Rural Zichron Yaakov – 11pm. A clear night. Just me and the ‘hund’ pounding the beat before turning in for the night.
On the edge of the Carmel – adjacent to the Ramat Hadiv nature reserve – jackals are often heard howling to attract a mate. At least I thought it was a jackal I heard howling a love-sick lament the other night, until a neighbour sheepishly refused to make eye contact with me following morning and left me wondering if I had heard something quite different!
In five years of ‘tiyulim’ with my faithful hound Mocca, I’ve spotted owls, snakes, wild boar, and eagles, but nothing quite as surprising as this latest encounter.
It began when a lady ‘of a certain age’ who tends to trot her poodle around the same block at a similar time to me, stopped and breathlessly informed me that she had just seen a ‘durban’ just around the corner. I thought it more than a touch surprising that the sighting of a South African late at night would leave the lady all of a quiver, but she explained that a ‘durban’ was one of those big hedgehog creatures with spines that it shoots at you when sensing danger.
She had hurried along in fear that the ‘durban’ might take a shot at her pooch and render him senseless. It took me a moment before I understood she had seen a porcupine; and a big one, at that. I wasn’t aware that we had porcupines in Israel, so left the lady (and her poodle) and headed along with my fearless mutt to the scene of the alleged sighting. Nothing. I hung around for a moment or two outside the house in question then, sure enough, heard a rustling noise coming from the vicinity of the neighbour’s trash.
And there he was. Much bigger than I had anticipated, snouting around a bag of garden cuttings, and quite superb. He saw me, Mocca woofed, and then ‘Porky’s’ quills all stood to attention fanning out in the same way a peacock displays its plumage. (The thought crossed my mind that an umbrella might have been a good line of defence at this point.)
But he didn’t take aim and …fire. He just scuttled away under a parked car. I stood back a few yards, crouched down, and waited for him to reappear.
A car approached and the driver stopped to ask me if everything was OK? Clearly the sight of a grown man kneeling down on a pavement late at night had set alarm bells ringing. I told him what I had seen and he duly parked his car and came over to join me, stating that he had lived in the area all his life and never seen this notoriously private, nocturnal creature. A curious neighbour - who had been viewing the whole scene from across the road with some
bemusement - came out to join the observation crew, as did my wife and eldest daughter, who I had contacted to come out and see our unexpected visitor.
‘Porky’ clearly had time on his quills because he wasn’t in any hurry to ‘play ball’, but then a cat came bounding along and ran under the parked car and ‘Porky’ came darting out the other side and sped along the street – faster than the famed Penelope Pitstop from ‘The Wacky Races’ – making good his escape, accompanied by gasps of amazement from my band of onlookers.
We decided to let ‘Porky’ be and leave him to find his way back to the nature reserve from where we assumed he must have emerged some time earlier.
Apparently the Indian crested porcupine is a secretive native of Israel, and after doing just a little research I read that they had caused damage to the famous/infamous ‘alleged’ research facility at Dimona back in 2007, chewing through important cables. Reuters reported at the time that the porcupines were tempted out into the open by a combination of “potatoes and chocolate milk”.
Of the same incident, Yediot Aharonot quoted one David Golan from the Dimona centre as saying, “a porcupine explosion posed a security threat.” Could exploding porcupines possibly be Israel’s much whispered secret weapon? Thrilling as the sighting of my spiky friend was, maybe it was also a sign that something’s afoot in my neck of the woods!
Note to self: Add chocolate milk to weekly shopping list from now on.
The events of last week in Boston, Massachusetts, may finally have given a proper wake-up call to those who still believe there is no agenda on the part of radical Islamists in the U.S. to undermine mainstream society.
