Howard Epstein: BETTER TO BITE THE BULLET THAN CHOKE ON IT
Two articles appeared in the Jerusalem Post last Friday, saying almost said the same thing – save that they were almost mirror images, each of the other: absent the polarization of the Cold War, when you knew who sponsored whom – Egypt was the client state of the Soviet Union, whilst Israel was somewhat sheltered by the USA – how should Egypt, or for that matter Israel, deal with the Russians and the Americans nowadays. What is the problem? What is not?
Egypt seeks financial aid and armaments from both Russia and the US. When, in the future, they clash (so far it has been only verbally), to which should Egypt send warmer words of support?
Israel is unlikely to need either of those forms of aid from Russia, and can work just fine with America, but it has a working relationship with Russia which it cannot afford to spoil (given Russia’s presence just below the Golan Heights) and, in any event, that is a relationship Israel has no need to spoil. Why make enemies unnecessarily? There is a more pressing reason, too: if any force is going to dislodge the Iranians from what used to be Syria, it is more likely to be Russia than the US.
So that old saw, my enemy’s enemy is my friend, just got replaced by my friend’s enemy is also my friend – and that goes for Egypt too. Al Sisi needs the friendship of every state so far mentioned, including that of Israel.
In almost every other way, the differences between Israel and Egypt could hardly be more marked. Egypt today, as it has for many years, teeters on the brink of bankruptcy, and not for the first time – actually for the third in the modern era. Almost bereft of income from tourism, incapable of manufacturing anything that the world wants (apart from some hardly-affordable bed-sheets) and suffering from an unmanageable birth rate and a command economy in which the army top-brass are the only beneficiaries (time prevents my setting out the full list), Egypt survives, a little like Blanche Dubois (in Tennessee Williams’ play: A Streetcar Named Desire), always depending on the kindness of others.
There are many examples of the indulgences shown to Egypt but a February 7, 2017 article in The Middle East Monitor (MEMO) encapsulated the matter quite neatly. Under the strapline: Is Egypt heading for bankruptcy? MEMO answered its own question in the negative, thus:
The West knows that there are only two main powers in Egypt: the army and the Islamic movement. Although Western governments are not happy with the army’s suppression of civil freedoms, they believe that this is less harmful to their interests in the region and the interests of Israel than the Islamic movement. Hence, they condone the practices of the current regime in its repression of all political opposition, including liberals.
That’s why we see valuations issued by Western rating agencies which give Egypt a stable B grade, despite a surging budget deficit, huge foreign debts and rising debt to the GDP, as well as a high inflation rate. There were also bonds issued by Egypt last month which were covered three times despite the lack of political and security stability and fears about the overthrow of the Cairo regime as a result of popular unrest because of sharp price rises for basic necessities.
Now, compare and contrast Israel. Instead of my setting out the impressive fiscal statistics yet again (see earlier blogs manifesting that Israel has the world’s most dynamic economy), perhaps the following will paint a sufficient picture for you. According to some Bloomberg league tables, this is where Israel stands:
1. South Korea
|Research & Development|
1. South Korea
Not bad going you may think, whichever way Bloomberg does its figures, which you can see for yourself at:
and take a look at the composite table of the world’s most innovative countries at the end of this piece. You will see Israel at number 5 out of 50 overall, preceded only by South Korea, Japan, Germany and Finland. The USA is sixth, with France and the UK at ninth and tenth slots. (Israel has a little way to go to be number one, but we would not want to give others more reasons to be jealous of the Jews, would we?)
Less regimented than the South Koreans, the Japanese and the Germans – and discounting Finland which has a population of 5.5 million and not growing, and which gave the world only the Nokia phone, if you can remember that far back – Israel is vibrant, exuberant and equalled, OK is in second place to, the USA, as a contributor to human advancement and well-being.
Given, then, the sheer aggregated brainpower in the USA and Israel, it is strange that they learned nothing from history. Hitler was appeased from 1933 to the outbreak of WWII by those who did not want to take the cheapest hit – the earliest one. They put off confronting the beast until he made war inevitable, and 50 to 80 million died (depending on sources consulted – about 3-5% of the world’s 1940 population). If Hitler had been stopped before 1938, perhaps 100,000 would have died. OK, double it.
Now, at last, America confronts North Korea, having appeased it with the hapless treaty foisted on the American people by Clinton and Wendy Sherman – then and ever since. That infamous double act was duplicated in the form of the Obama/Wendy Sherman capitulation to Iran with the JCPOA. (Less than ten years left now, folks, before the permitted nuclear breakout of the ayatollahs. And counting down.)
Will Trump do it? Will he defang the North Korean nuclear capability? A million might die. But if he leaves it, ten million might die, or a hundred million. (See my blog “Time to Nuke North Korea, Mr President”, earlier this year on this portal.) Agonizing choice. How could the Americans have been so stupid to let things go so far?
Here is the Siamese-twin question. How was Israel so stupid as to allow Hezbollah to build up its missile numbers to 10,000? Then to 50,000? Then to 120,000? That is as criminal an appeasement as was practised by all those British politicians of the 1930s who were not Winston Churchill, the lone voice that spake what was to come.
Now, with who knows how many missiles in silos all over Lebanon, one day someone in Hezbollah is going to look at the Best By date on that arsenal and go scurrying down the steps to Nasrallah’s bunker, screaming: “Hey, Hassan. If we don’t use them this week, we might not be able to use them at all.” At that point, we had better got a load of Iron Dome, David’s Sling and Arrow interceptors in stock, because we are going to need every one of them, and probably more than that, too.
There a few straws in the wind, and most of them are acronyms. MOAB (affectionately: The Mother of all Bombs), MOP (Massive Ordnance Penetrator – bunker busters to you and me) and the like. The MOAB that Trump dropped on a tunnel complex in Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, last week was a wake-up call to all those shifting sand for Hamas that their strategy could be built on, well, shifting sands. Israel might now feel a little less shy about dropping a large quantity of ordnance along the Gaza-Israel border. Further, the destruction of the North Korean threat would cause the Mullocracy in Tehran a bigger headache that was experienced last week in Nangarhar province. The writing is on the wall.
The writing is on the wall for us, too. Take it on the nose and take it early, because the other guy is working out, filling his gloves with lead shot and getting stronger every day. Next time, the fatalities will not be restricted to Sderot or Metullah – places that the Army now suggests be evacuated next time – but will encompass also Haifa and Tel Aviv, places that cannot be. I, living in the center, may be one of the first to go; but, for the sake of all the others, I hope that we do not allow the enemy to double its arsenal again before we finally bite the inevitable bullet. Better than choking on it, for the cost will be less tomorrow than next year.
© Howard Epstein April 2017
Bloomberg Innovation Table [First 38 out of 50.]