Guest Post: Good News Friday

This week’s Good News Friday installment was written by reader and frequent contributor Brian Goldfarb {with occasional comments and additions from me).


Just like pretty well all the readers of these pages, I look for good news from the region that contains Israel, or that will affect Israel, even if it comes from elsewhere. Surprisingly enough, it’s not that hard to find, if enough online papers concerned with this subject so close to our hearts come into one’s inbox. Apologies to Anne for any repetition on any topic discussed herein. It may well be that it’s easier to recognise what is good news from outside Israel than from within. Hearing what’s happening there and reading Anne’s articles makes me realise, as never before, why my wife was such a news junkie (and remains so) when she was living in Israel before, during and after the 6-Day War.

I’m going to focus first directly on defence, mostly as conventionally defined, and also go back a few months, as I’ve been collecting these items and biding my time to write them up. Firstly, via the Lebanese website NOW  comes what might be something of a surprise: the suggestion that Putin, however much he wants to keep Assad in place, might not care much about the fate of Hezbollah, one of the mainstays of the regime after (and as a client of) Iran. The writer is one Nicholas Blanford, the Beirut correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor, and he says;

A series of reported Israeli airstrikes over the weekend, allegedly against weapons storage facilities in Syria’s Qalamoun region, raises questions on the limits of cooperation between Russia and Iran in Syria and on Israel’s operational latitude in a Syrian airspace today dominated by the Russian Air Force.

While Russia and Iran are battlefield comrades in defending the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, the Israeli airstrikes suggest that Moscow has little interest in helping its allies protect arms stockpiles that are intended to bolster Hezbollah’s front against Israel.

Blanford continues

On the other hand, the limited nature of these latest airstrikes, which did not see a breach of Syrian airspace by Israeli jets, poses the question of how far Israel is prepared to go in Syria to target what it calls “game changing” weapons destined for Hezbollah. Would Israel risk antagonizing Russia by dispatching aircraft directly into Syrian airspace to attack targets closer to the Russian operational core in Latakia Governorate?

So, by firing from Lebanese airspace, Israel could allow the Russians to ignore the attacks and thus honour the apparent but tacit agreement between them that Israel will continue to defend itself from Hezbollah and attack arms supplies to its Lebanon base, but go no further, and the Russians will ignore these attacks.

While war is hardly good news for anyone, for as long this tacit understanding lasts, it’s hardly bad for Israel.

Hard on the heels of this item came the following, this time from The Times of Israel (ToI), suggesting that:

Israel has amassed approximately 115 nuclear warheads since it developed its first nuclear weapon shortly before the Six Day War in 1967, according to a report published this week by a US think tank.

The nuclear research facility in Dimona

The Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) published a report on November 19 alleging that Israel possesses about 660 kilograms of plutonium, produced at the Dimona reactor since operations began in 1963, which would allow it to have an estimated 115 nuclear weapons today.

Despite the unfortunate acronym, this does appear to be a genuine research body, and the article goes on to show, briefly, how ISIS (the think tank) came to its conclusions on the total of warheads available to Israel. There is also a discussion of the means of delivery that Israel might have at its disposal. The title I gave this in my notes, to remind myself of the article’s contents was “if true, very BAD for Israel’s enemies: still fancy your chances, Ayatollahs?” I stand by that.

The Israelis, of course, will neither confirm nor deny the truth or accuracy of this article, merely smile enigmatically.

To continue this theme, for the moment, how about this from The Tablet: Stop worrying about Israel. You should start from paragraph 12, the one that has the following about half way through it:

Let’s focus on what the Soviets loved to call the “correlation of forces”—the real stuff that includes not only bombs and bullets, but also Israel’s economy, demography, technology, and diplomacy.

