided to Hezbollah by Iran, including materiel it used to significantly bolster its fighting capacity before its summer 2006 war with Israel.

Amid the gossip and speculation, there seems to be an enormous gap between activity on the military and political fronts. While Israel's borders are relatively quiet - more so than at any other time in the past decade - regional circumstances are growing more complex.

The combination of the growing military power of Iran, Syria and their various terrorist satellite groups - as well as the diplomatic paralysis that has gripped the Netanyahu government and the distressing crisis with Washington - all bode ill for Israel.

The speeches delivered this week did little to lift Israelis' spirits. President Shimon Peres touted Israel's capabilities against Iran, and Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin's spoke of his unwillingness to apologize for Israel's "liberation" of Hebron and commitment to build in virtually every quarter of Jerusalem. At the start of the country's 63rd year, Israel has ample reason to worry.

Posted by Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff on April 21, 2010

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