Although investigations are ongoing and no concrete facts have yet been presented as to the definitive inspiration behind the awful double bombing of the Boston marathon, there appears sufficient circumstantial information to indicate that a degree of Islamist ideology and anti-American sentiment was a significant contributing factor to the actions of thesarnaev
More than 11 years on from the 9/11 atrocities the U.S. was gripped with the hunt for the two men. The death of the older brother in a shootout with police – which cost the life of a Boston police officer – quickly followed by the apprehension of the younger brother, sparked hysterical scenes of jubilation from the mainly young folk of the city, an outburst of relief that the siege of the city that had been on total lockdown was finally over.
Youthful ebullience and enthusiasm aside, such scenes of cheering and raising a beer at the capture of the suspect, combined with communal chants of “U.S.A, U.S.A” demonstrate a distinct lack of understanding of what had occurred in the previous days in the city. Instead of this being the end of the threat to their society, the actions of the Tsarnaev brothers – who quite likely received guidance or physical support from within America – should be a clear alarm call that this is just the tip of the iceberg and there are plenty of other would-be terrorists “sleeping” across the length and breadth of the country.
In Israel, where the pursuit and apprehension of terror suspects is an ongoing part of everyday life (although we thankfully don’t receive every detail in the mainstream media), you will not see triumphalist whooping and hollering every time a terror suspect is apprehended.
Israelis know that each instance of a foiled terrorist attack is just another battle in the war against those seeking to undermine their society. It is not a cause for celebration, more a pause to draw breath, to reconsider, and to learn a little more about the enemy.
The relief of Bostonians in being able to return to normal everyday life is understandable, but their collective experience should surely make them pause to think hard about the safety of their society and maybe appreciate a little more the tribulations of far away Israel, where such threats and occurrences are, sadly, all too familiar.
(Originally published in Times of Israel, April 22, 2013)
(First published Times of Israel 23rd January, 2013) - Remember Bibi’s AIPAC speech of earlier this year when our silver-tongued PM addressed an adoring audience of supporters and proceeded to give them the old ‘duck’ routine?
You know the one, “If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, if it quacks like a duck, then what is it? That’s right, it’s a duck! But this duck is a nuclear duck. And it’s time the world started calling a duck, a duck!”
Bibi may very well be spot on in drawing world attention to Iran’s sinister nuclear ambitions, but within the space of a quite breathtaking 15 hours of polling yesterday he went from crowing rooster to potential lame duck and into a tailspin that sent feathers flying in all directions on the political compass.
The ‘Honourable Member for Caesarea’ will nonetheless almost certainly bring together a new set of partners to head a governing coalition, but having only weeks ago been expected to be an untouchable powerhouse, strutting his stuff, sitting on an overwhelming majority, dominating Israeli politics and ruling with an iron fist while dictating his vision of Israel to the outside world, he will now surely find his wings clipped, having to take proper account of the opinions of others from an unexpectedly broad political spectrum.
(It might have been broader still if the 1 in 3 of the Israeli electorate who didn’t had actually turned out to vote. Apparently, they couldn’t give a ‘Donald’ – as the cockneys say…erm…a duck!)
A powerhouse no more? A lame duck stymied by the head-scratching mathematics of a virtually hung parliament? We’ll have to wait and see. But as long as Bibi doesn’t sell his soul to the even further right ultra-religious parties and instead goes into government with more rational minds that contribute their fair share to Israeli society, both he and the Israeli people might end up being all the better for the experience and, who knows, the duck might eventually turn into a swan – or is that taking the analogy just a little too far?
It might have been one of the toughest of nights for Bibi – doubtless Sara and the family were ‘treading on eggshells’ this morning – but let’s wish him (and more importantly Israel), the very best of luck.
Let’s hope that all concerned in the frenetic ongoing coalition negotiations think more about what’s good for the country than in just feathering their own nests to the exclusion of all others.
As a departure from my recent missives focusing on politics and current events in this troubled corner of the world, I thought I’d share with you a little excitement that has been building up on
the horsey front!
