Monday, November 28, 2016

It’s called “The Arson Intifada”

Haifa -When we bought our apartment on the 10th floor of a new high-rise residential building in Tirat Carmel, less than a mile South of Israel’s port city of Haifa, we knew that the view from the North-facing balcony would be amazing.

About half a mile to the North we see Haifa, and its suburbs sprawling up the slopes of Mt. Carmel.A few hundred yards to the East we have a beautiful view of the Carmel Mountain range, sloping down to the edge of Tirat Carmel.

And best of all – just a few hundred yards to the West is the Mediterranean Sea, that every evening blesses us with a stunning, bright red spectacle as the sun slowly sets into the water.

Yes, the view is amazing, but these past few days it was also frightening…we had front row seats to what is now being called the “Arson Intifada”.

We watched as the wild-fires wreaked havoc in the Haifa suburbs just 1,200 feet up the hills to our East. The flames, burning homes and trees alike, lit up the sky.

From time to time the strong, dry, non-stop winds from the East blew sparks down the hillside in our general direction, setting a few trees and bushes on fire on the mountainside. Within minutes two firefighting planes swooped in dumping seawater and red fire-retardant chemicals, extinguishing the fires and soaking the surrounding area.

Since the wind was blowing to the Northwest, away from our building, we were never really in danger. 

But not everyone in the area was so lucky. As the wind driven flames got nearer to the beautiful and heavily populated hilltop suburbs, the police ordered “immediate” evacuation of over 70,000 residents from 11 neighborhoods including: Danya, Romema, and Ramat Sapir. Whole families ran to escape the fires with literally nothing but the clothes they were wearing. Police and firefighters then risked their lives to make sure no-one remained, and to personally evacuate invalid residents of a retirement home, just minutes ahead of the flames. 

The good news is that as of this writing, thanks to the amazing efforts of the Israeli police, firefighters and IDF soldiers, there has been no loss of life and minimum injuries. 

The sad news is that many of those who evacuated returned yesterday and today only to find that their homes and all their belongings, including pictures, computers, furniture and clothing are gone. 

In a preliminary report, Haifa city officials said yesterday that the fire damaged between 600-700 homes, leaving over 527 uninhabitable and 37 completely destroyed.

But the fires were widespread around the country. While the Carmel fire was the biggest, simultaneous blazes broke out around the country over a 48-hour period, with extensive loss of property and afforestation in Judea and Samaria, the road to Jerusalem, and the Galilee.

So how did it happen?

More than any other month, November has always been prone to fires in Israel. It’s when the strong, warm and dry wind from the East (known as the “Sharqia”) blows across the country. Since this year the rains are late, the forests and fields are bone dry - creating perfect conditions for wildfires.

To start a deadly fire all a terrorist has to do is set fire to some brush to the east of a forest and/or community and let the wind take over. As of right now, the police and fire department have determined that at least 30% of all the fires over the past 5 days were started on purpose with the intent to cause as much death and destruction as possible.

It’s not yet clear if this was organized and/or whether it was incited on social media. 37 suspects have been detained on suspicion of arson or incitement (Palestinians, Israeli Arabs and one Israeli Jew).

Here is the latest summary as of this writing:

·        650 fires – at least 1/3 suspected as arson
·        2,500 firefighters including 12 from the Palestinian Authority and 69 from Cypress
·        3,000 IDF soldiers
·        Firefighting aircraft from Israel, Egypt, Greece, Cypress, Turkey and the USA
·        1.5 million tons of seawater and retardant dropped during 480 sorties.
·        Over 560 buildings destroyed
·        1600 people left homeless
·        0 casualties
·        133 injured (1 seriously)
Will the fires continue next week? Now that might need a miracle since:
a)   The Sharqia wind is dying down and shifting
b)   The forecast for later this week calls for heavy showers all over
Will this be an ongoing new phase in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

I doubt it:
1.   Israeli authorities now suspect that some of the fires may have been of criminal origin and only a few linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
2.   The Palestinian leadership has come out strongly against arson that destroys “their” homeland.
3.   They sent 4 manned fire-engines to assist.
4.   Social media is heavily monitored here with good cooperation between Israel and the PA.
5.   Israel has made it clear that the maximum punishment for arson without casualties is 20 years.

