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Week in Review: How the Israeli Fires Explain the Region; Iran Emboldened

Huge Wildfires Bring Out Best in Israel’s Friends, Worst in Enemies

Wildfires that have threatened large portions of Israel continued to burn but were largely under control by Saturday. The more than 60,000 residents of Haifa, Israel’s third largest city, who had been evacuated from their homes were cleared to return to their residences on Friday. Between 600 and 700 apartments were reported damaged by the fires. However, dozens of firefighters were dispatched to battle a new wildfire broke out near Jerusalem. Firefighters suspect that a Molotov cocktail may have been responsible for the new Jerusalem blaze.

A wide range of nations provided assistance to Israel in fighting the fires, including the United States, Russia, France, Turkey, Croatia, Italy, Greece, Bulgaria, and Azerbaijan. Israel also accepted a Palestinian Authority offer to send a team of firefighters. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Friday that Egypt will send two firefighting helicopters and that Jordan will send a number of firetrucks to help the firefighting efforts.

Airbnb, an online service that matches homeowners with guests, announced that it is waiving the fee for potential hosts in Israel to shelter those fleeing their homes.

In contrast to the altruism of the countries that sent aid, many anti-Israel activists were busy on social media celebrating the fire’s damage to Israel. The hashtag #Israelisburning (تحترق# in Arabic) was among the top trending topics on Twitter on Thursday. Bloggers Israelly Cool and Elder of Ziyon provided in-depth looks at this troubling phenomenon.

Netanyahu said that a portion of the fires were deliberately set as a form of terrorism. “Every fire that was caused by arson, or incitement to arson, is terrorism by all accounts. And we will treat it as such,” Netanyahu told reporters on Thursday. “Whoever tries to burn parts of Israel will be punished for it severely.” A number of arrests have been made.

Iran Ascendant

In a CNN commentary written in May 2015, former State Department official, Aaron David Miller warned that the nuclear deal would not likely constrain Iran’s nuclear ambitions but would also fuel its regional ambitions:

It clearly makes sense to try to use diplomacy as a way to constrain Iran’s nuclear program. But we should have no illusions about two things. First, we won’t end Teheran’s nuclear weapons pretensions, and two, we are and will be enabling its rise in the region because of this nuclear diplomacy, not constraining it.

Developments this week have borne out Miller’s warning.

The army of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad has destroyed the remaining hospitals in the eastern half of Aleppo, depriving the residents there of treatment for serious injuries. Aleppo is believed to be crucial for Iran to achieve its ultimate goal of creating and controlling a land route to the Mediterranean Sea, allowing it to project its power throughout the Middle East.

Phillip Smyth, an expert on Shiite militias at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, emphasized to The Washington Post that Iran was becoming a major force in Syria, “They are building a force on the ground that, long after the war, will stay there and wield a strong military and ideological influence over Syria for Iran,” he said.

Iran has also continued to violate the nuclear deal it reached with global powers last year. The Islamic Republic was found last week to be in violation of the cap on heavy water, an element used in making a nuclear weapon, for the second time since the implementation of the deal in January. To date no action has been taken against Iran for these violations.

Perhaps emboldened by the lack of consequences for its violations of the nuclear deal, Iran has been supplying Hezbollah with weapons in violation of at least two United Nations Security Council resolutions. Israel has sent information about this illicit smuggling activity to the Security Council. Past history suggests that the Security Council won’t enforce its own resolutions against Iran.

Feature: In Mosul, With Our Real Allies

Jerusalem Post op-ed editor Seth J. Frantzman embedded with Iraqi Kurdish fighters, who are an integral force in the American effort to defeat ISIS. Frantzman wrote that despite their support of the American cause, “worry that they have been used as a shield by the U.S.-led coalition, part of the cynical diplomacy of realpolitik, and sent like cannon fodder into battle only to be forgotten when it is over.” It would not be the first time their fight for independence has been abandoned by others. Despite very real political problems, Frantzman observed, “whereas much of the Middle East is trending towards increased sectarianism and religiosity, the Kurdish region is a reflection of more democratic and diverse values….The question is whether the next U.S. administration will forget their role or stand by them. That may include supporting independence when the Kurds choose to move towards it.”

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Three Big Questions

J. J. Burnel, bassist for the legendary British punk band The Stranglers, rejected Roger Waters’ pleas not to perform in Israel, saying of the Pink Floyd co-founder, “I think he’s pretty ignorant, he doesn’t know the situation.”  Stéphane Jégo, the head chef of the celebrated Chez L’Ami Jean restaurant in Paris, dismissed anti-Israel activists who were harassing him on Twitter for his participation in a culinary festival in Israel, calling them “misinformed.” Though it’s not without risks—the restaurant of another chef who participated in the Tel Aviv festival was vandalized last week—will more celebrities be emboldened to speak out against anti-Israel boycotts?

While saying in August that Israel’s relations with its Arab neighbors are “best they’ve ever been,” Ayoub Kara, Israel’s Deputy Minister of Regional Cooperation, acknowledged that the cooperation and praise for Israel was largely kept quiet. Will the open help Egypt and Jordan offered Israel in fighting the wildfires be a harbinger of more open cooperation in the future?

This week the Israel Defense Forces announced the nomination of Lt. Col. Dr. Avraham Yitzhak to the rank of full colonel. He would be the first Ethiopian-born officer to reach that level. What other advancements can we expect to see from Israel’s Ethiopian community in the near future?

[Photo: afpbr / YouTube ]