The reason we start there is because the previous 11½ paragraphs have been on reminding readers what a doom-saying article by Ron Rosenbaum in The Tablet of December 14, 2015, was arguing: that the end for Israel was nigh. The author of this article (Joseph Joffe) may be just a little too panglossian for the real world, but he is a lot more reality-based than Rosenbaum. It’s a long article and I will leave you to read it for yourselves. If you’re feeling a little Ron Rosenbaumish, it’s a very useful corrective and “pick-me-up”. [Anne adds: here is another paragraph that really sums up Israel’s situation]:

“Traumatized,” as Rosenbaum claims, Israel is not. To the contrary, Israel ranks No. 11 in the World Happiness Report, ahead of Canada and the United States. In the world’s fertility ranking, Israel is No. 1 among all Western nations—with 3 births per woman of child-bearing age; the United States comes in at 1.9, and the Europeans at around 1.4. Just to keep the population constant requires 2.1. Fertility isn’t just a statistic. It reflects a nation’s trust in the future. With a rate way above replenishment, Israelis don’t seem to believe that their country is headed for a speedy demise, as foreseen by Rosenbaum.

This article also claims that 50 of Israel’s (presumed) nuclear warheads would be enough to lay waste to Iran (to say nothing of the effect of the radioactive fallout on Iran’s neighbours) and leave more than enough to deter anyone else from wanting to retaliate. Which says nothing about Israel’s 4 (soon to be 5) nuclear armed submarines “submerged somewhere in the world”.

You can be either reassured or scared stiff at that scenario.

Map of the Middle East

The last few years have seen some intriguing changes in the region, in terms of the realpolitik of actual and potential alliances. Egypt and Jordan have signed treaties with Israel and co-operate, openly or otherwise, to the extent that Jordan can, in effect, leave the defence of its western border to Israel, while Egypt and Israel co-operate, however tacitly, both on the policing of their borders with Gaza and on anti-terrorist operations in Sinai. Now there appear to be further developments in the region indicating even stranger twists of alliance-forming. According to Ben Cohen (well-known for his writings on Israel and the region in various online papers), author of this Algemeiner article Israel and the Four Powers:

[in an] interview…a senior IDF officer [gave] to a Saudi weekly, Elaph…laid out how Israel analyzes the present wretched state of the Middle East. In the Israeli view, there are, the officer said, four powers that have coalesced in the region. The first power centers on Iran and its allies and proxies, such as the Bashar al-Assad dictatorship in Syria, Shi’a rebels in Yemen and Iraq, and most pertinently for Israel, Hezbollah in Lebanon. The second power contains what the officer called “moderate” states with whom Israel has “a common language” — Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf countries. The third power, one that is obviously waning, is represented in the form of the Muslim Brotherhood, now vanquished in its Egyptian heartland but still reigning in Hamas-controlled Gaza. Finally, the fourth power is another non-state actor, the combined forces of jihadi barbarism like Al-Qaeda and Islamic State.

Israel’s goal in this situation is a modest one. As the IDF officer put it, “There is a danger that the strife will reach us as well if the instability in the region continues for a long time. Therefore, we need to take advantage of the opportunity and work together with the moderate states to renew quiet in the region.”

Cohen goes on to develop this notion, arguing that:

The key phrase here, it seems to me, is “renew quiet.” Foremost for the Israelis, that means counteracting Iran and especially its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah, and then minimizing the potential for jihadi terrorists to operate on or near Israeli-controlled territory. A broader strategic vision can also be detected here: Ultimately, both Israel and the conservative Arab states share the common interests of neutralizing Iran and eliminating the jihadi groups.

The partnership between Israel and these states is already in operation, at the levels of intelligence sharing and — not for the first time — cautious exploration of trade relations.

Cohen expands this idea of “renewing calm” at some interesting length.  [Anne adds: I like his last paragraph very much]:

When you consider the alternatives, the region’s architecture could be much worse for Israel than it is currently. Long an anomaly as the only open society in the region, the target of Arab military and economic warfare throughout the latter half of the last century, Israel in this century is now a partner in a regional bloc. To be sure, this is a bloc based upon interests, not common values, and is therefore necessarily limited in scope. But in the present storm, and amidst the appalling human suffering generated by the clash of these rival interests in Syria, it’s the closest thing we have to progress.