There still may be a few outbreaks, but I think that we’ve seen the last of this “Arson Intifada” …at least until next November.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

President Trump and the Middle East

Haifa, Israel -  Initial reactions in the Middle East to Donald Trump’s election have ranged from positive and cautiously optimistic (Israel, Egypt, Jordan, parts of the Saudi family, the United Arab Emirates, etc.), to outright disbelief and borderline panic (Iran, Qatar, parts of the Saudi family, the Palestinians, Morocco, the Muslim Brotherhood, etc.).

Most analysts attribute the reactions to two main factors:
1. Statements made by candidate Trump during the campaign about support for Israel on the one hand and possible US isolationism on the other.
2. A widespread belief throughout the Muslim world that a president Clinton would be “very sympathetic” to their interests, causes and business affairs thanks to exceptionally large donations to the Clinton Family Foundation, and the fact that Huma Abedin, who grew up in Saudi Arabia and has close ties family to the Muslim Brotherhood, would have had unfettered access and influence in the Oval Office.

As Trump’s inner circle begins to take shape the Israelis are happy with his assumed choice for Ambassador to Israel – his senior advisor David Friedman, who said in an interview this week that: “Trump believes that everyone in Israel - from people on the right to people on the left – want peace. No one wants their children to continue to be killed in wars”, adding that in any negotiations, with the Palestinians: “Trump will let Israel lead…he won’t force Israel.”

And while there is initial concern with the choice of Stephen Bannon as chief strategist because of alleged past anti-Semitic comments, commentators here observe that though he is a strong supporter of Israel, he will be involved mainly in domestic policy (“cleaning the swamp”). Trump said that Bannon and Reince Priebus (incoming chief of staff) would work "as equal partners to transform the federal government."

Trump’s possible foreign policy doctrine, especially regarding the Middle East, is a mixed bag. I tend to agree with senior analyst Ron Ben Yishai, who wrote this week in Ynet that “Trump and the Russians will agree to fight the Islamic State together, but Trump will let the Russians help Bashar Assad win.

This means that the radical Shiite axis led by Iran, with Russian aid and defense, will tighten its grip and its strategic abilities in the Middle East in general, and particularly in the ‘Shiite spectrum’. This is very bad for the State of Israel and it is also bad for the Arab Gulf states (which supported Clinton).”        

Regarding Iran, Trump will probably not cancel the nuclear agreement. However over here they feel strongly that it’s possible that he will accept Israel’s requests to tighten the intelligence supervision on Iran and to respond to any violation on its part with serious sanctions and/or military action.

According to Ben Yishai, the Trump administration and Congress will “also generously accept Israel’s arming requests so that the IDF would be able to respond with all its might in case Iran makes a breakthrough towards a nuclear bomb.”

As for the “Peace Talks” Analysts here agree that, the two-state-for-two-people formula will likely enter a deep freeze for a long time, at least until there is a leadership change with the Palestinians. As I mentioned above, Trump will probably not try to impose any solution or even peace negotiations, certainly not based on Israeli concessions only.

As of this writing, we’re still waiting to find out who the Secretary of State will be, and if that person will have the skills to reestablish respect for, and confidence in the United States as a world leader to be trusted and respected in a very volatile Middle East… 

I hope so.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Will Retaking of Mosul End ISIS?

Haifa, Israel -   As I write this column on Tuesday about 9 AM Dallas time, I’m watching reports from European and Middle East sources about the beginning of the attack to retake the Iraqi city of Mosul from ISIS.

Under heavy American air strikes on targets in and around the city, some 15,000 elite Iraqi troops, together with U.S. trained Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Turkish forces have started to enter the city from the North and East.

The U.S. military estimates ISIS has up to 5,000 fighters inside Mosul and between 1,500 and 2,500 in a defensive belt around the city.

Both the city and periphery have been heavily fortified since ISIS captured it two and a half years ago. Networks of hidden tunnels crisscross Mosul and many buildings, schools and hospitals have been mined and booby-trapped.

Hundreds of the estimated 1.5 million remaining inhabitants have been locked in booby-trapped buildings that either will be hit by American airstrikes or coalition artillery, or be blown up by ISIS blaming the U.S. for the carnage. Hundreds of others were bussed in from the periphery just yesterday and forced to sit in cages and enclosures in city squares as human shields.

Local media report that one day after Iraqi Prime minister Haider al-Abadi appeared on state TV to order ISIS, or the Islamic State to give up its positions, troops opened fire with artillery, tanks and machine guns on the ISIS positions on the edge of the city.

"They have no choice. Either they surrender or they die," Abadi said.

