For a month, Israelis and their media were too steeped in ferocious electioneering, among bidders to lead the next government in the April 9 vote, to notice the critical realities unfolding in the region. They were mesmerized by PM Binyamin Netanyahu fighting for his life and a record-breaking fifth term against former general Benny Gantz and his attractive offer of change. No Middle East issue figured in any of their campaigns. But by Wednesday morning, the winner who emerges from the furious race will come face to face with four pivotal changes overtaking Israel’s immediate neighborhood while every Israeli politician was preoccupied with his personal survival and knocking down his/her rivals.
- US President Donald Trump is still full of surprises. Four months after announcing the pullback of US troops from Syria, and two weeks after recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan, he decided that US troops will stay in Syria after all. The second and third decisions seriously advance Israel to strategic center-stage in the region after a long period of stagnation.
- Tehran and its supreme Mid East commander Al Qods chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani can’t be expected to stand by meekly after the Trump administration designated the Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organization. After all, the Al Qods Brigades are the external arm of the IRGC. Anyone paying attention would have noticed changes in the IDF’s coastal and northern deployments and the US forces stationed in Israel.
- With the winding down of the Syrian conflict, aside from rebel pockets in Idlib and the north, the military contest between the US and Iran in Syria and western Iraq is just beginning. Russian President Vladimir Putin is still pondering where he stands in this contest, as Binyamin Netanyahu discovered when he traveled on Moscow on April 4 and attended a defense ministry ceremony in honor of the lost IDF soldier Zachary Baumel. Before long, he will have to make another trip to Moscow to discuss fresh arrangements in light of the new situation, even though the next Israeli prime minister may not assume the rein before weeks or months are consumed by bargaining with coalition partners.
- Although Libya’s capital Tripoli is more than 2,000km from Jerusalem, the new surge of warfare there certainly touches on Israel. The Arab rulers most friendly to the Jewish state, Saudi King Salman, Egyptian President Abdel-Fatteh El-Sisi and the UAE leader Sheikh Muhammed bin Ziyad have joined President Putin in backing Gen. Khalifa Haftar’s National Libyan Army which is fighting to capture Tripoli from the UN-approved government. If Haftar with Russian-Arab backing seizes Libya’s Mediterranean coast, this will affect the disposition of the Gaza Strip’s shore. The Palestinian Hamas is alive to this interrealation. On April 9, its leaders condemned the US designation of Iran’s Guards as a terrorist organization, to demonstrate their solidarity with Tehran.