Changing the focus from defence (not forgetting that much concerning Israel is often, nevertheless, about the defence of this tiny piece of land), how about some claims regarding, first, energy self-sufficiency, and then other aspects of self-sufficiency. So firstly, some encouraging speculation about energy, found in ToI again, we read about Israel’s oil finds in the Golan and the Megiddo-Jezreel Valley where Christina Lin informs us that:

Recently there have been reports that Afek Oil and Gas, a subsidiary of the American company Genie Energy, have discovered an oil bonanza in the Golan Heights “with the potential of billions of barrels.”

She goes on

In an interview with Israel’s Channel 2 News, chief geologist Yuval Batovsaid the layer is 350 meters thick, which is 10 times larger than the average oil find worldwide, and “what’s important is to know that there’s oil in the rock, and this we know.”

Of course, there are problems (aren’t there always? This is the Middle East, after all):

However, obstacles remain. The quality, quantity and cost-effectiveness of extraction are still unknown, and there has been resistance from environmental groups concerned about the impact of drilling. Moreover, many nations including the US do not recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and question her right to exploit the region.

But all is not lost:

Nonetheless, there is another potential oil bounty that is within Israel’s territory and has escaped much media attention—Zion Oil & Gas’s exploration of the Megiddo and Jezreel Valley.

Texas-based Zion Oil has been drilling near Haifa since 2005 for potential 484 million barrels of oil, interestingly based on its CEO John Brown’s belief in 1981 that oil will be found near the foot of Asher in the Map of the Twelve Tribes of Israel.

Okay, if he believes that, and there is oil there…

[Anne adds]: Well, he has had a certain amount of success so far as this image shows:

Gold Meir once quipped “Moses dragged us for 40 years through the desert to bring us to the one place in the Middle East where there was no oil.” Now, it seems not only is there oil, but Moses pointed to it.

Still talking resources, we all know that the region is an arid area, and that the locals are in danger of overusing those sources of water that they have…with one exception, of course. So, step forward Israel’s water engineers, heroes all. As this ToI article notes, How Israel became a water superpower:

Seth M. Siegel, author of “Let There Be Water: Israel’s Solution for a Water-Starved World” began his book tour [and] has been traveling around the United States speaking on university campuses, to Jewish groups, to policy groups, at the UN and to groups of business executives and water engineers.

He expected, he says,

to get a lot of questions about Israel and the Palestinians. He didn’t even rule out the possibility that pro-Palestinian activists, angered by the book’s message that Israel is a world leader in water management and conservation, would demonstrate at his lectures.

But that didn’t happen. Instead, “I have been dumbstruck by the response.”

In fact, he says

What they want to learn, explains Siegel, is how a country that is 60 percent desert and whose population increased tenfold since 1948 not only has enough water for itself, but in fact has a surplus and even exports water to its neighbors. In the 1930s British economists predicted that all of Palestine — including today’s Gaza, Israel and the West Bank, had enough water to sustain 2 million people. Today, the area is home to more than 12 million people, a feat that Siegel attributes in large part to Israel’s first-class water planning and management.

Drip irrigation, invented by Israel

“In addition,” Siegel writes, “Israel provides large amounts of water from its own supplies to both the Palestinians and the Kingdom of Jordan and even exports billions of dollars each year of peppers, tomatoes, melons and other water-intensive produce.”

Sounds a “must read” to me!

See, I said it wasn’t that hard to find good news!


Anne adds:

Brian, thank you so much for this week’s dose of good news. As you say, sometimes it is easier to see the good news from a distance since we Israelis are caught up in the day-to-day minutiae of life in Israel with all its ups and downs.

No less that Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipy Hotovely herself reflects your message with her statement that Israel is not isolated at all:

“Israel is not isolated or rejected,” she says, speaking to Israel Hayom at her office in Jerusalem. “Quite the opposite, actually. The media has a focus problem — they always focus on the problems and the familiar rather than highlighting positive achievements. If you ask the average Israeli about our relations with the world, they will recite the very narrow view of the ties with Europe — a very vocal relationship primarily because of the EU’s tendency to condemn the building of every home beyond the Green Line. The average Israeli is also aware of the Israeli-American relationship over the last year, which revolved around the deep conflict surrounding the Iranian issue. But that is a mistake.”

