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February 17, 2016 1:17 am

Presidents Conference Participants Concerned Over Expected Gaza Hostilities

avatar by Yisrael Medad

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Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu addressing the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Photo: Yisrael Medad.

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu addressing the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Photo: Yisrael Medad.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu strode into Jerusalem’s Inbal Hotel hall some 20 minutes late but that was overlooked. The guests, dozens of representative leaders of the American Jewish establishment attending the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, had just been feted to almost an hour’s worth of off-the-record intelligence survey from a highly-placed IDF officer who should know all the state’s security secrets. One subject, the Gaza tunnels, was bothering the ZOA’s Mort Klein. In fact, one question directed to Netanyahu at the end of his half-hour-long remarks intimated that many in the army were convinced another Gaza round of hostilities was not too far away.

Talking to some of the participants, it became clear that a sense of alarm had crept over them. One line of thought came from a question to Netanyahu at the end of his remarks. A law professor asked how Israel could prevent another propaganda backlash if once again, a Gaza military operation developed. He was told that Israel expected its legal and moral rights to be championed by all. At least he was focused on doing something. Klein was more perturbed and expressed amazement that nothing was being done currently to combat the tunnels. Asked if perhaps Israel should conduct a precision, small-scale preemptive strike to indicate to Hamas that Israel views the renewed digging as a security threat, he agreed that that was a possibility to be considered. Most of those at the post-dinner tables seemed unperturbed that military operations would yet again be forced on Israel.

In his introductory remarks, chairman of the Conference of Presidents Stephen M. Greenberg proudly noted recent visits to Turkey and Egypt and consultations with Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Abdel el-Sisi. Sisi, in particular, was outspoken about his alignment with Israel, informing his American Jewish guests that Egypt was in Israel’s corner as regards the security needs of the eastern Mediterranean countries. If there is any truth to reports that Egypt is assisting the flooding of the Hamas tunnels, that might be a reason for the majority of the delegates to appear so calm.

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Following the applause, Netanyahu launched into a concise but comprehensive review of Israel’s foreign affairs matters. Israel was a “world leader,” a claim he justified by listing the many countries that come to Israel for assistance and aid. He highlighted Israel’s excellence in the field of security intelligence and anti-terrorism know-how, especially cyber surveillance. The second reason is Israel’s technological primacy in areas such as water resources, agriculture, biotech projects and scientific advances. Israel is seen as having a thriving, dynamic economy that has fostered innovation with great capabilities. “They want to be part of the future,” he stated, and the future belongs to Israel.

He turned sarcastic when attacking what he called the “obsession” of too many countries which pummeled Israel in a triple standard fashion of one set of criteria for dictatorships, one for democracies and one for Israel. He called it dissonance when Israel is sought after while being denounced in lopsided decisions on “human rights“ violations, as it were. Netanyahu told the gathering that he’s told countries, “Isn’t it about time that the stronger relations between our countries growing ever-stronger would be reflected in your country’s votes in international forums?”

On the issue of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, he postulated that the former truth, that peace with the Palestinians would bring peace with the rest of the Arab world, is wrong and the time is coming whereby peace with the Arab world will facilitate a peace with the local Arabs. “I think the better relations with the Arab world could help bring progress with the Palestinians,” whose politics are “dysfunctional,” he concluded. And he tossed out one remark that was excised from the official transcript: that if someone coughs in Ramallah, everyone gets excited.

Just before the question time, Conference of Presidents Executive Vice Chairman/CEO Malcolm Hoenlein presented Netanyahu with a mountain jacket from a Christian manufacturer as a symbol of Israel’s allies’ determination to break the BDS movement.

Yisrael Medad is a roving editor-at-large for Israel Affairs at The Algemeiner.

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