The ISIS fighters responded with guided anti-tank missiles and small arms to block the anti-ISIL coalition's advance on Tuesday.

Interestingly, today the Iraqi satellite TV network, Al Sumaria, reported that ISIS suddenly stopped referring to Mosul as the capital of its caliphate through its news media outlets, probably to minimize public perceptions about the imminent “liberation” of Mosul.

Abadi, a Shiite and Iranian puppet, dressed up in military uniform and promised that in the battle for Mosul they will “eliminate” the ISIS leadership.

It’s known that Isis head Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has spent most of the past two years in Mosul but there is some info that he recently fled to Syria and is probably hiding in the other ISIS “capital”, Rakah.

There are also persistent rumors that he may have been fatally poisoned recently and is being kept in the fridge…to surface as a burned and mangled holy “Martyr” in the aftermath of a U.S. strike.

But anybody who thinks that killing al-Baghdadi and thousands of his fighters will destroy ISIS is suffering from the same naïve delusion that argued that killing Osama Bin Laden would destroy al-Qaeda.

Just like al-Qaeda today is stronger, bigger smarter, better equipped and more dangerous to the world than it was eight years ago, ISIS after al-Baghdadi’s demise will regroup, rebrand and continue to use social media to recruit new volunteer “martyrs” to attack U.S. interests and citizens worldwide. It’s an intoxicating ideological “adventure” that cannot be stopped by merely taking back cities or killing its leaders.

I’m sure that if “collateral damage” is kept reasonably low, there will be a political “victory lap” in Washington after Mosul is retaken from ISIS. As will no doubt happen if Rakah is liberated.
I just hope that nobody crows that “ISIS is destroyed!”. That would be disingenuous, deceitful and misleading…no matter what was promised!

Saturday, October 22, 2016

I Can’t Wait till “After the Holidays”

Right now, after months of preparation, the Iraqi military, together with the US, Kurdish fighters, Shiite militias and the more than tacit cooperation of Iran, have started the long awaited operation to kick ISIS out of the second largest city in Iraq - Mosul. ISIS has held Mosul for the past two years, mostly enjoying the support of its Sunni majority population, and preparing it for just such an attack.

But I’m not going to talk about Mosul today.

In the meantime, the U.S. presidential campaign is getting more and more ugly. But I’m not going to talk about that today either, even though here in Israel it’s the only topic people want to talk to me about.

This column is about a phenomena so singular and unique that it can only happen in one country in the world – Israel. 

Example – I don’t know of any other country where for twenty-four hours, it is illegal to drive a motor vehicle on any street or road, whether an unpaved street in an Arab village or Jewish kibbutz, the main arteries in cities and towns or the modern highways between Tel-Aviv, Haifa, Jerusalem, Beer-Sheva, Elat, etc.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The phenomena is called “The Holidays”, and it’s the only time in the year where there is a cluster of major Jewish holidays, with different customs, that throws everyday life and routines into total organized chaos for three weeks.

As summer slowly draws to a close, you can sense a change of atmosphere and urgency that grows by the day. Schools start, but students only go for a few days a week. 

The most common phrase you hear is “after the holidays”, meaning: because these are short weeks, and the weather is too nice to waste, let’s deal with this later. 

I belong to the majority of Israeli Jews that define ourselves as “secular traditional”, meaning we don’t wear yarmulkes, don’t keep kosher, we drive on Saturday, stock up with frozen pita for Passover, and have no idea where the local synagogue is. Nevertheless, we celebrate Shabbat and the holidays in our own family traditions.

The first holiday was Rosh Hashanah. We celebrated it by having a big family dinner the evening before, explaining the various traditions to our grandkids and their friends (who took turns getting red in the face trying to blow my shofar). Next morning few Israelis went to synagogue (which is free here). Most got up early and headed to the National Parks, which were packed. We spent the day at the beach.

Ten days of shopping and wishing everyone (whether you knew them or not) an “easy fast”, and that they’re fate be sealed in the “right” book, brought us to Yom Kippur.

Another big family dinner…and then things got really unique...and very Israeli.

At about 6:30 pm all TV and radio stations went off the air. But you don’t turn off the sets. You leave them on and tuned to several TV and radio stations that go into “quiet mode”. Nothing will be broadcast until Yom Kippur ends…or Israel is attacked, in which case the broadcasts will start simultaneously with the countrywide air-raid sirens.