Deputy FM Tzipy Hotovely

With the help of a few charts, Hotovely presents a very different picture — of flourishing commerce and active diplomatic relations with 80% of the world’s nations, all suggesting that Israel is not at all isolated, neither diplomatically nor economically. “Today, Israel is holding the U.S.’s hand on one side — a very strong ally — and on the other side the hands of India, China and Japan,” she says, underscoring Israel’s international dealings.

It’s no wonder that the world wants Israel as an ally with all its innovations and scientific advances.

Here is one more item from Israel’s great bio-medical industry: Israeli researchers have developed a flu super-vaccine to eradicate all strains of flu, including bird flu: (h/t Reality):

It is little wonder that so many of the world’s health scares, such as the swine flu and bird flu pandemics, were caused by the flu virus. The virus, also known as influenza, mutates often, is highly contagious and grows resistant to treatments. Now, an Israeli company has developed a universal vaccine that may forever eradicate the flu family.

BiondVax Pharmaceuticals, which is developing the vaccine, has announced that it has completed a series of tests, which show that the vaccine is indeed “universal” and is also suited to the many new deadly flu strains that have appeared in the past few years.

In contrast to current vaccines, which are strain-specific, BiondVax‘s new vaccine was designed to contain small doses of the flu virus, which are enough to teach the human immune system to recognize all flu strains, so that the body quickly stops the virus from causing illness. The company anticipates that the universal vaccine, when the development stage is completed, will be broadly effective against present and future strains of flu.

Kol hakavod to BiondVax’s Chief Scientist Doctor Tamar Ben-Yedidia and all the other researchers for what hopefully will be a genuine life-saver for millions of people worldwide.

It is inventions such as these which make Israel the Exit Nation: (“exit” as in sales of startups):

Israeli startups were sold for a total of $9.02 billion in 2015, a 16 percent jump from 2014, according to a new report by Israel-based IVC Research Center and law firm Meitar Liquornik Geva Leshem Tal.

Last year saw the third-highest exit sum in the last decade, with 2006 at No.1 and 2012 at No. 2.  According to the report, which was presented during an event in Tel Aviv yesterday, 96 Israeli high-tech and startup companies were sold in 2015 (eight more companies went public), in line with the 10-year average.

We have so much to be proud of in our little country.

And with that happy thought I wish you all Shabbat Shalom!

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4 Responses to Guest Post: Good News Friday

  1. Elchanan Eric Sussman says:

    If it is true that we may have 115 atomic bombs we must be in the first 5 in the world after the “Big Boys”. An even larger number was going around the internet which would make us no. 3 after Am. and Rus. This is חזון אחרית הימים (like Messianic times). Like this we can all sleep better at night הנה לא ינום ולא ישן שומר ישראל. (Behold the Guardian of Israel neither sleeps nor slumbers).
    שבת שלום ומבורך
    The Gabbai who is a pain in the neck[ to some]

    • anneinpt says:

      Very true Elchanan although nukes are not that much help when all our enemies need are one well-aimed nuke, since we are such a small country. Nevertheless the very existence of Israel, not to mention its growth into such a well-developed thriving society is miraculous and a sign of the Geula.

  2. Dirkster says:

    Israel does not need 50 nuclear warheads to eliminate Iran. Iran has a big water problem and still uses some of the Shah-era Israeli filtration technology. Iran loses any war when its water supplies are taken out. This can be accomplished without nuclear bombs.

    • anneinpt says:

      That’s probably true Dirkster, though if Israel hit Iran’s water supply that might very well constitute a war crime since it would affect millions of civilians. Of course it is a possibility in a last case resort, just like nukes are a last case resort.

      Israel really needs nukes as a deterrent. No one wants to risk taking on a nuclear power, whether it’s Russia or China or North Korea. Iran has learned this lesson well, especially from the antics and provocations of N. Korea which haven’t been responded to – and Israel is watching it all carefully and learning its lessons too.

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