Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Quite the politically tumultuous week in Israel and the Middle East. Let’s quickly see what’s happened so far before another crazy thing happens!

Iranian Nuclear Scientist Job Security

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As most folks are probably aware, there was a major assassination in the Middle East last week. The head of Iran’s nuclear weapons program was gunned down in the street just outside of Iran’s capital city, Tehran.

There have emerged many conflicting details about how the attack was carried out. One narrative says a large group of up to 12 shooters attacked the Iranian Monty Burns’ convoy. Another says there was some kind of remote-controlled gun, possibly controlled from a satellite, that shot up the convoy and then self-destructed.

Either way, a Nissan pick-up truck was definitely involved in the attack, and that’s how you know these guys were serious. They weren’t going to rely on a Ford; they needed to be sure it was going to start!

Who did it? That’s the question everyone is asking. No one has taken responsibility so far; however, due to the timing and incredible precision of the assassination, I humbly suggest that it could not have been done without both U.S. and Israeli knowledge and without help from local individuals. In my mind, the only real question is how much of a role each played.

Iran has vowed revenge, again. But it also wants to make a possible sweetheart deal with a potential incoming Joe Biden administration. In the meantime, Israel has put its forces on a higher level of alert and instructed Jewish institutions around the world to do the same. So much for the “anti-Israel doesn’t equal anti-Semitism” canard. It totally does and therefore everyone should be on alert.

Iran won’t be asking Jews if they are Zionist before they try to harm them. G-d willing, if they do try, they will continue to be very unsuccessful.

We’re Going to Elections, Probably

Benny Gantz, the head of the Blue and White Party, announced that unless an annual budget is presented for consideration very soon, his party will support opposition efforts to disband the current government and announce new elections.

While this is not a done deal, it seems like Israel is heading to elections in the next few months. How this will affect the numerous initiatives currently being considered during this very sensitive and potentially very generous time of the Trump Administration remains to be seen. More on this soon.

For his part, Prime Minister Netanyahu continues to call for “unity” and the preservation of the current coalition government. One has to wonder why Netanyahu doesn’t present a budget ASAP if maintaining the current government is so important to him.

The funny part is, his voters couldn’t care less. They haven’t elected him to be a pious spiritual leader, but a cunning political hawk. It seems Benny Gantz, formerly the head of the army, still might not really understand how this political game works – at least not as well as the master, Bibi Netanyahu.

What Is Potentially at Risk

* Further action against Iran and Iranian proxies:

Israeli military forces have been hammering away at pro-Iranian terrorist forces operating throughout Syria. Some estimates have the number of casualties inflicted on terror groups as over 50 in just the past few weeks.

In addition to the assassination of the Iranian nuclear scientist, there are reports of another Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander being recently killed as well. All of this without any real Iranian response. Clearly more can be done to contain the Iranian threat, but will the current opportunity be missed?

* Legalizing the Young Jewish Communities:

In the past week, both representatives for Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz have announced their support for legalizing upwards of 70 small Jewish communities built on state land in Judea and Samaria over the past 25 years. This would be a major accomplishment for those communities and their residents, as well as for the surrounding, larger Jewish communities.

It’s unlikely that the Trump administration will object too strongly to such a move, if at all, but it’s important to point out that a significant number of these communities were not included in areas set to become part of sovereign Israel under the Trump “Plan of the Century.”

The legalization of these communities would allow for better infrastructure, including better electricity and water, as well as future development and growth. All the political pieces seem to be in place, including support from opposition parties, like Yamina, but will the current opportunity be missed?

* Normalization with more Arab countries:

Both Israel and the Trump administration have been emphatic that more Arab countries are interested in normalizing relations with Israel. With this in mind, Trump advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner has recently flown to Saudi Arabia and Qatar for non-publicly specified reasons.

It’s believed by many that this trip and many other efforts are geared toward bringing in more Arab countries to join the “Abraham Accords” in the next few weeks/months. Saudi Arabia has already announced that its airspace will now be open to Israeli flights traveling to the UAE and elsewhere. Relations are warming up, but will the current opportunity be missed?

Covid in Israel

The number of new Covid-19 cases in Israel continues to rise steadily. We are now back above 10,000 active cases. The number of seriously ill patients continues to decrease, but it’s once again feared that more serious cases are right around the corner.

Some officials are suggesting that certain restrictions, like a nightly curfew, should be imposed soon and some are even suggesting another lockdown will be necessary in the near future.

It remains unclear when the first vaccines will arrive in Israel and begin to be administered. One of the most consistent characteristics of the pandemic has been its uncertainty. For now, many Israelis are sensing the end of the Corona plague, but are uncertain as to exactly when we will see it.

One thing that we are certain about is that Chanukah is coming up next week and it’s a time for miracles, so watch out!

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Rabbi Ben Packer is the director of the Jerusalem Heritage House.