Those familiar with my work will know that I used to ply my trade as a racing journalist and commentator and have been sorely missing the day-to-day contact with the sport in recent times. By way of ‘keeping my hand in’, I took part in the annual ‘Ten To Follow’ competition run by the Tote, which invites contestants to pick (surprisingly enough) 10 horses to follow through the Flat racing season out of list of 500 possible nags.
Now, out of around 25,000 entries to the contest from all points of the compass, all of whom are striving to get their ‘sticky mitts’, (that’s not a reference in any way, shape, or form, to the Republican presidential candidate), on a whopping first prize of no less than £76,485(!), ‘yours truly’ is currently lurking and preparing to pounce (panther-like) in joint-55thplace with just 17 days to go until the end of the competition, with a fine running total of 684 points.
The game works like this. Every time a horse that is selected manages to win you get points, and the bigger the race it wins, the more points you accrue. And I’ve been accruing very nicely thankyou since the spring with nearly all my horses winning the top races of the season. This Sunday is one of the world’s biggest races, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in Paris, and as of Monday amongst my ‘Ten to Follow’ three were in the race, all of whom were amongst the leading fancies.
I’m sure, dear reader, you are already getting a sense of foreboding, as around 1100 hours on Monday news broke that my leading fancy for the race, German champion Danedream, would not be travelling to France as one of the horses at her stable compound in Cologne had caught a dose of something nasty, and now the whole bloomin’ lot are in quarantine! I was not best pleased, but consoled myself with the fact that I still had two of the leading fancies – Nathaniel and Camelot.
After a lunch of schnitzel and mash I returned to my desk to see a newsflash on the venerable Racing Post website declaring that Nathaniel would “miss the Arc” after being found to have a high temperature at morning stables. I don’t know what the wretched creature had been doing the night before to come home in such a state – the mind boggles - but he is now well and truly a non-runner. So, having been ‘sitting pretty’ with three hot chances, I’m now down to Ireland’s great hope Camelot, who will be ridden by everyone’s favourite Italian, Frankie Dettori, a man with even more ‘mazel’ on the big occasion than his late countryman, ‘Lucky’ Luciano.
Camelot may well be sent off favourite, but the horse had a hard race when losing for the first time ever at Doncaster three weeks ago as he finished a close second in his bid to land the Triple Crown, and I just hope that unlike Nathaniel he hasn’t been burning the candle at both ends in the interim and arrives in Paris with a hangover and runs like a drain!
Of course, the nature of the ‘Ten to Follow’ contest means that nearly all the others up there vying for the prize also have Camelot, so I must also hope that my French selections Cirrus des Aigles and Moonlight Cloud, can manage to win their respective races on the same day at Longchamp and boost my points total to propel me even closer to the pot of gold.
Being the bright spark that I am and choosing to live in one of the few countries in the world that almost unbelievably has no horse racing, I have to say that the £10 spent in entering the competition way back at the end of April has kept me well and truly in touch with the sport I love on a daily basis. With all the other names on the leader board emanating from Britain, Ireland, and France, (plus a few other waifs and strays like P Alster), wouldn’t it be nice for someone – i.e me –from a country where racing doesn’t even exist, to come through strongly inside the final
furlong and beat the lot of them in the dying strides to grab the 76 grand?
Somehow, I can’t believe it will happen, bit win, lose or draw, I’ve had a fine run for my money.
(Originally published in Times of Israel - 9/9/2012)
A long time ago I forgot all that crap they taught me at school in England about keeping a ‘stiff upper lip’, ‘don’t let your emotions get the better of you’, and ‘big boys don’t cry’.
A career as a sports journalist in Britain took me closer to the action than most ever get; ringside at major boxing matches, in the commentary box for big horse races, on the course for stunning golfing last-hole drama. And believe me, if there are two things that can make even the toughest guys break down, one is the birth of your first child, and the second is outstanding sporting achievement against all the odds.