Around the same time all motor vehicle traffic on the roads, highways, streets and alleyways in Israel gradually draws to a stop as the last family members rush to get home.

Nobody…Jew, Arab, Muslim, Christian, Druze, Baha’i, Atheist, Israeli, tourist, diplomat, king, friend or foe is allowed by law to drive on any road in Israel for 24 hours (unless Israel is at war). The only rare exceptions are ambulances, police and security vehicles with lights flashing.

And kids. With all the roads empty, by 7:00 pm thousands of children, teenagers and a few adults grabbed their bicycles, rollerblades, and scooters and headed for the highways. 

About 90% of all new bikes in Israel are sold in the weeks before Yom Kippur. That’s when I got my first new bike at the age of ten.

It’s surrealistic. Imagine you are standing in the middle of the day on the High Five overpass looking towards Central Expressway and LBJ and there is not one car on the roads. But hundreds of youngsters on bicycles are having fun peddling between Dallas and Richardson and beyond.

As for the holiness of the day, some Israelis fast, or partially fast. But even those who don’t fast tend to mingle around local synagogues at the end of the day to hear the shofar blowing from the windows.

As Yom Kippur ended we built a Sukkah and two days later sat down in it for another big family dinner, and a week long holiday.

Believe me I’m all for tradition, and we and our extended family here had a lot of fun. But I can’t wait to get back to writing and briefing on less festive issues like Mosul, Iran, US and Israeli politics, etc.

 And I will…right “after the holidays”    

Monday, September 19, 2016

Why the MOU is a really BIG Deal

    This week the USA and Israel signed a renewal of the MOU, or The Memorandum of Understanding, which is a ten-year defense aid package that “constitutes the single largest pledge of bilateral military assistance in US history,” the State Department said Tuesday. 
     The $38 billion deal, scheduled to be signed this week in a ceremony at the State Department in Washington, replaces the previous $30 billion MOU that expires in 2018.
     With the new aid package Israel will receive $3.8 billion annually — up from $3 billion — starting in 2019 and through 2028.
     Unlike with the current MOU, Israel has pledged not to seek additional add-on military funding from Congress for the next decade, except in time of war. 
     The agreement also limits Israel’s current ability to spend part of the funds on its own arms industry — a key area of dispute during talks. Washington wanted Israel to spend a larger amount of the money on American-made products, creating more jobs in the US, while Israel wanted to feed its own “hungry tigers”. Currently, Israel can spend 26.3% of US military aid buying from its own domestic defense companies.
     Earlier reports said that Israel had asked for a separate, $400 million deal for missile defense spending — which could have raised the total amount to more than $4 billion annually. The US said no. “There was no higher figure ever discussed,” the former Israeli national security adviser Yaakov Amidror said Tuesday, describing the deal as “the best possible” accord.
     So why do I consider this to be such a BIG deal? Mainly because:
1. As mentioned above – it’s the largest bilateral military aid package granted by one country to another in history.
2. It comes at a time when the US economy is a hot and contentious election issue, and when the US is cutting painfully into its own defense spending on development, procurement and maintenance.
3. It shows that the mutually beneficial relations between the US and Israel on issues of security, regional stability, trust and co-reliance are as strong as ever.
4. It shows other Mideast and World players that the US is fully and unequivocally committed to the security and safety of Israel…not just in word. 
5. Its updated clauses on expanding existing agreements on military pre-positioning in Israel reaffirms General Alexander Haig’s famous observation that: “Israel is the largest American aircraft carrier in the world that cannot be sunk, does not carry even one American soldier, and is located in a critical region for American national security.”   
      As the Times of Israel pointed out in an article on Sunday: “The aid package is seen in Israel as key to helping it maintain its qualitative military edge over potential threats in the region, including from an emboldened Iran flush with cash after many nuclear-related sanctions were ended over the past year in a deal signed with world powers.”
     So despite arguments by frustrated politicians or wannabe analysts that Israel could have negotiated a better deal “if only…”, I think that this is a good deal that will benefit both Israel and The US in the decade to come.
     Kudos to the American and Israeli leaders that waded through disagreements, personality issues, political pressure and economic restrictions to reach this (to paraphrase Joe Biden) “#!!!!$%” Big Deal.” 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Serious Mideast news…or Political backdrop?

After just over four weeks in Israel, I can categorically state that I am totally OD’d on the two news stories that seem to be on every local and international station or online news website I go to: The Rio Olympic games (locally), and the US presidential race (worldwide). Thankfully the former ends this week. But the election coverage will continue and only increase as we get nearer to November 8th.

