Howard Epstein




Looking Back

The Obama era is all but over.

It began with that speech; the one at Cairo University, that begat the Arab Spring. Arab youth were challenged to seek the end of their enslavement by tyrants, yet, as with popular protests in Iran, there was no US follow through. The inevitable descent into the Arab Fall was swift, bloody and nugatory. Further, and significantly, the cold-shouldering of Israel on that seminal Middle East tour indicated it was to be open season on the Jewish State.

Soon there came the gratuitous Nobel Peace Prize (for the proper response to which, see under Dylan, Bob). If it was intended to be anticipatory of triumphs to come, it must be considered as abject a failure as that give to Yasser Arafat.

Then we had to endure the long, dull years of the aloof, detached presidency (not forgetting the promotion of natural enemies (Iran) and the abandonment of long-standing allies (Israel, Saudi Arabia) and of the natural Obama constituency, the African-Americans, plus the buffoonery of Kerry’’s airmiles “diplomacy” – all words, no beef – allegedly working for the Two State “Solution”. Every rejection by Abbas appeared as Israeli intransigence in the eyes of the Secretary of State.

Just as the curtain began to descend, yesterday’s man of tomorrow, reacted (a tad tardily) to the Russians’ alleged interference with the Democratic vote (note that authoritative sources say the technical evidence falls short of forensic proof of Russian culpability) – which should have been so comfortably ahead of Trump’s as to make no difference to the expected Clinton landslide win. As curtain bounces of the stage for the first time, with the hapless failure of the protégé, Clinton, the star pulls it open to give a performance suggestive of a petulant, jilted lover who cuts up rough with a final nihilistic gesture. Turning convention (and the aphorism) on its head, the old broom sweeps out dozens of Russian diplomats, insouciantly creating potential problems for the incoming Trump. (Trump has been saved from having to react to a Putin response: as an alternative to throwing out US diplomats, Putin, affecting statesmanship, threw egg in the face of Obama.)

At the same time, give or take a few hours, yesterday’s man (period), Kerry, fresh from the Obama bullying in the UNSC, affected to cast Israel as Peace’s bogey-man over some housing starts, not 125 miles from Aleppo where several thousand times more homes – along with half a million people – have been destroyed. No protests on the streets of London. And no UNSC censure. (Who knows? Perhaps Putin would have exercised Russia’s veto.)

All this is so perverse as not to be worth any more effort. So goodbye Obama, and try to keep your hubris in check by keeping quiet about what follows.


Looking Forward

As L’Époque Trompe l’oeil begins, we should strike an optimistic and a typically-Israeli constructive note.

Whilst Aliyah in 2016 is slightly reduced as against 2015, the potential for large parts of the half million Jews in France and Ukraine seeking the safe haven that is Israel in the next five to ten years cannot be completely dismissed. Most such immigrants would want to live in Tel Aviv and the Vale of Sharon. The problem is that Tel Aviv is already the world’s second-most densely-populated place in the West (close behind Gaza for whose overcrowding the world weeps). Plainly, there has to be a limit, if not in the height of the buildings (already four 100 storey towers have been approved for Tel Aviv) to accommodate the ever-growing numbers of residents, then in terms of the infrastructure that has to serve everyone and everything.



In any event, whatever happens with Judea and Samaria, pre-1967 Israel is painfully narrow just north of Tel Aviv. The soon to be completed route 531, from the north-south Super-National Highway (6) to the sea, will mean that a Hummer with mounted cannon could cover the distance in less than 15 minutes. This geo-political fixture should cause planners of Israel’s future to look either north to the Galil or south to the desert. The latter provides opportunities that anyone who has visited Palm Springs, California, or Phoenix, Arizona would fully understand: excellent urban and suburban habitats, always steadily growing by drawing people off from LA and elsewhere.

Distance might present as a challenge but, in the era of high speed train travel, and the coming abandonment of universal automobile ownership in favor of cars-on-demand (particularly in new cities), there is every reason to plan for a new mega-city in the depths of the southern Negev, that will nevertheless be within commuting time of Tel Aviv.

Such a prospect should be seen to be exciting beyond our wildest dreams, as I shall explain over the next several weeks. (In case you are wondering: all the pleasures and attractions of Tel Aviv can be replicated in the desert, save for the tides of the Mediterranean Sea – but all that is for later episodes).

First, let me make out the case for resolving the transportation issue.

Using Googlemaps, take a virtual trip to Paran, about 100 kilometers north of Eilat. Using Google Images, take a look at the topography. Quite a lot of it is flat. Paran, today a modest moshav, lies at an elevation of 107 meters (or 350 feet) above sea level. As an engineering challenge to building a modern railway (even with the Maktesh Ramon in between) from Tel Aviv to Eilat (not the current unambitious plans for a two hour journey), consider that Jerusalem lies at 787 meters (or 2,582 feet), a much greater challenge – that has already been overcome.

Within the next year, the new train from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem will, travelling at 160 kph, consume the 56 kilometers in 28 minutes, including the stop at Ben Gurion airport and another at the Jerusalem-dormitory town of Modi’in.

A second generation version should be planned for the southern routes. The Japanese Shinkansen (vintage 1964), and the French TGV (vintage 1980), average 320 kph. Such a train would reduce the current journey time for the 110k from Tel Aviv to Beersheba from 1 hour 20 minutes to 22 minutes – with another 28 minutes to cover the 148k on to Paran – fifty minutes in all! That would be a shot in the arm for Beersheba, and put Paran well within an hour’s travel time from Tel Aviv. A direct, express route would take little more than half an hour, with another 20 minutes to Eilat).

Who might want to exchange life in Tel Aviv for that in Paran – all other things being equal? All those who eschew overcrowding, and value matchless air quality. Who definitely would not? Yachtsmen and surfboard enthusiasts (yet even they can be accommodated, as we shall see).

In later episodes of this quest for Israeli expansion that treads on no-one else’s toes, I shall deal with the facilities that would have to be provided to make Paran as desirable as Tel Aviv (or Palm Springs), the fiscal costs – and the financial and employment benefits – and the shot in the arm delivered to Israeli pride and morale. Geo-politically and economically, it will, along with the military and other significant assets of the state that are already moving into the southern arid lands, drag Israel’s center of gravity not only south but also east.

As Europe crumbles under the weight of its suffocating bureaucratic, immigration and fiscal issues, and as the East is clearly in the ascendant, with India about to dislodge both the UK and France from the top table of the world’s biggest economies (China having done so some years ago), this proposal is not merely appropriate but also perspicacious.

As a diversion from corruption investigations, it will be redemptive. As a way of improving the quality of life in the Center, and securing Israel’s future, and that of the diaspora, too, I have yet to see a competitor.

The pioneers of an earlier age made the desert bloom. The time has come to make it boom.

© 2017 January – Howard Epstein

Howard Epstein is a political commentator and the author of Guns, Traumas and Exceptionalism: America in the Twenty-First Century, recently published by Amazon and on Kindle. He writes:-

There is no need for me to tell you that the scourge of gun crime is perhaps the most pressing issue in the USA. My book takes a new approach – support failing gun control by viewing gun crime through the prism of gun culture.

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