Red Rum winning his third Aintree Grand National, Muhammad Ali winning back the world heavyweight title for the third time, even (now Dame) Kelly Holmes’ double gold medal at the Beijing Games.
Well, for me, add to that list yesterday’s stunning achievement of Israel’s Noam Gershony winning the gold medal at the London Paralympics in the wheelchair tennis. A brilliant sporting success from the 29-year-old former Israel Air Force pilot who was all but killed six years ago after his helicopter crashed during the Second Lebanon War.
It’s impossible to even begin to imagine what Gershony must have been through; the trauma and heartache of losing his co-pilot, his own terrible injuries, and doubtless periods of wondering what he would do with the rest of his life under his new physical handicap.
But from bad has come good, and the pathway to Israel’s only gold medal in London at either games opened only two years ago when he discovered wheelchair tennis and found he was very good at it! A straight sets defeat of his American rival in the final took Gershony to an amazing gold medal, watched on closely by family and friends who had travelled from Israel to be there to cheer him on.
And when he turned to view the Israeli flag and the strains of ‘Hatikvah’ rang out for the first time at the games, it was more than Gershony could do to control his emotions and he broke down and cried; and so did I. And I’m proud I did too.
There are few things that compare to the emotion and pride in supreme sporting achievement, a feeling rarely felt by the Israeli population due to our pathetic investment in sport and sporting facilities, and the incompetence of the Israeli Olympic Committee and other ‘gentleman’s’ clubs such as Hapoel and Maccabi.
More than business or politics, sport successfully transcends borders, race and religion. The hugely successful London Olympics have brought the British public to a near ecstatic mood even in times of desperate financial straits and economic hardship. Israel is heading into a period of huge uncertainty and potential austerity, aside of the serious security concerns that surround us at all points of the compass. Wouldn’t it be great to have someone to cheer on and admire for a change?
Noam Gershony arrives home tomorrow and should rightly be hailed a true hero, but not before he deservedly receives the honour of carrying the Israeli flag in tonight’s Paralylmpic 2012 closing ceremony.
If he receives what is truly due to him and gets a roaring reception at Ben Gurion Airport this toughest of men may cry again; something to be extremely proud of after Gershony conquered the most extreme adversity and topped the world - from a wheelchair.
(Originally published in Times of Israel - 18/07/2012)
Iran’s supposedly ‘semi-independent’ news agency FARS has never been the first ‘go to’ address for those wanting to find out what’s really going on in the
Islamic Republic. Their record of being economical with the truth demonstrates an imagination Lewis Carroll himself would have envied, as their claim last month that the Chinese navy would join their Iranian, Russian, and Syrian counterparts in exercises in the eastern Mediterranean to strengthen their military ties, well and truly demonstrates.
It struck me as somewhat curious at the time, (in view of the fact that their military has other very significant challenges on their plate at present), that the Syrian navy would be involved in war games in the eastern Med while the lives of thousands of innocent Syrians are being lost in the awful civil war that has thrown the whole region into turmoil.
FARS’ story was soon regurgitated by more official Iranian state media, and the news that earlier this month three Chinese naval vessels had indeed made their way through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean did raise an eyebrow or two.
Following on from the visit of a Russian destroyer to Cyprus – could the Russians be trying to find a new Mediterranean base as they prepare to bail out of their Syrian naval yard at Tartus? – and reports of a further 10 Russian naval vessels also in the same stretch of water as the Chinese, for a few moments it appeared that maybe FARS had actually got this one right!
China and Russia had successfully participated in joint naval exercises in the Yellow Sea in April, so maybe they were indeed up to something off the coast of Syria, a theory considered to have some weight in view of the diplomatic position being taken by both the Chinese and the Russians in opposing the majority world view on the UN Security Council.