My problem is the endless stream of talking heads and “experts” (usually a former politician, campaign staffers from both parties, a retired military officer, 2 journalists – from the left and the right – and a scholarly professor who has a formula that can predict the results), that pop up on multiple stations. Within one minute it’s easy to know which candidate the station supports. And since it’s the same talking heads, regurgitating the same data and story-of-day, it gets pretty boring pretty quickly.

I was hoping to find fresh faces and analysis from my usually trustworthy stand-by news sources like Fox, CNN, SKY (England), Sputnik (Russia), PressTV (Iran), and even Al-Jazeera USA (online), but to my surprise (or not…) they all had more or less the same talking heads with the same rudimentary and predictable partisan talking points.

But the horrific terrorist attack in Turkey on Sunday, where a young boy of 12, recruited by Daesh (ISIS) blew himself up at a Kurdish wedding in the Southeastern city of Gaziantep, killing 51 celebrants and wounding dozens more, snapped me back to the reality of the Middle East.

Here are some of the news stories you may have missed. One has a possible connection to the elections.

Turkey and Israel – Last Saturday Turkey's parliament approved a reconciliation agreement signed with Israel in June, ending the six-year rift between the two regional powers over the Marvi Marmara boarding incident. Both countries will reappoint ambassadors, and military and commercial ties (which were never really disconnected) will be “reestablished”.

Turkey and US – Scheduled before Saturday’s Islamist terrorist attack, on August 24 vice president Joe Biden is visiting Turkey, for meetings with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Binali Yildirim. This is the first visit by a high-ranking U.S. official since the failed coup attempt in July. While the ongoing war against ISIS will no doubt be high on the agenda now, I understand that the main reason for the visit was to discuss the deterioration in US-Turkey relations, and the delicate subject of extraditing fanatical Sunni cleric Fethullah Gülen, who Erdogan accuses of organizing the failed coup.

Also on the agenda will probably be the recent request from Erdogan’s new “Best Friend” Vladimir Putin to use Turkey’s air force base at Incirlik for bombing raids against anti-Assad Arab and Kurdish rebels in Syria (in addition to the bases Russia is already using in Iran).

This could be a major humiliation to the US if Erdogan agrees to the request, since:
1.   The base was built by the US for the American and Turkish air forces.
2.   It’s the main US, “Coalition” and NATO staging area for air strikes and rescue missions in Syria, Iraq and potentially Iran.
3.   The US stockpiles over fifty B61 Thermonuclear (Hydrogen) bombs at Incirlik
4.   Putin is supporting the forces the US is fighting (Assad).
5.   Turkey is fighting the Kurds that the US is supporting.
6.   Russia and Iran are developing close military relations, etc.

So if this is such an important tactical and strategic issue for the safety and security of the United States and Israel, am I the only one that’s wondering why vice president Biden is going to try to thwart it? Especially after Turkey’s Prime Minister Yildirim said on Saturday that he sees no reason why Russia and the US can’t “share” the base.

Why Biden? Such a high level meeting would not be held unless the outcome is known and agreed on in advance. If failure, then the meeting would be cancelled in advance and further staff-level negotiations would probably be held. If successful, then the president, not the VP should be in the limelight at the photo-op. Unless…

I have a wild theory. Could it be that Joe Biden is the understudy who is being prepared to stand in at the last moment as the Democrats presidential candidate if, hypothetically the position becomes available, and that this whistle-stop trip to the Middle-East where he is meeting key leaders very briefly is for the photos to support his international “credentials” with voters?  I said it was a wild theory…

Could be serious news, could be political backdrop, or could be both.

DISCLAIMER: Opinions are the writer’s, and do not represent SWJC directors, officers or members.