Then earlier this week, (as reported by the Times of Israel), where in fact were the Chinese naval boats finally revealed to be docking? Well, Haifa! Yes – I kid you not – Haifa.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QcvWzrRS3AU For the very first time, the Chinese navy docked at Israel’s major Mediterranean port and was officially welcomed with the full red carpet treatment as part of a four-day visit to the country to celebrate the 20th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the countries having been established. The unexpected arrivals on Israeli soil follow a reportedly successful visit to China in the spring by Israel’s Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Benny Gantz.
China is now one of Israel’s biggest trading partners and the visit is expected to underscore potential new business deals for both parties at a time when the respective economies of both nations are going through a period of uncertainty.
Of course, there will be conspiracy theorists ready to suggest that the Chinese visit to Haifa could be a smokescreen to distract attention away from Sino-Russian ambitions in the region, but to all intents and purposes it does seem as though FARS has once again been barking up the wrong tree.
What a farce!
Last week saw the two US presidential candidates, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, literally falling over themselves to convince the Israeli public and the wider world that they are best placed to work with, and act in the best interests of, the Jewish State.
Although the traditional instinct of the majority of US Jews has been to vote Democrat, the difficult economic conditions in America and other issues such as Obama’s controversial healthcare reforms have failed to endear him to many of his traditional Jewish supporters, many of whom also appear to feel he hasn’t been supportive enough of Israel on key issues during his presidency.
That view isn’t held by former Israeli prime minister and current Defence Minister Ehud Barak, who told CNN on Monday evening that in his opinion,
“this administration under President Obama is doing, in regard to our
security, more than anything that I can remember in the past”. Mitt Romney, who spent two days in Israel over the weekend, didn’t find time in his schedule to meet Ehud Barak, a point some commentators suggest might have coloured the controversial ex-PM’s view, but there could be no hiding the warmth of the welcome the Utah governor received from Bibi Netanyahu whose personal friendship with the Republican goes back more than 35 years to their time as work colleagues in the US in the 1970’s.
Romney, who has long placed his unequivocal support for Israel on the record and visited the country on at least four occasions, will never have been happier to land here than he was on Saturday night after a torrid visit to Britain in which his perceived ungentlemanly criticism of the preparations for London’s Olympic Games went down about as well as a pork chop at a barmitzvah! On what should have been a huge publicity coup for Romney in the country that is the USA’s long-standing major international military ally and partner to the ‘special relationship’, his photo-opportunity of a visit was completely overshadowed by his ill-judged comments which his entourage, (despite determined efforts to smooth things over), failed to brush under the carpet.
Romney came on to Israel to speak at a fund-raising dinner for which tickets had been available at a cost of no less than a staggering $50,000 each, but the dinner had to be rescheduled in embarrassing fashion for 24 hours later after it was suddenly realized that it was to be held on the Jewish fast day of Tisha b’Av, another gaffe that stole the headlines locally. That bloomer apart, Romney’s affirmation of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was very well received over here, as too was Romney’s pledge to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Israel on the troubling issue of Iran’s attempt to develop nuclear weapons.
Obama meanwhile, in what was perceived as a calculated move to steal the thunder in advance of Romney’s visit to Israel, on Friday sought to reassure Jewish voters at home and abroad that he has the best interests of the US’ closest ally in the Middle East at heart, signing the United States-Israel Enhanced Cooperation Act in a ceremony at the White House during which he also announced an additional $70 million for Israel’s ‘Iron Dome’ defence
In short, there is little doubt that both Obama and Romney see Israel as a significant factor in their respective presidential campaigns, both from the point of being seen to have genuine strengths on foreign policy, and also in trying to woo the significant Jewish vote in key states such as Florida. There will doubtless be plenty more focus on Israel, the Middle East, and the Iranian threat over the months to come, in what most experts believe could be one of the closest races for the White House for some years.
(First published in Times of Israel - 28/06/20120
It is never an easy task trying to tread the fine line between freedom of
expression and protecting the general public from the real and present danger posed by terrorists using modern electronic communication.
In London on Tuesday, in a rare public speech, the head of Britain’s famed MI5 spy agency, Jonathan Evans, spelled out to the British public what we in Israel have known for a long time; that the seismic changes that have rocked the Arab World over the last 18 months have carried with them an open goal for would-be jihadists and Islamic terrorists as governmental controls and the rule of law have been sidelined amidst the ongoing chaos.
The Lord Mayor’s Annual Defence and Security Lecture was the venue for Evans’ prescient remarks that made headlines in Britain due to the ‘no punches pulled’ picture that the head of Britain’s internal security service felt compelled to paint to the gathered audience, the national media, and the country as a whole.
With the massive security operation for The Queen’s recent Diamond Jubilee celebrations having passed without any notable incident, coming just a few weeks ahead of London hosting the 2012 Olympic Games, Evans went on record with his grave concerns over the dangers of both terrorist and cyber attack causing difficulties during the huge international sporting gathering, as well as on an ongoing basis. On the cyber crime front he pointed out that one unnamed major British company had in the last 12 months alone sustained losses of no less than £800 million (US$1.25 billion), as a result of
cyber crime that was almost certainly state-sponsored. Where did that money go, and what is it now being used for?
Evans urged the British government not to succumb to the pressure of those who wish to ensure full and unimpeded freedom of expression, and not to backtrack on proposed legislation that will allow MI5 to monitor the emails and phone calls of those suspected of serious crimes, including terrorism. He went on to cite evidence of as many as 100 British citizens who the agency is aware of having travelled to Arab countries for training by Al Qaeda, and noted that the power vacuums in countries such as Egypt and Libya had created a fertile operating ground for Al Qaeda in the Middle East.
Evans observed, “Today parts of the Arab world have once more become a permissive environment for Al Qaeda. This is the completion of a cycle – Al Qaeda first moved to Afghanistan in the 1990s due to pressure in their Arab countries of origin. They moved on to Pakistan after the fall of the Taliban. And now some are heading home to the Arab world again. And a small number of British would be jihadists are also making their way to Arab countries to seek training and opportunities for militant activity, as they do in Somalia and Yemen. Some will return to the UK and pose a threat here. This is a new and worrying development and could get worse as events unfold.”
Evans went on to point the finger at Iran and Hizbollah when referring to recent attacks on Israeli targets as well as the failed attempt to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the US, saying, “So a return to State-sponsored terrorism by Iran or its associates, such as Hizbollah, cannot be ruled out as pressure on the Iranian leadership increases.”
Anyone who believed that the commendable ideals of the secular, modern, educated youth of the Arab World would bring about a new dawn of democracy and tolerance in igniting the revolutions that have been commonly referred to as the Arab Spring, now know, (with the sinister rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt), that unfortunately such an ideal is far-fetched, fanciful Walter Mitty thinking.
The fact that the head of MI5 felt compelled to ‘go public’ and spell out in no uncertain terms the real and present dangers emerging from the Arab Spring in an attempt to shake the British public out of their complacency and foolhardy belief that jihadists won’t return to repeat the devastation of 7/7 or 9/11, is in itself a measure of the seriousness with which the British, (and doubtless many other national and international security services), view the situation in the Middle East and much closer to home.
It is rare indeed that someone as respected as Evans, whose words are so carefully chosen, goes into such detail about the work of his organisation. The spy master is clearly desperate to ensure his hands are not tied by ‘politically correct’ legislation that could reduce the effectiveness of his agency. He urged the British government not to succumb to those who would naively hand would-be terrorists a critical advantage by refusing to allow MI5 to use all necessary means to monitor suspicious activity.
Evans insisted, “It would be extraordinary and self-defeating if terrorists and criminals were able to adopt new technologies in order to facilitate their activities, while the law enforcement and security agencies were not permitted to keep pace with those same technological changes.”