Monday, August 15, 2016

First Impressions of Israel after 14 Days and 25 years

Tirat Hacarmel, It's two weeks since we landed in Israel...after 25 years of living in the U.S.
The last few months in Dallas were a whirlwind of:
  1. Preparation activity:
    • Selling the house and most of our two and a half decades of accumulated "stuff".
    • Buying a whole bunch of new "stuff".
    • Loading and shipping a container.
  2. Personal activity:
    • Catching up on a whole bunch of medical check-ups and follow-ups.
    • Getting copies of all our medical records.
    • Saying goodbye to a lot of friends family and contacts around the country.
  3. SWJC activityWorking with Susan and our Board to modify the structure of SWJC, so that despite my move to Israel the organization will continue to grow and thrive, while expanding our important educational, programming and fundraising activities.
 And all this while dealing with some serious mixed emotions:
On the one hand leaving a sort of nomadic, upwardly mobile, highly satisfying, successful and enjoyable life and career, built position by position with no real planning. On the other hand, going home to the country I love and have served and defended, with weapons and words, my whole life.
Or creating a large distance between us and our son, daughter-in-law and three amazing grandchildren who live in Florida, vs. living in Israel just five minutes away from our daughter, son-in-law and four amazing grandchildren who live a short walking distance from the warm, sandy Mediterranean seashore.
However any mixed emotions, doubts, regrets or second thoughts evaporated as soon as we stepped off the plane at Ben Gurion airport. The light warm breeze that hit me through the space between the door and the jet-way carried the unmistakable fragrance familiar to every Israeli, whether from their military service, numerous hikes and school trips, youth movement camps or family outings - It's the unique, intoxicating smell of Israel's post-harvest agricultural heartland in July. A varying combination of decomposing cut wheat and rye, wild flowers, organic fertilizer, a hint of pine forests and plowed earth.
We were home. No doubts, regrets or mixed emotions. We were HOME!
Here is a brief report of my initial impressions to date:
  1. News coverage. Not surprisingly, the US elections are hardly given prominence in the Israeli broadcast and print media. Sure they'll mention the two candidates' bad jokes, legal problems, accuracy of statements, latest polling, or new (real or perceived) potential legal, trust or health problems...but it's just not a big headline or lead item in the news here. This will no doubt change as we get nearer to the elections. But for the moment the headlines, front pages and lead stories in the print and broadcast media are almost exclusively about the Summer Olympics in Rio. The fact that Israel has already started to win medals just adds to the excitement. It's interesting that the Olympics have not only bumped the US elections from the top of the news food chain, but also the usual Israeli signature national concerns: security and that perennial crowd-pleaser - Israeli politics.
  2. Bureaucracy: Bad news and good news. The bad news - after 25 years the bureaucratic system is still alive and well. In the course of two weeks we had to run around to deal with officials at the:
    1. Ministry of Interior (to confirm that we are citizens and get new ID cards)
    2. Ministry of Absorption (to confirm our status as "returning residents")
    3. Ministry of Finance (to get our tax exemptions as "returning residents")
    4. Office of Customs and Excise tax (forms to get our container released from the port)
    5. National Insurance Administration (forms for National Social Security and Health Care insurance)
    6. Maccabi HMO to sign up for health care + supplemental health insurance + long term care insurance.
The good news - while in every office you still have to take a number (literally!), the system is so well run and efficient that we never had to wait more than three to five minutes for our turn. All the offices were air- conditioned and the officials smiled (never saw that before), were friendly, and went out of their way to help and expedite things. On this score things have certainly changed for the better in twenty-five years.
A few more observations:
  1. Because Haifa is the largest mixed city in Israel (Tirat Hacarmel is a suburb of Haifa) , about half of the officials we saw were Israeli Arabs, both Christians and Moslems. The same ratio holds true in the streets, stores, the big mall we go to almost daily, restaurants, etc.
  2. In no government office did I see the once ubiquitous and omnipresent glass-of-tea-with-two-sugar-cubes. I guess that Israeli officialdom has finally moved on from its "Bolshevik style" origins. No tea in a glass - but a Starbucks style cup of coffee on almost every desk.
  3. In case your wondering most Israelis are still, loud, many smoke (mostly outside, though), many still drive like absolute maniacs, and all will offer their sage opinions and well meaning advice whether they know you or not (stranger to me yesterday at a falafel stand: "if you touch that sauce you'll end up in the ER"). 
  4. Israel is hot and humid. But every building, shop or mall you enter is air-conditioned, extremely hi-tech and everyone is friendly and will go out of their way to help and point you in the right direction, even if they have no idea where that is.
  5. The beaches are clean , the Mediterranean is warm and the boardwalks in Haifa carry the best ice-cream in the world.
These are just my initial, jet-lagged impressions. More observations and, of course, current analysis on Israel and the the Middle East in future updates.

I look forward to talking with you at our upcoming SWJC LIVE briefings from Israel. See dates listed above. Contact  Susan at the office (214-361-0018) to confirm your participation.
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed above are the writer's, and do not represent SWJC directors, officers or members.