Israel has long led the fight against Islamic and jihadist terrorism in the Middle East and warned the world that this is a scourge that will eventually come to haunt them as well. With this landmark statement Jonathan Evans has acknowledged publicly what many have understood in our ‘tough neighbourhood’ for a long time. He has underscored the essential need for vigilance and a pro-active counter-terrorism policy, and highlighted that this particularly fight is now central to the security and wellbeing of the British public and the wider European region.
(First published in Times of Israel 13/06/2012)
If you haven’t already noticed the signs that the Israeli economy is in for a rough ride in the short to medium term, as the domino effect gathers momentum from European, American, and now Asian economies, now is the time to take a really hard look at where we are and what we might expect, and get a grip on reality.
Israel has enjoyed an unprecedented economic boom over the last 10 years, the last four of which have seen much of the rest of the world go through major financial crises while here we maintained growth, and living standards have, in general, risen. Fuelled by stunning rises in the value of Israeli property, all has seemed rosy under the astute management of Bank of Israel supremo Stanley Fisher. But in a global economy that is again facing serious meltdown, Israel is not an island, and will surely feel the wave of economic instability that is pouring over Europe, threatening to envelop the BRICS countries, in particular India, China and Brazil.
Having seen the awful effect the recession has had on Britain since the 2008 banking crisis and the realization that Britain and Europe will not be moving ahead at all over the next few years – despite the ill-conceived recent mind-boggling bailout of Spanish banks to the tune of more than $150 billion, a move that Fxpro.com described as “akin to
giving a patient with two broken legs some morphine” – the euro crisis seems to be deepening by the minute, a disturbing thought for anyone in Israel whose job relies on exporting products to European markets.
The US, Israel’s number 1 export market, is seeing its economy stuttering after showing signs of a mild recovery, and the recent comments from the powers that be in Washington that they are ‘being dragged down by Europe’, appear to a foretaste of the blame game that will be coming our way very soon. And now, the emerging markets that Israeli businessmen have so successfully cultivated over the last five years – in particular, those in China and India – are seeing significant slowdown in factory production, rising costs and falling demand for their products from world markets. India’s finance minister yesterday called a press conference to try and calm fears that his country’s finances are in a far worse state than they are letting on, but he proved unconvincing and only served to add weight to the worries of investors.
Merryn Somerset-Webb, editor-in-chief of the highly regarded financial weekly Money Week, recently wrote, “…we’ve always assumed that the end game of the popping of the great credit bubble would be not one, but an ongoing series of sovereign and banking crises”, while The Economist suggests that a run on Spanish banks is “all too plausible, especially if Greece is forced out of the euro”.
I’ve been stunned over the last year at the complacency and naivety of many in Israel who seem to think that just because our own economy is relatively well managed, we will avoid all the heartache that is sweeping across the financial markets and the business sector. The ‘ihiyeh b’seder’ (it’ll be fine), or ‘al tidag’ (don’t worry) set, don’t seem to appreciate that the world’s finances are now inextricably linked, and that what is hitting and hurting others will definitely be coming our way too, if it hasn’t already arrived.
The unsustainably high cost of housing over here and the massive mortgages that people are expected to fund, the very high cost of living, and the relatively low wages, hardly inspire confidence that in an economic downturn we will glide through untouched. There is however no need to panic, but there is a need to realise that living up to or over the hilt is, (as it always has been), only going to end in tears. It is essential that a degree of reality and sensible planning for hard times ahead helps cushion the landing from what might prove to be a major fall that, for once, will be through no direct fault of our own and is down to sheer international market forces.
It’s time to tighten our belts, take a grip on our household finances, accept that the ‘gravy train’ might be slowing into the buffers, and be fully prepared to weather the storm and come through the approaching downturn in Israel’s economic fortunes with as little pain as possible.
(First published 6/6/2012 in Times of Israel)
If you’re a mainstream, moderately religious Egyptian, or one of Egypt’s secular and educated younger generation, the choice facing you at the ballot box in the forthcoming presidential election is a very stark one indeed. Do you choose the devil, or the deep blue sea?
Whilst somewhat different options might be offered to the 82 million people of the historic Arab nation, the outcome is surely all but a foregone conclusion; chaos. Having overthrown the long-time president Hosni Mubarak through a popular revolution inspired by the Arab Spring that first erupted more than a year ago in Tunisia and only last week saw the unpopular former leader sentenced to life imprisonment, the many that risked their lives in the quest to turn Egypt into a genuine democracy now see themselves facing the choice of voting for one of two candidates; Mubarak’s final prime minister Ahmed Shafiq, or Mohammed Morsi, the conservative Islamist candidate representing the Muslim Brotherhood.
That’s not what the younger generation of Egyptians fought and died for in Tahrir Square, but sadly (and almost inevitably), it is precisely what has happened as the Muslim Brotherhood left the modernists to place themselves in the firing line and suffer significant losses at the hands of the regime, whilst they correctly calculated that waiting on the sidelines for the battle to be won before moving into the void would be the right policy.
In an article for this site of February 18 this year entitled “A ‘Funny’ Thing Happened On The Way To The Ballot Box”, I suggested the following, “…for those of us here in Israel that have grown up with Mubarak on the other side of the fence and — despite his many well documented flaws — grown used to the status quo of having Egypt in the south and Jordan to our east as “partners in peace,” there was a gnawing sense that the jubilant masses who greeted the announcement of Mubarak’s resignation on February 11 might one day come to regret having done the “donkey work” for Islamic radicals who might well step in to take advantage of the predicted political vacuum.”
I stand by those words and suggest that, sadly, that depressing scenario is turning into grim reality right before our very eyes.
The Muslim Brotherhood has played a tremendously good hand and may even achieve the presidency without having to go to the ballot box on June 16 & 17, if their call for further protests in Cairo and around the country in anger at Ahmed Shafiq is heeded by the religious masses who are now joined in growing numbers by many thousands of other Egyptians who have been dismayed at the acquittal of Mubarak’s sons and others at the centre of the regime in the controversial court decision of last week.
With Shafiq being ever more viciously portrayed as a dangerous remnant of the dictatorship they have only recently overthrown, the Muslim Brotherhood is encouraging the masses to take to the streets and squares and call on Egypt’s interim military rulers to annul Shafiq’s presidential challenge, leaving their very own Mohammed Morsi as the undisputed winner by a TKO – Technical Knock Out – without even a single ballot being cast.
The naive jubilation transmitted by the mass media around the world at the prospect of the Arab Spring bringing forth democracy as it is understood in the West is rapidly being exposed as having been premature, and some might add, misguided. Libya is teetering on the brink of civil unrest once again with a myriad of tribal differences surfacing at almost every juncture – the seizing of Tripoli airport by alleged rebels having earlier this week been brutally put down. Syria continues to be a horrendous battleground of carnage in which the international community has proved impotent and continues to waffle on without offering any concrete solutions as, tragically, the innocents (as usual), suffer most. Now Egypt could very well be heading towards a far stricter religious Islamic regime – something not too dissimilar to that in Iran – that will gradually, but certainly, suppress the aspirations of the millions who supported the overthrow of Mubarak.
If able to be vented, (and I say “if” because it is hard to predict just which way the Egyptian military will jump when the dust settles), the anger and disillusion of a significant number of young, secular, Egyptians will surely lead to serious violence that will destabilise the country, and we in Israel should not look glibly upon this turmoil as no concern of ours. Although it porved to be far from easy relationshgip, the potential loss of a 30-year partner in peace raises massive questions as to just what threat we may yet face in the not too distant future on our southern borders, and the disturbing potential of a deadly new sponsor of the Hamas regime in Gaza.
The next few weeks in Egypt will surely be absolutely critical for the Arab world’s most populous nation and for all of her neighbours; and that most certainly includes us here in Israel.